Sue Stauffacher shares the story behind her story …
All my characters seem related in some cosmic way. For example, I stumbled on Althea Gibson’s autobiography in the library and it was very compelling. I love autobiographies because I feel like I’m being introduced to a person. Althea talked about poverty and the rules of poverty in ways that resonate in all the books I’ve written. I tend to circle around to these kinds of characters. I desperately wanted to bring Althea’s story to today’s kids. I did in 2007 with Nothing But Trouble, which to my delight won an N.A.A.C.P. Image Award in 2008.
Althea provided the inspiration for Sarah Kervick, a central character in my breakout book, Donuthead, which was published in 2003. I had not been having a lot of success. It was 10 years between books so I had decided that I would write something that would please me, rather than something that would please the publishing world. So I had a lot of freedom with that book. Additionally, September 2001 was a time of such fear and tragedy. I think I wanted to create a character who was afraid of everything, so I didn’t feel so vulnerable. Then of course, he could meet a character who was afraid of nothing—the woman I wanted to be. Courageous!
Donuthead is told from the perspective of Franklin Delano Donuthead, a precocious, obsessive-compulsive fifth-grader who reluctantly befriends Sarah Kervick, a school bully who lives in a rusted-out trailer with her rough father. Franklin’s FDR-worshipping single mother takes Sarah under her wing, and together they help Franklin overcome some of his anxieties.
Donuthead was also critically well-received, earning three starred reviews. Kirkus dubbed it “touching, funny and gloriously human.”
I always tell students, “Write your passion. Write from your heart.” That’s when I’ve enjoyed my greatest success, when I’ve followed historical figures and characters who delight me.