Deep Stories from a Small Place

How many people know details about their great-great-great-great-great-aunt’s life? And know the details so well that they can write a fascinating story about an event some would say was a miracle?

black bear

Obviously, Natalie Kinsey-Warnock‘s ancestors kept the story alive by passing it down to the next generation through storytelling … a skill that’s taken on a new form in Kinsey-Warnock’s life through her books.

The Bear That Heard Crying is a picture book based on the true story of Kinsey-Warnock’s distant aunt’s experience when, as a 3-year-old, she wandered off into the woods and was lost for four days. When she was found, the family discovered that she had been cared for by a bear!

I chose Kinsey-Warnock as this month’s author because, although hers isn’t a familiar name like Louisa May Alcott (Little Women) or Astrid Lindgren (Pippi Longstocking), she’s been recognized by HarperCollins Publishers as having written “16 distinguished books for children.”

Which means her books do more than just tell stories. They also encourage, inspire, and teach life lessons in subtle ways … and sometimes get recognized as ALA Notable Books.

Besides, her own life is interesting enough to be the subject of a book in itself!

* * *

Quilt

Natalie Kinsey-Warnock was born Nov. 2, 1956 in a place I had never heard of before: Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom (NEK), a tri-county area.

Her love of history and sports came from her father, who was a baseball and track star before becoming a farmer. Her mother, a former teacher, encouraged her love for words and especially books. “It’s because of her that my brother Leland and I are writers.”

Kinsey-Warnock figured out a way to continue spending time on both of her passions by earning a B.A. in art and athletic training. Since then, she’s led an extremely active life.

Her hobbies include running, cross-country skiing, wind-surfing, roller-blading, kayaking, rock climbing, bird-watching (she considers herself a naturalist), painting, and playing her bagpipe and fiddle. (She’s been a member of the Catamount Pipe Band since 1999.)

She’s also rescued many abused animals – a recent estimate is 21 … two Percheron horses, 11 cats, and eight dogs, which she cares for at her own home.

Each of Kinsey-Warnock’s books has one thing in common: they’re based either on her own life or on true stories passed down through seven generations of her family that have lived in that corner of northern Vermont.

Geese

Themes in her books range from nature and wildlife (as in As Long as There Are Mountains and The Wild Horses of Sweetbriar) to “tamer” topics like quilts, maple sugaring, and Christmas (as in When Spring Comes and A Christmas Like Helen’s).

In all of her books, Kinsey-Warnock has created scenes and memories that stick with you long after you’ve read them.

Twenty-five years after starting on her career of writing children’s books, Kinsey-Warnock is as prolific as ever. In a 2012 interview she had with reporter Sally Pollak from the Burlington Free Press, Kinsey-Warnock revealed that she was currently working on 56 books (coincidentally, she had just turned 56 that month). Fifty of those books were based on family stories.

Kinsey-Warnock still lives in northern Vermont, along with her husband, Tom … who, fortunately, shares her love for animals.

‘Lighting a Spark’ in Students

Over the past few years, Kinsey-Warnock has teamed up with several other educators in Glover, Vermont, to create a history curriculum for 4th-graders called Story Keepers.

Story Keepers is based on family stories. Using a variety of tools, students research their own family stories and create a final project that’s centered on those stories. You can see an introduction to the curriculum (posted in 2013) here.

KEYS TO SUCCESS:  Respect for family history, enthusiasm for life, ability to impact lives through stories, generosity with time and expertise

RESOURCES

The Canada Geese Quilt (1989)
by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock, illustrated by Leslie W. Bowman

This 51-page chapter book was Kinsey-Warnock’s first book, and has been recognized as an ALA Notable Book.

The story is about a 10-year-old girl whose bond with her aging grandmother includes a mutual love of nature. It does an amazing job of showing how major life changes don’t have to be feared.

The Bear That Heard Crying (1993)

by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock & Helen Kinsey; illustrated
by Ted Rand

Despite the large amount of text on these pages, the story is fascinating. The fact that it really happened makes it even better, I think.

Kinsey-Warnock’s research into journal accounts by those involved with the four-day search for Sarah Whitcher in 1783 revealed details like Sarah thinking the bear she stayed with those four days was actually a big black dog!

A Christmas Like Helen’s (2004)
by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock; illustrated by Mary Azarian

The woodcut illustrations in this picture book, hand-tinted with watercolors – along with the author’s lyrical, simple-yet-powerful words (“… overhead the cold stars will be thick enough to scoop up with a spoon”) – make this the type of book that could easily become a family favorite for generations to come.

Your Company’s History as a Leadership Tool
(Harvard Business Review – 2012)

by John T. Seaman, Jr. & George David Smith

Employees of the British confectioner, Cadbury, weren’t happy when they heard Kraft Foods had plans to acquire their company in 2010. So senior executives at Kraft launched an intranet site called “Coming Together,” where stories about the founders of both companies appeared.

The parallels between the two men included a deep commitment to creating quality products for their customers and valuing their employees. Those stories eventually paved the way to a smooth transition for both companies.

The Winthrop Group is a professional archival services and history consulting firm serving organizations, families, and individuals around the world. They do oral and history video interviews, digital and Web-based histories, and business/institutional histories that companies can use in a variety of marketing materials.

HEALTHY COPY TIP

HELP OTHERS FIND YOU.

So … you have a nice-looking website. You send out direct mail flyers every two months, informing customers about your latest products. And twice a year, you put on community workshops, educating those who are interested in learning more about your field of expertise.

Ten or 15 years ago, these things might have been enough. But now, you need to add another element to your “marketing mix” – social media. The trick is … where do you start, if you haven’t done so yet? And if you have, how do you keep it going?

In 2010, marketing expert and international speaker Gail Z. Martin published a book called 30 Days to Social Media Success, with the goal of helping small businesses and solo professionals develop strategies to start using several different forms of social media EFFECTIVELY on a regular basis.

The book includes guidelines on repurposing material, creating a social media marketing plan, and finding and telling your real story.

* * *

“If you don’t recount your family history, it will be lost. Honor your own stories and tell them too. The tales may not seem very important, but they are what binds families and makes each of us who we are.”  – Madeleine L’Engle

__________

This article originally ran in the November 2014 issue of The Write Stuff.

This entry was posted in Families, History, Storytelling, The Write Stuff, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *