Mining for Heart: “Finding the Manuscript’s Mission” by Elisa Boxer

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 BoxerView More:

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.Turtle cover hi-res

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.turtle choice copy

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

27 thoughts on “Mining for Heart: “Finding the Manuscript’s Mission” by Elisa Boxer

  1. This blog post was very timely. What do I want my book to say to readers? I need to keep that in the forefront of my mind! I enjoyed the Voice That Won the Vote and am going to request Turtle’s Last Straw from my library.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love how you portray finding the bigger picture. And especially in Turtle’s Last Straw, the opening about our choices. I look forward to reading your books.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much! I always go through a period at the beginning where I’m not sure I’ll even be able to find the bigger picture, but then when it clicks in, it’s a glorious thing 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Elisa/Beth, this was fantastic. Elisa, I love how you set off in one direction, find more, follow that, find more, then fine tune and shape your ms until you FEEL the message. I also like how you can put yourself into the feelings of your subjects, harness that, and have the passion and story come out, leaving its obvious message. Congratulations on making books about strong women (Like Beth😉). Can you imagine what it would have been like growing up with more than a handful of books about strong women who broke barriers and changed history for the better? I am relieved so many of these women have been uncovered and their truthful stories shared. Please enter me in the drawing for ANY book, but especially “A Seat At The Table.”. Congrats on the new book, which is SURE a to make an impression on children and adults alike. We just got recyclable straws with a little brush. PITA but not too much, and I imagine that if many people did that, there would be less straws in the ocean. We still need books about protesting peacefully too. The fact that this is based on a true story makes this book hit home even more. Kids will get it. They will be the ones reminding their parents to either skip the straw, or get a recyclable one, and they will retell this story Elisa! I know I will. Stay well everyone! Peace, Annie🎶

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      1. Beth, I seem to have a similar problem to the one that some writers have mentioned ….. about doing a book about a person in history, who others might not have heard about….. if the book does get picked up for publication, how likely is it that more pb’s or any books for that matter, will be published about this person. So many people are getting discovered and getting their proper “dues,” but does the world need several more books about them, even with new angles? I feel like so so many of these “people discoveries” are not just story-worthy, but also song-worthy. And yet….does so and so really “need” a song? RBG….songworthy but also well known. Am I (or other writers) perpetuating the problem of only focusing on content/songs about only well known people. I feel like the take away message (i.e. persistence, self-belief) so often is what the song should be about, matching the book. That’s one way around the issue….but still…if more people wrote about a certain person (differently of course, with some overlap) wouldn’t that person’s legacy grow as appropriate or relevant? I still am bothered by this…..guess I will go back to writing about rocks…..but which ones? igneous ones are so interesting, but metamorphic ones are so important….. oh bother! #ScientistWantedForLyrics😆. stay well✌🏼💖🎶🎨📚🌻

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Annie, thank you for all of this! I know you get the deep-down aspects of these books and I am so grateful for people like Beth who help bring to light the stories of strong women who are unsung heroes in history!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I love the frame of mind of finding the part of your research that tugs at the heart. The Voice that Won the Vote opened my eyes to the fact that not all men dismissed their wives and/or daughters’ ideas. I can’t wait to read more of your work.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Ever since I read The Voice That Won the Vote, I became a fan of Elisa’s books. I look forward to reading this latest book and adding it to the Merrifield Team’s class library. What a great topic for a book.

    Liked by 1 person

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