Episode 91: Interview with Amy O’Quinn and Learning from the Lives of Others

In this episode we visit with Amy O’ Quinn who mostly writes middle school biographies of very interesting people. She has a new book launching this month about the fascinating life of Beatrix Potter.

Our Guest: Amy O’Quinn

Amy M. O’Quinn is the author of Marie Curie for KidsNikola Tesla for Kids, and Becoming Beatrix: The Life of Beatrix Potter and the World of Peter Rabbit, all published by Chicago Review Press. She is also a speaker, school presenter, educational copywriter, researcher, and educator with over 33 years of combined teaching experience in both traditional and co-op classrooms, as well as homeschool settings. Her work has appeared in many children’s, regional, educational, and inspirational publications, in anthologies, and on various websites. Her goal is to make history and science come alive for young readers. Amy and her pastor husband, Chad, have six children (four grown up and two still at home), and they live in Georgia. You can find her at www.amyoquinn.com.

Books Discussed in This Episode:

Transcript with Links:

Terrie:

Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids. Today, we have a special guest. Amy O’Quinn is with us and will be sharing with us her books that she has written and a special book that is coming out this month. Thank you Amy, for joining us today.

Amy:

Thank you so much for having me. I’m very excited to be here.

Terrie:

I just have to say I’ve been, you know, looking through your website and your bio is one of the most interesting ones I’ve read in a long time. You sound like you have had a very interesting life.

Amy:

I have. I was blessed with a very happy childhood and just a great family, and the Lord has really been good to us. So I have. I’ve had a happy life, a very exciting life, a busy life with six kids and a preacher husband, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Terrie:

I have four kids and a preacher husband, so I can relate a little bit.

Amy:

That’s right. You know.

Terrie:

And I love the stories of reading books with a flashlight and having your stack of, “to be read” books. Yeah, I can totally relate. Well, I’m very excited about your new book that’s coming out. So let’s start by talking about that. Can you tell us a little about this new book?

Amy:

The book is called Becoming Beatrix: The Life of Beatrix Potter in the World of Peter Rabbit. It is a middle grades biography. A reviewer from book list recently reviewed it and made the mention of why another book about an author who wrote for younger children, is it appropriate for middle grades? And she says, but the author (me), focused on the woman herself. It does make it a very interesting read for readers of all ages because Beatrix Potter had a very, very interesting life. You can’t make this kind of stuff up. I mean, she just had a very interesting life, a hard childhood. She had love and loss. Found love again later in life. Her parents were very difficult, lots of relationship issues, but in the end she just, you know, she made her own way in a time when it was unusual, especially in Victorian times, but she also had a very happy marriage in her later years. And she always thought that a good marriage was the crown of a happy life.

Terrie:

And she was also very scientific. She did a lot of research in science too, didn’t she?

Amy:

Absolutely. And that’s something a lot of people don’t realize because we all associate Beatrix Potter with the little bunnies and blue coat and waddling ducks and bonnets and the little stories, the little books she created, but she was also a mycologist. She did a lot of things, and she was very, very interested in science. In fact, she never intended to be a writer. She was always interested in art and illustration, but her first love really when she was younger, was science and nature and animals. She came to her illustrations of the stories a little bit later, and she did study mushrooms or fungi. And she actually discovered a rare fungi called “the old man of the woods.” And also she wrote a paper for the Linnean Society in London. This was when she was probably early twenties, and, because she was a woman, she and her uncle submitted it, but she was not allowed to read it herself because she was a woman. But they were not interested in what she had to say about spore reproduction and, how fungi reproduced. And so it was kind of lost to the ages. And later, in 1997, she was given an official apology and her fungi illustrations are still used in textbooks today. So I thought that was very interesting. But in addition to being a mycologist, she was a naturalist, a preservationist. She was a sheep breeder, a farmer, and a conservationist. And because of her buying up a lot of the land in the lake district, it’s undeveloped, and I’ve been there, and it is beautiful. And because of her, there were acres and miles of land that has not been developed and everyone can enjoy it. So it’s beautiful. When I was at Hilltop Farm back in 2017 and I went again in 2020, but we got out right before everything shut down because that was in March. But at her house at Hilltop, her family Bible is turned to Psalm 23. And you know, she set up her home to be a museum because she knew she was leaving it to the national trust. And she instructed how she wanted everything set out–how she wanted everything arranged. And she instructed that she wanted the family Bible turned to Psalm 23 because she was a sheep breeder. She loved sheep, and she thought that was fitting. And I thought it was too.

Terrie:

That’s so cool. I knew a little bit about that. I think her life was just fascinating.

Amy:

It really was.

Terrie:

You’ve done other biographies as well about some really interesting people. Can you tell us about some of those?

Amy:

Absolutely. My first book was Marie Curie for Kids, and I wrote that in 2016 or it came out in 2016 and then Nikola Tesla for Kids. And that came out in 2019. And those were part of the For Kids series published by Chicago Review Press. Now, even though Becoming Beatrix is published by Chicago Review Press, it’s not in the For Kids series. They have been great to work with. But those were my first two books.

Terrie:

Are they are also geared toward middle schoolers?

Amy:

Or they are, yes. They are geared towards middle school, but I’ve had younger students, parents say, you know, that they really enjoyed going through it with them. And then I’ve had high school students and even adults say that they really enjoyed them too. I had one review on Amazon and this lady said her 72-year-old husband likes to read the Nikola Tesla book at breakfast every day. So I’m like, well, I did it for all ages, I guess.

Terrie:

That’s awesome.

Amy:

You know, it was a very interesting book. He was quirky. I tell you he was a writer’s dream to write about because his life was quite interesting too. And he was a very quirky person. So very interesting to write about.

Terrie:

That’s fun. And you’ve also been a contributor to a book that sounds really interesting. The Rocking Chair Reader.

Amy:

Oh, yes. I don’t even remember what year that was, but that was long time ago when my children were very young. I come from a very, very small community in south Georgia. That book really focused on stories, you know, of families and special gatherings. Anyway, the little town I’m from was just a very small community, but during the depression, it was developed as a farming area with a co-op, and they built a lot of the homes. There were one-mule farms and two-mule farms. And my husband and I actually live in my grandparents’ farmhouse that was remodeled that my dad grew up in when he was a little boy. We live next door to my parents, but it’s a very historical community. So there’s a lot of history here too. I wrote, that’s a story about my dad’s radio story. When he was a little boy, they would listen to the Grand Old Opry. They would all gather and listened to that. I believe it was the Silverton radio. He said that was their entertainment on Saturday night.

Terrie:

Sounds like the Waltons.

Amy:

Yes. That’s what I think of too. I’ve been very blessed to grow up in a close-knit type community where everybody’s very close. It’s been a blessing.

Terrie:

That’s awesome. On your website you also have, and I want to let our listeners know, you have resources for teachers and for writers. Tell us a little bit about your heart. What is your heart for the writing you, do for the ministry, the work that you do? Just share with us a little bit.

Amy:

I do enjoy working with writers, especially those who are beginning. And those, you know, people who have young children and families, because when I first started writing, I had to write around the fringes of family life. And I still do, even though four of mine are grown and gone and I have two at home. One’s a senior; one’s in the 10th grade, and, you know, a husband that keeps me pretty busy and he’s a pastor too. But as a preacher’s wife, you know, we do stay busy. It’s hard to find time to write sometimes. So you have to kind of learn to juggle, you know. I really enjoy helping younger writers or those who are just getting started and help them find resources because, you know, with the kind of books, the biographies I’ve written, you have to know how to do a lot of sourcing. You have to learn to find and source your photographs and images. And that is a whole education in and of itself. So there’s a lot there to learn. And, you know, it’s just one step at a time. There’s a lot of times when you don’t think you’re going to ever be finished with something–it’ll get done, but it is a long process, especially with a biography, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Amy:

And I also am an educator too. I work with a small Christian co-op, three days a week, teaching English language arts, and I’ll be taking over a creative writing course with 10th graders next week. So I’m really excited about that. And I feel like that’s also a calling to work with children, and I enjoy teaching. And I also enjoy going into the schools and doing book presentations with the kids and science experiments from the books and things like that. I really do have a heart for kids and for education. And even for writers who are beginning and feel like that’s their calling. I can pay it forward because I’ve had a lot of people who have helped me along my journey, too.

Terrie:

That’s awesome. That sounds like it would be a wonderful classroom visit. So if they want to ask you to come to their schools for a classroom visit, can they reach you through your website or what would be the best way?

Amy:

Well, there is a link to my email on my website. It’s Amy@amyoquinn.com. And, you know, I definitely consider going and doing school visits because, like I said, that’s one thing I really do enjoy. I do. I enjoy it so much. I was a middle school major, but I went back and got my early childhood. And then now I really do think, you know, fourth, fifth, sixth grade, that’s a sweet spot of mine. And I enjoy going to visit large groups, small groups, any group.

Terrie:

That’s great. I always like to ask my guests what their favorite books were as children and what their favorite books were to read to their children. Can you share those with us?

Amy:

I can. Honestly, when I was a little girl, I loved all of the Little Golden Books, especially the ones by Eloise Wilkin. You know, the, We Help Mommy, We Help Daddy, We Like Kindergarten. All of those, I just loved the illustration of the story because they were always so cozy and family oriented. I loved them. I loved the Virginia Lee Burton books: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, The Little House. You know, I love the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, EB White, obviously Charlotte’s Web. And I also loved Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew. I loved mysteries. In fact, one day I hope maybe to write a mystery because I enjoyed them so much. The Francis Hodgson Burnett (A Little Prince, The Secret Garden), James Herriot and the Little Toot books. Do you remember those? Hardie Gramatky, you know. I loved those and AA Milne, you know, the Winnie the Pooh books. But with my own children, my husband and I, we have always loved to read books because when we homeschooled, we always read literature aloud. And even when my children were tiny before, I mean, they were infants probably two weeks old. He started reading the Bible to them even when they were tiny babies. And that’s continued to this day. They’ve always read the Bible together at night. And the Bible stories, you know, I’ve always read a lot of the same books that I grew up reading, especially the classics. And they really like the Narnia books too, but just the same books that I grew up reading. Our homeschool was very literature-based. And we read a lot of books. A lot of the GA Henty books–we would try to tie the historical fiction in with the real history facts and talk about the differences. Louisa May Alcott, just the classics, just all of the classics, all the books.

Terrie:

I love it. And your kids–do they still love reading?

Amy:

They do. I have, most of them are great readers. Then I have two that are more audio book types, but they still love books, but they like to consume them in a different form. But we’ve always been a big family of readers and everybody would be–we were not big television watchers. We were readers. So everybody would have their book.

Terrie:

That’s cool. And how best can we help support you in the work that you’re doing–in the ministry that you have?

Amy:

Prayer is the main thing, you know, just to pray that we are raising up young children and, you know, being mentors to young mothers who are raising children and those who are, like I said, wanting to become writers, being mentors for them. But just to pray that, you know, we have a heart to serve others. And you know, that’s really the main thing I could think about was to be a support to those who need it and encouragement.

Terrie:

I really keep calling people to prayer too, for the whole children’s book industry because I really feel like it’s under attack, and we really need to pray that good books get out there for kids today–books that have hope and you know, a good message in them because so many of them, especially when you get into middle school, are just filled with witchcraft and negativity and fear. It breaks my heart.

Amy:

I agree. We need a lot of Jesus.

Terrie:

Yes we do. Well, thank you so much for joining me today and for sharing your heart with us. I’m so excited to see your book. I just love Beatrix Potter and was so excited to see a new book coming out about her life. Can’t wait to read it. Do you know when it will be out?

Amy:

Well, it was supposed to come out March 1st, but because of a paper shortage–everything’s in a shortage now–it will officially be released March 22nd. But I did get a notice, an email, from my editor that said it has been printed. It has been bound, and it was already on the way to the warehouse. So that’s good.

Terrie:

Oh wonderful. We can pre-order right. It’s on Amazon, I believe.

Amy:

Yes, so it is on Amazon. It’s on all the major book sites, and it is available for pre-order. And they did say, even though the date is March 22nd, I think that that was just to make sure everything was in the warehouse at the time. When, you know, when it said it would be out, that’s why they pushed the date out just a little bit. It should be good to go. So I appreciate any pre-orders–that’s always a good thing. Always.

Terrie:

Yes. That really does count a lot.

Amy:

It does.

Terrie:

All right. Well thank you again for joining us and all the best to you as this book launches. And I just pray that God continues to use these great books to challenge children to investigate history and science and to love reading.

Amy:

We can always learn from other lives. So biographies are a good thing.

Terrie:

That’s true. Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions as we disciple our children and help them follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you would like to get in touch with Amy, you can find her on her website at amyoquinn.com. You can also join her mailing list or look at some of the wonderful resources she offers for teachers and for writers. And she has a great blog as well. And if you would like to get in touch with me, you can reach me at TerrieHellardBrown.com. You can email Amy at Amy@amyoquinn.com, and you can email me at contact@terriehellardbrown.com. We would love to hear from you. We would love to answer your questions. Feel free to put a comment on the blog. And I answer every email and every question, if you like “Books that Spark,” please consider leaving a review or a comment or downloading the podcast. These activities help to make this podcast more visible to other people, so other people can find out about it. And of course, a wonderful way for you to let people know we’re here is to share on social media, to tell your friends about it. We would appreciate it. And thank you.

Your Host:

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts discuss living as a disciple of Christ while parenting our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ and to use the nooks and crannies of our lives to disciple our children.

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be WONDERFUL” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

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