The cover of “Lucky Year” includes artwork of Madison. “Lucky Year” was originally written by Dorothy Aldis and revised and annotated by JoAnne Spiller. (Submitted photos)
The cover of “Lucky Year” includes artwork of Madison. “Lucky Year” was originally written by Dorothy Aldis and revised and annotated by JoAnne Spiller. (Submitted photos)

Special to the Courier

A 1950 children’s novel set in 1850 Madison has been revamped with pictures and newspaper clippings from history archives, a larger format and corrections.

JoAnne Spiller, the education director at the Jefferson County Historical Society’s History Center, spent two years making “Lucky Year” more interesting for children, more useful for teachers and more accurate for anyone who might use it as a resource.

“She (the author) intended for this book to be a fiction,” Spiller said, adding that even a fiction book should be accurate. For example, a steamboat race is described in the book, but Spiller could not find that one actually took place when the book said it did. The book said the Ohio River froze over in 1851, but Spiller was unable to find documentation that it did.

The new soft-bound book, a digital version for use in the classroom and a digital teacher’s guide are free to third-grade teachers in Jefferson County. Other professionals can buy the book for $15 and get the guide free, and others can buy the book for $18 and also get the free guide. The books are available at the History Center, 615 West First St. (where the red caboose is). There will be a reception and book signing at the History Center from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10.

Spiller has used the book, written by the late Illinois author Dorothy Aldis, as part of her education program for the 20 years she has been at the History Center. The original was a standard-sized hardback book with no pictures.

She could tell that children were not totally engaged with it when she went to their classrooms. And she began suspecting that some of the “facts” were wrong. When the copyright on the book expired, Spiller got to work.

She did not rewrite the book, but she did retype it into her computer, then went through the printout page by page marking all the “facts” and then checking them. She went to the Indiana Historical Society and the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis; scoured microfilms; pored over files in the History Center’s archives; got genealogy help from the History Center’s archives staff; and called people who might have information.

She wrote a digital teacher’s guide that has the corrections, information that she could not fit into the book, hands-on activities related to the book and the specific state academic standards that are met for third-graders in English, music, math, art, physical education, social studies and science.

Third grade is when Indiana pupils learn about local history. But Aldis’ book has words that today’s third-graders probably never heard before, hampering their understanding of the story, so Spiller’s teacher’s guide includes a short list of words to learn for each chapter. Aldis also wrote about things like fences in yards to keep out pigs. “Some of these kids don’t live downtown,” Spiller said, so they have not seen the kind of fences people put up back then. In the archives she found two old pictures of fences in Madison to put in the book.

Spiller started using the new book and guide Sept. 19. So far she has used them at schools, including Lydia Middleton Elementary, Anderson Elementary, Pope John Elementary and Christian Academy of Madison. Her full program in a classroom takes 90 minutes.

The plot of the novel is the year leading up to a real event, the April 11, 1851, performance in Madison of Swedish opera star Jenny Lind. Whether the family the novel is about will be able to buy tickets depends on whether they have a good hog year. The story follows them on a hog drive from Columbus, Indiana, to Madison, which was a major pork center, and through the performance, which was inside a cleaned-up pork house.

Production costs for the book were paid by the Rogers Family Memorial Historical Research Fund.