FOR SPACIOUS SKIES: Katharine Lee Bates and the inspiration for “America the Beautiful”
March 16th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

An Interview with Author Nancy Churnin about FOR SPACIOUS SKIES: Katharine Lee Bates and the Inspiration for “America the Beautiful”

Pub date: April 1, 2020, Albert Whitman & Co

Interbang Books | Express Booksellers | Amazon | B & N

“Churnin tells that story in a spare and lively text beautifully complemented by double-page spreads highlighting Baumert’s gorgeous panoramic illustrations…A handsome volume befitting its subject.” — Kirkus Reviews

“This picture book biography about a strong, smart woman and her contribution to American culture is a strong choice for elementary libraries.”– School Library Journal

“The story ends on a high note in 1920, with Bates casting her ballot after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted voting rights to women… The richly colored, nicely composed artwork will help children visualize the period setting while enjoying the portrayals of Bates and beautiful landscapes. A picture-book biography of a notable American.”—Booklist

“Nancy Churnin has written a delightful book that helps children understand the many dimensions of my great-aunt Katharine Lee Bates. This book does an excellent job conveying her ardent passion for equal rights and for her country. She was a poet, a professor, and a world traveler, but she was first and foremost a citizen who loved America, in all its beauty and diversity.”–Katharine Lee Holland

Q & A:

Question: Why did you want to share Katharine’s story?

Answer: There is so much confusion and conflict about what patriotism is. Katharine Lee Bates, who wrote one of our most patriotic songs, “America the Beautiful,” goes to the heart of what it truly is. Her scrupulously sculpted words are not just about how beautiful America is, but how beautiful America can be if we crown our good “with brotherhood/From sea to shining sea.” To me, that is true patriotism — not just loving your country, but helping your country live up to her ideals of equality and kindness. Katharine was a little girl during the Civil War, when Americans hated and hurt each other during conflict and for years afterward.  A minister’s daughter and fierce advocate for help and support for the poor as well as equal rights for women, she gave the song to America for free, as a gift, hoping to inspire fellow Americans to see themselves as part of one, inclusive family. Most people don’t know the name Katharine Lee Bates and I wanted kids to know the name of this extraordinary woman who refused to accept the limitations that women were given in her time and went on to get an education, become a poet and professor, live an independent life in a world of women and leave the world a better place.

Question: What should people know that wasn’t included in this book?

Answer: As much as I tried, given the length and thematic constraints of a picture book, I couldn’t find a way to cram in that she also wrote “Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride,” a poem about MRS. SANTA CLAUS! The female empowerment is wonderful as is the creation of Mrs. Claus. Ironically, Mrs. Claus saves the day by mending holes in stockings so that the toys don’t fall out. The irony, of course, is that Katharine hated sewing so much that when she was given dolls as a child she would just plaster leaves on them for clothes rather than sew fabric together. I think Goody Santa Claus was a tribute to her widowed mother, who took in sewing as well as laundry, to help make the money that allowed Katharine to go to school.

Bonus round:

Winter, spring, summer, or fall? Spring because my birthday is in spring and spring is about beginnings, new buds opening, each one like a new story starting. Also, spring leads in to summer, where children have more time to play and then fall, another time of beginnings — of school and learning and, of course, the Jewish New Year.

Matzah balls or kreplach? Matzah balls — my comfort food.

Music or movies? Music — all kinds, with a special nod to Broadway musicals.

Books: horror, biography, fiction, sci-fi, romance, memoir or fantasy? Fantasy — because the heart and mind need to play.

Coffee, tea, or hot chocolate? Hot chocolate is one of my basic food groups.

Leave a Reply

»  Substance: WordPress   »  Style: Ahren Ahimsa
© Copyright 2020 Liza Wiemer