4-H Fix: JoJo Thoreau
By Ron Drum, Statewide 4-H Program Professional/Associate Director 4-H Resource Development
Maine is known for her famous authors: Stephen King, Annie Proulx, David McCullough, JoJo Thoreau.
What!? Never heard of JoJo Thoreau? Why, she is Maine’s newest recipient of a Western Writers Association Spur Award, one of the most prestigious awards in American literature! JoJo Thoreau won the 2016 Best Western Storyteller Spur for her illustrated children’s book entitled Buckaroo Bobby Sue. Others who’ve won Spurs in 2016 include prolific writer Joe R. Lansdale (Best Western Historical Novel) and Pulitzer Prize winner T.J. Stiles (Best Western Biography).
JoJo Thoreau, a Waldo County native, has been writing for years. This nationally known author has spoken about the importance of reading to more than 7,000 Maine students and adults in schools, libraries, and during book signings. She has also given presentations in Massachusetts; during the Western Writers Association conference providing a book reading for children and speaking on the importance of supporting literacy; on a panel of writers at the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas; and during a conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
When she is relaxing at home, you’ll often find Boots and Trigger, JoJo Thoreau’s two feline friends, relaxing with her.
And by the way, being eleven makes her the youngest recipient of a Spur!
Here she is in Cheyenne, WY, in June, accepting her prestigious award and being congratulated by John T. Wayne, author and grandson of the movie star John Wayne, who was thrilled when he learned that she knew who his grandfather was!
So just how does an eleven-year-old write a book, get it published, meet John T. Wayne and other celebrities, AND win an award? According to Tiffany, Lydia’s mom, “Her independent 4-H writing project helped her with the learning tools needed to write and publish Bendy-Wendy.” And it just goes to show, practice really does make perfect since it was her second book that received the Spur.
“I used to get really upset when I thought I was bad at something because it didn’t come out the way I wanted it to. Then through my 4-H Cloverbud group, I learned about Benjamin Franklin and how many times his experiments failed, but he kept on trying until he got it right,” Lydia explained. “I’m glad that he never gave up on his invention ideas! I’m also glad that I didn’t give up on my writing because now my book, Buckaroo Bobby Sue, has won a national award.” And what role did 4-H play in all of this? “4-H has taught me that it’s totally okay to make mistakes when doing something new because that is how we learn the most from something,” responds Lydia.
There is no question that Lydia is a good writer. But just what is it about writing that draws her to it? According to Lydia, “It makes me feel free like I can go anywhere or do anything right from my own chair.” However, it is the READING part that adds the emphasis. She says, “I learn about other places and people and how difficult situations can make us a stronger person. The possibilities are endless and nothing is impossible when I’m reading a story and feel like I’m in the story with the characters.” And then she adds, “This is a lot like how 4-H makes me feel, too.”
In 4-H, members are asked to use what they learn in 4-H to better their communities. Lydia is no different from other 4-H’ers. According to Tiffany, Lydia wasn’t always a great writer or reader. So now “Lydia’s passion is to let other kids know what she went through, and that it is normal for many kids to feel frustrated, but how it is so important to keep working at it (whatever it is: writing, reading, sports, etc.) because it will eventually get better and then you’ll unlock your true potentials.”
It is a message Lydia wants to make sure as many young people as possible can hear. “No matter how difficult it becomes, don’t give up.” It is a message she has given during programs at numerous schools and libraries, large and small, including a presentation to over 250 Saco students one afternoon.
Tiffany explains that during Lydia’s presentations, she describes “her personal journey of starting out as a struggling reader and writer and how spending time at libraries as well as being involved with her 4-H group encouraged her to keep trying no matter how difficult it felt.” Her programs conclude with the realization that through help from a teacher and by varying the forms of her expression, she was able to overcome her problems.
It is an effective message, too. At the end of one of her presentations at an elementary school, a third-grader raised her hand and told Lydia how she struggled with the same reading and writing issues. Eyes teared for many when that third-grader said she was so glad to know there was hope.
By nature, Lydia is a shy individual. So how is it possible for her to do, and plan to do, so many public presentations? Tiffany explains, “She has truly embraced the 4-H motto of head, heart, hands, and health. Her experiences through 4-H — presenting show animals in front of crowds, public speaking exercises — has catapulted her public speaking skills beyond anything she dreamed possible.”
So it all comes back to 4-H and what her mom calls her “writers heart.” “She’s just having fun with a passion that has ultimately transformed her life in wonderful ways and now allows her to inspire other children.”
On August 24, 2016, I got the chance to meet Lydia in person! She was very nice. She even shook my HAND! I was inspired by her, too! I caught up with her in Clinton at her Maine Farm Days “Build a Book” booth, a booth that encouraged her visitors to read and love books by making one of their own!
She was also signing her books and I got her to sign my copies! See?
If she looks tiny in the photos, it’s because she is! However, don’t let that fool you! This kid’s a power house! Once you start talking with her it opens up a whole new world! I was reminded of the song Groucho Marx made famous in the 1939 movie “At the Circus” called “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady”! Not because Lydia has any tattoos, none I’m aware of at least, but because of the song’s last line, “You can learn a lot from Lydia!”
Never heard of JoJo Thoreau?!
…of Lydia Schofield, too.
And maybe, one day, you’ll even get to shake her hand.
On February 24 the 4-H Fix will travel back in time, 100 years to 1916, to meet another 11-year-old 4-H’er, this one named Emily Morse, Maine’s first State 4-H Champion! Her story is called “She Set the Bar High!”
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University of Maine Cooperative Extension conducts the state’s most successful out-of-school youth educational program through 4-H, a positive youth development program that has been empowering young people in Maine to reach their full potential since 1913.