As a writer, I am always looking for stories. Stories that get lost in the margins, or that are being forgotten, or mis-remembered. Stories that deserve to be told, over and over. Attention must be paid.
In 2012, I first heard the story of the historic event that my debut picture book, LET THE CHILDREN MARCH, describes through the eyes of a young girl. I was sitting in church, in my Unitarian Universalist congregation in Little Rock. It was the “story for all ages” time, when the children come down front and an adult church leader shares something the kids could relate to. The story of the Children’s Crusade March in Birmingham, Alabama, which took place in May of 1963, is taught to the elementary kids as part of our religious education curriculum. It’s a story of social justice and working for racial equality—topics close to my heart.
I was stunned by what I heard. Children marched? Children were jailed? Dogs and high-pressured water hoses were used against them? Why do I not know this story? I polled the members of the congregation around me. None of us had ever heard the story before, nor were we aware of the seismic difference it had made in the civil rights movement.
The little writer in my brain, which always has one eye open (even when sleeping), sat up straight and immediately Googled the topic. The story was stunning and heart-breaking and inspiring. Check! Another Google search found no children’s picture books about the topic. Check! (Incidentally, a wonderful one has since been published—Cynthia Levinson’s THE YOUNGEST MARCHER.) The story also had relevance to what was happening in the world around me—the Black Lives Matter movement was beginning, and my heart was breaking every day for the stories I read about the injustice people of color face just by existing. Maybe, I thought, this story from our shared history can help with the challenges of today.
I had the old familiar feeling of being on fire with the need to share a story. It happens mostly with stories from our history, but it can also be a fictional character that speaks to me. We writers never really know when it will hit. On the bus, in our dreams, at a day job, or, like me, at church. Years later, and many, many drafts later, I sold the book to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It's five and a half years later now, and it will be available “everywhere books are sold” in just a few months. It’s been an amazing journey.
I took a research trip to Birmingham while working on revisions with my editor. I talked with the children who marched that week in May. They are grandparents now. I talked with a teacher who turned her face to the chalkboard as the children and teens left class in droves. I pored over the newspapers and sermons and pictures for hours. I am hopeful that with the publication of my book, and others like it, this story will be remembered again and always. Attention must be paid.
Thanks for reading! Remember: our stories are the threads that connect us!
LET THE CHILDREN MARCH, by Monica Clark-Robinson, illustrated by Frank Morrison
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH for Kids), January 2, 2018
Available for Pre-order now online!