Like many writers, artists, musicians, comedians, I was frozen after the events of September 11, 2001. I didn’t know what to do next. And doubted what I did for a living — writing children’s books — made any difference at all. For weeks, I groped for a way to begin. Was it okay to write again?
It was the sounds from that dreadful day that awakened something in me. In the tumult of crashing and splintering, I heard the sounds of a storm. But also a reason to hope.
I began wondering how parent animals safeguard their young during storms – downpours, gales, thunderstorms, and howling winds. How do giraffes keep a little one safe when windstorms rage across the African plains? What does a mother whale and calf do when squalls beat the sea into froth and frenzy? And how can a mama sloth protect her baby when the wild winds whip through the rain forest bending trees and flinging leaves?
I started writing Safe in a Storm on a snowy afternoon in December 2001. I finished a first draft in early 2002.
Like a lot of manuscripts, it didn’t find a home for many years. I’d submit to a few publishers at a time, mailing manila envelopes to New York City and Boston (those were the days when snail mail was the only option). Rejection after rejection. Sometimes an editor would hang onto my manuscript but eventually nothing would come of it and my story would be returned. I’d file my story away, wait a year, and submit again. Rejections piled up. BUT, I never gave up on my quiet and simple read-aloud story about animals finding cozy places to keep their young safe and warm.
So I am ecstatic, after a fifteen-year-wait, that Safe in a Storm has found a home at Scholastic. And I jump for joy over Jennifer Bell’s gorgeous illustrations.
I believe good things take time. I believe good stories will find a home. And I believe Winston Churchill was right: Never Give Up!
I dedicated the book, in part, to the “memory of the 20 Sandy Hook Elementary schoolchildren,” as I believe, that school was struck by a violent storm. I visited Sandy Hook Elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, on Dec. 1, 2009, two years before the tragedy. I remember the warmth and dedication of the staff at Sandy Hook Elementary, and I am so grateful I got a chance to visit. Close by my writing desk, I keep letters from kids I’ve received over the years. I treasure the one from a student at Sandy Hook:
Hi! I’m a fan of your books. When you came to our school, Sandy Hook Elementary, on December 1, 2009 I was inspired to be a writer. Your the best author ever! When you read the first chapter of Wiff and Dirty George The Zebra Incident I was thrilled to read the rest. I will always remember the advice you gave me and to never give up. I hope to grow up and be a good writer like you. But already you gave me a heads up on how to do it.
“When the storm rumbles loudly and the sky turns to ink,
Snuggle close, my little mole. Touch noses, warm and pink.”