Thursday, October 4, 2012

Marvelous Michigan Month: Interview with Mara MacKay

Welcome to my first author interview!  I am so excited.  Today's interview is with Mara MacKay, author of Haylee's Treasure, which I recently reviewed.  She also has other books in her "History CPR" series in the works.  The interview is a bit long, but I hope you'll enjoy it and learn a lot.  I know I did.

Photo of Mara MacKay, courtesy of same.
Ms. Librarian: Congratulations on the honor from the Historical Society of Michigan!
Mara MacKay: To receive this award has been humbling and to have accepted it on behalf of the community of Munising is a privilege since so many vendors, teachers, historians, naturalists, caring individuals and book lovers have graciously supported the History CPR project and Haylee’s TreasureWhile this award recognizes Haylee’s Treasure as an outstanding publication, the award also honors the memory of those who worked at the factory and those who preserved the stories that attached to the remarkable history created in every bowl and clothespin, and every tent spike that went to support the efforts of WWII soldiers serving at that time.

Ms. Librarian: Are you originally from the U.P. (Upper Peninsula of Michigan)?
Ms. MacKay: Originally, I grew up in Minnesota.  I was born and raised on a lake, in a summertime “cottage community” where fishing, skiing, and gardening were major pastimes.  My childhood home in Minnesota was located between two lakes that joined at the Dead River in central Minnesota.  During those Minnesota summers, my dad ran a seasonal bait and tackle shop, tree service, and gas station.  All of my memories of time spent with my dad were in the "off-season" while summers were spent dipping up minnows for anglers and serving the customers ice cream cones.  When I first arrived in the U.P. people in Munising reminded me of my childhood, and the neighbors and people I grew up with in Minnesota.  Yoopers can often be resourceful, independent, and frequently have a good bit of character which gave me joy, comfort and a desire to put down roots in Michigan.

Ms. Librarian: What inspired you to write Haylee's Treasure?
Ms. MacKay: After moving to Michigan, I learned that my ancestors came from Europe (Czechoslovakia) to Hart, Michigan. On that side of my family tree, my grandmother (an artist who raised me for a good part of my childhood) gave me a bowl from Munising, Michigan.  The bowl was an original and simple, unpainted wooden Munising bowl.  It came in a box of items that she left for me when she passed away in 1994.  It took 10 years for me to grieve her loss.  Eventually, I opened the box, went through the items and became interested in the Munising bowl. Subsequently, I began to research the origin of the bowl and came to Munising for 5 days in 2005.

The trip left me wanting to learn more about the Upper Peninsula.  I knew I wanted to write about the bowl factory.  More than anything else, the children at Mather Elementary school inspired me to write the book.  I was taken by their enthusiasm to talk about their community, the kids genuinely wanted to help me write the story, and took a great deal of interest and pride in the culture and history of the Upper Peninsula.  In addition, the website that Ken and Joel Graber created was a big part of what led me to visit Munising and this website, provides a great deal of insight into the history of the factory and wonderful photos of the bowls. (Here’s the link.)

Ms. Librarian: Tell me more about Munising bowls.
Ms. MacKay: The bowls were made in Munising from 1911-1955 and have a colorful history created by the people who, at the time they were being made, never realized how collectible and special they would become.  Yet, it was the local Munising residents who lived the story that tied me, emotionally, to writing Haylee's Treasure.  When I learned that the low-quality butter bowls, called "culls," were given away to the residents, and that children at that time used the bowls to go sledding down the snowy hills of Munising, I couldn't resist.  I was hooked to cultivating, preserving and sharing Munising history with readers.

Ms. Librarian: What is the History CPR project?
Ms. MacKay: History CPR is a book series, a craft guild, a community of people who want to give kids positive experiences in the areas of nature, art, history, and culture.  History CPR provides a snapshot into different communities and showcases their healthy assets.  It includes an educational piece on careers and features people who live in the community, by introducing them to the student through the book series, on the website and during classroom presentations.  History CPR is a supplement for the classroom experience as it brings historical artifacts into the school when many schools cannot afford to take field trips to museums.  The project introduces people, young and old, to places they may not know about in the areas of art, history, nature, and local culture.  History CPR cultivates an interest in history by engaging children in the creative process of writing a book.  It preserves history by collecting stories that ignite an interest in the mind of the reader to go deeper into looking at historical artifacts made in America.  And History CPR invites children to read about history by going through the backdoor of history, art, culture and nature through innovative writing and hands-on activities that intrigue kids to learn more about topics they may have not found interesting, previously.

Ms. Librarian: Could you tell me about the art selection process?
Copper robin's necklace,
featured in Haylee's Treasure
and available for sale
Ms. MacKay:Artists send in photos of their artwork, illustrations, and craft pieces.  Kids pick the ones that they want to see featured in the book.  The event coincides with the creative process for upcoming books. Currently, this event, called CRAFT PRIZE, is open for kids to vote on pieces that could be featured in a book set in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Another CRAFT PRIZE will kick-off in January and those art pieces and illustrators could be featured in a book about Marquette, Michigan.  Kids are encouraged to vote with their teachers and in their classroom.  Teachers can request a CD with photos of all of the art pieces, and kids can complete their votes on a paper ballot.  Home-school and private schools are encouraged to participate.

Parents can share Craft Prize with kids and work on-line with their young reader to select the items.  The use of Facebook for this selection process has given us an easy, economical and user-friendly voting website since many people are familiar with Facebook on the Internet.  All you do is “like” an item and that captures your child’s vote, if your child is younger than 13 we encourage parents to have them vote through their parent’s Facebook account.

During the second round of voting the top five pieces in each category are shipped to the CRAFT PRIZE team and I carefully take the art pieces around the State and let kids see and touch the final pieces as they cast their final votes.

Ms. Librarian: How else can readers participate in the creative process?
Ms. MacKay: In the History CPR series children are encouraged to write their own ideas about the book during the brainstorm and first-draft writing process.  The ideas that come from children, who live in the community where the book is set, inspire me and the thoughts and questions that they come up with, during our classroom and community conversations, often shape the early outlines of the story.  Kids see things in their communities that adults tend to miss.  Children catch glimpses of the people, places and cultural aspects that shape their daily lives and these gems can be hidden or obvious, kids know their community sometimes better than they know themselves.
For Haylee’s Treasure, kids made sure to notify me that this was not Northern Michigan rather it is the U.P. and the students also knew pasties had to be included in the story.  The greatest contribution of the Mather Elementary students to Haylee’s Treasure: the idea of how tightly knit and closely connected Munising really is.  Kids in Munising recognize and appreciate that more than I thought possible and it seemed, in contrast my own awareness as a kid, that they were much more in touch with the value of this than I had been when I was growing up in a similar small, rural, lake town.

Ms. Librarian: You mentioned a sequel.  What can you tell me about it?
Ms. MacKay: Hunter's Quest is set in the West Michigan/Kalamazoo area and will have many of the same components as Haylee's Treasure: Michigan historical artifacts (Gibson Guitar Co. and Shakespeare Co.), tourist destinations, natural areas, art made by Michigan (mostly) artists, and a character building lesson.  In Haylee’s Treasure the character building lesson compared emotional treasure with material treasure and looked at the significance, merit, and challenges of both kinds of treasure.  Additionally, a career layer is taking shape in the History CPR series that goes in depth about careers that are somehow related to the story and/or the setting of each book.

 Ms. Librarian: Thank you so very much!

I hope you've enjoyed the interview and learning all the neat stuff about Haylee's Treasure!

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