Role Models: Real Life, Pop Culture, or Literary?

I’d love to have a time machine. No, not to offer myself advice or change things. I am who I am today as a result of my younger self’s choices. Actually, I just want to know her (me) as I really was, not just how memory might have colorized my past.

I’d ask: who were your role models? When asked this as an adult, I respond with what I believe  to be true. Perhaps, though, there were others I’ve forgotten. Until technology offers an alternative, I’ll have to rely on memory.

I grew up with plenty of positive role models. Glorified, even saintly personalities filled the silver screen (think Spencer Tracy, Bing Crosby, and Deborah Kerr). More mundane but valid were examples offered by family, teachers, and neighbors. As much as I respected, admired, and even loved many of them, I vividly recall choosing my heroes from the pages of books. That ranged from stories of saints (especially martyrs, the gorier the better), to folkloric characters (Davy Crockett and Annie Oakley to name just two). Mostly, though, I admired  a succession of characters from the books I devoured at a furious pace.

They were heroic, but in ways that I could emulate, or hope to someday. The titles, the power of the stories, stay with me now, even when the names and details don’t. I must have read CLAY FINGERS a dozen times, fascinated with the role of an art therapist helping young children. (This one was old when I found it on library shelves and has never turned up in searches over the years.) KAREN, written by her mother, Marie Killilea, is the true story of a girl with cerebral palsy who never saw herself as un-able despite her undeniably dis-abled body. DIBS: In Search of Self, by Virginia Axline, shaped my career plans while still in elementary school. Add to that an endless stream of biographies, most notably THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK. After reading that I sought out every story I could find about survivors of Hitler’s rampage across Europe.

Newbery Medal winner, NUMBER THE STARS, by Lois Lowry

Newbery Medal winner, NUMBER THE STARS, by Lois Lowry

When Lois Lowry’s NUMBER THE STARS  released in 1989 I read it through twice before sharing it with students. Year after year I reread this remarkable story with others, but I hadn’t read it again for several years. When I did that recently I found scattered threads throughout the book that also appear in Odin’s Promise. Lise is the name of Mari’s older sister and also Annemarie’s. Mari and Annemarie understand that Hitler’s forces hate Jews, but neither can understand why. This isn’t surprising, given the similar settings and historic context of both stories, but some details seem to have unconsciously found their way into my writing.

It’s my hope that the story of Mari and Odin will touch some readers’ hearts to even a fraction of the the degree I’ve been affected by these and other books throughout my life.  I’ve recently been reading many titles, new and old, related to this period. I’ll review and recommend some in coming weeks with an eye toward my younger self. I don’t expect Odin’s Promise to win awards and acclaim, but my hope is that someday a reader will find in it a link to his or her true self. Kate Messner captured my  feelings about this perfectly in her poem about books and awards.

For now, I’d love to hear who your role models were? Which books mattered most to you, and why?




2 Comments on “Role Models: Real Life, Pop Culture, or Literary?

  1. Thank you for helping me to remember DIBS: In Search of Self. This, too, had a great impact on me as a child. Also, I recently guest taught in my 6th-grade daughter’s classroom, and they were reading NUMBER THE STARS. I immediately connected it to Odin’s Promise. I forgot to tell you that, Sandy. You obviously are continuing a grand tradition with your novel. I can’t wait to see it in print!

    • Jenny, it’s such fun to know you read Dibs as well! I rarely hear of anyone else who’s reading life included that title, and the power of that story stays with me today. Also what fun for you to sub in your daughter’s class. (For you, at least. How did she feel about it?)

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