Alice Provensen collaborated with her late husband, Martin, on numerous picture books, among them the Caldecott-winning The Glorious Flight. Here she delves into history once again with a fictionalized account of the late 19th-century Yukon gold rush, in Klondike Gold.
What was the inspiration for your history of the Yukon Territory?
I learned, through a good friend and editor that the state of Alaska was celebrating its centennial. She called my attention to the story of the Yukon Territory gold rush. I was intrigued by it and decided it would be a good story to tell in a children's book.
How did you approach your research of this event and its era?
I discovered there were about 60 books written about this gold rush, [including] an extensive autobiography of one of the spectators. I decided to create a fictional account based on this man's experiences and observations.
Did you find it a challenge to balance fact and fiction?
I definitely set out to tell a story, but at the same time wanted to include historical material about the times and about mining and miners—material that the story's characters wouldn't necessarily have known. So I decided to [place] this additional information in illustrated panels at the bottom of the pages.
Did you conceive of the narrative and the illustrations simultaneously, or did one come first?
They are so intertwined. I worked at the dialogue at the same time I worked with the pictures. I roughed it out as I went along and then refined it later. The joy of illustrating your own book is that if you find you can't draw something, you can change the words. I found that condensing the material was the hardest part.
You collaborated on many books with your late husband, Martin. Did you find that creating Klondike Gold—as well as other books—by yourself was especially challenging?
After Martin died, at first I didn't think I would ever be able to work again. But an editor I have known for a long time, Linda Zuckerman, nagged me and persuaded me to try new books. She has been an inspiration and a very good friend. Working on this and other books, I'm not ever really alone. I always feel as though Martin is looking over my shoulder, telling me what I should do over—and letting me know what work is good.