The big day arrived, the day to celebrate the launch of Her Own Two Feet: A Rwandan Girl’s Brave Fight to Walk, the day I had been dreaming about for so many years. I had a list of things to bring. Retractable poster banner? Check. Chance Comes Once rubber bracelets? Check. Markers and stickers so people could “sign” Rebeka’s cast? Check.
Cookies? Check. Coloring pages with colored pencils? Check. Temporary “strong like a butterfly” tattoos? Check.
But these were just the things that had been piling up in the corner of my room for weeks. Was I really ready? Was I ready to stand up and talk in front of a room full of people? Apparently, I was.
What I wasn’t ready for was the impact it would have to see all of my circles of friends colliding. So many people crammed into one of my favorite places in this city, the second floor of BookPeople. I saw their eyes peeking over bookshelves because the chairs were full. I wish I had taken a picture of them, those eyes, crinkled in the corners because they were smiling as big as I was. They were people who had watched me write and write for years, working to get published. Like the book club I’ve been a part of for the past twenty years. They’ve known for ages that I write, and they couldn’t wait to help me celebrate the book that finally got into print.
Many of these women knew Rebeka. She came with me to book club when she lived with us, that crazy year when the world was topsy turvy and most months I didn’t even read the book for book club but I needed to connect with good friends and good readers and Rebeka was always game for a gathering.
Then there was another circle, my family. My parents and sister, Clay’s parents and brother and his family, his uncle, my aunt, my cousins and their kids. It was like a reunion!
This family has known me long before I started writing children’s books back in 1995. They embraced Rebeka when she came to live with us, they cooked with her and exchanged gifts with her and watched her feet slowly turn. They supported our family as we cared for Rebeka, they supported me all these years that I’ve pursued publication, and they cheered when Rebeka and I teamed up to co-author Her Own Two Feet.
So there they were, my family circle and my book club circle sitting in the same room. Then there were the old friends, the ones who knew I was a writer, even way back then. The ones I wasn’t sure would come, they came. The ones I hadn’t seen in far too long, they came too.
So now there was book club and family and old friends and then there were the kids. The ones who read Her Own Two Feet before it was released and came up with questions for Rebeka. I taught these kids at church, we’ve jumped around and sung songs and glued crafts and shared stories and now we share this new story that they’ve embraced with great enthusiasm. They are part of Rebeka’s story now, and a glimpse into our future when lives across oceans will intertwine in meaningful, important ways.
So, the circles collide, book club and family and old friends and kids, and then there was the Africa New Life (ANL) circle, represented here by two board members, my dad and my husband, Clay, and also by Natalie Green, Director of Strategic Partnerships. ANL sponsors over 10,000 children in Rwanda so they can go to school, and Rebeka is one of them.
Marvin Eggleston, me, Clay Davis and Natalie GreenAnd then there were the neighbors. Neighbors from the street we used to live on at the lake, who knew and loved Rebeka when she lived there, and neighbors we live next to now. Pile on church friends and those I meet with each week. We pray for each other, they’ve seen me struggle with rejection, they love Rebeka, and they celebrate so well. Courtney took over 230 pictures of the day, so many pictures, so many circles colliding. I won’t include all those pics here, but there is one more circle, a really huge circle, that collided with all the others on Saturday, October 19, 2019.
My writer circle. There is an organization called the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and it supports writers and illustrators all over the world. One of the best things it does is connect us. Way back in 1995, with the help of Kathi Appelt and several others, I started an Austin chapter of SCBWI. Kathi introduced me at the launch. She has been a mentor, teacher and friend for all these many years and it was such a joy to stand next to her in front of all my circles and hear her speak about me, this book, Rebeka, and the journey that brought us there.
Over the years, I have met so many writers. We’ve traded drafts of manuscripts, edited each other’s work, accepted criticism and praise from each other, and cheered each other on in both writing life and regular life, where all those other circles lie. This next picture represents a whole lot of hours around tables, working out plot snarls, brainstorming, commiserating and celebrating. I was in a critique group with Anne (far left) for many years, starting in the late 90’s. I went to her wedding last year in Canada, where she now lives with a lovely man and lives happily ever after. I am so grateful she flew all that way for the launch. To Anne’s left are Jerri, Paige and Gayleen, all faithful critique partners who know me better through the stories I write, and they edit, and I revise. These women are amazing cheerleaders.
Debbie is another good SCBWI friend. She lives in Michigan now and wasn’t sure she’d come. It’s expensive, and she travels a lot already for her own debut book, but her husband insisted. Flowers were not enough. And so she came, a gift from Michigan. We both served as RA’s for Austin SCBWI, we both published our debuts this year. We are bound by our work and our words.
One of my biggest wishes for this launch was to not only see all these circles collide, but draw them into an ever-widening circle that crosses the ocean and reaches all the way to Rebeka. Although she couldn’t be present in body, I wanted to include Rebeka every way I could. Courtney took great crowd shots, four of them to capture all those circles but I’ll just put one here.
In each of these crowd shots, Rebeka is there too, perched on a skateboard, a jaunty daisy on her head. I can not wait to share these pictures and the stories of the launch with my co-author. Without her, all these circles never would have collided. My hope is that Rwandans will see her story, and be encouraged to tell their stories, too. We are so hungry for their stories!
I owe a special thank you to Courtney Cope, professional photographer, who took all the pictures on this blog post and so many more.
Courtney signed Rebeka’s cast and played with her when she was in Austin. She is one of my daughter’s best friends, and so dear to our family. I am so proud of her and her work. It means so much to me that she was the one who captured all the circle collisions. Thank you Courtney. Ndagakunda.