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INTERVIEWS:

Knockin' On Wood

By Lynne Barasch
Illustrations by Lynne Barasch

Lynne Barasch photo

"In the process of writing the writer lives with his or her characters, whether real or fictional," says author/illustrator Lynne Barasch. "Peg Leg Bates was my companion during the four months I spent writing Knockin' On Wood." This title marks Lynne Barasch's debut with LEE & LOW BOOKS and tells the story of Peg Leg Bates, the legendary one-legged tap dancer. Barasch talks about how impressed she was with the man she had chosen to write about as she did research for her story. "His personality swept me along as I wrote," says the author. "I first heard him speak in a video interview and was overwhelmed by his humor." Bates lost one of his legs in a factory accident when he was twelve years old. Despite his disability, he went on to become one of the most famous tap dancers of the twentieth century. "Although he was realistic and direct in his description of the social and physical adversities that he faced throughout his life, Peg Leg's joyous spirit was irresistible," says Barasch. "A true showman, he had a touch of mischief in his soul when he said, 'no one's ever caught up with me and there's a lot that's tried.'"

Barasch also painted the illustrations for the book, with some valuable help from her daughter, Cassie. Cassie had spent several years tap dancing when she was young, and Barasch talks about how this helped fuel the idea for a story about Peg Leg Bates. "I watched all of Cassie's lessons and did some sketching while she and her teacher danced," says Barasch. "Even though the seed had been planted, the idea for the book didn't come until years later." Barasch remembers how her daughter's instructor would speak of all of the tap dancers he had worked with over the years. "Peg Leg Bates was at the top of his list," says the author. "I even remember seeing Peg Leg Bates on the Ed Sullivan show when I was a child and remember the amazement that I felt." When it came time to create the sketches for Knockin' on Wood, Barasch's daughter posed for each of the dance steps.

When asked if she had learned anything surprising in her research, Barasch said, "The only thing that surprised me about Peg Leg Bates' story was the high regard his colleagues had for his technical mastery of tap. He was a tapper's tap dancer, with two legs or one." It was Bates' strength and perseverance that affected Barasch most while writing the story, and it was what she wanted to convey most to readers. "If I had to single out one thing that this story says to me it would be: The pursuit of an art has the power to carry you through life no matter what obstacles may present themselves. There is no finer endeavor." The author smiles, recalling these words from Peg Leg Bates, now gone but not forgotten: "Tap dancing was my life. Tap dancing is my life. Tap dancing will be my life the longest day I live."

About This Title

Guided Reading:

Q

Lexile:

AD880L

Interest Level:

Grades 1 - 5

Reading Level:

Grades 3 - 3

Themes

Nonfiction, Identity/Self Esteem/Confidence, Overcoming Obstacles, History, Dreams & Aspirations, Discrimination, Dance, Disability, African/African American Interest, Biography/Memoir, Persistence/Grit, Optimism/Enthusiasm, Pride

Collections

Fluent Dual Language , Fluent English, Biography and Memoir Grades 3-6, Appendix B Diverse Collection Grades 3-6, Nonfiction Grades 3-6, Art and The Arts Collection , Black History Collection, Grades K-2, African American English Collection Grades PreK-2, Persistence and Determination Collection, English Guided Reading Level Q

African American Collection English 6PK

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