First Book talked to author Laura Geringer Bass about her latest book, The Girl With More Than One Heart (Abrams), and her extensive work with young people. See what she had to say about dealing with grief, witnessing tragedy, and encouraging young people to share their stories.
First Book: You give a lot of yourself to organizations like First Book, including serving as a mentor to young women aspiring to be writers. Given your successful career in the children’s publishing industry, you are uniquely qualified to offer advice and guidance. Can you tell us about one of the gratifying aspects of that work?
Laura Geringer Bass: One of the most inspiring experiences this past year has been the birth of the #BeYourOwn! Workshop, a creative collaboration with First Book and with Abrams, my publisher.
The 30 writing prompts I offer young writers who participate in my #BeYourOwn! Workshop are all based on The Girl With More Than One Heart. Briana, the 13-year-old heroine, navigates her way through a family crisis—the death of her father—by channeling her love of reading and writing. She’s an imaginative reader. It’s one of her powers.
Storytelling is another.
Briana imagines that she has an extra heart that speaks to her in her dad’s voice and gives her mysterious commands like “Be Your Own!” In the process of working out what that means, she discovers and learns to trust her own voice.
For the past two years, I’ve been a mentor at Girls Write Now, a nonprofit organization that helps girls from low income families tell their stories. I’ve been moved, sometimes to tears, by what the talented young women of the GWN community have to say about their lives.
Briana navigates her way through a family crisis—the death of her father—by channeling her love of reading and writing. She’s an imaginative reader. It’s one of her powers. Storytelling is another.
FB: Can you share a meaningful anecdote about your work with the #BeYourOwn! Workshop and the young women at Girls Write Now?
LGB: Saradine Nazaire came to the United States from Haiti in 2010, after an earthquake that destroyed her home. She and her little brother were buried under the rubble and rescued by neighbors. She was nine years old at the time.
One of Saradine’s goals when she joined Girls Write Now was to write about the day of the earthquake. She had started to tell the story many times, and just as many times had stopped.
“It amuses me when people say goodbye, sometimes they say, ‘There’s always tomorrow,’” she said at the end of one of our weekly meetings. She didn’t look the least bit amused.
“Why does it amuse you?” I asked.
“It’s such a cliché,” she said. “We all have the possibility of seeing tomorrow. But tomorrow represents that which has not yet come. We can’t prepare for it. We must, but we can’t. Tomorrow isn’t yours or mine. You and I can’t count on it. Nobody can.”
I showed Saradine some of the writing prompts from the #BeYourOwn! Workshop:
“Grief has a long tail,” she read. “If grief were an animal, how would you describe it? How about other emotions? Joy? Fear?”
Saradine picked up a second prompt card. “Say goodbye: Write a paragraph or a page on the theme of saying goodbye to someone or something you love—a parent, a friend, a pet, a place.”
“You could write about saying goodbye to Haiti,” I suggested. She nodded and picked up a third prompt card: “Hurricane: After her father’s death, Briana thinks about other catastrophes—crumbling buildings, highways caving in, trees toppling, hurricanes and tornadoes. Write about a disaster, imagined or real, as if you were in the middle of it. Or write about it as if it happened a long time ago.”
Saradine wrote the story she had started to tell many times. She wrote about January 12, 2010, the day when “every part of my life that was stable and familiar crumbled around me.”
She called the piece, “Tomorrow.” It will be published by Dutton this spring in Generation F, the Girls Write Now 2018 Anthology.
Today, more than ever, young people are on the front lines, witnesses to a world filled with tragedy and loss. The news demands that children and teens deal daily with trauma and grief. As parents and teachers, as writers and artists, as humans, we need to help our kids make it through any way we know how. I wept to hear 11-year-old Naomi Wadler rise and speak to a crowd of hundreds of thousands in our nation’s capitol. She said:
“I urge everyone here and everyone who hears my voice to join me in telling the stories that aren’t told.”
Saradine has told one of the stories that aren’t told—that couldn’t be told until she told it—her story. As her mentor, I’m so proud of her.
The news demands that children and teens deal daily with trauma and grief. As parents and teachers, as writers and artists, as humans, we need to help our kids make it through any way we know how.
And I’m grateful to Abrams who is launching The Girl With More Than One Heart into the world this month with a heroine whose power is storytelling. And to First Book, who is bringing my book to children through the First Book Marketplace and with it, the #BeYourOwn! Workshop—for children everywhere who love to read and who have their own stories to tell.
FB: Briana, the heroine of The Girl With More Than One Heart, is pushed out of childhood too soon, yet shows phenomenal strength of character. Who are your favorite female heroines from other books that may have inspired you? What other books for young readers might you recommend to deal with grief and loss?
LGB: Briana has three favorite books she reads over and over again. They were three of my favorites growing up: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith; A Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers; and To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. I was also inspired as a child by girls who go out into the world on their own and explore—Alice in Wonderland, for example (well, she fell down a hole but still!) and the heroine of the Grimm tale, The Seven Ravens who, having lost her brothers, sets out bravely to find them again and to reunite her family.
For more contemporary recommendations, I admire Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons and Kathyrn Erskine’s Mockingbird and Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting by 7s and Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me and Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck and Myla Goldberg’s Bee Season and Gayle Foreman’s I Have Lost My Way and Lore Segal’s Other People’s Houses. I could go on and on, but I’ll stop there.
Find The Girl With More Than One Heart on the First Book Marketplace.
Find writing prompts inspired by The Girl With More Than One Heart here.