Description from Goodreads: Emma Gatewood’s life was far from easy. In rural Ohio, she managed a household of 11 kids alongside a less-than-supportive husband. One day, at age 67, she decided to go for a nice long walk . . . and ended up completing the Appalachian Trail.
With just the clothes on her back and a pair of thin canvas sneakers on her feet, Grandma Gatewood hiked up ridges and down ravines. She braved angry storms and witnessed breathtaking sunrises. When things got particularly tough, she relied on the kindness of strangers or sheer luck to get her through the night. When the newspapers got wind of her amazing adventure, the whole country cheered her on to the end of her trek, which came just a few months after she set out. A story of true grit and girl power at any age, Grandma Gatewood proves that no peak is insurmountable.
Thank you Jennifer Thermes for stopping by Kid Lit Frenzy and sharing about your newest book Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail.
Kid Lit Frenzy: I was unfamiliar with Grandma Gatewood and her inspirational hike. I enjoyed getting to know her through your book. How did you discover Grandma Gatewood and what kind of research did you do on her life and journey?
Jennifer Thermes: While researching the history of the Appalachian Trail and Benton MacKaye’s vision for what it could be, I read about others who had hiked it, and came across the name “Grandma Gatewood.” Emma’s character and accomplishments were amazing. I had wanted to do a book about the trail for a long time, but couldn’t figure out how to make it a story with an emotional connection for readers. I thought that kids would feel a kinship with her.
As for research process, I read widely, and start writing as soon as the story takes shape in my mind. (Otherwise it would be too easy to keep researching and never write!) There’s visual research for the illustrations as well as the maps, and then weaving everything together into an interesting story, while sticking to the facts.
I tend overwrite and add a lot of visual details, and then trim everything back. I always worry about what doesn’t make it into the book, because there’s so much good information! But more doesn’t necessarily mean a better story. Since picture books are short, I’m always reminding myself to think of the book as a doorway inviting the reader to explore more about the subject.
KLF: As part of your research, did you walk any of the Appalachian Trail? Or have you ever done any endurance walking/hikes? Were you inspired to put on a pair of hiking boots and get out there?
JT: I haven’t done the A.T. yet, but am completely inspired to hike at least part of it if deadlines ever let up! (Or maybe I’ll just wait until I’m 67, for a real challenge.) We did more trail hiking when our kids were young, especially up in Maine, and I still walk almost every day, so I well know how the rhythm of it brings peace of mind.
KLF: While reading your description of what Grandma Gatewood wore and read that she had on canvas shoes, I was a bit shocked. Of course, I had to stop and think about the time period that she lived in and how footwear was very different from today, but I was still impressed with how she did this walk in canvas shoes. Were there other discoveries that really jumped out and surprised you?
JT: In general, what most surprised me was how she didn’t let fear get in the way of doing what she wanted to do. She had raised her family during the Great Depression, and was used to working very hard, so perhaps the walk was relaxing for her.
Also, learning about the movement to get back to nature during Benton MacKaye’s time, how the trail was constructed, how highways changed the landscape and culture of the country… researching any subject leads you down a fascinating rabbit hole of discoveries. Makes me want to be a historian in another lifetime.
KLF: I love how the illustrations move from illustrations of Grandma Gatewood to maps of the trail. How did you decide to balance out the two? Did you have any spreads that you particularly loved?
JT: Designing maps into the flow of the book is similar to working out any picture book. The maps are another element to weave throughout the story. I think a lot about the rhythm of the illustrations, and how to keep the pacing interesting. For this book, I divided the trail map into sections that would roughly correspond with illustrations of where Emma was on the trail. I also thought of the maps as a visual resting point for the reader– a place to pause and ponder her journey.
My favorite spreads—always a hard question! Meeting the girl and dog after days and nights of walking the trail is one. I think kids could sense Emma’s kindness beneath her no-nonsense exterior. I’m also fond of her on the mountaintop, resting on a bed of moss in the moonlight. Given her independent spirit, I imagine she liked to be alone with her thoughts.
KLF: Can you share anything about your upcoming books or projects?
JT: I’ve recently finished illustrations for a middle grade novel coming out early next year, and currently I’m writing and illustrating a nonfiction picture book about Manhattan Island. I’m about to start final art, and am beyond excited for both books to be out in the world!
Thank you so much for inviting me to do this interview!
About the author: JENNIFER THERMES is a children’s book author, illustrator, and map illustrator. Jennifer’s book, Charles Darwin’s Around-the-World Adventure, was named a 2017 Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12 and a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, as selected by the Children’s Book Council. It was also on Amazon’s Best Children’s Books of the Year list for 2016 in the category of non-fiction. Up next is a picture book biography about Emma Gatewood, the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail solo at the age of 67! Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail will be released in Spring 2018 with Abrams Books for Young Readers. For more information, check out her website: jenniferthermes.com
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