Sometimes tragedy can inspire and shape us. That’s the backbone of today’s picture book that I get to share with you.
Aimée Bissonette was born in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, the sixth of seven children. She grew up with her suitcase never fully unpacked—her family moved many times and she attended 8 different schools before graduating from high school. Aimée earned her Bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University and her Law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School. In addition to her books for children, Aimée has published a book for K-12 teachers and administrators on the legal issues associated with technology in the schools. She lives with her husband, family, and dogs in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can learn more about her at her website.
“Headstrong Hallie” is a nonfiction picture book biography about Hallie Morse Daggett, the first female fire guard. That’s right! The first female who paved the way for other females to work in the forest service. This is a story of a woman who was determined to fight the odds and doo what she was meant to do. She wasn’t comfortable living her life in dresses and embroidering. She was a creature of the woods, called to their beauty and protection. But it all starts with a wild fire. This is a true story that I never would’ve thought to tell, but it’s every bit as important as some of the other picture book biographies I’ve read.
Me: You have been an occupational therapist, a teacher, a lawyer and a small business owner. What is it then that draws you to writing picture books?
Aimee: Although my professional career paths may not show it, I have always loved writing. I have journals I’ve kept from 5th grade, as well as copies of poems I submitted over the years. I will say this: my legal clients are directly responsible for me owning up to my love of children’s writing! Some of them (like the amazing David LaRochelle) were well aware of my love for writing and encouraged me to follow my own dream as I advised them regarding theirs.
Me: This is your eighth picture book and you’ve published quite a variety. What is the secret to your success? How do you find so many different stories to write?
Aimee: We’ve all heard the adage “write what you know.” Well, that’s not bad advice. I love nature and find many story ideas while out hiking or bird watching. Also, having grown up in the 70’s when the women’s movement really hit its stride, I find a lot of inspiration in stories about women breaking barriers. I love to share those stories with young readers.
Me: I know you love nature and animals as much as Hallie, but what was it about her amazing story that first grabbed you and drew you to write about it?
Aimee: I love that Hallie followed her own desires and wanted to blaze her own trail. Being headstrong can be an asset if it allows you to follow your heart. I can imagine doing just what Hallie did: fighting for a job that was important and nature related and allowed my independence.
Me: Did you have to do a lot of research for this story? Can you tell us a bit about that process for this story?
Aimee: I love research – which is probably what led me to law school. Being a lawyer is a heavily research-based career. With regard to writing, the Internet is a treasure trove of information, although you do have to be careful to verify your sources. But for me the most rewarding research is primary source material: photos, written firsthand accounts, weather reports, newspaper accounts. Those sources allow me to dive in and experience life at the time my subject lived. My job then is to convey those details well enough that young readers also feel like they are experiencing another lifetime.
Me: David Hohn’s illustrations in this book are absolutely amazing! Did you communicate with him at all during the creation of them? Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Aimee: David is so incredibly talented! The research he used and the color palette he chose bring Hallie’s story to life like no one else could. I did not communicate with him while the book was being created, but couldn’t wait to tell him how much I loved collaborating with him on this book. It’s so apparent from his work that he embraced Hallie’s story and felt compelled to share it, too.
Me: Any advice for other picture book writers?
Aimee: Never stop reading and learning. I check out so many children’s books from my local library. I love studying the way others approach subjects and the way art directors envision a storyteller’s words. Also, take classes. Exchange information with fellow writers and SCBWI members – no matter how much you think you already know. And don’t be afraid to explore other genres and media. I think there is terrific crossover when we try our hands at other creative processes.
Me: Headstrong Hallie is afraid of fire and determined to fight it as she protects the land she loves. What is one thing that frightens you or makes you want to be headstrong too?
Aimee: As a mom, and now a grandma (yippee), I worry most about my family. I want them to always feel secure and loved. I am a fierce advocate for the people I love – headstrong, for sure!
I love that. Thank you for stopping by my blog Aimee!
Dear readers, this is a book you won’t want to miss. It’s the true story of a unique pioneer that is incredibly well written and beautifully illustrated. Don’t miss it!