Mining for Heart: “Follow the Dream,” by Nancy Churnin

Recently, Nancy Churnin’s debut picture book biography, The William Hoy Story, How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game (Albert Whitman & Company, 2016), hit the shelves. This is one of those great little-known stories from the history of baseball. Not only has she shared an amazing story, she has also engaged children in a team effort to get William Hoy inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Here’s what Nancy Churnin had to say when I asked about her process of “mining for heart.” Her response reminded me of the famous quote attributed to Robert Frost, “No tears in the writer; no tears in the reader.”

image-10-6-16-at-4-19-pmWriting a picture book biography? Follow the Dream

I had accumulated tons of research before I started to write The William Hoy Story, thanks to the help of Steve Sandy, a deaf man and friend of the Hoy family, who shared all the wonderful articles and pictures he had been accumulating for decades about Hoy. This was my first picture book and I couldn’t wait to share all the amazing, never before released details of the life of this great deaf baseball player.

Here’s what I learned, following one failed manuscript after another. I was packing in too many details.

The toughest part of my journey was finding the heart of William’s story and letting all that other GREAT stuff go.

Yes, I thought it was cool that he was born when Abraham Lincoln was president and died when JFK was president and threw out a ball in the World Series when he was 99. Turns out that was back matter. And you can be sure I include it in all my presentations!

Yes, I thought it essential to explain he lost his hearing when he was three due to meningitis and everyone else in his family was hearing. That, too, was back matter. But the kids find it fascinating when they want to know more about him!

Yes, I thought I couldn’t let go of that funny time when he was the only one who got a good night’s sleep at a noisy hotel and bragged afterwards how great it was to be deaf or how he was so determined to get a ball, he jumped up on a horse and a buggy in the outfield to make his catch. Back matter and back matter.

I had to dig deep for the heart of this story and I found it by focusing on William’s dream. What did he want more than anything? He wanted to play baseball. What was stopping him? First folks told him he was too small so he practiced and practiced so he could aim better and run faster than the bigger kids. Then they told him he was deaf, so how could he hear the umpire’s calls?

He makes his dream come true by teaching the umpires signals – the same ones we use today. The heart of the story was how he fulfilled his dream, by taking what everyone said was holding him back – his deafness – and showing how it was an asset that would not only allow him to play the game he loved but made it a better game for everyone else.

Because sign language was his key to achieving his dream, I began the story with that, showing his mother giving him deaf applause when he hits the mark he’s aiming at on the barn door. The signs become critical again as he solves his problem by coming up with the idea of showing the umpire how to communicate with him. Finally, the signs are the way the crowd shows their love for him by greeting him with deaf applause when he walks out on the field.

When I wrote about the crowd’s deaf applause bringing tears to his eyes, I felt tears in my eyes. The tears still come every time when I read those lines and even more so now, when I see the tears in his eyes in Jez Tuya’s beautiful image-10-6-16-at-4-28-pmillustrations.

Every time I feel that tug in my heart, I feel that magical moment when the writer and the story are one.


Nancy is collecting letters from kids who believe William Hoy should be inducted in the image-10-6-16-at-6-19-pmNational Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY where Hoy would be the first Deaf player honored there. She has already delivered almost 800 letters and will keep going until he is inducted.

Nancy presented The William Hoy Story at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in July. She will teach a class about William Hoy at the University of North Texas Emeritus College in Denton, Texas Oct. 20 and present The William Hoy Story as part of the Margot Rosenberg Pulitzer Dallas Jewish BookFest at the Tycher Library/Aaron Family Jewish Community Center Dec. 11, 2016.

Teacher’s Guide available here  (clicking this will immediately download the guide)

Albert Whitman page on The William Hoy Story – scroll down for guide link at bottom

10 thoughts on “Mining for Heart: “Follow the Dream,” by Nancy Churnin

  1. Oh my lovely ladies!

    You are all on the right track! Because we have moved steadily from simple grammar and production checks to finding the “heart of the story” for a long time now. Even when you worked with me on Einstein’s Wave, and helped me see that the life of the boy was the inner heart story I needed to tell, you were moving closer to the heart thumping inner core of the poem. I haven’t worked on it for a month — it needed to cool for me. But when I do go back to it, I’m sure it will emerge as less of a science lesson and more of a boy’s journey.

    You should all see yourselves in this essay–I see you, each of you and all the twists and turns you put yourselves through with each group critique.

    Good Job!


    Liked by 1 person

  2. THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, by Nancy Churnin, is a beautiful story that tugs at my heart. It includes all elements of an excellent nonfiction picture book.

    As a writer *under construction”, I want to write about ALL of the interesting details in the story. However, it is best to find and share the heart of story. These additional nuggets of information can be part of the back matter.

    Thank you for sharing this interview, Beth.

    ~Suzy Leopold

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such an inspiring story for children! I loved hearing how Nancy Churnin had to really dig for the heart of the story. I like that she included a lot of back matter with this story. This is a book I should review for my website. It would go nicely with Genevieve Petrillo’s PB “Keep Your Ear on the Ball,” which is about a blind boy playing baseball.

    Liked by 1 person

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