You're Invited: A Cup of Coffee With Caroline Starr Rose (+ Giveaway)

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One of us has published a beautiful children's book today.

It wasn't me.

Yes, one of us. A reader of this blog. Beautiful news!

Publishers Schwartz and Wade just published a children's book by one of my first email subscribers and a regular Read Aloud Dad reader.

The book is May B. by Caroline Starr Rose.

You may not know that Schwarz and Wade is a member of Random House Children’s Books’ - the world’s largest English-language children's trade book publisher!

And when was it published? On January 10, 2012, of all days! Today?

Yep! And to celebrate, I have invited the esteemed author of May B. to have a cup of coffee with us.  

A Cup of Coffee with Caroline Starr Rose

First, let us meet Caroline Starr Rose.

Caroline spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico, camping at the Red Sea in one and eating red chile in the other. 

As a girl she danced ballet, raced through books by Laura Ingalls, and put on magic shows in a homemade cape. She graduated from the University of New Mexico and went on to teach both social studies and English in New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, and Louisiana. 

In her classroom, she worked to instill in her students a passion for books, the freedom to experiment with words, and a curiosity about the past. 

I asked Caroline to prepare a cup of coffee (or tea), before sitting down to respond to the questions. (I did the same, before I wrote them down)

Q: Caroline, briefly (or not), why and when and where and how did you write May B.? 

I actually wrote May B. in my mini office -- a 3x4 closet! Thankfully we’re in a different house now, and I’ve graduated to an entire room. 

I wrote May for a number of reasons -- my love for Laura Ingalls Wilder (and the desire to create my own strong pioneer girl), my curiosity about how learning disabled children would have fared in an era their struggles would have been misunderstood, and the challenge of writing about solitude.

Q. Has the whole excitement of publishing your first book passed? Or is it just increasing?

Increasing, most certainly!

Q. Describe May B. (the character) in three words?

Brave, determined, and unsure

Q: I love the concept of May B. - a novel that is a combination of historical fiction and verse. How did you decide to merge the two?

May didn’t start as a verse novel. My first few attempts at writing the story felt distant and lifeless. 

It wasn’t until I returned to my research (and specifically a book called Read this Only to Yourself: The Private Writings of Midwestern Women, 1880-1910) that I saw the patterns these women’s writings had in common: terse language, stark circumstances, a matter-of-fact tone. 

The heavens had opened for me (really!), and I was able to climb inside May’s world, using the voices of the women I’d encountered through research.

A confession: I’d read two verse novels before writing May B. (Out of the Dust and Heartbeat). This both terrified and liberated me. 

I didn’t let myself anywhere near Karen Hesse’s Newbery-winning Dust while writing, for fear of crumbling into a heap of worthlessness (though I felt I understood for the first time why she told her story this way -- the immediacy verse brings speaks volumes, especially in trying times). On the other hand, I wasn’t bound by patterns or rules. 

Several readers have said May B.’s pacing reads more like prose (swifter than the typical verse novel), which ultimately served the story.

Q. May B. comes out on January 10, 2012! Can you give us some of your favorite read aloud book recommendations that are either historical fiction or verse (or both!) to get us in the mood?

I think all poetry should be read aloud. Back in my teaching days, I’d tell my students poetry is meant to be seen and heard. 

The poet uses spacing and rhythm and imagery and language in ways completely unique to the art form. Seeing, hearing, and speaking a poem aloud lets a person experience it most completely.

As for great read alouds, I can’t help but mention Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. My father read them to me when I was a girl (though I made him stop four books in, when I realized Laura’s dog was going to die. I finished the series later on my own). 

Some people shy away from these books now, as there are some challenging terms (think farming techniques) and distasteful interactions (Ma Ingalls’ opinion of Native Americans). 

I think it’s for these reasons precisely we should still be reading these books to our children: what better way to teach them about history, how life has changed, how (hopefully!) attitudes have changed, how children (Laura, in this instance) often see truths their parents are unable to grasp (she sees similarities with the Indians, where the adults can only see difference. 

Pretty wise for a child, don’t you think?)

I think Scott O’Dell’s Sing Down the Moon would make a lovely read aloud, as would Avi’s Crispin: Cross of Lead, though I’ve only read these to myself. 

As for verse novels, Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog would be amazing to share with a group of children. Reading it made me itch for a classroom!

Q. Can you tell us when did you get the idea to write this book, how long did the writing process take and how long did it take you to find a willing publisher? I know its a long story, but its an inspirational one. 

When I sold May B., I’d been writing for twelve years. May was my fourth novel (I’d written half a dozen picture books, as well). 

At that point, I’d collected hundreds and hundreds of rejections. I knew May had two things going against her: history and verse. 

This type of book isn’t exactly a hot commodity in today’s market, but I strongly believed it was my best work and her story needed to be heard. 

Thankfully, my agent agreed. She sold May, at auction, four months later.

Q. What is your list of Top 10 favorite read-alouds for kids that parents could easily overlook these days?

picture books:

1. Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum by Lisa Wheeler
2. Sixteen Cows by Lisa Wheeler
3. Cornfield Hide and Seek by Christine Widman
4. Rattletrap Car by Phyllis Root
5. Underground Train by Mary Quattlebaum
6. Sing, Sophie! by Dayle Anne Dodds
7. Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? by Dr. Seuss 
8. Any Tacky the Penguin book by Helen Lester

middle grade:

9. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (I ADORE this book and have probably read         
    it 30 times)
10. Holes by Louis Sachar

poetry bonus:

11. Anything by Jack Prelutsky...especially fun to listen to on road trips on CD!

Q. Do you still read aloud to your kids? 

Oh, yes. My husband does, too.

Q. What do you think, are kids reading less or more these days compared to a decade or two ago?

I’m not sure. I will say there will always be things that compete with reading, but if we’re serious about making reading a priority in our families, we’ll fight to make it happen.

What excites me is the variety of books available to children nowadays -- so many more titles and genres than when I was a girl. It’s a wonderful time to be a reader and an author.

Q. Do you and your kids use e-book readers? Why?

My boys are fascinated with my mother’s e-reader and even read a few novels with her last summer this way. I think having one might be handy down the road. 

For me, I love the tactile experience of holding a book. As much as I prefer books, though, I refuse to be afraid of the ways storytelling might change in years to come. 

Story is stronger than any medium and will continue to be available (and viable!) in the future.

Q: Do you know a real-life May B.? 

Not exactly, though I’ll be honest in saying their are former students of mine I still grieve over, wishing I’d known how to better meet their needs. 

Q. Caroline, are you already working on your next project? Any hints what can we look forward to?

From National Geographic
A picture book about the Louisiana wetlands and a verse novel about an intriguing moment in early American history (that’s as specific as I’m going to get!) 

Q. When did you think of the catchy title (and character name) for the book? Did you have May B. as a name in your head even before you started writing?

I did have May B. in mind before writing, and her name informed the character. I liked the double entendre and the way “maybe” and “better” were a part of her name, Mavis Elizabeth Betterly. 

Before I really “knew” her, I knew she’d need to struggle to overcome feeling inadequate in some way. 

Once I knew she wanted to become a teacher, the most direct way I could challenge her was with a learning disability -- an almost impossible obstacle to overcome in her era.

Q. Do you have any May B. giveaways underway, so that Read Aloud Dad readers can take part?

I’m happy to give a copy of the book and a May B. journal to one of your readers. 

[note from Read Aloud Dad: I will send Caroline the name of a randomly chosen winner from the list of my email subscribers on January 15, so if you are on the list by then - you will be eligible to win. Just click on the link to subscribe for free]

Q. You are a teacher of Social Studies and you have traveled the world. Has this been very important for you to help you develop your first novel?

You’re on to something here. Though I’m no longer teaching, I think having been in the classroom and having had the opportunity to live and travel overseas mean I’ve been privileged to meet people from all walks of life. We are more alike than different. I feel passionately that the maligned, the forgotten, and the underprivileged should have a voice and should be extended dignity. I hope my book touches on both these things.

Q. How can Read Aloud Dad readers learn more about your book? Does May B. have an online presence and where?

Q. You are a blogger too! I love your posts about running a book club (Book Clubs for KidsWhat WorksWhen Problems AriseRunning a Book Club for Kids). It is not as complicated as it may seem and it is not as easy at it may seem. Can you tell us - from your experience - does parent involvement in children's reading make a real difference? If yes, how can we get parents more excited about sharing books with their kids?

Parent involvement is KEY. When you’re a natural reader, I think it’s easier to ooze enthusiasm for books, but even if reading hasn’t always been your thing, you can forge an interest together:

Find a book on turtles, lions, some other creature after visiting the zoo. Check out books you read as a child and read them aloud -- even if there are protests at first. Talk about characters at the dinner table. Quote lines from shared stories (I still tell my very grown up boys “You can’t have that wish, my Little Bear”). Set aside a time and place to read. Commit to a series as a family. Listen to books on CD (road trips and rainy days are great for this). Ask teachers or librarians for recommendations. 

Q. Question for your publisher to answer (if possible) - why did you sign up Caroline Starr Rose and why is May B. such a special book?

I have an email I kept from my editor early on where she said she got caught up in the story and fell for May’s voice right away. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Q. Was it coffee or tea? (In my case it was a sugar-free cappuccino with extra milk.)

Decaf with toffee creamer. Thanks so much for this opportunity! You asked the sort of questions that inspire.

It was a pleasure Caroline! Read Aloud Dad wishes you enormous success with May B.!

I end this interview with my favorite quote from your blog: 

"There is nothing like loving children. There is nothing like loving books. 
To experience the two together is a gift indeed." 
Caroline Starr Rose 

PS If you are interested in reading about the creative process behind the creation of the May B. cover page by artist Chris Silas Neal, read about the entire process of making a cover page on his blog.


  1. Carrie has been an inspiration to me for much of my life! I'm so proud of this accomplishment!

  2. Hi Robyn!

    Thanks so much for your comment! I am so happy to hear that!

    Indeed, Caroline is a great inspiration - and I was so happy that she gave this interview for my blog! And on the day that she launches her book - smashing!

    Read Aloud Dad 

    Re: Robyn Vines Smith 

  3. Interesting interview! One thing that piqued my curiosity is how old her kids are. She mentioned she is "still" reading to them, but I couldn't find any mention of how old they are. (I'm guessing middle school age.) I'm not normally a big poetry fan, but I do love Laura Ingalls Wilder, so I'll make sure to check out the book.

  4. Great interview and I'm enjoying all the posts int the blogosphere about Caroline. SteadyMom wrote a lovely post about her best friend ...

  5. Thanks for this delicious post interview with an author I can't wait to try. Thanks also for your give away and count me in. 
    I'm sent over from Darlene's blog where she leibestered you. (did you know that?)

    I've read both the "Phantom Toll booth" and "Holes" and loved them both but will keep your list of other books to try. I'm intrigued. :) 

  6. Hi Judy,

    Thanks so much for leaving a comment! So happy you enjoyed the interview with Caroline - and would you believe it, I also started thinking about the age of her kids. Your guess sounds about right to me (but if Caroline reads this, maybe she will let us know). 

    Anyhow - Judy I would love to know your thoughts about May B. if you read the book!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: @7de43b3d2d56e6ba641fcd4f0b879277 

  7. Hi PragmaticMom,

    You made my day with the link to SteadyMom's post about her best friend Caroline and her quest to publish her book!

    So happy that you included your link in the comment so that all readers of this interview can follow straight through to that testament of a true friendship. I love the name of her post "On being vulnerable and putting yourself out there". Fantastic stuff.

    Thanks so much for showing us the way to SteradyMom's tribute to CSR!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: @2f04fd44b02f5004c4fadc411b33b1aa 

  8. Thanks so much Clarikebowmanjahn!

    So happy to have you on board as well! By the way, I didn't know about the mention on Darlene's blog - thanks for telling me! I have to check it out! :-)

    The Phantom Tollbooth and Holes are also two books that we have in our home library - but we have not read them yet. I can't wait to read them with my kids for the first time!

    Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment, much appreciated!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: @c7dc55ada1413342851be4612727da93