An Interview With Kristiana Gregory About The Winter of Red Snow
The author discusses her book from the Dear America historical fiction series.
Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D. & Linda M. Pavonetti: You have written, "All the historical things I write remind me of my childhood and the excitement of exploring something and finding out about it..." Would you describe the research that went into the writing of Abigail's diary?
Kristiana Gregory: My research materials were historical documents, diaries, maps, and almanacs. For instance, a farmer had recorded the weather, rainfall, and temperatures during the army's encampment. Using his details, I made my own calendar with a color-coded key so I could "see" what each day was like when young Abigail picked up her pen to write. The weather she records in her diary is authentic. I also wandered around Valley Forge in the spring when the dogwoods were in bloom, in the dreadfully humid summer, and in winter when the snow was knee deep and the air was so cold it hurt to breathe. I visited the soldiers' huts and walked up and down the wooden staircase of Washington's Headquarters, then watched "soldiers" reenact shooting cannons and guns.
RFA & LMP: How did the knowledge that you had relatives who fought in the Revolutionary War and wintered at Valley Forge affect the writing of Abigail's diary?
KG: Growing up I knew that my ancestors had fought in the Revolutionary War, but I was confused about what that all meant until I sat down to do the research for Abigail's diary. It gave me a chance to look more closely at the genealogy my great-aunt had compiled. When I realized that one of my Kern ancestors had, indeed, been at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778, my imagination went wild — he could have shared soup with General Washington! I felt a kinship to this important and exciting time in American history and this deepened my responsibility to tell a story that children might remember for years to come.
RFA & LMP: What was the most interesting detail you discovered about life — not war — in Valley Forge in 1777? Did that detail help shape the story?
KG: There were so many interesting details. But, here's one. Wigs. I didn't realize wigs were such a big business, or that girls might sell their hair, not caring that it could end up adorning the head of an enemy. It fascinated me that while the British were enjoying their winter in Philadelphia, just 18 miles from Valley Forge, the wigmakers were as busy as silversmiths and bakers.
RFA & LMP: What is one thing you hope young readers will take with them after reading The Winter of Red Snow?
KG: I hope that readers will understand the greatness of our first President and First Lady. They were humble, caring people who loved God and wanted the best for America.
RFA & LMP: You have said that part of your motivation in writing for young readers is to help them see that there is always hope, somebody to love, and someone to love them. How is this motivation of yours played out in The Winter of Red Snow?
KG: One example is the young widow, Helen Kern. When her husband died, the Stewart family immediately "adopted" her so she wouldn't be destitute, even though they'd only just met. Another example is Lucy, who ran away to Philadelphia. Auntie Hannie took her in and cared for her until her health improved and her hair grew out. Stories like these happen everyday in "real life."
RFA & LMP: What is one question youÏd like to ask children after theyÏve finished reading Abigail's diary?
KG: What would you do if you saw someone who was hungry or cold? would you help that person if it meant giving up something dear to 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.