In The Story I’ll Tell a young child asks where he came from. His mother tells him fantastical tales with a kernel of truth that piece together his journey across a wide ocean to his new family. The Story I’ll Tell was released this month and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly which called it “an unabashed love letter. . . [that] many families will treasure.” In this guest post, author Nancy Tupper Ling discusses where the idea for The Story I’ll Tell came from.
I have binders that are two or three inches thick for many of my stories. They are picture book manuscripts, under 1000 words, and yet the binders are full of revision after revision of those few words. And then there are those rare stories that come to me like a gift. My poem, White Birch, was like that, and it became the winner of the Writer’s Digest Grand Prize out of 18,000 entries. Published this month by Lee & Low, The Story I’ll Tell had a similar beginning. It was a gift.
The story idea came to me in the form of a question as I was driving down the highway one day. If a baby landed on someone’s doorstep in the hills of Appalachia, what kind of story would the parents tell their child about how he/she came into their lives? The story sounded like a poem to me, as I wrote a number of far-fetched scenarios in my head. Still, there was one line that pivoted the story, and that’s my favorite line in the book today: “. . .there are times when I think I will tell you the truth, for the truth is a beautiful story too.”
With that line I came to a realization. There would be a nugget of truth in each of the fantastical stories that the parent would tell her child, and this patchwork of truths would be stitched together to reveal the most beautiful story in the end.
Somewhere along the way I began to think of The Story I’ll Tell as an adoption story. I am not an adoptive parent, but I am a parent who waited years for her first child. I know the ache and the longing that many parents experience while waiting for a child to enter their lives. My husband and I had filled out all the paperwork in order to adopt a child from Korea when we learned that I was pregnant with our first daughter, and this experience certainly influenced my story.
That said, I have several friends who had a tremendous influence on my story as well. One couple has ten children who came into their lives through domestic and international adoption. Another friend adopted her daughter through the foster care system. As The Story I’ll Tell was coming together I thought of their stories, all of which were unique, and how the parents would reveal them to their children in due time.
Certainly adoption stories include heartache as well. It was important for me to touch upon this sentiment, without making it overwhelming. One of the last lines in the story is “When we brought you home in dawn’s early light, you cried for things lost and new.” One mother’s loss is another mother’s gain. The child feels this, too. An adoption story has both longing and love. Hopefully this leads to a forever home where the child is treasured beyond compare.
In the end, it was Lee & Low who asked me to focus on a certain country of origin for the character, and since my husband is Chinese-American, I gravitated toward that heritage. As Eurasians, my own children know the push and pull of looking like one culture, and blending in as Americans. Jessica Lanan brought all these threads together with her gorgeous illustrations, so that the reader, like the child, feels the warmth of a new home and the reminder that she, too, has a story to tell.
Nancy Tupper Ling is the winner of the Writer’s Digest Grand Prize and the Pat Parnell Poetry Award, and is the founder of Fine Line Poets, a website for poets who live in New England. She was inspired to write The Story I’ll Tell by the multicultural background of her own family and the experiences of friends who have adopted children from all over the world. Ling resides in Walpole, Massachusetts, with her husband and their two young daughters.