Today I am delighted to have the talented Vivian Kirkfield as my guest in celebration of her newest release From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves, written by Vivian, illustrated by Gilbert Ford and published by HMH Books for Young Readers. At 96-pages, it’s not your typical picture book, but it is a remarkable one that curious readers will gobble up. Interested in learning more? Then enjoy this interview with my questions in bold. Afterwards, be sure to check out Vivian’s generous giveaway offer.
Welcome, Vivian. Before we dig in, tell us a little bit about your journey into writing for kids.
I’ve had a love affair with picture books from the first moment my mother sat me on her lap to read me a story – The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton is the first story I remember hearing. As a kid, I loved scribbling little poems. And in school, English was probably my favorite subject because I enjoyed reading and writing so much. But I never seriously considered writing as a career until 2010 when I self-published a parent-teacher guide, Show Me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking. Filled with 100 picture book summaries, craft projects, and cooking activities, that book got me blogging because I wanted to spread the word and let people know about it. Blogging about picture books put me in contact with Susanna Hill and her Perfect Picture Book Friday. It was just about that time when my son gave me a very unusual present for my 64th birthday – he took me skydiving! And when my feet touched the ground, I knew that if I could do that, I could do anything. I’d already been contemplating writing my own picture books…and at the end of that year, when Julie Hedlund announced she was starting a new challenge: 12×12 in 2012, I jumped on board and never looked back.
I LOVE that sky-diving spirit! And you certainly have soared in your picture book writing career. On to my second question…
The former teacher in me is excited about the upcoming (January 19th!) release of your newest picture book From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves. At 96 pages, it’s not your typical picture book format. Can you tell us what makes this format different and special?
That’s a great question, Laura. I’ve just received my box of author copies – and the first thing that struck me was the size of the book. Unlike the usual picture books that average around 9×12 or larger, this book is 7×10 – the perfect size to tuck in a backpack. And inside, it’s very much like the chapter books that middle grade readers enjoy – but different because it’s fully illustrated. Perhaps you might say it’s a cross between a chapter book and a graphic novel because it has the illustrations of a graphic novel, but the text of a chapter book! The best of both worlds, we hope. I love that each chapter opens with a glorious illustration on the left side and the short opening lines of the chapter on the right. This format really invites the reader in.
It certainly invites THIS reader in! Just take a look at this interior spread:
What inspired you to tackle the topic “inventions that changed the way the world moves”?
A phone conversation inspired me to write the story of Eric Wickman, a Swedish immigrant who came to the United States in 1905 with only $60 in his pocket. He spoke no English, changed jobs several times, and failed in his car dealership venture. But he loved America and had experienced the difficulty of getting around such a big country. When the opportunity arose, he bought the showroom model that no one wanted, turned it into a shuttle service, and founded the Greyhound Bus Company. I LOVE stories about how the underdog overcomes obstacles and succeeds…especially when they are true stories. After writing the story, my agent sent it out on submission and Ann Rider, an editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt fell in love with it and asked if I would be willing to write several more similar stories about other visionaries whose inventions changed the way the world moves. To which I replied: YES!
Wow! I’m glad she had such creative vision and clearly loves your work.
Moving on (pun intended), I think readers of all ages will be interested in your process for first researching and then writing the book. Were there any amazing moments where you discovered something completely new to you?
One of the things I love best about writing nonfiction picture books is that I learn so much! I knew nothing about the back story/inside story of any of these inventions. And discovering the collateral tidbits were amazing. Did you know that Benjamin Franklin was in France at the very moment the first manned hot-air balloon flight took place? Yup…he was negotiating the Treaty of Paris between the United States and England and he wrote in his diary, “We observed it lift off in the most majestic manner.”
And, have you ever wondered who built the first bike…and why? It was all because of a volcanic eruption in 1815 which spewed so much ash into the atmosphere, the climate of 1816 changed and it was called the year without a summer. That’s the summer that Mary Godwin went on holiday in Switzerland with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley. A week of unseasonably cold rainy weather kept them indoors and Byron challenged his companions to write the scariest story. And Mary rose to the challenge and penned Frankenstein. In Germany, the oat crops failed and horses died. Since cars, buses, and trains had not been invented yet, the only way to get around was to walk. Karl Drais thought he could to find a way to move more quickly using his own two feet.
I absolutely love stories like that – finding out the why behind commonplace things…and I think kids enjoy that type of discovery as well.
Finally, teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum, and I think that’s especially true for a STEM rich book like this. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?
Honestly, Laura, I think a teacher or parent could use this book for an entire semester. With nine individual picture book stories, there is a lot to choose from! Each chapter is brimming with opportunities for activities that integrate math, science, geography, art, and language – extending the learning experience. Here are just a couple:
Extension Challenge #1: Bertha Benz lived in a time when most people thought women were delicate and weak. But when her husband refused to take his gas-powered automobile for a test drive, she did! On the 65-mile road trip with her sons through Germany’s Black Forest, Bertha used her ingenuity…as well as her hat pin and garters to keep the car going. When she returned home, she gave Karl a to-do list of improvements he needed to create for the car. Bertha’s trip garnered lots of publicity – and newspapers spoke of how safe a car must be if even a woman could drive it. Business boomed as people read the reports and bought cars – Bertha’s plan had succeeded.
Ask your children:
- Get your notebook and pencil. You’ve been asked to cover a big news story! It’s 1888 and a woman is driving a new-fangled automobile through your town. Write your article for the newspaper.
- The first gas-powered auto had only three wheels and a hand-brake. What would the first gas-powered auto have looked like if you had designed it? Draw a picture of it.
- Look at a map of Germany. Find the town Bertha lived in. Then find the town her mother lived in. Trace her journey on the map.
Extension Challenge #2: When Eric Wickman arrived in the United States at the age of 17, he had very little money and he spoke no English. Over the next decade, he tried logging, mining, and even opened a car dealership, but he couldn’t even sell one car. Then he started a shuttle service – driving miners from the town to the mine – 15 cents for a one-way ride and 25 cents for a round trip – it was so popular, he needed to buy another car.
Ask your children:
- Eric is saving money to buy the new car. He can fit 10 passengers at a time in his old car. If the new car costs $100, how many round-trips (at 25 cents for each passenger) does he have to make in order to save up enough to buy the car?
- Eric built his first bus using a truck chassis as the base. What materials would you need for a bus of your own design? Make a list and draw a picture.
- Eric immigrated from Sweden, arrived in New York City, traveled to Arizona and then Minnesota to work. Find those places on a globe or world map and trace Eric’s journey.
Extension Challenge #3: Robert Goddard loved science fiction and dreamed of going to Mars. Climbing a cherry tree on his aunt’s farm, young Robert looked up at the sky and decided he was going to build a vehicle that would fly to the moon. He kept diaries and journals to record all of the observations he made and all of the experiments he did.
Ask your children:
- If you built your own space vehicle, what planet would you visit and why? Which planets would be your next-door neighbors?
- Draw a picture of your space vehicle and the clothes you would wear and what you would take.
- You’ve arrived at your destination. Write a letter to your family. Write a letter to your best friend.
Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Laura!
The pleasure is all mine! Congratulations on this new book and I’m sure teachers and parents everywhere will want to add this to their collections.
NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! Vivian is thrilled to offer a giveaway of either a picture book critique (rhyming or prose/fiction or nonfiction – under 1000 words) OR a FREE copy of From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves. To enter, simply post a comment below letting me know that you’d like to enter. (NOTE: For the book prize, you must be U.S. resident.) The giveaway ends Wednesday, 1/13/2021, at 11:59 pm EST. THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER. Winner named here.
About Vivian: Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing, and visiting kidlit friends all around the world. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the picturesque town of Bedford, New Hampshire. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. Her nonfiction narratives bring history alive for young readers and her picture books have garnered starred reviews and accolades including the Silver Eureka, Social Studies Notable Trade Book, and Junior Library Guild Selection.
To connect with Vivian and learn more about her books: