Countdown to BREAKOUT: Picking Strawberries

Countdown to Breakout is a 23-day blog series about the three-year writing process for BREAKOUT, which earned starred reviews from both School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. It’s about a small-town prison break and manhunt that change the way three kids see their neighbors and the place they call home. Why a 23-day series? Because this book was inspired by the 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility prison break that led to a 23-day manhunt in June of 2015. 

Picking Strawberries

While I was revising BREAKOUT, I spent a lot of time thinking about what Elidee would miss when she moved from the Bronx to the small town of Wolf Creek, NY. She was incredibly homesick, and there was a lot to miss. People had promised her Wolf Creek was friendly, the sort of place where you could knock on your neighbor’s door to borrow an egg. With the prison break, though, that friendly welcome seemed to have vanished.

But I knew that Elidee was the kind of character who would still find small moments to appreciate, and I needed to include at least one of those in the book, too. But what?

My answer came in June, when I was still revising, and the strawberries got ripe. There’s a local farm called Rulf’s near where I live, and as soon as the berries are ready, Mr. Rulfs opens the fields for u-pick from 7am to 6pm. We go every year, but this year, I was imagining the experience through Elidee’s eyes, and I found one thing about Wolf Creek for her to love.


Here’s the poem that Elidee wrote, based on the notes I collected when I was out picking that day.

“my own Saturday morning”
by Elidee Jones

(Inspired by “saturday morning” in Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson)

Today in this new place there are strawberries.
Bigger and fatter than we grew
In the community garden back home,
Sweetest I’ve ever tasted.
Mama didn’t have to work so we went out picking
With Mrs. G, who knew a place
Where you get a wagon ride back to the fields.
Old white man in a green baseball cap helped us up
Then climbed onto the tractor and we were off,
Bumping over a rutted dirt road
Past knee-high cornfields and trees with baby apples
Out to the strawberries.
Rows and rows and rows beyond rows.
College girl in cutoff blue jeans weighed our baskets
And sent us with a man darker than Mama and me put
He was from Jamaica, just like Grandmama’s daddy,
But he comes here to work in summer and fall.

So he showed us where to pick and
I squatted down in the straw between the plants.
Started filling my basket but then I found one
So perfect and warm from the sun
I wanted to eat it right then.
I held it, scratchy seeds in my palm,
And caught Mama’s eye.
She shook her head.
“Not until we pay for them.”
But then someone said, “Nah, go right ahead.”
Jean-shorts girl was grinning down at us.
“Grandpa Bob says everybody should enjoy a few while
they pick.
It’s part of the deal.”
Mama smiled back at the girl and nodded
So I popped that strawberry into my mouth
Before she could change her mind.
It was so warm and sweet and full of sunshine
It almost made me cry,
And I thought just maybe
Grandpa Bob would be the sort of person
To loan you an egg if you needed one.
Maybe the Wolf Creek Mrs. G. talked about
Wasn’t a total lie
After all.


Thanks for joining me on this part of the Breakout writing-process journey! If you’d like to read the other posts in this series once they’re all posted, you can find them here.  

Breakout cover image






3 Replies on “Countdown to BREAKOUT: Picking Strawberries

  1. Hi Kate Messner!

    Will you be traveling south for appearances associated with the book? We are in Atlanta. Just curious! Thanks!

  2. I’m a Mrs. G. myself, and I’ve picked strawberries every summer of my life, so this one really resonates with me!

    I am so enjoying this series about your thought processes as a writer. Thank you for sharing so generously with us.