Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Amanda Davis
|© Angela Wood Photography
May 21, 2021
We are excited to feature author and illustrator Amanda Davis and her debut picture book, 30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport (Worthy Kids May 2021). Enter to win a copy!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write and illustrate for children.
I’ve always loved art and writing, but after losing my father at the age of twelve, I turned to art and writing as an outlet. It became my voice. A way to cope. A way to escape. And a way to tell my story. I was thus inspired to teach art and pursue my passion for writing and illustrating children's books. I love learning about other people’s stories and find that if we stop and really listen to one another, the world would be a much more kind, peaceful, and empathetic place. Art and writing have the power to highlight the beauty in our differences while helping us recognize we have more in common than we think.
|© Amanda Davis
In 2012, after taking a continuing education course at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston called Illustrating Children’s Books with illustrator Ilse Plume, I realized that children’s books combine all three of my passions: art, writing, and stories. After completing that course, I dove headfirst into the craft of writing and illustrating for children (while balancing my job as a full-time high school teacher).
I joined SCBWI, 12×12, and found a local and online critique group. I tried to soak in all the knowledge I could about the kidlit industry. I began to query literary agents and editors with a few of my stories. Looking back, I probably queried those stories too early, but hey, that’s part of the learning process. The story that finally landed me an agent and later a deal is my debut creative nonfiction picture book titled 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag, illustrated by the amazing Sally Wern Comport, which released with WorthyKids/Hachette Book Group earlier this month!
|© Amanda Davis
Through my work as both an art educator and children’s book creator, I strive to empower younger generations to tell their own stories and offer children and adults an entryway into a world of discovery. A world that can help them make sense of themselves, others, and the community around them. A world where they can navigate, imagine, and feel inspired—over and over again.
Congrats on your debut picture book, 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag! Tell us about it and what inspired you.
Thank you! 30,000 Stitches is the inspiring story true story of the American flag that flew over Ground Zero, became torn and tattered and was taken down. Later, it traveled across all fifty states to be fully restored, and returned to New York on the tenth remembrance of 9/11 as a restored symbol of unity.
|© Amanda Davis
I’m a high school art teacher and always make it a point to teach about 9/11 each year. So, around the tenth remembrance of 9/11 I was searching for a lesson I could do with students. One that honored the lives lost but also focused on the hope and healing that came after. While browsing through some magazines, I came across a blurb about the story of the flag. I knew I found my lesson. That year, students learned about the flag, and we created our own patchwork flag in remembrance. Years later, the story of the flag still lingered in my head, and I knew I needed to share it with more people. So, I decided to try my hand at crafting a manuscript for it. I have a background in journalism, so it was a delight getting to research and interview primary sources for the story. From the Ground Zero Superintendent to Flag Tour Staff, the people who I spoke to about the flag were incredible. I am honored to have spoken with such selfless, kind, and generous people whose dedication to helping America heal after 9/11 was inspiring. To this day, they continue to give back and be of service to others, which is truly exceptional. I feel so honored and humbled that I’m able to tell the story of the flag and make it accessible to children.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
It was a long process! From the moment, I read and taught about the true story of the flag in 2011, I was intrigued and knew it was a special story. As I said, it stuck with me but needed time to flourish. After visiting the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in 2014, and being overcome with emotion at the artifacts and the stories, it was another reminder of the importance of telling this story. Inspired by my art lesson with students and my visit to the Museum, I decided to try my hand at crafting a manuscript for 30,000 Stitches (originally called The Fabric of America).
|© Amanda Davis
I began querying back in 2017 with other picture book manuscripts and didn’t have much luck. Once I had 30,000 Stitches polished up, I began to query that story to agents and editors as well. The process of landing an agent and book deal for 30,000 Stitches was filled with ups and downs. I had many passes along the way but most were positive and many had personalized feedback, so I knew I was on the right track. I even got a few requests to revise and resubmit. I submitted to WorthyKids by snail mail through the slush pile when I was still unagented. After many months of not hearing back, I took that as a pass. I continued to query the story and later, connected with agent, Melissa Richeson who signed me for the project. Seven months later, an assistant editor from WorthyKids contacted me to ask if the story was still available. Of course, I said a big and enthusiastic YES, connected her with Melissa. The rest is history!
|© Amanda Davis
Long story short, it took me about nine years to get my first picture book traditionally published! It can be a long and winding road to get there, but if you keep pressing ahead, you are bound to get there.
What projects are you working on now?
I have lots of new ideas in the works! Many informational fiction stories and a couple of new narrative nonfiction stories, too. As mentioned before, I also have a couple picture book dummies in progress that I hope to debut as author and illustrator with. I hope to one day explore writing a middle grade novel in verse or even YA.
|© Amanda Davis
I have a few more exciting virtual events for 30,000 Stitches coming up, too. Next up is Mass Book Bites: Boston Book Festival. You can learn more and register here! And on May 26th, I’ll be in conversation with retired FDNY firefighter and Flag Tour Honor Guard, Jimmy Sands at Blue Bunny Books Virtual Event. More info here! With the 20th remembrance of 9/11 approaching, I hope the story can be a great resource to help us discuss the events of that day and honor, remember, and reflect.
What advice would you give to writers who are interested in creating nonfiction picture books?
Do your research and love the subject matter. I think in order to write nonfiction, you need to be passionate in both of these areas. There is going to be research before, during, and after the story is written. Then, the research continues even after the story is acquired. You’re going to be looked at as the expert in the area and need to be ready to dig back into your sources when a question arises from an agent, editor, or art director. With this in mind, your passion for the subject you’re writing about needs to be strong and steadfast. What does this story mean to you, why should readers care, and why are you the one to write it?
|© Amanda Davis
Lastly, if you’re writing nonfiction and submit photos to agents or editors with your manuscript, make sure you can secure permissions for those photos as this will likely be your responsibility. I have numerous photos in the back matter of 30,000 Stitches and was fortunate to have worked closely with my sources who provided me with useful information that enabled me to secure those permissions. And, if you can, try to use photos that are part of the public domain so you don’t run into issues with having to pay a licensing fee to use the photo in your book.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I’ve visited Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico where I rode on horseback through the same southwestern terrain that artist Georgia O’Keeffe found inspiration for her famous paintings.
Where can people find you online?
Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. Amanda is the recipient of the 2020 Ann Whitford Paul—Writer’s Digest Most Promising Picture Book Manuscript Grant and teaches art at a public high school in Massachusetts where she was selected as 2020 Secondary Art Educator of the Year. Amanda is the author of 30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG and has poetry and illustrations featured in The Writers’ Loft Anthology, FRIENDS AND ANEMONES: OCEAN POEMS FOR CHILDREN. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her partner and her rescue pup, Cora.
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