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Quirky Celebrations - November: National Button Day

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About the Author

About the Book

Quirky Celebrations - November: National Button Day

Zippers, Velcro and snaps are fine, but there’s something special about a classic button. These humble objects keep our pants up, close our winter coats and are a great thing to collect. They can come in any shape, size and color you can imagine, and they’re easy enough for anyone to sew. That’s why we’re excited to celebrate National Button Day (November 16) this year with a great book called THE CURSE OF THE BUTTONS by Anne Ylvisaker. In the book, Ike Button wants to fight in the Civil War, just like the other members of his family. But, at 11 years old, everyone says Ike is too young. Rather than stay at home with his remaining family, Ike disguises himself as a drummer boy and makes his way to join the Iowa First. But was joining the Union army a terrible mistake or an unexpected opportunity?

Learn more about THE CURSE OF THE BUTTONS in our interview with Anne, where she talks about her inspiration for the book, how she’s similar and different from Ike, and her own quirky collection. What was the inspiration for THE CURSE OF THE BUTTONS?

Anne Ylvisaker: I read these lines in an 1861 Keokuk, Iowa newspaper as I contemplated telling the Civil War era boyhood story of Ike Button, who appears a great-granddaddy in THE LUCK OF THE BUTTONS and BUTTON DOWN:

About one o’clock this morning, the longest, wildest, shrillest, most terrific steamboat whistle ever heard on these waters, startled those who were awake and awakened those who were asleep. It suggested fearful trouble. Jeannie Deans came up from Quincy, bringing orders from Gen. Lyon to Col. Curtis to move his regiment immediately to Hannibal…

I could see Ike waking up to that nighttime whistle and running to the river, but was he getting on that steamboat to go with the soldiers to war or would he be left behind? I wrote to find out.

KRC: In THE CURSE OF THE BUTTONS, Ike is disappointed that all of the males from his town except for him are allowed to fight for the Union. As a kid, were you ever left out of something that you really wanted to do?

AY: My family once drove from the city to a far away farm for a wedding. There were horses just beyond a split rail fence. I’d never been close to a horse before and I longed to ride one, but I was too young. I had an older sister who got to do lots of things before I did so I went through my childhood with that yearning to do what the older kids were doing.

KRC: Buttons is such a fun last name --- any story behind that choice?

AY: Several years ago, I visited the Pearl Button Museum in Muscatine, Iowa, the pearl button capital of the world. I bought a photo book about the town’s button history and played with story ideas without success.

Soon afterwards, I went on a picnic with some other writers in an Iowa cemetery and, with buttons on my mind, misread the timeworn inscription on a Civil War era tombstone as Tugs Button. Tugs Button --- what a name! I tried to write a story about a drummer boy named Tugs Button. Again, the idea went nowhere.  

When I revisited the cemetery the following spring I discovered the tombstone actually read Thos (short for Thomas)Britton. And so the idea hatched for a girl from a family so unlucky that they name their daughter after a misread tombstone. That story became THE LUCK OF THE BUTTONS, about Tugs Button who decides to become the first lucky person in her comically unlucky family.

KRC: In what ways are you similar to your protagonist, Ike? In what ways are you different?

AY: Like Ike, I’m prone to mishap. We both have close extended families with pie-baking aunties. But Ike is more daring than I am.

KRC: National Button Day celebrates button collectors across the country. Do you collect anything?

AY: Like Ike, I have a shelf of treasures. Mine is the windowsill in my little writing house. On it I keep my collections of small stones, shells and small animal sculptures. I’ve also been an avid collector of postcards since childhood.

The Curse of the Buttons
by Anne Ylvisaker

  • Publication Date: October 13, 2015
  • Genres: Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick
  • ISBN-10: 076368029X
  • ISBN-13: 9780763680299