Monday, August 30, 2010

Such a Stunning Pie!

Here's a post from a fellow writer, Stephanie Blake of Parker, CO. What a delight for me, because not only did she love the book, but she actually baked a vinegar pie. (See photo above!)

Book Love: The Wonder of Charlie Anne

If you or your little reader can't get enough historical fiction, she/he will love The Wonder of Charlie Anne by Kimberly Newton Fusco. The characters in this story feel so fleshed out. You'll laugh and cry. I loved the descriptions of all the icky housework. And I'm fascinated by one room schools. I think I'll bake a vinegar pie this afternoon.

Synopsis from the Random House website: Charlie Anne is devastated when her father must go north to build roads after the Depression hits. She and her siblings are left with their rigid cousin, Mirabel, and a farm full of chores. The only solace Charlie Anne finds is by the river, where the memory of her mother is strongest.Then her neighbor Old Mr. Jolly brings home a new wife, Rosalyn, who shows up in pants—pants!—the color of red peppers. With her arrives Phoebe, a young African American girl who has also lost her mother. Phoebe is smart and fun and the perfect antidote to Charlie Anne's lonely days. The girls soon forge a friendship and learn from each other in amazing ways.But when hatred turns their town ugly, it's almost more than they can bear. Now it's up to Charlie Anne and Phoebe to prove that our hearts are always able to expand.


I did bake a vinegar pie, and it turned out delicious. Here's the recipe on Ms. Fusco's website. And here's the pie. (see picture above) If you close your eyes, it tastes like lemon!
Congratulations to Stephanie because her debut novel, THE MARBLE QUEEN, is being published by Marshall Cavendish in 2012. It is a middle grade historical novel. Best wishes and good luck to my new writing friend!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Meet Evelyn and Frances

A lovely article ran in the Rehoboth (MA) News recently about The Wonder of Charlie Anne. The article includes a picture of Evelyn and Frances, the two women who spent several hours with me one fall day answering all my questions about what it felt like to attend a one-room schoolhouse during the Great Depression.

Here they are:

And here's the article!


Rhode Island author Kimberly Newton Fusco’s newest young adult novel is set in a Massachusetts town during the years of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

As part of her research, Kim visited the historic Hornbine School in Rehoboth since a portion of “The Wonder of Charlie Anne” is set in a one-room schoolhouse. She first visited on a raw, overcast day in the fall of 2008 to meet with Evelyn Rose Bois and Frances Magan Jones as they recalled their lessons and adventures at Hornbine School during the 1930s.

Kimberly returned in the spring of 2009 with her mother, Priscilla, and her daughter, Laura, to experience the recreation of a day at the one-room schoolhouse. This historical school program is offered at the Hornbine School to area classes every spring and fall.

(my mom, my daughter, Laura, and me)

Much of what Kim saw and heard on both of her visits has been incorporated into her novel which is available in local book stores is already receiving outstanding reviews.

Don’t miss Charlie Anne and her friend Phoebe as they create a friendship that outlasts hardship, sadness and racial tension, reminding us all that courage and a heart that cares can overcome most anything.

The Hornbine School is open to the public from 2-4 p.m. on the 2nd and 4th Sunday of each month between June and September. Please note: the School will be open on Saturday, September 25 rather than that Sunday to coincide with the Hornbine Church Bazaar.

(And this is the Hornbine School. Standing with her students (in front of door) is Beverly Pettine, who helped so much with my research. Thank you, Beverly.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Book Launch!

It's thrilling to be sending Charlie Anne out into the world today. I wonder how she'll do on her own? I have my fingers crossed....

There is a wonderful review on this very nice site for girls: It was written by a young person, Kelly Myslinski. Thank you, Kelly!

"Take a step back to the 1930s. The Great Depression has hit and your Papa and older brother have left the farm to go up north and look for jobs building roads to send money home. Your Mama died during the birth of her sixth child and a new mom (cousin Mirabel, who no one likes) has come. Then there’s your younger brother, who has been sent to live with an aunt and uncle.

Whose life is that? That’s the life of Charlie Anne in The Wonder of Charlie Anne by Kimberly Newton Fusco.

Charlie Anne hates all the chores she has to do: baking pies, hanging out the laundry and cleaning out the compost among taking care of her younger sibs. But Charlie Anne is a good listener. She hears the songs of the river, the wind and of the trees. What she loves to do most is visit her Mama’s grave by the river, where she can feel her presence very strongly.

When Charlie Anne meets her neighbor, Mr. Jolly’s, new wife, she’s surprised. Her name is Rosalyn and she wears red pepper-red trousers. Trousers? On a girl? Maybe all women from Mississippi wear ’em. Rosalyn has ideas that are before her time. And Charlie Anne’s even more surprised to find out that they have a new daughter—a colored girl named Phoebe around the same age as Charlie Anne. She’s never seen a colored girl up close before.

Added on to all of the mayhem, Charlie Anne must deal with mean Becky Ellis ... and her sister, Ivy, who is also becoming mean and cousin Mirabel, who’s keeping her from visiting Mr.Jolly!

Nothing will ever be the same since Mama left, or the Great Depression, or since Rosalyn became the new Mrs.Jolly and she brought Phoebe with her.

Riddled with quirky old-fashioned sayings, courage and kindness, Kimberly Newton Fusco’s book, The Wonder of Charlie Anne, will make you think about the world differently. Available in bookstores Aug. 10, be sure to check it out and let us know your thoughts!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My First Charlie Anne Interview

Margo Tanenbaum interviewed me for her wonderful blog, THE FOURTH MUSKETEER ( She posted this morning:

Thanks so much to Kimberly Newton Fusco, the author of the terrific new middle-grade novel, The Wonder of Charlie Anne, for agreeing to this author interview!

Q: Charlie Anne has such a distinctive voice in this novel. What inspired you to tell her story?

A: There was a little girl who lived across the road from my grandmother’s house in Maine . She had to watch her little brother and do chores from morning till night, or so it seemed to me. This was very upsetting because she had a pony and I wanted to play with her and ride the pony! I have thought about her a lot over the years, about how she didn’t have time to play. So she was the first twinkling of an idea that led to Charlie Anne.

The first chapter actually began as a poem for my writing group. I am very interested in what “women’s work” has been through the ages. When I heard Charlie Anne’s voice for the first time, I was nearing the end of another novel. I scrapped that book because Charlie Anne’s voice was so powerful and strong. There was no looking back!

Q: I loved how the cows in this book were almost extensions of Charlie Anne, providing mirrors into her feelings, particularly her grief over her mother's death. I understand from your author's note that you spent a lot of time on a dairy farm as a young girl. Are cows a particular favorite of yours? And what is the story with vinegar pie? I was hoping for a recipe at the end of the book!

A: I loved being on family farms in Maine when I was young. I live with my husband and children in a rural town in Rhode Island now and although we don’t have cows (we have our sheep, Daisy and Wilbur) there are many cows on neighboring farms. While writing Charlie Anne, I rode my bike to the fields up the road, crawled through the barbed wire fence and watched them..

As for vinegar pie, I got that idea while I was researching the Great Depression. Here’s the recipe I found (and tried) while I was writing the book.

1/2 c. butter, softened
2 tbsp. cider vinegar
1 (8 inch) unbaked pie shell
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 c. sugar

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, vinegar, and vanilla. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until inserted knife comes out clean.

Q: Before turning to children's fiction, you spent many years as a journalist. How does your writing process differ writing novels vs. when you were a journalist? Are you still involved in journalism or are you writing fiction only now?

A: I only write fiction now, but journalism taught me that everyone has a story if you only take the time to listen. Journalism taught me that the difference between a great story and a lousy one is research. I was on cloud nine when two women who attended a one room schoolhouse in Rehoboth , Massachusetts, during the Great Depression shared their memories with me. Where else could I have found the “standing in the trash bucket” punishment?

Q: You have four children; do their personalities and experiences influence your writing? If so, how?

A: Many, many parts of my books come from ideas I get from watching my children. My sons and daughters have all loved climbing trees and fishing and running all over our six acres and splashing in the brook that runs across our land. The chicken races that Mirabel gets so angry about were actually something my daughters made up as a birthday party game when we had a flock of Rhode Island Reds. Also, the song that Rosalyn sings when combing Phoebe’s hair is a song that I made up so I would remember to brush my daughters’ hair gently.

Q: What writing projects are you currently working on?

A: I have just finished a draft of my next novel and sent it to my editor at Knopf.

Q: You mention on your website that Harriet the Spy, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and Where the Red Fern Grows are particular favorites from your childhood. What current authors for young people do you particularly admire?

A: I love Karen Cushman. I have also recently enjoyed The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. I can’t answer a question like this without saying that The Diary of Anne Frank is the best book for young people that I have ever read.

Q: What books are currently on your nightstand?

A: The novel, Les Miserables. When I read it in high school, I knew that my decision in sixth grade to become a writer was the right one! The novel is amazing. The action is so fast-paced that I have to force myself to slow down and enjoy the prose. I am halfway through now and can’t wait to get back to reading it.

Q: Charlie Anne clearly suffers from dyslexia, although it's never named as such in the novel, and the heroine of your first novel, Tending to Grace, has a severe stutter. Could you comment on whether you are particularly drawn to characters with disabilities?

A: I was a child who stuttered, so yes, I am drawn to characters who have the courage to put on bigger boots and keep going, no matter what the difficulty.

Q: What is the funniest question you've ever been asked at a school visit?

A: “Do I really eat all the food that Agatha serves Cornelia in Tending to Grace”? The answer is yes! Or at least I have tried them all. My parents used to take us hiking and foraging for wild foods when I was a child. My father is very knowledgeable and we collected fiddleheads, dandelions, wild mushrooms, poke, sorrel and more. I can still brew a pretty good cup of sassafras tea!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Wonderful Review

Margo Tanenbaum at The Fourth Musketeer - - has written a wonderful review of Charlie Anne. Here it is, and please drop by her blog for well-written reviews of current children's historical literature. Truely a treat!

The Wonder of Charlie Anne, by Kimberly Newton Fusco (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010)

Recommended for ages 8-12.

Kimberly Newton Fusco's new novel, her second book for young people, introduces us to the spirited Charlie Anne, who narrates this unforgettable story of family, friendship, prejudice, courage, and vinegar pie set in a small town during the Depression. An interview with Kimberly will appear in my blog tomorrow.

Charlie Anne's mama has just died in childbirth when the story begins. Her "new mama," come to take care of her and her four siblings, is her cousin Mirabel, who showed up with all her suitcases and her no-nonsense manner to take charge of her Papa and her whole family. Charlie Anne is saddled with all the domestic chores, from doing the wash to making vinegar pie, and only can escape when she visits the nearby river, where her mother is buried. At the river, Charlie Anne tells her mother all her news. Times are hard, with luxuries like lemon drops so precious that the kids take a lick and put the candy back in their pocket for later. But when Charlie Anne's beloved Papa tells her he has to take a job up north building roads, taking her brother Thomas along, she is so angry at his separating her family she won't even let him hug her goodbye.

Charlie Anne's town is small, so small that there's not even a school teacher--their school has been boarded up for over a year. Charlie Anne doesn't mind, because the letters dance around and make no sense to her, and the old teacher made her stand in a trash bucket because she couldn't read properly. But life changes for her when Old Mr. Jolly, her neighbor, who isn't really so old, gets a new wife, Rosalyn, who dresses in pants and arrives with an African-American girl, Phoebe, about Charlie Anne's age. Charlie Anne "never saw a colored girl up close before," and she's not sure "if Mirabel will let me play with a colored girl or not." And can Mr. Jolly really take care of a wife when he can't even take care of his cow, Belle, wonders Charlie Anne.

Mirabel wants Charlie Anne to stay away from Phoebe, instead making Charlie Anne listen to The Charm of Fine Manners, a book designed to teach Charlie Anne to be a proper young lady and succeed in life. With the arrival of Phoebe into town, prejudice rears its ugly head, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Hardly anyone will even eat the "glorious" chocolate cupcakes Phoebe and Rosalyn bring to the weekly after-church picnics. And when Rosalyn suggests during church services that, as an experienced teacher, she would like to re-open the town school, using Phoebe as her assistant to help with the younger students, the townspeople gasp in shock. No colored girl will be teaching in their town, they whisper. Pretty soon, things are "all riled up," with racial hatred turning things ugly. Can the school succeed? Can Rosalyn help Charlie Anne make sense of the dancing letters on a page...and what will happen to Charlie Anne and Phoebe's friendship? Will her family be reunited?

Charlie Anne's personality is so alive it pops off the page. I particularly liked her many moods, including her "mad-as-a-yellow-jacket face." Charlie Anne's unique relationship with family cow Anna May and her daughter Belle adds both humor and pathos to the story, as Charlie Anne translates for the reader what the cows are saying and feeling. "Their eyes fill with cow-sorrow," and "cow-worry," and "the two of them tell me how very sorry they are that I am having enough troubles to fill a wheelbarrow." Charlie Anne's charismatic voice narrates not only scenes of every day drama, such as bee stings, falls off swings, peeling potatoes, harvesting tomatoes, Christmas pageants, and kittens born in the barn, but also more profound problems, such as broken families and racism.

This is a book that made me laugh and made me cry, with a main character you won't soon forget. Highly recommended for school and public libraries, it would make a great selection as well for book clubs for young people since there is wealth of material for discussion.

Monday, August 2, 2010

I am very excited about the publication of my second novel, The Wonder of Charlie Anne. Release date is Aug. 10 and already I am hearing from readers who have gotten a hold of one of my publisher’s advance reader copies, called ARCs. One question I am hearing, is “What the heck is vinegar pie, anyway?”

Charlie Anne is set during the Great Depression. I did lots of research into the time period. One of my favorite ways to bring myself back to the 1930s was to read old cookbooks. They are a fascinating peek into the past. Vinegar pie was actually a way to use something that rural people had a lot of – VINEGAR (all those apples) – to replace something that they were short of – LEMONS.

Vinegar pie actually tastes quite a bit like lemon pie and it shows up over and over in the book. Here’s what Charlie Anne says one day when Mirabel (who comes to care for the bereft family) teaches her the recipe:

“Mirabel shows me how to make a Vinegar Pie that tastes almost like lemon pie because you need to know how to make things better when the hard times come, and Lord knows, they come. They come for everyone. That’s what she tells me. I want her to stop talking about bad things.”

I baked one myself one day while I was writing Charlie Anne and my husband and children all thought it was wonderful. Try it and see how close you think it comes to lemon pie!

1/2 c. butter, softened
2 tbsp. cider vinegar
1 (8 inch) unbaked pie shell
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 c. sugar

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, vinegar, and vanilla. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until inserted knife comes out clean.