Author Interview // Author Nancy McCabe
We are so thankful to have author Nancy McCabe sharing today through our latest Author Interview! McCabe’s From Little Houses to Little Women is an inspiring read to get you on the road to rediscovering your past reads! Enjoy!
Has rereading your favorite childhood books as an adult changed your perspective on those writings?
I’m not sure if it so much changed my perspective as helped me understand why these books appealed to me and how they shaped me. That was all very subconscious when I was growing up. It’s fascinating to go back and re-experience the popular culture of our pasts—whether it’s music or literature or fashion or whatever, it can instantly take us back to that mindset, jog our memories, remind us of who we once were, help us understand how our values and tastes were shaped. These books had a lot of characters who wanted to be writers, and a lot of characters who chafed at gender restrictions, and I absorbed many attitudes in those regards. But it was also fun just to see how these books affected things like decorating choices—the wallpaper I picked out for my room, a lamp I bought, etc, because, I realized looking back, they reminded me of particular books.
How did rereading the books spark your idea to essentially trace the Laura Ingalls Wilder route with your daughter?
I had been to several Laura Ingalls Wilder sites as a child, and rereading the books, I found myself wanting to visit the landscapes that inspired them. Maybe I secretly also hoped that going to these tourist sites would be a way of stepping more deeply into the world of the book—which it was, but never in a simple way. Sometimes the tourist attractions interpreted the books differently than I did, or emphasized different things than I would have. But visiting the places helped me to visualize the books in new ways—not just the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites, but sites related to Betsy-Tacy author Maud Hart Lovelace in Mankato, MN, and Anne author Lucy Maud Montgomery in PEI, Canada, and Louisa May Alcott in Concord, MA, among others.
Can you share a point while on your Ingalls adventure where you felt the books and trip all came together?
I had first read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books because my mom and aunts loved them, and I read them over and over throughout my childhood, from a more mature perspective each time. My mother and aunts had all died by the time I wrote my book, and these trips proved to be a way of reconnecting with my memories of them as much as my memories of reading, and also allowed me to gain some mature insights on them, their lives, and their perspectives.
I was first introduced to the Little House series by my third grade teacher and quickly Anne of Green Gables followed. I found myself loving Anne as she was a bit feisty like me. Do you find that you have a closeness to one specific character from your childhood books?
That’s really what prompted this journey. I always felt close to Laura’s adventurousness and free spirit, to Anne and her imagination and big heart and struggle to fit in, to Jo and her creative passion and her inability to conform to gender norms, to Lovelace’s lesser-known Betsy and her humor and joy and talent for friendship and desire to be a writer. Because I read these books over and over, their characters were like friends who you might not talk to for a few months, but when you see them again it’s like no time has passed.
After revisiting the books of your childhood and sharing the Ingalls adventure with your daughter, did you ever have a spark to write a modern take of childhood adventure?
I did write a novel after I finished FLHTLW that originally was going to be a YA but was published as an adult novel, Following Disasters. I would love to write a middle-grade novel someday. Children’s and YA. literature are so much more rich and diverse categories than when I was young, retaining many classic elements but giving us far more stories about girls and children of color and kids from a much wider variety of backgrounds than the books I mostly was exposed to, and I find that really exciting.
Of all the books you read as a child, and reread as an adult, which is your favorite and why?
This is really an impossible question! I love them all. But I will admit that rediscovering Lovelace’s Betsy books was magical and I think her work should be a lot better known than it is.
Can you give some tips to parents that are starting to introduce their children to classic literature – which books you think are a good starter book/series progressing from there?
I would suggest blending contemporary children’s lit with those “classic” ones from our own childhoods—there’s just so much good stuff out there. One thing that really works in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series and in the Betsy-Tacy series is the way the books grow with their readers, becoming longer and more complex as the readers also age. There was no early reader category when they were first published, but the first couple of Betsy-Tacy books and the first couple of LIW books are written in simple and appealing ways for their younger readers.
I also think it’s important to have dialogues about the books we consider to be classics. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books are so beautifully written and, while grounded in a particular historical period, have many timeless qualities—but it’s important to talk with your children about the troubling attitudes toward Native Americans that aren’t necessarily promoted by but are reflected in the books. Little Women is, on its surface, incredibly moralistic (my daughter fell asleep during one of Marmee’s long speeches once when I was reading aloud) and seem to promote really backward attitudes toward what it means to be a girl—but it also subverts those expectations in ways that make Jo a timeless heroine. All of the books my daughter and I read together sparked great discussions.
And so many books are so much fun to read aloud. We were completely captivated by Anne of Green Gables when my daughter was nine. She laughed all the way through it (especially at the repetition of the word “bosom” but other stuff, too) and reading it aloud really brought out its charm.
Nancy McCabe is the author of four memoirs about travel, books, parenting, and adoption as well as the novel Following Disasters. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Prairie Schooner, Fourth Genre, and many other magazines and anthologies, including In Fact Books’ Oh Baby! True Stories about Conception, Adoption, Surrogacy, Pregnancy, Labor, and Love and McPherson and Company’s Every Father’s Daughter: Twenty-Four Women Writers Remember their Fathers. Her work has received a Pushcart and been recognized on Notable lists in Best American anthologies six times.