Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter… ©

I have known that daughter Katie was an excellent writer since at least her fourth grade year. At that time, I was the Teaching/Administrative Asst. to James Spalding, the Director of The Iowa School of Religion, while doing doctoral work at the U of IA. One night I was grading papers for one of his university courses after reading an essay Katie had written for a class as Longfellow Elementary. I thought, “Good grief, my fourth grade daughter is a better writer than these university students.”

With the release of Katie’s debut YA [Young Adult] novel, Learning to Swear In America, now everyone knows what I knew then: she’s a terrific writer.

Katie was once a YA herself, and as a student at IU became the BSF [Best Student Forever] of Dr. Robert H. Ferrell, Distinguished Professor of History at Indiana U, now retired.

Dr. Ferrell was rightly amazed at the writing ability of such a young person. “Where did you learn to write like this?” he asked her. “From my father,” she replied. “And where did he learn to write?” he asked. “From you,” she sweetly replied. He liked that. [I was a History major at IU from 1955-59, when Dr. Ferrell was a new young professor.]

The summer after Katie graduated, Dr. Ferrell taught a course at Eastern Illinois University, in Charleston. We lived there at the time, so Helen and I audited the course. When Prof. Ferrell learned we were Katie’s parents, he was ecstatic. Every day he started class telling stories about how to be a good student, using Katie as his example.

In the class was Bob Ubriaco, who looked and talked like he should be working on a garbage truck instead of working on a master’s degree. [Looks can be deceiving; he was an excellent student.]

After getting his MA at EIU that summer, he matriculated at the U of Illinois for his doctorate. Katie also started her doctoral work at the U of IL that fall. The first day of classes, a professor had each of the students do a self-introduction. Upon hearing an exceptionally pretty and sweet curly-haired blond say “I’m Katie McFarland,” Bob Ubriaco yelled from the back row, “I hate you!”

Katie said she knew that the McFarland name could evoke strong responses, especially if it were preceded by “John,” but that was the strangest reaction she had encountered. [1] She was even more chagrined when she learned that the disgusted shouter, while not being all that thrilled with her father, or even her mother, since their presence in that EIU class had brought forth the paeans from Dr. Ferrell about her, was really and actually aiming his disgust at her.

“All summer at EIU I heard nothing except how wonderful Katie McFarland is, and now you’re here, too,” he yelled. “I hate you and I’ve never even met you.” 

Of course, they became good friends.

There are a lot of morals to be learned from this story, but grandson Joe says, “Kids don’t want morals. We just want a good story.” Isn’t that true for everybody? That is why his mother is such a good story-teller, she writes for her children, and kids just want good stories. If you tell a story well enough, the “moral” will be there for the taking.

So, no moral, but everyone thinks that Learning to Swear in America is a pretty good story. [2]


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] Our son by reverse adoption, meaning he adopted us, Len Kirkpatrick, is an Illinois state trooper. He once stopped old friend and colleague, Burt McIntosh, for speeding. When Len learned Burt was a UM preacher, he asked him if he knew me. Burt said, “My immediate reaction was, will it help me or hurt me if I admit I know him?” [Yes, I’ve told this story before.]

2] Russian boy genius Yuri Strelnikov is a 17 year old with a PhD in Physics. The Americans recruit him when they discover an asteroid is blazing toward earth on a collision course with Los Angeles, where NASA has assembled the best and brightest to figure a way out of this deadly impact. Yuri has only a few days to work the math, find a solution, and then convince those much older to accept his anti-matter plan. He meets the quirky teen girl, Dovie, and her equally quirky family, and finds there are more reasons to save the earth than just winning a Nobel Prize.

So goes Katie Kennedy’s marvelous Learning to Swear in America, published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. It has received a rare star review from Publisher’s Weekly and another star review from BCCB [Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books]. It’s on B&N’s, Bustle’s, and PopCrush’s “Most Anticipated” list, and Goodreads “Best New for the Month” list. An IndieNext pick. Available in print, audio, and e-book, from your friendly independent book store, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc. It is Amazon’s “Best Book of July.”

No comments:

Post a Comment