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Sewing the Magic In: Interview with Lisa Olson

I think we can all relate to the magic of the circus. Lights, glitter, unseen wonders, and almost magic glinting in the unearthliness of it all that’s only a hairsbreadth away. Even now, as an adult, the circus holds a certain nostalgic charm. Of course, it’s a bit different now than it was when I was little. Cirque du Soleil wasn’t a thing until I had been to quite a few circuses already. But it still plays into the same emotions and ideas.

Lisa Olson manages to tap into that in her book, Sewing the Magic In, with illustrations by Lauren Rutledge. This is the second installment in her series entitled: American HerStory, a collection that focuses on specific points in American history. Set in the early 1900’s, Sewing the Magic In focuses on Nora, a young girl working as a seamstress for the circus, along with her mother and an elderly supervisor and also guru of sorts, Miss Maggie. Nora longs to be a part of the acts she sews for, finding the the monotonous task of sewing sequins and constructing elaborate costumes unfulfilling.  It’s not until Miss Maggie is able to show her how important her addition is to the whole illusion that Nora is able to see that their needles indeed sew the magic into the show.

It’s not easy to see the many contributions it takes to make a whole shining production but Olson does a fantastic job of smoothing this worthwhile lesson over the pages in an easy-to-digest format. The end product leaves a heart-warming and encouraging feeling lingering, even as the book ends. It’s a tale of the ever present search for self and worth and the ability to find the magic that shines through small actions.

Where did you come up with the inspiration for your books?  

I am constantly amazed at the tenacity of the human spirit and how people have coped during really tough times in our past.  I work in an elementary school as the secretary and I want our kids to know “there is always something positive you can do to impact others in every situation.”  It’s easy to get sucked up into the enormity of life and not think you could ever make a difference…like growing flowers in the midst of the Dust Bowl and your only motive is to bring a smile to your mother’s face. That’s what I like all my books to say. YOU ARE IMPORTANT!!! 

What kind of research did you need to do for Sewing the Magic In?

I spent many hours at The Circus World Museum in Baraboo, WI where all the “magic” of the Ringling Brothers Circus started!   I loved the costume displays from the 1900’s and would sit and immerse myself in that time period and scribble notes on my tablet…What fabrics did they use?  Who were  the performers who WORE those costumes?  The archivist for Circus World was extremely helpful with my historical questions and once I found out which building housed the costume department , I was able to stand at the actual second story window my “Nora” would’ve looked out and I could visualize what she might see.


Is Nora based on anyone you know?

Not specifically…but I think every one of us questions who we are and whether what we do makes any difference in the grand scheme of things.

Do you have your own Miss Maggie?

My mom, Gayle Gammon; she read everything I ever wrote and was instrumental in my becoming a writer.  She was my biggest motivator.  She passed before my first book went to print and I regret not getting to see the pride shining through her eyes as she read it.

Miss Maggie talks about she always wanted to work with horses but found out it wasn’t really suited for her. Have you had an attraction to a certain profession that you later realized wasn’t going to work?

Yes!  I wanted to be an Olympic Ice Skater…How easy they make it look!!! But weak ankles and zero athletic ability showed up at an early age and put those dreams to rest .  🙂

Do you have a technique for writing the magic into your stories?

Forests inspire me!!  I like to surround myself with nature when I’m working on a new book.  There is REAL magic all around us if you slow down enough to notice…like watching tiny rainbows glinting off dragonfly wings as they hover over the water…or the way an oak seed helicopters to the soft ground without making a sound…REAL magic!!

My fingers ached just thinking about attaching all those sequins. Do you sew?

I married into a Norwegian Farm Family where my amazing mother-in-law baked, canned, quilted, sewed and made everything from scratch!  She taught me how to sew when my three sons were small and I’ve been sewing ever since.   There is such a sense of accomplishment and pride when you create something beautiful with your own hands.


What’s your favorite circus act?

I am amazed by the strength, balance and focus it takes to be a performer on any of the high wire acts..  I also love the way some circus acts are family oriented and the talent is passed down from generation to generation.

Your series: Tales from American HerStory seem to focus on young girls from the earlier half of the 20th century. Is there a specific reason you chose this period in time? Why?

I’ve always been interested in history and reading stories of a really harsh time in our history and to see how people overcame great obstacles.  It gives me hope for the future.

What will your next book be based on?

The Cheese Song  is the third book in The American Herstory Series and is about the Orphan Train Riders In the late 1800’s….messages of hope, love and belonging.  There is also an environmental fantasy in my near future as well!  Who doesn’t LOVE pond spirits and talking trees!!  

When did you start writing?

Kindergarten!  I learned to read with Dick & Jane; Spot & Puff when I was five and I thought “That’s what I will write about when I grow up….Dick and Jane having lots and lots of adventures!”

Who is your favorite children’s author and illustrator? Why?

Beverly Cleary was and is still my all time favorite!  I also love Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling and the way their writing intertwines reality with fantasy.

For more about Lisa Olson check out her website: http://lisagammonolson.com

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