Shelley Pearsall

NHD 1982, 1983, 1984

Where do you currently live?

What is your current occupation?
Full-time children’s author with Random House Books

What school did you attend while participating in NHD?
Valley Forge HS, Parma, OH

What college did you attend?
The College of Wooster, BA majored in English
John Carroll University, MEd

Who were your teachers?
Gail Little

What years and in what category did you participate in NHD?
Individual Paper 1982, Child Labor diary
Individual Project, 1983 Lewis and Clark
Individual Performance, 1984 Women Workers of Lowell

What are a few of your favorite or defining moments from your NHD experience?
Placing 2nd at Nationals for Project and Performance were such memorable experiences. However, I’ll never forget being questioned by the judges for my pink nail polish when I was dressed as Sacajawea — fortunately, they didn’t deduct anything! In my 1984 performance, the use of the word “lifestyle” was a deduction. Both experiences taught me that even the smallest details matter. I still use that lesson in my writing today — and try to give the smallest historical details (wallpaper, cereal brands, weather, dialect, etc.) as much research time as the “major” facts.

How did NHD help you after high school?
NHD led me to pursue an internship at Colonial Williamsburg while I was in college where I had the chance to work on original research and a Revolutionary War shipwreck archaeology project. It also helped in my first job as Cleveland Metroparks’ first historical interpreter. I created historical scripts for living history performances and wrote historical articles — very much like what I did for NHD! For the past decade, I’ve been a historical fiction author for Random House where I use my NHD research and writing skills every day. I’m always looking for the stories missing from, or overlooked by, history. I still love the thrill of finding new stories.

What recognition did you receive for participating in NHD?
2nd place, Nationals for Individual Project, 1983
2nd place, Nationals for Individual Performance, 1984

Did you do anything with your NHD project or research after the contest year?
No–but I still have pieces of my Lewis & Clark project in storage.

What has kept you busy since your days as an NHD student? Any particular challenges, stories, or achievements?
I’ve had a variety of jobs–park and museum history jobs, classroom teaching, and now, writing historical fiction novels and speaking in schools. I’m honored to have written Trouble Don’t Last, one of the first books for youth written from the viewpoint of a runaway slave. It received the national Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. I’m also proud of researching and writing about the history of the all-black paratrooper unit in World War II, the Triple Nickles–and interviewing one of the last original members of the unit. I think one of the biggest challenges in my work continues to be convincing kids through my books and speeches that history can be exciting, surprising, and relevant to their lives today.

Is there anything else that you would like to share about your NHD experience?
I’ll never forget how it was such a wonderful family experience — my parents and my grandparents always came to the contests…we drove a UHaul trailer with our projects from Cleveland to DC and spent time touring the city together as a family…so many happy memories.