Yona Zeldis McDonough is at The Hiding Spot today, answering questions about her newest nonfiction book for kids, Little Author in the Big Woods: A Biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was obsessed with the Little House books and television show in elementary school, so I found Yona's novel, which explores the ways in which Wilder's real life informed and inspired her Little House novels, fascinating. Check out my interview with Yona below, in which she discusses what qualities drew her to Laura's story, her writing process, and upcoming projects.
Were there specific details about Laura Ingalls Wilder (or her Little House books) that inspired you to tell her story?
I wanted to tell Laura’s story because I saw a powerful feminist message in it. Despite the hardships of her life, Laura’s mother, Caroline, was committed to the education of her daughters, even that of Mary, who went blind. It was this fierce insistence on “book learning” that distinguished Laura’s family from so many others and it was something that she in turn passed down to her own daughter Rose. I loved that mother-daughter connection as it played out in the succeeding generations and wanted to emphasize that in my telling of the story.
Tell me a little bit about your writing process: Do you outline? Start at the beginning? The middle? The end?
I write in several different genres, including fiction and non-fiction, so my process is a bit different with each. To write Little Author in the Big Woods, I did not adhere to a strict outline but I did begin at the beginning and worked my way through my subject’s life. I wanted to grow along with her and this method seemed to me the best way to accomplish that.
What kind of research did you do while writing Little Author in the Big Woods?
I read several biographies of Laura, and consulted her own letters and diaries. And I re-read all of her Little House books, so that I could understand the correspondences between the stories and the life.
At the end of the book, readers will find fun extras, like recipes and games that were popular when Laura was a child. Have you tried any of these recipes or games? Which were your favorites?
I tried all the recipes and the craft project too. Because I am a doll lover, I’d have to say that the cornhusk doll was my favorite though I sure enjoyed that homemade butter—yum!
What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing or provided inspiration?
I had many jobs along the way and most of them I did not like! I worked as a secretary, and I worked in the public relations office of a large government agency. I also edited and wrote a newsletter for another government agency. But it was the freelance writing that I did—the dozens of essays, articles, reviews etc.—that honed my skills and made me understand that writing was a craft I needed to work at to perfect.
If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why?
Pamplemousse, which means grapefruit in French. It’s such a cheery, happy sounding word.
My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality?
I love to rummage through thrift stores, yard/garage sales and the like. I can lose myself in sifting through the things other people have discarded or given away; it’s like entering another world for me and I become very absorbed when doing it.
What can readers look forward to next?
My sixth novel, You Were Meant for Me, is coming out from New American Library in October and my children’s biography of Sojourner Truth will be out next year. I’ve also been working on a middle grade historical novel that takes place in France in 1940, and a picture book about a little girl named Bea and a very special doll…
Learn more about Yona and her novels, here.
Purchase Little Author in the Big Woods, here.
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