Co-Creating Mascot During A Global Pandemic
Life is full of surprises─serendipitous moments that bring new experiences and often new people into your life. That’s how Mascot (Charlesbridge, 2023) came to be in the world.
We met at the Highlights Foundation’s Novel-In-Verse workshop in June 2017. Neither of us had written a novel-in-verse yet, but we bonded over our first picture books coming out the following year. While Charles did work on a yet unpublished novel-in-verse manuscript while there, Traci spent time revising another picture book manuscript Powwow Day (Charlesbridge, 2022) based on feedback from the workshop faculty.
Before we left, we agreed we wanted to write something together in the future.
Fast forward to February 2019, Charles reaches out to Traci with the idea to explore the issue of Native themed mascots in schools. Traci agreed! She knew from her own lived experience people have a lot of emotions around this issue.
Writing about that in verse provides a wonderful format to jump in and get to the heart of the issue, feature the broad variety of perspectives that exist on the topic, and still move the narrative along quickly.
But the problem was Traci had no time to write anything new with other books already under contract and a busy travel schedule of school and library visits. Charles went ahead and created several Google docs to organize the research (news articles, dissertations, interviews, advocacy work, court cases, etc. on the subject), brainstorming around setting, characters and plot, and then drafting the story.
Then another surprise! In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak forced everyone to stay home. Being sequestered gave us the gift of time to work together from our respective homes and form the story. We video chatted regularly to edit poems and talk through scenes. Traci created an Excel spreadsheet to track each chapter and which characters would have poems in each.
Setting Mascot within a diverse Washington, DC suburb where a larger percentage of the population is affluent with higher education helps show that objectifying others and racism exists everywhere─even in an international city like the nation’s capital. Using Native people as mascots is a nationwide issue in suburbs, large metropolitan areas and small towns. No place is immune. Over 1,900 schools or school districts have Native themed mascots.
We wanted to ensure the story presents the issue from a variety of perspectives.
Life is filled with nuances. Different perspectives are good─vital in fact.
We’re telling the story as honestly and empathetically as possible about an issue that has infected our society for too long. This problem of stereotyping and imagining Native people that has no basis in reality goes back even before the founding of the United States when white colonists dressed as “Natives” to rebel against British taxation and dump tea in the Boston Harbor in 1773.
So we do hope Mascot invites conversations among young people about their educational environment and the world around them. Adults create those spaces, but young people have a voice to shape all of that too. None of that change happens without sacrifices as the characters in the book experience.
While the global pandemic surprised us and caused a lot of painful changes in our lives, it also gave us a new, wonderful experience─creating this verse novel together.
Hear Traci Sorell’s Audio Name Pronunciation
Hear Charles Waters’ Audio Name Pronunciation
Explore the book guide for Mascots on TeachingBooks
Text and images are courtesy of Traci Sorell and Charles Waters and may not be used without express written consent.