The idea for Julie Murphy’s children’s book on diversity started with a simple question from a 7-year-old black girl.“Ms. Murphy – are you rich?” the little girl asked while Murphy drove her home from an after-school program for at-risk youth. “No, honey, why do you ask that?” Murphy replied.“Because you’re white,” the girl said. “All white people are rich.”Any parent will tell you that some of the best conversations with kids start in the car. Murphy, 36, may not be a mom yet, but that innocent question turned into a children’s story called “What If We Were All Gray?”“It broke my heart that she was already limiting herself because of how she looked on the outside,” said Murphy. “I knew I had to do something to let these kids know they are special for who they are as individuals. Our differences are what make us unique and what make us special.”Murphy grew up in Union, S.C., and studied religion at a private college in Greenville before moving to Gastonia 13 years ago with her husband, Matt. A foster parent recruiter and trainer in Charlotte, she never thought she’d be a published author.Then the girl’s question got Murphy thinking – and putting words on paper the same day.“I felt like I had a spiritual conversation with God,” she recalled. “I was asking why do we have to all be different, why are we all different colors, why not make us all gray? I felt like he was telling me to look at the world around us, to look at the sky, look at the flowers and look at the trees. Everything he makes is meant to be beautiful because it’s unique. The diversity in people brings beauty to the world too.”Murphy typed as fast as she could, trying to capture her thoughts about the connection between diversity and beauty.About an hour later, she had the story of Harmony, a little girl who lives in the town of Quarrellsalot. All the arguing among people who are blue, orange, purple and green makes her sad, so she suggests that all the townspeople paint themselves gray along with the trees, flowers and sky. While it seems like a good idea at first, Harmony and her neighbors soon see that being all the same isn’t the answer. Eventually they learn to celebrate their unique colors and rename the town Rainbowville.Murphy let her husband read the book, then a few friends. Everyone gave her positive feedback and encouragement to get it published.“I started looking into what it takes to publish a book and it was completely overwhelming,” she said. “I didn’t have a literary agent. I submitted it to agents and to smaller publishing houses and didn’t hear anything. Self-publishing costs too much. So it went into a drawer.”Over the next nine years, Murphy would occasionally revisit her book and search publishing on the Internet. Then in fall 2012, she came across Tate Publishing, a small company in Oklahoma that was looking for original manuscripts.“They called me the very next day and said they want to publish my book,” she said. “From that point on, it has been a whirlwind.”Murphy worked with the publisher’s illustration department to fine-tune the look of her characters and made small wording changes with editors. A year after she submitted her manuscript, Murphy was holding “What If We Were All Gray?” in her hands.Since then, Murphy has done a handful of book signings and programs at libraries, schools, bookstores and for women’s groups.“My favorite thing is going into elementary schools and reading the book to kids,” she said. “To see their faces and how they get into the story is wonderful. They really seem to get that it’s OK to be different, that being different can be a thing of beauty. If we were all the same, our world would be boring.”Murphy also designed her own website, www.whatifwewereallgray.com, to promote her book, sell copies and arrange for signings.Now she’s penning more books based on the little girl Harmony that focus on character education. “What If We Were All Kind?” looks at bullying and being compassionate, for example. Another title in the works will target how we treat children with disabilities.In addition to offering a creative outlet and sharing life lessons, writing a children’s book on diversity also has shaped how Murphy works with children in her job and as a volunteer mentor in local schools. She’s more purposeful now, she said, and is striving to reach each child to share her message that being different is beautiful.“In all my interactions with young people, I strive to praise them for their strengths, whether that is sports, arts or academics,” she said. “The only limitations these kids have are the ones they put on themselves. With enough drive and focus, they can do anything.”
Tuesday, May. 06, 2014
Gastonia’s Julie Murphy authors children’s book about diversity
Want to read?
“What If We Were All Gray?” by Julie Murphy of Gastonia, is available for $8.99 at www.whatifwewereallgray.com and at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble stores. Murphy also is available for book signings at local stores, schools and community events. Visit www.whatifwewereallgray.com to contact her.
Leigh Pressely is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Leigh? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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