Please welcome children’s author Nancy Churnin as we chat about the release of her newest book, MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN. Illustrated by Danny Popovici and published by Creston Books, MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN is the true story of Dashrath Manjhi who, using only a hammer and chisel and twenty years’ worth of perseverance, carved a path through a mountain to connect his poor village to the more prosperous village nearby. Kirkus Reviews praises Churnin’s prose as having “an elegance appropriate for her inspiring tale” and hails the tale as “heartening”. Churnin’s inspiring story also has the honor of being selected for the Junior Library Guild Fall 2017 list.
Congratulations, Nancy, on this exceptional new release and thanks so much for joining us today. Let’s get started – with my questions in burnt umber to match the book’s magnificent cover.
What inspired you to write MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN?
I had such a joyful journey with writing my debut book, The William Hoy Story, How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game, I was inspired to find more stories of hidden heroes and heroines from diverse backgrounds. When I came across an article about Manjhi, he grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let go. Manjhi is the story of how having a vision and determination can transform any one of us from being ordinary to extraordinary. I felt driven, like Manjhi, to find a way of telling his story in a way that would resonate with kids and inspire them to make a positive difference in their schools and communities.
And I think you succeeded! His story his inspiring and such a good example for kids to know and follow.
Did you always want to be a writer? Tell us a little bit about your writing journey?
I cannot remember a time that I didn’t love books and long to add to the wondrous world of words. My parents, who came of age during the Great Depression, used the first pennies they had to buy a book — Tomorrow Will Be Better. I grew up in a world of books, with a library of shelves my father built from floor to ceiling. I also remember having my own blank notebook where I was writing ideas and fragments of stories and poems. As I grew up, I was drawn to studying literature and I fell in love with journalism, which allowed me to interview, learn and write stories on a daily basis. This turned out to be a terrific preparation for researching and writing children’s picture books.
In addition to writing picture books, you are also the Theater Critic for The Dallas Morning News. How has your interest in theater shaped your writing?
I thank my job for the inspiration for my first book, The William Hoy Story. I wrote a story about a fascinating play, The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy, being presented by a high school in Garland, Texas. I received a thank you note from Steve Sandy, a man in Ohio. I emailed back my appreciation but asked why a man in Ohio was interested in a play in a high school in Garland, Texas. Steve told me he is Deaf and a friend of the Hoy family. We got to be email friends. Steve told me it made him sad that Deaf and hearing kids didn’t know the story of this Deaf hero. He also told me of his dream that William Hoy would someday be inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, where he would be the first Deaf player honored there.
That’s when I got the idea that if I wrote a book for kids, the kids would help by writing letters to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Hoy’s behalf. So far, they kids have sent more than 800 letters. We are encouraging them to keep them coming in advance of the next vote in 2020. We include the address for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the free William Hoy teachers’ guide. Thank you, Laura, for giving me an opportunity to talk about this and encourage the kids to participate!
Wow! I just love how your interest in theater led you to write Hoy’s story and I think your campaign to have children write letters on Hoy’s behalf to the Baseball Hall of Fame is brilliant!
MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN is also based on a true story. What was your process for first researching and then writing the book?
I read every article I could find on Manjhi. I hit gold when I discovered YouTube videos of interviews with him and interviews of people in his community. The videos also showed his village, which is such an important part of the story. I was fortunate, too, to get help from Rachel Ball-Phillips, a lecturer in South Asian studies at Southern Methodist University. She knows the story, the culture and the terrain. She made sure that my story was correct and gave notes to make sure that Danny Popovic’s exquisite watercolor illustrations accurately reflected the architecture, clothes, hairstyles and food in Manjhi’s village.
Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?
Yes! I am so proud of our curriculum guide, which not only talks about themes and culture, but teaches kids simple words in Hindi and includes a recipe for roti, a flat bread that Manjhi enjoys in the book. Plus, in the back of the book itself, I talk about our Move Your Own Mountain project. We are asking kids to send us photos of something they have done, in the spirit of Manjhi, to make a positive difference in their schools and communities, so that we can celebrate what they’ve done and encourage good deeds to spread. The photos and descriptions of what they’ve done will be posted on the Move Your Own Mountain page on nancychurnin.com. Here’s a link to the curriculum guide.
I just LOVE how, for each of your books, you offer kids concrete ways to follow through and grow. Are there more picture books in the pipeline? (I hope so!)
I have three more picture books biographies coming out after Manjhi Moves a Mountain, for a total of five. Charlie Takes His Shot, How Charlie Sifford Broke the Color Barrier in Golf is the true story of Charlie Sifford, who waged a long, lonely fight for his right to play golf. With the help of friends like Jackie Robinson and Stanley Mosk, Charlie became the first black player in the Professional Golfers’ Association of America, opening the door for so many others. Charlie Takes HIs Shot comes out Jan. 1, 2018. Also coming out in 2018: Irving Berlin, The Immigrant Boy Who Taught America to Sing and The Princess and the First Christmas Tree, the story of the princess who introduced the annual tradition of the Christmas tree to Windsor Castle.
Readers are in for a real treat. All these titles sound great. Thank you for sharing your writing gift with the world – and for stopping by today! To learn more about Nancy and her books, visit her blog. She is also on Facebook and Twitter at @nchurnin.
About the Author: Nancy Churnin is the theater critic for The Dallas Morning News and author of THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME (Albert Whitman & Company), on the 2016 New York Public Library Best Books for Kids list, the 2017 Texas Library Association’s 2X2 and Topaz lists and the 2018 Illinois School Library Media Association’s Monarch Award Master List. MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN (Creston Books), a 2017 Junior Library Guild fall selection, came out Sept. 1, 2017. Coming out in 2018: CHARLIE MAKES HIS SHOT: HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF (Albert Whitman) in January; IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING (Creston Books) in spring and THE PRINCESS AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE (Albert Whitman) in September. A native New Yorker, she’s a graduate of Harvard University, with a master’s from Columbia University School of Journalism, who lives in Dallas with her husband, sons and two cats.