From Teaching to Writing
TeachingBooks asks each author or illustrator to reflect on their journey from teaching to writing. Enjoy the following from Lorelei Savaryn.
As teachers and librarians, we are so much more than people who teach or share content. During the time our students are with us, we gain insights into their hopes and their dreams, their victories and their fears and all sorts of things between, and my experience as a teacher expressed itself in so many ways as I wrote The Circus Of Stolen Dreams (Penguin 2020).
Each and every year as a teacher, I paid close attention to the stories that circulated widely around my classroom. I leaned in when my students connected with a read aloud, and I listened to why they loved a particular book. I was actively involved in their reading life and always worked to find stories that would ignite a love for reading inside their hearts. When crafting The Circus Of Stolen Dreams, I worked hard to imagine a world and a story that would light that kind of a fire, had the potential to create a reader, or make a kid forget that they are sitting at a desk or on a couch or on the floor reading a book. Something that would make them feel as if they had gone somewhere else, somewhere filled with magic and wonder even for a while.
It was also always my utmost goal as a teacher to connect with my students personally and to build a sense of trust. To make my classroom a safe place for them to thrive and to grow not only in academics, but personally, emotionally, and socially as well. That’s exactly what I hope to do in the stories that I write.
I also hope my books are a place where they can explore things that may be scary or hard, but with the promise that they will arrive at hope in the end.
I want the kids who find my books to connect with the world and the characters I’ve created and to find a place of safety and comfort waiting for them inside the pages. I also hope my books are a place where they can explore things that may be scary or hard, but with the promise that they will arrive at hope in the end. Whether it was pressing through a tough math problem or pressing through a deeply personal life challenge, that sense of hope has always been the message I wanted my students to hear loud and clear, to walk away with and to carry inside them long after they left my classroom. And that’s really Andrea, my main character’s story in a nutshell in The Circus Of Stolen Dreams. She learns how to move forward and heal from some very difficult challenges, and grows in both bravery and in the ability to keep her heart open along the way.
I knew early on in my pursuit of becoming an author that I wouldn’t shy away from the darker, harder sides of life in my books. Many of my students shared with me one challenge or another that they were walking through in their lives during the year they spent in my class. Some were longer-term struggles, and some were struggles that they were experiencing for the very first time. The loss of a loved one, moving, changing friends, loneliness, poverty, navigating this thing we call ‘growing up.’
That’s partly why The Circus Of Stolen Dreams addresses both grief and divorce. I remember one student in particular who lost someone very precious to her during her year with me. Everyone grieves in different ways, but I’ve spoken with so many people who have shared that they wish they had a chance to go back and be with that person again. In my story, Andrea gets that chance we all hope for when we’ve lost someone precious—the chance to fight to bring back the one she’s lost. I hope it will make its way to students who will find solace while walking alongside Andrea as she pursues the magical opportunity to do the thing we cannot. I also wanted to represent an accurate experience of divorce from a child’s perspective. Many of my students lived in homes that didn’t look like what one may consider a traditional, dual-parent household. I wanted my story to address how very difficult the experience of a family breaking up can be, but I also wanted to make sure that the hope was there too, and the belief that the love of a family has this beautiful ability to endure and transcend even the most difficult kind of change.
My experience as a teacher also impacted the level of care and effort I put into making this book one that could be used as an example in the classroom as a mentor text for students’ own writing work. I’ve intentionally included interesting imagery, metaphor, and a compelling theme and character arc. I’ve built a layered antagonist that plays into the larger theme and that mirrors my main character. I’ve worked to pace my story well. Writing was one of my favorite subjects to teach, and using mentor texts was one of my favorite ways to teach components of the craft. I loved being able to take a story that the kids loved and then use that story to show them how something the author did is also something that they could integrate into their own life as writers. The side of me that will always be a teacher had a lot of fun putting together some teaching resources on my website for use in the classroom. I hope very much that teachers and librarians will feel free and encouraged to use my book in those ways.
Everyone grieves in different ways, but I’ve spoken with so many people who have shared that they wish they had a chance to go back and be with that person again.
But, at the end of the day, the thing that I loved most about teaching is the thing that has translated the most to writing this book. And that is connection. One of the things that excites me about being an author is the opportunity to connect with students in many different classrooms, in many different places. As a teacher, I counted the day a success if I could make even one kid feel seen, or heard, or safe, or less alone.
It would be an absolute honor if this story could do the same.
Books and Resources
TeachingBooks personalizes connections to books and authors. Enjoy the following on Lorelei Savaryn and the books she’s created.
Listen to Lorelei Savaryn talking with TeachingBooks about the backstory for writing The Circus of Stolen Dreams. You can click the player below or experience the recording on TeachingBooks, where you can read along as you listen, and also translate the text to another language.
- Listen to Lorelei Savaryn talk about her name
- Explore TeachingBooks’ collection of activities and resources for The Circus of Stolen Dreams
- Find a Book Reading for The Circus of Stolen Dreams
- Discover Lorelei Savaryn’s page and books on TeachingBooks
- Lorelei Savaryn on her website, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Explore all of the For Teachers, By Teachers blog posts.
Special thanks to Lorelei Savaryn and Penguin Books for Young Readers for their support of this post. All text and images are courtesy of Lorelei Savaryn and Penguin Books for Young Readers, and may not be used without expressed written consent.
Shahbaz Ali says