Barbara Hay is an award-winning children’s author, journalist, and haiku poet who lives in Oklahoma. Widowed, with four children, she has worn many hats. When she is not writing or reading, she enjoys traveling, riding horses, and the beach. Check out her books at www.barbarahay.com
What inspired you to start writing for children?
I was first inspired to write for teens and children in 1993 after moving to Ponca City, Oklahoma. At the time, the town was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Land Run, a period in our history when the America West was opening up to settlers, many of them immigrants from European countries such as Poland, Ireland, Germany, and Italy.
The centennial celebration found the people of Ponca City (whose relatives had arrived during the Land Run) and six local Native American tribes (the Ponca, Kaw, Tonkawa, Osage, Otoe-Missouria, and Pawnee) in conflict. A statue had been commissioned and erected in front of City Hall of a settler on horseback, staking his claim to a piece of free land. Now that in itself had caused the tribes no concern. But when it was proposed the statue be named, This Land is Mine, well, it hit a nerve with the tribes, as they had arrived on this land first — before white settlement, moved in on their own Trail of Tears from ancestral homelands like Nebraska and Missouri.
The events that took place between the townspeople and the tribal members inspired my first YA novel, Lesson of the White Eagle. Chief White Eagle, a Ponca chief, was known as a peacemaker, and he plays a significant role in the novel. The story is told by a 15-year-old white boy that is betrayed by his best friend. Over the course of a series of events, Dusty discovers what true friendship means. I am not Native American, but I was able to incorporate racism and bullying from a perspective with which I was familiar as I had two young sons at the time. Racism and bullying was and remains a challenge in our country.
The books I read growing up influenced me as an individual and 'broadened my horizons.' Reading books such as The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss; Curious George, by H.A. Rey; Ramona the Pest, by Beverly Cleary; Winnie-the-Pooh, by A.A. Milne; The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Adventures of Huck Finn, by Mark Twain; Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott; Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White; A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle; The Call of the Wild, by Jack London and so many more helped inform me and the kind of person I would grow up to be. It is my hope that the stories I tell will in some way do the same for young people, that they will be inspired in kind to stay curious; to read, read, read.
How has your legacy and heritage and the place where you live, Oklahoma, helped to shape you, your work and its focus?
When my second son, Peter, was in third grade he had a terrible teacher who taught him to hate school and to hate reading. It took a lot of work to overcome the disdain he felt about the classroom. He preferred to be outdoors. During our weekly family trips to the library, I would help him find books that interested him, but as you might imagine, we went through the children’s section fairly quickly. I decided to try finding books about specific topics that interested him. Since he loved the outdoors, I would ask him what he wanted to learn about this week. If he said spiders, we would start in the children’s section, but we fairly quickly migrated to the adult section, where we hunted down books on spiders or bow-making or wild cats with lots of illustrations and photographs. At home, Pete would start by looking at the illustrations and the photos. Pretty soon, he was reading the captions, and then lo and behold, he began to read the whole book. He became our resident expert on everything nature-related.
I still felt it was important for him to read fiction, and that is how my contemporary children’s series, The Bulldoggers Club, published by Roadrunner Press in Oklahoma City, was born.
The series is about kids who love rodeo and the great outdoors. I have tried to incorporate everything that Peter loved about nature and wilderness, and coupled it with my locale--Oklahoma.
As I mentioned before, our little town is surrounded by six Native American tribes, as well as a lot of cattle ranches. The title of the series is meant to honor Bill Pickett, a famous African-American cowboy who performed with the 101 Ranch Wild West Show back in the 1920s, again, a place not far from where we lived in Kay County. Bill Pickett is the only individual credited with a rodeo event—steer wrestling. He was known for biting the cattle on the bottom lip until they went down, the way bulldogs would do, or what was commonly called bulldogging. Of course, cowboys no longer bite cattle during the event, but the name stuck.
The series is multi-cultural and multi-generational. The kids get into all sorts of scrapes in their outdoor adventures, but by the time the story ends, they have learned a life lesson or two. The first book, The Tale of the Ill-gotten Catfish, won an IPPY Gold Medal for Best Book of the Year. The third book in the series is due on shelves, August, 2017.
As far as my reluctant reader, Peter, I’m happy to report that he now holds a Master’s of Fine Arts degree in Studio Painting and works as an exhibit director at an art center in Colorado. He is a bow hunter and fisherman, as well as a hiker and trail runner. His art is focused on—as you might have guessed—nature. His large paintings and prints are referred to as environmental realism, and have been shown nationally and internationally. I am proud to say, RoadRunner Press also had Peter do the cover art and interior illustrations for Lesson of the White Eagle.
What do you see as upcoming challenges for yourself in this current political milieu as a writer of books for children and as a poet? Are there any advantages?
My challenges as a writer and poet are intensified because, whereas I have always felt it was my calling to share my love of reading and the merits of being a life-long learner with young people, in the current environment, I feel a stronger conviction to reach out to kids to encourage them to question and be curious about the world around them. In June, I am setting out with my travel trailer in tow to mosey across this great country and speak with anyone who will listen about my love of reading and writing. From my experience, reading across genres and subjects is the best cure for racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and all of the other ills that come from ignorance.