An Interview With Ann Turner About The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow
Author Ann Turner answers questions about her book from the Dear America historical fiction series.
Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D. & Linda M. Pavonetti: You have written other historical fiction for young readers. How did the writing of The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow differ from other historical fiction you have created?
Ann Turner: There were a number of differences in writing The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow. First of all, it was in the diary format. Everything has to be depicted through your character's eyes; dialogue must be kept to a minimum; scene and action are restricted to what your character could have personally observed. And it must still be dramatic and engaging! Secondly, I had to master a bigger body of research for this book, including Navajo culture, the period, the landscape, and the complex beliefs, history, and language of the Navajo. But I loved it and was excited by the challenge.
RFA & LMP: You stated that Sara Nita's diary was a sad book to write. What did you find in your research that affected you most?
AT: I was most affected by the stories of how the U.S. troops persecuted the Navajo even prior to the Long Walk. Carleton set out a deliberate policy of "scorch and burn", having his soldiers burn Navajo crops and hogans, as well as destroy their livestock, so that they were starving when the soldiers finally began the big roundup. I also was struck by oral histories of the Long Walk and the terrible sufferings endured during that 6-week trek in the middle of winter. (Of course, not all marched in midwinter, but many did.)
RFA & LMP: Do you think that today's young people have the opportunity to hear their elders' stories? What values do these types of oral histories transmit? What do young people miss when they don't know their family's history?
AT: I don't think kids today hear enough of older peoples' stories. What they miss are a sense of connectedness and a sense of time, that they are but one bead on a long, flexible thread that stretches back through time. The values transmitted through oral history are many — courage, selflessness, the ability to endure, and to do so with humor and grace. I got those values listening to my dad's stories about the Depression and how their family survived. It gave me courage that I, too, could survive hard times.
RFA & LMP: One of the most memorable scenes in the book is watching Sarah dig through the manure to find the kernels of corn for her father. How did that scene come to be? Did you read of a similar incident in your research?
AT: The scene of Sarah Nita digging for corn kernels is based directly on oral histories of the time the Navajo people spent in Fort Sumner — the time of their imprisonment. They were on very short rations in the early year, and also had such a craving for corn, which was not, at first, given to them.
RFA & LMP: Mica Eyes is portrayed quite differently from other soldiers, especially Mean Mouth. Did you find accounts of cruel and kind soldiers in the Navajo accounts of the Long Walk?
AT: Of course different soldiers reacted differently to the DinÃ© during the Long Walk and during their imprisonment in Fort Sumner. There were some who were kind, helping out when possible. Most were at best indifferent, and at worst, deliberately cruel. Carleton considered the Navajos to be like "thieving wolves" who should be eradicated from the earth. His beliefs and policies informed the treatment of the Navajos.
RFA & LMP: If you could ask young readers of The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow one question after they finished reading your book, what would that question be?
AT: I think my question would be: Will you remember this book, this girl? But I also would want to ask: Do you see what happens when we consider another people to be inferior, less than human?
RFA & LMP: What is one thing you hope young readers will take with them after reading The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow?
AT: I hope that readers will take away a deep appreciation of the courage and endurance of the Navajo people, as well as their strong connections to the natural world, and their courage and endurance in the face of the injustices inflicted on them.
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.