THE FREEMAN FIELD PHOTOGRAPH: Interview with Bryan Patrick Avery (+GIVEAWAY)

I love it when fascinating, true stories inspire fiction for children. A brand new picture book called THE FREEMAN FIELD PHOTOGRAPH is a wonderful example. Join me in welcoming author Bryan Patrick Avery to Picture Book Builders! Bryan’s rhythmic language and Jerome White’s charming illustrations are full of emotion.


Inspired by Bryan’s grandfather, this book is set in 1945. A little girl named Sidney becomes worried about her father. He is a Tuskegee Airman who gets arrested after protesting segregation at the Freeman Army Airfield. Sidney has a cute dog who stays by her side throughout the story. After her father’s arrest, Sidney grabs her camera and runs to get a photograph of him before he is taken away on a plane. As the story unfolds, young readers will see the importance of being proactive and standing up for what’s right.

The story also celebrates the power of a photograph. As Bryan writes in his Author’s Note: “My grandfather’s photograph is proof that even something small (like a camera in a shoebox) can make a big difference.”

My favorite lines from the main picture book text:

Sidney turned toward the loud rumble of the plane as it roared to life. She watched the plane through tears as it rolled down the runway, climbed into the sky, and carried Daddy away.

Now let’s hear from Bryan!

What was your main inspiration for writing THE FREEMAN FIELD PHOTOGRAPH? 

As a kid, I knew that my grandfather was a Tuskegee Airman, but it wasn’t until I was in high school that I learned about his role in the Freeman Field Mutiny.

If you’re not familiar with the history behind it, in 1945 over 100 Black officers in the U.S. Army Air Corps were arrested at Freeman Army Airfield for refusing to accept the Jim Crow regulations on the base. This was during World War II, and refusing to carry out orders was an offense which could be punishable by death.

The day these brave officers were arrested, they were lined up on the flight line awaiting transport off the base. They had no idea where they were being taken or if they would see their families again. As they waited, they saw the military police confiscating and destroying cameras. They worried that this event would be swept under the rug and their sacrifice would be in vain. That’s where my grandfather comes into the picture.

His name was Harold J. Beaulieu, Sr., and he was the Non-Commissioned Officer in charge of the photography lab at Freeman Field. He figured that no one would permit photos to be taken so he hid a camera in a shoe box and secretly documented the event. One of his photographs appeared on the front page of the national edition of the Pittsburgh Courier on April 28, 1945. It led to a huge public outcry. The officers were released and the squadron commander was replaced. This event helped pave the way for the integration of the U.S. Armed Forces.

This a picture that Bryan’s grandfather took.

There isn’t much written about this important moment in American history (and there’s nothing written about it for children) so I wanted to create a story that shed light on these events in a way that children could understand and appreciate.

I’m so glad you did. Tell us about your writing process for this book. 

This book actually started as a part of a speech I give about the Tuskegee Airmen and their contribution to history. I had been talking to schools and youth groups for about 10 years before I finally decided to write a picture book about it.

I decided early on that I wanted the book to feature a child as the main character so I outlined a story that was fictional but set against the backdrop of the Freeman Field Mutiny. I always write the first draft of my books in a notebook, then I move on to revising, which I do on my computer. I have more than 30 drafts of the book on my computer.

What was it like working with your editor and the illustrator?   

Before I was offered the contract, Callie Metler (the publisher at Spork) asked me to revise the story a bit. We went back and forth with revisions for a few weeks before I got the contract in hand.

Then, attention turned to finding an illustrator. My editor, Dr. Mira Reisberg, identified several before finally settling on Jerome White. My experience with the illustrator was pretty unique as far as picture books go. Because this story was so personal, I was able to work directly with Jerome. We set up a folder where I could share photographs and other information relating to the book, and the editor shared videos of her working sessions with Jerome as the book went from sketches through final art. It was really cool to watch the book come together in real time.

Very cool – sounds like an innovative approach. What are your top 3 tips for writing picture books? 

  1. Write about something you love. You’ll be spending a lot of time with the book so make sure you can be as passionate about it once it’s published as you are when you start writing.
  2. Be prepared to let go. Writing a book can be a pretty solitary activity. Publishing a book is not. It takes a whole team of people. Many of them will have ideas that differ from yours. Listen to them. Often times, those ideas will help shape the book in ways you never imagined.
  3. Which brings me to my last tip: The book isn’t yours alone. The illustrator, editor, art director, and so many others play key roles in turning your manuscript into a book that goes out into the world. Remember to mention them when you talk about the book. Without them, your book might still be a manuscript hidden away on your computer.

What’s new and exciting? 

This will be a busy summer. In addition to publicity for THE FREEMAN FIELD PHOTOGRAPH, I’ll be doing events for the paperback edition of SUPER PUZZLETASTIC MYSTERIES, a short story anthology edited by Chris Grabenstein. The hard cover is available now. The paperback will be out at the end of July.

In early August, the first four books of my early chapter book series, MR. GRIZLEY’S CLASS, will be released by Picture Window Books. It features a diverse class of creative and caring students who work together to solve problems. I can’t wait to for the world to meet them all!

I’ll be looking for it; I can’t wait to meet them too. Congratulations!!

Bryan Patrick Avery’s website & Twitter

Jerome White’s website & Twitter

***GIVEAWAY***

For a chance to win a copy of THE FREEMAN FIELD PHOTOGRAPH, please leave a comment by June 25. I’ll announce the randomly selected winner in my next post.

Thanks for reading & see you next time!

–Michelle

Michelle Meadows

Michelle Meadows is the author of many acclaimed books for children. She loves dreaming up new projects and telling stories with heart. Connection, compassion, and family are common themes in Michelle's work. Michelle's latest books are FLYING HIGH: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles and BRAVE BALLERINA: The Story of Janet Collins. Her other books include HIBERNATION STATION, SUPER BUGS, and PIGGIES IN PAJAMAS. Michelle graduated from Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism and literature. She is represented by literary agent Rosemary Stimola of the Stimola Literary Studio. Michelle grew up in Washington, D.C. She now lives near the beach in Delaware with her husband and son. To learn more about Michelle's books, visit her website: michellemeadows.com

24 Comments:

  1. Looking forward to reading Bryan’s The freeman Field photograph. It sounds like an interesting book.

  2. Bryan, I am grateful for people such as your grandfather. If it weren’t for heroes who photograph and document events, the truth has the potential to slip away or under the rug. Children will be the beneficiaries of your important book. Thank you for getting this story into the hands and hearts of children.

  3. Such lovely words. Thank you for sharing your grandfather’s story through a young daughter’s eyes.

  4. How cool! Thanks for sharing!

  5. So exciting to see a moment in history that most adults, let alone children, don’t know about come to light. What an inspiring story!

  6. This looks fabulous. As a photographer I can so appreciate preserving history through pictures and such an important story that needs to be shared. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Debra Kempf Shumaker

    Thanks for writing this book. I had never heard about this historic moment and can’t wait to read more about it.

  8. Looking forward to reading your story, Bryan. It’s so important to tell these stories to children so they won’t be forgotten. And thanks for sharing your writing process and tips! Best wishes with your new creative ventures.

  9. I’m a huge fan of books exposing overlooked history, and Bryan, this was certainly the story you were meant to tell! So fascinating. BEST of luck with everything you have going!

  10. I love books that shed light on a forgotten historical event!

  11. danielle hammelef

    This is a powerful and important book! I only wish American curriculum included historical events like this one. Photographs have always served me well for inspiration and I thank you for the reminder to stretch my creative mind using photos as writing prompts.

  12. Bryan, how wonderful that you’ve been teaching kids this bit of history even before you wrote the book! You were born into the perfect family. It looks beautiful, esp. through the eyes of a child, what courage it takes to stand up for what’s right. And your CB series sounds delightful. Congratulations!!! And Michelle, thank you for a great interview.

  13. What a lovely and important tribute to your grandfather!

  14. Thank you for the window into history and I loved reading about your creative process!

  15. These series of events needs to be told. I’m thrilled that Bryan wrote this book and it will be in the hands of children.

  16. This book looks wonderful! What a story!

  17. Bryan, thank you for sharing your story. Thank you to your grandfather and his family for serving our country. This story may be fiction but I believe it is true life because it comes from a place of memories, love, and the heart. Thank you.

  18. Such a fascinating story…and such a tender cover. Congratulations!

  19. Book looks great, look forward to reading it!

  20. What an amazing story. I will be looking for this one. Thanks for telling me about the book and how it came to be.

  21. I was not familiar with the Freeman Field Mutiny. I am always amazed by people who stand up for what’s right at great personal risk. Thank you for more people aware of this story.

  22. Thank you for shining a light on this untold story, Bryan. I’m looking forward to learning more about it. Congratulations!

  23. Cynthia Wyszynski

    This sounds fascinating! Can’t wait to read it!

  24. This makes me wonder about all the untold stories sitting out there for the rest of us to discover and write about! congrats Bryan on all your writing!

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