January 15 was the official release date of Mother Teresa my new biography for National Geographic’s reader series. I call it the official release because some of you may have seen an earlier edition of the book published by Scholastic Inc. The cover and the binding of the Scholastic edition are different, but the text is the same.
I don’t know the details of how it came about that Scholastic released the book first. I just know that the publishers came to an agreement for Scholastic to print their edition and sell it only through their reading program for a year before National Geographic released it. Now the book is available to everyone, which for me has seemed like a long time coming.
One of my favorite parts of the books in National Geographic’s readers series is the spread called “In Her [His] Time.” I’ve often said that I wasn’t too interested in history until I started reading biographies. Putting a real person into a time in history and seeing what it was like for a person living in that time gave me a whole new perspective about history. With the “In Her Time” section, I can give kids a peak at what it was like when the person I’m writing about was young. But sometimes those pages are hard to research.
When I started work on Mother Teresa, I was concerned about how I would find information about her childhood. She grew up in the 1910s in the city of Skopje in what is now Macedonia. The political circumstances in that territory were constantly changing and the area had endured two World Wars. I wondered how much of their history had survived all that change.
Other biographies about Mother Teresa had some background information that gave readers a sense of what it was like when she was growing up. But I was looking for particular details such as what kind of toys children played with at the time. What kind of transportation did they use and how did they dress?
I wouldn’t have worried if I had just remembered how helpful people are when I’m researching a book. For Mother Teresa, that help came from the Museum of the City of Skopje and the Mother Teresa Memorial House in Skopje. I contacted both with very specific questions. What type of toys did children play with at that time and what games did they play? How did people get around in the city and for short distances outside of the city? I’m assuming people at that time were using the telegraph, but what about mail service?
I sent my list of six questions to both the museum and the Mother Teresa Memorial House. Then just so they would understand why I was asking what may have seemed like oddball questions, I told them a little about the “In Her Time” spread in the book.
Their replies were amazing! They answered all my questions in great detail and the museum sent me additional information about the city. It helped me visualize Mother Teresa, who was then Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, as a young girl in Skopje.
Sometimes writing can seem like a lonely business, but my research always reminds me that I’m not in this alone. Putting together a biography is a collaborative effort, and I’m grateful to the Museum of the City of Skopje and the Mother Teresa Memorial House for their help in telling Mother Teresa’s story.