Many may remember Shirley Spires Baechtold as an instructor at Eastern Kentucky University, or as wife to former NBA player and EKU men’s basketball Coach Jim Baechtold.
Always a writer, Baechtold is now the author of “I’ll Be Looking at the Moon,” a young adult novel set in 1943.
Initially written for her grandchildren, “I’ll Be Looking at the Moon” follows the journey of 12-year-old Maggie Beeler during World War II. The book delves into the young person’s desire to assist the war effort and the changes and injustices she notices on the home front, such as racism.
Baechtold said the inspiration for Maggie’s story began while she was teaching at EKU, where one goal was to teach civic literacy. To her surprise, many students knew little about WWII.
“World War II had such a big impact on the world. It changed it altogether,” said Baechtold. “I felt it was important for them to know.”
When she was growing up, Baechtold said she hadn’t realized why black people were treated differently, but she wanted other children to know what they had gone through.
Baechtold began working on the novel before her retirement in the early 1990s, but didn’t seek publishing until 2013. Instead, she wrote for her grandchildren’s enjoyment and for her own. She also worked on short stories and wrote columns for the Lexington Herald Leader.
Most authors will agree that a piece of them finds its way into their work. In the notes section in the back of her novel, Baechtold says she was 11 in December 1941. Like Maggie, she too lived in a Kentucky town 16 miles from Fort Knox, which was also racist.
“For someone like Maggie to speak out against racism and discrimination in my hometown would have created quite a stir, but there were no Maggies then, and I had to create one for my story,” said Baechtold in her book.
She noted some characters were loosely based on her family. Like Maggie, Baechtold’s mother was a schoolteacher and her grandmother was a German immigrant much like Maggie’s grandfather.
In a way, Baechtold said it would have been good if she could have been as brave and bold as Maggie, but no one spoke out at the time.
“I didn’t question why black people were standing in the rain to get their tickets to get into a movie, but Maggie does,” said Baechtold.
The author said as she wrote the book, racism and the treatment of others played a big part, including the treatment of the LGBT community during WWII.
Baechtold explained that homosexual men during the era were faced with a deadly dilemma. They could get out of the draft if they came out, but their career could be over or they could have been attacked. Baechtold said there were other dark pages during the time such as treatment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast.
When asked what she wants her readers to learn from the book, Baechtold said tolerance. She would also like to get the book on school reading lists.
“In the end (of the book), Maggie writes an essay for the newspaper,” Baechtold said. “She mentions not only the racism against African Americans, but also against Jews and her grandfather who is German. So she talks about immigrants, a big subject today.”
Baechtold is working on a sequel to the novel in which Maggie is a junior in high school. In the upcoming book, the older teen will tackle censorship, become interested in boys and suffer heartbreak.
Reach Critley King at 624-6623; follow her on Twitter @critleyking.