Patricia Lakin is the author of Made by Hand: Guitars, a new middle grade book for kids. The Made by Hand series also includes books about bikes, skateboards, and steel drums. Lakin, the author of more than 50 books, is a former elementary school teacher. She lives in New York City.
Q: Why did you decide to focus on guitars in your new Made by Hand book, and what inspired the idea for the series?
A: Previously, I worked with Karen Nagel, my editor at Simon and Schuster. She is a fan of handmade objects and knew I too felt the same way.
She confided that she had an idea for a series and if it became a reality, she asked if I’d be willing to be the writer. I thrillingly said yes and was delighted when we got the “go ahead.”
The idea was to focus on two objects used for transportation, one of steel and one of wood (bike and skateboard) and two books on musical instruments, also one of steel (steel drums) and one of wood. And that was how Made By Hand: Guitars was born.
Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?
A: My home is very close to Lincoln Center where the New York Public Library’s Performing Arts Branch is located. This library has a wealth of circulating books available that deal with the history of the guitar as well as books on guitar greats.
Luckily, I am also a weight lifter as I carried home easily 10 reference books all relating to some aspect of the guitar. Those books formed the basis of my research.
I also did research at New York’s Historical Society’s Library where I found a key article by a noted musicologist who discussed his beliefs of the history of the guitar.
In doing my research I discovered that there is no clear consensus in who created the first guitar or where it originated. But all musicologists agree that it is an ancient instrument.
And, as I state in the book, it has many musical “cousins” found in almost all parts of the globe. All one needed was a wooden neck, animal intestines to create strings and either an animal skin or a dried gourd for the instrument’s body.
Beside reading extensively, I listened to all forms of guitar music to get the feeling for the range of styles, beats, and moods that this simple, yet elegant instrument conveys.
And I did watch some online videos to see just how animal intestines can be turned into guitar strings (although steel is by far the more commonly used material these days).
I discovered that this elegant instrument is ancient, has “cousins” in all parts of the world, is central to such a range of musical styles, from classical to flamenco to jazz, to blues and to rock and roll. Finally, I learned just what a work of art it is to create an acoustic guitar entirely by hand.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?
A: I would be thrilled if readers learned some new facts about the guitar—especially its ancient and diverse history.
I hope readers appreciate guitar-maker Meredith Coloma’s accomplishments. She is a highly respected luthier in a male-dominated field.
It is also my wish that readers marvel in the skill and artistry involved when any acoustic guitar is made by hand.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am currently working on a humorous fictional book about four friends who face various obstacles, all of which call for real-life engineering skills. Thus, the STEM elements in the story are grounded in real-life science.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Sure! It seems to make an impact when, as a published author, I visit an elementary school and share with students the fact that I never thought I would become a writer. My early education was the cause.
I went to a very strict school where creative writing was an afterthought. What was expected for each writing assignment was perfect penmanship and perfect spelling.
I mastered the handwriting but was and still am a very bad speller. After college, I became an elementary school teacher and often learned spelling tricks from the second and third graders I taught.
As an adult, after taking a creative writing workshop, I realized that my imagination and ability to dream up story ideas shouldn’t be dictated by my poor spelling. Besides, these days I have spell check on my computer.
Now as a full-time writer, I still get to do something I also love—being a guest teacher for elementary school students, these days via Zoom. During those visits, instead of discussing spelling hints, we discuss the writing process.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb