Author Interview: Kathy Whitehead on Looking For Uncle Louie On The Fourth Of July

Looking For Uncle Louie On The Fourth Of July by Kathy Whitehead, illustrated by Pablo Torrecilla (Boyds Mills Press, 2005). Joe and his parents are among those at the parade celebrating the Fourth of July. It’s a wonderful, patriotic celebration, but where is Uncle Louie? And what would it be like to be part of the parade instead of just watching from the sidelines? Whitehead’s tribute to Independence Day has a strong Texas twist, brought to life in Torrecilla’s vivid illustrations. Ages 4-up. Read more of my thoughts on Looking For Uncle Louie On The Fourth Of July.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

Looking for Uncle Louie on the Fourth of July was a 4th of July parade in Corpus Christi, TX in 1986. It was my son’s first 4th of July. I thought the lowriders were fascinating and would be great in a children’s book.

Personalizing a mass-produced vehicle through the elements of color and movement seems like such an American expression of individual freedom to me – perfect for the 4th of July!

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

Although I got the idea for the book in 1986, I didn’t write my story until 2001. I finished it in the fall of that year and sent it off to an editor I had seen at a conference, but was rejected with a form letter. I believed in my story though, so I promptly sent it out again, this time to Kent Brown at Boyds Mills Press. I had met him at an SCBWI conference that fall. My manuscript was accepted in February, 2002. They did a wonderful job of finding the right illustrator, Pablo Torrecilla, and the book’s publication date was April, 2005.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

I started writing for children in the fall of 1989 when I took a community ed course on writing. The years that I’d spent teaching fourth grade led me to focusing my writing on middle grade novels. My daughter was born in 1988 so my writing time was limited.

Ideas for picture books surfaced through those years, but I resisted starting them. I was afraid of having a lot started but nothing completed. I filed the ideas away and finally came to a point when I felt I could turn my attention to the picture book format.

Parades I had attended in College Station always included lowriders so the idea had remained fresh in my mind. I researched lowrider magazines during the actual writing of my story to add concrete details to it. Adding Joe, my main character, and “Uncle Louie” to the 4th of July parade of lowriders seemed natural to me since I associate the 4th of July with family celebrations. Family and freedom seem to be two of our most basic needs – both are cause for celebration!

I think studying novel writing through the years, as I worked on middle grade manuscripts, helped prepare me for writing a picture book. The same elements are necessary in order to create a story children will enjoy over and over. The turning points are just more subtle sometimes.

Cynsational News & Links

An Exchange With An Agent: featuring Linda Pratt, a literary agent at Sheldon Fogelman Agency from Don Tate.

Meet the Author: Steven L. Layne from CBC Magazine. Condensed from the bio: Steven L. Layne serves as a professor of literature and education at Judson College in Elgin, IL. His books include This Side of Paradise (Pelican, 2002) and The Teachers’ Night Before Christmas (Pelican, 2001). Steve lives in St. Charles, Illinois.