Among our many distinguished visitors during National Library Week is author and former WePAC volunteer Jim Remsen. Jim volunteered for the library at the Cassidy School during the 2013-14 school year and is excited to share his latest work with students at the Powel School in Powelton Village. Visions of Teaoga is part supernatural page-turner, part detailed history textbook and finds the reader at the crossroads of contemporary protagonist Maddy’s journey of discovery into the world of hunted Shawnee Queen Esther’s mission as she passes on leadership lessons to Native American women in the midst of the U.S.-Iroquois peace council of 1790.
Learn more about the book in the author’s own words!
Where did you get the inspiration for Visions of Teaoga?
Teaoga kind of spoke to me on a visit there, much as it speaks to my modern protagonist, the Texas girl Maddy Winter. Teaoga is the Indian name for an important spot on the Susquehanna River in northern Pennsylvania. On a road trip a few years ago, I visited that spot and learned about all the dramatic things that had happened there in the 1700s. I was fascinated–and frankly annoyed that I’d never been taught any of this amazing history as a schoolboy since I’d grown up in not too far away from Teaoga. So, being a trained writer and a history-lover, I decided to bring Teaoga’s story to life, particularly for students.
Is this a series?
No – unless readers demand it! I do wonder how storybook Maddy’s next school year will be, and even if she’ll ever return to Teaoga, but I can just have fun imagining it in my head. As for the Teaoga area, there’s an intense other story to tell about how the settlers fought among themselves, for real. But right now, I’m involved in some other history research that takes me away from that time and place.
Please tell us a little about your book.
First, I’ll give you an official summary, and then some personal thoughts.
The book is based on dramatic events in Indian-settler history in the 1700s along the upper Susquehanna River. It is a multicultural saga that weaves together the adventures of an actual American Indian leader known in history as Queen Esther and a fictional modern-day middle schooler named Maddy Winter–with a dash of time travel thrown in.
The story takes place in 1790 with Queen Esther returning under cover to Teaoga, the site of her burned village. It is overrun with white settlers. Esther, honored by her people but hunted by the settlers as a killer, has come to secretly observe a U.S.-Iroquois peace council. While there, she stealthily provides a circle of Indian women with her lessons of survival and mentors a troubled native girl in the ways of leadership.
Moving ahead to the present day, young Maddy visits the same place, now quiet little Athens, on a summer trip. An inquisitive girl, she grows fascinated with Teaoga’s lost world and its inhabitants, chief among them the mysterious Esther. Encounters with the locals, including a colorful historian and two adventurous boys, send Maddy headlong into exploring this crossroads of civilizations. As the parallel stories unfold, sparks begin flying across the centuries. Increasingly, Maddy’s journey into history becomes a journey of self-discovery. By the end, she has taken on Esther’s mantle of the “peace woman” and sets out to heal a hurt she has caused back home.
On a personal note, let me say that Visions of Teaoga is not your average middle grades story. I want it to be a fun read, with the modern young characters goofing around and dabbling in time travel. It’s also a teaching book, with lots of historical truths baked into it. It’s very multicultural, looking at early American history from an Indian point of view. And I did something I haven’t seen elsewhere: I have the kid characters sit and actually cook up lesson plans for teaching this history to other middle schoolers.
A big theme I hope readers pick up on in borders: historical borders between Indian and white; between tribe and tribe; between settler group and settler group; and between the coexistence era and the time of mutual race hatred; also, Maddy is on a personal border as she comes of age in her own life. So the book will give the reader a workout on intellectual, emotional and ethical levels.
What are you working on right now?
I’m preparing to give a talk in my Pennsylvania hometown about some other fresh research I’ve done. It involves the Underground Railroad and the fact that a dozen fugitive slaves and their sons who’d found sanctuary there left that safe haven and returned south as Union ‘Colored Soldiers’ in the Civil War. Most of them were wounded and incapacitated by the war. I’ve tried to chronicle and bring a little bit of honor to them. The project may lead to a book as well.
This interview republished with permission from the author.