I'm delighted to feature Nancy Churnin on the blog today! I first worked with Nancy when she was a featured author in the Debut Picture Book Study Group, and then we met in person at the North Texas SCBWI Conference in September, 2017. In fact, I won a copy of her beautiful book Manjhi Moves a Mountain because I travelled the farthest distance to attend the conference! Here are Nancy's thoughts about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection.
STORIES – Discuss what inspires your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.
I am inspired by the subjects of my books. I choose them because they inspire me! My first five books, all picture book biographies, are about little or unknown heroes or heroines that have done something to make the world a better place. Manjhi Moves a Mountain is the true story of a man in India who used a hammer and chisel to move a 300-foot mountain to make things better for the people in his village, by giving them access to schools and hospitals. Sometimes I feel like Manjhi when I am working on a manuscript that is particularly challenging! With Manjhi as with my upcoming books, Charlie Takes His Shot, How Charlie Sifford Broke the Color Line in Golf and Irving Berlin, the Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing, I do extensive research as I look for the heart of the story. Then after I’ve done my best, I run it by experts who let me know if I’ve written anything that’s misleading or incorrect.
CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?
I am a longtime journalist and one of the biggest lessons I had to learn in writing children’s books is to lose the objective distance that a journalist must maintain and dare to feel and channel the emotions of the people you’re writing about. Robert Frost, one of my favorite poets, wrote: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” I had to break down those barriers between me and my subjects and let myself feel the pain, the shame, the fear, the determination and the joy of my characters. I remember reading about how Charles Dickens would act out the lines of the characters he wrote about in his books and now I understand why. You have to BE your characters, the way an actor is his characters, in order to bring them to life.
CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?
One of the greatest joys of having my first two books out in the world is being able to share them with young readers through in school visits, Skype visits, bookstores, book festival events and library programs. I look forward to introducing the character to the children, reading the book and sharing about the book’s special project, because each of my books comes with a free teachers’ guide and a special project. I am so happy to answer questions and find out what the children are thinking about. It’s also been a pleasure to stay current with my friends in the kidlit community – children’s authors have to be the most generous people I’ve ever known. I am a member of SCBWI and my local branch, North Texas SCBWI. I’m also a member of Rate Your Story and multiple critique groups and Facebook writing groups. I try to attend conferences as often as I can, too.
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Thanks, Nancy! I am so looking forward to reading your newest books. Congratulations! And hopefully we'll meet in person again one day soon.
Nancy Churnin is the theater critic for The Dallas Morning News and author of THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME (Albert Whitman), on the 2016 New York Public Library Best Books for Kids list, the 2017 Texas Library Association's 2X2 and Topaz lists, the 2018 Illinois School Library Media Association's Monarch Award Master List and Connecticut's 2018 Charter Oak Children's Book Awards list. MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN (Creston Books), a 2017 Junior Library Guild selection and Silver Eureka Award-winner, is on the Children's Book Council showcase and the NECBA Windows & Mirrors long list. Coming out in 2018: CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT: HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF (Albert Whitman), on Wee Read’s 2018 Ultimate List of Diverse Children’s Books; IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING (Creston Books) and THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE (Albert Whitman) in September. A native New Yorker, she's a graduate of Harvard University, with a master's from Columbia University School of Journalism, who is happy to be in Texas.
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