Teaching Writing

Frank Murphy: Why I Write


Frank Murphy writes to breathe life into stories about the past, to inspire young readers to fall in love with history. Originally published on April 1, 2017

I remember the first book I ever made—out of cardboard, tape, and cut-out pictures from the sports page of the Philadelphia Bulletin. I wrote and constructed my own little sports book about Boston Celtics great John Havilcek retiring. (Sacrilegious, I know, because I’ve always been a Philadelphia 76ers fan. But I just loved watching Havilcek play!) It was April 1978 and I was 11 years old. And, man, do I wish I still had that little book!

About 12 years later, all grown up, I found myself teaching second grade. I noticed that there weren’t many children’s books about famous historical women. So I started making my own little books for my students to read in class. I wrote a little book about Vinnie Ream, a 17-year-old girl who sculpted Abraham Lincoln from life, and Sophonisba Anguissola, a female Renaissance painter who introduced emotion into portraiture. Then I created a little story about Ben Franklin making these little mathematical magic squares. It didn’t take long for me to send some of these stories out as manuscripts to publishers. After six years of toiling and working and honing my skills (and many, many rejection letters) I, f-i-n-a-l-l-y, received a contract from Random House for the Ben Franklin story.

All of the stories I have written have been created with an intention of “breathing life” into history. From the start, I wanted to excite young readers about famous people in history, but not necessarily focus on dates and names and places. I wanted kids to think history was cool. I wanted my stories to have something interesting, maybe centering on a little-known tidbit or story about these icons from history. From Ben Franklin’s magic squares, to a lost dog that George Washington found, to a story I’m polishing about Frederick Douglass and his impact on the origin of Black History Month, I hope my stories inspire young readers to fall in love with history!

That’s why I write! I want to “breathe life” into history! I want young readers (and older, too) to read my books and walk away excited to read more about these icons. And, maybe, chase history themselves and look for and find new stories about their own favorite historical icons.