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Rob Sanders finds optimism in middle-grade books

The author and teacher is also reading about American history.
Author Rob Sanders [Candy Barnhisel]
Author Rob Sanders [Candy Barnhisel]
Published Nov. 2, 2019

Rob Sanders, 60, is the author of several children’s books, including The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag and Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution. He is also a second-grade teacher in Brandon, a city whose past includes a hard-edged county commissioner named Ronda Storms who fought against Pride displays in county libraries and classrooms. But times have changed, said Sanders. “I feel supported by the school and parents,” he said. “My books, I hope, are a way of teaching history, and I actually do have a little rainbow flag in my room. Maybe parents see it, maybe they don’t. It is just there.”

Sanders will be a featured author at the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading. He will speak at 3 p.m. Nov. 9 in Pippenger auditorium at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg. Free.

What's on your nightstand?

I always have tons of books for a variety of different reasons. Because I am a teacher, I’m always looking for books that will enchant my students. As a writer, I am looking for books that will inform my writing and give me ideas, as well as books that will influence my life.

I am reading He’s Got Rhythm: The Life and Times of Gene Kelly by Cynthia Brideson. I’ve also got The American Patriot’s Handbook. It has important papers, the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and others. I’m also reading A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski. I am also rereading a marvelous book about a deaf girl who learns about a whale who cannot communicate with other whales. It is Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly. It is wonderful. And finally, I have Kate DiCamillo, too. I’m reading it with my students.

Do you think you read, or choose, genres that help your optimistic attitude?

I certainly read more middle-grade than adult literature. Middle-grade fiction is hopeful. Even in the worst situation, those books end with hope. Not necessarily a happy ending but a hopeful ending. I think the world needs more hope.

When did you first hear of Stonewall?

I was 10 when Stonewall happened. I grew up in Springfield, Mo., and it began on June 28, my mother’s birthday. But I would have been asleep in my un-air-conditioned house, totally unaware that people 1,000 miles away were involved, fighting for rights that I did not even know I needed yet. I have been overwhelmed with the thought, through the process of the book, that the actions we take today can impact what happens in years to come.


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  2. Erica Dawson is one of the featured authors at the Tampa Bay Publishing Conference, which will kick off in Largo on Feb. 27. [Courtesy of Kevin Kelii]
  3. Emilia Sargent of Tampa Repertory Theatre. [Tampa Repertory Theatre]
  4. In 1935, Zora Neale Hurston visited Eatonville, where she grew up. The Florida town is the setting of some of the stories in "Hitting a Straight Lick With a Crooked Stick." [Library of Congress]
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