'My Louisiana Sky' celebrates 25th anniversary with regional tour

Twenty-five years ago, Kimberly Willis Holt debuted as a novelist with “My Louisiana Sky,” a tender story for middle-grade readers, set in rural Louisiana in the 1950s. The book, a modern classic, has been adapted for film and was inspired by an encounter Holt had at age 9 on the way to her grandmother’s house in Central Louisiana.

“We passed a woman on the road, who seemed different to me, but I couldn’t say why,” Holt said. “My mom explained that she was childlike and that she had a husband who was like that too. She also said they had children. I never forgot about that woman, and I often wondered about her children. Years later when I started to write, I thought about her, and the beginning of ‘My Louisiana Sky’ came to me. It was not her story, but her image and the things my mother had said that led me to write my first book.”

Holt, who now lives in Texas, was a military child and grew up around the world, including France and Guam. The one place her family returned, again and again, was the tiny town of Forest Hill, La., where Holt’s grandparents lived and the place she considers her childhood home. “My parents,” she says, “gave me wings, but their stories of my ancestral home gave me roots. I’m convinced that combination made me a writer.”

Author Kimberly Willis Holt with grand dog Newman.
Author Kimberly Willis Holt with grand dog Newman.

About the plot of “My Louisiana Sky”

Protagonist Tiger Ann Parker wants to get out of the rural town of Saitter, La.—far away from her mentally challenged parents and classmates who tease her relentlessly. When her grandmother dies, her aunt asks Tiger to live with her in Baton Rouge. But she finds that leaving her parents and the only home she’s ever known—changing her entire life—isn’t going to be that easy.

The anniversary celebration

“I’ve always hoped to write the kind of books that last and would continue to have meaning,” Holt said. “Knowing that, after 25 years, ‘My Louisiana Sky’ is still being read today is incredibly satisfying as a writer. I owe that to teachers and librarians who continue to introduce my work to young people.”

To express her appreciation, Holt invited Louisiana schools and libraries to apply to be stops on the anniversary tour and has planned a Louisiana speaking tour for April that will have her moving throughout the state. “The response was overwhelming,” she said. “I wish I could have selected every school.” And other schools were offered a free virtual visit.

“My Louisiana Sky” by Kimberly Willis Holt
“My Louisiana Sky” by Kimberly Willis Holt

Public talk planned in Rapides Parish

In addition to the school visits, Holt will speak at 4 p.m. April 11 at the J.W. McDonald branch of the Rapides Public Library in Glenmora. The event is open to the public.

New book set in Louisiana releases in summer

“The Hurricane Girls,” Holt’s 22nd novel, releases in August. Set on the Westbank of New Orleans, where Holt lived in her high school years, the book focuses on girls born the year of Hurricane Katrina, grouped together in a project that explores stories of Katrina. “Some of my friends shared their stories with me, and they are woven through the book,” Holt said. “The three friends in ‘The Hurricane Girls’ are facing personal storms of their own and learn how strong friendships can help them weather those storms together.”

The idea for the novel

“I've always wanted to write a story about friendship set on the Westbank.” she said. “To my knowledge, that part of New Orleans hasn't been explored much in literature. I have wonderful memories there, mainly because of the people, some of which I've stayed connected with… Like my characters, my friends and I loved crossing the Mississippi River to the French Quarter, sometimes sneaking across. Those were good days, and I know even though the middle grade girls in ‘The Hurricane Girls’are younger, the heart of those relationships is there.”

National Book Award winner

Holt is also the author of “When Zachary Beaver Came to Town,” which won the National Book Award and was made into a movie, and “The Ambassador of Nowhere Texas,” a post 9/11 companion to “When Zachary Beaver Came to Town,” now out in paperback. The plot of “The Ambassador of Nowhere Texas” is that decades after the Vietnam War and Toby’s life-changing summer with Zachary Beaver, Toby’s daughter Rylee is at a crossroads―her best friend has started pushing her away, just as Joe, a new kid from New York, settles into their small town. Rylee befriends Joe, whose father was a first responder on 9/11. The two unlikely friends soon embark on a project to find Zachary Beaver and reconnect him with Rylee's father almost 30 years later. This middle-grade novel is a tribute to friendships and explores the challenges of rebuilding what may seem lost or destroyed.

For more information about Holt, see www. kimberlywillisholt.com or follow her on Facebook or Instagram @KimberlyWillisHolt.

Columnist Judy Christie is the author of 18 books, including the fictional “Gone to Green” series and the nonfiction “Before and After: The Incredible Real-Life Stories of Orphans Who Survived the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.” Co-authored with Lisa Wingate, it is the true sequel to Wingate’s bestselling novel “Before We Were Yours.” For more about Christie, see www.judychristie.com or follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JudyChristieAuthor.

This article originally appeared on Shreveport Times: 'My Louisiana Sky' celebrates 25th anniversary with regional tour