Patricia McKissack

Patricia McKissack: Still Goin’ Someplace Special

Patricia McKissack believes in telling stories the way she heard them. “I grew up listening to my grandfather weaving a good story and I picked up where my relatives left off,” she explains. While Patricia and Fredrick had three sons, her three daughters are Flossie, Mirandy, and Nettie Jo, introduced to the world in Flossie and the Fox, Mirandy and Brother Wind, and Nettie Jo’s Friends.

All three heroines are in the African-American storytelling tradition, but Patricia points out that “We should not say black books are for black children–they are for all children.” Good stories are good stories.

Patricia had her own “Ah-ha!” moment about diversity when she was contacted about a forthcoming French edition of Flossie and the Fox. “Flossie was not a name that was familiar to French children and they asked if they could change it to Rita,” she recalls. The author was aghast: “Of course not! Her name is Flossie!” she insisted. “Then they explained that they were aiming for the alliteration and I allowed the to rename her so it could work better with reynard (‘fox’ in French).”

Just as little Patricia enjoyed listening to her grandfather’s stories on the front porch, she also loved reading the stories at the one place in early 1950s Nashville where everyone was welcome. Her memories of getting to “someplace special” were beautifully captured in the Coretta Scott King Medal winning Goin’ Someplace Special. “The main library downtown was a warm and wonderful place and the librarian greeted me with such a big smile,” she fondly recalls. Children today can catch a glimpse of that enthusiasm when they see Jerry Pinkney’s original artwork for the book proudly displayed in the new children’s department at the Nashville Public Library.

Patricia McKissack still goes to the library, though she is now more often seen at the St. Louis Public Library. “I’m a lifetime learner—I love researching, gathering, looking for new material.” She pauses for a brief moment and adds, “Fred was the master researcher.”

Theirs was a true partnership and for more than 50 years Patricia and Fredrick McKissack worked together on books that were both meticulously factual and perennially entertaining. “We only argued about whether or not something was as good as we could make it,” she confides.

Even though her master researcher is no longer at her side, Patricia McKissack continues to research and write. “My next book is about early childhood play—the games kids play and the history behind them.” Look for this as-yet unnamed book in Fall 2016.

Meanwhile, Patricia is also working on another book that begs to be shared on a front porch by moonlight. Fans of Patricia McKissack’s Coretta Scott King-winning The Dark Thirty will remember her skill at spooky stories and will be delighted that she is again heading into supernatural world. Hag Hollerin’ Time comes from the Gullah language and refers to midnight, the witching hour.

Not everyone finds her tales scary. She laughs as she recounts one indignant child who took the time to write her a letter: “I read your Dark Thirty because it was supposed to be scary. It wasn’t.” In spite of young Jeffrey’s criticism, the consensus is that any book by Patricia McKissack is bound to be going someplace special.

Interviewed December 2015