One of the earliest books I remember from childhood is Gila Monsters Meet You at the Airport. Like many kids my age, I learned about it through LeVar Burton’s wonderful Reading Rainbow TV program. Written by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat and illustrated by Byron Barton, it’s the story of an unnamed boy from New York City whose family is moving to a strange, faraway place that is probably Phoenix. Being a sophisticated Manhattanite, he’s heard all kinds of unsettling rumors about life “Out West,” and he’s not wild about any of it – especially the notion of giant spotted lizards waiting for him on the tarmac.
The other night I picked up Gila Monsters for the first time in, well, decades. I’d forgotten certain details, to be sure, but it was amazing how familiar the story still felt. And as I thought back to my family’s many moves in the ’80s and ’90s – to and from Guatemala, California, Texas, and Pennsylvania – the boy’s fears ring true. There are a lot of weird places out there, and even “wonderful new experiences” can be scary.
Although it hadn’t occurred to me until this week, I’m sure I had Gila Monsters lurking somewhere in the recesses of my imagination this year as I wrote what has somewhat unexpectedly turned out to be my first book. It’s called A New House is a Big Deal and I’m really proud of it (not the sinful kind of pride, I hope).
Illustrated by the very talented Dyah Andhita, it too is a children’s book that centers around the uncertainty children face when moving to a new home. Our protagonists in the story are Veronica, who lives in Mexico, and Evelyn, who lives in the United States. They both have hopes and fears about how their lives will change when they move, but they also discover the power of friendship. Oh, and there’s a dog named Pepe.
I wrote the book on behalf of 1MISSION, where I work as Chief Storyteller, as one more way of telling our story. We’ve always made it a priority to invite young people into our work, especially through build trips and birthday campaigns. Now we’re taking another exciting step in that direction, in hopes that even younger kids will catch the vision of serving their neighbors while honoring the inherent dignity of all people, whatever the differences between them.
A New House is a Big Deal is available now at store.1MISSION.org and (Lord willing) in some actual brick-and-mortar bookstores early next year, so stay tuned for that.