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 honor of Black History Month, we’re thrilled to share Debbie Glade’s interview with the fascinating, ultra talented illustrator, Eric Velasquez.
As a parent and book reviewer I’ve read more children’s books than I could possibly count. Indeed, there are many good ones, but only once in a while do I find a book that is extraordinary. Recently I reviewed My Uncle Martin’s Words for America and quickly discovered the story was awe-inspiring and the illustrations were in a league of their own. This is a sister book to My Uncle Martin’s Big Heart, which Eric also illustrated. I studied the pictures over and over again, shared them with family and friends who were equally as impressed, and then contacted illustrator Eric Velasquez to ask him if he’d do an interview with Good Reads with Ronna.
Eric Velasquez started his successful career as an artist, illustrating book covers. In 1997 he added picture book illustrations to his repertoire and has since won awards for his work. Growing up in Spanish Harlem, he credits his multi-cultural approach with his art to his rich, Afro-Puerto-Rican heritage. You will learn through this interview how Eric’s attention to people and their emotions, as well as his love of jazz play a significant role in the richness of his exceptional illustrations.
How old were you when you realized you had a talent for art?
About 7 or 8 I believe.
Were any of your family members artistically inclined?
Yes, my uncle Louie is a photographer. Also, my two cousins Edgard and Dennis both draw.
Your illustrations are unquestionably exceptional. I read that you have a BFA from New York’s School of Visual Arts. What is your view on how much natural ability plays a role in an artist’s work vs. techniques learned while receiving an art education?
Many people have a mistaken notion as to what natural ability is. True natural ability is often overlooked. To think like an artist is a true natural ability. Form will always follow function. Artists will develop the technical abilities to give life to their visions. People often confuse technicians with artists. Unfortunately, technicians have very little to say with their work.
That is the best definition of an artist I’ve ever heard. Did you know you wanted to illustrate books from the beginning of your career?
One of the illustrator’s many book covers
Yes, I wanted to tell stories. I thought that I would become a comic artist, but I fell in love with painting my senior year in the High School of Art and Design.
Do you remember how you landed your very first project as a paid artist?
I won second place in a contest. RSVP Directory of Illustration. Aside from a little money, a page containing three images of my work was published in the directory and distributed to every publishing house, design firm and ad agency in America. I began working shortly after graduating college.
What a wonderful way to get your career started! Since then you have completed hundreds of illustrations for book jackets and interiors, including series such as Encyclopedia Brown. You have said that Journey to Jo’burg and Chain of Fire are your favorite books. What did you like about those books in particular?
Both of those books were highly political. They dealt with the racism going on in South Africa before Nelson Mandela was released from prison. Those books were my introduction into the genre of historical nonfiction.
You illustrated two books about Martin Luther King, Jr. – My Uncle Martin’s Big Heart and My Uncle Martin’s Words for America, written by Angela Farris Watkins. It is rare for one to see images of people as remarkably lifelike as yours. Did the fact that MLK’s legacy is larger than life make the project intimidating for you in any way?
I wanted to add something different to the stories. For “My Uncle Martin’s Big Heart” I began to think about my uncle and the possibility of him being an important world figure, but as a child I only knew him as my uncle. My goal for the book was to inspire children to acknowledge and appreciate the efforts and loving care of the people in their own families.
And you certainly did accomplish that goal. For these MLK books you painted with oils on watercolor paper. How did that combination come to be?
My original painting surfaces were wooden masonite panels. However, for a book containing 15 -20 illustrations, the panels can get heavy, and they aren’t flexible to fit in a drum scanner. Hot press watercolor paper has a wonderful surface to draw on. After I sketch the picture, I then spray the drawing with crystal clear fixative and apply several coats of acrylic matte medium. Once the surface is completely dry, I begin to paint in oil. The 300-pound paper is flexible enough to fit in a drum scanner.
What inspires you most, and do illustrators ever get “inspiration block” like writers do?
People, music and life inspire me. “Inspiration block” is something I choose not to believe in. Sometimes my art takes on different forms and one has to allow for that, whether it is writing, storytelling, cooking, carpentry, photography, etc. I think we create the block when we are tired and want to move onto something else. Other times we allow the words of others to destroy our inspirations, which at times can come from the silliest notions or actions.
Is there one specific character in a book you illustrated with whom you can really relate?
Not only one. I relate with most of my characters. I think it’s part of my job as a storyteller.
On average, how many hours do you draw/paint each day?
I work every day, 7 to 8 hours a day.
Can you tell us about your love of Jazz and how you have incorporated that into your art?
I have always loved music, ever since my grandmother introduced me to salsa in her living room in Spanish Harlem. What I love about Jazz is its improvisational nature. I believe that if more of us were to adapt a more offhand approach to our work, we’d have a more successful and original outcome.
You illustrated and penned the autobiographical picture books, Grandma’s Gift and Grandma’s Records. Briefly, what is Grandma’s Records about, and what inspired you to write it?
With a cover like this, who wouldnt want to read this book?
Grandma’s Records is the story of how I spent my summers as a child with my grandma, listening to her records. Whenever Grandma played this one special song, she would put one hand over her heart and raise the other as she sang along. Later on, she would sit and reminisce about the old days in Puerto Rico with my Grandpa. One day her nephew, Sammy, who was a percussionist in the band “Cortijo Y su Comdo” came over with his fellow band-mates, Rafael Cortijo and Ismael Rivera. We got tickets to their first New York show and the experience changed our lives forever.
I imagine you are flooded with offers to illustrate books. How do you decide which projects you want to take on?
First I read the manuscript thoroughly. Afterwards, I’ll start doodling right on the actual script, and if I like what I see in the sketches, I’ll decide to take the job.
Can you explain how the process of illustrating a picture book works? Are you generally given specific artistic direction by the editor of the book? Or are you free to depict the story as you see it yourself?
Usually I am free to depict the story the way I see it. Although, often with a new client, I’ll receive specific instructions from the editor and the art director.
Are artists involved in the printing process of the picture books, to ensure that the qualities of the illustrations are not compromised in any way?
From time to time the publisher will invite me to come in and color correct the art proofs. It’s a lengthy process and it can be quite exhausting.
It’s no surprise you have won numerous coveted awards for your illustrations. What does it feel like to receive prestigious recognition, such as the Pura Belpré Illustrator Award or the Coretta Scott King Award?
It’s always an honor to be recognized for one’s talent and contributions. It is especially rewarding to be recognized for educating children about historical events in history.
Do you have an absolute favorite illustration you’ve ever done?
The artist at work in his studio
Not one in particular; that question is difficult to answer.
Do you sell any of your paintings or illustrations?
Yes, I usually sell them myself. I am also represented by the R.Michelson Gallery in North Hampton, Mass.
When you are not painting, what do you like to do?
I enjoy going to Jazz clubs and restaurant /clubs that feature Cuban bands because I love listening to live music.
What advice do you have for artists out there who dream of great success, such as yours, illustrating picture books?
Follow your passion first and be willing to work very, very hard to achieve your dream. I also emphasize the importance of reading about the artists and illustrators that interest you.
Eric, we thank you so much for sharing your beautiful work and your wisdom with our readers. We cannot wait for your next book!
To contact Eric Velasquez or to schedule a school visit, click here. To purchase his books, click here.