I recently had the opportunity to interview author Karen Andreola. She’s the author of several homeschooling books and two novels. Karen’s books helped to introduce me to Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy. I know that some of my fellow homeschool moms have been looking forward to this interview!

This was originally posted on the Christian Fiction Book Reviews blog.

Interview with author and homeschool mom, Karen Andreola:

Christian Fiction Book Reviews: Prior to writing Pocketful of Pinecones, you had done some non-fiction writing. What led you to write a novel?

Karen Andreola: It’s strange. I’ve never been the sort to tell anyone what I’ve dreamed the night before, or make up stories to tell by the fireside or fill notebooks with stories. I concentrated on non-fiction for a good many years in my efforts to share the educational principles of Miss Charlotte Mason. The thought of fiction crossed my mind because I wanted to convey the wonder of nature study through the experience of a family who took part in it. Realistic fiction seemed a good way to illustrate a “how-to” I had previously written about in my book, A Charlotte Mason Companion.

My first attempt was a disaster. My editor/friend was honest. “This isn’t working,” she gently told me. Months of work were cast aside. I lay on the floor by the wood-stove that gray winter afternoon, heavy with disappointment. But the next day I got up and tried again. I decided to put the story in first person. Months later when my editor/friend received again a first set of chapters, she said, “This works.”

CFBR: You chose New England during the depression as a setting for the books, why then and there?

KA: Our family lived in Maine at the time I wrote Pocketful of Pinecones. Therefore, I made the nature we observed month by month to be the same nature that my characters observe. New England is a beautiful region of America and ideal for its four distinct and picturesque seasons. I spent my girlhood a little further south in New Jersey and loved being outdoors. In autumn I’d crunch upon fallen leaves to walk to the school bus stop wearing one of my mother’s hand knit sweaters and the traditional red plaid skirt. Winter had us bundled up and booted for sledding in snow. Spring brought welcomed rays of the sun, red tulips and yellow daffodils, caterpillars and inchworms. Summer gave us a neighborhood of thick green grass to run on top of, noisy birds, orange butterflies, and the rhythmic evening serenade of crickets.

Although chores were constant the 1930s seem to be a time of simplicity. I wanted a story free of television and computer. We had neither in the house when I taught our girls to read in the 1980s. We listened to some audio and music daily. Comparatively my fictional family listens to the radio.

The 1930s were a time when to be a stay-at-home mom (which is what I’ve been) was normal. She dutifully and lovingly contributed to the economy of the home with non-income work from sun up to sun down. This is something I could relate to and I knew my fellow home teachers could, too. My main character, Carol, hasn’t a car but walks to destinations with her children. Sometimes nature observation is accomplished along the way. Her husband Michael takes the family car to work. This is reminiscent to our year in England where I walked daily to the park and green grocer with my children or took the red bus to the library. Today walking to destinations is only doable in the oldest of neighborhoods in America where blocks of houses are connected by sidewalks to Main Street. In the 1930s Main Street filled the needs of the community.

CFBR: Was much of your material drawn from your own experiences as a homeschooling mother?

KA: Yes, very much so, but fact and fiction have a way of intermingling. It would be difficult for me to accurately distinguish between what has its source in pure imagination and what comes closer to fact. The kinds of things I did with my children my character Carol does with hers. When my son read portions the sequel while he was illustrating it he said, “Mom you’ve made the kids too good.”

“But you were pretty well-behaved children for the most part,” I tell them. “And so my fictional children are, too.”

I did use my imagination, for instance, to create a Carol’s brother Bob and her sweet sister-in-law Dora. But I incorporated the qualities of people I’ve known into the domestically enterprising Bob and Dora. I created these book friends for myself as much as for my readers. I know that a kindred spirit can be a rare find in the life of a homemaker/home teacher. We had recently moved from Maine to Pennsylvania, away from our friends. I understand that household relocations mean finding new friends because I’d been in this situation often. But with little time to spare in one’s day this isn’t so easy. Book friends are a consolation.

CFBR: I think it’s pretty common for many of us to fall into thinking that only non-fiction books can be educational. What are your thoughts on this?

KA: Good Fiction engenders in the reader a “moral imagination” which enables you “to put yourself in his place.” It shows cause and affect. It reveals what is in the heart of man and how he responds to conflict. In this way it gloriously brings to our notice intangibles. A bold example is the plays of William Shakespeare. Courage, faithfulness, pity, mercy, self-sacrifice, dedication, hope, patience, truthfulness, perseverance, and their opposites are demonstrated through the lives of characters. We can all do with a dose of Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen or Louisa May Alcott. I think it was Queen Victoria who claimed that Dickens did more for social awareness (and consequently social reform) in London than any institution in the 19th century. Jane Austen’s morals and manners are a refreshing oasis in our modern day culture of coarseness and indecency. I am happy that Jane Austen’s stories and the films based on her writings are so popular. It means that someone is giving the message besides the preacher – and in a way that people are open to hearing it.

CFBR: When did you decide to write the sequel Lessons at Blackberry Inn?

KA: Just after our two daughters were married – months apart from each other – and it was the year our son – our last student – graduated from home school, I gathered notes for a sequel. It kept my mind occupied. I missed my girls and was going through a transition in my life.

CFBR: What are some favorite books that you recommend to parents for reading with their children?

KA: Perhaps giving you sampling of the books I know our children have enjoyed will be of interest – some of these they have read again after graduating from home school. I place them in order for young readers to mature readers.

Frog and Toad (series) by Arnold Lobel

My Father’s Dragon (series) by Ruth S. Gannett

The Adventures of Tintin (series) by Herge

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

Gentle Ben, but especially Walt Morey’s other stories.

Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (series) by C. S. Lewis

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham

The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings (trilogy) by J. R. R. Tolkien

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The stories by James Herriot

Son of Tarzan (and series) by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Sherlock Holmes (short stories) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

My son enjoyed biographies of scientists. I un-ostentatiously curtailed my girls’ reading of modern romance novels by keeping an array of good books on hand. All my children are reading adults and to this day their taste is varied.

CFBR: Do you have any upcoming books projects?

KA: It encourages me to receive letters from my readers requesting that my stories continue. It is heartwarming to hear that they are ministering and soothing to home teachers, that they are valued for their practical ideas on home education. But because paper books have become a more risky investment these days it is debatable whether I will write another. While my supportive husband Dean, who is my publisher, is weighing things out I need to rebuild our websites. I’d like to take advantage of the help of our web-designer son while still lives with us. It’s my writing of the text “just so” that is holding up the works.

CFBR: When you write, do you prefer to have music playing or quiet?

KA: Generally I like absolute quiet. I can’t have any music playing. When my children were little I was used to writing while hearing the sounds of their playing in the background. This didn’t distract me at all. I only wrote an hour a day. Much more recently, I didn’t mind the tweeting of a pair of cardinals, which kept me company daily while I wrote Lessons at Blackberry Inn. They were comforting companions – sort of like little children playing in the background – now that I think of it.

CFBR: Do you have any particular words of wisdom for homeschooling moms?

KA: Yes. I think I have something important to say as an “older woman.”

The home teachers I’ve meet over the years are exceptionally dedicated. They are self-sacrificing and conscientious to a T. I admire them for it. The love a home teacher has for her children is expressed in the day-to-day activities of chores and lessons. She needs to be aware, however, of her enemies. Fatigue is one. It will drag her down. All work and no play is another. It can cause her to become disheartened, disinterested or after an extended period – depressed. Here is my remedy:

Mix some of what you “have” to teach with some of what you “like” to teach, each day.

Mix the business of bringing up children with pleasure. This helps to retain needed enthusiasm for the work required. This “enthusiasm” is why I invite the home teacher to take part in what I call, “Mother Culture,” for moments of recreation and refreshment. Perhaps she desires to knit that red yarn that had been pushed to the back of a closet. She may wish to listen to “Mommy’s music” for a change, or read a book just for Mommy so she can explore her own avenue of stimulating thought. I found that taking a solitary walk after my husband came home was a good time for me to pray, reflect or sometimes to toss pent up emotion to the wind. The important thing to remember is that the homeschool mom is a person. Her small moments taken for Mother Culture are necessary for her to not stop growing into the person God is creating her to be. The advantages of growing and of being refreshed with a little Mother Culture will fill her cup. And her cup will runneth
over into the family circle – which includes her husband. So you see, this is not a selfish thing to do.

CFBR: It’s been lovely talking to you Karen! Thank you!

KA: Thank you for inviting me for a chat. I hope that I’ve shared not just bits about myself but some hopeful and curious ideas for readers to ponder.

Visit Karen Andreola’s blog Moments With Mother Culture!

For more author interviews and fiction book reviews, be sure to visit Christian Fiction Book Reviews!