An Interview With Ann Rinaldi About My Heart Is on the Ground
Author Ann Rinaldi answers questions about her book from the Dear America historical fiction series.
Richard F. Abrahamson & Linda M. Pavonetti, Ed.D.: You are a highly praised writer of historical fiction and noted for your quality research. What surprised you most in doing the research for Nannie Little Rose's diary?
Ann Rinaldi: Two things surprised me. First, I was surprised at just how many children at the Carlisle School actually made it. That is, many of those youngsters made the very difficult transition to a different way of life. The other thing that surprised me was Chief Spotted Tail's change of heart once he visited the school. Remember, he initially gave his approval for the children to be taken to Carlisle, but then what he saw there made him decide that the children should be taken from the place.
RFA & LMP: As a writer, you are known for visiting the places where your historical fiction is set. What is your most vivid memory of your trip to Carlisle, Pennsylvania?
AR: My most vivid memory is of the graveyard. Once I saw the names and the dates of the children who died, that whole period of history became so much more real to me.
RFA & LMP: As Nannie Little Rose became more familiar with English, her spelling, grammar, and word selection improved. How difficult was it to write like a girl who is just learning the language?
AR: I had to keep in mind that she didn't know the language, and so I had to try to interpret what she saw as she would see it and try to describe it. For example, when Nannie Little Rose experiences Christmas for the first time, I had to not see it in the usual way but as she would see it and write about it.
RFA & LMP: Whiteshield and Nannie Little Rose react quite differently to leaving their tribe and going to the white man's school. Did many of the Native American children react like Whiteshield or was he an exception?
AR: Whiteshield was not an exception. Many of the children brought to Carlisle, especially the boys, reacted with anger and rebelled.
RFA & LMP: One of the most memorable scenes in the book is the death of Lucy Pretty Eagle. From your research and/or from your own intuitive reaction, do you think she actually died or do you think she was in a trance and buried alive?
AR: I do think she was buried alive. A number of research articles I read supported the school of thought that she was in a trance and was, indeed, buried alive.
RFA & LMP: The Quakers are a presence throughout Nannie Little Rose's diary. Did the Quakers believe that the Native American children should adopt the white man's way of life or did they allow the Blanket Children who came to live with them to maintain their own culture?
AR: I didn't run across anything that suggested the Quakers pushed the white man's ways on the children. I believe the Quakers were much more likely to win the children over by serving as examples of kindness.
RFA & LMP: If you could ask young readers of Nannie Little Rose's diary one question after they finished reading the book, what would that question be?
AR: How would you feel if you were uprooted from your home and family and sent to what was almost a foreign country to live with people who had very different values and traditions?
RFA & LMP: What is one thing you hope young readers will take with them after reading Nannie Little Rose's diary?
AR: I'd like them to walk away from the reading experience thinking, "Wow, I didn't know that ever happened!" In
truth, a good many adults don't know about this episode in American history. The purpose of all my historical fiction books is to give my readers a new enlightenment about another part of history.
Interview conducted by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston, Houston, Texas and Linda M. Pavonetti, Ed.D., Assistant Professor, Oakland University, Department of Reading and Language Arts, Rochester, Michigan.