Monica S. Baker was born in the San Francisco, California, Bay Area, lived and studied in sunny South America and in the frigid, but stunning upper midwest. For over twenty years (she started when she was 5), she worked on wildly fun marketing assignments, which exposed her to exotic places like Cambodia and interesting movements, such as the Underground Railroad. In 2005, she decided it was time to get serious about a book she had started, so she began working on Freestyle, her first novel. She also started writing issues for Science Weekly, the award-winning publication that is read and used in schools across the United States. She now works out of her home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, which she shares with her husband, three rambunctious teenagers, a hairy dog, a lazy cat, and anything else the cat brings home.
Monica S. Baker
When Mitchell Burke goes to sleep he is transported to a Delaware meadow shared by Patty Cannon, an eighteenth-century villain known for using and abusing runaway Southern slaves. It is a strange experience for him, but stranger still is when he emails his father, who is serving in Iraq. His father seems to know all about the time travel and encourages Mitchell to protect Josiah, the young slave boy Patty likes to abuse. In the early chapters of this novel, the transitions from contemporary to historical settings are not smooth. Mitchell is a two-dimensional character caught between his swim team and his dreams rather than a multifaceted personality shifting between time periods. But by the middle chapters, Mitchell’s situation escalates, his sister becomes involved and he meets those men and women who will be significant characters in the Underground Railway. As he listens to advice from his swim coach and fights to save himself from Patty, there is more to hook readers into the situation and the dilemma that he faces. Mitchell’s problem-solving adds both intrigue and suspense as he develops into a more realistic character caught in an inexplicable situation. Young middle school readers may ask a lot of questions about the unexplained time travel, but the historical information is solid and gives a peek into the lives of those who rebelled against the institution of slavery. Readers well versed in science fiction will not be satisfied, but for others, this may prove to be a worthwhile introduction to the genre. 2010, Schiffer Publishing, Ages 9 to 12, $14.99. Reviewer: Janis Flint-Ferguson (Children’s Literature).
Monica has created an interactive presentation around her middle-grade novel Freestyle, which provides a peep into her writing process. Monica brings students on a journey by engaging them in conversation, in readings from Freestyle, and in a short writing exercise of their own. She is willing to adapt her presentation to the age or curriculum requirements of the audience.
The presentation begins when Monica asks, “How many of you have ever been on the Underground Railroad?” Surprisingly, many 21 century students think they have! She leads into a short history of the Underground Railroad and of Patty Cannon, infamous slave kidnapper and murderer who ran a “Reverse Underground Railroad” in the early 1800’s.
Monica describes where inspiration can take an author and the line of questioning an author might follow. She discusses layered plots and how some sink into each other like custard on sponge cake while others sit pretty like whipped cream on chocolate torte. Freestyle offers many layers and gnarly twists, so when does an author know to cut back or to “crank things up?”
In Freestyle, Mitch experiences the agony of a runaway slave on the Underground Railroad. Can the students relate to Mitch? What would it feel like to be him? Monica guides the discussion with questions and with excerpts from Freestyle. She asks the children to imagine being a slave. “What do you think it was like to walk in their steps?” Imagine trying to escape. “Who could you trust?” Then, she asks them to imagine preparing to escape on the Underground Railroad. “What one thing would you take?” She asks them to write two sentences explaining what they would take and why. If time permits, select students can read their sentences aloud. Otherwise, they can take them back to share in the classrooms.
- Presentation length: 45 minutes
- Local Fee: $300 for one, $500 for two, $700 for three
- Out of town Fee: $400 for one or $600 for two presentations in one school, same day + travel expenses (negotiable pending travel schedule)
To learn more about Monica S. Baker and her publications please visit www.monicasbaker.com.