Pocketful of Pinecones is one of my favorite books to read in the springtime. It is such a gentle and uplifting story, with so many Nature Study nuggets woven throughout, that you can’t help but be inspired to get outdoors with your children and enjoy the spring—or any other time of the year, for that matter!
Recently, the author, Karen Andreola, graciously gave us this interview so we could have a peek behind the scenes at what was in her mind and heart as she wrote. Enjoy.
An Interview with Karen Andreola
Sonya: Thank you for writing Pocketful of Pinecones, Karen. It is a timeless delight! Would you please give us a personal glimpse into the book and talk a bit about why you wrote it?
Karen: Thank you, Sonya. It would be a pleasure. A Pocketful of Pinecones is my way of encouraging home teachers to keep serving the ones they love. “Keep your eyes on God and be determined to meet the changing needs of your family and you will succeed.” Home teaching takes walking by faith. Carol knows this. Carol is the main character of the story. She presses forward even when she is tired and even when she isn’t exactly sure of what she is doing.
Home teaching also takes a bit of experiment. Carol’s sister-in-law sends her a copy of Miss Charlotte Mason’s Home Education. It provides the practical guidance Carol seeks. My readers get a peek into Carol’s busy days and the different subjects she teaches. I chose to give Nature Study the emphasis. Those who read A Pocketful of Pinecones will go on nature walks with Carol and her children, season by season. The children record their “finds” in their nature notebooks.
As Carol is occupied with her domestic duties her husband’s career begins to take its toll on them. Difficult choices must be made. Carol is prone to worry. But through life’s ups and downs she is prudent enough to know she must feed her own soul as well as cultivate the souls of her children. She reads and is, herself, inspired by a closer notice of the natural world around her.
Being a Christian, I am not a fatalist. Therefore, I wrote my story to be one of hope. I am too fond of my characters to let anything really terrible happen to any of them, therefore the story is a happy one (John 16:33).
Sonya: For our readers who haven’t yet met Carol in the book, would you tell a little more about the setting of the story?
Karen: The story takes place in New England in the 1930s. When I wrote Pocketful of Pinecones our family lived in Maine. Therefore, I made the nature we observed month by month to be similar to the nature that my characters observe.
New England has four distinct and picturesque seasons. I spent my girlhood a little farther south in New Jersey and loved being outdoors. It must have had an influence on me. In autumn I’d crunch upon fallen leaves wearing one of my mother’s hand-knit sweaters, watching the squirrels dig their nuts into the ground or chatter and chase each other up a tree. Winter had us bundled up and booted for sledding in snow. The night sky was full of stars. Spring brought welcomed rays of the sun, puffy white clouds, and yellow daffodils. Summer gave us a neighborhood of thick green grass to run on top of, noisy blue jays, orange butterflies, daddy-long-leg spiders, inchworms, fireflies, the evening serenade of crickets. These things couldn’t help but find their way into my story.
Sonya: I’m curious why you chose the 1930s.
Karen: This time period might seem a bit foreign for some of my readers, at first. But from the many kind letters I’ve received, it seems the 1930s are a comfortable escape. Although chores were constant for the homemaker, I look at the 30s as a time of greater simplicity. I wanted a story free of television and computer. We had neither in the house when I taught our girls to read in the 1980s.
The 1930s were the depression years. The stay-at-home mother contributed to the economy of the home with non-income work from sunup to sundown. And she was frugal. This is something I knew my fellow home teachers could relate to. Carol hasn’t a car but walks to destinations with her children; sometimes nature observation is accomplished along the way. Today, walking to shops or the library is only doable in the oldest of America’s neighborhoods where blocks of houses are connected by sidewalks to Main Street.
Sonya: It seems like there are several layers to this story. How did that feature come about?
Karen: Slowly. I write by inches anyway, but this book was especially tricky. First, the realistic fiction is meant to uplift—and be a little oasis of calm for the busy mother. Next, practical teaching ideas unfold by natural consequence. Weaving together the layers of story and information ended up to be more of a job than I had first envisioned. It took at least one year to write. It was a tall order to give myself, but I knew that I would have a unique sort of how-to book in the end—a “living book”—the kind that Miss Mason advocated.
Sonya: Yet it is more than just a narrative. You included several other helpful features too.
Karen: To give my readers insight into some of what Carol was reading out of Miss Mason’s Home Education I included reference material (key paragraphs by Miss Mason) in the back of the book—footnoted throughout the story so as not to interrupt the flow of the reading. This is yet another layer of writing.
The story is illustrated with pencil drawings true to the time period.
Carol and her children observe more than 200 living things throughout the course of the book. The Latin names are supplied at the end of most chapters, as well as study questions.
A book list in the back highlights some of our family’s favorite nature reading.
Sonya: It’s been a joy to follow your family over the years and to see your three children grow into wonderful adults. Did your own family life have a bearing on what you wrote?
Karen: Yes, fact and fiction have a way of intermingling. Some readers might think, “She made the kids too good. In a realistic world they would be naughty.” For the most part my own children were well behaved, playful, and resourceful, and so I made my fictional children to be so. Miss Charlotte Mason was immensely helpful to me when I was bringing up my children. Her advice followed me around the house from day to day as I made a conscious effort to understand how to apply it. I highly recommend bringing up children by way of Miss Mason’s three tools: atmosphere, discipline, and a life of thought-provoking ideas.
Sonya: One final question that I’ve wanted to ask for a long time. How did you come up with the title?
Karen: I can take no credit for it. Halfway into my story I still didn’t know what to call it. For months and months the whole household put up with hearing me think out loud the familiar, “What should I call it?” We were all dumbfounded. Nothing catchy came to mind. Frustration was setting in. But one brisk October day in Maine, when we were standing at the hall closet putting our vests over our wool sweaters, getting ready to take a hike in the woods, Dean blurted it out. He put his hands in the pockets of his downy vest and said, “Pinecones?”
“What did you say?” I replied.
“There are pinecones in my pockets,” he explained, opening a palm to show me a handful of the little things to prove it.
“Oh you must be wearing my vest.”
“I thought it was tight.”
I smiled and asked him, “Remember when we walked up to the lighthouse?”
With a frown that meant he was recalling the scene to memory, he gave me an affirmative, “Hmm.”
“Well, I guess I was in a collecting mood. Because when I came upon a bed of little pinecones under a Hemlock I couldn’t resist gathering some to take ho . . .”
“I’ve got it!” he announced, interrupting the tail end of my sentence.
“I’ve got the name of your book. It could be called A Pocketful of Pinecones.
“I like it,” I said. And as I could think of nothing better, there it was.
Karen Andreola’s Other Books
SCM is thrilled to help make Karen Andreola’s wonderful books available to homeschoolers everywhere. In addition to Pocketful of Pinecones, we now have available its sequel, Lessons at Blackberry Inn; Karen’s wonderful creative-writing book, Story Starters: Helping Children Write Like They’ve Never Written Before; and the classic and encouraging how-to book, A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on The Gentle Art of Learning.
You can continue to gain ideas and encouragement from Karen at her blog, Moments with Mother Culture and the Gentle Art of Learning.