Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tuesday - Meet the Author - Linda Brewster

Shari: Your new book sounds fascinating. Would you tell my readers what it is about?

Linda: The book is a biography of the childhood of Rose O’Neill, the creator of the Kewpie cartoons and later the doll. Born in Wilkes-Barre, PA, in 1874 her family was wealthy and for her first three years, she was a princess living in the Emerald Cottage. There came a depression and despite all her Papa’s efforts, he lost everything. The family moved west by Conestoga wagon loaded with hundreds of books to an abandoned sod house on the Nebraska prairies. Rose’s father was bookseller and hoped to start over. Artists often reveal their talents in early childhood and hers was most unusual. Rose O’Neill: The Girl Who Loved To Draw follows her life until she was established as an illustrator in NYC.

Shari: What time period are we talking about?

Linda: It covers the years 1874 until 1900. The afterword covers some of her adult years. There are many books covering that period in her life. I wanted to show her artistic talents as a child and reveal how they developed. The Illustrations in the book show the influences she experienced as a child. Kewpie was her best-remembered creation, but Rose had become the highest paid illustrator in NYC long before the Kewpie. She broke all the social rules and reinvented the roll for women using humor and graces. The book is filled with over a hundred of her illustrations.

Shari: How did you learn about Rose O’Neill? Am I the only one who didn’t know about her?

Linda: I lived near her final home in Branson, Missouri. The home had burned completely in 1947 three years after her death. When my family moved to the area I was in high school. I discovered Mary Trimble’s Sheppard of the Hill Farm where there was a small museum containing original art and sculpture by Rose O’Neill. I was an aspiring artist and visited the museum often, falling in love with Rose’s work. As I studied her history, I came to realize she was a very important person in the early part of the century.

No, you aren’t the only person who doesn’t know about Rose O’Neill. Many people know about
the Kewpie Doll, it is even listed in the dictionary, but they don’t know the creator. In fact, the Kewpies were a cartoon series before there was a doll. Kewpie is a turn on the Roman god Cupid who is synonymous with love, but if you read the myths, he was a trickster, using foolishness to do his deed. Kewpies are the opposite. They “Do good deed in funny ways,” their motto. That motto and the philosophy behind Rose’s work for children made her an endearing figure in America, Europe and Japan. Everyone had a Kewpie. Even in Anne Frank Dairy, she wrote of having a Kewpie. The Doll was the first doll to be manufactured and distributed in mass around the world.

To answer your question. Sadly, few people know or remember this remarkable woman, even though she was a superstar in her time and was mobbed by fans in the many countries she visited. She became a millionaire, which was unheard of for a woman to earn that much money from her own efforts. Rose used her money to help young artist, poets, writers and musicians.

So why isn’t she well known? My theory is that she was a political hot potato. She didn’t fit into
the social mold set for women. She was loved by thousands, which gave her power in the suffrage movement. As the century moved on, her contributions were minimized by the business world and politicians, but she had invented new techniques in illustration, created a new business model for mass production, she brought to light a segment of society that needed to be served through books and toys, the children. The business and political world then using her inventions, never gave her credit and in fact used her accomplishments against her. They would say, “She only drew pictures of babies and made dolls.”

Shari: Was the research for this book difficult? Is there a lot of information out there about her?

Linda: Yes and no. There is a lot of information about her if you know to look. The research was made easier because I had lived in the area where many people knew her. I was able to make contact with the executor of her estate and great grandnephew David O’Neill. No book had ever been written of her childhood. I was able piece together information from an unpublished autobiography lent to me by David O’Neill, he also supplied some of the photographs. The dates and locations were found by studying deeds and legal records from courthouses, news articles and general information came from historical societies. I also made a research trip back to Branson, Missouri to study a collection of documents at the College of the Ozarks research library. The Library of Congress had the photograph of Rose O’Neill that is on the cover. There are Kewpie clubs in most states of the union and many overseas. Japan is crazy for Kewpies and they have done a Japanese version of the dolls. Ordourf, Germany is having a festival in 2013 the 100th Anniversary of the manufacturing of the Kewpie Doll.

Shari: Was it difficult to find a publisher?

Linda: Yes and double yes! I submitted 28 proposals and had just about given up, my deadline for finding a publisher was coming to an end. The answers were always the same, “She isn’t famous enough.” You have to understand that most of the editors in publishing today are young, not long out of school. So, the word “Kewpie” wasn’t even part of their vocabulary. I had met Paula Morrow an editor for Cricket Magazine several years ago and had talked to her about the manuscript. She left Cricket shortly after I had first met her and started a small publishing company, Boxing Day Books. Paula told me, at a workshop she was leading that she had started this new company and said she would be interested in the manuscript. I had a deadline I was working toward, but not getting far, the 100th Anniversary of Kewpie, April 2009. When she heard that, a plan was put together. You could call it serendipity, but authors need to be involved in conferences and workshops to get to know the people in publishing.

Shari: What age level is this book for?

Linda: It was written for children age nine to twelve, but is a cross over book for adults that are Kewpie fans. Since there never had been a book on Rose O’Neill childhood, people at Kewpiesta, the 100th Birthday Party were thrilled. I had been working for years for this Anniversary and the unveiling of my book. The people that had Kewpies in their childhood brought there grandchildren and great grandchildren to share this part of their lives. The book, filled with full color illustrations had new information for collectors. I am hoping to interest schools, libraries and interested community groups in the book because there are so few books on American women artist, and Rose O’Neill was that and more. I am giving programs for people of all ages to revive the name of Rose O’Neill and tell about one of the great people that
worked to make it possible for women to vote and follow their dreams.

Shari: Were you able to include examples of her work in your book?

Linda: That is interesting you should ask. I wrote the book and yes, I was able to include four of
my own illustrations. I was concerned about this because it would be only okay to me if the illustrations complimented Rose’s work, after all the book is about Rose O’Neill and her work. I think it worked out okay.

Rose O'Neill: The Girl Who Loved to Draw
ISBN: 978-0-9798332-3-6

by Linda Brewster
age 9 to 12
Boxing Day Books


The books can be ordered from:


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