Kristiana Gregory: I read journals, letters, and other historical documents and studied maps of the day. About the hemlock: four boys in my town mistakenly ate small bites of poison water hemlock when they were exploring a marshy area in the countryside, and within minutes had lapsed into convulsions. I spoke at length to their physician who described their medical traumas and recoveries, then shared case studies with me.
RFA & LMP: What surprised you most in your research on the Oregon Trail?
KG: It's hard to fathom the personal sacrifices people made to begin their new lives; they left behind friends, families, possessions, and beloved landscapes. Most never returned.
RFA & LMP: What was the best part of writing Hattie's diary?
KG: It was fun to imagine what it was like for children and young women. Such an adventure it must have been for them!
RFA & LMP: What message do you think Hattie's life provides for today's young people?
KG: It's painful to move away from friends and familiar places, but eventually we do make new friends and grow to love new places.
RFA & LMP: Other than your main character, Hattie, which two characters are your favorites? Why?
KG: Mr. and Mrs. Bigg — they were an odd couple with curious circumstances. He was crippled and forced to rely on her to carry him or cart him around; she was obese and not pretty, but they were both kind, generous, and offered cheerful companionship to everyone.
RFA & LMP: What role does Mrs. Kenker play in this story?
KG: Mrs. Kenker represents those who have a dark character, but are able to fool people into believing otherwise simply because they're successful, popular, or beautiful.
RFA & LMP: What is one thing you hope young readers will take with them after reading Hattie's diary?
KG: Modern children who must leave behind friends to start a new life in a new home are actually following the tradition of America's noble pioneers. They are modern heroes and heroines.
RFA & LMP: What is one question you'd like to ask your readers after they have finished reading Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie: The Oregon Trail Diary of Hattie Campbell?
KG: Can you learn to forgive someone who has hurt you or taken something from you?
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.