Children's Authors/Patricia McKissack

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Biographical Information[edit | edit source]

Patricia C. McKissack was born August 9, 1944 in Smyrna, Tennessee. When she was a child, she wanted to be a writer but was told "black people couldn't do that" (Bishop, 1992). She continued to write and moved into the teaching profession because "teaching is very much a part of me" (Bishop, 1992). As a former 8th grade English teacher, she found that there were not enough books for her African American students where they could see themselves in text, so she began to write them. She began with a biography of Paul Laurence Dunbar, an African American poet. After teaching for nine years, she also worked as a children's book editor for six years until she could devote herself to writing as a career (Author Profile).

McKissack's experience growing up in the segregated south has informed the content and style of many of her books in which characters give insight on the daily struggle for civil rights. Many of her fiction texts are based on the stories told by her grandfather and other family members. McKissack often uses African American dialect in her texts to respectfully reproduce and pay tribute to the oral tradition and the rural southern language of her family members (Manna & Brodie, 1992). Her books have a musical, storytelling quality that make many of them excellent for reading aloud. McKissack's desire to write nonfiction stemmed from a need as a child to see what "we had done too" (Bishop, 1992).

McKissack often collaborates with her husband Fred McKissack and they do a great deal of travel and research for each of their texts. She is the author of over 100 books for children.

Books of Interest[edit | edit source]

Flossie & the Fox is a story taken directly from one of the tales that Patricia McKissack's grandfather used to tell during warm summer evenings on the porch. She notes that she has retold the story in "the rich and colorful dialect of the rural south" (Author's Note). The main character is a clever young girl named Flossie Finley who needs to deliver a basket of eggs to a neighbor. Big Mama warns her about a fox that may be lurking nearby and Flossie sets off. Eventually she encounters the fox and outsmarts his attempts to get at her eggs. The story is amusing and empowering for those who identify with Flsossie, but it is the dialogue that gets the reader's attention. While Flossie uses the rural southern dialect of McKissack's grandfather, the fox speaks in Standard American English (SAE). Interestingly, those linguistic differences were eventually controversially used to teach students in Oakland, CA the differences between SAE and African American Vernacular English (AAVE), which at the time was called Ebonics (Newsweek, 1997).

Ma Dear's Aprons is another book in which the content is driven by the author's own family stories and memories. It is a tribute to her great-grandmother whose apron was used for the many tasks that keep a household running. McKissack has included the real Ma Dear's stories, songs and games in the text. The book is narrated by one of Ma Dear's young sons, David Earl, who knows what day of the week it is by the apron his mother is wearing and the daily work that corresponds with it. It is written in seven sections for each day of the week. Like many of Mckissack's fiction books, the story and dialogue have a storytelling quality with musical language and fitting vocabulary. The illustrations by Floyd Cooper have an old-fashioned, sepia quality that support the notion of the story as long-ago memories.

Precious and the Boo Hag is a book coauthored with Onawumi Jean Moss, a professional storyteller ([1]). It is about Precious, a young girl who has a stomachache so she can't go with her family to plant corn in the fields. Her Mama gives the age-old warning not to let anyone into the house but Precious' brother goes one step further. He describes someone named Pruella the Boo Hag who "is strange from head to toe. She aine too smart, got no manners, hates clean water, can change her shape, and tells whoppers.And she'll do most anything to get inside." So, everyone leaves Precious alone in the house and before long she has some visitors. Mckissack makes the reader an observer into the world of Precious trying to outsmart the Boo Hag. It has a repetitive refrain that helps make the book interactive for students. The book was chosen as an ALA Children's Notable Book for 2006 for Middle Readers.

An example of the Jim Crow laws Tricia experiences in Goin’ Someplace Special.

Goin' Someplace Special is a book, set in the 1950's, about an African-American girl named Tricia trying to get to her "Someplace Special." It is her first time going without her grandmother to guide her and she encounters many examples of the discrimination common at the time, from sitting in the back of the bus to not being allowed in a particular hotel. Throughout the text, she describes her "Someplace Special" as a place where she often goes and doesn't "feel angry, hurt or embarrassed". Her grandmother calls it "a doorway to freedom". By the end of the book, the reader finds out Tricia's destination. The book has an engaging narrative style with excellent storytelling dialogue that readers will enjoy. In addition, until the last page, students can predict where Tricia might be going and then discuss why she considers it to be special. Students may also relate to Tricia's desire to go on an adventure by herself. In addition, the obstacles she encounters would be an excellent catalyst for discussion on the civil rights movement. The illustrations by Jerry Pinkney beautifully convey the historical period of the book.

Nzingha, Warrior Queen of Matamba is a work of historical fiction written as part of The Royal Diaries series. It is a chapter book that is written in diary form of Nzingha, a queen of the Mbundu people who lived in the Angola region of Africa. She successfully fought the Portuguese slave traders in her country for over thirty years. The diary is written not through the use of dates on a modern calendar, but using more relative and appropriate terms like "the following day" and "several days later". Mckissack sensitively creates this portrayal through careful research. In the Historical Note, she outlines the limitations of her sources (a Portuguese priest named father Giovanni Gavazzi is the primary source) and offers additional details about Nzinga's life that may of interest to the reader. The book also contains a family tree, drawings and photos of people who lived in the Angolan region, a pronunciation guide, and glossary for reference.

A copy of the Emancipation Proclamation (1863).

Days of Jubilee is an expository text collaboratively written by Patricia Mckissack and her husband Frederick. They did a great deal of research about the days and weeks leading to freedom for African-American slaves. Using information from slave narratives, diaries, and letters, the authors describe the moments when slaves found out that they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. This "Day of Jubilee" was different for everyone depending on where they lived and who delivered the message. The authors use vignettes to describe events as they relate to individuals, both white and African-American, who lived at the time. Photos are included to ground the text in the people who lived it. The book was a recipient of the 2003 Coretta Scott King Honor Award, given to "African American authors and illustrators for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions" (American Library Association).

References[edit | edit source]

Author Profile:

Bishop, R.S. (1992). Profile: A conversation with Patricia McKissack. Language Arts, 69(1), 69-74.

Leland, J. & Joseph, N. (1997, January 13). Hooked on Ebonics. Newsweek, 129 (2), 78-79.

Manna, A.L.& Brodie, C.S. (Eds.)(1992).Many faces, many voices: Multicultural literary experiences for youth. Fort Atkinson, WI: Highsmith Press.

McKissack, P. C. (1986). Flossie & the Fox. New York: Dial.

McKissack, P. C. (1997). Ma Dear's Aprons. New York: Atheneum.

McKissack, P. C. (2001). Goin' Someplace Special. New York: Atheneum.

McKissack, P. C. (2000). Nzinga, Warrior Queen of Matamba. (The Royal Diaries). New York: Scholastic.

McKissack, P.C. & F. L. (2003). Days of Jubilee. New York: Scholastic.

McKissack, P. C. (2005). Precious and the Boo Hag. New York: Atheneum.