age range: 7-12
Tess Hilmo’s website
“Drawing on rich Western lore and creating characters as gritty as the earth itself, Hilmo paints a picture of a town where everyone is connected . . . A heartening, comforting story with enough tension to keep readers hooked.” – Kirkus Reviews
“A robust cast of well-developed characters and a delightful, swiftly moving plot will leave readers wishing for Jade to extend her stay in Wyoming.” – School Library Journal
Please tell us about your book.
Skies Like These is a fun, friendship-filled novel with a cowboy twist! It’s intended for the middle grade audience (ages 7-12).
What inspired you to write this story?
My husband and I celebrated our 40th birthday (which are just a couple of weeks apart) by taking our friends on a bus ride up the canyon by our home for a chuck wagon dinner party. At that party, a fun story about Butch Cassidy was told and I sat there under a breathtaking star filled sky thinking, “Wouldn’t it be fun to write a modern-day twist on a Butch Cassidy story?” And I did! Skies Like These was inspired by that fun night with friends – by the Western skies I am privileged to live under – and by the crazy tales of heroes gone by and heroes longing to be. I also think of it as a nod to The Great Brain series I loved so much growing up. It’s full of hijinx and outrageous fun!
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
Wyoming is a beautiful state, and I got to visit the original Butch Cassidy hide outs and follow his outlaw trail. What fun! One interesting thing I learned is that Butch Cassidy is considered the Robin Hood of the West. His fight was against the big cattle barons and rail road companies that were squeezing the life out of local ranchers. He often supported the less fortunate and he was a man of his word. There is one story where he was in camp and a member of his Wild Bunch gang brought in a stolen horse. When Butch learned the horse was stolen from a young boy in town, Butch made his co-cowboy take the horse back and apologize. He then made him walk many miles back to their hideout on foot as a punishment. He wasn’t just an outlaw cowboy, he was a NICE outlaw cowboy with a cause!
What are some special challenges associated with writing SKIES LIKE THESE?
The challenge for this novel was to write about a historical figure in a modern-day setting….to blend the two worlds of long ago and today and make it feel fresh, fun and interesting.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
There are so many! Here are a few great discussion topics:
1. What makes us who we are? Is it our heritage – where we come from and who our family is? Or is it what we do with each day we are given?
2. Roy says a line in the book, “I know you’re hurting and you have a choice. You can cowboy up and climb this tree or you can just lay there and bleed.” What are determining moments in our lives? How can we overcome our hurts and fears and show courage?
3. Is it better to take a risk or avoid all risks? How do we determine which risks are okay and which are too much? Have you ever felt like Jade and thought the perfect summer would be stretching out on the couch and watching old TV re-runs all day?
4. What would be your perfect summer vacation?