Author Leah Henderson shares about her childhood sports barrier-breaking and her kidlit nonfiction inspirations in this first #20questions blog post!
Throughout 2020, we posted a #20questions interview with the author and/or illustrator of each #DiverseKidlitNF book. We thought it would be fun and fascinating to hear the diverse answers from our diverse creators, about our books’ diverse topics, using the same #20questions for each author and illustrator.
By the end of 2020, our blog will host a fabulous resource for educators, librarians, and conference organizers about creating high-quality, diverse nonfiction picture books, and what makes our #DiverseKidlitNF books and creators special.
Now, enjoy learning more about MAMIE ON THE MOUND and Leah Henderson!
1. Leah, what inspired you to write this book?
When I was a kid I was a very competitive athlete, so much so that when the boys traveling soccer coach in my area told me girls couldn’t play on his team—even though I had never really kicked a soccer ball at that point—I was determined to play. And after a lot of practice and help from my older brother (who had played on the team), I became one of the first two girls on that once all-boys team. So, when it came to Mamie, I understood her determination and focus and her want to play.
2. How did you approach the research for this book?
For this particular project, I was fortunate that there were a series of video interviews with Mamie Johnson that I could watch. She was quite a personality. It was wonderful to be able to hear from her firsthand how she viewed the game, her opportunities, and her challenges. As well as to watch her mannerisms. After that I dove into articles and books about her, her teammates, the history of America at the time, and the Negro Leagues.
3. What’s something that surprised you while researching this book?
It’s not so much that any one thing surprised me, but I always find it interesting to read people’s interpretation of someone else’s life and to see what they include and omit, especially in the pages of a book. Then to hear what the actual person valued or how they recount the same experiences. It is always fascinating to see how things line up (or don’t) and how memory and feeling meld.
4. What was your favorite part about writing this book?
Learning more about Mamie, and surrounding myself with the wonder and awesomeness of the Negro Leagues and its players and fans.
5. What was the hardest part about writing this book?
Figuring out what not to include.
6. Who is this book’s ideal reader, in your eyes?
Anyone interested in learning about a little-known figure in history. Sports fans (especially those of baseball and the Negro Leagues). Anyone who is always ready to root for the underdog, and anyone interested in learning about the determination of someone in pursuit of their dream.
7. What do you want kids to know about this book?
Mamie was like anyone who has had a love of something, whether that be a sport, an artistic pursuit, or some other activity someone could not imagine not being a part of their life. What sets her apart from so many is the fact that she never gave up on hoping, dreaming and working towards what she wanted, even though she had two strikes against her from the very start—being Black, and being a girl. I want her story to be a reminder to young readers that just because the world maybe saying no, that doesn’t mean you have to say no to your dream as well if you are willing to work for it.
8. What do you want educators and librarians to know about this book?
At its core, this is a story about determination and will, but it can be the springboard for so many different types of conversations and additional readings on multiple topics including segregation, gender, equality etc.
9. Who is the publisher for this book?
10. When is the official release date for this book?
January 1, 2020
11. What do you like most about writing children’s nonfiction books?
Being able to bring little-known stories to light.
12. What’s the biggest challenge in writing children’s nonfiction books?
Not wanting to do harm or misrepresent an experience. Knowing when I have gone deep enough to uncover the facts.
13. How did you get into writing children’s nonfiction books?
I’ve always been fascinated by lives and stories that have often been overshadowed, because those are usually the stories of everyday people standing up, speaking out, or challenging themselves in heroic ways. I think those are the stories that can remind each of us that we are all capable of more. And those are the stories I have always been interested in exploring and telling.
14. Which other children’s nonfiction books inspire you?
There are so many nonfiction books that hold importance for me for a multitude of reasons, but when I was first dipping my toes in the children’s book world, two nonfiction titles that left a firm impression of how wonderful a nonfiction book could be were: MOSES: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, and THE NOISY PAINT BOX: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock.
15. Do you have other jobs besides writing children’s books? (If so, what?)
Along with writing children’s books, I do a lot of volunteer work, and also teach in a graduate school writing program.
16. What’s something that surprised you about being a children’s book author?
The welcoming community of authors and illustrators that I am now fortunate to be a part of.
17. What’s something about you that would surprise kids to know?
Hmmm, there are probably a couple things, but one thing that informs a lot of my life is travel. So kids might be surprised to know that I have visited over 55 countries and am excited for what destinations I might have the honor and pleasure to explore in 2020.
18. What do you think makes a great nonfiction writer?
Someone who is not only willing to question the facts before them, but who is ready to do the work of looking beyond the facts given to find various angles to the same story, to figure out where they all meet.
19. Do you have any advice for kids who want to write children’s books?
Read widely and read a lot! Then just sit down and write—knowing the true magic of your work often won’t reveal itself to you until revision. So, don’t get discouraged early on if what you first put down on paper does not match the brilliance twirling around in your head. :) It will come with rewriting (i.e. practice)!
20. Where can people find you online?
You can always find me at www.leahhendersonbooks.com but I also pop onto twitter (@leahsmark) and Instagram (@leahs_mark) occasionally.