Why Laurie Halse Anderson Writes For Children: "Literature Is The Best Gift We Can Share With Them"
Reading the last book in a series comes with a mixed bag of feelings, both excited and upsetting emotions that match the fates of Laurie Halse Anderson's characters in her final Seeds of America novel, Ashes . "They get endings that reflect the realities of their experience; at once bitter and hopeful," the author says of her new book.
Out Oct. 4 from Antheneum, Ashes continues to tell the story of Isabel and Curzon, two escaped slaves on their own search for freedom during the Revolutionary War. While the pair fights for their lives and liberty, a young American nation wages a war for the same things. But what will it mean to Isabel and Curzon, two young black people who have only ever known a life in chains, if the Patriots win? And what will happen to them if England takes control again? As the battle of Yorktown looms on the horizon, Isabel and Curzon must try and find their best chance at freedom, and take it before it's too late.
One of the most anticipated YA releases this fall, Ashes concludes the story of Isabel and Curzon that started eight years ago, but the trilogy wasn't always meant to be a series. "I originally wrote Chains as a stand-alone novel," Laurie Halse Anderson tells Bustle. "When I turned it in to my then-editor, Kevin Lewis, he strongly suggested that I continue the adventures of Isabel and Curzon in two more books. I reworked the ending of Chains to open up the characters’ arcs, and started in on more research."
While many of us moan and groan when it's time to research something, Halse Anderson revels in the task, lovingly referring to it as "the fun part" of writing historical fiction. While working on the Seeds of America series as well as her other researched-heavy projects, the author found the most challenging part deciding what parts of her research to include, and what parts to leave out. It’s also a bit daunting to find ways to be true to the language of the time period without overwhelming the reader with archaic vocabulary or creating dialects that we don’t have solid evidence for," Halse Anderson says. "You have to balance veracity with readability."
But whenever you dive head-first into a subject, even one you think you know everything about, you're bound to find a surprise you weren't expecting. For Halse Anderson and the American Revolution, it was these unknown facts that inspired her trilogy to begin with. "The facts that shocked me the most are the facts that started me writing the trilogy in the first place," the author says. "Slavery was commonplace in the North and the South at the time of the American Revolution, most of the Founding Fathers held people in bondage, and many enslaved Americans fought for the Patriot or British armies, just as free Americans did. American history buried their contributions and their importance when the country’s leaders decided slavery was acceptable."
"America – the beacon of freedom for the world – was built on the backs of enslaved American families. It’s time for us to own up to that."
To Halse Anderson, this revelation was the most offensive. "America – the beacon of freedom for the world – was built on the backs of enslaved American families. It’s time for us to own up to that." And Ashes, along with Chains and Forge, attempts to do just that by sharing the stories of two slaves struggling for their own freedom, liberty, and justice alongside a young nation trying to accomplish the same thing.
"Isabel and Curzon are seeking personal liberty while the Patriots are fighting for the nation’s freedom from Great Britain," Halse Anderson says. "However, the Patriot rhetoric of freeing America from 'the chains of British oppression' and claiming that America was 'enslaved' by British masters was absurdly exaggerated. The plight of enslaved Americans like Isabel and Curzon was much more dire than the nation as whole."
"[...] 240 years after the Declaration of Independence, 153 years after the Emancipation, and nearly 50 years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, we are still so very far away from our ideals of equal freedoms for all."
And how would Isabel and Curzon feel about modern freedom of black people in America? "They would be heartbroken that 240 years after the Declaration of Independence, 153 years after the Emancipation, and nearly 50 years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, we are still so very far away from our ideals of equal freedoms for all," Halse Anderson says.
An author of both adult and children's books, Halse Anderson firmly believes in the power of educating youths, making sure they know the whole story, even the ugly parts. "Children are a much more important audience than adults. They are hungry for clues that will help them figure out the world. Literature is the best gift we can share with them. This notion that we shouldn’t share the truth of the world with kids is as elitist as it is damaging," the author says. "Keeping children swaddled in layers of ignorance makes them vulnerable."
Sharing diverse books, important histories, and other people's stories with kids isn't the only thing she believes can help the youth of the world. "My advice to young writers is to travel to other countries and get to know people whose life is different from theirs," she says. "Not only does it open your eyes and heart to the world, it gives your perspective on your own life. You need both in order to write well."
But before you pack your bag and hit the road looking for other people's stories, make sure you pick up a copy of Ashes, available in a bookstore near you October 4.
Images courtesy of the author.