The Story of Sarah Rising by Ty Chapman

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Writing a book is never easy and creating my debut picture book SARAH RISING was no exception. When the thought first struck me to write a picture book about the racial uprising that followed the murder of George Floyd, I was in my home in Minneapolis, and events were still actively playing out. Coincidently, I was also in the middle signing with my literary agent—one might call it a busy time.

Now, any sensible person would have likely said to themselves, No. I’m much too close to this major world event to write a book about it at the present moment. But I was not feeling wholly sensible at the time. I was deeply hurt by the continued murder of my people at the hands of police and felt called to write a book that could contextualize the uprising for young people. After all, who better to capture the moment than a Black artist who grew up in the community?

I spent many days attempting to plot out narrative arcs that didn’t make much sense, and forcing myself to begin writing rough drafts of the manuscripts, regardless. Needless to say, thisstrategy didn’t pan out well. I had so many questions and very few answers to any of them. How do I insert a child into such a grand problem and craft a narrative? How do I address a topic as challenging as police-sanctioned murder in a way that doesn’t just terrify children and decimate their sense of hope and safety?

It took some time to figure things out. Frankly, I’d have been better off waiting until things calmed down a bit, rather than spinning my wheels aimlessly. It’s rather challenging to write a book knowing white supremacists are flocking to your city, and the national guard is patrolling in armored vehicles outside your home. Who knew?

But once things had returned to a tense sense of pseudo-calm, videos and images of children on the front lines of protestsbegan to make their rounds on social media. (Among them, the iconic 7-year-old Wynta-Amor Rogers whose bravery and passion I can only hope to one day emulate.) That was when it struck me. I was going to write a book about a little girl going to her first protest. 

I sat down and cranked out the rough draft in a couple of hours. Probably due to my then ongoing obsession with Animal Crossing: New Horizons, one of the first things I decided was that my main character was going to be an avid collector and caretaker of bugs. And yes, this brought me down a fun rabbit hole of googling ants, beetles, spiders, butterflies, and collecting interesting trivia about each of them—most of which I never used.

In essence, Sarah quickly became a guardian of sorts, deeply interested in nurturing and protecting those smaller than herself.Those which often went overlooked, as the world trampled atop them. Without realizing it, I had already tapped into the book’s greater theme of community, and I had stumbled upon the very thing that would trigger both my book’s narrative climax and ending. 

Sarah’s day starts like any other: she eats her toast and feeds her bugs. But then, as she’s getting ready for school, her dad lets her know that they’re going to a protest together instead. Sarah has never been to a protest before, and the noise and crowd make her nervous initially, but then she sees a beautiful monarch butterfly and her fear turns to wonder. She follows the butterfly until she finds herself in the no-man’s land between protestors and a line of police officers. When a startled cop swats the butterfly onto the ground, Sarah knows she must help. Pushing past her fear, she darts forward and carefully scoops up the butterfly—only to be screamed at by the cop.

When Sarah runs back into the crowd, she realizes she’s lost and can’t find her dad. She begins to give in to fear again, until a kind stranger picks her up, giving her the vantage point she needs to find her dad. When they get home that night, Sarah understands just how important it is to be part of a community that protects each other, just like she protected her butterfly.

This story leaves readers with the messaging that great injustice can be overcome through community. Even when it’s scary or challenging to show up for others, we can hold fast in solidarity and keep each other safe. This book encourages young people to be the changemakers of tomorrow while reminding them that they’re never truly alone.

Ty Chapman is the author of SARAH RISING (Beaming 2022) & LOOKING FOR HAPPY (Beaming 2023); as well as three forthcoming picture books through multiple publishers, and a forthcoming poetry collection. A previous version of the collection was longlisted for Button Poetry’s Chapbook contest, and Frontier Magazine’s 2021 New Voices contest. Additionally, individual poems have won various contests and been published in multiple literary magazines throughout his career. 

Ty’s accomplishments also include being named a Loft Literary Center Mirrors & Windows fellow, Mentor Series fellow, and attending Vermont College of Fine Arts in pursuit of his Master’s Degree in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults.

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