When local author and illustrator Sharon Lovejoy finished writing her latest book, “Running Out of Night,” more than three years ago, she likely never envisioned the far-reaching effects it would have.
The book — a historical novel set in 1858 Virginia before the Civil War — took off in 2016 when the paperback version went to print, and it has since left a wide footprint with children across the world.
From her San Luis Obispo home Friday night, Lovejoy conducted a Skype interview with a group of students in Seoul, South Korea, who are using “Running Out of Night” to learn English and American history.
Because of the 17-hour time difference, students voluntarily came to school at 11 a.m. Saturday in Seoul to take part in the interview.
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“I wanted it to engage children in history, and that’s what’s happened,” said Lovejoy, an award-winning author who has written 10 books covering a variety of topics. “I’ve gotten letters from all over the world — it’s been amazing.”
Lovejoy said she was thrilled with the questions students asked during the interview, the third one she’s conducted with that school in Seoul, a sprawling metropolitan area with a population of more than 25 million.
A young girl named Kate asked the first question during the 90-minute session, wanting to know what Lovejoy did to make her dream come true.
“I kept drawing and working at it and going to classes and going to conferences,” Lovejoy said. “That’s how I made my dream come true — hard work and a little bit of good luck.”
Lovejoy said establishing person-to-person connections with students can provide a better perspective on life outside their classroom, especially given the current political climate and the strained relationship between the United States and North Korea.
“They want to know what’s going on in the rest of the world,” Lovejoy said, “and they’re not going to find it unless they talk to real people.”
“Running Out of Night,” which tells the story of an abused 12-year-old white girl, an escaped slave girl and their pursuit of freedom using the Underground Railroad, has been well received in the literary community and earned several award nominations.
It took about seven years to write, Lovejoy said, with the details and mid-19th century dialect stemming from a “trunk full of letters” written before and during the Civil War that her relatives in Virginia and Pennsylvania acquired.
One review said, “rarely do page-turners written for middle-school kids also ignite excitement in adults.”
Skype has provided Lovejoy an avenue to reach an international audience from the comfort of her home — and stay close to her grandchildren — but she also remains active with youths on the Central Coast.
She’s particularly involved with students at Hawthorne and Pacheco elementary schools in San Luis Obispo, and she is a visiting author in Santa Barbara as well.
Lovejoy said she is working on two nonfiction books and plans to continue working with students in the U.S. and abroad. Her next Skype session with the students in Seoul will likely take place in 2019.
“The thing for me is that I like our hands to stretch out to people all over the world, and I like them to see that we’re not monsters,” Lovejoy said. “I’ve watched the language skills of the older students I’ve worked with since they were in fourth grade … it’s just amazing to see the development of their language.”