It’s a question we never tire of asking authors, because their answer is always rewarding: what inspired you to write your book? It may sound simple, but it gives (lucky) us a deeper understanding of the work we’re reading. Sometimes the answer is funny, sometimes it’s historical and fascinating, and other times, like this one, it’s incredibly touching. Enjoy Allan Stratton’s (You may know Allan as the author of the Michael L. Printz honor book CHANDA’S SECRETS, as well as BORDERLINE and LESLIE’S JOURNAL) answer to what (or in this case, who) inspired his first middle grade book, the recently published THE GRAVEROBBER’S APPRENTICE.
“Whenever students ask me to name my greatest influence, I always say: “My mother.” Lots of people say that, I know, but in my case it’s true.
Mom left a horrific marriage when I was a baby in the early 1950s. She had the courage and independence to stand up to society at a time when divorce was unthinkable, returning to work as a teacher while raising me as a single parent. Mom overcame stigma and broke glass ceilings; eventually she retired as the Executive Assistant to the Deputy Minister of Education. Chanda’s love for her mother is my love for mine.
Mom always let me read anything I wanted, without limits. When I was five, she took me to see Twelfth Night at Stratford’s Shakespeare Festival. All I remember of the evening is flashes of color, and that I wanted more.
We went every year after that. Soon it was the stories that got me: magnificent tales of evil dukes, witches, star-crossed lovers, and bold comic characters with names like Sir Toby Belch. I was hooked by worlds of wonder in which the confusions of my young life found voice.
Twelfth Night became one of my favorite plays. Its themes of separated families, secrets, hidden identities, and the struggle to live with truth, mirrored those of my life; connections that led me to write The Grave Robber’s Apprentice, my new Middle Grade fantasy.
I dedicated the book to Mom, and wrote at the end: “Above all else, I want to thank my mother, the most courageous, inspiring person I know, who introduced me to the magic and power of words and the way in which Story can give shape and meaning to life’s chaos.”
Mom passed away in a care home on December 30th. I had visited her there almost every day during the last years of her life. She had Alzheimers, but she always remembered me, my growing up with her, and our trips together.
In her last months, I had the Advanced Reader’s copy of my book. Every day I’d read her my dedication, knowing she’d be hearing it for the “first” time. Her eyes would well, and she’d say, “You’re too good to me,” and I’d say “No, you’re too good to me,” and we’d just sit there and smile at each other.
We take our happiness where we find it, and some of the places we find it are hard. Love is our comfort. It makes our Story swell in the light, and keeps it bearable in the dark.”
Thanks Allan, for inspiring us on a hot summer’s Monday!