How Shannon Stocker Wrote a PB on the First Deaf Percussionist to Thrum through Societal Barriers
Let’s wrap up this year with one of my dearest friends! Shannon Stocker has written an amazing picture book, LISTEN: How Evelyn Glennie, a Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion. Using watercolors, gouache and color pencils, illustrator Devon Holzwarth invites readers into a world vibrating with color and movement. This book was published by Dial Books.
For our Kidlit Creatives Members, you have a chance to a signed copy of LISTEN: How Evelyn Glennie, a Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion. To WIN this special prize, follow the directions at the end of this post.
First, I want to share illustrator Devon Holzwarth’s joyful cover art!
From the moment Evelyn Glennie heard her first note, music held her heart. She could play the piano by ear at age eight, the clarinet by age ten. But soon the nerves in her ears began to degenerate, and Evelyn was told that, as a deaf girl, she could never be a musician. What sounds Evelyn couldn’t hear with her ears, though, she could feel resonate through her body, as if she were a drum, and the music she created as a result was extraordinary. All she had to do was listen in a way that others didn’t. And soon, the world was listening too.
Manju: Hi, Shannon! After reading your lyrical manuscript several years ago, I watched Evelyn Glennie’s 2007 TED Talk titled “How to truly listen.” To everyone reading this, I highly recommend both Shannon’s new picture book and Evelyn’s TED Talk! As someone with Scottish roots, I loved hearing Evelyn’s voice and the way she “wants to teach the world to LISTEN” with our whole bodies.
What research did you do prior to interviewing Evelyn?
Shannon: Hello, my sweet friend! It’s so good to be back on your blog. Thank you for having me. You always make everyone feel so special!
As for research, I did all the traditional things that one thinks of when I chose to write about Evelyn: I read and/or watched every interview, article, or piece I could find. I listened to her music constantly—oftentimes intentionally, paying close attention to the musical choices she makes. But other times, I’d play it in the background as I folded laundry or cleaned, letting my subconscious mind soak up the sounds. During my research/writing weeks, I wanted to be as fully immersed in her music as I could be. To be clear, this did NOT feel like work to me. As a musician myself, I’m constantly on the lookout for new songwriters, pianists, etc. Evelyn’s music was so new—so different—that it was easy to lose myself.
But in other ways, I feel like I’ve been researching for this book my whole life. My father was a classical pianist/organist/French horn player. My mother was a coloratura soprano. I’m a singer/songwriter, modern piano composer, and guitar strummer/plucker (I’m not nearly good enough to call myself a guitar player 😂). Little known fact: I used to play gigs barefoot because my mother taught me that a “real” musician feels the music through their toes. I still believe I sing better barefoot! Now, I wonder if that’s not part of what drew me to Evelyn. I connect with her way of listening to sound. I’m not Deaf, but I listen to music—I FEEL it—with my whole body.
Manju: I’m nervous about reaching out to specialists in subjects that I have written about. What was it like to interview Evelyn one-on-one through Skype?
Shannon: I was so nervous for our first meeting!! I worried that she might not like me, or she might think I was the wrong person to tell her story. All those typical writer anxieties! I also wondered if it might be difficult for us to communicate via Skype, without the added benefit of in-person body language. She brought along a hearing associate, but I don’t think that person said more than a few words during our whole meeting. Evelyn reads lips perfectly, and she speaks quite clearly (and her accent is just lovely). There was never any communication barrier. She was also very much on board with my framing of her story, and she remained an active participant through every revision. She really wanted to help me get every little detail right, and she was always kind and gentle in her approach when I had something wrong. Now, we’ve communicated so many times that I truly consider her a friend. She knows about my daughter’s battle with cancer, and she cares about her updates. Evelyn has a way of making everyone around her feel important, while also putting others at ease. She’s a remarkable human being, and I absolutely adore her.
Manju: Could you share a glimpse or two into Evelyn’s life that you were only able to capture in the book through your online interviews?
Shannon: Because of the online interviews, I was able to ask Evelyn how she felt in critical moments of her life, like when she began losing her hearing (for example, how she perceived the tape recorder as a crackling sound). How she joined her mother on the organ bench on Sunday, and how a curtain closed behind them. How she phrased her question—“Does my ability meet the standards of the school?”—when she was initially rejected by the Royal Academy of Music. I saw the fight in her eyes. Evelyn has a gift with words, too. She paints stories that can’t help but be visualized.
As for stories she’d told elsewhere, I still think it helped to hear them first-hand and be afforded the opportunity to ask additional questions. For example, she’d talked about that moment her percussion teacher really showed her how to listen to vibrations in prior interviews, but I got to ask about more than just the actions. I got to ask her how she felt. And I got to see the excitement in her eyes when she relived those moments with me.
But honestly, I think one of the most special things to come from a meeting with Evelyn didn’t even happen with me: it happened with Devon Holzwarth, my brilliant illustrator. Evelyn happened to be performing near Devon’s hometown a week or two after Devon signed to illustrate the book, so she got to see Evelyn perform—and then meet her!!!—before she drew her first sketch. I honestly think that’s the touch of magic that makes the music really leap from these pages. Devon captured the essence of Evelyn—both her musicianship AND her personality—perfectly. I don’t know that it could have happened, had they not met. And my manuscript certainly wouldn’t have been what it is without both Evelyn AND Devon.
Manju: As a writer who cares deeply about diversity, equity and inclusion, I find Evelyn’s musical journey very inspiring. There are key moments in which Evelyn broke down barriers for musicians with disabilities. In your author’s note, you also share the struggles you have faced as a musician a disability. How did your experience help you connect with Evelyn’s journey in order to create an authentic voice in LISTEN?
Shannon: In my last year of medical school, a tumor was removed from my arm and I was left with a debilitating, life-threatening disease of the autonomic nervous system called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD, also known as CRPS). For me, I think the connection with Evelyn’s story was more about understanding what it feels like to be looked at as “less than.” When I required a wheelchair, people often would avoid eye contact with me. When I was at my sickest, I was told I’d never have children. I’d need to have my arm amputated. I had two years to live. And yet here I am, alive and well, fifteen years later—and with two miraculous children, no less! I know what it’s like to be told I “will never,” and then I know what it’s like to overcome. Evelyn’s story is not just for the Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing communities. It is for anyone who's ever been told they can’t.
Thanks very much, Shannon!
Shannon Stocker is a musician, advocate for the immunocompromised, and writer of kidlit and Chicken Soup stories. She’s authored such picture books as LISTEN: HOW EVELYN GLENNIE, A DEAF GIRL, CHANGED PERCUSSION (Dial/Random House, 2022), CAN U SAVE THE DAY (Sleeping Bear Press, 2019), and the upcoming WARRIOR (Sleeping Bear Press, 2023), as well as the 21st Century Junior Library: TOGETHER WE CAN: Pandemic early reader series (Cherry Lake Press, 2021). The proud word nerd lives in Louisville, KY, with her husband, two children, and stash of hidden dark chocolate. Shannon currently serves as SCBWI social co-director for Louisville and is a 12x12 ninja. In her spare time, Shannon advocates for children with cancer (her daughter is a warrior) and, as a Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy patient and medical school graduate herself, she sits on the board for the RSD Foundation. Cool facts: Shannon survived a coma, and once performed two songs, including one original, as part of an opening act for Blake Shelton. Shannon is rep’d by Allison Remcheck of Stimola Literary Studio.
Prize offer: For a chance to win a signed copy of LISTEN: How Evelyn Glennie, a Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion, read the post, leave a comment on our Kidlit Creatives page (must be a member) and share this interview on your Post, Twitter or Facebook.
Deadline to enter is December 17th.
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