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 or on Twitter @LoriJAlexander or Instagram @lorialexanderbooks

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