“Somewhere Over the Rainbow…. Dreams Really Do Come True”
The book characters of my childhood still call to me. If I am quiet, they visit me in my mind. There is Peter Pan who never wanted to grow up, Lady who wanted romance and to “transform” the Tramp, and the industrious Charlotte, in Charlotte’s Web, who gave her all to her mission. These characters are all a part of me. I grew up with them, first, on my mother’s lap and later, anywhere I could be alone with my books. Traces of them appeared in the stories I created in my head as a child and in the life I have lived as an adult.
There is one character that will forever have a special place in my heart, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. She sought courage for the Cowardly Lion, brains for the Scarecrow and a heart for the Tin Man. All Dorothy wanted was to help her friends and go over the rainbow to get back home where she knew her dreams would come true.
Like Dorothy and her friends, I have gone through many treacherous journeys to find my way back home. And just like them, I found that even though I clicked my ruby slippers three times, ultimately my rainbow ended right where it began, inside my heart. Sal and Amanda were there waiting for me. All I had to do was to travel back to my God given heart’s desire. I have created stories all my life, and I have always wanted them to be in a book that I can share with others. Sal and Amanda are proof positive that dreams really do come true!
I have loved children’s books for as long as I can remember. When I was a toddler I would crawl up in my mother’s lap in the rocking chair after lunch and she would read little golden books to me. The marks on the paper were magic. They told wonderful stories, and I just had to figure out how they worked. It wasn’t long before I was reading along with my mother. She would read and I would read. Then we would talk about the people or the animals in the story just like they were there with us.
My grandfathers also played an important role in my becoming a writer. My maternal grandfather, B Boy, was an artisan that created a castle for us to live in. He built a Spanish style adobe stucco house in the late 1940’s on the outskirts of Spartanburg, a small South Carolina textile town. No one before or since has lived in a house like this. It had a rounded entrance way that was adorned with a handmade egg and dot pattern. It also had a sun, a moon, a rainbow, and the statue of liberty on the side. It had another entrance way that was latticed. My grandfather changed the color when he got bored with it .It was once painted salmon pink with gold trim. I was born into this magnificent setting. My friends in the neighborhood loved to come there because we created stories around the house. The rounded entrance took us into the castle and lattice work was our jail. We fought dragons, flew over the rainbow, and even went on space launches.
B Boy also shared the funny paper with me; those stories were so funny and in color too! By this time, he had built my parents and me a miniature version of the stucco castle next door. Every Sunday, I would jump out of bed, grab the paper off the lawn and fly into my grandparents’ house where I knew B Boy and the radio would be waiting for me. The smell of biscuits and my grandmother’s sweet smile greeted me. But, I didn’t tarry there because it was time for Radio Reader. I would climb on the bed with my grandfather, and he would turn up the radio. We held the paper and followed along as we “read” “Little Orphan Annie,” “Little Henry,” “Dagwood and Blondie,” and many others. When Radio Reader was over my grandfather would always say, “Let’s go eat!”
I often recalled this wonderful time I shared with B Boy. It wasn’t until I was grown up, a teacher, and a mother myself, and my grandfather lay dying that my grandmother shared with me that he could not read or write. I had always believed that he was the one reading to me. As I looked back, I know now that it was the radio. But, my grandfather found a way to share literacy with me in his own special way. What a gifted man!
When I was twelve, we moved from Spartanburg to Lyman Lake.We lived beside my paternal grandfather. My father was the oldest of ten children and my grandfather had thirty six grandchildren. Somehow he made each of us believe we were his favorite. He loved the land and the stories it told. He often shared tales of Indians that once hunted right where we were living. He was right, too, because we sometimes found arrowheads in the woods. I know he sparked my love for South Carolina and our rich history. Recently, I was excited to learn through my research that my seventh great grandfather was a Patriot involved in the capture of the infamous redcoat Tory, Bloody Bill Cunningham.
Some of the little golden books are sitting on the shelves in my office today and all of the rich stories and characters from my parents and grandparents are tucked in my heart. I smile at them as I write my own stories. They are like old friends calling me back to my childhood. It is my deepest desire to write books and create characters that parents can share with their children. I want to tell stories that help children know the value of the land that we call South Carolina. Rich indeed are children whose parents share books and stories with them.
Before I became a writer I was a teacher. I earned my Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education from Columbia College. I first taught third grade at Fremont Elementary in Spartanburg School District Seven. After two years, I transferred to Chapman Elementary where I continued to teach third grade. I also earned a Masters of Education Degree in Elementary Education at the University of South Carolina. During this time, I wrote a play which my class produced each year that highlighted famous South Carolinians and Nell McMaster Sprott’s Music, South Carolina Tricentenniel Songs. You can experience these songs by clicking the link. In the future, I hope to revise this play with the help of Mrs. Sprott’s granddaughter and Sal and Amanda.
After several years of teaching, I took time out to have my son, Thomas M. McGrath IV. Becoming a mother changed everything! I had someone to share stories with around the clock. We went everywhere together. He loved clowns, so we read the Elf book from my childhood, Emmett Kelly in Willy the Clown. Some years later, when Emmett Kelly came to town we were there to meet him and get his autograph. This is one of my most prized possessions! Tommy, indeed, fell in love with stories, and he is still an avid reader to this day.
After Tommy was born, I went back to the University of South Carolina to work on a doctorate in elementary education. I studied linguistics, reading, writing, social studies, and, of course, children’s literature. I earned my Ph.D. and became a college instructor at Limestone College. I taught teaching of reading and writing and children’s literature. While at Limestone, I also directed the Kanto International Program for Japanese students. Every semester middle students came to the campus to learn English and culture. They also studied the history of our state and nation. We took tours throughout the United States, and I took my young son with me.
When Tommy entered second grade at Lyman Elementary in Spartanburg District Five, I did too. I left my college teaching to have the same schedule as my son. I also wanted to try all the things I had learned about teaching in my dissertation studies on teaching writing to children in my own classroom. What a glorious time we had there! I met Tony my wonderful illustrator when he came for an author visit. We became fast friends. Little did I know that one day, we would create Sal and Amanda together. It wasn’t long until I moved back to third grade so I could teach South Carolina history again. There I met Brooke. She was a talented student in my third grade class, and now she is creating this wonderful website for me!
I left Lyman Elementary to begin a teacher education program at North Greenville College. I had been teaching adjunct graduate courses at University of South Carolina Upstate and Converse College while teaching elementary school. I was thrilled with the new challenge of creating a program to train teachers. Within ten years, the program had three majors: elementary, early childhood, and music education and more than 350 students. We also were both state and nationally accredited. In addition to my administrative duties, I taught Children’s Literature to all the students in the program.
I was the Dean of Education at North Greenville and the college was considering adding more majors for education, but a new stirring had begun within me. I was restless and could not decide why, so I set out on a journey to find out. I started working part time for Spartanburg School District One as a grant director and writer. I wrote a Teaching American History Grant for the Spartanburg and Union Districts titled, Teaching American History Right Under Our Feet. The grant was funded from the U.S. Department of Education for one million dollars. I worked with a select group of history teachers to study and develop lesson plans for historical sites in the Upstate of South Carolina. The grant was completed in January 2013 and the lessons can be found on each district’s website. During this time, I also served as a Literacy Coach for New Prospect Elementary and Landrum Middle School. I am now a full-time Instructional Coach at Landrum Middle School. It was the people and the places I met and experienced during the grant that helped me find my voice and fulfill my dream.
I had always believed that one day I would write a children’s book. It seemed that day had come when Becky Slayton, the Director of the Spartanburg Regional History Museum, called and asked me to write a children’s book for Walnut Grove. We had become friends during the history grant partnership. I was delighted and began right away. I wrote the facts for children in an interesting way, but something was missing. Where was the fun?
During my research, I read an article about the children at Woodland Heights lobbying the South Carolina legislature to get a state amphibian. We didn’t have one, and this class thought we should. They worked for two years, and in 1999 Governor, David Beasley, ordered that the Spotted Salamander would become the state amphibian. I was mulling this over when I remember the Geico gecko came on T.V. and smiled at me. I didn’t think much about it, but when I awoke the next morning two salamanders were rollicking through my head and across my pillow. They were boy and girl twins that I immediately named Sal and Amanda. I called Tony Waters, told him I had a great idea, and headed to Charleston. I described Sal and Amanda to him, and he sketched them as we sat in a restaurant overlooking the bay.
My writing turned upside down. I used the research I had done on Walnut Grove to write the first book, Sal and Amanda Visit Walnut Grove Plantation, which is an historical fiction novel. It tells the story of two school children’s visit to the plantation with their class. They get in a heap of trouble when they sneak away from their school group and go on the tour with Sal and Amanda. We also created the accompanying activity book, Cool With Sal and Amanda. This book has non-fiction information and engaging learning activities which address all of the multiple intelligences explained by Dr. Howard Gardner. I love this because we are all smart, just in different ways. Dr. Gardner and I want parents and children to know this. You can read about the book rollout that occurred at Woodland Heights Elementary on March 30, 2012.
In 2013, I met representatives from The History Press at the South Carolina Book Festival in Columbia. They liked the idea of a series of books with Sal and Amanda telling the South Carolina story, so we signed on with them.
The second book in the series will debut on April 12, 2014 at the South Carolina State Museum. The book, Sal and Amanda Take the Morgan Victory March to the Battle of Cowpens, has Ben, his cousins, and his friend, Jen, preparing for the Morgan Victory March which takes place every January 18. In the story, the cousin’s Grandmother organizes the event each year to commemorate the Battle of Cowpens. Daniel Morgan’s spirit challenges Ben to tell the real story of what happened just before the encounter when Ben accidentally finds a letter written by Morgan four days before the battle. Can Ben save the long lost letter and free Daniel Morgan’s Spirit? Links for purchasing this book can be found in our digital shop for paperback (through History Press) & in eBook formats for all popular devices. Text dependent activities are free and can be found in our digital store ready to download.
I am retiring from public school work at the end of this year to devote myself to sharing Sal and Amanda with children, parents, and teachers. I will schedule school visits for book signings, to talk with children about writing, and to do writers workshops with them. I will also train teachers and parents in using the materials and in teaching reading and writing in English and Social Studies. I hope to meet each of you real soon.
Sal and Amanda are also getting ready for a fun summer at Tyger River Park. According to Marcia Murff, director of public relations and development for Spartanburg County Parks and Recreation, the new splash pad which is being built and will open in early summer at the park will be named Sal and Amanda’s Cool Party Pad. You will also be able to see the twins on signs at the park teaching children about water safety. A mock river is also being outfitted with Sal and Amanda signs where children will learn all about salamanders and their habitats. Read about the project.
The adventures don’t stop here. I will continue to write Sal and Amanda’s stories because I want children to have fun with history and learn information that will be relevant to them for the rest of their lives. I want children and parents and teachers to know the joy and benefits of a shared story. I am also having fun and fulfilling my childhood dream. I know this adventure is a God given path. I want children to know that dreams can come true! Tony and I would love suggestions for books from children, parents, and teachers. We want to know what you want to read about. We want books that the family can share together so everyone can know that South Carolina history and American history truly is right under our feet!
As Sal and Amada say, “We won’t say good-bye. We’ll just say, see you in our next South Carolina adventure, ya’ll.”
- This is a great book for young readers, teaching about a key historical period in our nation, The Southern Campaign of the American Revolution. It helps children know that history happened “right under their feet”. An additional bonus comes in enjoyable reading that makes the Revolution and our Independence come alive.George Fields, Ph. D.Chaplain, Brigadier General Retired, USA; President Emeritus, Spartanburg Methodist College; Director of Military Heritage Program Palmetto Conservation Foundation
- My children absolutely loved Dr. Solesbee’s first book in which Sal and Amanda explored Walnut Grove Plantation to learn all about its important history. When my third grader learned that Dr. Solesbee’s second book would be published soon, she insisted on the opportunity to meet the author. I am certain that as Sal and Amanda’s adventures continue, their interest in the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War will lead to many important and exciting discoveries. Dr. Solesbee’s ability to use historical fiction to teach important facts is second to none. Our young readers are going to thoroughly enjoy this unique opportunity to learn all about this significant time in our nation’s history.Ronald W. Garner, Ed.D.Superintendent Spartanburg District One Schools
- This book is a reason to celebrate! Finally a book about South Carolina’s rich contributions to the Revolutionary War! Sal and Amanda Visit Walnut Grove is a rolling adventure where fact meets fun. My third grade students can’t get enough of Sal and Amanda! Whether we are learning from the no-nonsense tour guide, Mrs. Betsy, or the back and forth banter of Sal and his sister, Amanda, facts come to life in this piece of historical fiction. This book is a must have for visitors to the plantation or students of SC history. It covers history from English settlers through Antebellum times. It is the perfect way to build schema or review at the end of the year. We can’t wait for another opportunity to catch up with our favorite amphibians!Danielle Whitlow 3rd Grade Teacher at Campobello Gramling School