Today my daughter turns 19.
Eight years ago, she spent most of the day staring off into the sky, looking under her bed, out of her window….and even though she promised that nothing was wrong, she looked a little bit sad and wistful. The next day, she told me why.
She was looking for an owl.
Rebecca–even then an intellectual–was also a big believer in heroes and the real world, but also magic and princesses (especially Belle). That night, she went to bed a little bit sad that Hogwarts had overlooked her, but she also knew that she would make her own heroic, romantic, exciting adventures.
(Happy Birthday, Rebecca!!)
Today, if you ask her about growing up with a writing, reading Mom, she will tell you that books were a big part of her intellectual growth and development as a thinker. When her life was tough, they gave her a place to escape to. When she needed to relax, she knew that there were always new books in the house to explore.
I think a lot of us are nodding our heads.
She will also tell you that more than that, it was the PEOPLE who gave her books that gave her permission to have goals. High goals. She was inspired by writers and teachers and librarians who stuck out their necks to give her books that would broaden her world and goals.
She would also tell you….and may this serve as a warning…that I am the most didactic person in the universe. Always making a lesson out of those books–just couldn’t leave them alone.
When I was 11, my childhood was a lot like Rebecca’s. I had my own introduction to the power of books and character. I’ll admit, some of it came from TV, from unlikely heroes like Maxwell Smart and Underdog.
But it also came from a great teacher…and Shakespeare.
It was about the time of Watergate, and irony was in the air. For the first time in my life, we had a president who was NOT a hero (and I don’t think we’ve seen heroes the same way since). That year, my class performed Romeo and Juliet. I was Friar Lawrence. As I spoke to my friends playing the big roles, I was filled with regret. Lawrence could have used his influence to do more. He goes along with the plan, but the plan fails. Had he done more, maybe the families would have worked it all out. That teacher, seeing my interest piqued, gave me more plays. More opportunities. He later became my parent’s neighbor, and when I would come home, he always wanted to talk about books and heroes and life.
Rebecca and I are pretty lucky people. We knew our voices could be heard. Our worlds were safe. We grew up with people who wanted the world to be a better place.
But unfortunately, not all places are ideal. Not all kids are introduced to books the way Rebecca and I were.
These young people need giraffes–people who stick their necks out– even more.
Writers, teachers, parents, readers…we have a special kind of heroic work and responsibility. We don’t just write books. We share books. And in sharing books, we talk about hope. On Wednesday, Roseanne wrote about making sure your school visit goes well. I want to push you further. Make opportunities to share books to make the world a better place.
Recently, I watched giraffes in action. I served as a judge for Boston GLOW’s first ever Ignite Change Writing contest. Writer AC Gaughen invited me to step outside my own stories and get involved.
I’m helping organize an essay contest for Boston teens in an effort not only to show them the incredible and transformative power of writing, but also to help them build their resumes and confidence and have a better shot at pursuing writing and education long term. Basically, the contest calls for answers to the question: If you had the chance, what would you change in your school, community or city?
Who can say no to an idea like this?
Along with Deb Sloan, Mitali Perkins, Angie Frazier and Anna Stanniszewski, I read all eight finalists’ essays.
The writing was honest. It was profound. It was astounding.
Not just because they were honest and gripping, often depicting a world I had read about but did not live in. But because they were so affirmative. Despite their circumstances, these girls wrote with hope. They had goals. They could envision a better world.
It reminded me: I may write brave. But some people LIVE brave.
I was so inspired. How did these young women, some of whom had to deal with pretty intense image, remain so hopeful? How did they come to understand that their hard work would pay off?
The answer is so easy. They had mentors.
(Can I just stop here a minute to say how hard it is to be a judge? And pick a winner?)
At the banquet honoring the finalists, the power of voice was on full display. But so was the sacred power of mentors.
Each and every finalist embraced the young women from Boston GLOW. In gratitude and respect and friendship. These women went out of their way to make opportunities for girls, to give their voices a microphone, an ear. They empowered the girls to speak and encouraged them to speak loudly.
In this world, we writers have to do more of that!
At the banquet, all the young women thanked us, too. Not just for reading–for hearing their voices–but for writing books. For providing the basis for discussion. One young woman talked about her own relationship with writing, saying that it was “the most fun thing” to do.
This is why school visits, social media, book clubs, and other opportunities to meet with kids are so important. It’s not just about selling books. It’s about showing all kids that they have a great future.
That there are possibilities.
That tomorrow is wide open.
Today, on Earth Day, I urge you to do what Boston GLOW and writer, AC Gaughen did. Stick your neck out. Meet kids to make the world better. Talk not just about YOUR book, but about ALL books. Look in your community. I’m sure there are lots of opportunities.
This last month, I also participated in a job share day. The 13 year old students in my community told me:
When they talk to a writer, they see that it is possible to make art. They see that there are adults who think that kids have something to say. They hear that they have a voice.
The books show them that anyone can have a voice. That they can take chances.
That they are “triple motivated” when they meet the people behind those books.
We don’t have to wait until kids are young adults to let them know that they have the power to change the world. When we stick out our necks for kids, our world becomes better. They gain confidence. We can tackle problems that affect others, when we discuss books. I know it’s easy to be cynical. Between the economy and war and politics, sometimes it seems that art is just frivolous. But the truth is: art is hope. Our characters’ voices inspire new voices. And we can, too. We really can make the world a better place.
What do you think? Any ideas out there for sticking out your writerly neck?
Who is YOUR writing hero?
Do you have a favorite character or book that inspired YOU to be a hero??????
Sarah Aronson tries to be a giraffe whenever possible. Her middle grade novel, Beyond Lucky, a book about soccer, luck, and heroes, will be on the shelves June 30.