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Tracy Kasaboski and Kristen den Hartog on Writing History

Authors of new book The Cowkeeper's Wish on their writing process, and the books that inspired them along the way.


The Cowkeeper’s Wish chronicles our English family, beginning in the 1840s in London, England, and finishing up in London, Ontario, in the 1930s, when our grandparents married. The story is divided into three parts—the Victorian years, set in some of London’s poorest neighbourhoods; the First World War; and the post-war period, when our 10-year-old grandmother came to Canada in the care of a family friend. A story that covers so much ground requires an exhausting amount of research. It took us nine years to complete, with a few breaks here and there to rejuvenate with other projects, and while at times it seemed we would never finish, the work never felt boring. Learning about all these periods, and our family’s place in a larger history, was fascinating. We read widely to understand everything from workhouse life to the suffragette movement to social reform. Now, knowing as much as we do about our family’s path, we find connections with many other stories, though told in different ways. Here’s a list of books that we find inspiring.


Kristen’s list:

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Owling: Guest Post by Kristen den Hartog

Book Cover Owl Moon

In our house, my husband, my seven-year-old daughter N and I are flying through the Harry Potter series, now nearly finished the sixth book, and reading each day at breakfast and again after dinner. The colourful characters (red-eyed Lord Voldemort, massive Hagrid in his hair suit) and the thrilling plotlines have us reading more than ever, so that books sometimes interfere with piano practice and dish-doing and hair-washing and bedtime.

One more page! Pleeeease, just one more page!

But long before we went Potty, stories—whether “from your mouth,” as N calls them, or from a book—played a prominent role in our family life. N’s dad is a wonderful storyteller, and often recounts his “Lost in the Woods” tale, about the year he was five and wandered into the forest with his little brother and was unable to find his way home. N’s eyes go wide as he tells of crossing an icy creek with his brother on his back; of braving the bitter wind and trudging through the bush, with its winter-night sounds of animals scurrying and owls hooting.

This homemade story often leads them to Owl Moon, Jane Yolen’s picture book about a father-daughter adventure. “It was late one winter night, long past my bedtime, when Pa and I went owling. There was no wind. The trees sto …

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