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This past weekend the Library of Congress celebrated the “joys of reading aloud” on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The 2011 National Book Festival featured over 100 of today’s most influential authors, including Toni Morrison, Russell Banks, Sherman Alexie, Garrison Keillor, and two-time Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian David McCullough, among many others. TSB author Dorie McCullough Lawson was featured in the Children’s Pavilion, where she spoke and signed copies of her wonderful new children’s book, TEX.

Although just out, TEX has already won the hearts of reviewers with its vivid color-block design and authentic photographs of the American West. You can order a copy of TEX for your favorite little cowboy or cowgirl at the TSB bookstore (its available NOW!), where shipping in the US is always FREE.

While at the National Book Festival, Dorie sat down with the LOC and shared a little about her writing process, as well as her advice for passing on a love of books and reading to young children:

LOC: What sparked your imagination for your book – TEX?

DL: I have always been captivated by children of a certain age, usually from about 3 to 5, who in their pretend play become totally transported and transformed by the power of their imaginations. They become what they imagine. The little cowboy, Tex, was photographically interesting and a character simply waiting for a book.

LOC: What challenges do you face in your writing process? How do you overcome them?

DL: I have to hear a book in my head before I can write and sometimes I have trouble hearing it. If I’m not hearing it, then time is really the only thing that helps me with that challenge. Ideas (and I have many of them) usually have to stew and settle, get disrupted, and then stew again before I am ready to write.

LOC: What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start writing?

DL: Write about something that matters to you. If you are writing about a subject you don’t know much about, learn about it, study it, look at it until you care about it. You can’t write about anything if it doesn’t matter to you, so make it matter.

LOC: Can you suggest a fun writing topic to get them started?

DL: When I was working on my book Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to their Children (Doubleday, 2003) I realized that many of the best letters were written when a parent was very angry or very sad – when emotions were running high. I would suggest writing a letter to someone about a subject that makes you spitting mad!

LOC: What is your list of favorite children or teen books?

DL:

  • Harry the Dirty Dog, Gene Zion
  • Huge Harold, Bill Peet
  • The Amazing Bone, William Steig
  • James Herriot’s Treasury for Children, James Herriot
  • Old Yeller, Fred Gipson
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George – Speare
  • Where the Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls
  • Carry On Mr. Bowditch, Jena Lee Latham
  • The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be, Farley Mowat
  • Light in the Forest, Conrad Richter

LOC: How do you decide on themes for your books?

DL: I have written a non-fiction book, a novel and TEX is my first children’s book. Although the three books are of different genres, I would say in each case, the themes have been arrived at by the characters. I don’t choose themes, the characters choose them for me.

LOC: How important is research in the development of your books? Can you explain that process as well?

DL: Research is always very important! Authenticity is essential. Authenticity requires knowledge and knowledge is arrived at by research. I consider research to come in all shapes and sizes – everything from digging in archives to simply soaking it up. In the case of TEX, research came in the form of spending years in the West – in towns, on ranches, with animals and with cowboys. The photographs had to be authentic and the language had to fit with the subject and the character.

LOC: What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?

DL: Talk about what you, yourself are reading. Be sure your children see you reading for pleasure and by that I mean reading books – not newspapers or magazine, not online, not on an e-reader – BOOKS!

Don’t give up reading aloud when your children are proficient readers themselves! We are always reading a family book. Every night for about a half an hour our whole family sits together in the living room to listen while my husband or I read aloud a chapter or two to the family. Sometimes the older kids protest and sometimes the younger kids don’t understand everything that is happening in the book, but they all hear it. With a family book always in the mix, no matter what is going on we all have something in common and that something is a book.

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TEX by Dorie McCullough Lawson is available from the TSB website NOW.

Last week TSB had a chance to catch up with Dorie McCullough Lawson before she and her family left the East Coast for a visit to Wyoming for a wedding. We asked her about her new children’s book TEX, as well as the Wranglers that appear regularly within it, the olives in her fridge, and the importance of inspiring imagination in young people. TEX is now available, and you can order your copy from the TSB bookstore, where shipping in the US is always FREE!

Dorie will be talking about TEX and signing copies at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC, at the end of this month–check out the TSB website for more information.

TSB: Your new children’s book TEX is based, in part, on the adventures your son Luke had on the Wymont Ranch in Wyoming during his early childhood. How did you come to know the Wymont Ranch, and do you still regularly visit?

DL: Wyoming is a big part of our lives because my husband—the painter T. Allen Lawson—was born and raised in Sheridan, and we lived there for many years. Wymont Ranch is owned by our wonderful friends, the Tates, and we spend as much time there as we possibly can. Luke imagined he was “Tex” (the main character in my new children’s book), but when he got to Wymont, Tex found his “home” and really came to life.

TSB: The photographs that appear in TEX are incredibly charming, and your son seems for the most part unaware of the presence of a camera. How did the photos in the book come about? Were any of them “staged”?

DL: The photographs in the book were not staged at all.  Instead of staging shots, I just followed “Tex” around and photographed everything. The story came out of the photographs.  Occasionally, we would put Tex in situations that might lead to some good photographs, but they weren’t staged.

The picture of Honey Pooh (aka “Thunder” in the book) in the ranch house was somewhat of a subdued photograph given how often the pony was really in the house.  One time the Tates were having a party for the Belmont Stakes with a lot of people over.  “Tex” took it upon himself to go get the pony and walked him right through the kitchen, hallway, and living room, over and over.  The best part was no one really seemed to take much notice!

"Thunder" makes an appearance at the annual Wymont Belmont party...

People are often interested in the photograph that’s on the cover of the book.  They ask me, “How did you get ‘Tex’ to make that face?”  I didn’t get him to do anything!  In that particular shot, he was walking with his rope out into that field and we were following him. Mimi Tate said, “Hey Tex, what are you doing?”  He turned around and faced us with that stance and that face and said, “I’m goin’ to rope that cow!”

He wore the clothes he wears in the book every single day, and I just followed him around and got as many photographs as I could.  I think there are more than 3,000 photos!

TSB: Speaking of his clothes, perhaps most convincing is the real “Cowboy Gear,” including Wranglers, boots, and hat, in which Luke (“Tex”) appears. Was this his natural choice of wardrobe at all times when he was five, or just when you were visiting Wyoming?

DL: The clothes “Tex” is wearing in the book are the clothes he wore on-and-off for about two years, from the time he was about four to around six.  Any time we were in Wyoming, he wore only those clothes, every day.  It was a little bit of a laundry challenge.

TSB: This is your third book, although your first for children. Where does your writing passion lie—in books for “grownups” or a younger readership?

DL: If I have a writing passion it lies entirely with the idea that is compelling me at the time.  I don’t look for ideas or plan for books, I wait until something strikes me, and if the idea survives and continues to occupy my thoughts and develop in my mind, then maybe it will be a book.

TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose?

DL: Generally, I like sturdy little horses like Quarter Horses and Connemaras.  I notice that the older I get, the littler I like my horses!  I’m currently on a Haflinger kick, so that’s what I would have on a desert island.

For a book, I would choose Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton to remind me of New England’s bleak winters and Spartan people.

Honey Pooh (aka "Thunder") in the Wymont Ranch main house.

TSB: What’s in your refrigerator at all times?

DL: Olives

TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

DL: Riding on a beautiful September day.

TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember sitting on a horse.

DL: I have no memory of my first time sitting on a horse and I have a pretty good memory, so I must have been young.

TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember falling off a horse.

DL: I remember falling off a pony when I was about three years old.  I was in Vermont headed up a hill, riding double with our babysitter, Gloria.  I don’t remember what happened, but I do remember the shock of being on the horse and then on the ground in an instant. Gloria was a fantastic horsewoman and she was from Sheridan, Wyoming.  I think my interest in the West must have started with Gloria.

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?

DL: Honesty.

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?

DL: Honesty.

"Thunder" and "Tex" in the kitchen...

TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?

DL: I would love to ride an upper level dressage horse.  I dream of it!

TSB: What is your idea of the perfect meal?

DL: A big, loud meal with my family.

TSB: What is your idea of the perfect vacation?

DL: I love horses and I love the West, but for a vacation, nothing beats the beach.

TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?

DL: This is a question I can only answer if I feel I can answer it differently tomorrow.  One person just isn’t enough!

Today, I would say Charlotte Mason. Charlotte Mason was an important nineteenth century English educator. She had fascinating and wonderful ideas about educating young children and how to spark the imagination in the realm of history and literature.  Imagination is entirely essential and I don’t think we as a culture give nearly enough attention to its development, nor to its importance.

 

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It isn’t every book that earns a review in PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY, the the international news website and print magazine of book publishing and bookselling, but Dorie McCullough Lawson’s charming new children’s book TEX has done it, and done it well.

Here’s what PW had to say:

“Certain childhood dreams are elemental—growing up to be a firefighter, a ballerina, or a cowboy—and adult author Lawson, in her first children’s book, taps into that third option with a photographic ode to a boy’s imagined life on the ranch. Lawson begins by introducing readers to Luke (her son), who first appears in grayscale photos. ‘He lives in a house near the ocean…. But Luke imagines he is… Tex.’ Color photographs, on the right side of each spread, portray Tex as one serious cowpoke, wearing a jean shirt, boots, and a black brimmed hat against an expansive landscape of mountains and ‘wide open spaces.’ Spare prose plays into the taciturn image of a cowboy on the job (‘All day long Tex works hard. He rides. He irrigates. He checks fence’), and even with her son in the starring role, Lawson avoids both cutesiness and the feel of a vanity project, focusing on the simple pleasures of hard work and a job well done. The seriousness with which the book takes Tex’s role on the ranch validates children’s dreams and ambitions. Ages 3–5.”

Dorie, wife of renowned painter T. Allen Lawson and daughter of two-time Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian David McCullough, will also appear at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC, in late September. Watch the TSB website for details regarding her appearance there, including reading and signing times.

TSB recently traveled to Wyoming and visited the Wymont Ranch outside of Sheridan, where the book TEX is set. You can read more about it on our TSB Riding Adventures blog (click HERE).

Watch for TEX in your local bookstore in October, 2011, or preorder your copy now at the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is always FREE.

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