Find Your Passion
By Nancy Churnin
Find your passion. And let one thing lead to another.
I write books about people I fall in love with -- someone I want kids to know about. Sometimes that passion leads me to unlikely places.
I don’t remember who I went the library to research when my mind drifted to Charles Dickens. Now, I had no intention of writing a book about Charles Dickens – there are already excellent picture books about him, including Deborah Hopkinson’s 2012 A Boy Called Dickens.
But then I stumbled on this: a Jewish woman, Eliza Davis, had written to him, reproaching him for creating Fagin in Oliver Twist, telling him this ugly character was hurtful and unfair to the Jewish community. I read that her letters changed his heart toward Jewish people. And I felt time stop.
Growing up as a Jewish girl, it hurt me to read the character of Fagin. Now, as a Jewish woman, it was empowering to learn that a Jewish woman spoke up and changed his heart. Talk about validating the power of words. It felt like the universe telling me to use my words to change the world for good, too.
The research wasn’t easy. I had to track down the correspondence. My librarian at the Plano Public Library discovered there were few copies, but one was in Denton, Texas, of all places – less than an hour drive away, at the University of North Texas. I contacted the university’s librarian and was put in touch with the professor who had donated it. I became friends with Professor Don Vann and his wife, the lovely and now, sadly, late Dolores Vann. The Vanns helped me with my research and put me in touch with two other Dickens scholars, Professor Murray Baumgarten and Professor David Paroissien.
I let one thing lead to another. I followed my passion. And I revised innumerable times. Because it took years to find a home for this unusual story.
But it was worth it. Because on Oct. 1, Dear Mr. Dickens, illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe, published by Albert Whitman, comes into the world. And when I hold this book in my hands and share it with kids, you’ll see the look of love in my eyes.
6/30/2021 10:20:47 am
Nancy, I love everything about this blog post. Thank you for sharing your heart...for chasing the story...and not hating Dickens because of Fagin.
7/3/2021 09:47:46 am
Thank you, Annette. I could never hate Dickens -- his heart is so big, his writing is so wise and wonderful. I was just...perplexed...and hurt. When I discovered Eliza Davis, I felt as if she spoke for me (and so many others) and when Dickens responded the way he did -- taking responsibility, making amends -- that made me love him more than ever, just as Eliza end up admiring him more than ever. It's important to speak up and it is the truly noble spirit that is capable of change and amends.
6/30/2021 10:33:01 am
Thanks for this post, Nancy. Very much looking forward to reading your newest book.
7/3/2021 09:48:37 am
Thank you, Marilyn. It will be a joy to share Dear Mr. Dickens with you!
7/1/2021 04:36:59 am
Always so nice to hear how librarians help in the research process! I'm glad you followed your heart to share this story with the world!
7/3/2021 09:51:00 am
Thank you, Patricia. I am so grateful for your ongoing friendship and support. Librarians rule -- and I'm so glad they do! Grateful to the very first librarian who put books in my hands that it wouldn't occur to my parents to give me. Grateful to the librarian at my local library who was unstoppable in helping me track down this hard to find correspondence. I love libraries and librarians!
7/6/2021 01:33:38 pm
Nancy, I was thrilled to see your post on "Ninja Notebook." The writing journey can lead to unexpected surprises. I'm so happy your journey led you to this amazing story. Congratulations on Dear Mr. Dickens! I can't wait to read it.
9/21/2021 11:19:26 am
Thank you, Pamela. I am so happy to share this book with you. I hope Eliza's story will inspire kids to speak up when they see someone they admire say or do something hurtful, but also give that person room to make amends and then forgive them when they make things right.
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