30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG
Written by Amanda Davis
Illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
Associate Publisher-WorthyKids/Hachette Book Group: Peggy Schaefer
What I Love About the Cover:
My husband, children and I were living overseas on 9/11 and remained there for a handful of years afterward so I’ve primarily gleaned info about the tragic events of that day through children’s books, friends’ accounts and documentaries. I continue to learn more new things about 9/11 which is why the cover (by Sally Wern Comport) for Amanda Davis’s new picture book, 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag intrigued me when I first saw it. It reminded me of when my children would play the parachute games at nursery and that feeling of joy, exuberance, pride and connectivity their faces conveyed. Add to that the multicultural, multi-generational and multi-abled group of people holding up the iconic flag, and you have all the makings of a moving picture book cover. And though we cannot tell a book by its cover, we can surely get a sense. Here Comport conveys texture, optimism, and subtle details about the myriad individuals involved in the 9/11 flag. There’s no way anyone seeing the book on a bookstore shelf, in the library, in a newsletter or on social media will not want to find out what the story is behind the cover and the book’s title. Read on to get the inside scoop of why this story of hope in the shape of a flag should be added to your TBR lists.
GoodReadsWithRonna:Amanda, now you know my reaction to the cover, what was your initial reaction to the cover? How do you feel it captures the essence of your story?
Amanda Davis: My initial reaction to the cover was that it filled me with light and hope. The bright colors that Sally chose along with the choice to depict a diverse group of people working together to hold up the flag, perfectly highlights the themes of unity, strength and healing, that are the essence of the story. I’m also really happy that the cover is inclusive of all types of people since the flag was stitched by many different people in diverse communities throughout the United States.
AD: Peggy, what direction (if any) was given to Sally regarding inclusivity and the cover concept in general?
Peggy Schaefer: Sally is an amazing and accomplished artist, so we didn’t give her a lot of specific cover direction. The art director talked with her about the cover in general, and she came back with two options. We chose to move forward with this one because, as you said, it captured the emotion and essence of the story. We actually didn’t talk about the cover design until after the interior was storyboarded. This can be helpful, because details come to the forefront as artists work through their sketches.
Inclusivity is a topic that we talk about for every project. In this case, it was essential to accurately portray the story of the flag and all those involved in its journey. We also want every child to be able to find themselves in our books. The importance of being inclusive for young readers cannot be overstated.
GRWR: Amanda, can you talk a bit about the process and challenges of writing a creative nonfiction picture book about a difficult topic in history?
AD: Great question, Ronna. 30,000 Stitches is a creative nonfiction story and with that, in my opinion, comes an added weight of getting the facts and details in both the text and art accurate. On top of that, I wanted to make sure the text navigated the topic of 9/11 in a way that was not just factual but also accessible to children and highlighted the hope that came out of the tragic events. With that said, one of my favorite parts of this process was researching and interviewing the sources for the story. I have a background in journalism so this is right up my alley! I connected with the Ground Zero Superintendent, Flag Tour Staff, and founder of the New York Says Thank You Foundation. I’m honored to have spoken with such selfless, kind, and generous people whose dedication to helping America heal after 9/11 was inspiring. To this day, they continue to give back and be of service to others, which is truly exceptional. I’m grateful they’ve been so generous with their time in helping us get the story right and their willingness to check and recheck for accuracy.
AD: Peggy, can you talk about this fact-checking process from the editor’s perspective?
Peggy:This was an interesting project in that regard. The body of the book, as you said, is creative nonfiction, and there are not a lot of specific details in the story itself. Most of the factual detail is in the back matter, which came from your interviews with those involved in the flag’s journey. Their willingness to review for accuracy was so valuable. A different challenge came in being precise in the art details. Sally is incredibly detail-minded in her art, so it was clear she was paying a lot of attention to detail, and that gave us a big head start. But even as we were drawing to the conclusion of the work, we were checking details in the art, things like uniforms and locations and such.
GRWR: Amanda, were you familiar with Sally Wern Comport’s work before she was chosen as your illustrator? Did you have any say in this process?
AD: Yes! I love Sally’s art! I was a huge fan of her work in Ada’s Violin and thought her textured mixed media style would be perfect in depicting the torn and tattered nature of the flag. There’s actually a funny and fateful backstory here. Before WorthyKids acquired 30,000 Stitches, I had interest from another publisher who asked my agent and I to reach out to illustrators and come back to them with some names. Sally was one of the artists I reached out to and connected with. As fate would have it, after I signed with WorthyKids, Sally found her way onto Peggy’s list of suggested illustrators. When Peggy shared the list with me, I tried to contain my excitement when I saw Sally’s name on there but told her that it was a BIG yes from me.
In the end, it all worked out, and I’m beyond thrilled with the way Sally interpreted the text. Her illustrations bring life and emotion to the text; expanding on the story in a way that words alone can’t do. Through her visuals, we see the many hands and hearts the flag touched. The visual techniques she used convey a beautiful and symbolic parallel between the transformative healing of both the American people and the flag. As the flag heals, the people do, too.
AD: Peggy, how did you find Sally Wern Comport and what factors made you eventually land on her for 30,000 Stitches? Why did you feel Sally’s style was a good fit to help bring the story to life?
Peggy:I’ll answer your second question first. I fell in love with Sally’s style when I saw her portfolio online. Her work is so rich and dynamic. Honestly, her style wasn’t what we had gone out looking for, but it just felt so right. I bought copies of a couple of Sally’s books, including Ada’s Violin—and seeing those reinforced my feeling that Sally was the right choice for the book.
Selecting the artist was a fairly collaborative process. I worked closely with the art director, who sent me a selection of possible styles, and I shared my suggestions with him. And, of course, I shared with you as well. After we narrowed it down, I reached out to several agents about possible artists. Sally’s agent is actually the one who brought her to my attention, based on the description I gave him of what I was looking for. Later, I found out that you had been in touch about Sally. I don’t know if the agent remembered that or if it was a coincidence. I like to think of it as serendipity! Everyone on the team was blown away by Sally’s style. It was so unexpected and conveys so much emotion. I couldn’t be happier that we were able to work with Sally on this project.
GRWR:Amanda, can you tell us about the submission process for 30,000 Stitches?
AD: The submission process for 30,000 Stitches was a good old-fashioned slush pile success. I submitted the story (then called, THE FABRIC OF AMERICA) in February of 2019 via snail mail and seven months later received an email from one of Worthy’s assistant editors asking if the story was still available. I of course said yes, and connected her to my agent for the story, Melissa Richeson. Melissa connected with Peggy and the rest is history! 🙂
AD: Peggy, how did you get your eyes on 30,00 Stitches, and what made you say yes to the project?
Peggy: As you mentioned, the manuscript first came in through the slush pile. As is sometimes the case, we were intrigued from the start, but the book was a little outside the core area that we publish into, so we didn’t act immediately. But it stuck with us, and when we reached out again, you connected us with Melissa. I was so happy to be able to acquire the book because 1) it’s a story I’d love more people to be familiar with; 2) the underlying themes of unity and healing and resilience are so important for kids; and 3) our readers are a generation who did not experience 9/11 firsthand and this is an age-appropriate introduction to this critical moment in U.S. history. But really it was your lyrical use of language that drew me in from the start. Everyone on the team who read the manuscript had an emotional reaction to it—and asked “Why didn’t I know about this?” And more than one told me it brought tears to their eyes or gave them goosebumps. That’s the kind of book I want to publish—books that touch the heart as well as the mind.
GRWR: Amanda and Peggy, this year will mark the 20th remembrance of 9/11, and we recently reached a generation that was not alive to witness the tragic events of that day. What do you hope readers, both young and old, take away from 30,000 Stitches?
AD: Especially after the challenging year we all just faced, I hope that 30,000 Stitches can inspire others. I hope it offers healing to all those in need. I hope it serves as a reminder that light can come from darkness. That we can rise from the shadows if we unite and come together. We are resilient. We are strong. We are connected through our stories. Stories of suffering. Stories of loss. Stories of compassion. Stories of kindness. Our stories are stitched together. Our stories are the fabric of America.
Peggy: I don’t think I could have said it better than Amanda. That’s why she’s the writer!
GRWR: Thanks to you both for this revealing Q&A. I know I learned tons and am sure our readers did, too!
How can readers get their hands on this beautiful story?
You can pre-order a signed copy of 30,000 Stitches through:
And we’re wrapping the reveal with a DOUBLE GIVEAWAY!
1. Complete the form below for a chance to win one of ten (10) signed copies of 30,000 STITCHES. Winners will be selected in May.
2. Amanda is also giving away a 30-minute Zoom call for a picture book author or author-illustrator to discuss a current project and/or answer industry questions OR a 30-minute classroom visit for educators and librarians.
Get extraentries when you pre-order a signed copy of 30,000 Stitches from Silver Unicorn Bookstore here. Please DM a screenshot of the receipt to Amanda on Twitter @amandadavisart.
In the comments below, share a recent bright spot you experienced that gave you hope or joy. Please note that all posts are moderated prior to appearing so be assured your comments will be seen and posted and your name will be added to Amanda’s generous giveaway. Good luck!”
Deadline to enter the contest is Thursday February 4th, at 5:00 PM EST. Amanda will announce winners on Friday, February 5th via Twitter.
Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. After losing her father at the age of twelve, Amanda turned to art and writing as an outlet. It became her voice. A way to cope. A way to escape. And a way to tell her story. She was thus inspired to teach art and pursue her passion for writing and illustrating children’s books.
Through her work, Amanda empowers younger generations to tell their own stories and offers children and adults an entryway into a world of discovery. A world that can help them make sense of themselves, others, and the community around them. A world where they can navigate, imagine, and feel inspired—over and over again.
Amanda is the recipient of the 2020 Ann Whitford Paul—Writer’s Digest Most Promising Picture Book Manuscript Grant and teaches art at a public high school in Massachusetts where she was selected as 2020 Secondary Art Educator of the Year. Amanda is the author of 30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG and has poetry and illustrations featured in The Writers’ Loft Anthology, FRIENDS AND ANEMONES: OCEAN POEMS FOR CHILDREN. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her partner and rescue pup, Cora. You can learn more about Amanda at www.amandadavisart.com and on Twitter @amandadavisart and Instagram @amandadavis_art.
Check out all the other websites on this exciting cover reveal blog tour.
In The Passover Guest, written by Susan Kusel and illustrated by Sean Rubin, Muriel assumes her family is too poor to hold a Passover Seder this year, but an act of kindness and a mysterious magician change everything.
GoodReadsWithRonna:Welcome, Susan! Congratulations on your debut picture book, The Passover Guest!
Susan Kusel:Thank you so much for having me here! I am honored to be on this blog
GRWR: How does it feel as a synagogue librarian and indie bookstore book buyer to know your new book, The Passover Guest, has landed on shelves?
SK: It’s an absolutely surreal feeling to know that my book has a spot in some of my favorite libraries and bookstores. I am humbled by the idea of a child pulling it off the shelf and reading it.
GRWR:When did the seed to become a storyteller first plant itself in your soul? Can you recall the first books that sparked your imagination?
SK:I’ve wanted to be a writer for so long, it’s hard to remember the exact moment I started. I do remember the first time I ever wrote a complete book though. It was for a 5th grade English assignment and was about a Russian Jewish girl named Rachel. I remember being very proud of the special folder I put the book into.
My mom used to read to me every night when I was a child and some of my favorite books then were Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry, Walter the Baker by Eric Carle, Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton and of course, The Magician by I.L. Peretz, adapted by Uri Shulevitz.
GRWR:What inspired you to write The Passover Guest as a retelling of the classic I. L. Peretz’s story adapted by Uri Shulevitz in 1973 rather than create a new tale?
SK:As I mentioned above, The Magician was in regular reading rotation by my mother when I was younger and so it’s a story I’ve been in love with for a long time. When I rediscovered the book in a library as an adult, I still thought it was an amazing story, but I noticed some plot elements that I wished were different. That started me down the path of doing an adaptation of Peretz’s story, a process that took about ten years.
GRWR:Aside from setting the story in 1933 Depression-era D.C. are there any other notable changes you wanted to make for 21st-century young readers?
SK:The most significant change I made was adding the character of Muriel. In the Peretz version, the story is about a couple but I thought that it was very important to add a child character. There are also a number of subtle changes I added, such as Muriel putting a penny in the Magician’s hat, the rabbi coming to Muriel’s seder, the whole community filling the house, the matzah breaking itself in two, and several smaller plot points. My goal was to stay true to Peretz’s message while making the story my own.
GRWR:What were your go-to Jewish holiday books growing up and right now? Do you have a collection?
SK: Jewish stories have always been very important to me, but when I was growing up, we owned very few. Our whole book collection, which took up half a shelf in my brother’s closet, was primarily obtained from library book sales. We supplemented these with library books. I only had a few Jewish books including The Power of Light by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Potato Pancakes All Around by Marilyn Hirsh (which we used then, and I still use now for the latke recipe).
As for now, I am typing this while sitting in my home library surrounded by picture books, including several shelves just for Jewish books. Current favorites include Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel (no holiday list is complete without it!), I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel by Caryn Yacowitz, The Matzah Papa Brought Home by Fran Manushkin (sadly out of print but still extraordinary), and Here is the World by Lesléa Newman. That’s really just a small sample though because there are so many Jewish holiday books I love.
GRWR:Has your experience on the Caldecott Medal selection committee or as chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee influenced your writing in any way?
SK:One of the most common pieces of advice given to writers is to read extensively in your field. I think those committees, as well as others I’ve been on, have certainly helped me with that. When you are reading hundreds and hundreds of books in a genre, it does give you a better sense of what is currently published. Being on so many committees has helped me see what the conventions are, and how they can be broken and how I can be a better writer.
GRWR:Sean Rubin’s art is as magical as your prose and the mysterious guest himself. Do you have a particular favorite spread from the book you can tell us about?
SK:I think Sean did a truly extraordinary job on the illustrations and picking just one of them is like trying to pick a favorite child. I think his work adds so much to the book and makes it complete.
I could easily go on at length about every individual spread and how much I love it, but if I can only pick one, it would be when Muriel goes to the synagogue to consult the rabbi. Over the course of one continuous spread, Sean shows us four completely separate and distinct scenes and the cause and effect of each one of them. And all of this against the astonishingly beautiful and majestic background of the Sixth and I Synagogue, a D.C. Jewish landmark.
GRWR:Early on in The Passover GuestMuriel meets an unusual street performer to whom she gives her last penny. Can you speak to the story idea of magic and how, especially in tough times, this kind of belief can help people?
SK:I think it’s always a good time to believe in the possibility of magic, especially during difficult times. You never know who that bedraggled stranger might turn out to be. Faith and hope are so important.
GRWR:Where do you find the time to write with all your other commitments? Do you have a daily routine?
SK: I’d love to be able to say that I sit down in the same place at the same time every day and write for the same amount of time. But the truth, as you alluded to in this question, is that I have multiple jobs, commitments, and children, and I do my best to write as much as I can when I can.
GRWR:You mentioned in your author’s note that Passover has always been your favorite holiday, can you tell us why?
SK:I love so many things about Passover: the coming of spring, getting the seder plate ready, singing songs, finding the afikomen, eating too much charoset, being with family, and much more. It’s always been a magical holiday for me and I’m delighted that this book lets me share some of that magic.
GRWR:Are you working on your next book? Will it have a Jewish theme?
SK: I’m working on several next books, all with Jewish themes. I have a real commitment to telling Jewish stories.
GRWR: It’s been wonderful having you as a guest here today, Susan! I really appreciate your thoughtful replies and am looking forward to sharing a review of your book when we get closer to Passover.
Susan Kusel has turned a life as a book lover into many careers as an author, librarian, and buyer for a bookstore. She has served on many book award committees including the Caldecott Medal and the Sydney Taylor Book Award. She loves biking, cross-stitching, and of course, reading. Learn more about Susan on her website and by following her on social media.
Her new book, When a Tree Grows, is a rollicking read-aloud that follows a zany chain of events triggered by a broken tree, a cranky Bear, a nut-loving Squirrel and his loyal friend Moose.
What’s a moose to do? If he’s got an itch on his antlers he could try scratching it on a tree for relief while his forest friends watch worriedly OR that tree could come crashing down onto a sleeping bear’s cave. CRASH-BOOM! That innocent action sets off a series of humorous events certain to bring out the smiles and laughter when read aloud to children, adding an emphasis on the sound effects presented in big and bold font.
Ultimately Moose manages to avoid a swerving truck and remain in the woods while a sassy squirrel hops on board the vehicle and heads into “the big city.” Squirrel envisions becoming a big star but when dreams of grandeur or a job fail to materialize, he longs for forest life. Will he find a way to get home and if he does, what will happen? Find out in this adorable, page-turning tale of what ifs with a happy ending that will not just satisfy but delight.
I love the sweet, digitally rendered illustrations by Kasia Nowowiejska, especially how she’s incorporated an acorn into the title. All of the forest friends are adorable although I’m partial to the wild boar. I’d like to see him in another story someday. Cathy’s come up with a clever premise for her debut picture book that will hook youngsters who’ll wonder where Moose’s and Squirrel’s misadventures will lead.
About the Author:
Debut author Cathy Ballou Mealey lives with her family north of Boston, where she delights in watching silly squirrel antics and is waiting patiently for a moose to appear. Her favorite nut is the hazelnut and her favorite cupcake is cardamom crème.
Good Reads With Ronna: Do you recall how we met?
Cathy Ballou Mealey: I’m looking forward to meeting IRL one day when our coastal paths cross! I recall subscribing to Good Reads with Ronna so I would not miss any of the stellar picture book reviews. After commenting on a few posts (OK, probably a lot of posts) I think we exchanged emails about adding me to the GRWR review team! What’s your recollection Ronna?
GRWR: Aww, thanks Cathy! I recall one day noticing I’d gotten several thoughtful post comments from a woman with the middle name of Ballou, the same name of the title character from one of my favorite films, “Cat Ballou” starring Jane Fonda. I asked if you knew the film. When you did I figured you were close to my age and we might have more in common than just a love of kidlit.
GRWR: What is an average CBM day like including beverage of choice and snacks?
CBM: My writing work is 100% done during the hours that my kids are at school. First I check email and respond to anything pressing. I try to post on Instagram next, peek at other social media, and then delve into writing, research or revising. I’m fueled by Earl Grey tea and Pepperidge Farm cookies, usually!
GRWR:Okay, now we have even more in common, but I’ll admit I’ve had to cut back on my Milano cookies consumption!
GRWR:On a down day, what/who are 3-5 of your go-to spirit lifter books or authors?
CBM: Thankfully, those days are few and far between. Although my first love will always be picture books, MG or YA are my preference for escapist reading about finding hope and building resiliency. I just devoured Kevin Henkes’ Sweeping Up The Heart, Sharon Creech’s Saving Winslow, and Kate Allen’s The Line Tender. Next up are two books I am savoring for the second time, Kelly Yang’s Front Desk and Linda Mullaly Hunt’s One for the Murphys.
GRWR: If you could be reincarnated as any animal which one would it be and why?
CBM: Definitely an otter. Doesn’t everyone love an otter? Whether river or sea, I’d love to juggle pebbles and float on my back, holding paws with my buddies. Doesn’t that sound ideal?
GRWR: Beach baby, city tripper or mountain mama?
CBM: Yes! Oh, I have to choose one? I love the sun, sand and tides of the summer beach because New England can be chilly! City tripping is fab for museums, bookstores and unique food options, but I could skip crowds, concrete and mass transit. Fresh air and mountain vistas thrill me, but not so much the switchbacks! So I’ll take a tiny taste of all three please, in alternating doses! BTW, that’s Cathy with her daughter in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
GRWR: Does music play a big role or any role in your life?
CBM: I like to write in quiet, and I’m an “NPR in the car” driver. Seeing live music is a real treat when I can get out. One of the best concerts I ever attended was Buckwheat Zydeco at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Garden. Music plays a role in my work when I’m writing in rhyme, because I feel the beat and crescendo of the lines and words in a different way. It’s hard to explain, but I want the tone and structure to feel musically resonant and complete!
GRWR: What’s in the pipeline?
CBM: Next up for me is a still-secret, super funny picture book with an amazing publisher in Canada. A sloth and a squirrel team up for a special mission. Look for an announcement soon, and a book sometime in 2021!
Cathy has generously offered two fab prizes to accompany this post! She’ll be happy to giveaway a #PB critique to one person (1000 words or less please!) and a signed copy of When a Tree Grows to another. (US residents only please). So whether you’re a writer or a reader, there’s something here for you! To enter please leave a comment on this post. Get a bonus entry for following me @goodreadsronna on Twitter or @goodreadswithronna on Instagram, but please let me know in your comment. Receive another bonus entry for following Cathy on social media mentioned above. This giveaway opportunity will end at 11:59 pm Pacific Time on Monday, July 1. Good luck and thanks for stopping by the blog!
Thanks tons, Cathy, for taking time away from your tea and cookies to help us all get to know you better. I knew I already liked you lots after our years of communicating online. Could you tell that I really wanted to ask you many more questions? Guess I’ll leave that until your next picture book releases in two years. In the meantime, I’ll continue to be your pen (okay Mac) pal and cannot wait for the day we meet IRL!
If you’re like me and you enjoy getting some interesting insight into Cathy and her writing, I recommend reading these other interviews about her below: