According to legend, Will Cody (later known as America’s greatest showman, Buffalo Bill) rode for the Pony Express at the age of fourteen. His most famous ride, recounted in the lyrical verse of Ride On, Will Cody! by Caroline Starr Rose and illustrated by Joe Lillington, covered 322 miles, required 21 horses, and took over 21 hours to complete.
We were lucky enough to sit down with Caroline Starr Rose to talk about writing for children, historical fiction, and Ride On, Will Cody!
Q. What’s the easiest and hardest part of creating a book?
A. Drafting, the “something from nothing” phase, is always hardest for me. Setting limitations on my writing—rhythm, rhyme, and repetition in the case of Ride On, Will Cody!—actually helps me find my way into the work. Somehow knowing the structure and specific words to tell my story are out there for me to discover makes drafting less daunting. The writing becomes a puzzle with a solution I trust I can find, if only I jump in and explore.
Q. Why write children’s books?
A. So many reasons. First, children’s books are the ones that made me into a reader, the ones that often stir the most passionate bookish memories in readers of any age. I want to be a part of that. I also want my work to honor young people. It’s not often kids are told their experiences and emotions count. Children’s books validate. They allow readers to feel heard.
Sometimes well read and well-meaning grown ups ask if I’ll write for adults someday, as if writing for kids were somehow practice for more important work to come. Children’s books aren’t a means to an end. Kids don’t deserve second best. I want the best I have to offer to be for young readers. I can think of no higher privilege.
Q. What makes your book stand out?
A. There are a handful wonderful picture books about the Pony Express: They’re Off!: The Story of the Pony Express, Whatever Happened to the Pony Express, and Off Like the Wind: The First Ride of the Pony Express come to mind. I wanted to write a book that went beyond the history and created an experience, that thrust the reader right into the ride alongside Will Cody. I hope readers feel energy, surprise, fatigue, and courage in the rhythm and movement of the words and art as they turn each page.
Q. Do you have any writing quirks?
A. Well, I always start picture books in a journal. Pencil only, please!
Q. What interests you about historical fiction?
A. Historical fiction allows readers to see people of the past as fully human. Flawed and wonderful. Short-sighted and brave. Their experiences might have been different than ours, but their emotions and motivations are things we recognize in our own lives.
Historical fiction was my true entry point into understanding the past. It went deeper and wider than a handful of paragraphs in a textbook and made history come alive for me. I hope my writing might do the same!
Thanks so much, Caroline. To find out more about Ride On, Will Cody! check out our website.