Life Lessons: What Our Real-Life Main Characters Taught Us About the Writing Craft
Living for the Lightning Bolt - Kirsten W. Larson
My book with illustrator Katherine Roy, THE FIRE OF STARS (Chronicle Books), is a double read aloud, sharing the life story of astronomer Cecilia Payne, told alongside the process of star formation. The book parallels the kindling of Cecilia Payne's own curiosity and her scientific career with the process of a star's birth, from mere possibility in an expanse of space to an eventual, breathtaking explosion of light.
Cecilia lived her scientific life in pursuit of the thrill of discovery versus fame or fortune. She first felt that thrill as a young girl, when she figured out all on her own why a flower was shaped like a bee (to trick the bees to mate with it and pick up pollen). For her, that feeling of understanding was electric and alluring enough to help her persevere through years of befuddlement as she searched for scientific breakthroughs.
I felt such a kinship with Cecilia when I read this, as I feel exactly the same way about writing. I can labor for years in the dark on a single story idea. I try writing it different ways using various structures, voices, and points of view. And then, just when I’m about to throw up my hands in frustration, it all comes together in a lightning bolt of insight when I discover my draft.
I live for the moment when a draft finally comes together, and I feel I’ve got it just right. And what I’ve learned from experience and from studying scientists like Cecilia is that you can’t force the break through. You will never know when it’s going to happen. You just have to stay present with the work even when you want to give up. And then, when you least expect it (in the shower, on a walk, or while doing dishes), it all comes together.
Working Together Is Better - Lindsay H. Metcalf
Collaboration is my secret sauce for breakthroughs.
This is true of both the poetry anthologies that I’ve created with Jeanette Bradley and Keila V. Dawson — first NO VOICE TOO SMALL: Fourteen Young Americans Making History (Charlesbridge, 2020), and now, as of March 14, the companion title, NO WORLD TOO BIG: Young People Fighting Global Climate Change.
It’s also true of the activism both books showcase.
Both of these books feature mini-biographies-in-verse of activists doing important work. While it's true that most movements are fronted by a “face,” no activist works alone, at least not for long.
One of the key takeaways from NO WORLD TOO BIG is the importance of shifting mindsets in the climate-action space from “me to we,” moving from small-scale individual action to scaled-up collaboration, whether it be in schools, communities, or beyond.
Greta Thunberg started her Fridays for Future climate strikes alone at the Swedish Parliament but was quickly joined by millions around the world. Leah Namugerwa helped hundreds celebrate their birthdays by planting “birthday trees” in Uganda. Students at the Green School in Bali worked together to convert their school buses to biodiesel fuel. And Nikita Shulga and Sofiia-Khrystyna Borysiuk persuaded hundreds of schools across Ukraine, starting with their own, to compost food waste.
When we work together, we see the potential for real impact. I instinctively knew this to be true for activism. But it took me longer to learn that the same is true for writing—which happens to be my preferred method of activism.
Our books are, of course, poetry anthologies, melding diverse voices of award-winning and bestselling poets. Each poet brings different strengths and experiences, which creates a powerful harmony of voices calling for climate action.
But the books are also a collaboration between Jeanette, Keila, and I, the three anthology editors. The thing about working with two other writers who happen to be brilliant in different ways means that when one of us gets stuck, someone else probably has a way forward. This speeds up the revision process as all of us massage the text. (Besides poems, these books have a lot of sidebar and back matter text.) We form a built-in critique group. With Jeanette’s background in science and policy, Keila’s experience in education, and my time as a newspaper editor and reporter, that’s a pretty powerful combination.
One of the main reasons we felt compelled to work together again after releasing NO VOICE TOO SMALL was to showcase the wide range of ways people around the world are tapping into their talents and tackling different aspects of climate change. We wanted to address any climate anxiety young people may be experiencing by encouraging them to counteract their anxiety by taking action. Beyond that, working with your peers is not only more effective, it’s helpful for keeping energy high when things get tough—in both activism and writing. Plus, working together is just more fun.
On Hiding, Hope, and Safe Space to be Seen - Elisa Boxer
I put off writing this post until the last minute. With apologies to my colleagues, who had their sections done with plenty of time to spare, here I am on the eve of our deadline and my share of the Google doc is still blank. This hasn’t been typical procrastination. I’ve had it written in my mind for weeks. It’s personal. It’s vulnerable. And that’s why it has sat in my head rather than on the page.
But I have a book coming out next month about a teenage French resistance fighter who used a hollowed-out toy duck to hide false identity papers from the Nazis during WWII. In addition to telling the story of this Holocaust hero, HIDDEN HOPE (Abrams, illustrated by Amy June Bates) highlights the importance of never having to hide the truth of who you are.
It’s a message I want more than anything for young readers to internalize. And so, I will begin. Because, inspired by the heroism of my main character, I want to show people that their voices, their experiences, and their identities should never be hidden.
I believe our books can be windows into aspects of who we are. And through those windows, readers can hopefully see themselves and know they’re not alone.
According to Hitler’s plan, I’m not supposed to be here writing this. Growing up, I learned about the Nazis’ intention to build a “museum of an extinct race,” displaying Jewish artifacts like the torah scroll in our temple. Our particular scroll was rescued from a synagogue in Czechoslovakia, which the Nazis burned to the ground.
Even as I felt a sense of intrinsic pride in being among a minority with a history of persecution and survival, there was a part of me that felt like I had to hide my Jewish identity.
In third grade, a classmate who I thought was my friend took out a ruler and tried to measure my nose, because his parents told him “Jews have big noses.” Just out of college, I was excited to be out with a new group of friends who decided to test if I really was in fact Jewish by dropping a nickel on the ground to see if I’d pick it up. There were countless examples in between. In each case, no one who saw what was happening said anything. Often, I was accused of being too sensitive, unable to take a joke. I would sometimes feel so self-conscious that I wouldn’t speak up. It took me a long time to come out of hiding — to develop my Jewish voice — even when it didn’t feel safe.
I’m hoping this book takes its place alongside others that are opening up wider conversations about anti-Semitism. I’m also hoping it encourages awareness about the importance of having a safe space to be the full truth of who we are, regardless of religion or experience or identity, and the importance of holding that space for others to do the same.
To learn more about Kristen Larson visit here.
To learn more about Lindsay H. Metcalf visit here.
To learn more about Elisa Boxer visit here.
To purchase their books, please click on the cover photos in the post.
All three authors are members of The Soaring ‘20s—High Flying Books for Kids and Teens.
Leave a Reply.
Peruse blogs for advice and tips from KidLit creatives.
Click to set custom HTML
Click on the RSS Feed button above to receive notifications of new posts on this blog.