jeannine atkins and her friends, laura and rose

#15 in the Poetry Potluck Series, celebrating National Poetry Month 2010.

Why, yes. That would be Jeannine Atkins up there waving to us from atop that airplane. Of all our Potluck guests, Jeannine knows best how to make a dramatic entrance. And she’s not fashionably late or anything, which is quite surprising considering she had to travel back in time to bring us the two amazing women who appear in her poem: Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane.

Today, Jeannine is sharing an excerpt from her recently released verse biography, Borrowed Names. You may remember my singing its praises on its official pub day. Since then, it has earned yet another *starred review*, this time from Horn Book! We’re absolutely thrilled for this author/poet/professor who dares to defy publishing odds against poetry and historical fiction. Just as Rose Wilder Lane once flew over San Francisco Bay strapped to the wing of an airplane, these days Jeannine Atkins is flying high on well-deserved praise.

I’ll let Jeannine tell you all about her poem and recipe:


My new book, Borrowed Names: Poems about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C. J. Walker, Marie Curie, and their Daughters (Holt) has three parts. I chose a poem about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her only child, Rose, since Jama has written some great posts about the Little House books and their incarnation on television.

This poem is from the end of the section, written as if from the point of view of Rose. She left the Missouri farmhouse to go farther west than Pa Ingalls, her grandfather, ever did – Rose lived for years in California – then toured much of Europe and the Middle East as a journalist. Eventually Rose came back home and typed and rather heavily edited the beloved books Laura wrote by hand into orange-covered notebooks.

Who can discuss any kind of writing without mentioning procrastination? So here’s a take on that, which includes a dessert.

Not Today,

Mama says, There’s too much housework.

Please. Do not get sidetracked

by shirts that need pressing.

There will always be fine grime

on the china on the mantel,

corn to husk, cherries to pit, apples to core.

Ignore them. The dream begun under a tree

is sweeter than stories you tell yourself

over dirty dishes.

Life tempts most away from paper and pen,

but gently bring yourself back.

Who can resist gingerbread

with chocolate frosting,

but do you need to bake it now?         

If you must get out pots and pans,

come back and invite your distractions —

cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg — onto the page.

~ from Borrowed Names (Henry Holt, 2010), © 2010 Jeannine Atkins. All rights reserved.


I like gingerbread and I like chocolate frosting, but the combination doesn’t make me hungry. I’m more of a cookie person, so sticking with the ginger theme, here’s my favorite recipe for Hermit Cookies. If you happen to raise brown leghorn chickens, as Laura Ingalls Wilder did, please use their eggs. Otherwise, make do. The girl down the hill from us sells eggs under a sign Gwenny’s Hennys, and they’re good, but her dogs are kind of mean to mine (please note, egg entrepreneurs) so I usually buy local at the store.

Jeannine inherited the wooden spoon from her Grandmère.


Preheat oven to 350.

Combine: 3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon ginger
a few scrapes of fresh nutmeg, or about 1/4 teaspoon

Set aside. 

Cream one and a half sticks (3/4 cup) butter or margarine with 1/2 cup white sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar.

Beat in two eggs. 

Add the dry ingredients along with 1/4 cup molasses mixed with 2 tablespoons warm water. Mix well and fold in 2 cups of mixed dried fruit and nuts. I like a mix of raisins, apricots, and sliced almonds, since my husband is anti-walnut, which is more traditional. 

Spread the batter in two rows on a greased cookie sheet, shaping into strips about 9 x 4 inches, with a few inches in between as they will spread. Beat an egg, and paint this on top. It will make the cookies shine! 

Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes; adjust depending on how soft you want the Hermits. While they’re warm, cut the strips into bars to make about twenty cookies.

Hermit Cookies unbaked


Jeannine Atkins is an award-winning author, poet, historian, and educator who teaches Children’s Literature at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. In addition to Borrowed Names, she’s published numerous  books about other notable girls and women, including  Anne Hutchinson’s Way (FSG, 2007), Aani and the Tree Huggers (Lee & Low, 1995), and Mary Anning and the Sea Dragon (FSG, 1995). When not reading, writing, or daydreaming, Jeannine likes to swim, cross-country ski, knit, and spend time with her grown daughter. She blogs at Views from a Window Seat, where every post reads like poetry. We both love tea and cookies, Louisa May Alcott, and Paul McCartney (Jeannine is the only person I’m willing to share him with). You can find recent interviews with Jeannine here and here.


Copyright © 2010 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

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