Author Spotlight: Dorothea Jensen, Author of A Buss from Lafayette
November 3, 2017
IWIC: Tell us about you!
Dorothea: My name is Dorothea Jensen. I was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up in Chillicothe, Illinois. I majored in English literature at Carleton College and earned an MA in education at the University of New Mexico. I have been an ESL tutor for refugees, taught junior high and high school English, served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Brazil, and written grant proposals for arts organizations.
IWIC: Tell us about your writing.
Dorothea: In 1989, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich published my novel for young readers about the American Revolution, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm. In addition to other honors, it was named an International Reading Association Teacher's Choices Selection and has been read in classrooms throughout the U.S. since its release.
A Buss from Lafayette is set in the small New Hampshire town where I live. Two things inspired me to write this story. First, I met a woman whose ancestor received a kiss (a buss) from Lafayette on his Farewell Tour of 1824-5. That buss, passed down through generations and was passed along to myself. Second, I learned that Lafayette passed right by our house in 1825. This sparked my interest in Lafayette's contributions to our struggle for independence. The result, A Buss from Lafayette, has won numerous awards, detailed below. I also enjoy writing rhyming verse. I have written a series of award-winning illustrated modern Christmas stories in verse featuring the very high tech Santa's Izzy Elves.
IWIC: What message is purveyed in your books?
Dorothea: I am trying to hook kids on history (among other things) by showing them how complicated and fascinating the past can be.
IWIC: Tell us more about your book, A Buss from Lafayette.
Dorothea: In June, 1825, everyone around the spirited 14-year-old Clara Hargraves, is thrilled because the world-famous American Revolution hero, General Lafayette, is about to visit New Hampshire on his "Farewell Tour." In one event-filled week, what Clara learns about her family, her friends, and Lafayette himself, profoundly changes her life.
"Clara carries the story with the strength of her personality, humorous observations, and seemingly timeless adolescent woes. . . will entertain readers as young as 4th grade while older students will appreciate a teenager's perspective" —KidStuff Magazine
"A full-scale history lesson disguised as a can't put it down story." —I Read What You Write Blog
Awards: Gold Medalist (Middle School/Historical Fiction), 2017 Literary Classics Award; 1st Place Winner (Historical Fiction), 2017 Purple Dragonfly Book Awards; Bronze Medalist (Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction), 2017 eLit Awards ; Quarter Finalist, 2016 Booklife Prize (Middle Grade); Finalist, Book Excellence Award (Young Adult); Seal of Approval Recipient, 2017 Literary Classics Awards. Also named on the Grateful American Kids website as one of the best history book for kids to read!
Author Name: Dorothea Jensen
Book Title: A Buss from Lafayette
Book Synopsis: Fourteen-year-old ClaraHargraves lives on a farm in Hopkinton, a small New Hampshire town,during the early 19th century. She has a couple of big problems. Firstof all, she has a stepmother, Priscilla, who used to be her spinster schoolteacher aunt. Clara resents that her late mother's older sister has not only married her father but is about to have a baby. To make matters worse, "Prissy Priscilla" keeps trying to make the rambunctious, clever, and witty Clara act like a proper young lady. Secondly, Clara has red hair, making her a target for teasing by a handsome older boy, Dickon Weeks, and by her pretty seventeen-year-old "Dread Cousin Hetty." Clara, however, has a secret plan she hopes will change this. During the last week of June, 1825, Clara's town is abuzz because the famous General Lafayette is about to visit their state during his farewell tour of America. In those eventful seven days, Clara learns a lot about her family, Hetty, Dickon, herself, and about Lafayette. She comes to understand the huge and vital role the young French aristocrat played in America's Revolutionary War and to see that her problems might not be quite so terrible after all.
Author Bio: Dorothea Jensen, born in Boston, Massachusetts, grew up in Chillicothe, Illinois. She majored in English literature at Carleton College and earned an MA in education at the University of New Mexico. She has been an ESL tutor for refugees, taught junior high and high school English, served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Brazil, and written grant proposals for arts organizations. In 1989, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich published Dorothea's novel for young readers about the American Revolution, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm. In addition to other honors, it was named an International Reading Association Teacher's Choices Selection and has been read in classrooms throughout the U.S. since its release. A Buss from Lafayette is set in the small New Hampshire town where Dorothea lives. Two things inspired her to write this story. First was her meeting a woman whose ancestor received a kiss (a buss) from Lafayette on his Farewell Tour of 1824-5. That buss, passed down through generations, was passed along to Dorothea. Second, she learned that Lafayette passed right by her house in 1825. This all sparked her interest in Lafayette's contributions to our struggle for independence. Dorothea also enjoys writing rhyming verse. She has written a series of award-winning illustrated modern Christmas stories in verse featuring the very high tech Santa s Izzy Elves.
Publisher Name: BQB Publishing
Saturday, September 9, 2017
Author Spotlight - Dorothea Jensen on her award winning book, A Buss from Lafayette
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME A WRITER?
I grew up in a large family in which word play was valued, and I learned early how to make people laugh. Eventually I developed the capacity to do this on the page, and I was off and running. I also was a voracious reader (mostly in my closet, because our house was always filled with noise and confusion). I especially loved historical fiction, and wanted to write such stories of my own.
WAS THERE A TEACHER OR OTHER MENTOR WHO INFLUENCED YOUR WRITING - PLEASE ELABORATE:
Yes, my high school English teacher, Mrs. Ward. To this day, I hear her voice in my head when I write. She also nominated me for a national award program by the National Council of Teachers of English, and I was one of the winners - the first ever from my very small high school. (I can still picture her RUNNING down the hall to tell me I won. In those days, middle-aged ladies did NOT run, so I knew right away something extraordinary had happened.)
HOW DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR YOUR AWARD-WINNING BOOK?
Twenty years ago, on a Jane Austen tour in the U.K., I met an elderly woman whose great-grandmother had been kissed as a child by Lafayette on his 1824-5 Farewell Tour. That kiss had come down in her family to her, and, of course, I immediately asked her to kiss me, so I can now say I've been kissed by someone who was kissed by someone who was kissed by someone who had been kissed by Lafayette. That piqued my interest in what Lafayette did for us in the American Revolution, and in his Farewell Tour, which brought him - I later realized - right by the house where I live in a small town in New Hampshire. I also had come across a family situation in my own family tree, in the early 1800s, in which a widower married his late wife's sister. I thought that might have been difficult for his children to understand or accept. I put these elements together and the result was A Buss from Lafayette.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LINE FROM YOUR AWARD-WINNING BOOK AND WHY?
I reached up, took the rose out of my hair, and gave it to her. "I would like to call her Rose. Caroline Rose. Would that be all right, Mother?" This line brings together all the elements of the story - Lafayette (who gave her the rose, among other things), Clara's love for her late mother (Caroline), and her new understanding and love for her stepmother, Priscilla, whom here she calls "Mother" for the first time ever. (I ALWAYS cry when I read this line!)
WHICH OF YOUR CHARACTERS FROM YOUR AWARD-WINNING TITLE DO YOU BELIEVE ARE MOST LIKE YOU AND WHY?
Clara, of course, or at least I was like her when I was her age. She loves to make puns, she loves to learn, and she is somewhat tormented by her older brother. In addition, she is a rather late "bloomer," and feels awkward in social situations with her peers. My mother, like Clara's stepmother, also insisted I went to dances. I usually felt like a wallflower and mostly sat outside the gym in the hallway chatting with Officer Monk, the policeman there to 'keep order', or whatever.
WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU HOPE READERS WILL GLEAN FROM YOUR AWARD- WINNING BOOK?
Sometimes things are quite different from what they appear to be on the surface.
TELL US SOMETHING FUNNY ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A WRITER:
Visiting a classroom in which the kids could see my author photo taken many years before when my first historical novel for kids, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm was published. One student looked at that photo and said in obvious surprise, "You used to be pretty, Mrs. Jensen!" I replied, "Thank you. . .I think."
IF YOU COULD BE COMPARED TO A WELL-KNOWN AUTHOR WHO WOULD YOU MOST WANT THIS TO BE AND WHY?
Elizabeth George Speare, who wrote The Witch of Blackbird Pond.
WHAT PERSON HAS HAD THE GREATEST IMPACT ON YOUR LIFE?
Obviously, meeting and marrying my husband, David, with whom I recently celebrated our 50th anniversary. Not only has he challenged my brain and appreciated my humor, but he has always given me the space to pursue writing.
HOW DID YOU FIND AN AGENT / GET PUBLISHED?
I heard there was a small publisher near my house, so I walked three blocks down the street where I lived, gathered my courage, and gave them a manuscript of my story. It was not the pristine version I was saving to send to NYC, but one with coffee stains etc. It turned out that this place was a"packager" for a major publisher, and ended up publishing three books that I co-wrote with a friend. After that I started writing by myself.
IF A CLOSE FRIEND OR LOVED ONE WANTED TO WRITE A BOOK, WHAT GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE THEM?
Just do it.
CAN YOU OFFER ANY ADVICE FOR WRITERS ON HOW BEST TO PROMOTE THEIR BOOK?
Be yourself online in as many places as possible.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST LITERARY HONOR?
A rave review/A+ book report of my first historical novel for kids, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, written by my oldest grandson, Stuart, aged 10.
WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST LITERARY ASPIRATIONS?
I hope to sometime get the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for my historical fiction. (I read all her books in the early 50s, and finished the last one when I was in 3rd grade. My teacher told my mother I had cried all day because there were no more of her stories to read.) I also recently discovered that Laura and I share a 17th century ancestor (along with millions of other people), which, needless to say, delighted me!
TELL US SOMETHING PEOPLE MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU THAT THEY MIGHT FIND INTERESTING:
For a number of years, I performed with amateur and professional theater/opera companies. As a contralto/mezzo, I almost always lose the hero to the soprano.
WHAT (IF ANY) OTHER BOOKS HAVE YOU PUBLISHED? (All can be found on my Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/author/dorotheajensen
The Riddle of Penncroft Farm
Tizzy, the Christmas Shelf Elf
Blizzy, he Worrywart Elf
Dizzy, the Stowaway Elf
Frizzy, the S.A.D. Elf
The Catherine Moorhouse Regency Trilogy (co-authored under the pen name Catherine Moorhouse): Adriana, Louisa, Dorothea
A Buss from Lafayette Teacher's Guide (coming out soon from BQB Publlshing)
DO YOU HAVE ANY NEW BOOKS IN THE WORKS?
HISTORICAL FICTION: A Scalp on the Moon
In 1675, a teenaged boy who has trained his entire life for a career as an actor in Restoration London finds himself accidentally transported to Massachusetts Colony, where he knows the Puritans consider the theater to be a terrible evil. It is a time of great unrest and fear, as the Wampanoag and other Native American tribes are realizing that the English settlers are an unsettling, permanent, and growing presence in their midst. For their part, some of the superstitious colonists insist they keep seeing a scalp on the moon, a portent that something terrible is about to happen. With the outbreak of King Philip's War this portent proves all too accurate.
The American Revolutions: By a Partial, Prejudiced, and Ignorant Historian
I wrote this short non-fiction work long ago and am polishing it for publication. In it, I tell the story of the American Revolutions (yes, the plural is deliberate) As I say in the preface: "In a way, then, it can be said that there were two American Revolutions. The first was the process by which a great number of Americans "turned away" (the literal meaning of revolution, as in "revolve" ) from the mother country, Great Britain, and came around to the idea that America should be an independent nation. The second was the Revolutionary War, that combination of bravery, bloodshed,and blundering which made independence a reality. "
ILLUSTRATED MODERN CHRISTMAS STORY IN VERSE:
Bizzy, the Know-It-All Elf, Santa's Izzy Elves #5
In this fifth installment of Santa's Izzy Elves series, the Izzy Elves and Santa Claus decide to go on vacation. Bizzy, the self-proclaimed internet whiz, finds a place for them all to visit where they can blend in nicely with the rest of the crowd. Or so he thinks!
LITERARY CLASSICS Book Awards & Reviews International Book Awards • Top Honors Youth Book Awards • Seal of Approval http://www.clcawards.org
Monday Morning Indie: Connie Huddleston
Interview with Children's Author Dorothea Jensen
Somewhere out there is a book, one book, not a series, that you wish you had written. What is that book? Why?
I wish so badly that I had written The Witch of Blackbird Pond that I am currently writing a story to pay homage to it! (See A Scalp on the Moon discussion below.) Why? Because this is my favorite childhood book, and I re-read it every year! I even named one of my kids after Nathaniel Eaton, although I've never told him that. Luckily there is a Nathaniel on my family tree, so I had a good excuse to use that name without revealing to my son that he just might have been named for a romantic hero from a book I first read in 8th grade!)
What exotic setting would you like to visit and then use for a new book? Why?
The exotic settings I am interested in visiting and writing about are all in the past: a theater in Restoration England, small towns in 1675 Puritan Massachusetts or 1825 New Hampshire, family and military conflicts in 1777 Pennsylvania, etc. Although I have visited many countries, and lived in a couple outside the U.S. (Brazil and Holland), for some reason I find the past to be far more exotic, compelling, and inspiring as far as writing is concerned. Don't ask me why!
Who most influences your writing? Why?
This is tricky to answer, as the primary influencers on my writing are the authors of great books for young readers written years ago. That is hardly present tense influencing. Of course, on a nuts and bolts level, what influences my writing of historical fiction for kids are the tiny details I find in my research that speak to me and inspire me to find ways to weave them into my stories. I always tell students that I feel as if I am panning for gold. (As a fellow writer in this genre, I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about, Connie.)
What is your biggest problem in writing historical fiction for young readers at this point?
I used to be able to do research and keep the big picture, what I think of as the "virtual reality", of my historical setting pretty much in my head while I was writing a story. Now that I am in the "grandmother" stage of my life, I find it more difficult to do this. My short term memory is not quite what it used to be. I have come up with some coping strategies that enable me to work around this problem, however.
What projects do you have in the works for your readers? (We promise we'll tell everyone!)
I am working on a story set in Massachusetts in 1675, during the outbreak of King Philip's War. My working title for this is A Scalp on the Moon. I got interested in this era when I moved back to New England and started doing genealogical research. In doing so, I discovered that this war, which based on percentage of the population killed, was the bloodiest in American history, was actually started by two men from my family tree, William and John Salisbury. They fired the opening shots and were the first two English casualties in that conflict. It will not be their story I will be telling, however. They were just the hook that engaged my interest.
Here's a quick description:
In 1675, a teenaged boy who has trained his entire life for a career as an actor in Restoration London finds himself accidentally transported to Massachusetts Colony, where he knows the Puritans consider the theater to be a terrible evil. It is a time of great unrest and fear, as the Wampanoag and other Native American tribes are realizing that the English settlers are an unsettling, permanent and growing presence in their midst. For their part, some of the superstitious colonists insist they keep seeing a scalp on the moon, a portent that something terrible is about to happen. With the outbreak of King Philip's War this portent might turn out to be all too accurate.
There wasn't room in the magazine for all the Q & A's I wrote for the RCR editors, so I am including all of them here:
Red City Review Q & A
Q. What inspired you to write a book about elves? We've explored your website and are aware that Frizzy is the fourth book in your series.
A. When I was about four, my father, a family doctor, went on a home call very early on Christmas morning. When he came home, he decided to turn on the Christmas tree lights. In doing so, he knocked over the tree and the crash woke us all up. I thought that we had trapped Santa in our living room and was desperate to see him. My older brother, however, refused to let us go downstairs. I was very disappointed.
I think the germ of having Santa (or one of his elves) stranded in a family’s living room came from this experience. My first elf story, Tizzy, the Christmas Shelf Elf, is based on it. Then, when I had Tizzy tell the boys who found him about his elf colleagues, I started trying out various consonants with –izzy and found some amazingly apt names. They are: Blizzy, who makes snowglobes; Bizzy, who is the bossy, know-it-all elf; Fizzy and Dizzy, who make toys that surprise; Whizzy, who always rushes around; Frizzy, who styles the hair of Christmas dollies, and Quizzy, who makes puzzles and word games. Of course, the original –izzy name came from the fact that the stranded elf was, well, in a tizzy! His job is not revealed until the next book, however: Tizzy picks out books for Santa to bring to each child.
Once I named all eight elves, they started taking on little personalities and quirks, and before I knew it, I’d written three more stories: Blizzy, the Worrywart Elf; Dizzy, the Stowaway Elf (in which Santa does actually knock over a Christmas tree); and Frizzy, the S.A.D. Elf. Just for fun, I put my four grandsons into two of the stories, and made the Izzy Elf Section of the North Pole (and Santa) very savvy in 21st century technology.
I always loved “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and all the Dr. Seuss books, and so decided to write my elf stories in rhyming couplets. I seem to have a knack for this, so once I figured out the plot for each book, the actual writing went very quickly. It’s great fun, actually.
Q. Do you have more Santa's Izzy Elves books in the works?
A. Yes, I will be writing stories featuring Bizzy, Fizzy, Whizzy and Quizzy
Also, I have two more grandsons now and have to figure out where they will fit into a story.
Q. What is your favorite thing about writing books for children?
A. Reading them aloud to kids and watching their faces as they follow the story! I especially like reading my elf books aloud to my grandsons who are just learning to read, and letting them figure out what the rhyming word is at the end of each couplet. They love doing that.
I also hugely enjoy watching my elves take shape on the page in illustrations. It’s kind of a circular endeavor: first I write about these characters, then I see their images and than I want to write about them some more. (This will all go one step further soon, as designs for Izzy Elf dolls are underway.)
Q. If you could tell parents the best reason for buying your books for their children, what would it be?
Unlike most picture books, these stories are actually aimed at older kids—aged 4 and up—and are not “dumbed down” for children. Instead, I wrote them so that, while they do greatly amuse kids, they also help them develop a taste for reading rhythmic verse, for playing with words, and for learning new ones. As one reviewer wrote about Frizzy:
I wish this future classic had been around when I was a child. I smiled the entire time I was reading it. The characters are lovable and easy to relate to. The rhyme format is fun and will lead to memory skills. There are a few words that may be just past the reading level, which is perfect. These will encourage children to not only learn new words - but to gain the skills to discover how to learn what new words mean. – Sylvia Cornelius, Bookdepository.com
Q. Frizzy goes against the norm and refuses to stick to gender stereotypes when it comes to the design of her toys. We believe this is an important lesson for kids, what made you want to include it in your book?
When I was a little girl, I used to wheel a toy six gun in my doll carriage instead of a doll (my main playmate was my older brother). My mother told me that this was quite unnerving for little old ladies who peeked into the carriage to see my cute little “dolly”. Later, when I was a young mother of two boys and a girl, I was distressed at how toys were so relentlessly gender-specific. Now that I am a grandmother (even though all six of my grandchildren are boys) I’m happy to see that there finally are toys out there that encourage girls’ interest in things mechanical.
I didn’t deliberately decide for Frizzy to design monster trucks that eventually appeal to girls, however. The idea just popped up in my brain—although this probably happened because the experiences above are buried in there somewhere!