Author Visit: Heather Vogel Frederick
Heather Vogel Frederick, author of the beloved middle grade series The Mother-Daughter Book Club, will give a talk on Saturday, December 14, 2019 at 2:00 p.m. at the Main Library.
The Town of Concord is hosting a week-long celebration of all things Little Women in anticipation of the release of the new adaptation on Christmas day. Vogel Frederich is a successful author of many children’s books but The Mother-Daughter Book Club holds a special place in local readers’ hearts for its Concord settings. Daughters - and their mothers - searching for books to share find the different girls’ personalities and problems and the challenges of growing up make Frederick’s books enduring popular choices for that choosy middle grade reader. Each book in the series is inspired by a classic - Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Anne of Green Gables, Daddy Long Legs and the Betsy-Tacy books. If a parent is finding their daughter less than thrilled to be living in the midst of Alcott mania this season, perhaps reading together about girls like her will spark some enthusiasm for reading and talking about books. Vogel Frederick, recently moved back to the area, answered a few of our questions about all things Mother-Daughter.
Should young readers consider reading Little Women first before they tackle your books?
Only if they want to, but it’s not a prerequisite. What they may find is that reading The Mother-Daughter Book Club (which is the first book in the series, and features Little Women) often sparks an interest in reading Louisa May Alcott’s timeless novel! That was my hope for this series — that by featuring classic books I loved when I was growing up, young readers would want to read them, too. I’ve heard from countless numbers of them that this has been the case, and nothing makes me happier.
How important was it to use Concord as the setting for this series?
Absolutely vital! In fact, it was part of the bait on the hook that my editor at Simon & Schuster dangled in front of me when she first approached me with the title and a general concept for the book. I was rendered speechless when she first brought up the idea — I’m the mother of two boys! And she was suggesting I write a book called The Mother-Daughter Book Club? What was she thinking?! I was casting around for a way to politely decline when she added, “I thought of you because I know you grew up in Concord. Maybe you could set the book there and have the girls read Little Women.” Well, that changed everything. Concord has always had a special place in my heart, and I’m a writer today because of Louisa May Alcott.
We moved to Concord the summer before I started fourth grade. I first visited Orchard House with my girl scout troop, and I returned many times after that, too — on a school field trip, with visiting relatives, and on my own as well. I used to save my babysitting money (I made a whopping 25 cents an hour!) for the price of admission. I'd take the tour and linger as long as I could in Louisa’s room, admiring the half-moon desk that her father Bronson made for her (my father was supportive of my writing ambitions, too), and dreaming of being a writer like her some day.
I still have the copy of Little Women that my grandfather, who used to own a bookshop, gave me. It’s a lovely 1939 “Orchard House" edition featuring Jessie Willcox Smith's incomparable full-color illustrations, and it’s one of my prized possessions.
So many of my happy memories of growing up in Concord are woven into the fabric of the books. The history that’s on every corner and around every bend of the road; the abundant natural beauty (we lived on Lowell Road, and the Old Calf Pasture was our backyard); the pride that everyone took and still takes in the town’s rich heritage. My parents used to wake my sisters and me up at 4 a.m. every Patriot’s Day for the trek over to the Old North Bridge, and then we’d come home and watch the parade as it passed right by our front door. I had a great deal of freedom and rode my bike everywhere — the library was my favorite destination, as I was then and still am a bookworm. In fact, I have a picture in one of my scrapbooks of me standing proudly on the steps of the library with the rest of the enthusiastic bookworms who’d completed the summer reading contest!
Middle school drama, bullying, social cliques - not much has changed for young girls except perhaps the dominance of social media and technology. How would you add these themes to your treatment of young women today?
Well, by the final books in my series, which takes “my” girls through middle and high school, they all have cell phones and email, of course. I didn’t really get into social media and its downside, including cyber-bullying, and that’s certainly something I would address if I were starting over now. You’re right that not much has changed otherwise — and that holds true not just in the decade since the first book in my series was published, but for far longer. I find it fascinating that just as the girls in my fictional book club have to deal with "queen bees” at school, so the March sisters had to contend with the likes of Jenny Snow! All the outward trappings, from fashion to modes of transportation, language, and so on, may change, but very little on the inside does. Humanity shares the same hopes, dreams, and fears — the same emotional truth — through the ages, I think. Which is one of the reasons that a book like Little Women is timeless. It speaks to our hearts.
The mothers are as different in nature and ambitions as their daughters - and also flawed and capable of making mistakes. Do you think this is one of the reasons your books have a lasting impact?
Perhaps. With four very different girls (and by the way, guess where I got that idea? thank you, Louisa!) and four very different mothers in my fictional book club, I suppose readers and their moms can find themselves reflected in at least one of the characters. Just as I identified strongly with Jo March — as many aspiring young writers do — my readers, young and older, seem to identify strongly with one or more of the characters on the pages of my books.
Are you planning to see the new Little Women film?
I hope to be first in line! I’m embarrassed to say how many times I’ve watched the trailer. Greta Gerwig is a phenomenal talent, and I can’t wait to see what she’s done with the book.