Kathie: Hi Kate! It’s lovely to have a chance to talk with you about your upcoming book, BOOTS, which comes out tomorrow from Simon & Schuster. A very early happy book birthday to you. Can you please tell us about your book?
Kate: Hi Kathie! I’m excited to see my historical fantasy BOOTS flying into bookstores and libraries! It’s the third and final installment in The League of Secret Heroes series, which features CAPE, MASK, and now BOOTS. Our kid superheroes race to Paris to rescue the missing superheroes, but first they venture to Sweetwater, Texas, home of the barrier-breaking WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots). One of the trio, Mae, knows how to fly, as she’s taken lessons from her aunts, Willa Brown and Janet Harmon—two African American women pilots who shattered barriers to flying too. These piloting skills will come in handy as the girls are challenged throughout the book and have to prove their heroism without the help of their capes, masks, and boots.
Kathie: I’d love to learn more about the inspiration behind your story?
Kate: Most books start from a question. Mine was, Who came before Wonder Woman? I was curious to learn whether there had been female comic book heroes leading up to World War II, and I was excited to discover Fantomah, the Magician From Mars, and many other wonderful caped heroes who were beating bad guys. So it grew from there. As I researched early superheroines, I started reading about the real-life heroines of WWII: early programmers and mathematicians, code-crackers, pilots, and spies. It was so much fun to try to pull them all together!
Kathie: BOOTS is set during World War II, which is a time period that’s very popular with young readers. What did you enjoy most about your research, and can you share an interesting fact that you learned?
Kate: So many cool facts! Possibly the coolest is that Wonder Woman made her debut in December 1941, right as the attack on Pearl Harbor officially plunged America into the war. I thought that had interesting symmetry. But what’s so fascinating to me is the way the war opened up entire worlds to women. The ENIAC computer that launched the modern computing age was built during the war in a secret program at the University of Pennsylvania. For women mathematicians who were graduating from college then, the war changed their trajectories. Ordinarily, their only job options would have been teaching math to kids. No high-powered business jobs, no higher-ed opportunities. But with male mathematicians pulled into the war, women with those degrees were suddenly incredibly valuable. That’s how they became “human computers,” and how they went on to become the first programmers who could make the machine computers function.
Kathie: I was fascinated to hear that you interviewed a pilot who flew with the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots) in World War II. What was that experience like for you?
Kate: Ever since I was in grade school, I’ve loved looking at old photos and hearing stories about how my parents and grandparents lived. So as I read about the WASPs, I realized a handful of them were still living. And that they gathered for “homecoming” celebrations where they trained—at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. So I bought a ticket and flew down from Chicago to Texas, where I’d lived, worked, and married years before. It was incredible, as a history nerd, to get to shake hands and speak with these women who’d broken so many barriers. One pilot in particular, Jane Doyle, who attended with her daughter, Laurie Preston, was delightful. So interesting and such a good storyteller, even at age 96! After meeting her in Texas, I did a longer interview with Jane at her home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a few months later. I was over the moon when Jane showed me her memorabilia from her WASP days, beginning with the 1943 telegram WASP-founder Jackie Cochran had sent to her, inviting her to training at Avenger Field.
Kathie: What sets your story apart from other books out there set during this time period?
Kate: I used to work in newspapers, so perhaps I bring a bit of a journalistic approach to my books? Who knows! But I like to find real-live people to talk to as I’m researching stories. So with CAPE, MASK, and BOOTS, I spoke with the children of the ENIAC programmers, a survivor of a Japanese internment camp, actual WASP pilots. This is all to show kids that our connection to “history” doesn’t mean it’s covered in cobwebs and dust. History is alive and just waiting for us to ask questions and take an interest. And that research means more than calling up a website and taking notes. It’s about connecting on a human level and finding universal emotions and shared experiences.
Kathie: If you could go back in history and meet one person from any time period, who would it be and why?
Kate: There are so many interesting people from history, it’s hard to single out just one. But what I’m drawn to are the unsung heroes. The people who are footnotes or nearly forgotten, rather than the luminaries. So I’d say first in my mind would be Kate Warne. She’s considered America’s first female detective, and she was hired by Allan Pinkerton for his Pinkerton National Detective Agency in 1856, and she was instrumental in saving newly elected President Lincoln when he rode to Washington, D.C. I featured Kate Warne in my middle-grade history-mystery THE DETECTIVE’S ASSISTANT, and I felt such a desire to do right by her. I visited her gravesite multiple times while writing the manuscript, and just the idea that I could touch the faded tombstone—it gave me a heavy sense of wanting to tell her story and do her justice. Having coffee with her would be pretty cool.
Kathie: Are you working on another writing project at this time?
Kate: I sure am! I love researching historical moments and figures. So I’ve found something wonderful from around 1920, and it features the Spanish flu and World War I and just some awesome, super-nerdy history! I am writing it as a mystery, which makes it even more fun to sit down at my laptop each day.
Kathie: Where can our readers go to learn more about you and your writing?
Kate: I’ve tried to put up some fun material on my website, along with curriculum guides to using these books in the classroom. I hope students message me with questions or comments! KateHannigan.com
Kathie: Thanks so much for chatting with me today, Kate, and I wish you all the best with your book’s release.
Kate: Thank YOU!
KATE HANNIGAN writes fiction and nonfiction. Her historical mystery The Detective’s Assistant won SCBWI’s 2016 Golden Kite Award. Cape, Book 1 in The League of Secret Heroes series with (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin), received the Oklahoma Book Award and was recently optioned for film. Visit Kate online at KateHannigan.com