Marsha Amstel has practiced psychotherapy and family therapy in the Putnam County area for the past 30 years. Her office is in Putnam Valley, New York, and her favorite activities include walking, snowshoeing, and kayaking—very near the route that Sybil Ludington rode so long ago.
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
I loved Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, and I read every one of the Nancy Drew books. It’s easy to see how the combination of horse stories and stories about brave adventurous young girls might have led to wanting to write about Sybil Ludington.
What’s your favorite line from a book?
I have always loved the last line from Charlotte’s Web: “It is not often that someone comes along that’s a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”
Why did you want to become an author or illustrator?
I first encountered the Sybil Ludington statue in Carmel, New York, shortly after my family moved to Putnam County, many years ago. I loved it at first glance. It’s so full of movement and feeling and energy. I realized I had never seen a monument-type statue of a woman. It’s always men—usually presidents or generals. Of course, this sends a message to girls, without them even realizing it. The message is that all the heroic deeds in history were accomplished by men. I was so taken with the statue that I became interested in telling the story of Sybil, but I always felt that there is a story about the story. The first line in my book says, “history is not alwys fair. How come everyone has heard about Paul Revere, but not Sybil?” I think that the story of Sybil offers the opportunity to teach children that history can be pretty subjective, and that important truths can be minimized or lost.
Sybil’s story is important, and she is an important role model for girls. Women are underrepresented in traditional history texts, and this is equally true of other minority groups. The story of Sybil offers the opportunity to teach this lesson to young children without being “preachy.”
Do you have any advice for future authors or illustrators?
I am a great believer in the old advice of “write the story you would want to read.”