…on a nineteenth century riverboat. What a combination, right? I never would have thought that horses and riverboats were a likely pair,but Alison Hart has thankfully proven me wrong.
The year is 1852. Ten-year-old Emma and her mother, have boarded the Sally May for a steamboat journey that will take them up the Missouri river to St. Joseph where Papa will be waiting. Dr. Burton, who is tending Mama’s fragile health, treats Emma like a bothersome child and bosses her around, even though she is used to getting her own way. Also along for the journey is Emma’s beloved horse, Licorice Twist. It is concern for her horse that first lures her below deck–a place she is forbidden to go. What an incredible shock it is for Emma to encounter a world so different than her own pampered life of comfortable staterooms and fine food.
As Emma’s excursions below deck become more frequent, she encounters Patrick, an eleven-year-old stowaway who recently emigrated from Ireland. Slowly, Emma and Patrick develop a friendship that spans classes and ship levels. When the boiler explodes and the steamboat starts sinking, Emma must fight her way through the black smoke to find her friends and family before it is too late.
So much happens in this book, that I thought it would be interesting to hear where the idea first came from, so here, straight from the horses mouth, so to speak, is Alison Hart. Be sure to read to the bottom to find out how to enter to win your own copy of Emma’s River.
“Ideas are everywhere, and one of my favorite things about writing is discovering an idea that can turn into a terrific story for young readers.
When I was researching for my early chapter book, Anna’s Blizzard (Peachtree 2005), which is all about the Blizzard of 1888, I read many books. One of my favorite was Mollie: The Journal of Mollie Dorsey Sanford (Bison Books). Mollie Sanford traveled from Indianapolis to Nebraska City by train and steamboat. She was one of the first families to settle in the Territory of Nebraska, and I was eager to read about her life on the plains to help shape my characters and setting for Anna. However, as I read, I was totally fascinated by her description of her steamboat journey. Mollie and her family traveled on the luxurious cabin deck, which “boasted of staterooms, saloons, and a nursery.” She wrote of meeting “fussy old ladies with their poodle dogs” and a new friend Dora who turned “sweet sixteen.” But she also wrote that a “destitute creature was found today with a dying child” on the main deck, where the immigrants traveled. This piqued my interest!
In Ham, Eggs and Corn Cakes: A Nebraska Territory Diary (Bison Books), Erastus F. Beadle wrote about his steamboat trip up the Missouri River. He described the passengers boarding the New Lucy “like a mass of sheep tumbling over each other in the dark.” He wrote about geese on the sandbars, thunderstorms, and climbing to the top of Chimney Rock. By now, I had decided that a steamboat trip would be the perfect setting for an adventure. Further research cemented the idea.
My first version was a picture book titled Up the Big Muddy. I envisioned illustrations of lovely ladies waltzing under chandeliers on the cabin deck as well as immigrants and sweaty deckhands squashed together on the main deck accompanying my rollicking text. Alas, the picture book was nixed for several reasons; the main reason was a similar picture book had just been published by a different publisher. Fortunately, my editor liked the idea and suggested turning it into an early chapter book, which meant a more complex plot.
Journals and diaries offer observations, details and language that history books can not, which is why I love them for research. However, Steamboats of the Western River, a detailed history of steamboats, gave me my plot. I read true tales of steamboats exploding, sinking, catching fire, and running aground. Who knew? Further research helped flesh out my characters and focus the plot. Soon Emma, Patrick, Twist, Mama, and Doctor Burton boarded The Sally May for a suspense-filled adventure on the Missouri:
“Look Emma!” Mama waved at her to hurry. “There she is.” The Sally May rose from the river as tall as a three-story building. The steamboat was white, with gold and black trim. Pendants and flags snapped in the breeze. Its name was written in red scroll on the paddlewheel housing.
Hand on her hat, Emma tipped back her head so she could see the top of the two chimneys. They belched thick smoke. Above the pilothouse, gulls dove and soared. Emma’s heart soared with them.”
And now for the giveaway! Simply leave a comment below letting me know why you want to read Emma’s River. What about it interests you? Be sure to leave your e-mail address. The Contest will go on until March 12th, so keeps those comments coming! Also, feel free to leave questions for Alison to answer.