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 December 2015: George Washington

          December is a key month to celebrate our first president, George Washington. He died on December 14, 1799. Though he missed out on the 19th century by only a few weeks, he did something 16 years earlier that made his name practically immortal. On December 23, 1783, Washington resigned as commander-in-chief of the American forces and went home. Then again, in 1797, he walked away from power, heading home after completing his second term as the first United States president. Both acts stunned aristocratic Europe. It had been 2,500 years since the leader of a powerful nation had willingly resigned. Consequently, Great Britain’s King George III is believed to have said Washington was “the greatest character of the age.”
            And then, on December 26, 1776, there was that little surprise General Washington had for the enemy Hessian troops stationed in the village of Trenton, New Jersey…
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November 2015: Abraham Lincoln


            Funny how we honor our great 16th president Abraham Lincoln in the month of February for something he had very little to do with – being born. My favorite Lincoln month is actually November. Here’s why:


The Gettysburg Address

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Monday, February 16th, is President's Day. Listen to (88.5 FM in PA, DE and NJ) where I'll be a guest on Kids Corner at 7:00 p.m. EST. You'll hear rare live acoustic versions of "What He Wrote" (Thomas Jefferson) and "Man in the Arena" (Theodore Roosevelt).

Host Kathy O'Connell and I will discuss some of our great presidents. We may get to "Eleanor" (Eleanor Roosevelt) and "Powerful" (Samantha Smith), two females who SHOULD have been President!

Join Kathy and me this President's Day as we laugh, reminisce, and celebrate. Who was the president wrote 36,000 letters? Which president's good sportsmanship inspired the first teddy bear? Who was the "man of many firsts?" Which president is the subject of more books than anyone else the past 2,000 years? Who was the president known as America's first wine connoisseur? Which of my heroes did Kathy O'Connell meet and interview live on her radio show?

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I've researched and written songs for children about American heroes for 21 years. Sometimes, my work has been compared to the American Girl series of books. Whereas I write about real heroes, the American Girls are fictitious, yet we seem to have similar goals of bringing out the best in children while promoting good citizenship. One of the company’s most successful authors, Valerie Tripp, has authored an amazing 31 American Girl books featuring Felicity, Josephina, Samantha, Kit, and Molly. She graciously agreed to an interview with me.

My interview of Valerie first appeared as a guest blog post at In Bed With Books, a blog site that reviews books (

Interview with Valerie Tripp 

Valerie Tripp


You can click on any of the book covers to go to their Amazon page.

Jonathan Sprout: You write about fictional heroes. What qualities do you look for
when creating your fictional characters?

Valerie Tripp: I don't have to look far for heroic qualities because my characters are inspired by my readers, and my readers are heroic to me because they face their daily challenges with humor, empathy, curiosity, generosity, and kindness. All of my books have the same message: Yes, disappointments and troubles will come your way, but you’ll be okay. You are the hero of your own life story.

“I don't have to look far for heroic qualities because my characters are inspired by my readers, and my readers are heroic to me.” - Valerie Tripp

Jonathan Sprout
Jonathan: Your books essentially take us back in time and bring history to the present. You must do a lot of research. What is your process?

Valerie: I love to do research. It is not a process; it is a way of life. When you become interested in a time period, it is as if the universe is full of the information you need – you just have to start to pay attention! Research for me is travel, reading, talking to people who are experts and people who lived when my character did, looking at movies, and listening to music. It is also observing and being delighted and inspired by girls of today. Research can also be looking back at my own experiences as a child. Research is active: it can be taking cooking lessons, going for a horseback ride, swimming in the Rio Grande river, and trying to knit a sock (unsuccessfully, by the way!)

Jonathan: When you are creating a character, do you think about the parents, caregivers or teachers of these girls and boys and how your
characters will inspire dialogue between them? Can you elaborate?

Second Chances
Valerie: I always hope that my stories will spark conversations among generations. Molly, who is my WW2 character, has led girls to ask their families about their great-grandparents’ experiences during the war. More than one Army uniform has been lifted out of a trunk in the attic! And the emotional content of a story can spark conversations as well. Josefina’s aunt comes to live with her family, and many girls tell me they have spoken to their parents and step-parents inspired by Josefina’s dilemma: can she be loyal to her Mama and still love her new step-mother? One of the loveliest purposes literature can serve is to connect us by being a vehicle for conversation.

Jonathan: Your books encourage boys and girls to understand that they too can be “heroes” in their everyday lives (i.e. you don’t have to be famous to be a hero). What are your thoughts on this?

Lost and Found
Valerie: I deliberately chose to write about history from a familiar and familial point of view, so that my readers might see what a regular kid’s life was like. I’m hoping that my readers will say, “Hey! That could be me. I would have been heroic just as Kit is, facing the Depression. Or I would have stood up for my friend just as Samantha does at the turn of the last century.” I am hoping my readers will see that THEY are what American History is. They are shaping our world. The decisions they make will determine what life is like for us all in the future. They are already heroes.

Jonathan: Are there differences between what girls find heroic and what boys find heroic? How has an awareness of this this helped you to
craft your stories?

Valerie: No, I don’t think there are differences between what boys and girls find heroic. Heroism is facing your own specific challenges, and no matter what those challenges are, we all have to find the inner courage to do so.

Jonathan: Tell us about your latest writing venture - writing for boys.

“I felt as though books were short-changing boys. The boys I know are funny and nurturing, passionate, goofy, adventurous, brave, and have rich inner lives.” - Valerie Tripp

Valerie: I felt as though books were short-changing boys. The boys I know are funny and nurturing, passionate, goofy, adventurous, brave, and have rich inner lives but the boys I saw in books had to solve problems with magic or bathroom jokes. The Boys Camp books show boys facing landslides, fires, near-drowning, friendship troubles, skunks, bears, snakes, shyness, and dives off cliffs! They’re jokesters and bird-watchers, tennis stars and singers – and they are ALL heroes!
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Fern Michonski is a fellow children's recording artist who recently interviewed me for her website.

Jonathan, your American Heroes Series is educational, fun and inspiring! The lyrics on these CD’s teach children about our many heroes, both past and present.

Obviously teachers have a wealth of information they can glean from your heroes songs that will reinforce lessons they are teaching the children about our heroes. And, it is a fact that when a concept that is being taught to children is put to music, it has a deeper impact and will be remembered more easily. I think it would be awesome to combine your heroes’ music with the spirit of giving and the Holidays!

  1. You obviously did a lot of research before writing all of your heroes’ songs. What inspired you to write a series about heroes?

Jonathan: There were a number of variables that came into play that enticed me to pivot my career and gradually transform from a “regular” children’s singer-songwriter recording artist into an educational heroes proponent. Twenty years ago I reached a point in my life where I wanted to leave more of a mark in this world and be of more service to humanity. In 1994, I read about a nation-wide survey in which children were asked who their heroes were. Their top-10 list included cartoon characters and obnoxious athletes. You’ve heard: “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him how to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” Entertaining and making children laugh was good, but not good enough for my purpose-driven life. Stephen Covey and his inspiring book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” was motivating me to study successful people. I always loved reading biographies. All of these things clicked into place for me when I came up with the idea to research, write, perform and record children’s music about heroes.

2. Right now we are in the midst of the Holiday Season. For many children, the holidays becomes a time where their focus is on gifts and what they would like to receive. Could you think of a way to help children come up with ideas as to how THEY could be a hero during the Holidays?

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