Dorothy the Brave Cover Reveal: A Q&A With Meghan P. Browne
Earlier today I was listening to an episode of the podcast Stuff You Missed in History Class about Arturo Alfonso Schomburg. The hosts were just stunned that they’d never heard of him until recently. Me? I already knew who he was thanks to the picture book biography Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford. It got me to thinking about how often biographies and original research are conducted not for books for adults, but for youth.
Today, I sat down with author Meghan P. Browne to learn more about Dorothy Lucas, who flew for the Women Airforce Service Pilots in World War II. Featured in the upcoming book Dorothy the Brave with art by Brooke Smart, Meghan told me a little about why children’s writers are sometimes the first ones to sing for the unsung:
Betsy Bird: Thanks so much for joining me today! I must confess to you that I have a tendency to learn more about historical figures and heroes through picture book biographies than any other format out there, these days. And just as I like learning about the people themselves, I’m also kind of fascinated by how authors choose their biographical subjects at all. How did you come to discover the life of Dorothy Lucas in the first place?
Meghan P. Browne: I love that, and I think your experience speaks to the picture book format as a super-accessible entry point for readers of all ages to explore so many subjects. The tale of me coming to write Dorothy’s story was years in the making. I first interviewed Mrs. Lucas in 1998 as an eighth grader who was totally and completely obsessed with the idea of attending the United States Air Force Academy for college and becoming a pilot. When it came time to pick a subject for my semester-long “Rights and Revolutions” research project, my dad suggested I interview my grandmother’s longtime friend, Dorothy Lucas, one of the trailblazers in American aviation as a member of the Women Air force Service Pilots during World War II. I ended up spending many weeks reading everything I could about the WASP, and my mom drove me to San Antonio to talk to Dorothy about her experiences. Fast-forward twenty years to my time as a fledgling aspiring author: I was mining my brain for potential picture book biography subjects and thinking of people I wanted to read about when I was a kid. I remembered Mrs. Lucas, and reached out to her son to see if he thought she might humor me with a second interview. She did, and I am so grateful I got the chance to talk to her again. Dorothy told me stories, and her family invited me to Sweetwater, Texas that Memorial Day to attend the WASP reunion at Avenger Field.
BB: For so many kids, WWII feels like this distant historical past so far removed in time that it might as well be the Crusades, for all that they can relate to it. How, as a picture book biographer, do you make the material comprehensible and even enticing to young readers?
MPB: I think the key to making nonfiction delicious for young readers is designing the child-sized portal for your reader to pass through on their way to learning about this exciting thing. The portal is like that fun, little door next to the boring, adult sized door at the pediatrician’s office or the kids clothing store. My kids always (always) would rather go through the hobbit door, and really, who ever grows out of that desire? Not me! I find that the shape and styling of the portal often has a lot to do with where I start my story and the details I can sprinkle in to keep my readers following me. And then there’s the illustration work. Hot dang, I really have hit the lottery with each of the illustrators I’ve been matched with. Brooke Smart’s work on Dorothy the Brave is nothing short of genius (did you see how Dorothy’s lipstick matches the noses of the airplanes? Gah!), and I’m so grateful for the way she pursued this project passionately.
BB: I have to assume that as you researched Dorothy and her times you must have had to leave things out of the book. Was there anything in particular that you were sad to let go?
MPB: Oh, yes. This might be the hardest part about the gig! Dorothy told me a great story about transporting an officer, as one part of her job was moving military personnel from base to base. This fellow was hemming and hawing about having “some girl” at the controls. He apparently white-knuckled it the entire way, and after she landed her bird with precision, the officer asked her to dinner. She promptly told him she had other plans for the evening.
BB: I was particularly pleased to note that you mention in the book the fact that the accepted women to the Women Airforce Service Pilots program were primarily white. You then name the exceptions, including Hazel Ling Yee (featured in this year’s picture book bio The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ling Yee by Julie Leung). Why was this something you took time to mention?
MPB: The WASP organization was trailblazing and so important to the future of American women in aviation, but just like most things in history, it wasn’t without problems. My editor Tamar Brazis and I both felt like this was an important detail to mention. Mildred Hemmons Carter, for example, was well-qualified for the WASP but rejected on account of her race (I would love to see someone write her story). I’m a strong believer in the importance of encouraging all people, and especially young learners who are at a formative time of establishing habits, to look at history from many angles in order to continue to learn from the best and worst parts of our past in order to be brave enough to make a better, more inclusive world in the future.
BB: Last but not least, what do you have coming out next?
MPB: My debut, Indelible Ann, just launched a couple of weeks ago. It’s a biography, gorgeously illustrated by Carlynn Whitt, about powerhouse politician and former Texas Governor Ann Richards. Of course, you’ll get to meet Dorothy early in 2022, and in the fall of 2023, illustrator E.B. Goodale and I have a book coming out with Random House Studio about the rooftop honeybee colonies that survived the 2019 fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I cannot wait to see how E.B. works her magic on The Bees of Notre Dame. I’ve also got my hands in some longer-form projects that I’m excited to send out into the world soon.
Thank you so much for having me, Betsy!
You won’t be seeing Dorothy the Brave until around February of 2022. In the meantime, enjoy its cover:
Thanks to Meghan for this reveal and to the folks at Viking Children’s Books.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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