Children’s author Mary E. Sandford’s middle grade novel Unwanted (Ambassador International) features a seventh grader who has been left in an orphanage, even though she’s not an orphan. In our exclusive interview, Mary explains what motivated her to write her protagonist’s story, what inspired the story itself, and shares her goals in telling it.
Tell us a little about Unwanted, and your protagonist, Debbie Spencer.
Unwanted tells the story of 12-year-old Debbie who is mostly an average girl in 1958. She’s been taught to put others first, love well, laugh often, and pray every day. But her life takes an unusual turn when she’s dumped in an orphanage even though she’s not an orphan.
Debbie learns how to cope in spite of her circumstances. Her story, Unwanted, proves that no matter how difficult things seem and there’s always hope.
What inspired your story?
When I was young, almost every time my mother pushed open a door on a public building in Chicago she would tell me “this door opens out because that school fire.” When I had children of my own, I found myself repeating her words.
The Our Lady of the Angels school fire took the lives of almost 100 children and changed fire safety codes across the country. So, when Debbie invaded my thinking with her story of longing for the perfect family, I knew I could write one story that tied the two ideas together.
What was your goal in telling this story?
I wanted to tell a story that would give readers hope. Hope and trusting God are like peanut butter and jelly—they fit together perfectly. The word “hope” is used many times in Unwanted because Debbie depended on hope whenever situations in her life were difficult.
When everything seemed to be hopeless Debbie said, “Because hope was for anyone. No matter where they lived.”
What did you find to be most challenging as you developed this story?
Researching the ‘50s was a lot of work. Some days I’d spend hours finding out what kind of hats and clothes a young man might wear during that time. So staying on track was a challenge.
What would you like your readers to take away after having read Unwanted?
I’d like readers to understand how different life was for kids in the ‘50s and yet Debbie’s desires and concerns were similar to what they experience. I hope that knowing Debbie and her story will encourage them to be better people.
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Mary E. Sandford
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