We are JUBILANT about the launch of Alicia Potter and Matt Tavares's new picture book, Jubilee! One Man's Big, Bold, and Very, Very Loud Celebration of Peace. (One of the best titles ever.) It's out today from Candlewick Press.
As a young boy growing up in Ireland, Partick Sarsfield Gilmore loved music — the louder, the better! In 1849, he brought this love of music to Boston, where he became a bandleader, and during the brutal Civil War, it was music that kept up his spirits and those of his fellow soldiers. But when the war ended and peace was restored to the country, Patrick found that not even the best bands seemed enough to celebrate such a momentous occasion.
One day, Patrick had an idea. It was a big idea. A bold idea. A very, very LOUD idea. He would create the biggest, boldest, loudest concert the world had ever known. A peace jubilee! It would last for five days and unite the whole country in celebration of the end of the war.
But with the citizens of Boston worried for their ears, even Patrick had to wonder: Just how would all this sound?
In this picture-book biography of the man who went on to be hailed as the “Father of the American Band,” author Alicia Potter and illustrator Matt Tavares applaud the power of one big, bold, and very, very LOUD idea.
Welcome, Alicia! What was the spark that ignited this book? (The prelude to this book? The fanfare that heralded this book?)
I first read about Patrick S. Gilmore and the National Peace Jubilee in my neighborhood newspaper. There was an article about which prominent Bostonian next deserved a statue in a nearby park, and Patrick was one of the people mentioned. I thought, How could I live in Boston for 20 years and not know about this man? The concert took place a few blocks from my house!
I did some preliminary research and was immediately struck by Patrick’s vision and drive. And his photo. I loved the contrast of this dapper little guy putting on this amazing, internationally acclaimed spectacle. When I read that the concert involved a giant bass drum AND the world’s largest pipe organ, I was totally in.
We love that photo, too! So who (we can probably guess!) was your favorite character to write and why?
Patrick, of course! I’ve been lucky with my two picture-book biographies in that each of my subjects wrote books about their accomplishments. In Patrick’s case, he compiled a 700-page account of the making of the Jubilee — he truly did nothing small-scale! His voice rings out from every page, and I not only got a real sense of the resistance he faced, but also his boundless energy and enthusiasm. He was not a man who shied away from an exclamation point! His love of music sustained him even when it seemed like the whole concert might fall through. I tried to echo his voice in the style of the writing.
What authors do you love for their sentences? How about plot? Character?
I have to go with William Steig — for everything! He’s the author who made me want to try writing for kids. His books are long by today’s standards, but it’s that 1,000-plus-words length that allows him to create characters with really deep emotions, plots that are funny and moving and weird, and rolling sentences with unexpected word choices. I love the phrase “phosphorescent sea” in Amos and Boris (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1971), and the ending in Farmer Palmer’s Wagon Ride (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974), where Ebenezer the donkey is “in bed with a poultice on his sprained hock.” As if “sprained hock” wasn’t great enough, we get to say “poultice.”
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
I was hands-down the World’s Worst Reviser coming into Vermont. If I had written a story, why, it was carved in stone. I was getting revision letters from editors and really had no idea what to do with them, never mind completely ripping a manuscript apart and starting over. The packet process changed that. For my first semester, I wrote two new picture books and revised two picture books per packet. I now really like revising.
The structure and demands of the program also helped with the fact that I tend to have a lot of ideas, write half a draft, and then either get stuck or intrigued by another idea that I think is better. Even now, to find my focus, I ask myself, “If you had a packet due in a month, what stories would you include?” It allows me to figure out which manuscripts I feel most drawn to or which are in the best shape to actually get finished.
Tell us about your writing community. Are you in a critique group? Does your son or mom read your early drafts? Is Twitter your bastion of support?
I have a very diverse — maybe surprisingly so — writing community. My critique group here in Boston is comprised of three abundantly talented YA writers who are VCFA alums: Katie Bayerl, Liz Cook, and Adi Rule. Their perspective is invaluable to me, even though we’re working in different genres. They will always push me to examine motivation and heighten emotion, and they understand implicitly what I want to convey in my stories. And they’re funny!
My fellow “Wild Thing” Bethany Hegedus has been a great writer friend ever since our second day of residency, when we squished half our class into a car to avoid walking downtown in sub-zero temps (I believe I sat on her lap). She knows picture book pace and structure inside out. And while my partner Peter isn’t a children’s book author, he is a writer and film critic with a tremendous imagination and sense of story. I often talk through a manuscript with him, because I find that it helps me to explain a plot out loud. He is very tolerant of breakfast conversations that start along the lines of: “Okay, so there’s this bunny, and his next door neighbor is having a yard sale, but he has nothing to sell …”
What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?
That the NECI cookies would ruin me for all other cookies. I have never loved a cookie the same way again.
It's true! We weep thinking of those cookies!
Thanks so much for stopping by, and congratulations on your launch. We hope it's big, bold, and very, very loud!
Alicia Potter is also the author of Fritz Danced the Fandango, illustrated by Ethan Long, and Mrs. Harkness and the Panda, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, winner of the Cybils Best Nonfiction Picture Book 2012. Her next picture book, Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats, illustrated by Birgitta Sif, is due out next year. Visit her online at aliciapotterbooks.com.