Erica Moffett has challenged herself with long-distance swimming. She wrote a children’s book about her adventures. Here she talks about the process of writing the book and what she hopes children will take away from reading the book.
1. Why did you want to write a children’s book about your swimming?
The book could be considered a happy accident. I had never intended to write either a children’s book or a book about swimming. But a friend’s daughter inspired me to write the book. She was three years old at the time and had overheard my friend talking to me about the swim. After my friend explained to her daughter that I had swum across the Strait of Gibraltar, her daughter was fascinated by this idea and she would lie down on their living room carpet (which happened to be blue) and pretend to swim across the Strait of Gibraltar. So if I inspired my friend’s daughter to “swim across the Strait of Gibraltar” on her living room carpet, my friend’s daughter inspired me to try to write a children’s book that would be inspiring to other children.
2. What do you hope young readers will take away from the book?
I hope that the readers – whether young or old! – are inspired to go out and tackle something that seems big and exciting and then have the stick-to-itiveness to accomplish it. It doesn’t have to be a swim or something physical. It can be learning to play a new game like chess or wanting to be an actor or a doctor, or really whatever! But it was important to me to show the children that it’s ok to have crazy ideas—or rather ideas that may seem crazy to your friends and family. And if those ideas are important to you, then it’s important to pursue those ideas and not be put off what other people think or say.
3. You also talk about your adoption in the book. How does that fit in with the story of your swimming?
The adoption doesn’t really fit into the swimming story, but it was very important to me that the character be adopted, but not to have the story revolve around the adoption. This is based on my own experience of being adopted. Because often when people would find out that I was adopted, that would lead to a whole host of questions about being adopted. And sometimes (maybe most times…) I just wanted to say I was adopted and not have to explain anything. So in the book, I wanted to introduce me as being adopted since that is an essential part of who I am, but also as living a regular life and doing other things that every one else does.
Also on a practical level, the idea of introducing my adoption began with the title. Erica from America was the obvious choice. One, because people actually called me that sometimes, and two, because it was just such a great name. But that name brought up the, somewhat ironic, fact that even though I was America, I was not originally from America. Then it became necessary to mention the adoption anyway.
4. As the swim unfolds in the book, not everything goes “swimmingly.” You seem to stress that. What message is delivered with that, particularly with the illustrations that show you struggling at times?
Well it would be great if everything did go swimmingly all the time in life, right? But of course it never does, especially when you are tackling big goals and dreams. The struggles that I showed in the swim were real struggles that I had experienced myself either in the swim or in training for the swim (though maybe a little exaggerated for dramatic purposes). In addition to wanting to inspire the children, I also wanted to let them know that there will be some bumps in the road in achieving those dreams and goals. I hope they take away that you need to stick with your plans and work through whatever is challenging you at that moment.
5. Sea monsters figure in the story. Did you include them because sometimes young children have dreams about monsters? Would showing them how you conquered them deliver a positive message?
Funnily enough, no! I included the sea monsters because that was a real fear of mine when I started doing open water swimming at age 30! This was my first big swim and at the time, I was still very uncomfortable and nervous swimming in water where I couldn’t see what was underneath me. It goes back to that irrational fear you have that there is something big and nasty underneath you and could at anytime come up and eat you. It really is an irrational idea because there is hardly any sea life that will do that, especially if you are swimming in a group and with a boat. Or two as was the case with us. So I included the sea monsters not necessarily because the children have dreams about them, but instead to show the children that adults can still be scared of the sea monsters too!
6. Your swim involved a team. Was that part of the story important for you to stress?
That’s another happy accident. I had gone over to Spain intending to swim it alone. But because of the weather conditions, I ended up having to join the team that was also there to swim. It was completely unexpected and unplanned, but it turned out to be a great experience. As well as a great story! In the end, I really liked how it worked out, especially as you say, to highlight the group and team effort.
7. You have been doing some readings at schools. How have the children reacted to the story?
That is one of the most fun things about publishing the book – going and reading to the kids since they are the reason I wrote it in the first place. They have loved the story and I have loved reading it to them. At the end, I always do a question and answer session with them, and I am amazed at how many different and new questions come up. A few weeks ago, one child asked me what the deepest point was between Europe and Africa (which I didn’t know the answer to). And at another reading, several children were very intent on knowing who escorted me on the plane from Asia to America and whether I was in a car seat or not! And for some reason, my age seems to be a huge fascination to them. So that has been one of the most fun things about the readings – seeing what the kids really want to know!
8. Do you plan to write other books about your experiences? Can you explain?
Definitely! I loved writing the book and trying to create and inspirational and fun story. I really want to continue the adventures of Erica from America. I had intended to write the next installment in South Africa and that is the next project for me. After South Africa, who knows where the next adventure will be, but it is a big world out there with lots of exciting adventures waiting, so stay tuned!
Erica from America – Swimming from Europe to Africa