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The Building Blocks of Award Winner Nancy Churnin

This month, we'll be highlighting the Donors from Our Rate Your Story *Build-A-Story* Contest (August 1 - September 10th). Each will share a little bit about themselves and the building blocks of their career, tell you about their latest project and leave YOU a building block to help build your stories! Be sure to check them out! AND don't forget to enter our contest (more info here) to be eligible for prizes!


I am an award-winning author of children’s books. I write about people who inspire me and that I hope will inspire kids to be heroes and heroines, too. I am a former theater critic and love to pack my stories with drama and excitement, hope and possibility. All of my books come with free teacher guides and projects on my website so that kids can share the great things they do.


My mother read to me until I could read to myself. From the first story she shared, I felt there is nothing more magical to me than listening and being challenged by others, to feel their hearts and to have walls between us drop away because of words in a book. I still feel that way. I have always wanted to be part of that magic. I am grateful for the opportunity to share stories with children that may make them feel that magic.


I have multiple books out in 2023 and at least two new books in 2024! On September 7, Lila and the Jack-o’-Lantern, Halloween Comes to America is my first historical fiction picture book that tells the story of how Irish immigrants brought their Halloween traditions to America.

Also on September 7, Mama’s Year with Cancer, co-authored with Shayna Vincent, is a contemporary story, narrated by a child, about her mother’s journey with breast cancer told throughout the year until her Mama gets to ring the bell. The book is about what happened to Shayna and the young narrator is her young daughter.

On November 7, Valentines for All, Esther Howland Captures America’s Heart is a picture book biography about the entrepreneurial woman who created the first Valentine card company in America. Also on November 7 is my first board book, Counting on Shabbat, a 58-word rhyming story of counting, Shabbat and kindness as a family visits a lonely senior, bringing food and joy.

Next year my new books include Rainbow Allies, the True Story of Kids Who Stood Against Hate, the true story of kids who rallied to show support to a lesbian couple in their neighborhood and A Teddy Bear for Emily, inspired by the true story of the Jewish immigrant family that created Teddy’s Bear to thank a kind president – President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt.


Most of my books are inspired by real-life situations! I have written many picture book biographies, which are about real people. Even books that are not as obviously about real people are inspired by real people. Mama’s Year with Cancer, co-authored with Shayna Vincent, is Shayna’s story of her journey with breast cancer as told through her child’s eyes. Lila may be fictional in Lila and the Jack-o’-Lantern, but the history of Irish immigrants coming to America to flee the Potato Famine in the 1850s and bringing their Halloween customs to America is true. Even Counting on Shabbat is inspired by the true story of seeing how my elderly mother lights up when the family – and particularly the great grandchildren – come to visit.


OF BECOMING AN AUTHOR: Write from the heart – the story you feel compelled to tell – and it will take you where you need to go. There are many books in the world and will continue to be many books, but you are the only one who can write the book that is in your heart the way you need to tell it.

OF THE FIRST PARAGRAPH: Every story is a quest story. From the opening paragraph we need to know the main character’s dream, what your main character hopes to accomplish, even if it’s just showing the main character attempting or doing an early version of the thing that they hope to do as an adult.

ON TRENDS: Do you believe writers should write to trends? I don’t think or concern myself about trends. Trends may end before your book gets to market. I try to work on books from my heart, stories that I believe will stand the test of time, writing with the best craft of which I am capable. I am grateful to report that all my books are still in print and none have gone out of fashion.

ON COMMON MISTAKES: What are mistakes you often see made by writers and what do you recommend to cure it? Sometimes I see people have an idea for a story or a person they want to write about, but not a sense of the story’s journey or the person’s journey. Craft-wise, one of the most helpful things you can do to make sure you are writing about a journey is to create a picture book dummy that maps out where you are going from beginning to end. Sometimes I see people trying to write like other people instead of finding their own authentic voice. For that I recommend taking time away from the hustle and bustle and spend quiet time just being with yourself and listening to yourself and asking yourself what you truly want to write about and why.


My favorite book as a child was the first book my mother read to me – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Yes, it still holds up! In fact it is such a rich story that it has been told from different perspectives including Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, which was turned into the hit Broadway musical.

Recently, I started reading Vincent and Theo, the van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman as research for a chapter book I’m working on. I am impressed by the depth of her research, the eloquence of her writing and her deep understanding of how the relationship between these two is inseparable from the genius of Vincent van Gogh’s art.


I don’t want to read or write about people who hurt other people or who have brought pain and destruction to the world. I know there’s a place for that, but I don’t want to be in that place. I want to spend my time and my efforts writing about people who are kind and who have helped to heal the world.


Knowing I have made a positive difference in children’s lives. When children tell me in person or by mail that something I’ve written has encouraged them to believe in themselves, to reach for their dreams, to help others, I feel I am doing what I am meant to be doing and I am grateful for the opportunity to do it.

NANCY'S PRIZE: Nancy has generously donated two (2) of her books to two lucky winners, which may or may not be finalists -- and who we think would benefit by using her books as comp books!

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