Seeds of Hope: The Gold Rush Diary of Susanna Fairchild, California Territory Author's Note
Seeds of Hope by Kristiana Gregory
Hello! When I was a kid growing up in Southern California we often did class projects on the Gold Rush of 1849. My favorite was to take an old shoebox and make it into a diorama. I loved dribbling glue on its cardboard base, then covering it with sand brought up from the beach. There were tiny bits of driftwood to make a campfire and Lincoln Logs for a cabin. Blue crayons colored a stream, a black button became a pan, and gold glitter sprinkled everywhere became — what else? — gold! It was fun to stare into this box and imagine what life must have been like in the “olden days.”
So when Scholastic asked me to write a Dear America book about the forty-niners, I was thrilled. It was like being a kid again, pretending. As I plunged into research I recalled all the camping trips my family had taken in California's mountains. I remembered watching my parents cook over an open fire and build a shelter from pine boughs the time we forgot our tent. They took us to historic mining camps and had us listen to ranger talks whenever possible. To this day, my brother, sister, and I cherish the time we spent together on these family trips. Seeds of Hope: The Gold Rush Diary of Susanna Fairchild is a blend of history, fiction, and memories from my happy childhood.
While researching, I found an old photo of a girl in a mining camp. She wore a straw hat adorned with wildflowers and carried two empty buckets, apparently on her way to fill them at a stream. Next to her stood a little burro (small horse). This image sparked my imagination, which you'll recognize from the scenes in Susanna's diary. The photo also showed a crude cabin and a tent backed up against hill where two other women appear to be busy with children.
I learned a lot from studying this picture, from what the women were wearing to the ruggedness of their campsite. A trunk propped against an outer wall indicates there was not enough room inside the cabin for it. Despite primitive conditions, the women managed to make their environment as pleasant as possible: one wore a clean white apron, the other a clean white sunbonnet; the girl with the burro had a flower pinned to her collar and wore what looks like a pearl necklace. Something in the photo made me laugh…the blur of a child in motion. I wonder how mothers kept track of their kids in such wild country!
Since mining camps were strewn with jars, tin cans, and broken tools, I tried to imagine what a 14-year-old girl would think of this. It seems that throughout history women have worked hard to turn chaos into beauty, so that's why I had Susanna and her sister make a bottle garden and “stained glass” window for their cabin. They also salvaged discarded furniture to fit their purposes…sort of like going to a yard sale!
I hope you have as much fun reading Seeds of Hope as I did writing it. And if you ever visit my home I'll show you my own bottle garden in the backyard and our "treasures" rescued from yard sales.