Recently I took a quick trip to Florida. It was unseasonably cold. It’s always unseasonably cold when I go to Florida. I call it my Florida Curse. It started over thirty years ago with a trip to Disney World and I apologize to anyone who happens to be in the state at the same time as me.
But I digress. Near to the house we visited in Venice was a small park named for Ponce de Leon. I dragged my husband over to take my picture in this park named for the explorer who “discovered” Florida and claimed it in the name of the Spanish king in 1513.
Yes I am wearing sandals even though it is chilly. I am from Maine.
Jaun Ponce de Leon was a Conquistador who had traveled with Christopher Columbus on his second trip to the New World in 1493. While on his expeditions, he heard tales about magical springs that could make the old young again. The Native People of Cuba, Hispaniola, and the Bahamas claimed there was an island to the North, Bimini (or Beniny) where there was either a river, spring, or fountain that could restore youth. Not to mention, heaps and heaps of gold. In 1512 gold-crazy King Ferdinand gave Ponce de Leon a permit to search for Bimini. Instead, in 1513, he landed on Florida’s east coast. To be fair, the New World was indeed new, and people did not yet know how big it was. Ponce de Leon was not sure if Florida was an island or if it was attached to Mexico and the lands discovered by Cortes. Ponce de Leon landed in St. Augustine where today there is a tourist attraction and archaeological dig.
What is clear, however, is that whether or not he was looking for the fountain, he didn’t find it. He died in Cuba of a battle wound in 1521.
Hey, Ponce de Leon – I found the fountain in your park. Where’s the water?
In The Water Castle, legend holds that Angus Appledore was an explorer who was given a land-grant by the King of England. He chose to come to Maine after his own expeditions to purported locations of the Fountain of Youth — including the mythical Bimini — convinced him that the fountain was located in the small town of Crystal Springs. Did he have better luck than Ponce de Leon? That’s the mystery of the novel.
I was very fortunate to be able to sit down with Vicky Smith of Kirkus for an interview about The Water Castle. It was a really lovely conversation that had me thinking about my own book in new ways. The interview is now online. In the story she mentions that I am not a big fan of research. I remember that moment in the interview. I was talking about how I had never really wanted to write historical fiction because it took to much research. I started to laugh because here I was, a librarian, sitting in my library, confessing that I don’t like to what many consider to be the essential function of a library.
Well, it’s true. In the strictest sense, I do not like to research. I like the reading and the learning, but not the searching. (WARNING: This post is about to get all librarian-lingo-y.) In the parlance of the Big6™, I like steps 4 and 5 — Use of Information and Synthesis, but I’m not such a big fan of #1 Task Definition, #2 Information Seeking Strategies or even #6 Evaluation. I split #3: I really dislike 3.1 Locate Sources, but love 3.2 Find Information Within Sources.
Five summers ago, not long after we moved to Poland, Maine, my husband and I were hiking around the trails at the Poland Spring Preservation Park, and we kept seeing signs for “The Source.” Naturally curious, we followed the signs and found a small building, almost like a stone gazebo with windows. Inside we saw four mannequins sitting in wicker chairs around a well of sorts, waiting to be served water in crystal goblets. The floor was marble, the source itself encased in another set of windows. We laughed a bit at the formality of it, and then went on our tick-filled merry way. My wheels were already spinning, though, thinking about a world built around water.
Original bottling source. Photo from Maine Memory Network.
Last week I was working with a class of students, each of whom needed to pick out a book on the Holocaust. As I started the class, I reminded them not to pay too much mind to the covers. This unit has been in place for a long time, and some of the covers are starting to look a little dated.
Image from Google Books
At the end of the day, after four classes visited, left behind were books like these with 70s/80s covers. Books with newer, fresher covers went first. And those with nondescript covers were chosen before these ones that looked older.
Early in the year, I surveyed fifth and sixth graders about their reading habits. 55% reported that a cover can make them want to read the book. Even more telling, perhaps, were the 45% who said a cover could cause them not to choose a book. As one girl wrote:
People always say “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” I always judge a book by it’s cover, if it looks good I read it!
So, clearly, cover is huge when it comes to tweens/teens and reading. But often the author has very little choice. Authors are often asked for input, but the final choice is left to the publishers. (See Melissa Walker’s Cover Stories for some examples of when it went well.)
With all of this in mind, I am very, very excited to share that Jim Kay will be illustrating the cover of my upcoming novel, The Water Castle. I have seen some of the early drafts (is this what they’re called in the art world?), and they are gorgeous. I can’t wait to see — and share — the final version.