CLiF couldn’t do what it does without the 65+ amazing authors, illustrators, and storytellers we send to schools, camps, afterschool programs, libraries, shelters, affordable housing communities, and many more spaces where kids spend time. We’re proud to have award-winning author Sandra Neil Wallace as one of those inspiring presenters. We asked Sandra about her experiences sharing her stories with young people.
What has been the most exciting part of sharing your work with students?
For me it’s being able to connect with young readers to not only share my love of reading and writing but to really listen to what they have to say. To let them know that their voices are being heard and that I honor who they are. That kind of communication provides such an opportunity to create change and empowerment.
What do you hope students get out of your presentations?
I hope they can draw inspiration and ideas from the barriers I broke in life because I refused to accept what people thought I should be. I want them to know that they can also stay true to who they are and act on their dreams. But just saying these things is only the beginning. People—including kids—need a game plan. So, by giving kids a blueprint and sharing the tools I used to succeed in the midst of fear and how I found connections with people who aren’t like me show them what’s possible. Knowing someone who succeeded and how they did it can often be what’s needed for a child to be brave and see their life in a different way.
Why do you think reading and writing are so important?
Reading and writing are absolutely vital to self-empowerment because they give us knowledge and opportunities to break barriers and fulfill our dreams. They can even help determine those dreams and connect us to humanity. My grandmother on my dad’s side was from Ukraine and came from a large farming family. She didn’t have the opportunity to go to school or learn to read and write but she knew that it was essential for me to get a higher education. I became the first generation in my family to attend university and study journalism. I would not have the career that I do or connect with people in the same way without reading and writing.
What have been your impressions of CLIF visits? Any stories you’d like to share?
What’s exciting for me is the joyous anticipation that kids have around the visit. They are already so enthusiastic and curious about the books that will become their very own. So a seed has already been planted for a love of reading. Having me there to represent CLiF and as an author, sometimes with the books I’ve written on display, makes the connection to reading and books much more immediate for a child. The fact that they can connect the art of writing to me and learn why I love to write and to read is an experience that they may hold in their hearts for the rest of their lives.
What inspires your work?
I’m especially drawn to and inspired by people who have broken barriers and changed the world in some way but their lives and achievements have somehow been lost to history, and I want kids to know who they are–to honor their lives and be inspired by them. That’s why I write their stories and make sure their voices are heard–so their lives won’t be forgotten but remembered and celebrated.
What are you working on now?
I’m really excited to be focusing on the two barrier-breakers I am researching and writing about right now. Both are strong women who found a way to change how we protect the environment and explore the planet.
Author SANDRA NEIL WALLACE writes books for young readers that focus on people who break barriers and change the world. As the daughter of a refugee and concentration camp survivor, Sandra became a changemaker herself. The first generation in her family to attend university, she became a journalist, anchoring the network news before breaking a barrier in sports as the first woman to host an NHL broadcast on national TV. Her books have won national awards, including NCTE’s Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction, International Literacy Association’s Social Justice Award, and been chosen as Best Books by the American Library Association.
Since becoming a U.S. citizen in 2016, Sandra advocates for social responsibility as co-founder of The Daily Good, and advisor to the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College. She is the recipient of the Outstanding Women of New Hampshire Award and the Keene Sentinel’s Extraordinary Women Award. Sandra lives in New Hampshire with her husband and frequent collaborator, author Rich Wallace.