Sunday, December 9, 2018

Interview with author Nancy Churnin about The Queen and the First Christmas Tree PLUS a Giveaway

by Linda Hofke

The holiday season is upon us. I was reminded of that yesterday as I drove through town. In only 15 minutes I passed three Christmas tree lots and a man hauling away a large Nordmann fir.  O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree... 

Did you know that Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we know it. It then made its way to England via Queen Charlotte. How do I know this? Because I'm a nerd who reads a lot of stuff and also because award-winning author Nancy Churnin has written a book entitled The Queen and the First Christmas Tree: Queen Charlotte's Gift to England. It has received some great reviews:
 
“Simple prose and light watercolors keep this retelling of historical events within the understanding of children who like a good princess story.”—Kirkus Reviews

“This piece of history reads like a story, and the charming pictures add to the fairy-tale feel. But, as the author's note reveals, this is history—a little-known piece of it. There are many holiday picture books, but few are nonfiction, making this a worthy addition to Christmas shelves.” — Booklist

“Charlotte’s enduring legacy spread from England to the United States and continues today. Delicate full-bleed illustrations done in a muted palette give the story an old-fashioned feel. A brief biography of Queen Charlotte is included as well as a list of further reading on the topic. VERDICT This additional purchase can teach young students about the origin of the Christmas tree as well as biographical information about this nature-loving monarch.” — School Library Journal

“Based on the real-life events that brought the Christmas tree to Britain, the approachable text emphasizes Charlotte’s generosity, concern for children’s welfare, and lifelong love of nature. Soft-lined illustrations in a muted palette portray a humble and relatable queen who is happiest amidst children or in her gardens.”—The Horn Book


Want a sneak peek? Here's the book trailer:


Nancy was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to discuss The Queen and the First Christmas Tree.  Here is the Q & A:
How did you get the idea for the story?

Curiosity! I always wondered how the tradition of the Christmas tree began. I started searching and I found this story of Queen Charlotte who introduced the first Christmas tree to England in 1800. That led to more questions. Who was she? What did the tree mean to her? I kept searching and discovered she was a German princess who left her country and everyone she knew when she boarded a boat to marry King George III when she was only 17. And yes, that is the same King George who lost the colonies during the American Revolution. King George has become famous all over again because of the ‘Hamilton' musical, but nobody ever talks about Charlotte. And the more I knew about her, the more I loved her. I love how she cared more about growing things in Kew Gardens and caring for children than she did for dressing up for fancy balls. I love how she was so against slavery that she and King George refused to take sugar in their tea because the tea has been grown on plantations tended by slaves. I love how she and King George were the first British royals to make charitable giving part of royal duties.

How extensive was your research and did you have any problems along the way?

I found it difficult at first to find answers to all the questions I had about her. There are encyclopedias and historical articles where I found basic facts about the big biographical dates in her life as well as about at the Christmas tree. But I wasn’t sure I could trust all the information I was gathering and I had specific questions about what the yew branch that she grew up with in Germany looked like and what plants she might have tended growing up. Then a friend put me in touch with Dr. Carolyn Harris, a royal historian and professor of history at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. She read my manuscript, corrected errors and gave me details that brought Charlotte’s story to life, including the fact that winter thyme grew near her home in the Duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. 

Tell us a bit about your writing journey with this book? Did you have many revisions?

I knew I wanted to tell the story of how Queen Charlotte introduced the Christmas tree to England, but I learned I had to dig more deeply into who Queen Charlotte was and why motivated her to do that. I had to move from telling what happened to telling why it happened. I remember the first helpful critique I received from an editor at the 2016 WOW retreat in Helen, Georgia, pointed out that the story of the tree was fascinating, but I hadn’t yet brought Queen Charlotte to life.   That’s when I burrowed in and revised until instead of having a book about the first Christmas tree in England, I had a story about the fascinating and kind woman who brought that tree to England. 

What was your reaction the first time you saw the illustrations? Do you have a favorite page or spread?

I was enchanted by the illustrations! Luisa Uribe made it look like a fairy tale, which was absolutely perfect, because I had always envisioned this as a fairy tale that happened to be true. I love all the pages. I have a particular fondness for this one, when Princess Charlotte is trying to protect her winter thyme while the other princesses are adjusting their dresses and hair and looking at her, puzzled, through the window. It shows from the start how kind she was, how she braved the cold to protect her plants and how she did what she thought was right, regardless of what anyone else thought. It also sets up the climactic scene later when Queen Charlotte will take a walk outside in her garden, trying to think of a way to make a Christmas party special for 100 children, and come up with the idea of dragging an entire tree into Windsor Castle.

What do you hope readers take away from this book?

I hope they will be inspired by this story of a kind princess who became a kind queen and that being a queen is about more than fancy gowns or glittering jewels. It is, at is best, caring for others as Queen Charlotte cared for plants and people, from orphans that she cared for at court to mothers that she helped survive childbirth by funding the hospital that was called The Queen Charlotte and Chelsea Hospital in her honor. She didn’t live to see England’s Parliament abolish slavery  in 1833, but her steadfast opposition helped change hearts and minds. I always have a Teachers Guide and project with my books. I hope families will check out the Teacher Guide, which has a lot of fun extras, and try the project, which is A KIND HOLIDAY. In honor of this kind queen, I am asking kids to share about kind things they do for others at whatever holidays they celebrate. I have A KIND HOLIDAY page set up on my website, www.nancychurnincom. I look forward to sharing and celebrating the kind things kids do. 

Nancy is also offering a free book to one lucky person. All you need to do is leave a comment regarding a tradition you enjoy during the holiday season and/or tell about something kind you have done for others during the holidays.  Also, though it's not required to enter, it would be great if you could also skip on over to Nancy's A KIND HOLIDAY page and take part by sharing a photo and a few words about a kindness you've done for others for whatever holiday you celebrate.  By sharing, maybe you'll inspire others to help kindness grow like Queen Charlotte's garden.  

This giveaway is open to anyone and the deadline to comment is Sunday, December 16th. The winner will be announced by December 18th.

Thanks so much, Nancy, for taking time out of your business schedule to be interviewed and for offering this fabulous prize. 


Nancy Churnin is the theater critic for The Dallas Morning News and author of THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME, on multiple state reading lists; MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN, winner of the 2018 South Asia Book Award; CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT: HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF, winner of the Silver Eureka Honor Award; IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING, on multiple best of year lists, including7 of the Best Jewish Books for Kids by Children’s Book Review; THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE, featured on the Royal News Blog. On March 5, 2019: MARTIN & ANNE, THE KINDRED SPIRITS OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND ANNE FRANK. In 2020: BEAUTIFUL SHADES OF BROWN, HOW LAURA WHEELER WARING PAINTED HER WORLD. A native New Yorker, Nancy is a graduate of Harvard University, with a master's from Columbia University School of Journalism.

Website: http://www.nancychurnin.com/
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NancyChurninBooks/
On Twitter: @nchurnin
On Instagram: @nchurnin

33 comments:

  1. Such a great post, Linda! I love Nancy's books too, and I can't wait to read this one!

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    1. yea, she really captures the essence of people and their accomplishments.

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  2. Our family tradition is to have stockings on Christmas morning. We are all grown up, but we still have our Santa stockings filled with fun little things.

    As for kindness at the holidays, I like to over tip and service staff. I try to make eye contact with people and give them at least a smile and hello no matter who they are, no matter their social status, we are all in this together. Seeing a person smile; their eyes light up, makes me smile even more.

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    1. those are all good things, Sarah.
      Happy holidays to you.

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  3. I met Nancy at that WOW 2016 conference and found her to be so approachable and willing to share what she's learned in her writing journey. This book looks fabulous.
    This year I rang the Salvation Army kettle bells with a friend. It was so much fun speaking to the shoppers, giving them a smile, and wishing them them Merry Christmas. We have a special family Christmas Eve supper, using the fresh pears from a friend in a gourmet green salad.

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  4. Congrats on a wonderful book! I can't wait to read it! I run an after school program with students where we decorate for holidays. I cannot wait to start working on A Kind Holiday-what a fantastic message for everyone!

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    1. Hi "unknown". Thanks for your comment. Can you give me at least a first name to enter you into the giveaway?

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  5. What a fascinating story! I'm intrigued to find out more. We always have a real tree with lit candles in the German tradition. It looks magical and is really special. For us, Christmas is about family and thinking of others. Good luck with the book!

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    1. my family also uses real candles on the tree

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  6. Thank you Linda for this wonderful interview. Nancy has given so much by example to aspiring NF writers like me. This book sounds wonderful.
    I am fond of our family tradition of making home-made egg rolls for our Christmas dinner. My kids, now grown, always want a huge egg-roll feast when we have holiday gatherings. It becomes an assembly line process, and we judge each 'rollers' skills as the rolls come out fried crispy and brown.... but not always so round.

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  7. This book looks like it's right up my alley. I can't wait to read it. I think teachers and librarians will love this one with its message of kindness!

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  8. An intriguing story with enchanting illustrations, already on my wish list! My tradition is to splurge on unique (nothing mass produced in China) dog and rabbit ornaments for my tiny Xmas tree--I have rescued dogs and rabbits and volunteer with them @ my local SPCA. But now I need to find one of a chinchilla as I adopted Daffodil from a chin rescue!

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    1. I love animals. Have fun with your chinchilla

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  9. This book sounds wonderful. It's amazing how many things we don't know! I can't wait to read it. Thanks.

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    1. yes, there are always bits and pieces of history out there waiting to become books

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  10. Terrific interview. I'm looking forward to reading this one! My son no longer lives at home and we always spend Christmas with my parents (about six hours away), so we've stopped putting up a tree since we're not really home for the holiday. But a favorite new tradition has come out of this—we decorate my antique dressmaker's dummy. She gets mini-lights and tinsel and a few ornaments and we put presents under her. It's so much easier than bringing out all the tree decorations and I love the way it looks!

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  11. Loved learning more about this book. My principles don’t allow me to talk about the kindnesses I do, or it smudges them up, so I’ll just say I keep a lot of ten dollar bills handy all month and make sure they go where needed most.

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  12. Part of my heritage is Germanic which means my Grandma's fingerklatzen cookie recipe is one of the must make holiday treats.

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    1. hmmmm...why am I suddenly hungry. :-)
      We all have that one cookie that is an absolute MUST for baking during the holidays. Thanks for sharing, Wendy.

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  13. Oh, my goodness! I love the story behind the story...how it started off being a story about the tree and turned into a story about Charlotte. What a journey! Wow!

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    1. yes, isn't it interesting how stories can gradually morph from original idea through draft after draft. Sometimes the story that needs to be told just makes itself known.

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  14. Thank you, Linda for an excellent interview with Nancy Churnin. I've read all of Nancy's picture books and look forward to reading THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE.

    Suzy Leopold

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    1. yes, Suzy. I first heard of Nancy when her first book about William Hoy was published and have followed her ever since. I have my copy of this book ordered and can't wait until it arrives.

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  15. P. S. Our Christmas tradition is an Italian spaghetti meal with veggie balls [for those who eat a plant based diet], meatballs, and sausage. A garden salad, homemade bread, and of course, sugar cookies for dessert.

    Suzy

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    1. that's the first I've heard of spaghetti for Christmas but...why not? Who doesn't like spaghetti?
      Thanks for sharing, Suzy.

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  16. I love this story! So brilliant to write a nonfiction christmas book of this sort. The christmas traditions we are enjoying with our children: icky sticky ooey gooey buns for breakfast (aka monkey bread - I don't think the kids like it as much as we do but it's a tradition!) and gingerbread houses from scratch - yum!

    Kindness.... I was selling portraits on wood slice ornaments at an art fair (drawn from life or photo while you wait) and business was slow but a couple of artists had brought their kids. On a spur of the moment, I let the kiddos have as many wood slices as they wanted from my stash for free & let them use my pens/paints because I know how hard it is to entertain kids while on the job. Fun for the kids & some low-stress time for the moms. A very small act of kindness but those smiles :)

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  17. I bet the kids loved that (and the parents probably appreciated it as well).
    Thanks for sharing.
    And enjoy your monkey bread.

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  18. Sounds like another great book from Nancy Churnin. My two favorite family Christmas traditions growing up were listening to the Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers Christmas album and making chocolate covered pretzels.

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  19. Carmela McCain SimmonsDecember 17, 2018 at 1:20 AM

    Nancy, Your journey to publication of this book, and then finding its heart in Charlotte's kindness, are an inspiration to all of us who are researching other fascinating persons for picture book biographies. Thank you for lifting your light for us!

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