Sweet Dreams, Sarah: From Slavery to Inventor
by Vivian Kirkfield, Illustrated by Chris Ewald
Creston Books (May 1, 2019)
Nonfiction * biography * women’s history
Audience: Ages 7 to 10
Indiebound | WorldCat
Thank you so very much, Alyson. I’ve been a fan of Kid Lit Frenzy for a long time. I’m thrilled to be here today, chatting about SWEET DREAMS, SARAH.
One of the problems of writing about someone in the past, someone who is NOT famous, is that there isn’t much written about them…but this is also a good thing, because the book is needed.
In researching Sarah E. Goode, I reached out to my local librarian…who reached out to librarians at some of the bigger libraries: the Schlesinger Library which is part of the Radcliff Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the Harsh Research Collection at the Chicago Public Library. One of the librarians responded:
Wow! Your author seems to have amassed much more information than we ever dreamed there would be. We have nothing in our files on Goode and her name only comes up every Black History Month when some unlucky child has her name assigned for a report. All we've ever been able to lead them to is a photo of the patent and a brief blurb in a "Black Inventors" book. Essentially nothing more than can be found on the internet.
And that response made me even more determined to dig deeper and write this story!
I did uncover a lot, but did not include it all in the manuscript. The reason is simple…this is intended to be a story for young kids. Everything presented needs to be honest and authentic. But I believe it also has to be inspiring and uplifting…and full of hope. When writing for young children, it’s also important to stay focused on the theme…the heart of the story. If you include too much information and go off-topic, you may be leading the reader away from the what you hoped to convey.
For instance, here is something I discovered that I mention briefly in the back matter. Sarah E. Goode got her patent in 1885, but by 1887, there is a listing in a local newspaper of the time - an advertisement of those same cabinet beds for sale by another vendor because 'the manufacturer of these beds went bust'. In 1886, Sarah's mother and one of her own children died...perhaps she became ill or depressed and couldn't work anymore. But there is no more mention of her store in any records. And she died at the age of 49. Which is so sad and not anything I felt belonged in the text of the story itself.
I also found one small newspaper article from a few years after the advertisement. It was about a law suit against her husband Archibald. It seems his wife (I assume it was Sarah) bought/rented a piece of property, but when the landlord discovered a black family was moving in, he claimed misrepresentation and fraud. In some sources I read that Sarah mentioned she was from Toledo, Spain (census records show Toledo, Ohio as her birthplace in 1870 when she is 15 and living with her parents...census records show Toledo, Spain in 1880 when she is married to Archibald). She was biracial (race category on the census says 'mulatto'). Perhaps her features and coloring allowed her to 'pass' as someone of European/Spanish descent. This 'fact' I did not include in the back matter since the 'wife' mentioned in the newspaper might not have been Sarah...the journalist might just have been repeating what someone told him. But it is interesting, nevertheless, especially when we look at the information on the census records.
Tied into those same census records is the question of where Sarah was born. We need to remember that Sarah was born in about 1855. Slavery was still the law of the land, especially in the southern states. Obviously, Sarah could not have been born in both Toledo, Ohio AND Toledo, Spain. And still other sources say she was born in the south. I mention this in the timeline at the back of the book. If you look at the map, the southern border of Ohio runs along the northern border of Virginia. Her father was a freedman. Her mother was a slave. It might have made sense for them to say that Sarah was born in the free state of Ohio, not the slave state of Virginia. But I don’t go into detail about this in the story because the important concepts that I am trying to highlight for kids are that she had been a slave, but still had a dream. And through perseverance, hard work, and paying attention to the needs of her customers, she built her cabinet bed…and built her dream into reality. As the end of the story says, ‘She built more than a piece of furniture. She built a life far away from slavery. A life where her sweet dreams could come true.’
And guess what? In a couple of weeks, I’ll be in Chicago for some book events and school visits…reading Sweet Dreams, Sarah with children is what this is all about, right? I’ll even get a chance to visit the grave of Sarah E. Goode with my son and granddaughter. Six-year old Sophie thinks we should read the book as we lay flowers on the gravesite. And I think that is a GREAT idea. I can’t wait!
Thank you so much, Alyson, for giving me the opportunity to share some of the back story about SWEET DREAMS, SARAH.
About Vivian Kirkfield:
Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing and banana-boat riding. 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 quaint village of Amherst, NH where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. 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, Picture Books Help Kids Soar. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (Pomegranate); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found
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