Friday, January 9, 2009

A Chat with Cheryl Harness

For some months now I have been talking to author and illustrator Cheryl Harness via email. She a wonderfully warm, funny, and clever lady. To try to give you sense of what she is like I am going to be having several 'conversations' with her over the next few weeks.

Cheryl have illustrated numerous books that were written by other people, and she has both written and illustrated many titles as well. Her National Geographic biographies are both fascinating to read and a joy to look at. Her books include such titles as The Remarkable Benjamin Franklin, Franklin and and Eleanor, and The Remarkable, Rough-Riding Life of Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of Empire America

Here is my first talk with Cheryl:

Marya: Good morning Cheryl. It is a pleasure to have you here on the TTLG
blog with me. I hope you are having a terrific 2009 so far.

Cheryl: I am indeed; so far so good. The December snow & ice has melted, so for today, at least, there's sure footing and the sky is blue.

Marya: We had a sort of white Christmas, but snow has been almost non-existent since then. This is a little disappointing for me because I love to ski.
Recently you told me that you got to look at the cover of the new book
that you are working on. This book is about Harry Truman. I was
wondering what got you interested in writing about this particular

Cheryl: Well, as you and your readers may or may not know, Independence,
Missouri, is my home town. This is true, too, of our 33rd President. Neither of us were born here - he was born south a ways from here in Lamar, MO, 125 years ago; I in Maywood, CA, when he was the president, in 1951.
I actually saw him only once, in person even though we lived in the same neighborhood. I wasn't curious enough, youth being wasted on the young. I was more interested in drawing pictures and reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Anyway, I've been asked more than once, "When are you going to do a book about Harry?" Turned out that the answer was "these past few months."

Marya: When will this book be in bookstores?

Cheryl: The book will be available mid-February, in time for Presidents' Day, but I wouldn't expect to see The Harry Book (The Life of President Truman in Words & Pictures) in bookstores any time soon. I'm self- publishing this. It's something I've never done before and I confess that I am a much better writer and illustrator than I am a businesswoman. I imagine that one who goes to my website will find how he or she can get a copy. Or lots of copies! And I reckon that I'll have a bundle of Harry Books with me when I travel about, school visiting. It's comic book - did I tell you that? NO, I didn't! It's 48 pages' worth of pen & ink detailed pictures & lettering about this truly remarkable fellow. I learned so much about my long-gone neighbor. I wish I hadn't been such a doofus and had met him when I was young and had the chance... ah well.

Marya: You have written about several presidents so far including Teddy
Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Which president interested you the most and why?

Cheryl: Indeed, I should say Mr. Lincoln, this year being the 200th anniversary of the year in which he entered the world - same day, by the way, as Charles Darwin, the naturalist. And truly, I loved learning, writing, and illustrating his inspiring life, but of all the presidents - of all the Americans I've studied Teddy Roosevelt is the most interesting. Not saying I agree with all of his politics, but that TR was a fabulous individual. I love stories of overcoming and considering Abe's poverty- stricken background, FDR's polio, Geo. Washington's steadfastness in the face of truly aweful obstacles, TR's early illness - golly, I could go on and on. These individuals overcame so much. And too, each president represents to me a different chapter in the history of our nation.

Marya: I am also fascinated by Teddy Roosevelt's story. He was smart, funny, very active, and full of energy. And, like FDR, he had to overcome a severe illness. In TR's case it was asthma. In general I love reading biographies and books about history. What is it about history that excites you so much?

Cheryl: It's EVERYTHING! All we've done and hoped and dared. All humankind's accomplishments, our cruel, ridiculous, short-sighted mistakes; our explorations and our digging out of the holes we've dug.
And it's positively thick with role models. Me being such a sissypants, I'm ever drawn to courageous examples down the years. Harriet Quimby totally interests me these days. the first woman to fly across the English Channel, in 1912. Hugely brave & skillful PLUS she was totally beautiful, not that it matters, and she died far too young. a real pioneer. Plus, historical, real-life stories go well with my sort of illustration.

Marya: For those of you who don't know, Cheryl's artwork is full of detail and action, and she is a wizz when it comes to maps. Do you have any plans to branch out into fiction?

Cheryl: I did do that a few years ago in my novel for young readers, Just For You to Know [HarperCollins, 2006] It was set here in Independence, MO, 1963. Harry Truman had a brief, cameo appearance in it. That book was my heart's darling. I've got another book in the works - several really - and one of them might well involve another President. Stay tuned!

Marya: That's right! I remember the book because I reviewed - and loved - it. Here is my review. I look forward to seeing more works of both fiction and non-fiction with your name on them. Thank you for the chat Cheryl.

Cheryl: You are welcome.

I will be talking to Cheryl some more about her life and her work in the weeks to come. In the meantime do please visit Cheryl's website to find out more about this wonderful lady.

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