On September 22, 2021, Cherry Lake Publishing Group announced the 2021 Grand Prize winners of their Own Voices, Own Stories Award. Humanities and Math Teacher Lesley Younge was one of them. Now, her winning manuscript, a picture book for young children called A Train Allen, will be published in 2023.
The story was inspired by her son, who loves trains and has a knack for mimicking the sounds of trains that run along the tracks in Silver Spring. “I imagined him as an older child running through the streets of a neighborhood like ours—who he might meet, where he might be going,” Younge says.
After she got the initial idea, the story came quickly. “The hardest part,” Younge admits, “was trusting that it was good enough to enter in the contest…In the end, I realized that I had nothing to lose. It was a book I wanted to read to my son, so I took a leap of faith that someone else might think that too.”
Connections Between Writing and Teaching
Younge started to carve out time in her busy life for writing just a few years ago. Wanting to model a writing life for her students, she began a blog for teachers. Since then, she has branched out into writing articles, essays, stories, and verse, and she has participated in local literary readings.
As a teacher, Younge pushes her students to explore new ideas, strategies, and techniques, and she challenges herself to do the same in her own writing. She explains, “It allows me to relate to the vulnerability we all feel in learning situations. I also share with students the people and texts that are authentically inspiring me. When I learn something new, I pass that right along to them. Hopefully, this keeps our class feeling fresh, relevant, and dynamic.”
A Train Allen is Younge’s first experience in publishing, and she is looking forward to learning more about the process—what it will be like to work with an editor, how the illustrator for the book will be chosen, what input she will have on decisions going forward. She is going to document how the book gets made so she can share that with her students:
"At the moment, there is a vibrant movement to diversify the publishing industry, and the Own Voices, Own Stories Award is part of that. I hope to be transparent about my journey and share the experience with others who might like to pursue this path. It took me a long time to feel like a ‘real writer.’ I want to open up that possibility for students right now."
Younge’s Next Book
What’s next for Younge? Shortly after she won the Own Voices, Own Stories Award, Younge was offered another book deal—this time for a story for middle-grade readers. Her story The Liberation of Olaudah Equiano is a verse interpretation of Equiano’s famous 18th-century autobiography that she co-authored with her mentor, Monica Edinger. The book is slated to come out in 2022.
Own Voices Own Stories Award
Launched earlier this year by Cherry Lake Publishing Group’s imprint, Sleeping Bear Press, the award recognizes new authors from BIPOC and/or LGBTQ+ communities with a mission to highlight the universal experience of our shared humanity through diverse and multifaceted experiences.