On Representation

One of the questions that has come up about Papa Put A Man on the Moon is the representation of African-Americans in the book given that Slater, SC is a southern mill village.

The history of the United States, and the South in particular, is one of harsh injustice in relation to the treatment of African-Americans. And truth be told, Slater was no stranger to some of those injustices. But in other ways, Slater, SC was a bit of an anomaly among southern towns. The mill itself was integrated earlier than some other industries and there were opportunities in the mill village, including sports, movies, and activities for all races. The mill’s production of the all-important Beta-cloth that was used in the astronauts’ spacesuits was integrated with both races working on that cloth.

In Papa Put a Man on the Moon, my editor and I didn’t want to promote an inaccurate or romanticized view of race relations in the community; however, in my research I discovered a deep sense of belonging to the community by both races. It felt wrong to ignore that sense of belonging by limiting the representation in the book to only white people. As the Cruell sisters say in the video below, “It wasn’t strange for us to come together, ’cause my dad knew their dad.” They all had access to “the building,” which was placed there by the mill in the 1930’s. Ignoring that connection in Papa would have meant ignoring a history that, while imperfect, made Slater, SC a home for both races.

I am particularly grateful for the Cruell family’s words in this video. So many of my own childhood memories are from exploring and playing and celebrating on that mill hill and their words show me that our love for and connection to this place is human and unifying. That connection doesn’t erase all of history’s sins, but it unites us at the heart level. And I am grateful to have been able to celebrate that love and connection in PAPA PUT A MAN ON THE MOON.

Discover more in this video from the Slater Hall Historical Society, which includes a bit from many voices who grew up with a deep sense of belonging to “the hill.” As Rachel Austin says in the video, “That’s the difference between ‘Southern’ and ‘Slater.'”

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In the news!

With the anniversary of the moon landing coming up on July 20, 2019, Papa Put a Man on the Moon has been featured recently in the news!

Hubpages includes a review and an interview with me here.

The Southern Indie Bookseller’s Alliance named PAPA as a Spring 2019 Okra Pick!

Geek Dad offers a review and a couple more details in a footnote about the subcontractors involved in manufacturing all it took to put a man on the moon.

And here are two round-ups of moon books that will round out your reading as we lead up to the anniversary of the moon landing! Growing Readers offers both books about the moon landing and informational books about the moon. And Read Aloud Revival offers a podcast full of a variety of engaging books to read aloud about the moon landing.

And the Washington Post included PAPA in an article about books to celebrate Father’s Day!

COMING SOON: Papa Put a Man on the Moon

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My family has a long history in a little mill village in Slater, SC. My mama grew up there with her two sisters, Kathy and Elizabeth. My grandparents, Kathryn and Oscar, lived there in a little house on Webster Street where we celebrated many Easters, Thanksgivings, Christmases, birthdays, and regular days, somehow fitting family and extended family and friends into a five-room house.

I remember walking to the general store to buy penny candy. If someone happened to be sitting on their porch as I passed by, they knew me, even though I had never lived on that hill.

The families that lived on that hill mostly lived there for generations. Many of them worked at the J.P Stevens textile mill that had given birth to the community back when companies built housing for their employees and owned all the stores in town too. My own grandparents, aunts, uncles, and parents all worked in the textile mill at one time or another. I remember visiting my grandmother Kathryn when she worked as a switchboard operator, right inside the entrance of the mill. Yes, an actual manual switchboard at which she pulled corded plugs and inserted them into the appropriate jacks to connect the caller to the correct extension. It seems like something that should have been before my lifetime, but no, I remember it clear as day. My papa had several different stints at the mill too, in between other jobs. The mill and the community center provided by the company were the center of this community.

In the late 1950s, as cotton mills moved to Asia, the Slater mill turned toward production of fiberglass fabric, a move that would eventually provide them with a government contract to produce Beta-cloth, a special fabric engineered by Dr. Frederick Dawn of NASA. The Beta-cloth would be used as one layer in the spacesuits of the astronauts who would land on the moon. This was a secret project and only a few workers at the mill were chosen for it. Those that did were grateful for the work and for the ability to continue making a living at what they knew and what they did best.

It wasn’t until Neil Armstrong actually stepped onto the moon that Slater, SC even began to consider its role in this monumental American achievement. And even then, some of the impact on this community was lost to history until recently.

This is the story of the legacy of one community, written to honor the hundreds of thousands of hands in many factories across the United States that “touched the face of the moon” through their work ethic in weaving, building, and fabricating the pieces and parts that were required to put a man on the moon.

I feel privileged to have the opportunity to share this story with the world.

Coming from Dial Books for Young Readers in May 2019, written by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Sarah Green.

Superhero Instruction Manual Launch Party at The American School of Belo Horizonte in Brazil

These big and little superheroes made my day celebrating the release of Superhero Instruction Manual. We chose our superhero names (favorite color + favorite animal — Mine is “Red Lion”) and decided on our superpowers. (After all, “superheroes don’t just wake up one day with superpowers. You must work hard to discover your inner BAM-BOOM-POW!”)

Here are a few images from this Zoom-Vroom-SUPER day!