Laudatory reviews were published.
A treasure hunt, that’s what it is.
For fun, I sift through archives of the Minnesota Historical Society. Some days, nothing golden shows up.
Other days, bonanza!
One of my best finds was the 1927 diary of a St. Paul girl. Her name was Coco Irvine, and she turned 13 that January.
Her one-year diary made it clear she was smart, funny, adventurous and prone to getting into trouble. Lots of trouble.
Helping herself to her older sister’s car and crashing into her mother’s…. Repeatedly bouncing a basketball against a school wall and “accidentally” setting off the fire alarm…. Going gaga over boys…. Telling a dirty joke at the family dinner table.
You get the idea.
Yet Coco rarely accepted responsibility for her actions. Hence, the title of the resulting book, “Through No Fault of My Own,” her frequent disclaimer.
I was giggling as I read the diary, but I was in the Historical Society’s somber library so I tried to contain myself. “This has got to be published,” I thought.
At the time of “discovery,” I was working on a book about childhood in Minnesota, from the 1830s on. I was searching for stories written by kids and for reminiscences of childhood, plus fun old photographs. Coco was perfect for it.
Pieces of Coco’s diary made it into my book, “Wishing for a Snow Day: Growing Up in Minnesota” (published in 2010 by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, paperback, more than 200 photos, $29.95). But I could just envision Coco’s diary as a little book, with every word of the diary and pictures of this charming kid. Who was she? She seemed to be from a rich family; was she? What happened to her in adulthood?
Turns out you may have been in the house where Coco was raised. It’s on glorious Summit Avenue in St. Paul -- and it is now the Minnesota Governor’s Residence. Their father was a wealthy lumber baron, and the 20-room mansion features remarkable woods from around the world. In 1965, Coco and her younger sister, Olivia Irvine Dodge, donated the family home to the state.
Yikes. This story was getting better and better. I needed more.
Coco died in 1975 at the age of 61, I learned. Her sister was living. Olivia Dodge welcomed me to her West St. Paul mansion. She told me all about Coco. Later I got to meet Coco’s only child, her gracious daughter, Vicki Ford.
From them, I learned about Coco’s later life – her marriage to the man of her dreams, his early death, her kidnapping, her fears, her achievements. For a self-confident kid, Coco’s adulthood didn’t turn out as I expected. (For details, you MUST read the book’s afterword. I don’t want to spoil the surprises.)
The University of Minnesota Press – specifically, Todd Orjala, the senior acquisitions editor -- swept it up. He had me write the forward and afterword, collect photos and put the whole thing into context.
Meanwhile, the History Theatre -- specifically Ron Peluso, artistic director -- in downtown St. Paul also loved Coco. He and playwright Bob Beverage wrote a play, “Coco’s Diary,” based closely on the diary. It opened March 3, 2012. The theatre plans to stage it again sometime.
Laudatory reviews were published.
Seems everybody loves Coco. Publishers Weekly gave her diary an extraordinary starred review.
So the 1927 story of this 13-year-old girl will be heard, for years to come.
She should inspire kids to creatively misbehave – and write about it!
Publishers Weekly Review:
Writer Peg Meier uncovered the diary of precocious and slightly naughty Clotilde "Coco" Irvine from the Minnesota Historical Society archives, and it appears here virtually unchanged. Coco, almost 13 when the diary begins, was the daughter of a wealthy lumber baron ("They were Minnesota's Vanderbilts, its Rockefellers," writes Meier in her introduction), living in a mansion in St. Paul, Minn. In 1927, Coco's biggest concerns included seeing whether "He" (a schoolmate) returns her affections, attending Friday night school dances, being fashionable, and entering adulthood as quickly as possible. An unrepentant attention-seeker, Coco gets into frequent trouble at home and at school ("I was merely bouncing a basketball against the wall. It wasn't my fault that it inadvertently hit the fire alarm and caused all the rumpus. Honestly, it could have happened to anyone"), but her exuberance, defiance, and sweetness will win over readers from her first entry. This effervescent journal demonstrates Irvine's early, intense enthusiasm for writing and independent thought, as well as her unmistakable talent. Photos of Coco and an afterword about her (fairly tragic) adult life round out an otherwise blithe glimpse into the past. Ages 12–up.
On Jan. 1, 1927, Coco Irvine, almost 13, began a year-long diary of her daily life in St. Paul, Minn. In the 1970s, she revisited the handwritten diary, edited it and had it typed up. After her death, it was privately published and distributed to the family. The University Of Minnesota Press has now framed it with essays from the retired journalist who discovered it in the archive of the Minnesota Historical Society. "Through no fault of my own" is a repeated refrain, as young Coco gets into one scrape after another: telling a dirty joke at the dinner table, setting off the school fire alarm and crashing her sister's car. The glimpses of Coco's privileged life in the Roaring 20s are intriguing and humorous, but what makes this account so appealing is the clear evocation of what it is to be 13-impatient to be grown up yet still childlike in many ways. Coco's innocence will make today's readers smile. Her newfound interest in boys, especially one she calls "He," who might or might not like her, will resonate with middle-school girls. Peg Meier's introduction explains the story's provenance and provides some context; her conclusion summarizes the rest of Coco's life. Give this actual diary to readers who have enjoyed books in the Dear America series. The tiny type font may put them off at first, but before they finish the first entry they'll be hooked.
Kirkus Book Reviews:
Review Date: March 1, 2011
Publisher: Univ. of Minnesota
Price ( Paperback ): $12.95
Publication Date: April 1, 2011
ISBN ( Paperback ): 978-0-8166-7306-3
Through No Fault of My Own:
A Girl's Diary of Life on Summit Avenue in the Jazz Age
Available from most Minnesota booksellers and from the University of Minnesota Press (www.upress.umn.edu)