Melody is a civil rights character and Motown fan that inspires girls and their families to be a force for positive growth and change. With hope, enthusiasm, and a solid sense of fairness, 9-year-old Melody provides a glimpse of life during the 1960s—a significant decade for the civil rights movement in America and a time of great energy, optimism, challenges, and change. With the struggle for equality and justice still prevalent today, Melody bridges the past and present for girls and shows them how ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they come together to make a meaningful difference.
“American Girl’s historical characters have long been celebrated for their educational value and for helping girls discover strength of character through things that truly matter—like helping others, being a true friend, and standing up for what’s right,” says Katy Dickson, president of American Girl. “We’re proud to introduce Melody and hope she’ll serve as an important role model to girls, giving them the courage to use their voices to speak up about what they believe in—even when it’s not easy to do. A concept that’s just as important today as it was over 50 years ago.”
It is my pleasure and privilege to share this interview with Denise Lewis Patrick, author of the new Melody book series:
Denise Lewis Patrick, author of the new Melody book series from American Girl, was born in Natchitoches, Louisiana. She attended local schools and earned a degree in Journalism from Northwestern State University of Louisiana in 1977. That same year, she moved to New York City. She has been both a writer and editor in various areas of the publishing industry, particularly for children. In addition to the Melody series, she also wrote the three books on Cécile for American Girl.
In addition to being a published author, Denise is an adjunct professor of writing at Nyack College’s Manhattan, New York campus. She’s also worked with budding writers in an afterschool program, and has managed middle and high school writing programs.
How would you describe Melody’s personality?
Melody has the musical talent that I wish I had! Plus, she’s a good friend and a good sister, and she wants to help her community. She’s sure of her place in her family, and they all support each other. But she’s also shy about standing out, and she has to learn that it’s okay to “let your light shine.”
What do you hope Melody will do for girls?
Oh, I hope Melody gives girls today the courage to use their voices—in song, in writing, and in speaking—to stand up for what’s right and what’s fair. I also hope readers will take away a message from Melody’s story to think about themselves in terms of their community and what they can do to help—to change—their community for the better.
Can you describe what it was like to create and write about a character whose stories are set during the 1960s? Were any aspects of Melody’s story based on your own personal experiences?
I began by diving into background information provided by American Girl’s amazing research librarian. As the outline evolved, I could determine what additional sources I needed. One thing I love to work with in doing historical fiction is local newspapers from the period. That way I get both a broad and specific view of the community and what’s happening at the time. I could see which national events in the civil rights movement were impacting the city, and get a sense of how the black community was involved on a local basis in civil rights issues. I did a ride-around in Detroit with one of the members of our advisory board who grew up there. She and another board member, who’s a Detroit native, gave me lots of anecdotal stuff that I could follow up on.
I’d say that many of Melody’s family experiences mirror some of mine, in the way she’s surrounded by extended family, the way they share a big meal once a week, the way they talk about justice and injustice as a matter of course. So what’s happening on the national stage is in the context of Melody’s understanding of the black experience. She has a strong sense of community, of connection and possibility. Although I grew up in the South, I was a girl in the 1960s and that’s very much what I was like.
What were the most challenging aspects of writing the Melody series?
The real challenge here was translating to our readers the real types of discrimination that African Americans experienced in our country during the time in which Melody’s story is set. Things like not being able to drink from a certain water fountain, or not being able to buy your favorite chocolate cake from a neighborhood bakery—even when you had the money—are almost alien concepts to children today. However, children can understand and share in Melody’s sense of unfairness after what happened to her and Dwayne in the clothing store. And unfortunately children today are exposed to the reality of some people using violence, instead of dialogue, to solve problems.
Why was it important to set Melody’s story in Detroit?
I think the Detroit setting is very important because much of the history of the civil rights movement that most children learn about is concentrated on events that took place in the South. In fact, people across the United States took active parts in the struggle for racial equality and justice.
Thank you Denise for developing such an inspiring character and stories!
To further engage girls in Melody’s world and her inspirational message, American Girl is introducing the following activities and events:
- Lift Your Voice with Melody: To encourage people to share their photos and videos of how they’re speaking up to make a difference, fans can watch the "Lift Your Voice with Melody" video at americangirl.com/liftyourvoice and then share their own inspiring videos and photos, using #LiftYourVoice.
- Melody Learning Materials: For parents and teachers, free, downloadable Melody learning and reader discussion guides, which explore themes and issues from the 1960s, are available at http://www.americangirl.com/corporate/parents-and-teachers.
- Melody Retail Events: At American Girl retail stores, girls can listen to music that inspired Melody and celebrate her arrival with special block party food, free Melody-inspired crafts, and a free doll T-shirt giveaway.
- Detroit Community Support: American Girl is partnering with the Detroit Public Library system (22 branches) and donating $100,000 in free Melody books for any area child who wants one through the end of 2016; $50,000 in funds to support the children’s area throughout the library system; and $25,000 in Melody dolls to be used for fundraising and incentives. The entire donation to the library is valued at $175,000.
- Melody Amazon Special: An original American Girl live-action special, Melody, 1963: Love Has to Win, an American Girl Story, will premiere on Amazon Prime Video this fall. The Melody special is an Amazon adaptation of American Girl’s original created stories.
A Melody doll & book giveaway right here on www.kidsandeggs.com!
To enter to win your very own Melody Ellison doll and book, simply leave a comment on this post. If your comment is selected by the random number generator, you'll win! Giveaway ends 9/17/16 7:00 a.m CST
*Want even more chances? Follow Kids and Eggs on Instagram, and/or Facebook. You can also give yourself another shot by sharing a link to this giveaway on your social media as well. Just make sure, whatever you do, you come back here and leave a comment letting me know how you shared.
And the winter is: