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The Story Behind the Story: A Flood of Kindness

by Ellen Leventhal

Illustrated by Blythe Russo

Worthy Kids, 2021

Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to share the story behind the story of A FLOOD OF KINDNESS.

Memorial Day weekend, 2015: I am out of town, and I turn on the TV. CNN is showing floods in Houston, and the helicopter is circling a familiar place. My Street.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, that was the beginning of my story. When we got home and were able to get to the house, everything inside was pretty much destroyed. The walls were still dripping water. I focused on all that we still had, but of course, it was hard. However, I thought about Mr. Rogers and his call to “Look for the helpers.” I didn’t have to look far. I was in awe of all the love and kindness that surrounded us.

Although people suggested that I write a children’s book about this, I couldn’t. I knew that if I wrote something for kids, it would have to resonate with them, and I was experiencing this as an adult. I wrote blog posts, essays, and a lot of poetry. But no children’s book. I wasn’t there yet.

We fixed up the house and after about 8 months, we were able to move back in. But BOOM! Another flood hit just a few months later. It wasn’t as bad, but still, it wasn’t fun.

And then things changed. In August, 2017, Hurricane Harvey decimated the city. This time there was no fixing up. I knew very few people who were not affected in some way.

I needed to do something to help the kids I worked with at school. At first they didn’t want to talk about the flood, and of course, that was ok. But as the year went on, snippets of “floodie” life came out in their conversations and writings.

For me, being able to help others was healing, but I didn’t know if it was the same for kids. It turns out that it was. They began to tell me how they played with their younger siblings when the little ones were sad, wrote stories for them, and even passed down their toys. I’m not sure why it took me so long to realize that I had the thread of my story from that first day in 2015 when I walked out of my destroyed house to a hug and a mug of coffee.

I began to brainstorm what became A FLOOD OF KINDNESS. After innumerable revisions, I got the courage to enter PB Party. (Thank you for that opportunity, Mindy Alyse Weiss!) After I entered, I pretty much forgot a

bout it because I was sure there was no chance. A friend told me that I had made the finals, and although I was excited, I was also scared. This story was one of my heart. What if nobody liked it?

When agent Mary Cummings told me that she wanted to rep it, I was ecstatic. When Peggy Schaefer of WorthyKids/ Hachette Book Group bought it, I was doubly ecstatic! WorthyKids was wonderful to work with from editing to marketing to a little hand holding. And the icing on the cake was the other 50% of the book—Blythe Russo’s gorgeous art. Her vision and talent brought my words to life. As we all know, picture books are a 50-50 deal, and I’m thrilled with how Blythe’s illustrations lifted up my words.

The themes of this book are kindness, community, and empowerment. I wanted kids to know that even in dark times, acts of kindness, both given and received, can help put people on the road to healing. It’s important for children to know that they have the power to make a difference.

Bio: Ellen Leventhal is an educator and author in Houston, TX. Aside from A FLOOD OF KINDNESS, her other (published books are DON’T EAT THE BLUEBONNETS (Co- author: Ellen Rothberg, Illustrator: Joel Cook), LOLA CAN’T LEAP (Illustrator: Noelle Shawa) and the upcoming DEBBIE’S SONG (Illustrator: Natalia Grebtsova). Ellen’s favorite days are when she visits schools and has the opportunity to share her love of literacy and kindness.



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