Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Linda Aksomitis Virtual Tour

by Linda Aksomitis

Coteau Books – 2008

Lucas Vogel is all alone after his parents die in the 1900 Galveston Hurricane. His older brother, Gil, shows up and wants to take Lucas to Montana to work on a cattle drive. And to look for their cousin, Henry, who might be able to give Lucas a home.

Lucas would rather read stories about outlaws and the detectives who trail them – Pinkerton Agents – than spend long days in the saddle in the choking dust of a cattle drive. But in the wild buttes of Montana and Canada’s Big Muddy he finds real outlaws and real danger when he runs into the Sundance Kid and his gang. Gil thinks his brother’s making it up to get attention. Will anyone believe Lucas? And will the boys ever find Cousin Henry?

This book is aimed at a juvenile readership and I think Linda Aksomitis has come up with a great tale to capture the imagination of the young reader. The book is very easy to read and the story moves forward at great speed.

As Lucas learns about being a cowboy, and riding a horse, so too does the reader, as Linda Aksomitis takes care to explain many of these lessons in detail. She also does this with historical information and that of the geography of the locations the story is set in. None of this comes across as a teacher speaking to a class, but it reads as a natural part of the story.

Lucas is a very easy character to relate to, he comes across superbly well as a little boy lost struggling to accept his new life, as we share his hopes, joy, sadness, his despair at not being believed when he tries to tell people about his encounter with the Sundance Kid, and his confusion at understanding right from wrong when getting back the stolen herd of horses.

Overall this book is an exciting and entertain story that should also teach younger readers about life as a cowboy and, hopefully, get them interested in reading more about the West.

As well as reviewing the book Linda has taken the time to answer some questions about Longhorns and Outlaws as part of her Virtual Tour.

Why did you decide to write a book aimed at juvenile readers and what age group would you say this book is targeting?

I've always loved children's literature -- both from my voracious appetite as a child reader, then through eleven years as a school librarian. My many years of experience with young readers showed me that children do the most reading once they reach longer chapter books, at around nine or so, and that's also a point where they love to exercise their imaginations and put themselves into adventures in other times and places. So, it seemed ideal to have my main character be twelve years old, as he'd appeal to these readers. On the other hand, many adults have read Longhorns and Outlaws and loved the story as well.

Why did you decide on the western genre as opposed to any other?

I grew up watching western movies at midnight with my dad -- it was a special "treat" on Saturday nights that my brothers and I were allowed to do, as long as we took a nap earlier in the evening. I loved the excitement and the adventure in those old black and white movies with John Wayne and Audie Murphy, and decided I'd someday write a western myself. Growing up on a horse ranch and marrying into a rodeo family also helped immensely!

How long did it take to write and did it involve a lot of research?

I spent three years writing Longhorns and Outlaws, during which time I did a lot of research, both travelling through the areas and reading related books and newspapers from the turn of the century. I was lucky to find various novels and nonfiction books written at the turn of the century by cowboys, free for download from Project Gutenberg on the Internet. The biggest block of research was a week long trip through Montana where I followed the Yellowstone River along the same course the cattle drive takes (the Interstate highway follows it now), stopping in various towns to visit museums, discover books by local authors, and talk to people.

How are you going about getting the books into the hands of young readers?

I started out celebrating the arrival of Longhorns and Outlaws with a book tour through Alberta, visiting schools in the heart of rodeo and cattle country in September of 2008. In the four days I talked to more than 1000 enthusiastic young people -- it was an amazing reception! I followed up with visits to another dozen public libraries and schools around Saskatchewan. Since then, I've been very lucky to have some great book reviews for Longhorns, and to have both the Appaloosa Horse Club of Canada and of the U.S. agree to review the book in their magazines. At Christmas, our largest Western Canadian bookstore, McNally Robinson Booksellers, recommended Longhorns and Outlaws in their seasonal catalogue, which was an amazing honor as they only list five books for this age group, and Longhorns was the lone Canadian book. During the virtual book tour I'm on now, I have stops with blogs, BlogTalkRadio, a virtual visit with a Texas classroom, and am a guest author chatting at the Institute of Children's Literature. I'm appearing in several conferences in spring 2009 too, so I have another exciting season coming up!

Have you had any feedback from younger readers and what do they think of the book?

Feedback has been very good! The local book launch in Qu'Appelle, where I live, had the library packed to standing room only. Of course, readers who have some experience or interest in horses have the most enthusiastic response, although many young readers -- including my grandson -- who have neither, have enjoyed Lucas's adventure.

Is Ebenezer based on a horse you owned?

Yes, Ebenezer's character is drawn, at least in part, from my first appaloosa horse, who was named Naomi. His coloring and speed, however, are based on his being a direct descendant of Chief Joseph's very famous appaloosa, Ebenezer. Chief Joseph, riding Ebenezer, led a small group of Nez Perce people across 1500 miles in four states with 2000 cavalry behind them, making it to about forty miles from Canada, before they were captured and forced to surrender. While Lucas doesn't discover Chief Joseph's story in this book, he will in a future book.

Are Appaloosa’s your favourite type of horse?

Yes, my family have raised appaloosa horses on the QAR Appaloosa Ranch for forty years, and I've been involved with the breed since I was about ten. Although I stopped riding after I was a teenager, I spent hours in the pastures taking photos for the ranch Web site for about five years while I was their Webmaster, and rediscovered my love of appaloosas.

Which authors have been an influence on your writing?

I taught myself to read before I started school, so read pretty well every book I could find during my early years. In the Western genre I devoured a great many Louis L'Amour titles, and in children's literature I always loved Madeline L'Engle, Elizabeth George Speare, and Eloise Jarvis McGraw's books as a young reader. Now, as an adult, I love the Airborn series by Kenneth Oppel, finding them a perfect blend of beautiful writing and page-turning suspense and adventure for young readers (and we young at heart readers).

Have you further plans to write more westerns aimed at this age group?

Yes, I'm currently completing a sequel for Longhorns and Outlaws, titled Kidnapped by Outlaws, which is based on a true incident in Southern Saskatchewan. My plans are to have several additional titles where Lucas runs into outlaws in other areas of Canada and the U.S. than where he currently is now, in Montana and Southern Saskatchewan. I'm still reading historical books from the period, looking for the outlaw story that appeals to me! I've developed a Web site for the series, which provides information, teacher's guides, and fun links at: http://www.outlawbooks4kids.com/
To read more about Linda’s work then check out these other stops on her Virtual Tour:
March 12th http://www.blogtalkradio.com/igniting-imagination
March 18th http://wellreadchild.blogspot.com/
March 19th http://blog.mawbooks.com/
Week March 16th to 20th http://institutechildrenslit.net/index.php?PHPSESSID=2a8bc7cc7841efd6e73539aef0aaf742&board=11.0


Matthew P. Mayo said...

Hi Steve,
Sounds like a great read. And a fine interview, too. I look forward to finding this title. Thanks.


Steve M said...

The Virtual Tour idea of combining a review and interview works well I think. It adds something a little different to the blog.