Hi Math is Everywhere Readers,
I’m so delighted to share about one of my favorite books in 2022, and as you’ll see below, it’s such a bittersweet post as my last post before my blog hiatus. Please welcome Shannon Stocker, author of LISTEN: How One Deaf Girl Changed Percussion, illustrated by Devon Holzwarth.
Description of book from the publisher:
A gorgeous and empowering picture book biography about Evelyn Glennie, a deaf woman, who became the first full-time solo percussionist in the world.
“No. You can’t,” people said.
But Evelyn knew she could. She had found her own way to listen.
From the moment Evelyn Glennie heard her first note, music held her heart. She played the piano by ear at age eight, and the clarinet by age ten. But soon, the nerves in her ears began to deteriorate, and Evelyn was told that, as a deaf girl, she could never be a musician. What sounds Evelyn couldn’t hear with her ears, though, she could feel resonate through her body as if she, herself, were a drum. And the music she created was extraordinary. Evelyn Glennie had learned how to listen in a new way. And soon, the world was listening too.
Kaitlyn: Hi, Shannon, it’s so nice to have you here today! You’ve been such a wonderful friend and inspiration to me in the Kidlit world and I bet a lot of people say that because you’re so wonderful. I feel incredibly special to get a chance to chat with you about this incredible book.
Shannon: Awww…that’s so sweet! And it means a ton coming from you. I’m so grateful that you’ve included me on your blog.
Kaitlyn: The feeling is mutual! Let’s dive right in! This book is so brilliant in so many ways. Can you share how this book came to be? And how you began your conversation with Evelyn Glennie?
Shannon: There is so much about this book’s journey that unfolded in a really magical way. When I first started writing, I focused pretty heavily on stories written in verse–-some funny, some quiet and full of heart. My debut (which I sold without an agent) was a funny rhymer with some deeper underlying themes, but I faced two years of crickets after that. Then, in January of 2019, I attended a conference where a message really sank in (even though I’d heard it a billion times before): write what you know. I’d never really seen myself as someone who could be part of the #OwnVoices movement, since I’m not LGBTQ+ or BIPOC. But I do have a chronic illness (a disability). I am a musician. I did go to medical school. So I started really thinking about the things I know–-those things that have happened in my life that make me…“me.” I kept asking myself, “Why am I the right person to write this story?” And suddenly I realized, I need to FIND the story that is mine to write. A story that resonates so deeply with me and my experiences, that I just HAVE to write it. When I got home, I began researching disabled musicians. Evelyn was the first person who popped up, but I thought she’d be too famous. I kept searching, but I couldn’t shake the need to write her story. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I reached out to her team…and within 48 hours, they wrote back saying she’d like to Skype. I flipped. Immediately, I began reading everything I could get my hands on. I played her music non-stop. I watched every video I could find (and there are a LOT). By the time we had our first “face-to-face” meeting (Skype), I knew the exact moment that I wanted to highlight in the book. I was very fortunate; Evelyn was incredibly gracious with her time and talent, and she really helped me accurately reflect her story. The first draft flew out of me, and my critique partners loved it. I sent it to an editor I’d met at a prior conference, and by that afternoon it was in Acquisitions at her house. I then queried several of my top agents/agencies, and I had interest from…eight, I think? Within a week, I’d signed with Allison, and shortly thereafter we sold the book to Dial/Random House. It was surreal.
Kaitlyn: Wow, that’s incredible! And, readers, I hope this advice helps you find that special story you’ve been looking for as well. Can you share why books like this are so important to share with our little ones?
Shannon: Understandably, there has been a massive push to represent religious and cultural diversity on our shelves. I feel like disabled children are still underrepresented, though. Over 90% of Deaf children are born to hearing parents, and about 15% of American adults report some level of hearing loss. This is not a rare disability. When you add blindness, or cancer, or ADHD, or autism, and on and on…suddenly you’re talking about a huge portion of our population who are underrepresented in children’s literature. I have a disability. My son has ADHD, and my daughter has brain cancer. These kids deserve to see themselves in books, too. I feel very strongly about that.
Kaitlyn: Thank you for helping kids see themselves in books and helping others see them as well. Can you share how you found some of the extra special parts of this book, like the refrain and the subtitle?
Shannon: This book is written in lyrical prose, so the representation of various percussion instruments through onomatopoeia seemed a natural choice. Likewise, the word “listen” is so important because when Evelyn lost her hearing, she learned to listen with her whole body rather than with her ears. Yes, she’s profoundly deaf…but she’s still able to listen. The use of poetic tools like alliteration, assonance, and rhythm were also instrumental to me (pun intended - HA!). Every word was carefully chosen to try and create delicious sentences like, “She had found a sea of sound that belonged only to her.” I love the readability of lyrical prose! I wanted readers to feel music dripping from their tongues. As for the subtitle, that changed a lot during the editing process. It was important to both my editor and me that Evelyn’s full name was used. It was also important to us both that people understood she is so much more than a highly talented percussionist. She changed the perception around percussion–who can play, who should be allowed to audition, who can be successful. Evelyn is a trailblazer. She truly changed the way people view percussion.
Kaitlyn: Love the musicality and the reason behind the subtitle! Beyond that, the art for this story is so lovely. Can you share the process for finding the artist and what you thought when you saw the art?
Shannon: Luckily, Jessica (my Dial editor) has been incredible throughout this process. At first, she asked me to give her some examples of illustrators I might like for the book to get a sense of my vision. When she came back with Devon as a choice, I knew immediately that she was perfect for the book. Her art exudes music. Devon was busy with a couple other books at the time, so we had to wait for her…but I’m so glad we did! Her artwork is breathtaking, and the book wouldn’t be what it is without her.
Kaitlyn: That is so amazing, and shows what a vision you and your editor had for this book. I think that’s another huge testament to you being the one to write the story and to finding the perfect editor! So happy for you! Now if you had to pick, what is your favorite scene of this book?
Shannon: AAAARRRGH! You have to ask all the tough questions, don’t you? Okay. Hang tight.
Kaitlyn: Haha, I can’t help myself!
Shannon: Thanks for waiting. I’m back. So…I actually studied every spread again, and I think I’d have to go with the one where Ron Forbes, Evelyn’s percussion teacher, asked her how a tractor feels. This moment was so pivotal for Evelyn, and Devon illustrates it so tangibly. Evelyn has a way of pulling you into her world, whether she’s chatting about a childhood memory, performing a concerto on stage with a full orchestra, or playing a snare drum solo in Central Station. Devon captures that same energy and passion with every stroke of her brush…but this spread, in particular, gives me all the feels. It gives me chills every time I see it.
Kaitlyn: Yes! That’s such a powerful scene! Another powerful moment for me was reading the back matter. I literally cried because it’s so powerful and inspiring. Can you share a bit about the process of writing it?
Shannon: This comment means so much to me, Kaitlyn. This book was a turning point in my writing, in many ways. It’s my first non-fiction picture book but, having written for Chicken Soup a number of times, it was a natural direction for me to go. That said, the decision to write about a musician with a disability was a very personal one. I am a musician with a disability—Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy—that almost took my life. For seven years, I fought to stay alive until an experimental treatment in Mexico gave me back my life. I will never forget being looked at as “different” when I first needed a cane, and eventually required a wheelchair. Writing Evelyn’s story brought back so many memories. Painful memories, but also empowering ones. Memories of people telling me I wasn’t capable. Memories of people looking down on me. Feelings of insufficiency…like I’d never be what I wanted to be. Like I’d never be enough. But her story also reminded me that I fought my way through all that. I fought my way through the disease, through a coma, and back onto my feet again. It took me years to regain enough strength to play the piano like I used to, and my voice was little more than a whisper for two years. For a long time, I feared I’d never sing again. But my hope and determination were stronger than my fear. Evelyn embodies those qualities. From the first moment, I knew I wanted children everywhere to hear her story. Such wonderful things can happen when you find your passion, follow your heart, and believe in yourself.
Kaitlyn: Wow, let me start by thanking you for sharing all of this with us, and then by saying YES YES YES! Stories like yours and Evelyn Glennie’s about always believing in yourself are so incredibly powerful. Back to your editor. Can you share who your editor for this book was and why you enjoyed working with this editor?
Shannon: Yes! I’m working with Jess Garrison at Dial/Random House. Jess has been everything an author could ever hope an editor might be. She listens to my opinions, gives great feedback, provides brilliant suggestions, and communicates in a gentle, yet straightforward, fashion. She’s been responsive, encouraging, and kind. I really won the lottery with her.
Kaitlyn: It sounds like it! That’s all an author can dream of in an editor. Can you share who your agent is and why you enjoy working with this agent?
Shannon: Of course! I work with Allison Remcheck at Stimola Literary Studio, and I adore her. Allison has been my agent since 2019, and I also consider her a dear friend. Before signing, I knew I wanted an agent who was passionate about my work, but also one with whom I would get along. It really is a marriage, of sorts. We have a mutual respect and admiration, and I never question whether she believes in me. Considering how slow and rejection-laden this business can be, it’s really important to partner with people who will champion you and lift you up during the tough times. Otherwise, I think we’d all go crazy!
Kaitlyn: That’s wonderful, and I completely agree; having someone who truly understands you work and can support you through all times (good and bad) is definitely a great agent. Can you share with us what you’re working on now?
Shannon: For the last four months my family has been moving, (and this right after my daughter completed chemo), so I’ve been trying to give Cassidy and her brother Tye a “normal,” fun-filled summer. But I’ve got my next PB, WARRIOR (written for her), coming out in 2023, and there are some REALLY exciting things happening with LISTEN that I can’t talk about yet. Allison currently has my first middle grade novel circulating with houses, too. While I wait, I’m working on two picture books (one fiction, one non-fiction), a screenplay, revising my memoir, and I’m currently chatting with characters for two different novels that are asking to be written. We shall see which characters scream the loudest. I’d love to get an outline done by NANOWRIMO, and then write my butt off in November.
Kaitlyn: I can’t wait to read all of these, and after this interview, I bet everyone is on the same page as me, waiting impatiently to read your beautiful memoir! Can you share some advice you like to share with authors?
Shannon: I know I’ve already talked about this, but…write what you know. Tell the story that YOU are equipped to tell. We all know BIPOC and LGBTQ+ stories and authors are in need right now, but if you’re passionate about a subject or have experience in a different field, then think about how you incorporate your own expertise/passion into a story. Those will almost always resonate because they have heart. And find a critique group!!! Find your people and stick with them. This is a really hard business, but it also attracts so many incredible people. I don’t know what I’d do without my CPs. I just know I wouldn’t be published without them.
Kaitlyn: Such wonderful advice! Finally, if you could meet your favorite famous person, whether it’s an author, an historical figure, or someone else, would you chat by a fireside or go on an adventure?
Shannon: Oh my gosh, there are so many people I’d love to meet. How amazing would it be to have a fireside chat with RBG or the Dalai Lama? Or go on an adventure with Jane Goodall or Steve Irwin? That said, I have a special place in my heart for Lin-Manuel Miranda, who sent my daughter a personalized video ten minutes before she was wheeled away for brain surgery. He’s a brilliant wordsmith and musician, and he has a heart of gold. I think I could listen to him talk for hours about his life, his musings, his writings, his goals…everything.
Kaitlyn: Those all sound amazing; please invite me! I love listening to people who are so inspiring, especially being a teacher. We had an inspirational speaker come last year, and I kid you not, I could refer to him all year and kids would legit shape up (for at least the class period). Thank you so much for stopping by today and for all you do to help bring beautiful books into the world.
Shannon: Thank you for having me, Kaitlyn…and thank you for all YOU do for this community. You’re delivering some gorgeous books into the world and will most certainly make a difference in the lives of many little people. You’re a gem!
Kaitlyn: You’re making me cry again, in the best of ways, always. This was the perfect start to my blog hiatus. Thank you again!
Shannon’s local indie (which should have signed copies, especially if requested): https://www.carmichaelsbookstore.com/book/9780593109694
Goodreads (for those who’d like to mark it to read, or as read): https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/58556601-listen
Author Bio and links
Shannon Stocker is a writer, singer/songwriter, and fierce advocate for the disabled and/or chronically ill. She’s written the picture books LISTEN: HOW EVELYN GLENNIE, A DEAF GIRL, CHANGED PERCUSSION (Dial/Random House and Penguin UK), CAN U SAVE THE DAY (Sleeping Bear Press), and WARRIOR (coming from Sleeping Bear Press in 2023). She’s also a frequent contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. The proud word nerd lives in Louisville, KY, with her husband, two children (including one cancer warrior and one with ADHD), and stash of hidden dark chocolate. Shannon currently serves as SCBWI social co-director for Louisville and is a 12×12 ninja. Cool facts: Shannon survived medical school, a coma, and once performed two songs, including one original, as part of an opening act for Blake Shelton. She is represented by Allison Remcheck of Stimola Literary Studio.
Personal website: https://www.shannonstocker.com/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/ShannonStocker_
Kaitlyn’s Review the book
This stunning book will inspire and empower you and any kid in your life. Read it, share it, and learn from it!
Giveaway- Two winners! One (US only) will receive a copy of Listen and another will receive a 30-minute Zoom with Shannon!
To enter the random drawing, do any/all of the following options, then come back and write all of the things you did in ONE blog comment. (If you forget something, feel free to reply to your first comment ;))
- Share that you added LISTEN: How Evelyn Glennie, a Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion to your Goodreads “Want to Read” list and/or your Amazon Wishlist
- Share that you ordered a copy of LISTEN : How Evelyn Glennie, a Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion
- Share that you did a purchase request for LISTEN: How Evelyn Glennie, a Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion at your library
- Share that you left a review on Amazon or Barnes and Noble
- Share that you retweeted or quote retweeted my tweet about this blog post on Twitter and tagged some friends.
Thank you all for always supporting such wonderful creators, and your kind support of this blog. I can’t thank you enough if you’ve shared your thoughtful words about my blog hiatus so that I can do my best to find balance, and I hope you are doing the same for yourself. Wishing you all the best until we meet again.
Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez