A Great Nonfiction Event

Josie Leavitt - March 15, 2013

We are fortunate in Vermont to have many talented authors and illustrators literally just around the corner from our store. Yesterday, the very local and very gifted Tanya Lee Stone came by for an author. Usually, authors visit for one book, their newest book. Tanya was here promoting her two newest books that came out weeks apart.

The books were Courage Has No Color, The True Story of the Triple Nickles: America’s First Black Paratroopers  and Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell. Both these books are hallmarks of Tanya’s nonfiction style. She likes to take people or events that no one really knows about and in explaining their story, she tells a far larger story of history. Her books are accessible, lively and chock full of information. The themes of her work, which were easily seen by the cart with all her books, tend toward women’s empowerment and filling a missing piece of history.

Tanya began speaking about Courage Has No Color and she told the rapt crowd that it took her 10 years to write. She wanted her scholarship to be impeccable to write about the Triple Nickles, the black paratrooper unit that essentially integrated the military almost a year before the ruling came down to do so. Tanya became friends with a surviving member of the unit and even attended a dedication event at Fort Benning in their honor. They took her in. At first she had to win them over and she did and soon they trusted her and started sharing. There are some truly amazing photographs in the book and they’re all there because of Tanya’s persistence.

She spoke about not necessarily starting a book in chronological order, but rather jumping around a bit to tell the story. At one point during the writing of the book Tanya called her friend Ashley Bryan and asked, “I’m a white, Jewish girl. Is it okay for me to tell this story?” And he said, “Yes.” Tanya then explained to the audience that anyone can write about anything. There’s no limit to what an author can write about.

There were giggles when Tanya showed a picture from Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? of Elizabeth Blackwell as a child hoisting her brother over her head because she was mad at him. In her picture book length nonfiction, Tanya likes for the reader to get to know the subject as she was as a kid. Who were her friends? What was her favorite color?, etc. This makes for a very engaging book for the younger set. It’s hard to believe that there was a time when women couldn’t go to medical school. It’s important for all kids to see what it took for a woman with passion, intelligence and drive to finally convince a medical school to let her in. She applied to 29 of them before one agreed to let her matriculate.

Tanya was very smart about marketing a nonfiction event. She posted on Facebook and through her email list that every school with a teacher or librarian at the event would get a free 30-minute Skype author visit. Brilliant. The room was loaded with librarians, several of whom were new to our store. There was a raffle for non-educators for a t-shirt and a tote bag. Finally, Tanya raffled off herself for a free school presentation. People were excited and buzzing about these great giveaways. This was a very savvy approach to the somewhat less sexy world of nonfiction. Everyone bought at least one book, if not two or three. I left the store very happy and Tanya was signing away talking to librarians who were thrilled to be having Tanya come to their school.

As if all the school visits, the Skyping, and the raffle giveaways weren’t enough, she even brought brownies.

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