25th Trillium Award

Five Explorer Questions with Judy Plaxton

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Judith Plaxton's book is an excellent addition to our Underground Railroad tours on the Open Book Explorer. A retired nurse with an avid interest in the environment, local history and volunteering, she lives in the small Southern Ontario town of Clarksburg, a place that once served as a terminus for those fugitive slaves seeking asylum in Upper Canada.

Our Five Explorer Questions interview focuses on Morning Star (Second Story Press), which tells parallel stories of two young girls from different times in history. While these girls? lives are eras apart, their is a commonality between them and it is our pleasure to interview Judith about their stories.

Open Book:

How did the idea for the book come about — both the subject matter, the title, and the concept of two parallel stories?

Judy Plaxton:

One day while driving home I noticed a sign for the Sheffield Park Black History Museum. I turned off the highway, drove to the place and found Carolyn Wilson the curator, on a ladder painting the outside of the building. She was very welcoming and gave me an impromptu tour. I talked to her and I thought to myself, there's a story here. I hadn't realized this area I live in was a terminus of the Underground Railroad.

I called my story The History Lesson but of course the publisher and editor did not like that title. They thought and perhaps rightly so that no child would choose to read a book called The History Lesson. We compromised on Morning Star.

I originally had only the story of Flower and her family making their way north to freedom, and then while working at our local school I began to picture a young girl of colour arriving as a new student and coping in a sea of white faces. I imagined her gaining courage from learning of the history of black slaves making the arduous trip to Canadian freedom. The dual stories thus evolved.


Did you have a specific age group in mind when you set out to write it? Why did you think it important to write for that age group specifically?


I seem to be drawn to writing for this age group [ages 10-14], and I can't really explain why except that I think it's a wonderful age, I think of it as a free age — where one is no longer a little child and is on the cusp of young adulthood with none of the teen age angst to come..


Was there a lot of research involved? If so, how did you go about it?


My research consisted of reading as many books as I could on the subject and using the internet. I also visited the Grey Roots Museum and Archives in Owen Sound as well as the Sheffield Museum. One of the books I read to learn more about the subject was The Freedom Seekers by Daniel Hill, father of Lawrence Hill.


Do you think the important history of the Underground Railroad is satisfactorily preserved in Ontario? What could be done to better make the information available?


I haven't had a chance to visit Chatham though I understand it is well worth the trip. I did visit Priceville and the purchased the DVD Speakers for the Dead. There appears to be a real effort in Grey and Simcoe counties to make the Underground Railroad information available. I was invited to come to our local school and talk with some grade seven students about my book and black history. That was a wonderful experience for me. I also enjoyed speaking at the libraries in Thornbury and Meaford as well as the Grey Roots Museum. I think these kinds of interactions with authors or historians are very helpful in communicating and sharing knowledge.


If young readers could take one thing away from the book, what would you want it to be?


I would like my reader to enjoy the story but I would also like it to be a history lesson for him or her. I hope the reader would become a little more aware of racism especially when it's subtle and not overt and would realize the importance of treating everyone with open minded respect.

I asked my grandson what he took from the story and he replied, "how lucky we are."

Buy this book at Second Story Press, online at Amazon or Chapters/Indigo, or find it at your local indie bookstore.

Judith Plaxton is a retired nurse with an avid interest in the environment, local history, and volunteering. She lives in Clarksburg, a small town in Southern Ontario, an area that was once a terminus for the Underground Railroad.

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