It all started with a monkey.
Sailing to Freedom, author Martha Bennett Stiles's latest historical novel for middle grade readers, "was conceived as a short, funny picture book about a pie-stealing sailor’s monkey, inspired by one with which my naval officer father was acquainted in the twenties," she tells. "Alas, as I considered what to do with my father’s monkey narrative, I had to face the fact that an anecdote is not a story. So Allie," the scene-stealing monkey, "was demoted from lead to supporting actress."
And twelve-year-old Ray Ingle of Newburyport, Massachusetts, took center stage. To Ray's surprise, his Uncle Thad has allowed him (and his pet Allie) to join the crew of the Newburyport Beauty, Uncle Thad's schooner. There, Ray meets Cook, a former slave with a big secret. Well, not so big—it's hidden in a basket in the kitchen pantry, and it's alive! Does Uncle Thad know what precious cargo he's smuggling, even though it's against the Fugitive Slave Law and he could lose everything?
Sharing the spotlight is eleven-year-old runaway slave Ogun, who's stealthily traversing the backwaters of the east coast with his mother, slave catchers close behind. The two boys' secret-filled journeys parallel, until they finally come face to face at the story's suspenseful and satisfying climax.
Stiles shares how she researched her book's rich period detail, the challenges of writing parallel story lines, and the secret to crafting the slap-bang simile in my July children's market column at Authorlink.com. Be sure to check out her website, as, well: www.marthabennettstiles.com!
Causes Susan VanHecke Supports
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
National Trust For Historic Preservation