Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Voices from Our White House: Patricia MacLachlan

NCBLA Board Member answers questions about "Hands"

Welcome back to the NCBLA blog's weekly feature, Voices from Our White House, a series of interviews with some of the talented contributors to the art and literary anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out, conducted by NCBLA high school intern Colleen Damerell.

Our White House was created by the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance. A collaborative effort by over 100 authors and illustrators, the book is the product of a desire to encourage young people to learn and read about American heritage. For more information, please visit ourwhitehouse.org and thencbla.org.

This week we feature NCBLA Board Member Patricia MacLachlan, award-winning author of Sarah, Plain and Tall; Caleb's Story; and Arthur. Her Our White House story "Hands" is about a young girl, Ellie, whose cat brings her to an encounter with Eleanor Roosevelt during a visit to the White House. Here's an excerpt:
"Wait, child," a woman's soft voice says. "I think I can reach your friend."
Ellie nods, not speaking. She watches the woman's hands, the fingers long and graceful.
The policeman runs up, and the woman holds out her hand to stop him.
"There," she says, gently taking Bitty down from the tree. She holds Bitty against her chest. "There. Had a little run, did you? This is your cat?"
Ellie nods, not speaking. She watches the woman's hands as they stroke Bitty.
The policeman comes closer.
"It's all right, Charles. Where are you parents, dear?"
"In line, waiting to see the people's house. Waiting to see Mrs. Roosevelt. She's a hero, you know."
NCBLA: Why did you choose to write about Eleanor Roosevelt, focusing particularly on her hands? What do you most admire about her?
PM: Eleanor Roosevelt has always been a hero to my family and to me. I admire her intelligence, independence, and bravery. I was captivated by the Chandor painting of her in the White House; a charming picture of her and her busy and expressive hands. They almost seem to speak for her, though she is expressive all on her own!

NCBLA: Why did you choose to write about a child's encounter with Mrs. Roosevelt?
PM: I knew that Eleanor Roosevelt would be impressed by the child in the story of HANDS...the child is independent, too, and could have been Eleanor as a child. And, of course, the two of them have the same name. Often the relationship between the old and the young is what my father used to call "authentic."

NCBLA: Eleanor Roosevelt is one of the most famous First Ladies. Which of the other First Ladies stand out to you?
PM: I've always been interested in Abigail Adams as well as others.
I think it is a difficult task to be first lady. Believe me, Michelle Obama has to attend to state affairs as well as raise two children. It is no small task, and I am prepared to be impressed by her!

NCBLA: What are your hopes for President Obama? Do you think Michelle Obama will join Eleanor Roosevelt as a strong and influential First Lady?
PM: My hopes for the present first family are for them to be as honest, straightforward and creative as they can be. It is lovely again to have children in the people's house.

NCBLA: If you could have any job in the White House, what would you do?
PM: I would like to be the White House story teller or the White House dog; either would be fabulous.

For more information on MacLachlan, please read her Our White House bio.

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