Welcome, Elisa Boxer, and thank you for this wonderful post with another way of viewing the HEART of a story!
Giveaway! Elisa is offering a signed copy of one of her books—your choice! Just leave a comment below for a chance to win!
Congratulations to Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner, winner of FRANZ’S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE from my post last week!
Finding the Manuscript’s Mission by Elisa Boxer
In One Turtle’s Last Straw, what began as a story about ocean pollution became a story about the power of one small choice to change the world. With every narrative nonfiction story, it seems there’s a general topic, and then a deeper mission. For me, mining for heart is the bridge between the two. When I finally cross that bridge and feel in my heart that deeper takeaway that I can see myself talking to kids about during school visits, that’s one of my favorite moments in this whole wildly wonderful process that is children’s book writing.
When I came across a video of a sea turtle who nearly died from swallowing a plastic straw, I knew I wanted to bring the story to life as a children’s book. My intention was to highlight the plastics pollution problem by recounting the narrative of the research mission that rescued the turtle. But when I interviewed the marine biologist responsible for saving the turtle’s life, she said something that I found fascinating. She told me this straw was likely the result of someone tossing a straw in the trash without even giving it a second thought. It wasn’t necessarily someone littering on a beach, because even in landlocked communities, straws can blow into storm drains and find their way into oceans, where they can be deadly to marine animals.
I immediately imagined the opening scene of the book: A little boy casually tossing a cup in the trash can. Soon after, a question came into my mind that I knew I wanted on the book’s opening endpapers: What if one small choice had the power to change the world?
That’s the book’s mission. I want kids to know that every decision they make can have a ripple effect; that every choice does indeed have the power to change the world. It’s a cautionary tale, for sure, because the consequences can be disastrous. But ultimately, this is a story about hope, since we all hold the power to make conscious decisions that can make the world better.
Looking back on my previous books, and ahead to my forthcoming ones, I can pinpoint the moments when I crossed that bridge between the general topic and the deeper mission. With The Voice that Won the Vote(Sleeping Bear Press, 2020, illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger), for example, I set out to write the little-known story of the mom who helped save suffrage. But when I delved deeper into researching Febb Burn, and found out how she would watch the men who worked on her farm go off to cast their ballots every year, I really felt the sting of that injustice; of Febb knowing her voice didn’t matter. From that moment on, I knew the mission and the takeaway. I wanted to make sure that every child reading the book would know how much their voice matters.
With A Seat at the Table, I knew I wanted to write a picture book biography about Nancy Pelosi, given that she was the first female House Speaker and (at the time!) the highest-ranking woman in American political history. But when I looked deeper into her childhood and found out that she was raised to believe that women should stay behind the scenes, helping men get elected, the book’s mission became: Shine your light! No matter what messages young people are receiving from the outside, I want them to know they can crank up that inner voice and share it with the world.
For me, the book’s mission isn’t something I know right away when I begin researching the topic. It has to emerge organically, and the timeline for that is different with each book. But by paying close attention to those details that tug at your heart, you can uncover the mission that is unique to you and to your story. And by making the choice to embark on that mission, you really can change the world.
Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win one of Elisa Boxer’s books! (US addresses only, please. Winner announced 5/13/22.)
Bio: Elisa Boxer is an Emmy and Murrow award winning journalist whose work has been featured in publications including The New York Times, Fast Company and Inc. magazine. She has reported for newspapers, magazines and TV stations, and has a passion for telling stories about people finding the courage to create change. She is the author of The Voice That Won the Vote, A Seat at the Table, and the forthcoming One Turtle’s Last Straw, SPLASH! and Covered in Color. Elisa lives in Maine, and you can visit her at https://www.elisaboxer.com/