Authors & Illustrators
Mary Morton Cowan
Award-winning author, Mary Morton Cowan, has focused on writing for young readers for more than twenty-five years. She is a native of Maine and a graduate of Bates College, where she concentrated her studies in English and Music. Cyrus Field’s Big Dream: The Daring Effort to Lay the First Transatlantic Telegraph Cable, is her second biography.
Earlier books include: Captain Mac: the Life of Donald Baxter MacMillan, Arctic Explorer, which received multiple awards, including the National Outdoor Book Award and the Society of School Librarians International Honor Book Award; Timberrr… A History of Logging in New England, for which she was awarded a work-in-progress grant by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and which received Maine Library Association’s Lupine Honor Award; and a historical novel, Ice Country.
Her articles and stories have been published in more than eighty issues of children’s magazines, including Highlights for Children and Cobblestone. Several have been reprinted in textbooks and anthologies, some are included in reading comprehension programs for standardized tests, and a few are online.
Mary has long been involved in child development and education. She has taught piano and organ lessons, assisted in school reading and writing programs, worked in informal educational youth organizations, and served as a library aide. For many years, she lived in Rochester, New York, and was active in the Rochester Area Children’s Writers and Illustrators group (RACWI). Since moving back to Maine, she has taught adult education writing courses and served as a career mentor for middle- and high-school students. A member of Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance and SCBWI, Mary is a visiting author in schools and speaks to a variety of community groups. She and her husband live near Sebago Lake in Maine. Visit marymortoncowan.com
An Interview with Mary Morton Cowan
Q. Where did you get the idea to write about the first transatlantic telegraph cable?
A. On a trip to Newfoundland and Labrador, I toured the Cable Station Provincial Historic Site at Heart’s Content. I found it fascinating that a cable not much thicker than a garden hose could be laid on the ocean floor all the way from Europe to North America—and people could communicate through it!
Q. Why did you focus on Cyrus Field?
A. His determination and courage captured my attention. Laying the cable was his dream, his passion. Cyrus was no scientist, but he recruited the best experts in the world and forged ahead, risking his fortune and risking lives. Thousands of workers and crew members became involved, eventually accomplishing one of the most amazing technical achievements of the nineteenth century.
Q. Why do you write about history and historical characters?
A. I strive to give young readers a glimpse of relatively unknown history and bring historical figures to life—and I like adventurous chapters of history. This book is full of daring adventure!
Q. What was it like researching events that took place more than 150 years ago?
A. Young readers deserve accurate information, so I search for primary sources wherever I can. I consulted experts in the field, communicated with a few of Cyrus Field’s descendants, visited Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where Cyrus grew up, and walked in the woods where he hiked as a young boy. I read books written by his family members and portions of his unfinished autobiography, plus letters, speeches, diaries, and expedition logs written by Cyrus and others. I found hundreds of newspaper articles from the 1850s and ’60s. The cable made headlines throughout North America and Europe! As always, I found discrepancies, which made me dig deeper, and I ended up with more than 800 sources. In addition, I searched for colorful tidbits by studying historical paintings and photographs and other artifacts. And I recalled my trip across the Atlantic Ocean by ship, being tossed about in a frightening hurricane.
Q. What does the story of the first transatlantic telegraph cable mean to us today?
A. Can you imagine living without computers and cell phones? Without texting? Without instant access to social media? In Cyrus Field’s time, it took weeks to send news across the ocean. He struggled for years to achieve “instant” communication between North America and Europe. The transatlantic cable became a critical link in the first worldwide communication network. We now take instant communication for granted, and it is important to learn about its early history and its pioneers. Cyrus Field’s Big Dream helps tell the story and invites numerous enrichment possibilities.