Jean Perry is the author of Mozay of Pepperwick, a new middle grade historical novel for kids. It was inspired by her family history. She is a retired elementary school teacher and a former reporter for the New York Daily News.
Q: Mozay of Pepperwick is inspired by your family history. What led you to write this book, and why did you write it as a middle grade novel?
A: A voracious reader since childhood, after Alex Haley’s novel Roots was adapted for television I watched every episode and set out to learn my family’s history.
My aunt Annie Carrie Perry Jackson told me how my grandfather learned to read while a slave on a South Carolina plantation, by being chosen to be the valet and companion to the planter’s son.
Q: What kind of research did you do to write the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?
A: I did research at the University of South Carolina’s Caroliniana Library. On my very first day I came across a small book, Elloree Home I Love, that mentioned by grandfather by name, adding validity to my aunt’s story.
Q: What did you see as the right blend of fiction and history as you wrote the book?
A: I tried to base many of the most dramatic scenes on real-life facts. For example, when the planter’s wife is berated by so-called friends they mention a school she attended. There really was a Prudence Crandall School.
To write only about that would be journalism. But I encapsulated it into dramatic scenes that deliver truth in an entertaining way. Details are in the References Section for readers young and old to consult if they want further insights into historical facts.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: Never give up. Never stay down-in-spirit for too long. That’s what Mozay practiced. Don’t go it along. Choose friends who have your same values.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: My second book is about a young man who only cares about making cash and thinks history is a waste of time, until he meets a girl trapped in the chains of human trafficking.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Find something you are good at and pursue it, be it an intellectual interest, a trade or a hobby. If you enjoy it find a way to make honest money at it, or get a day job and enjoy your chief interest when you can. Stay healthy. Stay mostly happy. Make friends with people who have your same values. Have a faith in something bigger than yourself.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb