This is future you. Right now you don’t much like the way you look, do you? You hate being skinny and wonder when you’ll finally grow some curves. Your school uniform is awful — especially that dumb hat. You think your hair will always be a frizzy mess and your teeth will always make you look like Bugs Bunny. But guess what, thing’s improve. You knock those front teeth out doing somersaults on a trampoline so a dentist gives you a new pair, and someone invents a handy thing to straighten your hair, and you just kind of grow into yourself. You worry a lot — about the way you look, and whether your friends really like you, and whether your grades are good enough and … Stop! Worrying is exhausting and things will all turn out well in the end, I promise.
You LOVE reading. Don’t stop — read everything you can get your hands on. Be thankful that a smart librarian gave you an adult library card when you’d read all the books in the children’s section (even though you were officially too young to have one) and that she let you read anything you wanted. That librarian gave you everything you needed to fill your mind and feed your imagination. Empathy — understanding and being able to share the feelings of others — is important and that’s what you get from the books you read, that and excitement and rage and sorrow and fear and so much more. Don’t ever stop leaving useful things for The Borrowers to find, or looking for your own Secret Garden, or peeking in the backs of wardrobes to find a way into Narnia. And don’t stop crying for Jody and his deer Flag. Skip Bilbo Baggins’s story for now, you’ll like it much better when you’re older, and as for those boys in The Lord of The Flies, they’ll still terrify you when you’re an adult.
You know how you’re interested in fossils and the way that mountains and valleys get their shapes and why some rocks are gray with pink specks and others are pink with gray specks? Well one day you take that interest all the way to university and get a degree in geology. But then you won’t want to be a geologist any more because studying takes all the fun out of geology so you’ll become a teacher instead and the best part of the day will be story time — sharing books you love with the students in your class. And then something big and unimaginable will happen — you’ll leave your home in England and move to America with your husband and two kids. (Yes, you have kids).
Being an immigrant is big and terrifying and strange. Minnesota is so different from Hull, where you live now. Most houses are made of wood, not bricks. Butter comes in sticks. People call casseroles “hot dish” and eat fruit salad with their meal instead of as dessert. It’s so cold in the winter that the stuff in your nose freezes when you go outside, the snow squeaks when you walk on it, and cars can be driven across frozen lakes. When you get here, you’ll miss your family and friends and England and everything that’s familiar, but you are stronger than you think. You know how you like to write? Well you’ll get lots of practice writing letters home telling everyone about the new things you’re seeing and doing. (Although you will NEVER EVER drive your car on a frozen lake.)
I’ve been saving the best thing for last. One day, when you’re pretty old, you will finally realize that there was only ever one thing you were meant to do and that’s write children’s books. You often wondered if you could, but you were never brave enough to try: being an “author” is something “special” people do, not ordinary people like you. But one day you will try and you’ll work hard and you’ll persevere. Some people will tell you your stories aren’t good enough to publish and then you’ll be crushed, but you won’t give up. And one fantastic day a book with your name on the cover will be published. You, ordinary you, will be an “author.” And perhaps somewhere a girl will love your book so much that she imagines herself riding in a Gypsy wagon and wonders what she would do if she found a lost baby in a field.
So stop worrying, you’ll have a pretty great life.
Love, future Cheryl
P.S. You know how you always skip the setting descriptions in books, well it turns out those are the bits you love writing. How ironic is that?
Ten-year-old Lizzie Dewhurst is an evacuee, sent with her younger brother Peter from their city home at the beginning of World War II to live with strangers in Swainedale, a remote Yorkshire valley. When Lizzie finds a lost baby in a field, her world is turned upside down. Will she have the courage to do what is right in the face of prejudice and opposition from the people around her? Told from the alternating perspectives of Lizzie and Elijah, a Gypsy boy, LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY explores the nature of intolerance, compassion, and the quiet bravery of ordinary people.
Lizzie and the Lost Baby can be found on IndieBound, The Red Balloon Bookshop, B&N, Amazon, and in bookstores and libraries near you.
Find more Hey Kid! letters here.
|Cheryl Blackford was born in Yorkshire, England but now lives in a house in the woods in Minnesota where she is entertained by a wide assortment of wildlife, including coyotes. LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY is Cheryl’s first middle-grade novel. She has written three non-fiction books for young readers and her picture book HUNGRY COYOTE (inspired by a coyote she saw one winter morning) won the 2015 Moonbeam Award for picture books for ages 4-8.|
Connect with Cheryl on cherylblackford.com, Twitter, and Goodreads.