Since 2007, I’ve traditionally published about 18 books, including an anti-bullying anthology, an internationally and NYT bestselling series, and medal-winners. I’ve learned a few things about story since then and I’ve learned a lot of things about people.
One of the things I’ve learned is that:
ROTARY AND WRITING KIDS BOOKS HAVE A LOT IN COMMON.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “What? Why? How can a 1.2 million-member, global, service organization and the solitary act of writing kids book be alike?”
It’s alike because both writers and Rotarians are telling stories and we are both using those stories to make a better world, to build connection and community.
THE PURPOSE OF WRITING IS TO TELL A STORY FOR MOTIVATION AND ENGAGEMENT. IT’S ALSO SOMEONE’S PURPOSE AS A ROTARIAN.
And that matters
You look into this world, the one we are living in now, beyond our walls, beyond our borders, within our walls, within our borders, and you know that the incredible exists.
And we sit here, the creations of this world of love, this world of pain and hate, of guns and bombs, of poets and artists and Rotarians and our hearts scream for goodness and our brains long for logic and ours and others bodies break and mend and break again.
We are the creation of the world of stories around us, a world of the incredible and our children are too.
AND THIS LEADS TO MORE QUESTIONS AND WONDERINGS ABOUT BOTH THE PEOPLE WE WORK WITH AND ABOUT OURSELVES
What does it mean to find story when you are the one who is oppressed?
What does it mean to find story when you are the one who is barely surviving in your own life?
When your mother cries to sleep every night because she can’t find a job, pay bills, fix the furnace.
What does it mean to find a story full of magic when you are dying for magic in your own life? When your body doesn’t work the way other kids’ bodies work? When your body gets used in ways it is not supposed to be used? When people make fun of your clothes, your sex, your gender, the way you say your s’s, the shade of your skin, the curl in your hair, your last name, your first name, the way you see letters backwards, the way you see or don’t see at all, the way you learn, the way you love?
What does it mean when there are these stories out there — these magical truths — these enchanted people and places when you are just barely managing to survive?
IT MEANS THERE ARE TINY LIFE LINES.
It means there are little pieces of help.
That’s what Rotary’s story is and that is what children’s books are about.
Story is powerful. We’ve know that for forever. Books are burned and banned because people fear them. Books are powerful because they are (as Ben Howard sings) information wrapped up in empathy, they are reflections of our world as it is, how it was and how it should be. And people fear that.
The world of fiction is a world within books and without. And the evil creatures that kids meet in these books? The only difference for some of these kids? The only difference is one evil is on the page and one is in their house. The only difference is one monster is in a book and one is in their street, their church, their classroom, their playground.
Monsters and heroes are everywhere. Novels just make those monsters and heroes bigger; the stakes seem higher when you are fighting a dark wizard or the god of war.
Books and Rotary offer hope. They show us that there are other ways of living. There are lives and worlds greater than our own and if these lives can imagined, what does it mean about our own lives? It means we can reimagine our lives, too.
My Dad Was Afraid To Imagine
My father was the truck driving son of a communist stock broker.
As a toddler, my dad stood on the streets of Staten Island passing out political pamphlets. People spat on him for views he could not even read. They threw his pamphlets in puddles, in horse excrement, in his face.
He never made it past fourth grade.
He was the smartest man I ever knew. He could read people’s souls, understand their stories, their sorrows and explain to you about quantum mechanics.
But all his life he thought he was dumb because he couldn’t read.
Sometimes, I get so sad because I think of all the things he could have become if he could have read a bit better.
KNOWLEDGE EMPOWERS US TO WANT TO HELP
That knowledge about my dad only makes me want to work harder for all the kids I write for. I want them to have the ability and story that my dad didn’t get to enjoy. The thing about Rotarians and writers and humans is that we can’t be “contained.”
We have to sing out our stories, sing out our advocacy, give voice to the powerless, because our hearts … our hearts won’t let us be quiet.
We are the people who protect the enchanted, until they can protect themselves.
We are the ones who say — You are the girl in the story who will one day save this world.
We say — You are the boy who will rid us of the monster beneath the bed.
It doesn’t always happen that way.
Right now, world leaders are sending people to war. Right now, guns are ending lives. Right now, people are hurting each other in homes and school and streets and religious buildings. Right now, it’s easy to feel that evil exists.
I’ve always known. A lot of us have always known.
I was in the seventh grade when a teacher told me, “Carrie, you will never become anything with those s’s. Nobody will ever take you seriously because of those s’s. Nobody will ever hire. Nor love a girl who sounds like you.”
He made me afraid of my own voice.
He took away my heart. He took away my story.
What is our job?
A writer’s job is to build worlds for children that reflect possibility and magic. We are to make the best worlds we possibly can, piece by piece, word by word, symbol by symbol.
We are to put our souls in them. So that the kids can grab on and soar. If the boy wizard can survive? So can I. If the girl can stop time? So can I.
So can I.
Kids need to know that there is darkness around them, that this world is incredible, but that they are enchanted. That they can overcome what they need to overcome. That they can not only survive, but that they can light up the world with their magic.
So can I.
So can they.
So can you.
STORIES CREATE POTENTIAL OUTCOMES.
We have to expand worlds, not shrink them. We have to include and empower. We have to open our mind and our hearts as writers and teachers so that there are possibilities and hope.
Let me tell you why I am a writer.
I write because I want to make connections. I write to try to understand the world and help kids or adults understand it too.
LIFE IS ABOUT CONNECTIONS.
As writers, we know that we have to connect with our readers. We have to make them care about the characters’ stories.
And Rotary International was built on that need for connection and the need to do good together.
But the question is, how do we make those connections, those positive connections? Talking about Polio isn’t going to work for everyone. Marching in a street? That isn’t either.
We make connections by embracing and protecting the enchanted. We do it by taking chances, by caring, by looking into the eyes of our readers or the people we’re giving wheelchairs to and seeing that spark, that magic, that hope that is there despite this world of the incredible.
We do it by giving ourselves to other Rotarians, readers, people we’re helping, over and over again and expecting nothing in return.
But we always get something in return — We get connections.
It’s because of those connections and hope that I’m a Rotarian and why I am a writer for children. It is the only reason that I don’t quit either of those things.
Our job is to tell the stories, make the stories, protect the enchanted and realize that the enchanted our sometimes ourselves.
We can’t give up. Why? Because the world needs good stories when all it hears is bad. I hope you’ll share your good stories with the world. We need them.