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Bethany Hegedus joins us today to reveal the cover of her brand new picture book, Alabama Spitfire:
The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird, illustrated by Erin McGuire! Watch the video below, then keep reading to learn more about the inspiration behind the story.
Can you tell us a little bit about the story in Alabama Spitfire?
Bethany Hegedus: Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird is the first picture book biography of America’s—and perhaps the world’s—favorite author and favorite book, and shares how both author and book came to be.
I began the research for this project and it sold to Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins (HarperCollins is the publisher of To Kill a Mockingbird) before Harper Lee passed away, which increased the timeliness of the project and resulted in some edits after the release of Go Set a Watchman.
What inspired you to write a picture book about Harper Lee?
BH: My love for To Kill a Mockingbird—which I read every summer for twenty summers, which I taught when I was a high school English teacher, and which I was first exposed to in 5th grade, with an excerpt in Mr. Dikeman’s fifth grade class—not only inspired this book, but inspired me to become a writer. In fact my first novel, Between Us Baxters, is set during the civil rights era in a fictional town called Holcomb, inspired by Harper Lee’s Maycomb, which was inspired by her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.
This book is one I was born to write, because of my long love and admiration of TKAM and because of the way the book mirrors my story as well. Like Harper Lee, I was a young girl in love with books who lived in a small town, a girl who dreamed of becoming an author, who packed up for New York City to make her dream come true. I think Nelle’s childhood is going to speak to many girls who will take chances to create lives of their own design, as Nelle did.
What’s a page from the book that speaks to you in a special way?
BH: I love illustrator Erin McGuire‘s work, which portrays Nelle as the spunky spitfire she was as both a girl and woman, but I particularly love a page spread early on in the book where Nelle and her father, A.C, walk on one side of the sidewalk and African-American townspeople walk on the other. It emotionally shows the impact of segregation on all.
And then there is a little vignette of Nelle and Truman hugging goodbye when he moves away that chokes me up. And Nelle in front of the Flat Iron building in NYC! So many.
What is your favorite thing that you reveal about Harper Lee in the story?
BH: It still surprises me that some folks don’t know that Harper Lee and Truman Capote were childhood friends or that he inspired the character of Dill in TKAM , so that is a fact I am glad to share with young readers, how this childhood friendship helped form the creativity of two of America’s strongest writers. I also loved finding out that it was Nelle’s father, A.C, who gifted Nelle an Underwood Number 5 typewriter and how the two took turns dictating stories they made up to each other as one would create and the other would type. Plus, the names of the stories! “Old Mrs. Peabody” and “The Fire and the Flame”—who doesn’t want to read those?
Thanks for sharing Alabama Spitfire with us!
BH: I can’t wait for educators and kids to meet Nelle, the girl that grew up to be Harper Lee. To me, the theme of the book is that our childhood matters. It shapes who we are, who we become.
Bethany Hegedus is the award-winning author of Truth with a Capital T and Between Us Baxters, and co-author with Arun Gandhi of Grandfather Gandhi and Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story. She owns the Writing Barn, a writing workshop and retreat center in Austin, Texas. Bethany, a former educator, teaches widely and speaks across the country. You can find her online at www.bethanyhegedus.com.