Interview of Lori Alexander, author of A Sporting Chance: How Paralympics Founder Ludwig Guttmann Saved Lives with Sports


        I've interviewed Lori Alexander on Writer's Rumpus and ReFoReMo.  Lori writes all kinds of books, and this the first non-fiction I've read of hers.  A Sporting Chance: How Paralympics Founder Ludwig Guttmann Saved Lives with Sports beautifully explores Ludwig Guttmann's life, and his work to save lives. It's engaging and informative, and filled with real photographs and expressive illustrations. This book perfectly helps kids explore history, disabilities, perseverance and hope. I'm thrilled to highlight her here as she continues her writing journey! 

      Kirsti Call: Lori, your book, A Sporting Chance: How Paralympics Founder Ludwig Guttmann Saved Lives with Sports is a powerful story of persistence and hope. What inspired you to write this story?

Lori Alexander: Thank you, Kirsti! My daughter was born with a condition called pseudoarthrosis. It affects the tibia in her left leg. We didn’t have a diagnosis until she was bearing weight as a newly walking toddler and her leg broke. The bone wouldn’t heal and after six months, her leg was still fractured. In many cases, children with pseudoarthrosis undergo multiple surgeries in attempts to get the affected bone to heal. If the bone won’t fuse, amputation is the next course of action. Although we’ve had some success with surgeries, bone grafts, rodding, and a leg brace, the amputation has always been in the back of our minds. We love to watch the Paralympics to show our daughter (now 13 years old) that legs aren’t required for gold medals. Success comes to those who work for it.

KC: How did you decided which details to include?

LA: When I learned that a doctor was behind the founding of the Paralympic Games, I had to know more! And while I wanted to include every detail from my research, I had to remember my audience—kids aged 8-12. For this chapter book biography, I used a narrative nonfiction format. The remarkable events of Ludwig Guttmann’s life read like a story, with a main character who has a problem to solve. I always like to begin with details from childhood. This gives young readers a hint at what’s to come (Ludwig was small but fast, was smart but didn’t love school, liked to play sports, and stood up for his Jewish friends when they were bullied). Themes of compassion, tenacity, and social justice are woven throughout the story. Ludwig was Jewish and living in Germany up until 1938. So in addition to details about his life, I had to provide historical context to young readers who may not be familiar with this part of world history. It’s a tricky balance for nonfiction writers—we want to keep all the interesting bits and move the story forward without heading off track or making things overly complex (sometimes, those extra details can be included in sidebars or back matter). In the end, my editor still found a few places where I could streamline!

KC: What did you learn from your research for this book?

LA: I didn’t know about the dismal survival rate for people with spinal injuries in the early 1900s. About 80% of paraplegic patients died, mostly from bladder infections and from infections caused by bedsores from their full-body casts. Doctors gave these patients an unfortunate nickname: “incurables.” But Ludwig wanted to make a difference. He removed casts and worked to get his patients sitting upright in bed. He brought in physical therapists and wheelchairs and gave his patients simple jobs to do. He wanted these young men and women, many who were soldiers in WWII, to feel like part of society again. He had high expectations. When his patients believed simple tasks, like feeding and dressing themselves, were no longer possible, Ludwig encouraged them to try until they were successful. One day, outside on the hospital lawn, he caught a group of men in their wheelchairs using upside-down walking canes to hit a puck. It reminded him of pollo without the horses. Ludwig began to wonder if sports could help with rehabilitation. He brought in equipment to teach his patients archery. In 1948, he hosted a small archery competition between two hospitals. With more sports, and more participants joining each year, this annual event would grow into the Paralympic Games we know today.

KC: What other projects are you working on?

LA: I’m fascinated by science and medical history and really enjoy writing this chapter book format. So I’ve been searching for another fascinating figure whose story has been lost to history. I’ve landed on a topic and I’m waiting to hear what my editor thinks. In the meantime, I have a board book releasing in October from Scholastic (FUTURE DOCTOR is the fourth book in the Future Baby series). I also have a picture book called MINI MIGHTY SWEEPS, about a little street sweeper with a big job to do, coming from HarperCollins in 2022. 

KC: What advice would you give aspiring authors?

LA: I’m not sure if every state does this, but SCBWI members in AZ have small monthly gatherings called KidLit Mingles. I host the Tucson Mingle and we get lots of new members who are just dipping their toes into the children’s book publishing world. My first bits of advice are usually the same: read lots of current books in your genre, seek out critique partners, if you write PBs make sure to have at least three polished before querying an agent, and don’t give up at the first sign of rejection (there will be so many along the way!). And lately, we’ve been talking a lot about “hook.” There are many things that compete for kids’ time these days. So it makes sense to consider: What makes your story fresh and different? How will it stand out from all the rest?

KC: Thank you, Lori! I learned so much from your book, and your answers to these questions! 

Lori Alexander loves to read and write! She has written picture books like BACKHOE JOE (Harper) and FAMOUSLY PHOEBE (Sterling) as well as the FUTURE BABY board book series (Scholastic). Her first non-fiction chapter book, ALL IN A DROP (HMH) received a Sibert Honor Award. Her new book, A SPORTING CHANCE (HMH), is a Junior Library Guild Selection and received a Kirkus starred review. Lori resides in sunny Tucson, Arizona, with her scientist husband and two book loving kids. She runs when it’s cool and swims when it’s hot. Then she gets back to reading and writing. Visit Lori at www.lorialexanderbooks.com or on Twitter @LoriJAlexander or Instagram @lorialexanderbooks


Interview of LET'S DANCE! debut author, Valerie Bolling


   "Tappity tap, fingers snap!"
       
       Let's Dance! by Valerie Bolling and Maine Diaz is a delightful exploration of dances around the world.  Expressive and lyrical text pairs with active illustrations, making this the kind of book kids will want to re-read--and follow the reading with a dance party!

       What inspired you to write LET'S DANCE? 

Valerie Bolling: Kirsti, I wanted to write a book about dance because dancing is fun, and most people enjoy it. Whenever music is played, children start to dance, including my nieces, Zorah and Anyah. Babies who can barely walk will sway and/or raise their hands. This book celebrates the universality of dance. After all, dance is a language we all speak, even though we have different “accents.”

To illustrate the variety of "accents," I wanted to ensure that the book portrayed an inclusive representation of children: gender, race, ability. My editor, Jes Negrón of Boyds Mills & Kane, expanded upon my vision for diversity by recognizing that some of my words described cultural dances like flamenco (Spain), kathak (India), and long sleeve dance (China). I am thrilled to have this added layer of cultural representation in my book!

KC: I also love the diversity in your book. Did you take dance class as a child?  

VB: I didn’t take dance classes as a child, but did so in college. I started out with “Principles of Dance Techniques” and moved on to African and Modern dance classes. I enjoyed these classes because, unlike my academic classes where I sat at a desk and took notes, I got to move!



KC: What's your favorite memory of dancing?

VB: I definitely had fun dancing at my wedding, but I’ve had fun dancing at other people’s weddings, too. I’ve danced at parties, on cruise ships, on a Bermuda street, at Mardi Gras, with my students, in Zumba classes, and in my own home … with my husband as well as by myself. I love to dance, Kirsti!

KC: Yay!  I also love dancing despite my lack of  ability! What other projects are you working on?

VB: I’m always revising several manuscripts at a time, so that’s the majority of my work. I wrote a new manuscript a couple of weeks ago, and I’d like to write a picture biography about an inspirational female. I’m also writing responses to interviews, like this one, and re-imagining how to get the word out about Let’s Dance!, virtually, since my in-person events have obviously been cancelled due to the pandemic.

KC: You've done a great job of sharing your book in these strange times! What is your advice for aspiring authors?

VB: Of course, what’s most important for aspiring authors – as I’m sure you know, Kirsti – is to get started; make time for writing; and stick with it! You’ve got to enjoy it to be committed to the process. If you’re passionate about writing, I recommend the following 5-step plan.
1.     Write every day … or as close to that as possible.
2.     Revise often, but be willing to take a break from a story and come back to it later. You can draft a new story or revise another story during that “break.”
3.     Read books in the genre you’re writing and learn from them.
4.     Immerse yourself in the writing community by taking a course, joining SCBWI, going to conferences, joining a critique group, and participating in writing opportunities, such as contests, scholarships, and Twitter pitches.
5.     Continue writing …even when you face rejection.

Let’s Dance! (Boyds Mills & Kane) is Valerie Bolling’s debut picture book. In addition to being an author, Valerie has been an educator for over 25 years. When she taught elementary students, it was difficult to find diverse literature for them. Thus, she is passionate about creating stories in which all children can see themselves and feel valued and heard.

A graduate of Tufts University and Columbia University, Teachers College, Valerie currently works as an Instructional Coach with middle and high school teachers.

Besides writing picture books, Valerie writes a Monthly Memo for teachers that she publishes on Twitter, and she has been published in The National Writing Project’s Quarterly (“The Family Writing Project Builds a Learning Community in Connecticut”) and NESCBWI News (“Microaggressions Don’t Feel ‘Micro’”)Recently, she had a poem accepted for publication by Cricket Media. 

Valerie is a member of NCTE, SCBWI, the NESCBWI Equity and Inclusion Committee, the Authors Guild, the WNDB Mentorship Program, #12X12PB, 2020 Diverse Debuts, 20/20 Vision Picture Books, and a picture book critique group.

Valerie and her husband live in Connecticut and enjoy traveling, hiking, reading, going to the theater, and dancing.