Down-to-earth life struggles combine with inspiring generosity of spirit in this uplifting debut.
William Allen White Children’s Book Award (Missouri) Master List, Grades 3-5, 2013-2014
Kansas NEA Reading Circle recommended title, 2012
Please tell us about your book.
The Summer of Hammers and Angels is about a young girl named Delia who is in a tough situation. Her house is about to be condemned and her Mama gets struck by lightning. Without her Mama, she is forced to figure out how to fix the house in time for the inspection, with just her best friend Mae, and Tommy Parker, who is about the dumbest boy she knows.
What inspired you to write this story?
I spent my childhood summers with my grandparents in a small town in West Virginia. Tucker’s Ferry is very similar to that town. A place where everyone knows everyone and folks would give you the shirt off their back if you asked for it. It was the kind of place where kids played outside all day, climbing trees and playing make believe, and walking around the neighborhood talking to whoever was outside.
I also spent time doing volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity and my church, helping fix places that were broken. The feeling that comes when you work with others and are able to make something whole again is special. I hoped I could capture a little of that feeling with this story.
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
There wasn’t much in the way of research for this book. The one thing I did check into though was whether or not it was possible to survive a lightning strike. Sure enough, it is. Usually the person is left with some sort of burn. In the story, Mama slips into a coma after the lightning hits her, and her hands are burned, right in the center of her palms.
This book references religion and church in various ways. Did you take any special considerations when writing about those topics?
In many southern states, like West Virginia, where this story takes place, church is a big part of many people’s lives. There are Sunday services and often services in the middle of the week as well. When I spent summers with my grandparents, there was a small church directly across the street. I could hear the piano playing and choir’s practicing half the week. It was a gathering place, where a person could catch up on news, sing, hear a little preaching, pray, and eat some good home cooked food. That is the kind of church that the main character Delia experiences.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
There are many topics in the book a teacher could explore:
The working poor. Delia and her mom are struggling financially, despite the fact that Delia’s mom works. This is reality for many families in our country. The numbers can be surprising. Even in affluent areas there are often homeless families or those who frequently go hungry.
Teamwork / Volunteering. Delia’s house is fixed through the kindness of the community. People volunteer their time and skills to help fix what is broken. Children are capable of doing the same thing. Maybe there is an opportunity the class could take on, either in school, or outside of school, to help others.
Personal “Gifts”. In the story, Delia is quick to recognize the special skills and abilities of others, but doesn’t see her own as easily. Spend some time in class noting what makes each person unique.
Shannon Wiersbitzky is offering a signed copy of THE SUMMER OF HAMMERS AND ANGELS to one reader. Enter to win by leaving a comment below, either about something you learned from the interview or a volunteer experience you’ve had. The contest closes Monday, 12/23. US residents only.
Update: Congratulations to Mia, our winner!