My Grandmother Krehbiel’s storm cellar was full of cobwebs, spiders, and sometimes snakes! Like Velma Jean, I was not partial to storm cellars! Still, Grandma’s storm cellar inspired my book, The Bravest of Us All.
I included some of my father’s boyhood memories in the book. Old Peddler Jack was modeled from a combination of peddlers my father had met as a boy. The peddlers came by his family’s farm to barter. They carried thread, pencils, salves, and books. His parents had “old radiators, old batteries, and old hens” to give in return.
I also included some of my childhood memories—walking across sandburs, the moss in the stock tank, and picking sandhill plums.
Brad Sneed, the illustrator of The Bravest of Us All, lives in Kansas. When we first met in 2002 at the Children’s Literature Festival in Warrensburg, Missouri, we shared lots of Kansas stories. Brad asked me if the name Lecklieder in The Bravest of Us All was a name of someone I knew. I told him it was the name of the family who lived down our country road. It turns out Brad actually knows the grown-up, married Lecklieder girl, the young girl who once lived down the road from me! It is a small world!
When I began thinking in earnest about The Bravest of Us All, I asked my father and my aunt Ruby to write down their memories of Grandmother’s storm cellar. My Aunt Ruby wrote to me on May 3, 1994:
“Our storm cellar, situated immediately outside the kitchen door, was a secure haven from summer tornado and strong winds. It was constructed of concrete. The curved roof above the ground was covered with earth which washed away regularly with every deluge. A vent pipe protruded from the roof – allowing ventilation for the room below. There was a shield, resembling that of a triceratops, at the stairway end. This probably saved us many times from toppling into the depths of the stairwell. What a delightful place for playing! With only a little imagination it could be a covered wagon, a capsized boat, or a mountain top just conquered.
Originally, a door opened on top of the ground to allow access to the room underground but perhaps, during a strong wind, it was torn from its hinges, never to be replaced. Steps led to a wooden door at the base of the stairs. This door had a small square window covered with a wire mesh. Through this, your Grandpa observed the progress of the storm.
The room itself was usually empty. There was a cement ledge along one wall a few feet off the floor; however, we did not use our storm cellar for storing canned goods nor as a root cellar. Grandma did put it to good use when she put boxes of straw on the floor for the setting hens and their eggs. The hens were sometimes as frightening as the weather! It was cool, dark and quiet and I’m sure they were upset that we were intruding.
When your Grandpa indicated the clouds were severe and threatening, Grandma hurriedly led, carried and shoved us eight children into the cave—often in our night clothes.
It felt like an eternity before Grandpa gave us the “all clear”. We were usually drenched and cold when we returned to the house. We didn’t always come out unscathed. Several storms damaged roofs, lean-to porches and moved small buildings off their foundations, but always, the house itself was found in tact and for that we were grateful.
Your grandparents really were Henry and Emma from Kansas and survived numerous tornadoes.
P.S. The storm cellar was commonly referred to as “The Cave.”
Old Peddler Jack was modeled from a combination of peddlers my father wrote me about in a 1985 letter, long before I thought of or started writing The Bravest of Us All:
“The 1929 stock market break brought many evangelists, hobos, and peddlers to the rural area and we certainly weren’t exempt on the “Cleveland Ridge”. We rural people could live “off the land” which wasn’t easy sometimes, but possible. The folks were cautious with the migrants but didn’t seem to have any fear and we never had any trouble.
The hobos were fed eggs and potatoes on the porch.
Usually they had many stories to tell and questions to answer. If it was late in the day they were allowed to stay the night in the barn.
“Buecher Barr” the salesman who sold books by buggy will always be remembered. His buggy was an enclosed rectangular type buggy with drop curtains. It was drawn by two slender built small horses which were identical. “Buecher Barr” in Swiss German, meaning “Book Bear”. Barr must have been his last name. He always wore a black suit and was rather short of stature. Wore a white shirt with a stuffy collar. This was one gentleman that didn’t sleep in the barn. He slept in the spare bedroom with the dignity that he seemed to portray. He always stayed a day or two – no questions asked. He sold mostly religious books, illustrated with 15-16th century drawings.”
Awards and Honors
- Atlanta Parent Monthly Best Books of 2000
- Bill Martin, Jr. Picture Book Award nominee, Kansas Reading Association, 2001
- Missouri Show Me Readers Award Nominee 2002-2003
- 2001 Missouri Reading Circle (reading list sponsored by Missouri Reading Assoc.)
- Tennessee Volunteer State Award nominee
- Mississippi Magnolia award nominee
- 150 Best Kansas Books, selected for the Kansas Sesquicentennial by Kansas State Library
School Library Journal
“A simple story told with the authenticity of oft-told family history is set in Midwestern farm country…”
The Sonoma County Independent
“So begins Marsha Diane Arnold’s emotionally complex new picture book, featuring the rich and evocative illustrations of Brad Sneed. Arnold…has fashioned a reputation as the writer of children’s books that adults can’t wait to read aloud to their kids and grandkids….”
“This picture book connects the terror of the storm with a family story of courage and love.”
“…..this title offers a fresh twist on the twister tale. When the storm has blown past, readers are left with the message that bravery and cowardice are far less important than sisterly compassion and loyalty.”
The Kansas City Star
“….folksy, affectionate tale about courage. Just looking at the children’s sunburned faces rekindles the relentless heat and wind of a summer afternoon out in the fields. Any child who has ever experienced the dank mystery of a storm cellar, with its curious door that opens straight up from the ground, will enjoy its role in the story’s exciting climax.”