Children’s Biographies & Co-authoring with Dead Writers

I’ve completed my third collaborative work and—again—I didn’t have any drama with my co-author, never have (probably doesn’t hurt that I’ve only worked with dead writers!).

Last month I released the third title in my illustrated Young American Immigrants nonfiction series for kids, Agnes’s Rescue: The True Story of an Immigrant Girl. It’s about my Scottish-Irish great-great-grandmother, Agnes Caldwell, who (after an ocean voyage) walked over 1,000 miles across the country to get to her U.S. destination.

The picture book was almost called “Agnes’s Feet.” At the time, the transcontinental railroad hadn’t been completed, so Agnes and her family had to walk west from Iowa City into the Rocky Mountains (with only a handcart to hold their belongings). Not surprisingly, Agnes’s shoes soon wore out—but she kept on in bare feet.

Even when they became snowbound by an early blizzard, Agnes’s feet (and life) were preserved in a marvelous way. I love finding inspiration in family stories and want others to gain courage from these examples. Agnes’s Rescue is free on Kindle Unlimited this month (it’s been a #1 New Release for weeks).

My co-author was Agnes’s youngest daughter, Veara Southworth Fife, who I met as a child on a visit to Utah. After I moved to Utah, I obtained permission from Veara’s daughter to use Agnes’s story (I presume, dictated to Veara her by mother). Special thanks go to Sean Sullivan for the cover and sketch work.

My first collaboration with a dead author was my grandfather Ransom A. Wilcox. I polished and expanded a western manuscript he’d written many years ago—and we won an International Book Award for To Swallow the Earth. I also edited and published a book of short stories he penned.

Now I’m completing the art for the fourth book in my children’s immigration series, Samuel Sailing. It’s the true story of my great uncle, whose parents had to leave him behind in South Africa after he contracted typhoid fever.

The family wasn’t cold-hearted; they had sold everything to purchase passage to America before Samuel’s diagnosis. With the outbreak of WWI, it was quite unlikely the family would have been able to make the trip again anytime soon. Samuel’s parents agonized over what to do. They felt directed by God to go ahead with the journey. Some Americans in South Africa promised to bring Samuel to them once he was well; but the family had no idea whether he would recover or survive the journey.

This children’s book is taken from Samuel’s autobiography, his father’s account of the move, and my grandmother’s (Samuel’s sister) recollections. (First three titles in this nonfiction series are: Agnes’s Rescue, Ida’s Witness, and Anna’s Prayer.) I don’t understand when I hear of conflicts between authors when they collaborate. I’ve always had the easiest time!