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by Chana Stiefel

Hello Storystormers! It’s hard to believe we’re already three weeks in. How’s it going? Are you churning out ideas like this?

If not, I’d like to jumpstart your idea machine by training your brain to ask a single question:

Where did that come from?

As you go about your day, start thinking about origin stories. Your fluffy slippers, your toothbrush, toilet paper, jeans, Cap’n Crunch, a nest in a tree on your first walk of the day….just look around. Origin stories are everywhere!

They might revolve around something very small.


Or something HUMONGOUS.


They might be about something incredibly important.


Or inventions that made a big splash!


They might even be about something we cherish.

My next picture book LET LIBERTY RISE (illustrated by Chuck Groenink, Scholastic, March 2) is the origin story of one of America’s favorite icons, the Statue of Liberty. Where did Lady Liberty come from? Most of us know she was a gift from France. But did you know that when she arrived in New York City in 350 pieces, America didn’t want her? Americans were supposed to build the pedestal for Liberty to stand on, but when she arrived, the pedestal was only half built and funds had run out. Liberty’s parts, from her torch to her toes, lay strewn about Bedloe’s Island in rain and snow. But Joseph Pulitzer, a Jewish Hungarian immigrant and publisher of the New York World newspaper, felt that Liberty must stand in New York harbor. He said, if anyone gives a penny for the pedestal, he would print their name in his newspaper. And guess what? Schoolchildren came to the rescue by donating their pennies! The World raised $100,000 to build Liberty’s pedestal! How’s that for an origin story?

Here’s another story that’s near and dear to my heart. A few years ago, I read an obituary about Yaffa Eliach, a Jewish historian who spent 17 years traveling the world to rebuild her village in stories and photos after her community was obliterated during World War II. Yaffa’s collection became the three-story high Tower of Faces in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. I’m honored to share that this origin story is the subject of my picture book THE TOWER OF LIFE, illustrated by Susan Gal, coming from Scholastic in 2022.

Still a bit stuck? Make a list of things kids love. Then ask: Where did that come from?

THE WILLIAM HOY STORY by Nancy Churnin is about the origin of baseball signs. Did you know that they came from a deaf baseball player who played in the major leagues in the early 1900s?

Of course, these titles are all nonfiction. But this idea can work for fiction too. Here’s a funny origin story.

My picture book MY NAME IS WAKAWAKALOCH is about a cave girl who wants to change her hard-to-pronounce name (ahem). It’s also about the origins of our names and why names are important.

I was named for my great grandmother Chana who arrived in America 100 years ago. You can learn more here. That’s my origin story. What’s yours?

What are your favorite picture books based on origin stories? And if the hunt for an origin-story idea works for you, please let me know!

Chana Stiefel is the author of more than 25 books for kids. Her next picture book, LET LIBERTY RISE (illustrated by Chuck Groenink, Scholastic, 3-2-21), is the true story of how America’s schoolchildren helped build the Statue of Liberty. Her other picture books include MY NAME IS WAKAWAKALOCH!, illustrated by Mary Sullivan (HMH, 2019) and DADDY DEPOT, illustrated by Andy Snair (Feiwel & Friends, 2017). Recent non-fiction titles include ANIMAL ZOMBIES…& OTHER REAL-LIFE MONSTERS (National Geographic Kids, 2018). Her picture book THE TOWER OF LIFE: HOW ONE WOMAN REBUILT HER VILLAGE IN STORIES AND PICTURES (illustrated by Susan Gal) will be coming out from Scholastic in 2022. Chana loves visiting schools and libraries and sharing her passion for reading and writing with children. She is represented by Miranda Paul at Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter @chanastiefel, and Instagram @chanastiefel. To hear Chana pronounce her name, click here.

Chana will be giving away a signed copy of LET LIBERTY RISE when it launches in March.

Leave one comment below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Author Chana Stiefel is here today to release the cover of her upcoming nonfiction book, illustrated by Chuck Groenink: LET LIBERTY RISE! HOW AMERICA’S SCHOOLCHILDREN HELPED SAVE THE STATUE OF LIBERTY. This book will be released on March 2, 2021 with Scholastic…

But first, Chana shares a few things she’s learned in the process of creating this nonfiction book:

1. Listen to your friends for book ideas!
A few years ago, when humans still ate meals together, I invited my author friends Sue Macy and Jackie Glasthal over to my house for Friday night dinner. Jackie mentioned that she had published a middle grade novel based on the true story of the building of the Statue of Liberty.* Many of us know that the French sent the statue to America as a symbol of friendship. But did you know that America didn’t want it? And New York’s richest millionaires refused to contribute $100,000 to build the pedestal! Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the World newspaper, was outraged. He insisted that the statue stand in New York harbor, the gateway to America. Pulitzer said he would print the name of every person who donated to the pedestal fund—no matter how small the sum or how small the person. Guess who donated their pennies to America’s first crowd-sourcing campaign? KIDS, of course! Right then and there, I knew this story had to become a picture book! Jackie gave me her blessing and offered to help.

2. Do the research!
Researching this book took years. Back when humans could take ferries and visit libraries, Jackie and I met at the Bob Hope Memorial Library on Ellis Island. We pored over archives and took pictures. I also time traveled in the map room of the New York Public Library, scrolling through microfilm of the World newspaper from the 1870s. I read through stacks of books and shared every exciting fact with my family. (You’re welcome, kids!)

3. Practice patience!
Even after you’ve received multiple critiques and edited your manuscript a bazillion times, publishing takes time—enough time to turn copper green. But waiting for a great book deal and the perfect illustrator is worth it! Illustrator Chuck Groenink captured 1870s America oh-so-beautifully, down to the adorable knickers on the newspaper boy. My editor at Scholastic Dianne Hess and I fact checked every single word. (Fab facts: How many stars were on the U.S. flag in 1876? In how many pieces was Liberty shipped to America? Answers below**!)

4. Take nothing for granted.
Publishing a book is an incredible gift and for that I will always be grateful. I hold my torch high for Dianne, Chuck, my family, my critique partners, the kidlit community (thank you Tara!), and my former agent John Cusick. Most of all, I am grateful to Jackie for giving me the gift of this story. Sadly, Jackie passed away three years ago. She stood for liberty, freedom, and friendship and this book is dedicated to her memory. On that bittersweet note, presenting the cover of LET LIBERTY RISE!

*Liberty on 23rd Street by Jacqueline Glasthal, illus. by Alan Reingold, Silver Moon Press, 2006.
**Answers: 38 stars; 350 pieces

Chana Stiefel is the author of more than 25 books for kids. In addition to LET LIBERTY RISE! (Scholastic, 3-2-21), Chana’s books include MY NAME IS WAKAWAKALOCH, illustrated by Mary Sullivan (HMH), ANIMAL ZOMBIES…& OTHER REAL-LIFE MONSTERS (NatGeoKids), and DADDY DEPOT, illustrated by Andy Snair (Feiwel & Friends). She is represented by Miranda Paul at Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Learn more at Follow @ChanaStiefel on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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