Two Fairhope residents announce that their new book, Sophia’s Gift, won gold in the 2021 Human Relations Indie Book Awards for cultural human relations in children’s books. Artist Loran Chavez created vivid watercolor paintings to illustrate Sophia’s Gift, written by Karen B. Kurtz.
Based on a true story from Civil War-era Virginia, Sophia’s Gift follows Sophia Strauss, a child growing up in Culpeper in 1862. As Sophia and her mother, Caroline, nurse a wounded soldier back to health, they become good friends. When the soldier recovers enough to travel, he gives Sophia a China doll as a token of remembrance. Sophia names her new doll Grace Darling, after the popular British Victorian heroine, Grace Horsley Darling, and treasures her beloved plaything for the rest of her life. The original doll is preserved today at The American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia.
“The Human Relations Indie Book Awards recognizes indie authors who write on human relations topics ranging from personal journeys to family interactions, to professional human relations,” said director Susan Peterson from Las Vegas. “In Sophia’s Gift, the doll Grace Darling provides a source of strength for a girl and a wounded soldier in recovery. It’s a must-read that reminds us of the simple pleasure a doll can provide in trying times.”
Kurtz and Chavez nailed the content in Sophia’s Gift; their words and paintings tell the same story. Additionally, Chavez’s illustrations provide more in-depth explanations than the words, imparting a fuller meaning to the story.
“When Karen and I met,” Chavez said, “our personalities, thoughts, and passions united immediately. I am fascinated by history, so research was the biggest part of my work. I spent hours looking for all the things that would make the story come alive in a believable environment. I spent many days drawing, only to reject the concept, then beginning again with new ideas that sometimes came faster than I could paint.”
Kurtz’s inspiration for Sophia’s Gift dates to 2010, when she received the Coleman Award from United Federation of Doll Clubs (UFDC) in Kansas City, Missouri, to document the true stories of Civil War dolls with provenance (history of ownership). Kurtz and her photographer-husband, Mark, traveled to The American Civil War Museum to investigate dozens of dolls that curator Cathy Wright had arranged on white-covered tables.
“The doll Grace Darling immediately captivated me with her enchanting name, bright facial features, and well-preserved original 1860s costume,” Kurtz said. “I instinctively knew Grace Darling was extraordinary. I wanted to find out more.” The couple spent several days at the Museum documenting dolls and taking photos, then repeating the process at other museums and historical societies around the country.
“Grace Darling’s provenance was difficult to unravel,” Kurtz said, “because it was international in scope. Filling in the missing gaps meant investigating early doll manufacturing in Germany, checking and rechecking multiple locations in Virginia, and mulling over that casual turn of phrase ‘the English lighthouse keeper’s daughter’ in the provenance, which led to investigating the life and times of the doll’s namesake, Grace Horsley Darling, in the UK.”
The Kurtz’s published around 30 articles in leading American magazines and newspapers that highlighted their research findings. Civil War Times cited Kurtz’s work that “for the very first time, speaks to the everyday lives of women and children, not men and battles.”
“Publication in Civil War Times was pivotal,” Kurtz said. “Few books provide a glimpse into the daily life of women and children during the American Civil War. Fewer still talk about Jewish Confederates. These important realities invigorated my manuscript anew, eventually pulling it along to successful book publication.”
Sophia’s Gift is intended for children and families, Junior Collectors aged 8 to 17, and adult enthusiasts who are passionate about doll collecting, history, military, antiques, porcelain, and more. The 32-page hardcover book includes Provenance and Historical Note, color photos, and a map, in addition to Chavez’s vivid watercolor spreads.
Buy signed copies of Sophia’s Gift at https://sophiasgiftbook.com with PayPal or a credit card. Indicate in “Notes” how Kurtz should sign your books. A cost of $27 per book includes shipping.
Locally, the Flip Flop Book Shop in Daphne, Stockton Heritage Museum in Stockton, and History Museum of Mobile carry Sophia’s Gift.
Intellect Publishing of Point Clear, Alabama, is the publisher.