Monday, June 2, 2008
Despite the Odds, Pat Pursues New Children's Book
Writing a book--children's or adult's--takes a huge amount of work and an equal amount of perseverance. I've been astounded at the progress made by my friend Pat Van Doren, author of the wildly popular children's book on homelessness, Where Can I Build My Volcano?
Pat's newest book, Family of Five or Six, is now available! It too is a book about homeless kids, this time a family that loses their home during a storm. Artist Wanda Platt, who illustrated Pat's first book, added her talented touch to the cover, but they also had some unique help--5th and 6th graders from Carrollwood Day School in Tampa, FL.
The Volcano book connects these Florida kids with this Illinois author. Pat's first book made its way to teacher Barbie Monty via Tampa school district's homeless liaison, Kathy Wiggins. After reading it to her class and seeing how deeply moved the students were Barbie called me to get Pat's contact info. The rest is history.
The students, after hearing the Volcano story, wanted to convert it to a play to perform at the year-end comprehensive inquiry project demonstration. OK, these kids aren't the average ambivalent students. I know, they interviewed me like professional journalists for this project, a comprehensive look at homelessness. Pat went down to Tampa for their performance and they bonded like Velcro.
Pat's new book needed some expert input. She turned to Barbie who in turn asked her kids. They were all excited about the prospect of Pat's new work. Barbie checked with Pat about adding her young friends to the editing process. Pat quickly agreed.
When Pat needed someone to provide some technical details--what it's like when a hurricane hits, etc.--she turned to these kids and got the lowdown. Pat ended up inviting the kids to provide illustrations. All of this work was in addition to their regular school responsibilities. They sacrificed their lunch periods to be able to do the weekly conference calls.
The results are cool! I'm so excited! Pat's first book shed a bright light on children's homelessness. This one hits it on the head, with Wanda telling Pat, "You did it again, you made me cry."
Seems to me we should shed a tear or two about the invisible families that continue to experience homelessness at a rate not seen since the Great Depression. But we also need to act--all of us--to urge some basic improvements in federal legislation that could ease homelessness for children and teens. If Pat, Wanda, and the Carrollwood students can work this hard to create a book to help readers understand homelessness, then the rest of us should be able to spend a few moments to let Congress know that they need to help homeless families.