An Interview with Nancy Churnin, author of THE WILLIAM HOY STORY

A few days ago, I posted my review of Nancy Churnin’s terrific new picture book, The William Hoy Story.  Today, I am excited to share an interview with the author herself!
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.About the Book:

The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game
By Nancy Churnin
Illustrated by Jez Tuya
All William Ellsworth Hoy wanted to do was play baseball. After losing out on a spot on the local deaf team, William practiced even harder—eventually earning a position on a professional team. But his struggle was far from over. In addition to the prejudice Hoy faced, he could not hear the umpires’ calls. One day he asked the umpire to use hand signals: strike, ball, out. That day he not only got on base but also changed the way the game was played forever. William “Dummy” Hoy became one of the greatest and most beloved players of his time! 

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About the Author

Nancy Churnin is the author of five non-fiction picture book biographies. Her debut, The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game, published by Albert Whitman & Company in March 2016, received a glowing review in The New York Times and was featured in People magazine and USA Today Sports Weekly. William Hoy is a 2017 Storytelling World Resource Award Honor Book and a 2017 North Texas Book Festival Best Children’s Books finalist and is on several book lists: the 2016 New York Public Library Best Books for Kids; the 2017 Texas Library Association 2×2 Reading List and Topaz Nonfiction Reading List; the 2017 Best Children’s Books of the Year, Bank Street College and the 2018 Illinois Monarch Award Master List. Her second book, Manjhi Moves a Mountain (Creston Books), will be published Sept. 1, 2017 and is a fall 2017 Junior Library Guild selection. Coming up in 2018: Charlie Takes His Shot, How Charlie Sifford Broke the Color Barrier in Golf (Albert Whitman); Irving Berlin, the Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing (Creston Books); The Princess and the First Christmas Tree (Albert Whitman). When she’s not writing children’s books, Nancy keeps busy as the theater critic for The Dallas Morning News. She lives in Texas with her husband, Michael Granberry, their four sons and two cats.
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The Interview

How did you first become interested in the story of William Hoy?
I am the theater critic for The Dallas Morning News. After I wrote a story about a fascinating play being staged at a local high school in Garland, Texas called The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy by Allen Meyer and Michael Nowak, I received a thank you e-mail from Steve Sandy of Ohio. I thanked him for his email and asked why someone from Ohio would be interested in a story about a play in a high school in Garland, Texas. Steve wrote me that he is deaf and shared his dream that more people, hearing and deaf, would know the story about this great deaf hero. Steve told me of his dream that William Hoy would be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, where he would be the first deaf player honored there. The more we discussed this, the more I knew Steve was right. I tried to figure out what I could do to help. That’s when I got the idea that if I wrote a children’s book about William Hoy, the children would help us. And so far, they have. I have personally delivered more than 800 letters from kids to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which have been entered into his official file in the Hall of Fame library.
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What kind of research did you do while writing the story?
Steve Sandy is a friend of the Hoy family and he shared all the precious things they had entrusted with him: copies of original letters, newspaper articles, photos. Also very important: Steve gave me an education on what it was like to grow up deaf in the 19th century as William Hoy had. He sent me papers about the international conference of deaf educators in Milan in 1880, when a declaration was made that oral education was better than signing. William Hoy never spoke. He always signed. This helped me understand and be even more in awe of the enormity of what he accomplished — bringing sign language to baseball and succeeding with pride and even a sense of humor on his own terms. In addition to Steve’s help, I am very indebted to Eric Nadel, the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame announcer, who is incredibly knowledgeable about baseball history. He double-checked my baseball references and was kind enough to write a blurb for the back of the book and to read it to kids at Texas Ranger story time sessions.
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Were there any interesting tidbits about Hoy that didn’t make it into the story?

So many! One of the reasons it took me as long as it did to get to the final draft of this story (13 years, but who’s counting), was to figure out how to focus the story. I was able to add some anecdotes to the back matter, but I find kids enjoy hearing stories that didn’t make it into the book. I’ve got lots of stories, but my favorite one that didn’t make it is about his honesty. William was an amazing outfielder who made incredible catches. One day he was out in centerfield and the ball comes in very low. He catches it. The umpire calls the runner out. William shakes his head. No. The ball hit the ground. The runner was safe. One of the players on his team threw his cap on the ground because he was so mad! Years later, at the end of William’s life, a reporter asked him what his proudest moment in baseball was. William Hoy set a lot of records over the years. He even hit a grand slam to help the Chicago White Sox win the American pennant in 1901. But his proudest moment? The one where he let the umpire know the runner was safe.
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Your book presents a very human, relatable portrait of Hoy. How did you navigate the challenges of creating a story full of moving details while keeping it historically accurate?
I realized I needed to figure out what William’s dream was, how he had achieved that dream and what he and we could learn from his journey. His dream was to play baseball. He achieved his dream through persistence, hard work and realizing that the very thing that made him different from his teammates — his deafness — was his gift. His mother applauding him in sign language in the beginning of the book returns as a memory to help him in the middle of the book when he can’t seem to connect with his teammates, the opposing team or the fans. The signs not only help him succeed in making those connections and being a successful baseball player, they make baseball a better game. Finally, the sign for applause becomes a way for the fans to show their love for him. I followed my instincts in writing the story. I went back and checked with Steve Sandy and Eric Nadel to make sure I hadn’t written anything that wasn’t historically accurate. I am so happy that the book has their blessing and the blessing of the Hoy family.
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In the book’s acknowledgements, you mention that you are on the “Hoy for the Hall” Committee, campaigning to get William Hoy inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY.  Please tell us more about the campaign and how readers can support it!
This book got its start with my determination to help Steve achieve his dream of getting William Hoy in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Everywhere I present the book I ask kids if they think he should be in the Hall of Fame. They do! Then I ask them if they will draw pictures or write letters to the Hall of Fame. Some send me copies so I can post on my Facebook pages at Nancy Churnin Children’s Books and Nancy Churnin and on Twitter @nchurnin.  You can find the address for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the free downloadable teachers guide on the Albert Whitman website.
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Anything else you want readers to know about the book?
This was a labor of love, which kicked off a passion to tell more true stories of people who are not well known, but should be. I have four more children’s books coming out and none of this would have been possible if I had not gotten the opportunity to tell William’s inspiring story. I am so appreciative of Steve and his wife, Bonnie, who have become such good friends to me. I am thankful for the opportunity to get to know wonderful people in the deaf community. It has been my honor and privilege to be interviewed by DPanTV alongside Steve Sandy about William Hoy, which you can see here. I am thrilled about all the people who have taken William Hoy’s story to their hearts and spread the word, through blog posts, reviews, interviews and putting the book on state reading lists because that helps get William’s story in the hands and hearts of more children.
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I recently heard from an 11-year-old boy I met at an airport last summer, waiting to get on a plane. I gave this little boy and his sister a copy of the book, which I autographed. Now, a year later, I received an email from the boy, saying he had been to his native Japan and saw The William Hoy Story in Japanese. He wrote that he found the books “piled up in front of the cashier as selected one of must-read books for 3rd and 4th graders during summer vacation. I was so excited and got one. I love this story!! I just wanted to let you know this great news.Thank you.” A letter like that is everything to me.
 

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