People Who Inspire Me: Sandy Brehl

Me&Sandy Brehl

The last time I saw Sandy Brehl, she was teaching other people’s books.  This time when we met, she taught me her own.

I’ve known Sandy since that day for summers ago when I walked into one of her excellent workshops, “Unpacking the Power of Picture Books,” at Muskego Public Library. At that time, I was site manager for a branch of the Spark Early Literacy program at an elementary school in Milwaukee.

Sandy Brehl photoAlong with other teachers, I garnered a wealth of tips from Sandy’s forty years of teaching picture books in the classroom. But it wasn’t until a break in the middle of class that I realized we shared something else in common besides literacy education.

We were both members of SCBWI, and both working on books of our own.

That day, Sandy shared with me how she was working on a historical novel set in Norway. “I don’t know whether it’s for adults or children yet,” she admitted wistfully. “There’s so much left to discover about this story, and so much work to do.”

Fast forward four years. One sunny lunch break a few weeks back, I finally got to see the result of all that effort.

Sandy and I met again, around the same time of year, on Cafe Lulu’s sun-washed Bayview sidewalk. Over delicious eats, she shared with me that she had at—at long last—finished that book. It turned out to be Odin’s Promise, a middle grade novel (meaning for readers ages 8-12) that follows the experiences of Mari, an eleven-year-old girl who experiences the German occupation of Norway during WWII.

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So, let’s see: historical fiction. Sensitive subject matter. Seen through a child’s eyes. And written with middle grade-appropriate vocabulary?

That is no easy feat indeed.

Sandy shared with me how a long-ago trip to Norway originally inspired the book. She’s been working on the story off-and-on for several decades, hitting it seriously after her own teaching career wrapped.

In addition to wrangling all the historical research, she had to figure out how to retell a complicated and often-overlooked (by Americans, at least) portion of the WWII drama in a way that would be honest yet appropriate for her young audience.

Then she had to go through the querying process and find the right publisher—which she ultimately did this past December in Philip Martin at Crispin Books, an imprint of boutique Midwestern publishing house Crickhollow Books.

In 2014, she held the first beautiful copy of a published Odin’s Promise in her hands. And that afternoon at Cafe Lulu, she presented me with one of my own.

As I ran on my way, hurrying to get back to the day job before the end of lunch break, I couldn’t help but marvel at Sandy’s journey. From determined but unsure writer to confident published author, her trajectory is no less powerful than that of young Mari in the novel she has written.

In fact, to me it is even more powerful—especially as I persevere through the final leg of a six-year journey with my own first novel.

In many ways, authors rival their protagonists for the title of “hero.” Because after all, when you think about it , isn’t the trek from “doing” to “done” the real hero’s journey?

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Learn more about Sandy and order Odin’s Promise through her website. Teacher’s guides are also available.

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