Happy (Almost) Book birthday to Vivian Kirkfield’s collective biography of inventors who didn’t take impossible for an answer.
(HMH / Illus. Gilbert Ford/ January 19, 2021)
A JLG SELECTION
Check out the reviews!
“These innovations in transportation should inspire readers to go far….Educators will also delight in the hefty amount of supplemental backmatter.” —Kirkus
“Kirkfield has a knack for finding elements of human interest as well as historical significance in each account. The colorful, dynamic illustrations help readers visualize the times as well as the challenges faced by the inventors. While this may not be the most comprehensive introduction to transportation history, it’s surely one of the most enjoyable.”—Booklist
This fascinating book launches in January
and WE get a sneak peek!
Here are 10 Qs with Vivian Kirkfield:
Vivian Kirkfield: Thank you so much, Erin,
for inviting me!
Q 1: How does launching FROM HERE TO THERE… in this pandemic—differ from your Jan 2020 book launch of MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD: THE INSPIRING FRIENDSHIP OF ELLA FITZGERALD AND MARILYN MONROE (Little Bee Books/ Illus. Alleanna Harris)?
Vivian Kirkfield: Great question, Erin. I guess the biggest difference is that everything is being done remotely. Last year, for MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD, I started off with an onsite book launch at my local Barnes & Noble in Manchester, New Hampshire…friends and family came from all over – and I even got to meet friends of my cousin who drove several hours, all the way from upstate New York. And the next day, I flew to Chicago, stayed with family, and did half a dozen school visits and a bookstore event at Anderson’s in Naperville. I returned home at the end of February and that’s when Covid hit…so all subsequent book events ground to a halt. But I was so lucky to have that initial marketing and promotion time.
Publishing in a pandemic…
Vivian Kirkfield: For FROM HERE TO THERE, I’m sure there won’t be any onsite events. However, we are better prepared with online activities, I think. I already have a robust book blog tour scheduled (thank you so much, Erin, for being one of my supporters!) and the publisher, Houghton Mifflin, along with Gilbert Ford, the brilliant illustrator, are arranging a virtual launch party at Books of Wonder in New York City which is VERY exciting. And I’ve been volunteering for several Zoom author visits to a Texas school district, plus I’m signed up for World Read Aloud Day and already have a couple of slots filled. I’m excited to read one of the stories in the book – with nine separate biographies, there is a lot to choose from!
*ED note: Check out part of the blog tour here–
Q 2. What was the inspiration for FROM HERE TO THERE…?
Vivian Kirkfield: My sister and I chat on a daily basis and she’s always telling me interesting tidbits – like how a friend of a friend is the granddaughter of the founder of the Greyhound Bus Company and how he came here from Sweden in 1905 with only $60 in his pocket. After several unsuccessful attempts at various lines of work, Eric Wickman began offering shuttle rides to the miners in Hibbing, Minnesota. The rides were so popular, he built a bus to hold more customers and built a business that became Greyhound. One of the coolest things is that he always tried to work together and partner with competitors. The story fascinated me and I wanted to learn more so I researched, reached out to the granddaughter, and wrote the story. And when Ann Rider at Houghton Mifflin received the manuscript, she had a vision for a compilation book that would include biographies of a wide range of people whose inventions changed the way the world moves.
Q 3. How did you choose these inventors?
Vivian Kirkfield: Choosing the inventors was a challenge, but so much fun! The editor asked me to come up with a list of 7 to 10 diverse inventions/inventors – and the only guidelines were that she wanted me to show the Ah-ha moment for each invention and she wanted all of the stories to be engaging narratives with STEM sidebars. I had already written a picture book bio about the Montgolfier brothers and the first manned hot air balloon – so that was a no-brainer. And of course, I had the bus story about Eric Wickman. Finding inventors of things that move wasn’t difficult, but finding information about the Ah-ha moment, finding information about their childhood so that I could begin the story there, finding the heart of each story and weaving it through the narrative – those were the challenges.
I knew I wanted as much diversity as possible – so for the car, I chose Bertha Benz’ ground-breaking road trip instead of her husband’s actual invention of the first gas-powered automobile. And for the boat, the story is about a pioneer in computer programming, one of the African American hidden figures in the Navy, Raye Montague. When her boss challenged her to create a computer-generated design for a frigate in two months, even though it had previously taken years, Raye and her team of engineers did it in eighteen hours and fifty-six minutes!
…every one of the inventors faced huge challenges, but never gave up.
There is also a story about the first folding wheelchair, invented by a former high hurdler who was paralyzed due to a mining accident. And another story about the first robotic device, a mechanical arm now used in manufacturing world-wide. And how about the first bicycle? Did you ever wonder who came up with that? And why? Each story is engaging and entertaining, as well as informational and inspiring – every one of the inventors faced huge challenges, but never gave up. And that’s the thread that ties all of the stories together…and that I hope will inspire kids – that we all need to have hopes and dreams and plans of what might be – and that we can build those dreams into reality.
Q 4. What was the most surprising fact or discovery you made as your book, FROM HERE TO THERE: INVENTIONS THAT CHANGED THE WAY THE WORLD MOVES, went from idea to published book?
Vivian Kirkfield: The most surprising fact? That I could write seven full-length picture book stories in seven months – from ideas to research to rough drafts to polished submission ready manuscripts to working on the revisions suggestions the editor would send me during the entire process. I look back at that time and wonder how I did it because there was a lot of other stuff going on at that time.
I had just signed book deals for Pippa’s Passover Plate and for Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book, and was also doing revisions on Sweet Dreams, Sarah which had been pushed back from its original March 2017 launch date, plus in early 2018, Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe went under contract. And since each book was with a different publishing house and a different editor and a different illustrator, I learned a lot about the publishing industry. ????
Q 5. If younger reader Vivian had read FROM HERE TO THERE, which inventor or visionary would have resonated with her the most? (and why?)
Vivian Kirkfield: Oh Erin, super question! As a kid, I was such a fan of nonfiction…I read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and, if there was nothing to read at the breakfast table, I read the back of the cereal box! I think I’d have to choose Bertha Benz because I absolutely LOVE her courage! Young reader Vivian was a timid child, afraid of going new places and meeting new peoples and doing new things. I would have been inspired by Bertha’s ingenuity – when the car overheated, she stopped at a stream to pour water over the engine. When the fuel line clogged, she used her hat pin to get it unstuck. And when the wooden blocks that served as brakes wore down, she pulled up to a cobbler shop and told the shoemaker to cover the blocks with pieces of leather—first brake pads!!!! Returning home after a successful road trip to her mother’s home 65 miles away, Bertha gave her husband a honey-do list – the improvements he needed to make on the car. And with the publicity her road trip garnered, the cars finally began to sell. I’m happy to say that in 2012, Bertha Benz was inducted into the Detroit Automotive Hall of Fame for her contribution to the automobile industry.
Q 6. Speaking of changes, in looking back at your writing journey, was there an ah-hah moment—from a book, workshop, feedback, writing tip, author keynote, or possibly a “failure”– that changed the way you write children’s books, or changed your path to publication?
Vivian Kirkfield: My writing journey began with a present from my son for my 64th birthday—he took me skydiving. When my feet touched that ground, that was my first Ah-ha moment because I realized that if I could do that, I could do anything. That was 2011…and I joined 12×12 in 2012 when Julie Hedlund started it up. 12×12 was the second Ah-ha moment because I set my mind to writing 12 rough drafts in 12 months…and I did it! In 2014, I took five different picture book writing classes with five different instructors and that was my third Ah-ha moment because it helped me hone my craft and, by the end of that year, I was receiving positive feedback from agents who had read my manuscripts. But I guess, if I have to pick ONE Ah-ha moment, it would be June 2014 when I took a nonfiction picture book writing class and wrote my first nonfiction pb bio…Sweet Dreams, Sarah – or, as I had originally titled it Sarah’s Folding Bed. ???? Although I do write other types of picture books, my heart is definitely with nonfiction.
Believe in yourself!
Q 7. What tips or advice would you give your former teacher-self, as well as to readers who might want to write children’s books someday?
Vivian Kirkfield: Another great question, Erin! As I mentioned, I was timid. Writing had always been a pleasurable activity for me and I wrote many little stories for my own children, but never pursued them seriously. I guess my advice to my younger self would be: Believe in yourself! In 1967 I graduated from college, got married, and began teaching kindergarten in New York City…and although I read picture books every day to my students, I never thought my name might be on those books one day. The 60’s was a time of great innovation in picture books – Ezra Jack Keats (from my hometown of Brooklyn) wrote The Snowy Day, the first picture book with an African American hero. And Maurice Sendak (also from Brooklyn) wrote Where the Wild Things Are. Perhaps had I been a bit braver or imbued with a bit more self-confidence, I might have ventured into the world of writing picture books sooner. So, my advice to readers would be: Nothing is impossible if you can imagine it.
Q 8. What would you like readers to take away from these inspirational biographies?
Vivian Kirkfield: The main characters in my biographies are really ordinary people…some who had physical difficulties, others had mental difficulties, and still others had difficulties imposed on them in the form of racial or other prejudices. I hope that readers take away the belief that all of them are entitled to have hopes and dreams and plans of what might be…and that they can build those dreams into reality.
Fun fact: Vivian Kirkfield is a former kindergarten teacher, so we asked her…
Q 9. What question might one of your former kindergarten students ask you about writing or this book? (Besides the random: “I flew in an airplane!”) Please answer. : )
Vivian Kirkfield: Don’t you love those random questions? ???? But honestly, I find that most of the questions that kids ask are on point. The most popular questions from kindergarteners have been: How many books did you write? Which book did you write first?
Q 10. What is the BEST thing about this writing journey/path to publication?
Vivian Kirkfield: Although I love the writing and I LOVE getting book deals and I LOVE, LOVE sharing my books with kids, my very favorite part of this journey has been connecting with other writers, in person and online – I’ve been so impressed with the kindness and generous spirit of the kid-lit community – and I’m having a blast and living my dream!
Thank you so much for inviting me to chat, Erin!
It was my pleasure, Vivian!
Here’s the #Giveaway as promised:
Vivian Kirkfield has graciously offered to giveaway a copy of FROM HERE TO THERE OR a pb critique…the winner can decide which! To enter:
- Reply in the comments below and tell us the most unusual mode of transportation you’ve used.
- For extra tickets in the giveaway hat, share this post on social media (tag us!) and/or subscribe to this blog (info at the top of this post).
To learn more about Vivian Kirkfield and her books, check out her website viviankirkfirled.com and follow her on
Next up on the blog–
Debut picture book author Alexandra Alessandri talks about:
Felíz New Year, Ava Gabriela!
and new year’s traditions.
Until then, be safe, mask up, and keep reading!