Thursday, April 28, 2011

Of royal nuptials and distant cousins

So, there’s a wedding tomorrow in England, and it seems there’s nothing better than a blue-blooded bride to get genealogists going. In fact, the New England Historic Genealogical Society already has a book on the subject, and, as you may have heard, dear Kate is related to a certain farmer from Virginia who also did well for himself.

Yes, Kate is a cousin (a rather distant on, presumably) to none other than George Washington.

In working on Carla McClafferty’s The Many Faces of George Washington (which, I must say, SLJ called “a stellar addition to most libraries” in a starred review), I spent quite a bit of time staring into Washington's face—or as accurate a reproduction of his face as is technological possible at this time. And I think I see the resemblance.

Another thing that made me think of George Washington and the royal wedding at once is the discussion of the rules for dress and comportment surrounding the ceremony. The English have always been renowned for tailoring. General Washington ordered most his clothes from English tailors right up to the point where doing so would have been, shall we say, politically incorrect. He did this despite the fact that English tailors refused to believe he was actually over six feet tall. (Read the book. Washington’s correspondence with his tailors is hilarious.) And it appears that the English still take tailoring their troops’ uniforms very seriously (click to see). (Hopefully the rather tall soldier in the picture has better luck with the tailor than George did.)

Washington also knew how to handle himself in polite society, and I dare say he would have been right at home in Westminster Abbey on his cousin’s big day (I bet he was a crier)—I mean, had things gone differently with the whole war and all. One of my favorite images in the whole book is that of the “Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior In Company and Conversation” that young George copied out when he was a schoolboy. At least, we could have counted on him not to be Tweeting during the ceremony.image

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The editorial hand

I suspect a few authors I’ve worked with will recognize the metaphor.

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Ideally, the hand is never seen, but every once and a while, a glimpse is OK.

RIP: Roger Nichols.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

“What part am I to act in this great drama?”

According to her memoir, this was the question Sarah Emma Edmonds asked herself upon hearing President Lincoln’s call for men to join the Union Army. This seems to be the beginning of one of the most unusual soldier’s stories among the millions of soldier stories in the history of the Civil War.

And yet this is not where Carrie Jones chose to begin her first picture book, Sarah Emma Edmonds Was a Great Pretender.

As PW put it last week in their starred review of the title,

“Jones makes a confident departure from her bestselling YA novels with an entertaining and powerful Civil War–era story about living by one's own rules. Realizing she would never satisfy her father's desire for a son, teenage Sarah Emma Edmonds fled from Canada to America where she assumed the identity of Frank Thompson. Edwards then joined the Union Army, first as a male nurse, then as a spy, passing herself off as a slave and, later, as an Irish peddler.”

In some ways, Carrie’s book was the obvious choice for a topic for this post. There’s a soldier in Union blue right on the cover. But I like that it’s not a story about  the Civil War; rather, it’s a story about a person that includes the Civil War. That’s more interesting to me, ultimately. The Civil War isn’t just a lousy five years American history that ended at Appomattox Court House.  It was not a conclusive conflict—for the nation or for Sarah.

Now a seeming digression. If you’ve read this book—or really any of Carrie’s books, you know that Carrie has a keen awareness of injustice where gender and sexual orientation are concerned. So it was against that backdrop that Carrie’s book became linked, in my mind, with the pink-nail-polish-on-a-boy scandal that Fox News saw fit to create from an innocuous J. Crew ad. It would be ridiculous if it weren’t so sad.

It’s a common media mantra to say we continue to fight the Civil War every time a southern state flies the Union Jack or an elected official waxes poetic about the Confederacy. But Carrie’s story reminds us (or at least it reminded me) that the Civil War contained multitudes of struggles for self-determination. Struggles that continue to this day in America’s great drama.