Interview with Susan Friedland, Author of Marguerite, Misty and Me

Interview with Susan Friedland, Author of Marguerite, Misty and Me

Question: Your book Marguerite, Misty and Me, a historical deep dive into the true story of beloved author Marguerite Henry, has just "birthed" a new edition. Please share more about that.

Susan Friedland: Yes! A few months after Marguerite, Misty and Me launched, I was invited to do an author talk at Chincoteague Elementary School. It was such an honor to speak in the community where the wild ponies from Misty of Chincoteague actually live, and I loved being in the classroom again--I had a 22-year middle school teaching career.

I read a short excerpt of my book, told a few stories about the author Marguerite Henry, and then a little girl raised her hand and said she'd like to read my book. My heart sank because she was in fifth grade, and this book was written for adults. None of the content is objectionable for children, but I wrote for adult readers--long chapters, long-ish sentences and word choice for grown ups. 

Also, when I went to author events, people would say, "Oh, I'm going to buy this for my granddaughter," and I would find out the granddaughter was too young to be able to get through this biography. So, I got to work. With the help of a middle grade editor, we streamlined the storyline and added in features to make it an appealing read for young people.

This new, middle grade version has a larger font size, shorter chapters and a glossary of terms. Plus, there are pictures! And because I was a history teacher, I made a timeline of Marguerite Henry's life and set that up next to a timeline of world events, so kids can see what was going on from 1902-1997. I'm very excited to do more talks at schools to share what Marguerite's writing habits were--why not learn from the best? After all, she won three Newbery Awards and several other prominent prizes for children's lit.

Question: What were some of the surprising facts you learned about Marguerite Henry and the pony Misty as you researched for your Marguerite Henry biography, Marguerite, Misty and Me?

SF: I was surprised to learn that Marguerite Henry launched her own writing career by walking into a publisher’s office, asking for a writing assignment, and telling the editor that if he didn’t like what she wrote, they wouldn’t have to pay her. That was a bold move, especially for a woman in 1923. Think of it: just three years earlier, women got the right to vote in the U.S. thanks to the 19th Amendment. I learned she was a go-getter and extremely confident. I don’t know that I would have had her moxie.

Regarding Misty, I didn’t realize she was such a celebrity, with themed merchandise like puzzles and squeaky toys made in her image. I also learned about her annual birthday parties and her appearance at the American Library Association convention in 1949.

Q: Can you share your writing process? Where did you write? How long did the book take to research, write and edit?

SF: Sure. It was a long and crazy process. I started my initial research in 2019, and the “older reader” copy of Marguerite, Misty and Me was published in 2023. I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing half the time. I started with a few questions I wanted to discover the answers to such as “How did Marguerite Henry get to be such a good writer?” and “What was Misty like as a riding pony?” The more cool information I found out, the more questions I had. I wrote in my office most of the time, which is a spare bedroom with a desk looking out the window. Occasionally, I would go to a coffee shop.

One of the funny things I learned was that early in Marguerite Henry's writing career, when she was living in Freeport, Illinois, she would sometimes head to a nearby cemetery to have a quiet place to think and write. I was able to locate the cemetery recently. I tried to picture her sitting on a blanket under a tree with a notebook and pencil in hand. 

Q: Were there any challenges you encountered while writing this book? How did you overcome them?

SF: I had so many wonderful facts about Marguerite and Misty. It was hard to organize the book into a cohesive whole. I took poster paper and made graphic organizers like a circle map, tree map, and lots of lists. I used the same graphic organizers I taught my sixth and seventh grade students to use to help their writing.

Another challenge I faced was how to organize and cite my sources. My developmental editor pointed out that since this book is technically a memoir, I didn’t have to cite sources to show where I found the information in this book. However, I thought back to teaching my middle school students how important is is to keep track of where you find information, making sure your sources are credible (because as you know, just because you read it online doesn’t mean it’s true). I thought it was important to show my sources. Who knows? Maybe one of my readers will pick up the baton and dig even further into research about Chincoteague Ponies or one of their favorite topics. I hope they can use my example as somewhat of a template. Also, if you have dozens of sources, you’ll need a citation management system. I used the app PaperPile, and it was amazing.

Q: What messages do you want readers to walk away with from this book?

SF: I hope readers will try riding a horse at least once! And I definitely hope they will read some of Marguerite Henry’s books. But also, I think it’s important (and fun) to practice being curious and follow that curiosity. Research is not boring, and you can’t rely on just Google and the internet to teach you things. Sometimes you need to go to a place and talk to locals. I hope readers will talk to people—especially older folks, and ask them questions. Ultimately, this is a story about following your dream. Marguerite did, and I did too.

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Dig deeper into the life and backstory of Marguerite Henry and Misty of Chincoteague, the real pony when and pick up Marguerite, Misty and Me today. Snag the 244-page young reader adaptation here. Purchase the original Marguerite, Misty and Me here.

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