I realized recently that I don’t feature nonfiction picture books or picture book biographies as often as I do fiction picture books here on the Frog. I have a pretty good excuse. Fiction picture books are what I mostly write and, therefore, what I mostly read. So, it makes sense that fiction is what I would mostly share.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t tons of spectacular and inspiring nonfiction picture books, including biographies, out there. Today, I’m thrilled to welcome award winning author Nancy Churnin! Her wonderful books are all about “outsiders, people that the kids don’t know that I hope will inspire them — people who are different or think differently and find that it’s their different experience or different way of thinking that helps them achieve their dreams and make the world a better place for others.”
Read on for more on this important topic and to meet the inspirational people in Nancy’s books!
Stories That Remind Kids Your Difference May Be What The World Is Waiting For
by Nancy Churnin
After selling eight picture book biographies – six published, two due out in 2020 – it strikes me that the common experience all these diverse subjects share is that they felt different, which leaves them at the start of their journey feeling as if they don’t belong.
Ultimately, through their journey they learn that their difference is their strength – the gift that they bring to the world that makes it more inclusive, that opens the door for others and, ultimately, makes their lives and everyone else’s better.
The truth of it is, as I tell kids on school visits, is that we are all different. Some of us (I remember feeling this way) go through periods where we wonder if we are aliens, because we feel as if we’re wired so differently from everyone else.
Even identical twins are not 100% identical. Too often we waste time being self-conscious about those differences – wishing for straight or curly hair, to be bigger or smaller, to have some admired one’s speed, skills, talent in a particular area.
But ultimately, if we embrace rather than agonize over our differences – whether they’re physical or emotional or even a different way of thinking or processing the world – we may find that we have the missing ingredient that the world needs.
In The William Hoy Story, How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game, kids learn about a Deaf child who was told he couldn’t play baseball because he was Deaf and couldn’t hear the umpire’s calls. The key to William’s story is that his Deafness isn’t a disability. In the book, as in life, William is proud of being Deaf.
Ultimately, William gets the idea of teaching the umpires his language, sign language, for safe and out so he can play the game he loves. Sign language helps break down a wall between the Deaf and the hearing and it makes the game better for everyone because now, even the farthest member of the crowd can see the signs.
It gives me an excuse to teach kids a few simple signs, too, which is always a hit.
In Manjhi Moves a Mountain, we have an ordinary laborer, who sees things differently and is willing to act on his vision to make it come true. Where his neighbors see an impenetrable 300-foot mountain between them and the well-to-do village where there is a school, doctors, work in the fields and markets for food, he envisions a road that cuts through the mountain, making the path easier for everyone.
People laugh at him when he trades his only possessions, three goats, for a worn hammer and chisel and starts chiseling the mountain. Twenty-two years later, when the path is completed, they recognize and applaud his heroism, while children see how important it is to hold fast to your dreams and persist in pursuing them even if others tell you they’re unattainable.
Like William Hoy and Manjhi, Charlie Sifford, the hero of Charlie Takes His Shot, How Charlie Sifford Broke the Color Barrier in Golf, has an unlikely dream. Charlie grows up in the segregated America of the 1930s-1950s where African Americans were not allowed to play on the PGA Tour. The color of his skin makes him different among golfers. At the same time he knows that he has the opportunity, if he persists, to open the door to make the game possible for everyone to play just as his friend, Jackie Robinson did for everyone who wanted to play Major League Baseball.
Later, in the back matter, kids will learn that Charlie Sifford was the one who opened the door that golf superstar Tiger Woods walked through. I also like to share with kids that Tiger Woods named one of his children Charlie in his honor.
In Irving Berlin, the Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing, Irving Berlin didn’t excel at school. But he had the unusual ability to process the world through sounds. And nothing could stop him from writing the music he heard in his head and pounded in his heart. He was an immigrant, he grew up in poverty and he never learned to read music. He taught himself to pick out tunes on an old piano. Later, he hired a pianist to write the notes for the music in his head.
He used his gifts not only to enrich America musically, by creating songs we still love today, but by dedicating royalties of “God Bless America” to the children of his beloved country by designating them for the Boy and Girl Scouts of America.
Charlotte of The Queen and the First Christmas Tree was a queen, but what I emphasize in the book is how she was a royal who was different from other royals. She didn’t like dressing up or going to fancy balls. Instead, she loved taking care of children and helping her garden grow. She not only became the first royal who made charitable giving part of royal duties, she introduced the first Christmas tree to England in an effort to delight 100 children attending a party at Windsor Castle in 1800.
And now, my new book, Martin & Anne, the Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank, tells the parallel stories of two people of different genders, races, religions and countries who were born in the same year, 1929, and whose hearts beat with the same hope for a better, kinder world where “all babies would be seen as beautiful. As all babies are.”
Both Martin and Anne lived in a world filled with hate, anger, fear and unfairness, but they had a different view of what the world could be. They used their words to articulate a vision of love and opportunity for all. And while both were taken from us before their time, in this year, which would have marked their 90th birthdays, their words, vision and heart continue to inspire.
It’s my hope that kids who feel different, who worry that no one gets them, who feel like outsiders, will find kindred spirits in these books that celebrate our differences as the very thing that propel humans as a group further along in our journey toward the light.
For more about Nancy Churnin and her books, visit:
Facebook: Nancy Churnin Children’s Books
And look for Beautiful Shades of Brown, the Art of Laura Wheeler Waring coming in February 2020!
Nancy, thank you so much for stopping by Frog on a Blog! Not only are your books inspiring for young readers, but you, too, are an inspiration to children’s book authors, like me!