Rob Sanders: an ordinary man with an extraordinary dream


I remember getting the chills the first time I read these lines in Rob Sanders’ picture book, Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag from Random House Books for Young Readers:

“Harvey Milk was an ordinary man, but he had an extraordinary dream. That dream would change history. Harvey dreamed that everyone — even gay people — would have equality. He dreamed that he and his friends would be treated like everyone else. He dreamed that one day, people would be able to live and love as they pleased.”

Rob was signing copies at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association conference in Oakland, where I was signing copies of Manjhi Moves a Mountain in 2017. My sister, Sharon Churnin Nash, who is my constant cheerleader and support was with me. She found Rob’s book first and came to me concerned. She knew I had a manuscript about the rainbow flag in a drawer, a manuscript that despite my best intentions and hard work, never seemed to come alive. She worried I might be upset.

Instead, I read Rob’s book and was immediately elated by the melody of his words and Steve Salerno’s bright, vibrant illustrations. I knew in that moment that I no longer had to work on that manuscript. Rob’s book had accomplished everything I’d hoped for. I realized that what I had really wanted, deep in my heart, was for a book like this to exist. Now, because of Rob, it did.


Rob took the true story of the creation of the rainbow flag and captured its significance in a simple, engaging way that the youngest kids could understand. It is a story about equality, about fairness, about hope and love. While the focus is on the LGBT community and the discrimination they have faced, ultimately it’s an inclusive book that affirms the fundamental rights of everyone to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Rob started writing the book on June 26, 2015 to celebrate that uplifting day when the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land. What began as a joyful journey was tempered by subsequent setbacks for equal rights, from attacks on the ability of transgender to serve in the military to a refusal to protect the GLBT community from employment discrimination.

Those challenges made him more determined to create a book that children could understand. And that is another reason that this book is so important. If people in the LGBT community are to have equal rights going forward, kids need to grow up with awareness of how the community has struggled for fairness.

Rob didn’t shy away from the tragedy of Harvey Milk’s murder. But he quickly pivots to the hope, exemplified by the rainbow flag, that didn’t die and, instead, continues to grow.


“Equality. Pride. Hope. Love. Harvey’s dream became a flag for us all.”

I owe another debt to Rob that I will thank him for right here. The eloquent authenticity of his pivot helped me when I wrote Martin and Anne, the Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank, illustrated by the marvelous Yevgenia Nayberg (Creston Books/Lerner Books). I knew I had to address the tragedy of the loss of these great souls who would have celebrated their 90th birthday this year, but I knew I needed to move quickly, as he had done, to what would never die — their words and their spirits. And so I wrote:

“But no one could kill the way Martin inspired others. Just as Anne’s words will never die.”

I love how Rob describes Harvey Milk as an ordinary man with an extraordinary dream because, after all, that’s what Rob is. Every school day, he walks into an ordinary classroom and teaches ordinary kids how to read and write which, when you think about it, is the thing teachers ordinarily do.

And like Harvey Milk, Rob has a dream. His dream to create books that makes kids feel loved, affirmed and supportive of others.

Rob continues to fulfill that dream with more terrific books: Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights, a story about standing up peacefully for what’s right (illustrated by Jared Andrew Schorr, Simon & Schuster, 2018), and Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution. (illustrated by Jamey Christoph), which released April 23 from Random House Books for Young Readers.


With Stonewall, Rob has taken on another tough topic — talking to kids about the Stonewall uprising where people in the LGBT community took a stand for their rights 50 years ago.

There are many different accounts of what happened. Rob thought and thought and ultimately decided to let the walls of the building where people rose up tell the story.

“Two stable houses, side by side. For more than 100 years, we witnessed history. Then came a night when we became part of history.”

The brilliance of the concept becomes increasingly apparent over the course of the narrative. By telling the story from the point of view of the buildings, Rob gives us the perspective of time from walls that are free from the prejudices that plague people. It’s the power of that gentle clarity that made Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse so effective — telling war through the eyes of a horse that sees no differences between people on opposing sides other than who is kind and who is not — and the reports of astronauts who remind us how the differences we fuss over so much on the earth are nothing from the long view of space.


Again, as in Pride, the writing is simple. Clear. Easy for children and all ages to understand.

“Leading up to the 1960s, our neighborhood welcomed gays and lesbians — men who loved men, and women who loved women. We were a home for people who were told that they didn’t fit in or belong.”

His words make you wish people could be as wise as the walls that watch them. Maybe some day we will be.

In the meantime, I’m glad I have a front row seat watching Rob’s lovely, lyrical and important books enter and exist in the world.

Want to learn with Rob? Rob Sanders and Lesléa Newman are leading a workshop entitled Writing the Rainbow: Crafting Picture Books with LGBTQ+ themes for the Highlights Foundation, October 27-30, 2019. It’s an immersive experience to help authors of all skill levels learn how to create LGBTQ+ themed fiction and nonfiction picture books for today’s market.

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Steve Salerno, Random House Books for Young Readers

Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Jared Andrew Schorr, Simon & Schuster

Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Jamey Christoph, Random House


Facebook: Rob Sanders

Twitter: RobSandersWrite


We Can All Be Heroes: Sophia Gholz and The Boy Who Grew a Forest


People who do things to help others without the desire for reward inspire me. They walk humbly among us, but they are the true treasures of this world. Every time I spot one, I think of the Jewish legend of the Lamed Vovniks, the 36 people in every generation whose goodness saves humanity.

Among the wonderful qualities of these pillars of the world is that they are so humble, they don’t think of themselves as righteous or holy . They care for others because it’s the right thing to do. In their minds, isn’t that what everyone should do? They are all too rare, but they are also right.


Jadav Payeng, the hero of Sophia Gholz’s beautiful book, The Boy Who Grew a Forest, the True Story of Jadav Payeng, literally saves his world by planting trees in a desolated patch of his Indian community. Lushly illustrated by Kayla Harren, and published by Sleeping Bear Press on March 15, the story begins:

“In India, on a large river island, among farms and families hard at work, there lived a boy who loved trees.”

But trees are just the start of Jadav’s amazing journey. After planting tree after tree, he brings a 1,300-acre forest into being. Native plants and animals follow. Sophia’s book gave me the same thrill I had when I discovered Dashrath Manjhi, who became the hero of my Manjhi Moves a Mountain, with lyrical watercolors by Danny Popovici, from Creston Books (distributed by Lerner Books).

Manjhi Moves a Mountain, illustrated by Danny Popovici

Manjhi Moves a Mountain, illustrated by Danny Popovici

Manjhi, also from India, spent 22 years chiseling a path through a 300-foot mountain so the children in his poor village could get to school on the other side, the sick could get to doctors and the elderly and those who were not as skilled at climbing as he could get to the work or shop.

Sophia sees the connection. As she wrote me in an email:

“Both The Boy Who Grew A Forest and Manjhi Moves A Mountain focus on the power of the individual and how it only takes one person with a dream to make a difference. Manjhi's and Jadav's stories are those of hard work and the simple and selfless desire to help others.”

Persistence, rather than strength or riches or power becomes the key to their success. In Sophia’s words:

“Mountains can’t be moved in a day, and forests don’t grow overnight. When the work was hard, when their journey seemed impossible, when others thought they were crazy, neither of these individuals gave up. Instead, they slowly kept chiseling and planting one rock, one seedling, one day at a time.” 

Manjhi Moves a Mountain, illustrated by Danny Popovici

Manjhi Moves a Mountain, illustrated by Danny Popovici

Most children’s book biographies focus on famous people. Let’s face it, it’s easier to sell a book on the person who invented this or the person who won that.

But Jadav and Manjhi aren’t big or strong or famous. They’re unskilled laborers who were strong in their hearts, as we can all be strong in our hearts. That is a very important lesson for kids, one that nourish them not only through school but throughout their lives.

Too often kids — and adults — think of life in terms of winners and losers. The winners of the championship. The star of the school play. The highest score on the test.

But guess what? The majority of us don’t win the championship or star in the school play or get a perfect score on the test. However there is something that we can all achieve throughout the school years and beyond. We can all be kind. We can all make a positive difference in the world.

And persistence — that quality that Jadav and Manjhi have in abundance — that can be a more powerful determinant than talent in getting you where you want to go.

As Calvin Coolidge said: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

One of the reasons I was so determined to tell Manjhi’s story is that in my own small way, I felt I lived it. My first book, The William Hoy Story, How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game took 13 years from the time I promised my friend, Steve Sandy, a friend of the Hoy family, that I would write the book and the year, 2016, when it was published. Persistence and my belief that a promise made must be fulfilled no matter how many times people raise their eyebrows or laugh or whisper just close enough for you to hear: “Is she really still working on that thing?”

Sophia is also someone who knows about persistence.


Like Jadav, Sophia invests in the community, caring for future generations with longterm projects aimed at benefiting children she has yet to meet. Since 2017, she has helped oversee The Henry L. Gholz SEEDS (Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability) National Field Trip Endowment for the Ecological Society of America, in honor of her late father, esteemed scientist Henry L. Gholz. SEEDS provides opportunities for underrepresented students to participate and lead in ecology by sponsoring field trips that help explore the broad range of ecological research.

She’s also a board member of KidLiteracy, Inc., a brilliantly innovative nonprofit organization that raises money to bring books and author visits to schools in need. With both SEEDS and KidLiteracy, she helps plant seeds that are already growing into wonderful opportunities to make a positive difference in the world.

Both Sophia and I had our work cut out for us by writing about heroes who were not glamorous.

I’ll admit that I worried if Manjhi Moves a Mountain would find readers that would care about an ordinary laborer who spent 22 years chiseling a path through a mountain. But the critics and the kids took him to their hearts right away. A Junior Library Guild selection, winner of the 2018 South Asia Book Award, the 2019 Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice Award and more, kids love to help me tell the story, repeating the words “Hold. Aim. Swing!” as Manjhi strikes his chisel.

Jadav’s story has connected with the critics, too. The book has been featured on many prominent lists. The School Library Journal called it an "inspirational read aloud" and Booklist said "Payeng's story is eloquently told and beautifully illustrated. It will inspire readers to recognize the power of individual determination."

Manjhi Moves a Mountain, illustrated by Danny Popovici

Manjhi Moves a Mountain, illustrated by Danny Popovici

The kids understood that what Manhi was all about was the fact that we can all move mountains. That we can all make things better.

And to that thought I can now add Jadav Payeng’s lesson — that we can all plant a seed. We can all make something grow. And that every time we plant something, the growth brings unexpected miracles. Payeng’s forest brought back the birds and the insects and the animals. It brought back fresh, healing air. It brought joy.

I grow excited when I think of all the children around the world who will be inspired by Payeng to plant something, to help it grow.

And just as moving your own mountain doesn’t mean moving an actual mountain, planting something doesn’t have to mean planting an actual seed. It can be encouraging someone to realize his or her potential and dreams, to grow into all that person can be.

The Boy Who Grew a Forest, illustrated by Kayla Harren

The Boy Who Grew a Forest, illustrated by Kayla Harren

The Boy Who Grew a Forest and Manjhi Moves a Mountain remind us that we can all make a difference, at all ages and stages of life. And no one needs to wait a moment to begin.

The Boy Who Grew a Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng by Sophia Gholz, illustrated by Kayla Harren. Sleeping Bear Press


On Facebook: Sophia Gholz Author

On Twitter: @sophiagholz

On Instagram: @sophiagholz

Manjhi Moves a Mountain by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Danny Popovici. Creston Books Lerner Books

Why books for Anne Frank are more important than ever

Anne Frank school photo, courtesy of Creative Commons

Anne Frank school photo, courtesy of Creative Commons

June 12, 2019 would have been Anne Frank’s 90th birthday.

It’s hard to wrap one’s mind around the fact that this teenager, who died at 15 in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, could have been alive today if not for the hate that fueled the Holocaust.

There are those who wonder what more there is to say about someone who has written her own account in the form of Anne Frank, the Diary of a Young Girl, and who has had innumerable representations of her life in print, on stage and on the small and big screens.


This year, two picture books address that question. Meeg Pincus’ exquisite Miep and the Most Famous Diary, The Woman Who Rescued Anne Frank’s Diary, coming out Aug. 15 from Sleeping Bear Press, brings passion and purpose to a story told through the point of view of Miep Gies, the woman who hid Anne, the Frank family and their friends for two years before they were discovered and arrested by the Nazis.

By focusing on a friend who risked her life to do the right thing, this book, with evocative illustrations by Jordi Solano, silently floats the question of what it means to be a friend and what the reader would do in the face of injustice.

The other book, which looks at Anne from a different angle, is mine. Martin and Anne, the Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank, brilliantly visualized by Sydney Taylor Honor-winning illustrator Yevgenia Nayberg (Creston Books, Lerner Books), gives Anne’s story a historical and sociological subtext. The book was released March 5. It was featured by eMissourian Newspapers in Education in March and at the Ruby Bridges Reading Festival at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn. in May. I will present it at the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center in Pasadena, Ca. in June.

Both Dr. King and Anne Frank were born in 1929, the year of the Great Depression. As I considered the significance of two people I admire so much, people who talked of love being the answer even in the face of unbearable hate, it came to me that if I told their stories in a parallel fashion, that would illuminate that prejudice, ultimately, has less to do with race or religion than it does with who is part of a vulnerable minority when times are hard and people in the majority are angry or desperate to find someone to blame or plunder.

At the same time, I focused on how Dr. King and Anne Frank responded to the hate that segregated, persecuted and ultimately killed them. They both used words to articulate a vision of a better world — a world of love in which every child is seen as beautiful as all children are — a compelling, shared vision that continues to inspire.

By showing the similarity of their beliefs, I hope those who revere Dr. King will find a window into the world of Anne Frank and the victims of the Holocaust and those who revere Anne Frank will find a window into the world of Dr. King and the victims of racism. This year, I experienced those possibilities when I addressed multiple groups of children in Texas who knew about Dr. King and his legacy, but hadn’t heard of Anne Frank or the Holocaust.

Martin Anne Front Cover 01-2.jpg

In Miep and the Most Famous Diary, Meeg Pincus shows us how Miep’s love for Anne drives her to find and hide the diary before the Nazis return for the last of the family’s possessions. She risks her life to do it because, as Meeg writes: “She pictures Anne leaning over her cherished diary, her hair skimming its pages. She knows Anne dreams of publishing it as a book after the war. It has been Anne’s paper friend, her lifeline, during two lonely years in hiding.”

Children will feel the deep unspoken question of what it means to be a good person. As they follow Miep’s choices, they’ll see how she protects her friends by defying unjust rules and, I hope, consider what actions they would take in such a situation . The story of the Holocaust is filled with people who helped the Nazis — because after all, discrimination was the law of the land — or stood by and did nothing which is all that you need for evil to flourish.

Miep’s courage sends a message that should resonate with every child who has to make a decision about whether or not to stand up against a bully that threatens the vulnerable.

And here’s another note of many to treasure, found in the back matter of this beautiful book:

“But, Miep did not want to be viewed as a hero,” Meeg writes. She goes on to quote Miep: “Imagine young people would grow up with the feeling that you have to be a hero to do your human duty,” she said. “I am afraid nobody would ever help other people, because who is a hero? I was not.”

The other element I love about Miep and the Most Famous Diary, which echoes a theme of my book, is the reminder that friendship is bigger than our differences. Religion isn’t mentioned, but it’s clear that Miep isn’t Jewish; if she were, she would have gone in hiding, too. But being of different religions is not important to their friendship — another great message for kids.


I like to point out the differences between Dr. King and Anne Frank when I present Martin & Anne to kids. We talk about how they were of different genders, races, religions, were from different countries and spoke different languages, yet their hearts beat with the same hope for humanity.

Sometimes when confronted with the horrors of the Holocaust, we can be complacent, thinking that such things couldn’t happen here or now. Telling the stories in parallel underscores how horrible deeds are not unique to any culture or time and how important it is to recognize the signs of segregation and bullying and to stand up to the forces that would divide and persecute.

hitler's american model.jpg

In James Q. Whitman’s Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law (Princeton University Press), Whitman makes the case that Adolf Hitler, the leader and mastermind of the Nazi party, sent his lawyers to the Jim Crow South to study American segregation policies as a model for the ones he would use against the Jewish people.

In a story I wrote for Religion News Service to run in time for what would have been Dr. King’s 90th birthday in January, I talked with another children’s book writer, Sarah Aronson, whose lovely Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines came out this year, too.

Sarah shared stories about how her late grandfather, Joseph Klein, a rabbi in Worcester, Mass., invited Dr. King to his synagogue to address the congregation. (Audio of Dr. King’s address is here.) She talked about her grandfather and Dr. King, a Baptist minister, were of one mind and heart on the concept of tikkun olam, the Hebrew words that refer to healing the world. “What Dr. King did was meld the righteousness of faith and equality with repairing the world,” she told me. “He had the faith of God in him and my grandfather did as well.”

MartinAnneText09-No Quotes-15 (1).jpg

I know from talking with Meeg that Miep and the Most Famous Diary is deeply personal to her.  Meeg met Miep years ago when she interviewed her for a newspaper. This book exemplifies the mission that Meeg has set for herself, to write “Solutionary Stories” for elementary-age children—nonfiction & informational books that inspire kids to make a difference. Meeg is Jewish, but has a diverse family that fires her compassion for all beings and everyone who is marginalized.

Like Meeg, I am a former journalist. I am Jewish with an extended diverse family. I have always been haunted by family members I never got to meet because of the Holocaust: a great grandmother, great uncles, great aunts and their children that were herded into a synagogue and set on fire by Nazis. That is why Martin and Anne is dedicated “For those whose lives were cut short everywhere, including Bialystok June 27, 1941. Your memory is a blessing. Love lives on.”

It’s hard for me to express how much comfort this dedication has given me. In a way that I feel more than I understand, these words have provided a place in my heart for these lost loved ones to live.

I’ve heard some express concern that picture books are aimed at elementary school children who may be too young to be exposed to the Holocaust.

The issue of what age is appropriate for these books is a matter for adult discretion. But I have read Martin & Anne and would read Miep and the Most Famous Diary without hesitation to elementary school children. Both books are careful, both in how they are written and how they are illustrated, to be honest but not developmentally overwhelming.

Personally, too, I defer to the great Jewish songwriters Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, who won a Pulitzer Prize for drama for South Pacific in 1950, in considering when we need to start teaching children about the dangers of the hate that mass media makes it ever more difficult to hide. The iconic song in this great musical that inveighed against American racism is the song “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.”

Consider these lyrics: “You've got to be taught/Before it's too late/Before you are six/Or seven/Or eight/To hate all the people/Your relatives hate.”

If that’s when kids are most vulnerable to the lessons of hate, then that’s the age you may need books that show children the importance of love and what it means to be a friend.

I’m proud that both Meeg and I have had our books endorsed by representatives of Anne Frank organizations which have dedicated themselves to speaking out against hate and discrimination and speaking up for those at risk. In my book, Kristen Carvalho, Board Member of the Anne Frank House, Inc. of Washington, D.C. writes: “A wonderful weaving of the stories of two amazing and courageous people who both answer hatred with love.”

Elisa Rapaport, Ph.D. and Chief Operating Officer of the Anne Frank Center of Mutual Respect in New York City writes in Meeg’s book: “In a time when we ask children to resist negativity and instead respect one another as people, the story of Miep Gies helping others and rescuing Anne Frank’s famous diary truly resonates; even more, it helps restore our faith in the human spirit.”

Anne’s diary

Anne’s diary

In her diary, Anne wrote: “I want to go on living even after my death!”

There is only one way for people to live on after their deaths: in our memories.

We must remember Anne and Martin and Miep along with the millions who lost their lives, those who escaped and those who risked everything to save or make things better for others.

Even through the pain of the aching emptiness where a beloved presence should be, it is good to remember. Because in these dark times, when hatred feels once again on the rise, when the vulnerable are increasingly at risk, Anne and Martin and Miep and so many others, including those whose stories are waiting to be told, remind us to love, to hope, to have courage and to do the right thing no matter the consequences.

Happy birthday, Anne. May there be many, many more books.

Miep and The Most Famous Diary

Martin & Anne

What 'Sweat' taught me about Dr. King and Anne Frank

For years, I’ve been living a double life.

No, I’m not a spy. Nor do I have another family stashed away in another state. In the last decade, I have been writing children’s books while reviewing and writing about theater for The Dallas Morning News. Carefully, cautiously, I’ve kept those worlds separate. Then two enormous things happened.

On Jan. 7, I was one of 43 staffers laid off at the newspaper where I’d worked proudly for 19 wonderful years. That meant I could let one world go — the world of theater criticism — and enter fully into the world of children’s books. Trust me, I thought about it.

(from l-r) Christopher Llewyn Ramirez, Sally Nystuen Vahle, Jon Shaver and Liz Mikel in Dallas Theater Center’s regional premiere of Lynn Nottage’s ‘Sweat’ at the Kalita Humphreys Theater in Dallas

(from l-r) Christopher Llewyn Ramirez, Sally Nystuen Vahle, Jon Shaver and Liz Mikel in Dallas Theater Center’s regional premiere of Lynn Nottage’s ‘Sweat’ at the Kalita Humphreys Theater in Dallas

Then On Jan. 23 I saw Dallas Theater Center’s regional premiere of Sweat at the Kalita Humphreys Theater and it was like the “water” moment from The Miracle Worker where the blind and deaf Helen Keller realizes for the first time that the word that her teacher, Annie Sullivan, has been spelling into her hand was not just a way to get water, but was water itself.

Just as I’m readying to release my sixth book into the world, Martin & Anne, the Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank, the insights from DTC’s powerful production of Lynn Nottage’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning play turned on a switch. Yes!

'Martin & Anne' by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg

While my book for children points out the common humanity and inspiration we’ve drawn from two iconic figures of different genders, faiths, races, languages and countries, Nottage’s play reminds us how we are still living with the toxic hate, anger and hurt that stems from desperation and fear.

Dr. King and Anne Frank were both born in the same year — 1929 — the year of the worldwide depression, a year where sadly, instead of pulling together, vulnerable people looked for even more vulnerable minorities in their community to blame and hurt.

Nottage’s play, while fictional, is drawn from the deep well of interviews she did with workers in Reading, Pa., whose lives and friendships were upended by factory shutdowns, layoffs and the erosion of workers’ rights in the 2000s. It’s a time which is still very much with us.

(from l-r) Jon Shaver, Sally Nystuen Vahle, Christopher Llewyn Ramirez, Liz Mikel in 'Sweat.' Photo by Evan Michael Woods.

(from l-r) Jon Shaver, Sally Nystuen Vahle, Christopher Llewyn Ramirez, Liz Mikel in 'Sweat.' Photo by Evan Michael Woods.

The play, which moved from off-Broadway in 2016 to Broadway in 2017, opens with an interrogation of an angry, tattooed young man, Jason (an explosive Kyle Igneczi), by a concerned police officer trying to control his exasperation (a resilient, patient Tyrees Allen). Like the craftsmanlike dramatist she is, Nottage shoots to flashback scenes, framing the story with tantalizing hints about a crime that will ultimately be revealed.

As the journey progresses, however, it becomes increasingly clear that there are larger crimes being committed by people we don’t see. These are the economic crimes where the well-off executives that run the factory in Sweat play financial games with workers that are barely scraping by.

In wrenching performances, Sally Nystuen Vahle and Liz Mikel. play Tracey and Cynthia, two best buds who grew up together and went straight from high school to work in the factory. Cynthia applies for a promotion to a managerial position. Tracey views managers as natural enemies of the workers. As friction sparks, racial tensions which never seemed to be in play before rise to the surface, crackling and popping as these two actresses masterfully portray a friendship that frays amid stress and suspicion.

Igneczi’s despairing Jason and Ace Anderson’s vulnerable Chris play the next generation — trying to carry on or do better than their parents while opportunity is being snatched away faster than they can comprehend what’s happening. They’re like animated characters who keep running in the air because they don’t realize they’ve run off a cliff — but the hurt is too real and familiar to be funny.

Christopher Llewyn Ramirez’s quiet, wounded Oscar, the bartender’s assistant who thinks getting a job in the factory as a way of moving up in a world of limited opportunities, fleshes out the picture as besieged workers denounce his willingness to work for less as a threat.

The revolving set by William Bloodgood serves as a reminder that the different planes where their lives play out — the bar, outside the bar, their apartments, prison — flow one into another as part of the same watery world. Projections by Shawn Duan pepper the top of the scenes with dates and news that put the stories in context of real events.

What’s important to remember is that the forces behind events have a way of repeating themselves. To quote Jackson Browne from “Lives in the Balance”: “…there's a shadow on the faces/Of the men who send the guns/To the wars that are fought in places/Where their business interest runs.”

Browne was writing about the unseen faces who press for wars that others fight. It’s an idea that applies to business wars on the domestic front. In Sweat, the wise bartender, Stan, tries to point out that instead of punching down, the workers should look up and confront those pulling the strings. He is, however, like Cassandra in The Illiad — cursed with the ability to see in a world where no one listens.

Martin & Anne is the sixth of the eight books I have sold. Each book has turned the spotlight on someone that most kids didn’t know about, someone who achieved what seemed an unlikely dream through persistence and heart, someone whose dream was not just about themselves, but made the world a better place.

They are all close to my heart, but Martin & Anne has a dedication that bleeds: “For those whose lives were cut short everywhere, including Bialystok June 27, 1941. Your memory is a blessing. Love lives on.”

My grandfather, Sam Farber (right), with my grandmother, Mary Farber. He escaped Bialystok, Poland where his mother and two of his brothers, their wives and children were killed in the Holocaust.

My grandfather, Sam Farber (right), with my grandmother, Mary Farber. He escaped Bialystok, Poland where his mother and two of his brothers, their wives and children were killed in the Holocaust.

Among those who were herded into a synagogue in Bialystok and set on fire that day were my great grandmother, great uncles and their wives and their children, none of whom I’d ever meet in this world, but whose losses have given my mother nightmares all her life.

My relatives were not unlike the factory workers of Sweat. My grandfather fled on foot as a teen in the early 1920s to America, but others in his family didn’t have the means or access to escape when the threat of the Nazi regime rose.

The fragility of living amid scarcity is something Dr. King understood as he reached out across race and faith lines, speaking in synagogues as I wrote in my recent op ed about Martin & Anne for Religion News Service. He emphasized the need to join together in the fight for economic justice. He tried to explain that prosperity would rise from unity and could not and should not be achieved from division and discrimination.

The stock market crashed in 1929, the year in which Dr. King and Anne Frank were born, leaving people out of work, homeless and begging for bread. How different would the world have been if people who were hurting reached across the superficial lines that divide us to lift each other up? What could the human race accomplish even now, in our times, if we helped each other rather than viewing life through the cold lens of a zero sum game where one person’s advance is another person’s loss?

(from l-r) Sally Nystuen Vahle and Liz Mikel in Dallas Theater Center’s ‘Sweat.’ Photo by Evan Michael Woods.

(from l-r) Sally Nystuen Vahle and Liz Mikel in Dallas Theater Center’s ‘Sweat.’ Photo by Evan Michael Woods.

I strongly recommend DTC’s production of Sweat, continuing through Feb. 10. It’s a cautionary reminder that instead of learning from the most heinous of crimes, the human race remains capable of destroying itself, doubling down on its mistakes again and again. Art, whether in the form of theater, books, music or visual images, offers hope to remember, to help us walk in each other’s shoes — and do better.

And that is the reason, in addition to writing children’s books, I will continue to write about theater. Like people, art is stronger together.

Want to talk about theater, books, art and why it all matters? Join me on my new Facebook group Where The Drama Is. If you want to keep the conversation focused on children’s books, please join my Facebook page Nancy Churnin Children’s Books. Or bookmark this blog where I’ll be sharing conversations with artists and what’s on my mind. I look forward to visiting with you.

Sweat continues through Feb. 10, presented by Dallas Theater Center at the Kalita Humphries Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd., Dallas. $20-$101, subject to change. Performance reviewed was Jan. 23. Running time: 2 hours, 28 mins.

Martin & Anne, The Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank (illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg, published by Creston Books, distributed by Lerner Books) launch party March 10 at 2 p.m. at Interabang Books, 10720 Preston Rd., Dallas. Free.

Twitter: @nchurnin

'Martin & Anne,' by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg

The William Hoy Story makes Best Kids Books for 2016 lists!

So honored to have THE WILLIAM HOY STORY honored in the Best Kids Books for 2016 lists for The New York Public Library and the School Library Journal. It's been a great year for Hoy, with the wonderful review from The New York Times, the spotlight from People magazine and a full page in USA Today Sports Weekly. I'm looking forward to more presentations with Hoy this year as I get ready for the launch of MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN from Creston Books in September.

Newspaper, magazine, radio and T.V. coverage for William Hoy!

The New York Times:


 USA Today Sports Weekly:


 Shreveport Times:


 Columbus Dispatch in Columbus Ohio:


 The Dallas Morning News:


 Cooperstown Crier:


 Disabilities by Daniel J. Vance:


 Harvard Magazine:


 Columbia University:




KRLD Radio in Dallas:


105.3 The Fan in Dallas: (Ohio Public Radio):




Good Morning Texas:




 Rowlett Public Library video:


 DISD Hub:


 Dallas Morning News video:




 The New York Times:


 Kirkus Reviews:


 Publisher's Weekly:


 School Library Journal and Booklist:


 Provo Library:




 NYPL Librarians best non-fiction for 2016:




 Best picture books for middle-schoolers:




 Hearing Loss Association of Kansas:


 Kansas City Royals:


 Rough and Rede:


 Momma's Bacon:


 Kiss the Book:




 Rate Your Story:


 Karlin Gray:


Lynda Pflueger:




Kristen Fulton:


Vivian Kirkfield:


A Kids Book A Day:




Orange Marmalade:


Kara Newhouse:


Two-book deal with Wendy McClure of Albert Whitman!

So thrilled to report that my amazing agent, Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary, sold two new books to the wonderful Wendy McClure of Albert Whitman & Company: Making His Shot and The Princess and the Tree. Making his Shot, how Charlie Sifford Broke the Color Barrier in Golf will be published in Fall 2017, the same time that Manjhi Moves a Mountain will be published by Marissa Moss of Creston Books. The Princess and the Tree, the story of a kind, unconventional princess who brought the first Christmas tree to Windsor Castle, will be published in Fall 2018.

Go Rangers and William Hoy!

Had a blast talking with the wonderful Jared Sandler of 105.3 The Fan about William Hoy. Eric Nadel, Texas Hall of Fame Announcer, were your ears burning when I thanked you for all your help with the baseball details AND for reading the book this summer in more than 20 libraries as part of the fabulous Texas Rangers Summer Reading program? Not only will kids get a visit from the great Eric Nadel, he will donate a copy of The William Hoy Story to each library he visits!

Thank you, Maria Russo and The New York Times!

It's such an extraordinary feeling when a reviewer reads your heart at the same time she reads your book. Thank you, Maria Russo of The New York Times for this wonderful review! 

The William Hoy Story
Written by Nancy Churnin. Illustrated by Jez Tuya.
This delightful and illuminating biography recounts the extraordinary life of William Hoy, who was born in Ohio in 1865 and went deaf at age 3 after a case of meningitis. William adored baseball, practicing constantly, and he had a big, loving family who supported him when he was asked to try out for a professional team. By the time his career was over, he had revolutionized the sport by suggesting to an umpire that he make calls — balls and strikes, out and safe — understandable to him by using American Sign Language, along with saying the words. An added benefit was that fans in the stands would be able to know the calls immediately. Soon players and managers, too, took William’s idea a step further, using signs to communicate plays to each other without revealing them to the other team.

Anyone who plays or watches baseball today will experience a jolt of recognition as Churnin explains the genesis of this small but central aspect of the game. She tells William’s story patiently and clearly, with a wonderfully matter-of-fact tone about the ways a deaf person navigates life. She strikes just the right balance between reporting the hardships and discrimination he faced — an owner who tried to underpay him, fellow players who laughed at and tricked him — and emphasizing the personal grit that allowed him to persevere and overcome daunting obstacles. Tuya’s simple digital illustrations are filled with feeling and individuality, neatly conveying motion and action but also, somehow, the dignity of William’s silence.

32 pp. Albert Whitman. $16.99. (Picture book; ages 4 to 8)

Good Morning Texas...and William Hoy!

Had a fabulous time talking about William Hoy with Jane McGarry and Mike Castellucci on Good Morning Texas Thursday! They were super supportive when I told them of my plan to ask children to write letters and send drawings about why William Hoy should be in the Hall of Fame! Check it out:

More Hoy reviews on their way

Can't spill the details yet, but watch for more reviews of The William Hoy Story, How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game. Looking forward to sharing as soon as the links go live! Thanks, too, to Daniel J. Vance for his interview with me for his wonderful Disabilities column that runs in multiple newspapers. I love the way Daniel shines a light on people who face challenges. I was moved by how he found the connection between my youngest, Josh, having meningitis as an infant and struggling as a toddler and the strong connection my family has developed with the special needs community. I have the interview posted in TALKING ABOUT on the blog, but you can see it here, too:

It's Almost Here!

It’s been a long journey, but now I’m happily counting down the days until The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game will be published March 1 by Albert Whitman and Company. I’m excited to share news about my book launch party at Barnes and Noble at Lincoln Park, Saturday, March 5 at 4 p.m. Yes, you’re all invited and please bring LOTS of friends. Check out The Hoy Newsletter, edited by the wonderful Gary Kaschak, of the Hoy for the Hall Committee. It has a long interview with me and lots of great stories about Hoy from all my fabulous fellow committee members, all of us dedicated to getting Hoy into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.  There are more interviews and news in the works, please check in for updates!