Can you imagine being the first African American teenager entering a classroom that had previously been for whites only? It is hard enough to be a new student in a new school, yet alone having to break down barriers as you go. Yet Mason Steele manages to find success in this challenging environment using his determination and award-winning skill at typing. His story is one of quiet courage that brings about change.
Author Pamela Tuck has crafted a memorable picture book. Although not technically a nonfiction title, we’re sharing it today because it is historical fiction based on real events in the life of the author’s father. Pamela has been gracious enough to answer our questions about the book and the writing process, including how sometimes fiction is really the best way to go.
As Fast As Words Could Fly is the story of your father’s experiences growing up, yet you chose to fictionalize it. For example, you changed the main character’s name from Moses Teel Jr. to Mason Steele. Can you explain to the reader why you chose to make the story fiction rather than narrative nonfiction or even creative nonfiction?
This is a great question. In writing narrative nonfiction or creative nonfiction, there are certain journalistic accounts that a writer follows. It’s a creative way of writing factual information in the order it happened. When I decided to write my dad’s story, I had a certain plot point I wanted to work around and I pulled snippets of his experiences that I thought would work well with my plot. Fictionalizing the story allowed me to rearrange those snippets and strengthen them with creative dialogue. Having the freedom to awaken a scene with lively and aggressive dialogue brought the attention I wanted to create and helped move my story in the direction I wanted it to go.
Awaken you did!
You also explain why you chose fiction over biography at an interview at Sally’s Bookshelf. You reveal it is partially because there were some gaps in your father’s memories. I can definitely relate. Were you concerned at all, however, that fictionalizing the story would lessen the impact of the true elements?
Not really. I kept the major events accurate. I only used fictionalized scenes or dialogue to act as a spotlight, bringing the event in full view for the reader.
You credit your husband with giving you the idea and encouragement to tell your father’s fascinating story (see details at Booktalking). Did your children add any pieces? Did they give you their generation’s perspective?
My children’s contribution to the story was their supportive enthusiasm. They’re always interested in hearing about our family’s history, and providing them with this story is a way to make sure that some of that history isn’t lost.
History is so important. I’m sure they will value this book very much when they have children of their own.
Today’s youth tend to look to musicians and athletes as role models, yet it becomes obvious reading the book that many talents, such as typing, can lead to success. Do you have any thoughts along this theme that you would like to add?
Yes, I want young people to be inspired to follow their interests and never be afraid to use their gifts and talents. Whatever it is that they are passionate about, they will give it their best. Finding their passion, and working hard to perfect it, is what leads to success . . . then they can be role models for others who desire the same.
Very good point. I would say that you are now a wonderful role model for inspiring young writers!
Educators will definitely pull out As Fast As Words Could Fly for Black History Month and units on the Civil Rights movement, but this book really should be allowed to stand on its own merit as a fabulous story. Pick up a copy and see if you don’t agree.
Other reviews and stops on the blog tour can be found at:
Publisher: Lee & Low Books (April 1, 2013)
Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. We invite you to join us. For more information and a schedule, stop by Booktalking to see who is hosting each week.
Today’s round up is at Abby the Librarian.