Michelle Staubach Grimes grew up in a household where she saw firsthand how hard work and sacrifice needs to be made to achieve success — or even stardom. Her dad is a legendary Heisman Trophy winner, a two-time Super Bowl champion, and a member of the National Football League Hall of Fame, Roger Staubach.
In Michelle’s newest book, Pidge Takes the Stage, the second in a children’s book series, our young female hero decides to audition for the school musical along with her canine buddy, Maverick. Not everyone thinks Pidge can learn to sing or that Maverick can be trained, but Pidge believes. Through their theatrical escapades, Pidge discovers that singing requires hard work, and that Maverick might not be ready for his stage debut after all. By the end, Pidge understands that being a star is all a matter of perspective, and that unconditional love matters more than fame.
Michelle, who wrote and created the series, joined forces with illustrator Bill DeOre. He enjoyed a 34-year career as a nationally syndicated editorial and sports cartoonist for the Dallas Morning News.
She says she learned all about commitment to hard work from her dad who would tirelessly practice basic fundamentals, even many years into an illustrious career.
The late Pat Conroy, a best-selling author who wrote several acclaimed novels that were turned into Oscar-nominated films, The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini, said this of Michelle’s book:
“Where is Pidge? is a book for the ages. I know of no American writer who didn’t fall in love with language by hearing children’s books read to us by our parents. Michelle’s book is charming, funny and delightful. It is so full of family love that you’ll want to buy it for every child you know. It has the look, feel, and smell of a classic about it.”
Q: Michelle, what inspired you to create a children’s book series?
A: Writing this series evolved for me from years of journaling. Years ago, I began attending the Barbara Bush Foundation Celebration of Reading Event in Dallas, which focuses on the importance of literacy, and I always left inspired to write. That led me to enroll in the SMU Creative Writing Continuing Education Program and I fell in love with creative writing. However, the program was not directed at writing books for children. After drafting a novel, I began writing the story of Pidge at my kitchen table in a spiral notebook and couldn’t stop. To my surprise, my voice flowed naturally on the pages and I realized it was my core story. And there began my entry into the world of writing for children. I loved writing the first Pidge story and sharing the story with children, so it was natural for me to write a second book and create a series. I am currently writing the third Pidge book and hope to write many more.
Q: In the newest book, Pidge Takes the Stage, what happens to our young heroine?
A: Pidge decides to try out for the school musical, along with her canine buddy Maverick. However, she must learn to sing and to train Maverick. She learns that singing is not easy, and well, Maverick is not a good listener. In the end, Pidge learns to sing after hard work. But Maverick is a different story. Maverick is a complete disaster at the audition. Pidge realizes that her hard work paid off for her singing, but she must accept and love Maverick for who he is, and that he’s not destined for fame in the theater.
Q: As Pidge discovers being a star requires a lot of hard work, what message do you hope to convey to others?
A: When I share the story with children at schools or book events, I always address the hard work Pidge dedicated to her singing lessons. And I tell the kids – her hard work paid off. She was ultimately granted a role in the school musical. I talk to the kids about hard work and how I know going to school every day is tough. But that is how we power through life. We have to work hard whether it be at school, in our job, exercising to stay healthy, in our sport, with our musical instrument, etc. – and in the long run the effort will pay off.
Q: The story is also about conquering your fears, reaching for your dreams, trying something new, believing in yourself, not giving up, and being perseverant. How can parents inculcate such values into their children?
A: First and foremost by example. We can preach to our kids all day, but they must witness us following our dreams, trying new things, and persevering in tough times. For example, if our child comes to us and wants to give up – that is the perfect time to talk to him or her about the ramifications of giving up, and then give him or her true-life examples of not giving up. We, as parents, have to live a fulfilling life if we expect our kids to live a fulfilling life. And that also means that we have to let our children fail. Maybe after the long talk about not giving up, the child gives up the next day and quits their team. We may not agree with our child, but we also have to let them make their own decisions at the appropriate age and suffer the consequences.
Q: How do we show others love for who they are?
A: We show love for others for who they are by telling them how important they are to us. Simple compliments throughout the day let those we love know we care. We have to be careful about critiquing or implying we want them to do something different – because then we are not accepting them for who they are.
Q: You teamed up with a nationally syndicated editorial and sports cartoonist Bill De Ore, who worked for the Dallas Morning News for 34 years. What was it like to collaborate with him?
A: It was fabulous. Since we collaborated, I was able to express to Bill my visions of Pidge, the dog, and certain family members. Then I let him go to work. He would show me his sketches throughout the process and ask my opinion. However, rarely did I suggest any changes. He’s been drawing his entire life and his work is spectacular. I’m blessed that he brought my characters to life just as I imagined.
Q: In Pidge Takes the Stage, the teacher says to her young, eager student: “But it takes a lot of unspectacular preparation to get spectacular results.” That’s actually a quote from your dad, the legendary Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Roger Staubach. Tell us what he meant by that.
A: I asked my dad one day to describe to me what it was like, in the summer, at training camp for the Dallas Cowboys — and that is the quote he gave me. It really describes life for all of us. The day-to-day grind for almost anyone is unspectacular – whether you are an athlete, writer, lawyer, painter, etc. There is a lot of repetition in any type of work. But that repetition can create spectacular results if you work hard. And for my dad the day in day out of training camp was lifting weights, running, learning plays, and throwing the ball over and over. These were all unspectacular activities. But the spectacular results came on game day when he threw a beautiful touchdown pass or when he became the MVP of a Super Bowl. It’s a great talking point with kids. I often talk to kids about how I know school can be tough and maybe they are struggling with learning to read or write, but with practice, which is unspectacular, they will then get spectacular results.
Q: How can we, as parents, help validate children’s feelings and emotions?
A: We as parents must talk to our children and reaffirm our love for them. As parents we may not agree or understand their emotions, but to our child it’s their “truth.” We must listen to our children and not judge. Just because we validate their feelings, doesn’t mean we agree, but it’s very important to the child to know they are loved and their voice matters. And siblings need to care for one another. Siblings must tell their siblings they love them or remember to thank a sibling for help on homework, or whatever it may be.
Q: Your books also contribute to building literacy. I understand you worked with Barbara Bush’s organization to promote literacy. What did you learn from her?
A: Where do I start? She was an amazing woman on a mission to increase literacy, and she cared deeply for those who didn’t have access to education. First, she started these fabulous literacy events called the “Celebration of Reading” to raise money for literacy and to educate those who attended the events about the literacy crisis. I began attending the events many years ago in Dallas, and I must admit, I was surprised to learn how many people were illiterate. After the first event, I was a changed person and began working more closely with the Barbara Bush Foundation to increase literacy rates. It’s very important to me to continue to work closely with literacy organizations. Secondly, after attending the “Celebration of Reading” events, I was inspired to follow my dream, to write, which led me to enroll in the SMU Continuing Education Program for Creative Writing.
Q: You teach the power of gratitude in your books. Why is it such an important value that we need to be reminded of it?
A: Gratitude makes the world a better place. There is so much negativity in the world, and we need to create more positive energy. It’s so easy to go about our day with our heads down and not even notice those around us, especially those that have made our life better. We need to keep our heads high and thank those who have made a difference in our lives. And by reminding ourselves daily about all the great things in our life, we in turn are ultimately more at peace, I believe.
For more information, visit: www.whereispidge.com.