The Children’s Book Review | February 6, 2017
“We need to tell stories that matter to us.”
The Children’s Book Review: Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case is the title of your latest book. First of all, lets clarify the term “Documentary Novel.” A lot of people are familiar with historical fiction, what is different about a documentary novel versus a historical fiction?
Patricia Hruby Powell: Documentary novel is also called “creative nonfiction.” It’s an information book, but the author writes scenes that can’t be corroborated. I tell the story in the voices of Mildred and Richard. I’m putting words in their mouths, but words that I think they would say.
Loving vs. Virginia is the story of a landmark civil rights case that legalized marriage between races. What made you decide Richard and Mildred Loving’s story was one that you wanted to tell?
Ginee Seo, my publisher at Chronicle, suggested the topic.
I was brought up in a family that worked for social justice—when you see someone treated unfairly, do something about it. So the Loving vs. Virginia story was right up my alley.
The main themes found in the book are segregation, prejudice, injustice, discrimination, love, and devotion. How do you approach these themes knowing that you are writing for kids? And how much research went into the development of this story?
I picked apart the case so that I could understand it so that my readers could understand it. It’s a very complicated case going through many courtrooms. I researched the couple’s arrest and case on microfilm at the Virginia State Library, in books, and on-line. I spoke to Mildred’s two brothers and friends of the Lovings, both on the phone and in person, as well as others in the area. I “researched” love by listening to the music I listened to when I was falling in love every couple of years (in my twenties). And then I told my story. Young readers are sophisticated, it wasn’t a problem writing so that teens would understand this story.
Told in “spare and gorgeous” verse, how did you discover and deliver the distinct voices needed for both Mildred and Richard?
I watched Hope Ryden’s 12 mm footage of Mildred and Richard from the early sixties. You can see that on Nancy Buirski’s documentary The Loving Story. Richard and Loving speak and move in their soft spoken way. That and interviews contemporary to the case is how I got to know both Mildred and Jeter and created my version of their voices.
And let’s talk about telling a story in verse. This is no easy feat to execute at the esteemed level that you do. Are there times that you have trouble finding the words you need to maintain the integrity of the characters and keep the story flowing? If/When this happens, how do you push forward?
Trial and error. Until it sounds right to my ear. I often feel I’m sculpting, pulling the story out of the facts and my feelings about who the characters are.
Your previous book, Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, won a Sibert Honor for Nonfiction, a Coretta Scott King Honor, and five starred reviews. Loving vs. Virginia is also being favorably reviewed. How does it feel to have your work so well received?
Great! I feel honored and fortunate.
Shadra Strickland’s admirable brush pen and digitally rendered illustrations (as well as a few photographs) are scattered among the pages. Did the creative team at Chronicle Books select Shadra’s artwork as the pairing for your text? If so, you must feel elated by their selections for you—Christian Robinson’s pictures for Josephine are simply gorgeous, too.
Yes they did. Isn’t Chronicle wonderful. And Christian and Shadra! I’m very fortunate.
Lastly, with the current state of political turmoil and human rights issues that are taking place within the United States and around the world, do you care to share with us your opinion on how children’s book authors can contribute to growing kind and caring young readers?
We need to tell stories that matter to us. We need to feel passionate about what we’re conveying and pass that passion and care on to our readers.
Publisher’s Synopsis: From acclaimed author Patricia Hruby Powell comes the story of a landmark civil rights case, told in spare and gorgeous verse. In 1955, in Caroline County, Virginia, amidst segregation and prejudice, injustice and cruelty, two teenagers fell in love. Their life together broke the law, but their determination would change it. Richard and Mildred Loving were at the heart of a Supreme Court case that legalized marriage between races, and a story of the devoted couple who faced discrimination, fought it, and won.
10+ | Publisher: Chronicle Books | 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1452125909
About Patricia Hruby Powell
Patricia Hruby Powell’s previous book, Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, won a Sibert Honor for Nonfiction, a Coretta Scott King Honor, and five starred reviews. She lives in Illinois.
This interview with Patricia Hruby Powell, author of Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case, was conducted by Bianca Schulze. Follow along with our content tagged with African American History Month, Civil Rights, Patricia Hruby Powell, and Segregation to discover more great titles.