I’ll never forget the day I stumbled across the boxes of files that told the story of the President’s Mountain School. By then I’d spent weeks of research at the Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa, working on what was supposed to be my fourth non-fiction book for young readers—a biography of First Lady Lou Henry Hoover. But my plans began to change as I flipped through the fascinating jackpot of material about the school the Hoovers had built in 1929 to serve the children living near their fishing retreat in rural Virginia. Before long I found myself writing my first novel.
Many scenes in my novel came straight from snippets I discovered in those stacks of letters, newspaper articles, and photographs documenting the day-to-day adventures at the school. For example, Miss Vest organized an annual field trip for her students down to the valley for the Madison County Fair. For most of the children, this was their first journey off the mountain and certainly their first chance to ride in a motor vehicle. The remnants from those field trips in the archives helped me create one of the most important chapters in the book—when April attends the fair with her classmates and learns that life on her mountain is about to change forever.