A Word from the Author or Illustrator

Ger Duany Author Essay

Walk Toward the Rising Sun

Walk Toward the Rising Sun By Ger Duany with Garen Thomas

Growing up in the Greater Upper Nile region of South Sudan, I did what every boy and girl did: I ran wherever the wind blew, played traditional games, swam, and sang songs in the Nuer language. I would spend my days trekking to the bush with my club and spear to hunt birds and other creatures in our thick forest. Looking back, this is by far my fondest childhood memory.

My mother grew up with the important responsibility of raising her four siblings, as her mother passed away when she was only a teenager. I really don’t know much about my grandmother, but what I did come to learn about my mother’s upbringing I learned through her character. What I saw most vividly was how vigilant my mother and uncle—who looked nearly identical to her—were about the civil war that surrounded us.

My father, mother, and uncle did everything in their power to keep my family safe. Dad and Mom brought us up as city kids and never allowed us to undergo scarification, a tradition for young boys in Sudan. My siblings and I thrived on being whatever we wanted to be. Like many children in the Greater Upper Nile, I imagined the world was limitless and entirely under my control, despite my awareness of the impending war.

In 1983, the war began to take shape in an ugly way, and I was taken to Liet village, located west of Akobo. Many people there gossiped and considered us spoiled because we came from the city of Malakal. They assumed city children were lazy and weak. The gossip bothered me, so I took it upon myself to learn about the lifestyle of the village by bonding with cousins from my mother’s side. They became my keys to mastering this new life.

Mum also taught me about the freedom fighter Anya Anya, and about my father, a prominent soldier who protected his people in the 1960s and ’70s. The stories served not only to educate me about my lineage but also to instill hope during such dark times. My adolescent dreams persisted. I realize now that the stories that my parents shared with me cultivated the inner strength I would need in order to endure the suffering that war would bring. Little did I know, the months to come would change my life forever.

To escape the daily routine of war, I learned to create alternate realities in my mind, traveling to better, safer places in my imagination. If anyone taught me about the power of storytelling, it was my parents and uncle. My love for culture and community began with them. That same love propels me to view the world with curiosity and compassion and to seek the places where I can best serve humanity.

My memoir, Walk Toward the Rising Sun, is a collection of my memories—stories that are always with me. I want others to learn from my experiences, to understand how they have molded me into who I am today. I believe there are parts of my story that anyone can relate to, regardless of who or where they are. At our core, we all have the same dream of a good life, free of war, pain, and suffering. We all crave happy, peaceful times with family and friends and the opportunity to connect to one another through storytelling.

My memoir discusses the importance of a childhood free from violence; the reality of families who are dispersed to all corners of the globe, causing the circle of family to grow smaller; and the challenges we must face in order to understand who we truly are.

What I want readers to take away from Walk Toward the Rising Sun is an appreciation for freedom of expression, self-determination, and cultural history. Ultimately, mine is a tale of hope: a portrait of the rich and complex human condition, full of joy, pain, inspiration, and dignity.

Ger Duany

www.gerduany.com

An abridged note from the guide writers

This guide for Ger Duany’s Walk Toward the Rising Sun comes after more than a decade of collaboration, mentoring, teaching, learning, and friendship. Our work with literacy, refugee relocation, history, storytelling, and youth advocacy is why we were honored and thrilled to be part of this book’s introduction to educators and librarians.

 

Diverse books cultivate voice in young people, showing them their stories matter and deserve to be heard. And when they have found their voices, they are better prepared to share their lives with others. 

We created this guide with teachers like us in mind—teachers who work toward social justice and who desire education systems that benefit all youth. We hope our guide enhances Ger Duany’ s memoir and offers multiple ways for you to approach this beautiful book with students, in book clubs, and for yourself.

Ubuntu,
Bryan Ripley Crandall and Abu Bility

Trudy Ludwig Author Essay

The Power of One

Using Literature to Build Empathy and SEL Skills in Young Readers

Years ago, my sister sent me a translated paperback edition of Struwwelpeter, a classic German picture book originally published in 1845. Illustrated and written in verse by the physician Heinrich Hoffman as a gift for his young son, Struwwelpeter was controversial because of the author’s humorous albeit disturbingly gruesome tales that describe the extreme consequences that fall upon disobedient children.

Children’s literature, thank goodness, has come a long way since Struwwelpeter. Rather than employing stories primarily to instill moral values, strengthen personal character, and shape behavior, more educators, counseling professionals, and parents are using well-written fiction to foster empathy and boost social-emotional learning (SEL) skills (casel.org/what-is-sel) in children.

“Stories can change how children act in the world.”

—Peggy Albers, professor of language and literacy education at Georgia State University

Neuroscientific studies (bbc.com/future/article/20190523-does-reading-fiction-make-us-better-people) indicate that fiction enables readers to recognize and feel characters’ thoughts and feelings, thereby allowing them to live vicariously through the story’s characters. Sound familiar? Yes—this is about empathy, the capacity to feel with people and have compassion for their pain and suffering. Reading literature actually boosts this capacity in young readers’ developing brains! Researchers also report that literature is an effective supplemental tool to help build self-awareness, social awareness, and self-regulation, as well as friendship and problem-solving skills—all of which are key components of an effective SEL program.

Any fiction worth its literary weight shows the characters facing problems, obstacles, and issues, and their subsequent efforts to address or overcome them. Adult-guided activities help instill critical-thinking skills in young readers, getting them to understand and engage with the stories they read and with each other in constructive, pro-social ways. Role-playing scenarios, introspective essays, creative drawing and writing projects, and discussion questions are a few ways to accomplish this goal.

To further engage students to think critically about the stories they read, I often recommend that educators employ the following questions that I had adapted from Stan Davis’s “Think About It” behavioral reflection form, shared in his book Schools Where Everyone Belongs.

  • What happened? What was the major problem in the story?
  • What role did each key character play in that problem?
  • How did each key character’s words and actions make the problem worse or better?
  • How did or could the character(s) have handled the situation without hurting anyone?
  • What did the character(s) do or what could they have done to make up for the hurt they caused others? Give a few examples.

I also encourage educators to use the internet to access ready-made lesson plans. If they cannot find any on the publisher’s or author’s websites, they can enter the title of the book chosen in the search bar, followed by the words “lessons,” “activities,” or even “Teacher’s Guide.”

While literature alone will not change the world, it can help change how we think and act in the world. It has the potential to encourage us to question and challenge our existing beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. It can open our minds to the possibilities of change and, ultimately, to our ability to be changemakers ourselves.

Trudy Ludwig

Trudy Ludwig is an acclaimed speaker and award-winning author of numerous children’s books, including The Invisible Boy, a School Library Journal Best Picture Books selection. Her work helps to empower children to be kinder and more compassionate in their social world. The Power of One: Every Act of Kindness Counts (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, August 2020) is her newest picture book.

John Beede author essay

The Warrior Challenge

Raising Boys to Become Better Humans

Has any man—a grown male in politics, media, or your personal life—upset or angered you in the past six months? For just a second, try to relive that skin-clawing moment and ask yourself if the dude in question was somehow unkind or cowardly, or acted insufficiently to clean up his proverbial (or literal!) mess.

If yes, then you’ve felt the same fire that compelled me to write The Warrior Challenge: 8 Quests for Boys to Grow Up with Kindness, Courage, and Grit.

The book’s goals are to teach boys that a guy’s real strength lies in his virtues, not his violence, that vulnerability is the epitome of bravery, and that the toughest of the tough are those who decide to stand up for others in need.

But how does one teach kindness, courage, and grit to ten- to eighteen-year-old boys? The book would have to be ridiculously entertaining and loaded with heart-pounding stories that make those traits somehow . . . cool.

I’ll admit to my arrogance upfront; when I agreed to write The Warrior Challenge, I had recently finished a decade-long mountaineering adventure on which I climbed to the top of the tallest mountain on every continent, including Mount Everest. I foolishly thought that writing the book would, comparatively, be a walk in the park.

Yet, when I took a closer look at what middle and high school boys are dealing with today, I saw a cacophony of cultural cancers. Staring back at me were the abuses of power that led to the need for the #MeToo movement and the systemic racism that led to the recent #BlackLivesMatter protests. Most sobering of all, the more I researched, listened, and read, the more I became aware of how I myself have been a “Kevin” at times. Of course, never intentionally, but I am guilty nonetheless.

That’s when the determination of my inner Everest climber re-emerged. Our boys—and our culture—deserve better. My new summit became creating a tool that will help parents, teachers, and librarians raise a generation of boys who wield the weapons of self-awareness, integrity, and values and suit up with armor made of healthy boundaries, vulnerability, and resilience. Perhaps most important, The Warrior Challenge teaches young men how to choose their life’s battlegrounds by furthering  inclusiveness, justice, and equality, regardless of gender, sexuality, or race.

In short: the eight quests in the The Warrior Challenge are rites of passage designed to train boys to grow up as True Warriors, AKA quality human beings.

But these are huge topics, even for adults, right?

I needed help. I had to form a battle crew to help create the book, because the last thing I wanted to do was myopically redefine manliness based on my own white, cisgender, mountain man perspective. That’s why, along with incredible warrior women who helped to edit and shape the book’s contents (and graciously pointed out my blind spots and misunderstandings), I tracked down eight real-life superheroes from all walks of life.

Just like in a video game, the book drops readers into the shoes of these role models. Boys experience their legendary adventures and simultaneously learn the virtues that make these gentlemen the heroes they are. We even coupled their stories with retina-popping comic book artwork!

By now you may be wondering, “Okay, but why was the book written for boys? Doesn’t that reinforce the gender divide?”

That’s a great question—one we wrestled with. You are correct to argue that girls, women, and all genders should be taught that true strength comes through uniting, uplifting, and listening to voices of those who are different.

Yet when it came to the book’s conversations about consent, the dangers of pornography, and the damage caused by toxic relationships, we realized boys receive different cultural conditioning, and therefore deserve a tailormade response. Statistically, we males experience a different set of maladies (including far higher rates of suicide, alcohol and drug dependency, and violent behavior, among a myriad of others). And it’s no secret that we also create a unique set of problems.

That’s why we landed on writing this book as a “guy talk,” and I openly invite readers of all genders to be a part of the conversation. For the same reason, in the near future, I hope to coauthor a girls’ version of The Warrior Challenge with a warrior who can speak the language of young women better than I could ever hope to.

This book exists because all of us deserve better than a culture of man-boys and aggro-males who blame, project, abuse, deflect, and gaslight, and call such cowardly behavior “strength.” Let’s show our boys that those are weak and feeble actions. Let’s define a version of masculinity that doesn’t have toxic associated with it.

My challenge to you, as you continue to be a Warrior Guide to the young men in your life, is to make this book a part of your toolbox. Send your boys on the epic adventure that awaits in these pages. Join me in teaching that a guy’s real strength lies in becoming a high-quality human being. Let’s raise our boys to know that a real man is a True Warrior who fights his battles with kindness, courage, and grit. Are you up for the challenge?

—JB

Let’s Talk About It

The Talk

Cheryl and Wade Hudson, editors of The Talk: Conversations about Race, Love & Truth, share why we need to have "the talk".

Talking about race, sex, social injustice, or other difficult subjects has always been uncomfortable. Many parents and teachers wonder whether they are equipped to engage children in these difficult conversations, particularly when they are struggling to determine how they themselves feel about the subject. Desiring to protect their children from the perceived fallout, some choose to not have “the talk” at all.

It is not so easy to shelter young people, however. Children are impacted by events, incidents, and attitudes just as adults are. They get their information from friends, from television, and from social media. This information often comes without perspective or context. That’s why having “the talk” is so important.

As parents, we recognized that early on. We knew we had to help prepare our two children as best we could, as written in the introduction to The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth, with “the tools to make their way as safely as possible in a society that is too often hostile to them simply because they are African American. Especially as sometimes that hostility leads to the loss of Black life.” It is a responsibility that most African Americans assume determinedly. Our parents certainly did. For us, there wasn’t just one talk but many talks.

We conceived of The Talk in 2018, while we were preparing for the launch of our first anthology with Crown Books, We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices. That book was a conversation with young people during the challenging, contentious, and frightening period that followed the 2016 election. In it, creators used words and images to encourage, comfort, and reassure, and to let young people know we love them, all of them. To remind them that we have faced difficult periods before, and we would get through this one. We Rise made it obvious how important these conversations are, and also accentuated that conversations need to involve all of us if we are to become the beloved community that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talked and wrote about. The Talk seemed like a natural follow-up.

How then, do we begin to approach having these important and crucial conversations—whether at home, on the job, or in classrooms?

We suggest beginning from exactly where you are. As educators, librarians, or parents, acknowledge your discomfort. We urge you to look at this anthology as a resource filled with a variety of perspectives that are available as starting points to begin important conversations. The talks within this collection are multicultural and intersectional in nature, and can be used in a variety of ways. There are so many opportunities to employ critical thinking when experiencing these pieces and during the conversations that are sure to follow.

The language of our national discourse is constantly changing. What do our children know about systemic racism? Injustice? Fairness? Equality? White privilege? Diversity and inclusion? While they might not have the jargon readily at hand to express their observations and experiences, those situations and feelings do exist. Millions of people around the world were moved in profound ways by the brutal murder of George Floyd as well as other killings of unarmed African Americans. So were children. The response has inspired all kinds of people to open themselves up to learn more about social injustice, racism, and white privilege. In so many ways, The Talk is timely and appropriate.

This anthology shows that important conversations about who we are and what we believe about ourselves and others are not limited to Black families but involve a multitude of cultures within the fabric of America. Contributors to The Talk use authentic stories about their personal experiences to provide windows and mirrors for readers.

  • Social studies teachers may use Traci Sorell’s and MaryBeth Timothy’s story “The Way of the Anigiduwagi” to discuss how sovereignty and Indigenous culture are affirmed in spite of default “Indian” stereotypes.
  • Language arts teachers may use “Tough Tuesday” by Nikki Grimes and Erin K. Robinson or Meg Medina’s and Rudy Gutierrez’s “Hablar” to explore how words can be used in both harmful and healing ways.
  • Media specialists may point to Valerie Wilson Wesley’s and Don Tate’s “Never Be Afraid to Soar” or Duncan Tonatiuh’s “Why Are There Racist People?” as sliding glass doors to begin historical research.
  • An untitled essay by Daniel Nayeri may be used as a creative writing prompt to illustrate how silence or a refusal to talk may impact how a person is judged within various cultures.
  • Essays such as Christopher Myers’s “Mazes” and Grace Lin’s “Not a China Doll” provide analyses of Greek and Asian mythologies by retelling the stories and reinterpreting them in a contemporary American vernacular.
  • Whether talking about friendship (“F.R.I.E.N.D.S.” by Torrey Maldonado and Natacha Bustos), being stopped by the police (“Ten” by Tracey Baptiste and April Harrison), economic disparity (“The Bike” by Wade Hudson and E. B. Lewis), physical appearance (“Remember This” by Renée Watson and Shadra Strickland, “I’m a Dancer” by Sharon Dennis Wyeth and Raul Colón, and “My Olmec” by Selina Alko), confronting outright racist stereotypes (“Handle Your Business” by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James), examining White privilege (“Our Inheritance” by Adam Gidwitz and Peter H. Reynolds), or navigating religious intolerance (“The Road Ahead” by Minh Lê and Cozbi A. Cabrera), The Talk offers a broad range of conversations about race, love, and truth. Dive in and don’t be afraid to explore even further.

The time is now. SO LET’S TALK!

Q&A with Vesper Stamper

A Cloud of Outrageous Blue

A Cloud of Outrageous Blue By Vesper Stamper

Vesper Stamper is the author of What the Night Sings, a Morris Award finalist, longlisted for the National Book Award, and winner of the Sydney Taylor Award. In her sophomore novel, A Cloud of Outrageous Blue, a young woman paves her own path and falls in love during the Great Plague of 1348. We talked with Vesper about writing historical fiction, how her book connects to our current times, and the joy she finds in connecting with young readers.

In your last book, you explored the topic of the Holocaust and surviving Nazi Germany and its aftermath as a Jewish person. This book is about a medieval plague. Why do you gravitate toward historical fiction?

History is just the story of human choices, and how those choices intersect. We often learn in school that it’s all about the power plays of those at the top, but the fact is that we are living in a story right now that will one day be part of “history.” That’s just as true of a hidden life like Edyth Le Sherman’s in A Cloud of Outrageous Blue as it is of yours or mine. The little choices we make can have extraordinary effects. That’s what interests me: how one unknown person—like you or me—takes ownership over our own life and choices in times of extraordinary pressure.

Can you talk about your research process and how it differs between books?

When I wrote What the Night Sings, I had the honor of interviewing living witnesses to the Holocaust—people who had been in the camps and experienced these events, which I incorporated into Gerta’s story. This time around, because there aren’t—as far as I’m aware!—any 700-year-old people to interview, I had to do a lot more reading about tiny, mundane things, like whether groups of people traveled by cart in the time I was writing about. Human nature doesn’t change, but since Edyth lived in the fourteenth century and the peasantry of that time didn’t have much in the way of written records, I had to research everything from food to holidays to Latin prayers. But researching A Cloud of Outrageous Blue definitely lit up all the nerdy little areas of my brain.

There is an obvious connection between the story in A Cloud of Outrageous Blue and our current plague, COVID-19. Talk a little bit about how it feels to publish a novel on this topic and the connections your book has to our modern crisis.

Honestly, I felt a little more mentally prepared for this pandemic than I think I would have had I not learned about the plague, and I think A Cloud of Outrageous Blue can help readers to put this pandemic in historic perspective. In 1349, between one-third and one-half of the population of Europe died, and the time from the onset of symptoms to death was about three days. That isn’t to minimize what we’re going through at all, but it does highlight how blessed we are to have modern medicine and infrastructure. I believe that medical advances will come from this crisis, just as they did back then. One advantage medieval people had was their understanding of the inevitability of death. I think modern folks tend to lean so heavily on our ability to fix things that it can leave us unprepared to grapple with the big questions of life, death, and meaning.

What has troubled me most, however—though not surprised me at all—is the social upheaval that has resulted from the pandemic. Fear tends to rule at times of uncertainty, and it can cause people to become incredibly suspicious of each other. As the Prioress says in Cloud, “Fear kills, Edyth, but it does not have to win.” The destructive nature of fear is, to me, something we all need to pay attention to. Because just as the Great Plague brought out terrible things in some people, it also ushered forth an explosion of self-sacrifice, love, creativity, individualism, and choice for people who previously had their lives more or less prescribed. It can happen for us, too, but we have to intentionally choose to love our neighbors instead of fearing them and making assumptions about them.

Like your debut, this novel is gorgeously illustrated (sample pieces shown throughout this page). Why do you choose to illustrate your novels?

Thank you! Frankly, I illustrate my novels because Knopf lets me! It’s always been my dream to help resurrect the illustrated novel, which was standard in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I think that we never outgrow our love and need for beautiful pictures to help deepen our connection to a story. All the beautiful artwork of the Middle Ages—which adorns everything from the smallest medieval parish church to the greatest cathedral—was meant to tell a story. I think I’m just continuing that tradition. The visual aspect of a work allows you to put yourself in the scene with—or as—the character you’re reading about. Each piece is meant to serve as a moment that the reader can use to pause, to imagine and embody the emotion and experience of the character.

Since authors are currently unable to have in-school visits, could you give an elevator pitch of what you would share with students if you were visiting their classroom?

I always love to help students understand that, just like any other historical or cultural figure, they matter, their choices matter, and loving their neighbors matters. More than any other time in life, our teen years set the stage for who we’ll be in the world, whether we realize it or not. It’s a powerful time. We are all historical figures, writing and living history together now.

One of the things I look forward to most when I do author visits is hearing from readers about how my stories intersect with theirs. It doesn’t mean every reader agrees with what I’ve put on the page, and actually, some of my favorite discussions are the ones where we can model healthy disagreement and still find common ground. I try to look each reader in the eye and communicate my respect and care for them. That might be more important than any words or images I create—that human-to-human moment of communicating “I see you, and you matter to me.”

We love to hear from authors about their inspirations and favorite things! What books, resources, and tips have been getting you through this time.

Because of the subject matter I deal with in my books, both historically and emotionally, I can get obsessed with my work and overcome by the passion to be an agent of change. It’s not good to live at 200 percent intensity all the time, though. I’m learning how important it is to take care of my own soul, and that that’s actually good for the work as well. So lately, I’ve been reading a lot about art and beauty, for their own sake. I believe that just as the Renaissance emerged from the devastation of the Great Plague, a burst of innovation and creativity can emerge from this time if we’re intentional about it. To that end—and this seems small, but it’s not—I’ve been very focused on nurturing my little flower garden. It’s the first year everything hasn’t either died or been eaten on my watch! I’m doing some landscape paintings, and I’m enjoying time with my family.

We may never have a chance like this again to really cultivate our own souls. It’s a time to get very real with ourselves, and to strengthen our friendships. I have a small group of very close friends who I talk to daily, who keep me grounded, centered in gratitude and love. And every morning, before I lift my head from the pillow, I read one chapter of the book of Psalms. Every human emotion is both represented and accepted in the Psalms, from rage to joy and everything in between. It reminds me that even in the times of greatest turmoil, we can still choose to steer ourselves away from vengeance, anxiety, and fear and toward love.

Could you tell us what’s next for you?

Well, now I get to introduce people to Edyth’s story! Whether it’s virtual or, hopefully, in person, I can’t wait to connect with readers again! I tried to create a book that felt like an illuminated manuscript for our times, and who knew it would be so close to our times.

I’ve also illustrated a picture-book biography of Jane Austen written by Jasmine A. Stirling that comes out in January. And I’ve been working on a new novel . . . but I can’t say anything about it just yet—only that it seems to be writing itself, which is a very good sign. Other than that, I’m doing the same as everyone else—watching and waiting to see what comes next in our story.