Thursday, September 7, 2017

A 31 Year Old Letter about RIDDLE!

I recently finally started sorting through boxes of stuff left behind by my father, who passed away in 2013. I was amazed to find a lot of handwritten letters (remember those?) I had sent to Dad over the years.  One caught my eye.  Here is what I said:


Oct 25, 1986

I'm glad you liked The Riddle of Penncroft Farm. The agent I sent it to rejected it—I made Martha [my sister] come over to open the rejection letter to read it before I did. It's a most painful process. It turned out that the agent did like the historical part but found the modern bits to be "too pale and uninteresting."

I am now in a frenzy of rewriting (14 hours a day!) and am nearly done. I've recast the whole modern story into 1st person, told by Lars. I've kept Aunt Cass alive until after Lars moves to Penncroft, then she dies—adding a nice bit of drama. Aunt Cass is a lot like Gramma Moorehouse—I get to work in all the G.M. Gems like "Tastes like cat pee." (Her assessment of iced tea in her first conversation with David.)[David is now my husband. He wasn't when she said this to him. He couldn't believe that I hadn't forewarned him about Grammy.]

I also have put in a girl character to suck in girl readers at the beginning. I think the Sandy character will interest them later on.

I believe the book is much improved.

I hope to finish the rough draft today and polish it next week.


Well, it took many more rewrites before I was able to find a publisher for this book. It was finally published by Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich in late September, 1989, three whole years after I wrote this letter. (I didn't put the cat pee comment in there, although the "Why didn't you pick more peas?" came straight from my Grammy.

The Riddle of Penncroft Farm has been in print ever since, has sold thousands and thousands of copies, and been honored in many ways. It won 1st place in the historical fiction category of the 2014 Purple Dragonfly Children's Book Awards. It was also an International Reading Association Teachers' Choice Selection, a Jeanette Fair Award winner, and a Master List Selection for the William Allen White Children’s Book Award, the Rebecca Caudill Award, the Mark Twain Award, the South Carolina Children’s Book Award, the Hoosier Young Readers Award, and the Sunshine State Young Readers Award. As a manuscript, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm won the Children's Literature Competition at The Loft, a regional literary center in Minnesota.

It is used in schools all around the U.S. as a cross-curriculum enrichment resource for the study of the American Revolution. Hooray!

So I guess the lesson displayed by this old, old letter is that it pays to keep trying even when the process is painful!

Here are some links if you would like a copy.

Barnes and Noble

 Cheers,

Dorothea

Friday, September 1, 2017

Happy Birthday, America. Really.




When our son was sworn in as a member of the diplomatic corps in 1999, my husband and I attended the ceremony at the Main State Department in Washington, D.C. Afterwards, there was a gathering on the top floor in the John Quincy Adams Reception Room, pictured above.

I believe that we were served glasses of champagne, and I remember casually leaning against the desk just to the left of the  center of this photo to sip from my glass. It was only after I had taken a few sips that I looked down. To my astonishment, I saw what was displayed on this desk: the actual Treaty of Paris, signed by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay on September 3, 1783,  to end our Revolutionary War. I had had no idea that it was kept here, and it was thrilling to see these signatures and know that this document marked the official separation from England, and therefore, the birth of our nation





Article 10th:
The solemn Ratifications of the present Treaty expedited in good & due Form shall be exchanged between the contracting Parties in the Space of Six Months or sooner if possible to be computed from the Day of the Signature of the present Treaty.  In witness whereof we the undersigned their Ministers Plenipotentiary have in their Name and in Virtue of our Full Powers, signed with our Hands the present Definitive Treaty, and caused the Seals of our Arms to be affixed thereto.
Done at Paris, this third day of September in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-three.
D HARTLEY (SEAL)
JOHN ADAMS (SEAL)
B FRANKLIN (SEAL)
JOHN JAY (SEAL)


To read the whole Treaty, go to:
https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=6&page=transcript


I later learned that there were actually three original copies of this treaty that were all signed by the official signatories. The other two are at the National Archives.

Anyway, to go back to my moment of stunned realization about this historic document, I looked around and on a nearby wall, over the mantel, I found the famous painting by Benjamin West depicting the signing of this treaty.

Label on Treaty of Paris Painting by Benjamin West
I had seen this painting reproduced in history books a zillion times, but never seen the original. And there it was right in front of me!

(Oddly enough, the year on the painting is  WRONG, it should be 1783!)









If you will notice, the right side, where British signer of this treaty would have been located, is blank. Apparently (according to artist David R. Wagner, who created a "completed" version of the scene), the British signer refused to pose for the picture.

Here is what Wagner says:

This depiction of the signing of the treaty between America and Great Britain by American Artist Benjamin West (1730-1820) was left unfinished because he could not get British Commissioner and member of Parliament David Hartley to sit for the painting. Hartley had posed for individual portraits before, and had actually signed the treaty, but refused to sit for this painting because he said he was "too ugly." In all probability he was commanded by his superiors not to pose, as this loss to the American Colonies was difficult to imagine and no artistic reminders were needed.

http://www.davidrwagner.com/signingoftreatyofparis.htm

In any case, it was definitely the thrill of a lifetime to happen across the original painting and the historic document itself!

(Just glad I didn't spill any champagne on the latter.)

So let us lift our glasses (but not whilst leaning against anything that might contain priceless historical treasures) and sing "Happy Birthday, America!'

Dorothea

P.S. Yes, yes, I know. The 4th of July is the big "birthday" bash, but I think the date this treaty was signed should be celebrated, too.

So here you go:


Sunday, August 27, 2017

A Buss From Lafayette in a Bibliography! Woo hoo!

Once in awhile I find something online that is a real thrill! Here is A BUSS FROM LAFAYETTE listed on a shortish bibliography that contained only about 30 titles of books about Lafayette. (Most of the others were non-fiction classics, a number of which I used for research.) This was on Scribd.com. Love the company I'm in! (This is just a portion of the whole bibliography.)

Friday, August 18, 2017

Dorothea Jensen: The Riddle of Penncroft Farm at Valley Forge



Recently, we visited Valley Forge after many years and made a short video of me reading the scene in which Geordie and Sandy arrive there during the winter of 1777-8.

This was the scene that my 10-year-old grandson "chanted" when I asked him what his favorite part of the book was. That really made my day!

(If the video doesn't show up on your device, follow this link to watch it on YouTube!)





Sunday, August 13, 2017

"Bon for America!""



Mr. Towne jumped back into the conversation, telling us how, after Lafayette had been wounded in the leg, he had shouted “Bone for America!” This had puzzled everyone, as the musket ball had not hit Lafayette’s bone, but had passed clean through his leg. “Lafayette then explained that the word he had used was bon, which means good in French,” said Mr. Towne. “He had been saying ‘Good for America!’ Lafayette thought this misunderstanding so funny, he laughed aloud even while his leg was bleeding away, even though it must have pained him considerably! Now, I do not know if this story be true, but it is still a good yarn.” - A Buss from Lafayette © 2016 by Dorothea Jensen 
 
 
 
 
I based this "Bone for America" story on that related by Captain John Polhemus in his memoir:"Our Colonel had his horse killed, and General Marquis de Lafayette received a wound in his leg from the same ball, whereupon, while stroking the smarting wound, he exclaimed, 'Bone, bone for America!' I asked him what the bone had to do with it, to which he replied 'Good, good for American liberty!' and we both enjoyed the joke,"

Friday, August 4, 2017

A thrilling visit to Valley Forge!





















My husband and I visited Valley
Forge a few weeks ago for the first time in many years. Imagine how thrilled I was to find my first historical novel for kids, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm. for sale in the Encampment Store there!

Several scenes in Riddle are set at Valley Forge, both during the Revolution and in modern times, so it is particularly satisfying to see it on the bookshelf so close to where those scenes occur!

I also managed to make some very short video recordings of me reading bits about Valley Forge from both Riddle  and my new book, A Buss from Lafayette.

Here is the link to one Riddle vid on YouTube here.)














Thursday, August 3, 2017

Baron de Kalb Re-visited!

I had the distinct pleasure recently of chatting at my 50th college reunion with a new friend, Mary Weshinskey, the wife of one of my classmates. I was telling her about my book, A Buss from Lafayette, and she said "I'm actually descended from one of the guys who came over to America with Lafayette."

Of course, I asked who this was, and she replied, "the Baron de Kalb."

How thrilling was that!

She said that his line had ended up with just female descendants, so his name had pretty much died out.

We had great fun establishing a "Friends of the Baron de Kalb" club consisting of the two of us.

Anyway this inspired me to look the Baron up and remind myself who he was and what he did for America.


This Bavarian officer did, indeed, come over on Lafayette's ship, the Victoire, in 1777 in company with the young (19!) marquis.  At first, he was unable to secure an appointment as an officer with the American forces, but Lafayette quickly interceded and he was given the rank major general. He was apparently a very capable soldier and officer, and was disappointed when later, at the battle of Camden, the so-called "hero of Saratoga", General Gates, was given the command. Gate deserted his men in the thick of the battle and galloped away. Or that is the traditional account, anyway.

De Kalb was wounded numerous times at that battle, and despite being treated by British General Cornwallis' personal doctor, died of those wounds. He is buried in Camden. George Washington visiting his grave years later, is reported to have said, "So, there lies the brave de Kalb. The generous stranger, who came from a distant land to fight our battles and to water with his blood the tree of liberty. Would to God he had lived to share its fruits!"

Meanwhile, I found the following letter written by de Kalb which gives an "unbiased" first person view of my hero, Lafayette:


On the whole, I have annoyances to bear, of which you can hardly form a conception. One of them is the mutual jealousy of almost all the French officers, particularly against those of higher rank than the rest. These people think of nothing but their incessant intrigues and backbitings. They hate each other like the bitterest enemies, and endeavor to injure each other wherever an opportunity offers. I have given up their society, and very seldom see them. La Fayette is the sole exception; I always meet him with the same cordiality and the same pleasure. He is an excellent young man, and we are good friends... La Fayette is much liked, he is on the best of terms with Washington.