Lindsey McDivitt is a fiction and nonfiction writer for children. Some of her children’s books include: Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story and Truth and Honor: The President Ford Story (both Sleeping Bear) and A Plan for the People: Nelson Mandela’s Hope for His Nation (Eerdmans), which was released on March 30, 2021. McDivitt began writing children’s books after many years in health education. She has also written extensively about ageism and the importance of older role models in picture books.
EBYR: What made you decide to become an author?
I worked in healthcare for years, providing support and education for survivors of stroke. One of my favorite roles was editing publications for families affected by stroke. That gave me confidence and also gave me insight—stories can highlight often hidden strengths.
EBYR: What are you most passionate about in your work?
LM: There are actually many things I look forward to writing about, but I feel strongly that young people deserve the very best information about numerous topics often somewhat ignored in children’s literature. My particular interest is in showing youngers that olders are extremely diverse and interesting. Age is a continuum. None of us is ever just old or just young. Children are actually children for a short time and they deserve to know that they can have a long, varied future ahead of them. Age stereotypes need to be stamped out along with all stereotypes of other kinds, including race. Somehow this passion makes its way into all my books so far!
EBYR: Where do the ideas for your books come from?
LM: I actually never intended to write this book, A Plan for the People. I was simply drawn to reading everything I could written by Nelson Mandela, and about him in my attempt to get my own questions answered. These questions arose after my trip to South Africa and a tour of Robben Island prison. But of course my own experience as an immigrant from South Africa to America informed it in a big way.
Other ideas are sparked by a lifetime of experiences and different roles—raising kids, different jobs, reading about things that interest me such as nature and our environment. Too many ideas, too little time!
EBYR: How much research do you do before you begin a book?
LM: For nonfiction books I do a ton of research before I start writing anything, but I always put sticky notes on pages that intrigue me, especially things that might catch a young reader’s interest. I read about President Mandela for at least eighteen months before putting pen to paper. And I continued reading about him, South Africa, apartheid, and racism for years.
EBYR: Where do you find your inspiration for new stories and characters?
LM: Funny or memorable things my two children did or said in years gone by. Family stories. Other people’s kids! A story or character can often be an amalgamation of real people and people or things I’ve read about.
EBYR: What is the process of writing a book; how does it go from an idea to a finished work on sale in bookstores?
LM: What a long and winding road it often is! For example, as I said, A Plan for the People began with the drive to get my own questions answered and extensive research. I wondered—how did Mandela know that White people behaving hatefully could change? How did he bring South Africans of all colors together?
As I read more and more, I began thinking of a book with a grandmother trying to teach her young granddaughter about the sad history of racial injustice in South Africa. Then it evolved into a story about Mandela and one of his White prison guards becoming friends. There were many awful drafts before I attempted the picture book biography format. This was actually the first bio I wrote, although two others were published first.
The biography drafts were critiqued by a number of people before Kathleen Merz, the talented editor at Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. She read it and liked it at an SCBWI conference in Michigan, but that manuscript still needed revisions and acceptance by the EBYR acquisitions team. I feel so lucky to have landed at a perfect spot for this book! Of course there remained the team’s search for an illustrator, and there again I feel tremendously fortunate. Artist Charly Palmer was the perfect collaborator on this project.
EBYR: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
LM: Holding each of my picture books in my hands illustrated by gorgeous art! It’s amazing to see my words enhanced by the contributions of talented artists, editors, art directors and publishing teams. Truly amazing. And to have three books published after the age of sixty should give hope to many late bloomers.
EBYR: What do you wish you’d have known starting out as an author?
LM: I should have immersed myself more quickly and thoroughly in the world of current picture books. I love the form, but it’s changed a lot from many of the books I read my children when young. For one thing, they’re much, much shorter!
EBYR: What advice would you give to your younger self?
LM: Stop reading books about writing and start writing!
EBYR: What do you hope kids learn from A Plan for the People?
LM: It’s my dearest hope that A Plan for the People: Nelson Mandela’s Hope for His Nation will plant the seeds of hope and courage. In many parts of the world, people are painfully divided by fear and ignorance. They are afraid of others different from them, and afraid of looking at why they are fearful. It takes courage to take even the first steps toward change and racial justice. But this story of South Africa might inspire hope and a vision of fairness. The world that Nelson Mandela imagined—where race does not divide people in any way.
EBYR: Can you tell us one thing people may not know about you?
LM: I love reading picture books out loud. Even to myself. Picture books are meant to be read out loud, preferably with a young person at your side. That experience of laughing or learning together from a lyrical picture books is powerful.