Books And More

The March for a Medal

Author Andrew Aydin talks about winning the Coretta Scott King Author Award for March: Book Three

January 25, 2017
COURTESY TOP SHELF PRODUCTIONS

Andrew Aydin worked as a press secretary for Congressman John Lewis before suggesting they write the March series together.

Andrew Aydin is an award-winning author with a successful career in politics. But, it wasn’t an easy road to get where he’s standing today.

Raised by a single mother in Atlanta, Georgia, Aydin grew up reading and collecting comics. After college, he started working for Congressman John Lewis. Lewis represents a Georgia district in the U.S. House of Representatives. During a campaign for Lewis, Aydin and the rest of the staff were trying to think of a way to reach young people and teach them about what it means to be a good citizen. Aydin suggested that Lewis write a comic book about his activism to inspire young people. His team initially laughed at the idea.

Years later, the March trilogy, by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, has become an award-winning series. These graphic novels are taught in middle schools, high schools, and colleges across the country.

On January 23, Aydin and Lewis received the Coretta Scott King Author Award for March: Book Three. Lewis received four ALA awards for the book. This is the first time an author has won so many ALA awards in a single year. TFK talked to Aydin about his new award and the road to success.

TIME FOR KIDS:

How did it feel when you received the call?

ANDREW AYDIN:

That was incredible. It was early in the morning, and you hear all of these very excited voices on the other end of the line. It was just a very uplifting moment. I wish I could start my day like that everyday.

TFK:

For people who haven’t yet read the book, what is it about?

March is a New York Times bestselling graphic novel trilogy. It is used in classrooms to talk about history, diversity, and non-violent protests.

COURTESY TOP SHELF PRODUCTIONS
March is a New York Times bestselling graphic novel trilogy. It is used in classrooms to talk about history, diversity, and non-violent protests.

AYDIN:

March is about the civil rights movement through the eyes of Congressman John Lewis. It’s the story of the young people and the importance that they played in the civil rights movement. In many ways it’s the forgotten history of that time.

TFK:

How did the series come about?

AYDIN:

At the end of the campaign in 2008, folks were starting to talk about what they would do after the campaign was over. I said I was going to a comic book convention and everybody laughed at me except one person. I heard a deep voice that said don’t laugh, there was a comic book during the movement and it was very influential. That comic was Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. That night, I went home and looked it up on the Internet. I read it and it was beautiful. It introduced the reader to Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and Rosa Parks. I had been a comic book fan my whole life and I had been in politics for several years and here was something that combined everything in my life that mattered to me. I started thinking there should be a John Lewis comic book. The next day we went back to work on the campaign. One of the big questions then was, how do we reach young people? How do we teach them about nonviolence? I suggested that John Lewis should start a comic book and, again, everybody laughed. The first time I suggested it the congressman, he said ‘oh maybe’ which in politics is a nice way of saying no. But I couldn’t give up on the idea. I kept asking and finally he said ok, but only if you write it with me. That moment changed my life. I can’t undersell the amount of work I had to do to get this off the ground. A lot of congressional colleagues didn’t think a member of congress should be involved in comic book stuff, but things change.

TFK:

What was the writing process like for you and John?

AYDIN:

I would sit down and interview the congressman so he could tell me these stories in his own voice. Then I would work that into what you think of as a comic book script using a number of outside resources and primary documents as authenticators. I was fortunate to have crmvet.org, which is a website that digitally archives the records of the civil rights movement. Many of the great works on the civil rights movement tell different stories—they don’t line up. So we had to spend a great deal of time dealing with primary documents. Once you take all that information you can put it together in a comic book script.

TFK:

What was the congressman's reaction when the books started to take off?

Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., Congressman John Lewis joined the civil rights movement in the 1960s. He spoke at the 1963 March on Washington.

JEFF HUTCHENS—GETTY IMAGES
Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., Congressman John Lewis joined the civil rights movement in the 1960s. He spoke at the 1963 March on Washington.

AYDIN:

I think we knew this was going to be something special once we actually physically held the first book in our hands. I remember giving it to the congressman and he just kissed it, [he was] crying. It was a powerful moment. We knew we were doing something important. Shortly after, we got a phone call from a reporter who received an advance copy of the book. He said I love your book and I gave a copy to my nine-year-old son. After he read it, he put on his Sunday suit, and started marching around my house demanding equality for everyone. That was the moment we knew.

TFK:

What advice do you have for young writers who are struggling to get something off the ground?

AYDIN:

You have to pick a story that you believe in with all your heart because nobody else will. The only thing that will get you through is your belief that your story is worth telling. I deeply believed that John Lewis’ story was worth telling at a time when not many people did.

TFK:

What do you hope kids take away from this book?

AYDIN:

I was raised by a single mother and my father was an immigrant whom I never knew. I was raised in a library and I’m grateful for that experience because March is very much written and designed for the same kid that I once was. The kids who grew up a little angry and confused as to why their family situation isn’t the way they’re told it should be. They don’t understand why they might not have as much money or as many people around them to take care of them. This [book] is to show them that there is a way out. There’s a way forward. All you have to do is read, educate yourself, and work hard. You can be anything you want to be.


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