Publishers' Preview: Spring 2020: Five Questions for Linda Sue Park

This interview originally appeared in the March/April 2020 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Spring 2020, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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Prairie Lotus brings a new heroine to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s landscape, as biracial Chinese American girl Hanna and her white father try to make a new life in 1880s Dakota Territory.

1. You visited the real-life setting of Prairie Lotus. Was it possible to peel back the years and see as Hanna saw?

I grew up in Illinois, with prairie all around, but the Midwest is not ­monolithic, so it was important to visit South Dakota. To stand on Calumet Avenue, De Smet’s Main Street, and pace its width… Experience informs a story in a very different way than research does. In the book, Hanna has to cross the equivalent of that street under duress, and the actual experience of it had my heart pounding when I worked on the scene.

2. What do you most owe to Laura Ingalls Wilder?

Her books, among my other childhood favorites, taught me that the details of daily life are not only worthy of literature, they’re its essence. The passages where Laura learns to weave a straw hat or makes green-pumpkin pie are imprinted on my memory. I wanted Hanna to have similar moments, but seen through a different lens — a more complete vision, warts and all. One example: the scene in which Hanna sifts flour to get rid of bugs. Ew.

3. Would you call your book #OwnVoices?

Can we start a new hashtag? I’d prefer #LivedExperience. Every incident of racism and microaggression that Hanna experiences is taken from my own life.

4. How did you deal with middle-school mean girls?

Not very well. I gave Hanna some of the wisdom I wish I’d had. When she gets hurt, she tries to fight back, whereas I usually retreated and buried my head in a book. Hanna occasionally does the same, solaced by poems and passages in her reader.

5. Can you make dresses?

Yes! I love the needle arts, knitting, crocheting, embroidery. Writing requires being in my head for hours at a time, so I find refreshment in activities that require brain cells and opposable thumbs. I’m not as gifted as Hanna. Her talent was inspired by my mother, who made most of my clothes when I was growing up.

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Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Editor Emeritus Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc., from 1996-2021. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his MA in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a BA from Pitzer College in 1978.

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