In Lorraine: The Girl Who Sang the Storm Away, an African-American child growing up in Tennessee with her grandfather is inspired, comforted, and ultimately empowered by the music around her. For Ketch Secor, music was similarly a wellspring of joy and solace as a child. "My family moved around so much," he says, "that music became a source of rootedness for me."
Secor, recalling "the smell and feel of the record, the pictures on the sleeve, and watching the needle bounce on the grooves," sees a strong connection between the tactile and visual experience of listening to a record and the unveiling of the story within a picture book. "I always wanted to try my hand at the craft of children's literature," he says, "so that I could impress something similar upon the children of today—that music and literature sing in harmony together."
Secor found the right story in the character of Lorraine, who came to life when the author and his band were renting a farmhouse in Elk Park, N.C. They got to know "a community of elders who," he says, "imparted on us a wealth of knowledge about Appalachian folklife." Among the inspirations for Lorraine's character was a woman of Cherokee descent named Lorraine Sizemore, whose family owned the tobacco farm where Secor and his bandmates worked.
When Secor began crafting his book, he experienced firsthand the kinship between writing a children's book and writing a song. "The biggest similarities," Secor says, "are the meter and the rhyme scheme of the book, which are absolutely akin to song craft." He adds that he has always been drawn to art forms that blend mediums, as in the folk stories of John Henry and Casey Jones, which frequently have musical interludes.
While Secor was in familiar territory when creating his story, the publication process was a new experience. The most surprising and gratifying aspect was "seeing the collaborative nature of words and pictures coming together," he says. His publisher sent him numerous samples of illustrators' work, but he was most drawn to Higgins Bond's. "Higgins," he says, "is an incredible woman and artist. Like Lorraine, she is a Southern African-American who found she had a unique God-given talent from an early age."
Bond is a veteran illustrator. Her work has appeared on national TV, in books, and even on postage stamps. Her impressive list of clients includes the United States Postal Service, the United Nations Postal Administration, the Smithsonian Institution, and NBC, and she has received numerous awards and honors, including induction into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.
The Lorraine manuscript resonated with Bond as soon as she read it. "It is such a sweet story," she says. "I love the dynamic between the child and her grandfather. You can feel the love."
Bond's illustrations of Lorraine are loosely modeled after her granddaughter, Lexi, "but I did not use her exactly," she says. "Lorraine is really a composite of several little girls. But I think that she ended up with a lot of Lexi's personality and charm."
Bond was not familiar with Secor's musical career, but she says she "soon understood his desire to see this story absolutely infused with music." She isn't a musician herself, but she is a connoisseur. "You should see my CD and record collection!" she says.
As Lorraine makes its way onto bookstore and library shelves, Secor is eager to share the story with kids. In addition to his musical career, he is a parent and a literacy advocate; in fact, he founded the independent Episcopal School of Nashville, which opened its doors in 2016. As he visits schools to perform readings of Lorraine, he hopes that readers will also see the connection that he experiences between storytelling and song.
"I have found as a songwriter," Secor says, "that dipping my pen into a deeper well of American music and storytelling traditions has provided my audience with a more comprehensive understanding of just how interconnected music, language, and the written word are."