The Male Monday feature began with Ari at Reading in Color.
The world of children’s literature suffered a great loss on Sunday 28 April with the passing of Fred McKissack. In the books that he wrote, the stories he told and the life he lived, he paved the way!
Fred McKissack first worked as a civil engineer for the city of St. Louis and then with U.S. Army. He also owned his own general contracting company in St. Louis. In the early 1980s, he began writing children’s books with his wife, Patricia. Even when his name was not in the title, he was there in the research in the books his wife would write.
What was it that made their writing special? In reading through inteviews with the McKissacks, I find so many examples, both those stated directed and those implied through tone and sentiment that explain why this couple managed to create over 100 books for children. Perhaps the most obvious explanation of what made them special is that they were always there, together even for each interview. Once, an interviewer asked Frederick if only one could attend an award ceremony, who would go?
Neither one. Why? Because Pat wouldn’t dream of going without Fred and Fred wouldn’t go without Pat. We are a team, and a team is just that — we come as a package, and those who give awards know that. Now, Pat has won awards for her work, and Fred has won awards that have honored his work. That’s different. We go and cheer the other one’s success. But when we share an award we share it 50-50. Think of it this way. If we get a bad review or don’t win an award, that is certainly shared, then so should the rewards of our combined efforts.
If one can care that much for those inside their world, they can care almost as much for those of us on the outside as well.
And our niche was that time period between 1800 and 1900 — that’s pre-Civil War, Civil War, post-Civil War, up through and until the Harlem Renaissance. And we just carved that out as our niche and we worked very, very hard to try to tell that story. And I hope that what we’ve done is to make our history a little bit clearer — something that doesn’t make the children feel ashamed or hurt.
It is not designed to point a finger or to make some child in a classroom feel responsible for all that happened back then, but we can’t shovel it under the rug and say that those things did not happen — they did. But let’s tell it by telling an even-handed, well-researched, well-documented story and that’s what we tried to do in Days of Jubilee, Rebels Against Slavery, and Goin’ Someplace Special. And even the whale men, White Hands, Black…I mean, Black Hands, White Sails.
“We could write 100 books a year for the next 100 years and still not scratch the surface of stories that have fallen through the cracks, ” says Pat McKissack.