Friday, January 13, 2012

A Voice for Kanzas ~ Debra McArthur

A Voice for Kanzas
by Debra McArthur
ISBN: 978-1-61067-044-9
Age 9+, 384 pages, $15.99

About the book:
Kansas Territory in 1855 is a difficult place to settle, particularly for a thirteen-year-old poet like Lucy Thomkins, the plucky and determined heroine of A Voice for Kanzas. Between the proslavery Border Ruffians and Insiders like her father who are determined to make Kansas a free state, it's hard to be heard, no matter your age. But after Lucy makes two new friends - a local Indian boy and a girl whose family helps runaway slaves - she makes choices to prove to herself (and others) that words and poems are meaningless without action behind them. Through their struggle to help a slave girl to freedom, Lucy ultimately finds her voice. A voice for Kansas.

Writing the book:
Debra claims, if truth be told, that it took about 25 years for A Voice for Kanzas to be written.

She explains, "In the mid-1980s, I taught high school language arts in Kansas. I did a cooperative unit with the history teacher in which our students studied Kansas history and then created an imaginary pioneer community. Each student played the role of a citizen of the town and wrote stories from the point of view of that character. During the project, I also created characters and wrote along with the students. I enjoyed imagining life in those tumultuous days, and I liked seeing it through the eyes of a character I'd created. But the time was not right yet for me to write a novel.

"In 2001, I wrote a nonfiction book for young readers about the 'Bleeding Kansas' years, and I rediscovered my fascination with the period. By the time I finished the nonfiction book, I wanted to try my hand at a novel for kids.

"Historical accuracy was important to me, and I have used many primary documents in the text of the book. But I also needed to portray a character whose inner struggle would resonate with young readers. Like most children, thirteen-year-old Lucy has little power over most aspects of her life. She expresses herself through her poetry, but she is struggling to be heard. As she grows to understand the bigger issues around her, Lucy uses her words to expose the atrocities of slavery and to support the cause of freedom. More importantly, she dares to validate her words with her actions. And that can be a dangerous thing in Kansas Territory."

Lucy's words and actions are influential in affecting the society of 1855. We asked Debra if she believes that young people today have such opportunities.  "It begins with respect for ourselves and others," she says. "When we purposefully make the choice to be honest, respectful, and moral we will effect change and make the world a better place."

Debra currently lives in Missouri where she teaches writing at Park University. She is available to speak to schools and other groups about Kansas history, A Voice for Kanzas and the writing process, or even lead writing activities.

You can purchase A Voice for Kanzas on for $15.99 and learn more about Debra McArthur on her website here.


  1. I just love historical books. History was my favorite subject in college. Even though this book appears to be geared towards younger readers I'm sure I would enjoy reading it. I will make a note to see if I can find it for my Kindle. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  2. Hi Terri - thanks so much for your comment. I wouldn't expect this one out on Kindle for a while. Usborne puts very few out on Kindle - in fact I don't think they've done any as of yet although they are looking into it I think. This one is geared for kids 9-11 and up. I can't wait to read it. =D

  3. would love to read it myself! I love historical and history-based books. they're bringing life at that time alive for us.

  4. In school with the Martin Luther King Holiday coming up, we are teaching about slavery in America. This book would be a great supplemental book for the classroom...especially for schools in Kansas but even for ours in Illinois :). I would recommend this for home schools and home libraries too.

  5. This sounds like a great book for young people. I loved books about life in the "old days" when I was young. Might need to get a few for my granddaughter.