Tuesday, July 11, 2017

I LOVE the company I'm keeping!

 I was delighted to find A Buss from Lafayette included in a short summer reading list posted on the Grateful American Foundation website. I was doubly delighted when I saw the other books listed there!

A big thank you to David Bruce Smith, who is doing so much to hook kids on history! He has established the Grateful American Foundation, which gives an annual award for the best fiction or non-fiction history book for kids. He has also created the GratefulAmericanKids website, which has many fun articles, pictures, videos, etc. to engage young people's interest in history.

 Check out this wonderful video entitled "Grateful American Kids Rock!"



Friday, June 30, 2017

Where Washington Met Lafayette: The City Tavern Revisited!

 The City Tavern 
138 South 2nd St
Philadelphia, PA

The City Tavern is the spot where General Washington first met the 19-year-old French volunteer, the Marquis de Lafayette. The childless Washington and the fatherless Lafayette eventually became such close friends that many described them as being like father and son.

My family lived close to Philadelphia for five years in the 1970s. We moved there just a day or two before the Bicentennial, July 4, 1976.  (On the day itself, we took the train into Center City, and en route we joined all the other passengers in singing "Happy Birthday" to the USA!) During our time in Pennsylvania, we went many times to the City Tavern, Independence Hall, Valley Forge, the site of the Battle of Brandywine, etc.  Those experiences so whetted my interest in the Revolution that I ended up writing two historical novels about it for young readers, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm and A Buss from Lafayette. In Riddle, I set two scenes, one "modern" and one during the American Revolution, at the City Tavern.

In fact, someone (no idea who) put a reference to this on Wikipedia:

We moved from Philadelphia to Minnesota in 1981 (that's where I wrote Riddle), and it wasn't until 1991 that I had a chance to visit The City Tavern again. Here is a picture from that visit.

At the time, I imagined that the door to the right of the staircase went down to a basement, and I had Geordie's brother, Will come up from the basement through that door. I learned on this visit that it actually goes out to a back yard. Oops.

Several weeks ago, my husband and I dined at the City Tavern for the first time in many years. It was such fun! I brought along a copy of The Riddle of Penncroft so I should shamelessly pose with it in the pix below.
Here I am sitting on a settle at The City Tavern. I asked my husband to take this photo because of the reference to settles in The Riddle of Penncroft Farm.

I cleared and wiped the table, then swept the plank floor while Aunt Cass did the dishes. Then she picked up a sweater and put it on. “Better wear your jacket,” she said. “Sandra put it in one of the settles last night.”


“The settles—those high-backed benches. The seats open up. That’s where I keep“open up. That’s where I keep hats and mittens and things.”

I flipped open one of the wooden benches. My jacket was inside. “It looks like my coat is already settled in,” I punned.

“You’re a punster—good,” remarked Aunt Cass without a glimmer of a smile. “Always liked puns; never much good at making ’em up. Come on.” She pushed open the door and we went outside.” 
- The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, © 1989 by Dorothea Jensen

Finally, a couple of members of the costumed waitstaff were obliging enough to be in this picture.

Anyway, I highly recommend that you visit The City Tavern sometime. The food is delicious, and the setting really does "bring history alive."

But I also highly recommend that you read The Riddle of Penncroft Farm first!

I am shamelessly including buy links to make it easy for you - here they are:



(It is also available as an e-book on Amazon, B & N, Kobo, etc.)



Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Kid Stuff!

Today I received a copy of Kid Stuff (Upper Valley) Magazine, which is aimed at parents in New Hampshire and Vermont. It lists many interesting events in these states that parents might want to enjoy with their children. (It is distributed free at various stores around the region.)

I am happy to report that the 2017 summer edition also includes a lovely review, written by Hayley Durfor, of my new historical novel for young readers about General Lafayette (among other topics), A Buss from Lafayette. I am posting this review below (with permission from the magazine).

My favorite part? When Hayley says this:

"A Buss from Lafayette will entertain readers as young as 4th grade, while older students will appreciate a teenager's perspective."

I couldn't have described the "target market" for my story any better myself!

Many thanks to Hayley Durfor and to Amy Cranage, Associate Editor of Kid Stuff!




Monday, June 5, 2017

An Almost 60-year-old Duh Moment

I first read Elizabeth Marie Pope's The Sherwood Ring in 1958 when I was in the eighth grade. Along with The Witch of Blackbird Pond, this book has remained one of my favorites. In fact, when I wrote my first historical novel for young readers, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, I consciously and unconsciously modeled elements of my story after The Sherwood Ring as a kind of homage in its honor.

I enjoy word plays/puns and the like. When I was writing my story, I discovered that there was an antique farm tool (a kind of large sieve) called a "riddle". (One of the few extant uses of this in English today is "riddled with bullets", meaning full of holes like a sieve.) As soon as I heard such an implement existed, I made a point of 1. making one of these a key part of my plot and 2. putting it into my title, so that its double meaning would (as I like to think of it) reverberate nicely.

A Riddle
So you may imagine my chagrin when I suddenly realized that Elizabeth Marie Pope did something similar more than half a century ago when she named her story The Sherwood Ring.

And I totally missed it!

Until now.

Ok, in my own defense, I would like to say that I was blinded by the fact that there is an actual Sherwood ring in the story, the kind worn on the finger. But what I did NOT think about was that the whole story centers on Peaceable Sherwood, a super-competent British officer, assigned with the task of coordinating local Tories (in upstate New York) into a secret fighting force.

I believe that such a secret group of men is called a ring.

So this book's title, The Sherwood Ring, is a double-meaning word play exactly like what I did in The Riddle of Penncroft Farm.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Honoring Lafayette on Lafayette Day!

May 20, is the anniversary of the 1834 death of America's great Revolutionary War hero, General Lafayette.  In Massachusetts (and New Hampshire) this is proclaimed Lafayette Day. Yesterday the Massachusetts Lafayette Society laid a wreath at the Lafayette memorial plaque on Boston Common. This is located on the side of the Common called "Lafayette Mall". The reason for this title? This was the walkway lined by hundreds and hundreds of schoolchildren who welcomed Lafayette when he arrived in Boston in 1825 to (among other things) dedicate the Bunker Hill Memorial.

It was my great honor to assist Judith Cauilliou, from the French Consulate in Boston, to place the wreath.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


 I was nosing around the internet today to see if there was anything new about my book, A Buss from Lafayette and I stumbled across this!

Woo hoo!

(I don't even care that they spelled my name wrong.)

:  )


Woo Hoo! An Award for Buss!

Once in awhile (well, every day, actually) I do a search to see if anything new has popped up on my book, A Buss from Lafayette.

This is what I found today:

Yes, yes, I know my name is spelled wrong, but I don't care! It is just so delightful to find out that some award program liked my book.

Here is some info about the eLit Awards:

Here's info about this award program:
The eighth annual eLit Awards are a global awards program committed to illuminating and honoring the very best of English language digital publishing entertainment.

The eLit Awards celebrate the ever growing market of electronic publishing in the wide variety of reader formats. Hail the revolutionary world of e-books and join the awards program that’s highlighting the best in electronic reading entertainment.

 Thank you eLit!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

NOT a Book Report on Peter Rabbit

I was thrilled to find out that recently my oldest grandson, Stuart, (also known as The Senior Cousin) not only read my book, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm and wrote a book report about it, but he received an A+!

He had to wrap it around a box and decorate it with pix of events from the story.

It seems like only a short time ago that his father read this same story at about the same age (in manuscript form). I don't think he ever wrote a book report or got an A+ on it, however!

Way to go, Stu!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Beaming into a classroom as a Gigantic Head!!

Over the last few weeks, I have had the distinct pleasure of making electronic visits to classes in which the kids have read my historical novel about the Revolution, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm. As you can see by this picture, It has been great fun for me to answer their questions!

However, it wasn't until recently that I saw a picture of what kind of image is showing up on the other end. It turns out that I become a Gigantic Head!  (See below.) Wow! Also, notice my Peculiar Facial Expression - which doesn't surprise me because I always throw my whole face into whatever I say. Apparently. (I must have been talking about something sad here.)

This particular visit was to the classroom of Ms. Sara Shaiman, in Havertown, PA. She has taught Riddle many, many times, and has done a number of things to bring the story alive for her students. For instance, she takes her class to the City Tavern every year, where two scenes of Riddle take place.  (It was also the place where Washington and Lafayette met for the first time!)
In addition, she has made (or had made) a bunch of cup and ball toys for the kids to try out. (Such a toy plays an important role in the story.)  Here's a picture of a couple of these.                                                                                        

I am so grateful to Sara and all the other creative and dedicated teachers who have introduced my characters to so many kids over the years. Thank you!

P.S. I get a huge kick out of doing these visits. If you know of teachers who might like me to beam into their classroom after the students have read either The Riddle of Penncroft Farm or A Buss from Lafayette, please ask them to contact me at jensendorothea@gmail.com.

George Washington Makes A Joke (Sort of): Part 2

In a recent blog post, I talked about the letter written by George Washington that we were privileged to read on a visit to the New Hampshire Historical Society a few weeks ago.  I was able to photograph this missive, and subsequently spent hours trying to puzzle out what Washington said. What with having some bits missing (note torn corner in the picture), and 18th century spelling idiosyncasies (such as a large F-like letter to represent double Ss) there were still a few words I couldn't make out. Then I looked around the internet and found the whole thing posted at the National Archives. Here is the link.

In any case, I found this letter to be quite revealing, not only of Washington's diplomatic skills, but also of a surprising sense of humor he put to use to mute the "dressing down" he is giving to Sullivan.

Remember that Sullivan had already sent out some pretty snorty letters about 1) D'Estaing and 2) the French in general complaining about  being left in the lurch at Rhode Island by our new allies. It was obvious that this letter was what Washington wrote to Sullivan at that point. I told Julien (the young Frenchman who is researching Lafayette's Farewell Tour route in New England) that in this letter Washington was telling Sullivan to "pipe down." (A bit tricky to explain that expression, but I think Julien got it.)

I don't usually think of Washington as being gifted in diplomacy, but please notice what he did in this letter. It is particularly impressive because Washington himself was probably very upset by the rift in the new alliance, which Sullivan had made even worse. As he says himself, "The disagreement between the army under your command and the fleet has given me very singular uneasiness." Nevertheless, Washington manages to give Sullivan a couple of "outs" before lowering the boom on his angry general.

1) First of all, he states that he has not heard from Sullivan since August 23, but says that Sullivan's messages must have gone astray.

2) Secondly, Washington says this of the French: "In our conduct towards them we should remember that they are a people old in war, very strict in military etiquette, and apt to take fire when others scarcely seem warmed." As you can see by the emboldened text, Washington makes a small joke implying that the French are overly touchy. In other words, he is suggesting that the French are so easily enraged that perhaps it is not completely Sullivan's fault that they are angry or offended.

Then, however, Washington goes on to make it clear that Sullivan must keep his mouth shut and do everything he can to keep the news of the "misunderstanding" between the French and Americans quiet.

"It is of the greatest importance, also, that the minds of the soldiers and the people should know nothing of the misunderstanding, or if it has reached them that ways may be used to stop its progress and prevent its effects."

How thrilling it was to read the actual words written by Washington, and to see his diplomacy (and possibly his sense of humor) at work!

From George Washington to Major General John Sullivan, 1 September 1778

To Major General John Sullivan

Head Quarters White plains 1st Septr 1778.
Dear sir.
I have not received any letter from you since the 23d [August] which I attribute to some mishap of the messengers with whom they were sent. I was anxious to learn the determination and designs of the council of officers, that so I might be prepared for eventual measures—The success or misfortune of your army will have great influence in directing the movements and fortune of this.

The disagreement between the army under your command and the fleet has given me very singular uneasiness. The Continent at large is concerned in our cordiality, and it should be kept up by all possible means that are consistent with our honor and policy. First impressions, you know, are generally longest remembered, and will serve to fix in a great degree our national character among the French. In our conduct towards them we should remember that they are a people old in war, very strict in military etiquette, and apt to take fire when others scarcely seem warmed. Permit me to reco⟨mmend⟩ in the most particular manner, ⟨ the ⟩ cultivation of harmony and go⟨od⟩ agreement, and your endeavours to ⟨des⟩troy that ill humour which may ⟨have⟩ got into the officers. It is of the greatest importance, also that the minds of the soldiers and the people should know nothing of the misunderstanding, or if it has reached them that ways may be used to stop its progress and prevent its effects.

I have received from Congress the inclosed by which you will perceive their opinion with regard to keeping secret the protest of the General Officers I need add nothing on this subject.
I have one thing however more to say—I make no doubt but you will do all in your power to forward the repairs of the french fleet, and in rendering it fit for service, by your recommendations for that purpose to those who can be immediately instrumental. I am Dr Sir your most Obt hble servt
Go: Washington

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


A few wonderful e-mails from teachers and school librarians that recently arrived in my inbox:

"Our 4th grade students read The Riddle of Penncroft Farm every year. The 4th grade teachers asked me to check in and see if you would be willing to skype with the class after they read it this year. Let me know your thoughts!" Jennifer Winstead, Germantown, TN

Of course, I was delighted to do that! After that fun experience, I decided to look around the internet and see who else was using Riddle in the classroom and letting them know I like to do e-visits to classrooms. I also keep getting "spontaneous" e-mails straight from students, who then tell their teachers we have been in contact, and then the teachers write me directly. Between my googling and spontaneous e-mails from students, teachers and librarians, I have now done four classroom e-visits, with more scheduled. As you can see by the picture below, I really enjoy talking to these kids!

'LOVE YOUR BOOK!  I just wanted to let you know that in my district our 4th grade gifted students read your book every year.  As a result, I have read "The Riddle of Penncroft Farm" eighteen times and it never gets old.  Every single student I've ever taught has also loved it, and learned so much while reading it!  The story is so interesting and well crafted.  I appreciate, and the students definitely notice, all of complex wordplay throughout the story and the story itself touches me every time - I always get choked up when reading about Aunt Cass's death. THANK YOU for creating such an amazing story!!! Sue Saddlemire, Newtown, PA

* * *
"[The Riddle of Penncroft Farm] is a tie into one of our units on conflict and the Revolutionary War.. .all three 5th grade teachers at my school are reading it as a read aloud right now. . . I still consider it one of my favorites! I love all the connections students have to make as we read." - Holly Schlagel, Ft. Collins, CO
* * *

"I am a 5th grade teacher . . .and have been reading and teaching your novel, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, for the past 15 years!  Every year I can't wait for my students  get to know Lars, Geordie, Will, and of course Sandy!  After 15 years, you'd think I would get bored teaching this novel, but during every single read, I learn something new!. . .We even take an annual trip to the City Tavern for a lovely brunch. . .my colleague and I love to see the kids enter this historic building."  Sara Shaiman, Havertown, PA

* * *

"I love this book, and can't wait to share it with my fifth graders as we learn about the American Revolution this year." - Ms. Stacy E. Walsh, Melbourne, FL

* * *

"​Hello, Ms. Jensen.  I have been reading your novel with my 4th graders for several years.  It is a wonderful story and a great history lesson. " -Elise Weinstein, Newtown, PA

* * *

NOTE: If you know any teachers who are using The Riddle of Penncroft Farm or A Buss from Lafayette in their classes, please let them know I would enjoy answering their students' questions via FaceTime or Google Hangouts, time permitting.  jensendorothea@gmail.com

Saturday, April 15, 2017

George Washington Makes a Joke (sort of); Part I

Julien holding the letter from George Washington
In my peregrinations with Julien Icher, the young Frenchman who is tracing the 1824-5 New England trail of General Lafayette, we made a stop at the New Hampshire Historical Society in Concord, NH. Librarian Sara Galligan was kind enough to allow us to look at the documents in the society's collection that pertain to New Hampshire's own Revolutionary General, John Sullivan.

One of these documents was an actual letter written by GW to Sullivan on September 1, 1778. Because I knew a little of what this epistle related to, I found it to be absolutely fascinating. I will explain this in my next few posts.

First of all, here is what I wrote about the situation in A Buss from Lafayette. Please keep in mind that the principal American commander referred to in this excerpt who was greatly offended was General Sullivan. As a result, he wrote a number of VERY angry letters complaining about the French.

 * * *

“Did Grandfather see the celebration at Valley Forge when the French alliance was announced?” queried Joss eagerly. “It sounds as if it was very exciting!”

“He did indeed,” Prissy said. “But when everyone was cheering at Valley Forge, they little suspected how difficult it would be for the French and American military leaders to work together. They were a little like you two: supposedly on the same side, but as prickly as porcupines!”

Joss and I exchanged a glance.

Prissy said that although the French government had been sending us secret loans and supplies since 1776, the first overt aid they sent over was a fleet of warships in July, 1778. This French fleet was ordered to blockade Rhode Island to help the American commander, General Sullivan, dislodge the British there. D’Estaing, the French admiral, may have been rather offended at this, because no one had consulted with him beforehand about the planned venture.

“Therefore, after initially assisting the Continentals in their attack,” our stepmother said, sounding more and more like a schoolmarm, “D’Estaing and his fleet sailed away towards New York. He did seek to engage a British naval squadron after he left, but his departure left the American forces in Rhode Island to face the enemy without French support.”

Joss snorted. “I am sure we Americans did not like that!”

Our stepmother explained that before D’Estaing encountered the British squadron, he ran into a storm that damaged his fleet. Afterwards—again without consulting the Americans—the French admiral had sailed off to Boston to make repairs to his ships, which further offended our commanders. “I doubt the alliance would have worked in the end if not for Lafayette,” she concluded.    

“He smoothed down everyone’s ‘quills?’” I asked.

“Yes, Lafayette hurried to Boston to smooth things over.                                                         -A Buss from Lafayette, © 2016  by Dorothea Jensen

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Following Lafayette's Trail with Another Very Charming Frenchman

As some of you know, my latest historical fiction for young readers, A Buss from Lafayette, details what General Lafayette did for our country during the American Revolution, when as a very young man, slender and six feet tall, and brimming with good humor and charm, he came to serve with General Washington.

My story is also about Lafayette's Farewell Tour of 1824-5, when he traveled around the U.S. attracting huge crowds and charming everyone he met. In A Buss from Lafayette, a key moment is when a young girl, Clara Hargraves, meets Lafayette, more than five decades her senior, at Brown's Brook, a small stream in Hopkinton, New Hampshire (where I live and where the story is set).

I just had a tiny taste of my fictional heroine Clara's experience. Without the crowds. And the Frenchman in question was slender, six feet tall, brimming with good humor and charm, and nearly five decades my junior.

Julien Icher is the Frenchman in question. A fellow member of the American Friends of Lafayette, Julien, funded by the French consul in Boston, is researching the route taken by the world-famous general through New England on his Farewell Tour. For a couple of days, I went with him. We had so much fun!

Julien and I at Brown's Brook, a place where Lafayette never made a stop   
             except fictionally in A Buss from Lafayette

The first day, we explored five towns which Lafayette did actually visit on June 27, 1825.

First of all, we met at the New Hampshire State House in Concord, where on June 22, 1825, Lafayette was welcomed inside by the State legislators and outside by over 200 Revolutionary War veterans and sat down to dine with over 600 people. (This was the event when a song composed for the occasion called New Hampshire the "Granite State" for the very first time.)  Julien had previously made a visit to the State House with the French Consul and been welcomed to the state by Governor Sununu, so we went on to view the house in Concord where Lafayette had spent the night. Owned at the time by William Kent, it was located at the site of the South Congregational Church on Pleasant Street. (Not only did Lafayette stay there in 1825, but Kent's stepdaughter married Ralph Waldo Emerson in the north parlor of the house.) It has since been moved to Spring Street.

Next we picked up my husband and viewed the Lafayette marker in Hopkinton, where the general stopped for a brief reception on June 27, 1825. The date on this marker is incorrect, so Julien and I gave it both a thumbs up AND a thumbs down.

(Tomorrow's post will go on from here.)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Modern Conveniences a la 1825 New Hampshire

Clara’s house in Hopkinton N.H. in 1825, has all the “modern conveniences”, including a granite slab sink and and pump for water. This, of course, saved her stepmother the trouble of lugging in buckets of water from the well and carrying waster water outside again. Assuming that many young people have never seen or worked a water pump, I asked my grandson, Alex, to show us how it’s done. (This was at the new Moxi Museum in Santa Barbara, CA.) As you can see, operating a pump required much more effort than turning on a spigot!

(If the video does not show up on your mobile device, you can watch this on YouTube. Here is the link:



Friday, April 7, 2017

So proud to have military followers!

Many members of our military, from men of lower ranks up through quite a few generals with three or four stars, follow me on Google. As I have written two historical novels for young readers about the American Revolution, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm and A Buss from Lafayette, I presume they follow me because they have an interest in American history.

For whatever reason they do this, however, I am VERY honored!

Thank you all so much for serving and sacrificing for our country.

Dorothea Jensen

So thrilled to have Buss selling at a location mentioned in the story!

I am delighted to share this picture with you from the website of the American Independence Museum, in Exeter, New Hampshire, independencemuseum.org  

It is a photo of one of the copies of A Buss from Lafayette they have in their gift shop.

Of course, it is wonderful to have my book for sale there because it is a museum about our fight for independence, but  it is also wonderful for another reason. The building that houses the American Independence Museum was the home of Nicholas Gilman, who is mentioned in A Buss from Lafayette.

In this short excerpt, Trueworthy Gilman, (an actual resident of Hopkinton, NH, where the story takes place) talks about his "kinsman", Nicholas Gilman, 

One of the men asked if Gilman’s relative had witnessed the surrender at Yorktown.
“Aye. In fact, he was in charge of documenting the prisoners as they surrendered. This was a mighty big job, as there were well over eight thousand Lobsterbacks who laid down their weapons that day.”  

And here is what I said about Trueworthy and Nicholas Gilman in the Afterword: 

Trueworthy Gilman ran a store in Hopkinton. I do not know if he was actually related to
Captain Nicholas Gilman, Jr., who was in charge of tallying the British surrendering at Yorktown. As he shared a surname with Captain Gilman and had an interesting first name, however, I put him in my story. Captain Gilman’s home in Exeter, New Hampshire, is now a museum about the American Revolution called the American Independence Museum. Besides serving in the Revolutionary War, Captain Gilman was also a signer of the Constitution, and later served as a U.S. Senator.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Look what I found lurking in my junk mail! (It pays to check it once in awhile.)

Literary Classics is pleased to announce that the book, A Buss from Lafayette, by Dorothea Jensen, has been selected to receive the Literary Classics Seal of Approval.  The CLC Seal of Approval is a designation reserved for those books which uphold the rigorous criteria set forth by the Literary Classics review committee, a team comprised of individuals with backgrounds in publishing, editing, writing, illustration and graphic design.

Clara Hargraves is a clever and spirited young girl with red hair to match her fiery personality.  She has just turned fourteen years old and her step-mother expects her to start behaving like a proper young lady.  This is quite vexing for Clara as she loves to swim in the pond near her home; and, in her estimation, riding side-saddle is entirely ridiculous.  It doesn't help that Clara resents her step-mother (her mother's sister), for trying to take on the role her mom once had.  To make matters worse her step-mother is now with child.

For weeks now, it seems all anyone can speak of in her small New Hampshire town is Lafayette, a French aristocrat who relinquished his title and became the nation's darling as he aided America during its struggle for independence.  Lafayette has become such an iconic figure of the day that his likeness adorns ladies' gloves, fans and more.  So when it's rumored that Lafayette might be passing through, her town is abuzz.  Clara enjoys hearing about Lafayette and the many reasons for which he has become a hero to her country, but more importantly she dreams of changing her unseemly red hair to a lovely shade of black. 

A Buss from Lafayette, by Dorothea Jensen, is a fun and fascinating read.  Jensen weaves threads of historical fact within this coming-of-age story that will resonate with young audiences on many levels.  Readers will love the tale of the highly relatable Clara and may even learn a thing or two about why Lafayette was so highly esteemed in American in the 1800s.  This book is recommended for home and school libraries and has earned the Literary Classics Seal of Approval.

Literary Classics, an organization dedicated to furthering excellence in literature for young readers, takes great pride in its role to help promote classic literature which appeals to youth while educating and encouraging positive values in the impressionable young minds of future generations.   To learn more about Literary Classics, you may visit their website at www.clcawards.org or www.childrensliteraryclassics.com

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Feasting my eyes on this. . .


Look what I found listed on the Grateful American Kids website among the "Best History Books for Kids to Read": my first historical novel for young readers, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm! I am happy to say I recently discovered that many schools in the U.S. are still using this book as an enrichment resource for studying the American Revolution. (In fact, I've been FaceTiming with kids in Tennessee and Pennsylvania, which has been great fun.)

Grateful American Kids is an offshoot of the Grateful American Foundation, which is dedicated to getting kids interesting in learning about the history of our country. Here is the website. (There are always lots of interesting things on there about fascinating historical details.)

I am particularly delighted by this, as my new novel for middle schoolers, A Buss from Lafayette, is also included in this list. (See below.)

Hooray for Lars, Geordie, Sandy, Clara, and Dickon! (Not to mention David Bruce Smith, who started the Grateful American Foundation.)

Friday, February 17, 2017

My First Classroom Visit via 21st Century Technology!

Yesterday I had great fun Face Timing with 4th grade students from St. George's Independent School in Germantown, Tennessee. It seems that 4th graders at that school have been reading The Riddle of Penncroft Farm for many years, and the ones who read it this year wanted to talk with me about that story.

I showed them the various editions of Riddle, discussed the two errors on the original hardcover book jacket, and showed them a few artifacts, including a riddle. (You'll have to read the book or visit here to find out what that is.) I also told the teachers about the HBJ classroom guide for Riddle I uploaded to my website. (Find the link for that here.)

These kids had some excellent questions that sent me back in time to when I wrote this story. They also sent me deep inside my brain to figure out why I wrote it in such a way that students are still reading it nearly thirty years after it was published by Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich. (It has remained in print ever since!)


Here are some of those questions and brief summaries of my answers, although some answers are much more complete than those I actually came up with when "on screen."

How did you become a writer? Did you want to be a writer when you were a kid?

The main thing I did as a kid that likely helped me become a writer was to read. A lot. I did this mostly in closets, as we had a really noisy household. We five children all took music lessons on at least two and sometimes three instruments. With all that practicing, it was very seldom quiet.

I wrote a few things for fun when I was young, but it never occurred to me that I could be a professional writer. I just didn't have enough confidence in myself to think of this. Therefore, I didn't start writing with publication in mind until I was a grown up and actually met a published author. Somehow, that gave me the confidence to start writing myself.

Why did you make Geordie a shade?

I thought having a ghost in the story would be more interesting for kids to read rather than a straightforward story just about Geordie, completely set in the 18th century. Besides, it allowed me to write parallel episodes, past and present, like those in which Geordie and Lars visit the same places in different centuries (Brandywine Battlefield, Independence Hall, Valley Forge, etc). I found working out how to do this was challenging and fun, and I felt this approach gave some interesting complexity to the story.

Where did you get the names for your characters? How did you come up with the name and character of Lars.

Cassandra: I needed a name that could have several different nicknames, for obvious reasons. Thus I came up with Cassandra, with Cass, Sandra, and Sandy. (Besides, I've always loved that name.)

Lars: I said that I named this character after my nephew but this wasn't the whole story. I wanted my main character to have a name that sounded NOR-WEIRD-GIAN to his new classmates in Pennsylvania. Many people in Minnesota are of Scandinavian descent so names like this are very common. They were not so common in Pennsylvania when we lived there. I have a nephew named Lars so that made me think of it. Olafson is a very Norwegian name that I just picked randomly. Oddly enough, the picture of Lars on the original hardback copy looked quite a bit like my nephew Lars!

I came up with the idea for this main character when my husband, kids, and I moved from Pennsylvania to Minnesota in 1981. I was concerned that my two boys might have difficulty in making this move. (Our daughter was only a baby at the time.) I wrote this book to help them adjust to their new home somehow, as well as to help them remember all the Revolutionary War sites we often saw in PA. (We often went to Independence Hall, City Tavern, etc., and my boys actually learned how to ride bicycles at Valley Forge.)

Peter: I named Lars's older brother after a good friend who suggested I send an early draft of  Riddle to his father, an expert on children's literature. I did, and received some excellent advice on how I needed to change the story. (For example, in the original version, Aunt Cass had already died before Lars and his fam got to Penncroft Farm, and he suggested I keep her going until Lars meets her.)

If you decided to write a sequel to Riddle, what would it be about? 

Many kids have asked me to write a sequel, which is a high compliment indeed. I gave it some serious thought, but decided if I went on with Geordie and Sandy's story, it would be hard for me to create any surprises. We already know they got married and had children, as Lars and Pat are both descended from them. Furthermore, there would be no reason for Geordie to appear in the story. (He had only showed up before because Lars was lonely and unhappy, among other reasons.)

I toyed with the idea of writing a story about Patience meeting another ancestor from the time of the Civil War, and her home, Blackberry Hill Farm, was a stop on the Underground Railroad. In the end, I decided not to do this.

One of the teachers, Mrs. Goldberg, asked the following question: Do you add in details like Pat's wearing a special ring on a chain around her neck later, or was it that way from the beginning?
I honestly can't remember when I thought of tying the whole story together by having Pat's ring be one that played a significant role in the 18th century parts of the story. I did go back many times to add things or make changes, so I might have added this later on in the writing process. I do like to interlink details to make my story resolutions complex and satisfying.

I believe that my new book, A Buss from Lafayette, accomplishes something like this, too. One
reviewer said, "The story has a number of twists and turns, but the plot is resolved in a satisfying, wholly heart-warming dénouement." (To read this and other reviews, please visit my website abussfromlafayette.com).

I had a GREAT time talking with these kids.
If your school class or homeschooling group has read one of my books and would like to Face Time with me, just let me know by e-mailing me at jensendorothea@gmail.com.


P.S. All the kids agreed they'd like to see The Riddle of Penncroft Farm as a movie. Me too!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Small Millinery Confession. . .

OK, I admit it.  Being a huge fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott (among others) as a child wasn't the ONLY reason I ended up writing historical fiction for kids.

Here is another motivator: anybody recognize what this is? When I was a kid in Chillicothe, Illinois, there was a Ben Franklin's Five and Dime store downtown on Main Street. I could easily walk there from my house.

Once I finally got tall enough to see what was on the counters, I discovered something like what is pictured: bonnet kits. Each came with a miniature straw bonnet of one style or another, plus decorations that could be sewn or glued on any way the buyer liked. They were very small, about the size to fit a Barbie doll. (Although this was LONG before Barbies infested the planet. We're talking over sixty years ago, people.)

Anyway, I LOVED these kits, and bought as many of them as I could. I was a regular mini-milliner!

Recently I came across this hat in my vast collection of Stuff. I have no idea where I bought it or when I put it together.

But I LOVE it.

I think that making these hats as a little girl helped inspire me to write stories in which my characters could wear hats like this one. Not that any of them actually do: in The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, the main girl character wears something quite different.(I will send the first person who answers the question "what did she wear instead?" in an e-mail to me at jensendorothea@gmail.com an autographed book mark.) In A Buss from Lafayette, Clara mostly wears old sunbonnets and has no desire to be in style. (I will send the first person who answers the question "which character in this story DOES wear fashionable bonnets?" in an e-mail to me at jensendorothea@gmail.com an autographed book mark.)

So that's my confession for today!

(If anyone knows if such kits can be bought today, PLEASE LET ME KNOW!)


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Bit of Riddle Enacted at the Brandywine Battlefield!

So I was Googling The Riddle of Penncroft Farm yesterday and came upon something that was downright thrilling.

First, let me explain that a crucial part of The Riddle of Penncroft Farm takes place before and during the Battle of Brandywine, on September 11, 1777.

In that battle, the British general, Howe, staged a feint attack against the Americans who were waiting at Brandywine Creek to stop the British advance on Philadelphia. At the same time, Howe led the bulk of his troops up the western side of the stream and crossed it at a ford that Washington didn't know about. He then came down behind the untrained American forces. The resulting fight took place near a Quaker place of worship, the Birmingham Meeting House, in an area called Sandy Hollow.

What I discovered yesterday was that several years ago, in conjunction with a re-enactment of the Brandywine battle, Birmingham Meeting House put on a little play based upon The Riddle of Penncroft Farm!

Here is the link: on-hallowed-ground-sandy-hollow.

It is thrilling for me to know that part of my story was acted out in exactly the place I imagined it to have occurred! Here is an excerpt of what I think the little play was probably based on.

I was in such despair that I didn’t hear anyone approaching until I saw him standing next to me—a man in a scarlet jacket with little wings on the shoulders and a tall helmet of black fur. Even without it, he was the tallest man I’d ever seen, that British grenadier.

Without a word, we stared at each other. Then he drew one arm over his face to wipe the sweat out of his eyes. I didn’t move, though I could feel the blood dripping down my own face and the sting of the sweat running into the cuts on my cheek.

His eyes flicked over me and then down to Will and the telltale cockade on his hat.

My brother,” I said, and opened my palms to him in appeal.

Still silent, the grenadier set down his musket and swung the pack off his back to the ground with a loud thud that showed how very heavy it was. Then he gathered Will up in his arms and carefully laid him down upon the wagon bed.

 Be that drink?” he asked, jutting his chin toward the barrel of perry.

I nodded my head, speechless.

I could use a bit o’ drink. Seventeen miles I’ve marched since dawn. Seventeen miles in all this heat. ’Tis enough to kill a man, even without the efforts of this lot.” He jerked his thumb at Will.

I swarmed up the slats, filled a cup, and thrust it at him. The soldier drained it in one gulp and held the cup out for more. I hastily obliged. After downing the second cupful, he picked up his pack and musket.

Thankee, lad,” he growled, and plunged back into the woods before I could thank him in return.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Great to be included!

In searching the nooks and crannies of the internet, I found another mention of my book, A Buss from Lafayette on a blog I didn't previously know about called Semicolon Blog.

 Here is the link.

I was delighted and grateful to see that A Buss from Lafayette has been included in this timeline!

It's wonderful to find sites where bloggers seem to appreciate the importance of historical fiction in bringing the past alive for young readers. Hurrah!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Woo hoo! We Made It! We made it! The Lancelot of the Revolutionary Set Arriving in October!

WE MADE IT! All the money has been raised to create and erect the statue of Lafayette!

Here I am in Yorktown, Virginia recently, visiting the statues of Washington and de Grasse, commander of the French fleet that bottled up the Brits at Yorktown. (I was there for the celebration of the British surrender on October 19, 1781.)

I am standing in the exact spot where the new statue of Lafayette will be placed, exactly one year from now. (His pose will be a little different, as I doubt he'll be holding Washington's hand, etc.)

* * *
In historic Yorktown, Virginia, site of the final major battle of the Revolution, there is a duet of statues honoring General George Washington, commander of the combined American and French forces, and French Admiral François De Grasse, commander of the French fleet that "bottled up" the British troops under General Cornwallis at Yorktown. These life-sized figures were created by Virginia sculptor Cyd Player.

Installed in 2005 and enjoyed by tens of thousands of visitors annually, the statues commemorate two important meetings that took place on board De Grasse’s flagship the Ville de Paris to plan the 1781 Yorktown campaign and to explore plans for further operations.

The problem? It was supposed to be a quartet of sculptures. There are two important figures missing! Also present for at least one of these meetings were General Rochambeau, who led the French troops, and General Lafayette, who had kept Cornwallis trapped at Yorktown until the combined American and French troops had arrived. (He also served as an interpreter at the meeting with Washington, Rochambeau, and De Grasse.)

The reason that Lafayette and Rochambeau are not represented here? There was not enough funding to create all four statues at the same time.

Now the national organization dedicated to honoring the young Frenchman who did so much to help us gain our independence, the American Friends of Lafayette, along with the  Celebrate Yorktown Committee of the Yorktown Foundation, and other interested organizations and people, have raised enough money to put Lafayette in his rightful place.

 The new statue will accurately portray this important historical event and provide an opportunity for visitors of all ages to discover and recognize the role Lafayette played in shaping America’s history.

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