Countdown to Breakout is a 23-day blog series about the three-year writing process for BREAKOUT, which earned starred reviews from both School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. It’s about a small-town prison break and manhunt that change the way three kids see their neighbors and the place they call home. Why a 23-day series? Because this book was inspired by the 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility prison break that led to a 23-day manhunt in June of 2015.
The Sounds of Home
One of the books that my BREAKOUT character Elidee signs out of the town’s public library is BROWN GIRL DREAMING, Jacqueline Woodson’s amazing memoir in verse. I knew that Elidee would feel connected to Woodson’s poems because there are so many parallels between their stories. There’s even a poem in BROWN GIRL DREAMING about Woodson’s experience driving up New York’s Interstate 87 to visit a relative in the prison at Dannemora.
Elidee uses several of Woodson’s poems as mentor texts – starting places for her own writing. One of them is the poem “Lullaby,” in which Woodson writes about the sounds of home. Elidee writes two poems with that title, one set in Wolf Creek and one set in Highbridge, the Bronx neighborhood where she lived before she moved.
Wolf Creek is a fictional town, but it’s very similar to the area where I live, so that lullaby was a familiar one for me. But while I’ve visited plenty of big cities, I’ve never lived in a one, and visiting isn’t the same. I reached out to friends who live in New York and asked what they hear on summer nights. I chose the sounds that seemed to fit Elidee’s old neighborhood the best, spent a lot of time playing with the language, and worked some of those ideas into her second poem.
I’ve been talking a lot about Elidee in these writing-process posts because she’s the character in this book that was the most challenging for me to represent. Many of the other characters share a cultural background and life experiences that are more similar to my own, so their stories came more naturally. Making Elidee feel real and true to character required more work. That included lots of reading, a field trip, and reaching out for help. More on that tomorrow, but for now, let’s try a lullaby.
Your Assignment: Using Elidee’s poems as mentor texts, write a lullaby for the place you call home.
Thanks for joining me on this part of the Breakout writing-process journey! If you’d like to read the other posts in this series once they’re all posted, you can find them here.
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