The Backstory: 30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG
It is my absolute pleasure to welcome Amanda Davis to The Backstory today to share the inspiration behind her incredibly powerful story, 30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind 30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
Thank you so much for having me on the blog, Andrew. When I read books, I’m always curious about the story behind the story, so it’s a treat getting to read about so many author’s inspiration for their work on there.
30,000 STITCHES tell the true story of the 30-foot American flag that was put up at Ground Zero in the days after 9/11. The flag became torn, tattered, and covered in dust and ash so it was taken down a few weeks later by a construction crew and tucked away in storage, where it stayed for nearly seven years. The flag was brought out of storage in 2008 when the New York Says Thank You Foundation headed to Greensburg, Kansas, a town nearly destroyed by a tornado. NYSTY brought the flag with them, sparking a grassroots restoration effort that traveled over 120,000 miles across all fifty states, bringing together thousands of people, and helping America heal and rebuild . . . hand by hand, thread by thread, one stitch at a time. The book is the story of that journey, a journey that ended at the opening of the National September 11 Museum, where the flag remains today. Along the way, the flag was restored using pieces of retired flags from every state—including a piece of the flag that Abraham Lincoln was laid on after he was shot at Ford's Theater and threads from the original Star-Spangled Banner flag, which flew at Fort McHenry in the War of 1812 and inspired Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem. The pieces and threads were stitched in by military veterans, first responders, educators, students, community-service heroes, and family members of 9/11 victims, among others. At each stop, communities came together to remember, to heal, and to unite.
30,000 STITCHES is the inspiring story of a torn and tattered American flag that flew over Ground Zero days after 9/11 and later took a historic journey across fifty states to be fully restored. People from all walks of life and all different parts of the country came out and came together to help make the flag whole again.
What a powerful story! I am beyond moved just by the synopsis, I can only imagine the power your words and Sally Wern Comport's illustrations bring to this already inspirational topic.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
I first learned about the story back in 2011 when I facilitated an art lesson around the story of the flag with my art students for the tenth remembrance of 9/11 While browsing through some magazines, I came across a blurb about a torn and tattered American flag that flew over Ground Zero in the days after 9/11 and later traveled across all fifty states to be fully restored touching many hearts and many hands along the way. Later, it returned to New York on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 as a symbol of hope and unity. I knew I found my lesson. That year, students learned about the flag, and we created our own patchwork flag in remembrance. Years later, the story of the flag still lingered in my head, and I knew I needed to share it with more people. So, I decided to try my hand at crafting a manuscript for it. I have a background in journalism, so it was a delight getting to research and interview primary sources for the story. From the Ground Zero Superintendent to Flag Tour Staff, the people who I spoke to about the flag were incredible. I am 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 feel so honored and humbled that I’m able to tell the story of the flag and make it accessible to children so they can be inspired by the themes of strength, unity, hope, and healing, that are woven throughout the story.
Amanda, I love how you can track each step along the way that led to the creation of this book. And I think we are all thankful that the idea of this flag lingered in your mind and that you took on the challenge of telling its' story. I can only imagine how inspirational and emotional it must have been speaking with each of the primary sources.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now 30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
This idea took a long time to germinate and grow. From the first moment I read and taught about the true story of the flag in 2011, I was intrigued and knew it was a special story. It stuck with me and lingered in my head, but needed time to flourish. After visiting the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in 2014, and being overcome with emotion at the artifacts and the stories, it was another reminder of the importance of telling this story. Once I decided to write a children’s book on the topic of the National 9/11 Flag, I enacted my three ‘r’’s: a lot of research, countless revisions, and creating a refrain that helped me tie the narrative together.
Photo credit Amanda Davis
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
My own experiences inspire my creativity. I like to write and draw about the things I’ve been through in my life (both joyous and difficult), the places I travel, people I meet, and the lessons I’ve learned. I’m inspired by kindness, nature, animals, and family. Often these aspects find their way into my work. Creativity is all around us, we just need to pay attention.
I love how you draw inspiration and creativity by being aware of what's in your everyday life and cherishing the experiences and people you meet. I think writing topics you "know" or have experienced can facilitate weaving a deeper emotional thread through them.
Holiday Gaze Illustration Kindness Rock Project Isle of Skye
Amanda completed with her high
school art students.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
I’ve often admired Nicola Davies lyrical writing and her ability to tackle tough topics in a way that is accessible to children. Some of my favorites include, THE DAY WAR CAME, KING OF THE SKY, THE POND, and her recent debut as author-illustrator, LAST: THE STORY OF A WHITE RHINO. Most recently, I’m feeling inspired by other lyrical texts such as ALL BECAUSE YOU MATTER by Tami Charles and Bryan Collier and THE TREE IN ME by Corinna Luyken. Back in 2018, I actually received funding for a visit with Bryan Collier for a school visit in my high school art room. It was an unforgettable event for not only the students but also for me. He talked about how he went around, door-to-door with his portfolio to the big five publishers in New York for SEVEN YEARS until he finally got his first book deal! That was truly inspiring and reminded me that with hard work and dedication, anything is possible! You can learn more about some of my teaching and student art projects here!
Such amazing authors and books you have listed. I love how Bryan Collier's visit resonated with you. It is easy to forget the challenges some of our favorite, well-known authors may have had before becoming household names.
Readers please check out the work Amanda is doing with her students! I am blown away by the students' skills but moreso by the heart, meaning, and depth behind every project. What lucky students!
What are the must-haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials? Sunlight, candles, incense, a cracked window for some fresh air (even in the winter ☺), my computer/iPad, a cup of tea, snacks, my sketchbook, and of course my favorite furry rescue pup, Cora by my side.
Pictured is my basement writing/art studio. I often end up working at my dining room table instead because there is far more natural light, but it’s nice to have the dedicated workspace when needed. Being surrounded by art and works-in-progress definitely fuels my creativity.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
There is no right or wrong way to get published. Each person’s story is different. Sometimes it’s a short, smooth journey and sometimes it’s long and bumpy. Try not to compare. Instead, keep going. With every pass, send another query out. This industry has taught me not to take anything personally. You want to work with an editor or an agent who is going to love your work wholeheartedly. The truth is, not everyone is going to. And that’s okay. Art is subjective. With that in mind, there is strength in solidarity. This can be a very isolating business if we let it, so remember to reach out for help and to connect. The children’s book industry is one of the most welcoming communities I’ve been a part of. There is so much talent and wisdom. Connect with people. Ask questions. Never stop learning from one another. We are all on this creative journey together.
So much to connect with in this answer. The reminder that art is subjective seems escpecially spot on to me. We all have different opinions and preferences and no one book is going to satisfy everyone. This is even more reason to write what speaks and moves you instead of writing for an audience or editor/agent.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us? Thanks for asking Andrew, and yes!! 30,000 STITCHES launches May 4th, hooray! I have many FREE and exciting events planned to celebrate-one of them being a stop on your blog today ☺. A full schedule and links to register for the events can be found on my website here!
Feel free to download the graphics to keep for reference. There will be giveaways, chats with my editor and illustrator, and more! With the 20th remembrance of 9/11 approaching this year, I hope these events can give us a space to reflect, honor, and remember.
This is such an amazing line up of events and I am thankful that I got to be one of the stops along the way.
Recently, I had lots of fun collaborating with the talented team at KidLit TV. We chatted about 30,000 STITCHES and did a fun Helping Hands activity!
You can check out my recent Storymaker episode below!
And download the Helping Hands activity sheets here!
Amanda I can't thank you enough for joining us today and sharing all about your amazing book. I can not wait to preorder my own copy and to share it with my family and my students.
Readers be sure to help Amanda celebrate the release of 30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG (Worthykids, 2021), illustrated by Sally Wern Comport, releasing on May 4, 2021. Please follow along with her blog tour and be sure to check out her virtual events.
Amanda is generously giving away a copy 30,000 STITCHES:THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG. (US only)
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ABOUT AMANDA DAVIS
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 her rescue pup, Cora.
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew’s background of being surrounded by children, both at work and at home, has been a treasure trove of inspiration.
A nature lover, Andrew can be found exploring the woods of Massachusetts with his wife and three kids.
While often witty and imaginative, Andrew’s stories can also delve into the more serious and emotional topics that children can experience.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Flannery Literary.