Veeder: Turning my old poem into a children's book
"Coming Home" columnist Jessie Veeder explains how "Prairie Princess" came about after she moved back to her family's ranch, and why she wanted to publish it as a children's book now.
WATFORD CITY, N.D. — Ten years ago, I wrote a little poem that asked a young girl to show us around her home on the ranch.
I had just moved back to my family’s ranch in western North Dakota and was living in my grandma’s tiny brown house in the barnyard with my husband. The task I gave myself was to do all the things I used to do as a kid on this place: pick handfuls of wildflowers, ride our horses, take long walks up and down the creek, help work cows, eat Popsicles on the deck, linger outside doing nothing as much as possible and, of course, slide down a gumbo hill in the rain (which turned out to only be a good idea because it made a good story and I didn’t die…).
During that time, I was in a state of transition having just quit a full-time fundraising job and left town with my dogs and my husband for home on the ranch. I wasn’t positive I made the right decision, but then I hadn’t really been positive about much for those first seven or so years of my 20s.
What am I doing back here? What should I be doing back here? Should I take another desk job? Should I hit the road again or switch my career path entirely?
Should we try again for a baby? Should we give up? How is a grown-up supposed to behave?
I had no answers. All I knew is that it felt good to be in that little house trying to make something out of all those chokecherries I just picked. And it felt good to be on the back of a horse trailing cattle to a new pasture with my dad and husband.
It felt good to take the time to throw sticks in the creek and watch them float with the direction of the little stream. And then I sometimes wished that I were that stick, letting the current take me where it will. Or maybe the house cat, the one that used to be the kitten we rescued from the barn, growing up with no concerns except about being a cat. If only being human was that simple.
But we make it complicated, and so I found that channeling the 8-year-old version of myself helped balance me a bit. I spent so much of that summer writing it all down.
That’s how "Prairie Princess" was born. Because I wanted that little girl to show me around this place, to tell me the way she sees it — catching snowflakes on her tongue, helping with chores, dancing along the ridgeline and singing at the top of her lungs. Just like I used to.
I tucked that poem away then, but kept it in the back of my mind as I found my direction and became a mother to two little girls who looked exactly like the Prairie Princess I envisioned in that poem.
And so, 10 years later, I decided it was time to make that poem come to life in the form of a children’s book, so the voice of that little girl could help other kids see the special connection and responsibility we have to the land.
I took photos of my own little girls on the ranch and used them as inspiration for the artist who so beautifully illustrated it. And now it’s here, the book is finally in hand, after all these years.
To celebrate, I am visiting libraries, museums and other venues across the state to read the book, talk about sense of place and conduct a creative workshop that encourages kids to express themselves through art and poetry. And I hope I will see you out there.
Even if you don’t have a child to bring with you, I believe this story will help you remember what it was like when the world felt wide open and magical and all for you.
I hope you know it still is…
'Prairie Princess' book tour schedule
- 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 15, at Grand Forks Public Library
- 4:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 21, at Door 204 in Watford City
- 2 p.m. Jan. 22 at Minot Public Library
- 1 p.m. Jan. 29 at Valley City Barnes County Public Library
- 2 p.m. Jan. 30 at Fargo Public Library (downtown main branch)
For more tour dates and information, visit jessieveedermusic.com .
Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.