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Blog: This Writing Life


  • Writer's pictureMelissa Stoller

3 Question Interview - NANCY CHURNIN

I'm delighted to feature my #BookMeshuggenah and #2020VisionPB friend Nancy Churnin for the second time! You can read her first interview here. Nancy is an award- winning, multi-published author of picture book biographies. Beautiful Shades of Brown, The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring illustrated by Felicia Marshall, and For Spacious Skies, Katharine Lee Bates and the Inspiration for "America the Beautiful" illustrated by Olga Baumert, released recently, with more on the way! I loved learning about Nancy's inspiration for each book, as well as the teacher guides, resources, and book-themed projects for kids that Nancy offers on her website. Read on for Nancy's thoughts about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection.

1) STORIES – Discuss the inspiration for your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.

I am always looking for people that inspire me, that will inspire kids, and people the kids might not know about otherwise who persevered to achieve their dreams and make the world a better place. I love fine art and it bothered me that there aren’t enough books about women painters. Or, rather, there seem to be a lot of books but always about the same handful of painters – usually Mary Cassatt and Frida Kahlo. Surely there were more! In looking at paintings, I stumbled across a magnificent portrait of Marian Anderson by Laura Wheeler Waring. Who? I had to know everything about her.

Laura Wheeler Waring

The more I learned about her, about her dream to see paintings of African Americans on museum walls, the more obsessed I became. I am so proud that BEAUTIFUL SHADES OF BROWN, THE ART OF LAURA WHEELER WARING is the first picture book about this amazing artist – and that we received permission to reproduce seven of her paintings at the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution of American Art in the book.

Similarly, I thought it was curious that kids know that Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but didn’t know that Katharine Lee Bates wrote “America the Beautiful.”

The more I learned about Katharine, the more I loved her and was determined to share her story. Here is a woman who saw the country torn apart by the Civil War and wanted to write a poem that reminded us that we are all one American family. America, she was saying, is only as beautiful as we make it by caring for each other. Her words, “crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea” was something she was asking us to do. Katharine Lee Bates got an education when women weren’t expected to go to school, advocated and helped the needy, made a stand for a woman’s right to vote and lived to cast her ballot.

Katharine Lee Bates in her office at Wellesley College

I hope FOR SPACIOUS SKIES, KATHARINE LEE BATES AND THE INSPIRATION FOR “AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL” will inspire kids to persevere as she did, to follow their dreams, to help those in need and to remember that we are all one human family.

2) CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?

I spend a long time immersed in my story, trying to find the words that express what I’m trying to say. Writing is such a craft! You can have the big picture - that’s the easy part for me. But stepping back, feeling it, not overthinking it, letting it flow, live, breathe, beat - finding just the right balance between guiding your story and letting it have its own life - that’s the art of it.

Finding yourself in your person, while letting your person be himself or herself...every time I think I’ve got the hang of it, there’s a fresh challenge in the next book - making me stretch, grow, think, feel in unexpected ways.

3) CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?

A book’s journey is not complete until I share it with kids and that, truly, is the best part of the journey – when I can share this piece of my heart that lives in these pages with them and see their eyes light up when they’ve discovered a new idea, an understanding, a friend. In addition to free teacher guides and resources on my website, I create a project for each book with a dedicated page so that kids, with the permission of their parents and teachers, can share a photo with a caption of what they’ve done, on the page for everyone to see. The project for BEAUTIFUL SHADES OF BROWN is PAINT YOUR WORLD. Kids are sharing their artwork of themselves and their communities so we can see how beautiful everyone is. The project for FOR SPACIOUS SKIES is FOR SPACIOUS LINES. I am asking kids to share what they are doing or what we can be doing to make America more beautiful.

I am so grateful to the generous and caring KidLit community that has helped me so much on my journey. I try to give back in multiple ways. I post a daily KidLitQuoteOFTheDay to showcase a line from a book, along with the cover and credits, on my Nancy Churnin Children’s Book Facebook page and @nchurnin on Twitter. I interview authors and illustrators on my weekly blog, THE KIDS ARE ALL WRITE. I have co-founded the Nonfiction Ninjas, which offers a free weekly group blog on the craft of writing nonfiction, the NF Chicks, which offered its first annual free online NF Fest this year and the Book Meshuggenahs, which showcases the books of Jewish-themed books by Jewish women and offers an annual Chai-ku contest: Jewish-themed haiku for kids. I love being in book launch groups with other writers and jump at any chance to spread the word about fellow writers. It truly takes a village and I am very happy to be part of this village.


Nancy Churnin is the award-winning author of eight picture book biographies on multiple state reading lists with a ninth due in 2021. Beautiful Shades of Brown, The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring is A Mighty Girl pick selected for the 2020 Ruby Bridges Reading Festival at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. The William Hoy Story, a Bank Street Book Awards selection, has been a Texas 2X2 pick and Armadillo Readers Choice selection, on Illinois' Monarch Award master list, the Louisiana Young Readers Choice Award and Connecticut’s Charter Oak Book Award list. Manjhi Moves a Mountain is the winner of the 2018 South Asia Book Award, a Junior Library Guild selection, an Anne Izard Storytellers Choice Award and Silver Eureka honoree. Martin & Anne, the Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank is on the 2020 Notable Book for a Global Society list from the International Literacy Association, the Wisconsin Picture This list, the Brave Book list and was featured at the Ruby Bridges Reading Festival in Memphis and the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Irving Berlin, the Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing is a 2019 Sydney Taylor and National Council for the Social Studies Notable. Nancy is a founding member of the Nonfiction Ninjas and the NF Chicks. She graduated cum laude from Harvard, has a master’s from Columbia, and lives in Plano, Texas, with her husband, their dog named Dog, and two cantankerous cats.



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