Bethany Hegedus talks about Be the Change

Bethany Hegedus
Bethany Hegedus

BE THE CHANGE: A GRANDFATHER GANDHI STORY, the much anticipated new picture book written by author Bethany Hegedus and Arun Gandhi, and illustrated by Evan Turk, is a Junior Library Guild Selection and has received a starred review from the School Library Journal. We can’t say enough about our admiration for these creators and are thrilled to kick off our interview series with Bethany talking about this amazing companion book to her outstanding GRANDFATHER GANDHI.

Booking Biz: For those who don’t know, tell us how you came to work with Gandhi’s grandson, Arun Gandhi?

Bethany: Before I was published, and really when I first began writing, way back in 2001, I worked at the World Financial Center in NYC in a financial firm. I was there, directly across the street, on 9/11 and was a witness to all that happened that day. Looking for a place to process everything and help myself heal, I attended a talk Dr. Arun Gandhi gave at Town Center in early October. From the stage, he talked to a grieving New York about total forgiveness, about living on the Sevagram ashram with his grandfather for two years as a young man, about turning our anger into electricity—as his grandfather, the Mahatma, shared with him—and more. I was moved. So moved I had the thought that night that his stories should be books, and because of my witnessing the horrors of 9/11 and a promise I made to myself to bring something beautiful into the world because of having survived that day, I felt fated to be the writer to get his stories to kids. (You can read more about Bethany’s 9/11 experience on the Grandfather Gandhi website and about Bethany asked Arun Gandhi to work with her on the ALSC website.)

Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi StoryBooking Biz: The world knows Mohandas Gandhi as The Mahatma, Great Soul. What do you want young readers to know about you?

Bethany: That I was pretty angry as a young girl. I saw injustices everywhere, from the playground to the nightly news. I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to be heard. My anger kind of ate away at me for a bit. I was always a good student. I didn’t act out at school but I did at home. I think I was struggling for a way to make sense about the things I heard, like “we’re all the same,” and how differently many were treated because of the color of their skin or even silly playground taunts of being called “fat” or “ugly.”

This desire to write about the changes I hope to see made in the world is what drives all my work—whether it’s a novel about best friends during the Civil Rights era or my work with peace activist, Arun Gandhi. I believe we can turn our anger into light. I’ve worked hard to turn my anger and hurt into words and books. I believe we can make the world a better place. I hope I am doing my small part and I want to do more. I want young readers to know they can take their angers and hurts and make them better—for themselves and for others.

Booking Biz: What do you hope young readers discover in Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story?

Bethany: That what Arun learned from his grandfather about passive violence is really the key to stop the physical violence that is expressed in the world. That a promise to oneself is the most important promise of all. That though we aren’t physically responsible for violence in the world, that we—each of us—is emotionally responsible. That small actions can bring the change we wish to see in the world.

Grandfather GandhiBooking Biz: You visit schools all over the country. How does this book change your author programming?

Bethany: It expands on much of what I have already been doing: empowering young readers, sharing with them the personal history of a world leader, and helping them see him as a grandfather, a regular fella, who made things better for the world, not just for himself. My school visits can be a safe place to talk about bullying—whether you are the one bullied or the one doing the bullying, as was the case with a 5th grade autistic boy who, after hearing his teacher read Grandfather Gandhi to his class, was moved to give a spontaneous apology to certain kids in his class for being the “lightning not the lamp.”

Schools have brought me in to address the social emotional learning components of the Gandhi books, expanding on non-violence as a movement in relation to Martin Luther King events, and I have even been invited after ISIS attacks are in the news to give kids the tools to process this violent world and help them feel safe. And along with all of that there is just the joy of sharing a story, seeing the art projects the kids and schools create around the book, and reminding them and myself that author visit days are special days. They can change a reader forever—just as they often change me.

Booking Biz: Thank you, Bethany!

Learn more about this wonderful author on her speaker page.