Venerated Author Denise Lewis Patrick On Character and CommunityCommunity
“When I grew up we had a strong sense of community, and I think that is so important to a child.”
“I hope these stories will encourage readers to think about themselves in terms of their community and what they can do to help—to change their community for the better.”
—Denise Lewis Patrick
Denise Lewis Patrick has contributed her voice and talent to an impressive collection of historical fiction titles in American Girl’s BeForever™ line. In the stories of Cécile and Melody, Denise Lewis Patrick invites girls to bravely open their hearts to a bigger world than the one they’ve known. Her most recent book with American Girl, in partnership with Scholastic, showcases her gifts as a nonfiction writer as well: A Girl Named Rosa provides young readers a glimpse of Rosa Parks as a child, grounded in the experiences that informed her character and inspired her activism.
Central to Ms. Patrick’s diverse body of work is the notion of community. Her characters’ story arcs and even her writing process, itself, celebrates the power and importance of community—something her work has explored as a formative part of a character’s—and a child’s—experience. In an interview with Cracking the Cover she notes that when developing Cécile’s story, her “community’s racial heritage is very complex, [. . .] so I began thinking of Cécile’s community before I got a clear picture of her character.” Likewise, her research for developing Melody’s stories involved immersing herself in “local newspapers from the period.” She explains,
“ That way I get both a broad and specific view of the community and what’s happening at the time. I could see which national events in the civil rights movement were impacting the city, and get a sense of how the black community was involved on a local basis in civil rights issues. ”
That awareness plays out in Melody’s character development, as readers see Melody’s view of her world, and “her understanding of justice and injustice,” broaden into a “strong sense of community, of connection and possibility.” It’s a process of growth that is nurtured in the relationships Melody shares with members of her immediate and extended family, and which Denise Lewis Patrick describes here:
As children begin to understand how “something so big,” such as the civil rights movement of the 1960s or New Orleans’ recovery from the yellow fever epidemic of 1853, “touched and changed the lives of real, normal people,” they “start to figure out that they’re part of a bigger world” where their own inner strength, combined with the power of community, can be a positive, remarkable force for good.
Authors like Denise play an important role in extending American Girl’s voice—a whisper that inspires girls to be their best and teach others about all that is decent and good. By writing about topics like tolerance and respect, and teaching girls to stand up for what’s right—or speak out when it’s not—we help girls internalize that what we do and what we say make up our character. And character counts.
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