Nic Stone

Episode 11

Nic Stone

Comfortably Uncomfortable: Nic Stone on the Story Less Told

Masthead Waves

About this episode

Nic Stone (Dear Martin, Clean Getaway) talks about her passion for speaking out and giving a voice to the stories less told.


"I find that throughout the course of life, I'm bothered by things and when I sat down and I decided I wanted to start writing, what I started writing was something that bothered me." - Nic Stone


After Nic Stone graduated college, she went on a trip to Bethlehem to connect with the story behind her faith. But instead of a religious experience, she found herself moved by the stories of the people who live in the city in the present day. Stories that she decided also needed telling.
In this episode, Nic joins us to share more about how she found her voice and why she tells the stories she does. She'll speak about the importance of connecting with kids to understand their perspective on life and stories, and why despite being fearful of backlash over the release of her most recent book, she is still optimistic about the future of the book-banning crisis in America.

  • Chapter 1 - Little Nic, the liar
  • Chapter 2 - The lead coat
  • Chapter 3 - The story we really need
  • Chapter 4 - The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Chapter 5 - What kids want
  • Chapter 6 - Visiting Jabari
  • Chapter 7 - What about breakfast?
  • Chapter 8 - How to Be a (Young) Antiracist
  • Chapter 9 - Dear whom?
  • Chapter 10 - Mirror, Mirror
  • Chapter 11- Beanstack Featured Librarian

Nic's Reading Challenge

Download the free reading challenge worksheet, or view the challenge materials on our helpdesk.

zoobean_podcast-challenge_2023_Nic-Stone_hm1_Worksheet P1.   zoobean_podcast-challenge_2023_Nic-Stone_hm1_Worksheet P2




View Transcript Hide Transcript

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: You know, I find that throughout the course of life, I'm bothered by things, right? And when I sat down, and I decided I wanted to start writing, what I started writing was something that bothered me.

Nic Stone: Nic s is not going to tell you what you want to hear, she's going to tell you what she knows to be true, in that casual, matter-of-fact, truth-teller way that she has. Her voice is powerful, and she leans into using it to address the difficult issues she sees in the world. And Nic has chosen to focus that passion on writing for a young audience for reasons that are, well, pretty straightforward.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: I write for kids because they're not as stupid as adults are, frankly. We are ridiculous, and it bothers [chuckle] me to no end.

Nic Stone: And in writing for kids, she also recognizes the value in getting on their level and understanding what they like and why they like it. She knows kids well and respects them even more.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: If you are going to be a person who wants to interact with children, you can't disdain the things that children like, that just doesn't work.

Nic Stone: Nic Stone is an award-winning New York Times best-selling author known for titles like Dear Martin and Clean Getaway. In this episode, she'll open up about the moment in her life when she realized the importance of telling the stories people don't often hear, how she works every day to stay connected to kids and why all adults should do the same, and why she was actually afraid about the release of her most recent book.


Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: My name is Jordan Lloyd-Bookey, and this is The Reading Culture, a show where we speak with authors and reading enthusiasts to explore ways to build stronger cultures of reading in our communities. We dive into their personal experiences, their inspirations and why their stories and ideas motivate kids to read more.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: As a heads-up, there will be a recording error for the first few minutes of this interview. Since Nic is a very busy person, we decided to make do. But no need to worry, the quality you're used to for this podcast will resume shortly. Okay, let's start by you telling us about what you were like when you were little, what was little Nic Stone like? 

Nic Stone: Yeah, little Nic Stone was a reader and a liar. But if you think about it, that's literally what storytelling is, it's intaking narrative and then being able to spit it back out with a spin, they really are. My favorite thing to tell aspiring writers is that "You don't need to try so hard to be original," right? Like, "If you let things flow from who you are as a person because there's only one you, that's where the originality comes from." So as a kid, I never fit anywhere. I don't know, I think I was also kind of averse to the idea of fitting somewhere because I always found things to take issue with [chuckle] in all of the status quos. Like even back in my first grade, I was finding things to be bothered by. Like I remember I had a classmate in first grade named Clayton, I went to a school called Idlewood Elementary here in... It's actually in Tucker, Georgia. It's 30 minutes from where I am now. And I'm pretty sure Clayton was the only white kid in my class. And we were standing in line about to go to music class or something, and he was grinding...

Nic Stone: There was a crayon on the floor, and he was grinding it into the carpet with his toe. Despite knowing he was gonna get in trouble, there was something about that rebellious act that I just had to participate in. So then I got in trouble too. And my teacher was appalled, because I was a kid who never got in trouble. I was very sweet, I was always doing what I was supposed to do. And then I had to take a slip home, because I'd gotten in trouble, and I tried to forge my mom's signature. I'm six years old, I can't write cursive. There's this is whole... I don't... So I was always a kid who... My imagination was always a couple of steps ahead of my abilities basically. So once I got to the point where I was able to kinda catch up to myself a little bit, it was just kinda like, "I'm gonna do... " I was a floater in high school, I... Most of the time, I didn't even sit to eat lunch, 'cause I was walking around socializing. I was the head cheerleader, I was class president, I was all of those types of things. But it was that not fitting that helped me to kinda settle in to me. Because no matter what group I tried to put myself in, there was always something about me that didn't quite align, and I was never really okay with chopping off limbs for the sake of fitting into your little clique. It's just not...

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: Even when you were in that fifth grade, sixth grade, those middle school years, that was always...

Nic Stone: Interestingly enough, fifth grade is when I tested into the gifted program. And so I get even more ostracized from kids who looked like me, honestly, because back then, the only other person with brown skin in my gifted classes was... Her name was Gold Akwesi. She was named for Golda Meir, which I always loved. And she was from... Her parents were from Ghana. So she was a first-generation American, and that was my road dog. But we were different, we were considered different.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: That feeling of being different pressed down on Nic all the way through to college. She started at Georgia Tech, but as a budding adult with a strong conscience, she quickly realized it wasn't the environment she wanted to be in. And after just one semester, she transferred to Spelman College, the historically black women's college in Atlanta, Georgia. It was there that she first experienced the empowerment she had been missing.

Nic Stone: Spelman is where I saw me for the first time, is the best way I can put it. I call it an incubator.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: The school offered her a place to feel free, unburdened in a way she hadn't been for many years of schooling in predominantly white environments. It was as if a physical weight had been lifted.

Nic Stone: At Georgia Tech I always felt like I was walking around with a lead coat. I knew in the early 2000s, walking around on a PWI campus, a predominantly white institution, I knew that there were other students looking at me and wondering if I was only there because of affirmative action. You know that, it's something that you feel on your skin. So to be in a space where that just was not the case at all, it's like I got to stand up straight. And in standing up straight, I got to see what all I could do and what all I could be.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: Spelman introduced Nic to iconic black authors, such as Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, authors that would change how she thought of literature and her place in it.

Nic Stone: I was way more prepared for the world coming out of Spelman than I would have been coming out of Georgia Tech. Because at Georgia Tech, you're with this lead coat thing, and there's also this kind of like, this really wild internal conflict, where on the one hand, you feel like you have to shrink yourself because you don't wanna be too good, people don't like when you're too good. But on the other, you still have to be better than everybody else, it's just not... It wasn't great for the psyche.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: Despite the lasting change that Spelman ultimately made on her, Nic graduated still unsure of what she wanted to make of her life. At the time, she was deeply in touch with her Christian faith, and so she decided on a journey, a pilgrimage to Israel. It was this experience that would ultimately set her on the path to becoming an author.

Nic Stone: I visited Bethlehem, I really just wanted to go see where Jesus was born. At this point, I'm intensely evangelically Christian, and I'm there trying to learn about the land of the Bible, right? I wanted to go to the places that Jesus had gone, I wanted to walk where he walked and all the woo-woo stuff. And so I'm in Bethlehem, I go to The Church of the... It's called the Church of the Nativity. So we go into this church, and there are stairs that go down to where the nativity supposedly happened because they've built up over these spaces over the course of literal millennia. And there's a line to get down there. And you go down the stairs, and it's like there's a piece of plexiglass [chuckle] covering a hole and some rock. So it's like there's a cave basically, and there's this plexiglass covering the cave. And I remember coming up out of that hole and being like, "That was it?" It just... [chuckle] Just wasn't... It was wildly anti-climactic.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: Nic went on to stay with a family that had been in Bethlehem for eight generations, eight generations meant various stages of intense conflict and changing authority figures, something that Nic had not yet fully processed. The family she stayed with had five children, four of which were boys. The sole daughter was just a few years younger than Nic and took a liking to her.

Nic Stone: I started talking to her, I was like, "So what do you wanna do?" She's a couple years younger than me, I think I was 22 at the time, so she might have been 20. And I was like, "Well, what do you... " like, "Do you... What do you wanna do?" And she was saying how she... Really her number one ambition was to go to university in the UK, that's all she wanted to do. And I was like, "Okay, so do it." My American mind, if you wanna do something, you just go do it. And she's like, "Well, I can't." And I said, "Why not?" she's like, "Well, I don't have a passport." And I was like, "Well, can't you get a passport?" And she looked at me like I was crazy at that point, was like, "No, I can't get a passport." And then it clicked, of course, she doesn't have a country. Your family has been in the same place for eight generations, and you have no country and nationality? 

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: And that was the moment when Nic's perspective shifted forever.

Nic Stone: The contrast of me waiting all of this time and standing in this line to see where this thing happened 2000 years ago, and it's... There's really nothing to it. But then I'm sitting here with a person who is very much alive right now and who cannot pursue the things that she wants to pursue because of political stuff that has nothing to do with her, and that's when I realized how few stories I heard out in the world about people who were not straight, cisgender and white. I wanted the world to know that people like her existed. And not even for the sake of unfair... Like, "Oh, this is unfair," but just I didn't know it. And me knowing it expanded my mind in a really powerful way, so then I wanted to tell other people about it. And that's when I decided like, "Okay, I need to... I wanna tell stories."


Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: "'But do you approve of it, Harry?' asked the painter, walking up and down the room and biting his lip, 'You can't approve of it possibly. It is some silly infatuation.' I never approve or disapprove of anything now, it is an absurd attitude to take towards life. We are not sent into the world to air our moral prejudices."


Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: Oscar Wilde was never afraid to critique the status quo, and the inspiration from such a daring and unapologetic figure is easy to trace in Nic's work. This particular quote was from The Picture of Dorian Gray, first published in 1890. The novel has come to be known as one of the classics of late Victorian Gothic literature. But at the time, Wilde's bold writing and progressive philosophical musings received immense backlash. That adversity is what originally drew Nic to his work. When did you read it? 

Nic Stone: Mid-20s, I guess, I must have been in my mid-20s. I think I had learned that Oscar Wilde had basically been arrested for being a gay man, the charge was sodomy. But putting those pieces together was like, "Mmm, let me check this dude out."

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: Wilde's writing had found Nic at a transitional time in her life, and his words made an immediate impact.

Nic Stone: My faith had fallen to pieces by this point, being in Israel for a few years will do that to you. You're either going to get more entrenched, or it's gonna unravel. And my Christian faith completely unraveled while I was in Israel, in the best possible way. And so this is one of the books that I was reading that gave me some insight and really shaped how I write and what I focus on in my writing.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: How does this book and that passage specifically speak to who you are as a writer or how you've developed your own voice? 

Nic Stone: I find that throughout the course of life, I'm bothered by things, right? And when I sat down, and I decided I wanted to start writing, what I started writing was something that bothered me. And it's the same now. Like Dear Martin is about race relations and Police violence. Dear Justyce is about the juvenile justice system. Clean Getaway is about American civil rights. There are all of these things that just creep under my skin and make me uncomfortable. However, it's important for me when I'm writing about them to just express the discomfort. I never want to moralize in anything that I create, because honestly, that's not the point. It's not my job to approve or disapprove of anything, it's not my job to, as Lord Henry says, "Go into the world and air my moral prejudices." My job is to draw attention to the things I think I should be drawing attention to. And in doing that, my hope is just to provoke thought.

Nic Stone: I really just want people to think a little more, slow down a little bit, consider whether what you're doing or saying might be harmful to another human being, consider whether or not you are harming yourself or dehumanizing yourself. Less morality and more humanity is really kinda the core, not only of my work but of my being. And this... That passage, just those words, they are highlighted every... I have multiple copies of this book, it's highlighted in every single one, it's highlighted in my Kindle book. I just... I've read it from the Kindle version, and I'm actually getting a neon sign [chuckle] made for my house that says, "We are not sent into the world to air our moral prejudices." Because I think it's something we could all stand to like.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: Hearing you say that I'm thinking about all of your books, YA and middle grade, especially those middle-grade books, they're always addressing, like you said, the issues that are under your skin, sitting heavy on your heart, and they're real heavy generational issues that are not gonna, no matter what happens right now, probably not gonna disappear overnight, right? Those are always at the forefront, but then there's always this level of levity and fun banter and humor, and you love these characters. So it reads what like what you're saying, it's like you are presenting something, but also presenting it in such a way that your characters are still... They're human. I don't think anything you've written ever feels preachy.

Nic Stone: Yeah. Absolutely. And that's important to me, right? First of all, I know my audience. I write for kids on purpose, I write for kids, because they're not as stupid as adults are, frankly. We are ridiculous, and it bothers me [chuckle] to no end. And I think the fact that... I don't know, at some point it's like adults become adults and start to disdain their pure, awe-filled, wonder-filled younger selves. And it's so grotesque to me.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: What do you think does that to us? 

Nic Stone: Having to pay bills, frankly. No, for real. I think about the way our world works with regard to money. The western world is very individualistic. America is so profit-bound and capitalistic, it's almost impossible not to make your every concern about money, just by virtue of living in this country, right? And this is how it was founded. It... The more I learn about American history, the more I'm like, "Well, yeah. All of this makes sense," right? The settlers came over here, because they didn't wanna pay taxes," you know what I mean? Like, "I don't... We don't... We wanna keep our money." Literally like, "We wanna keep more of our money, so screw you, guys, we're leaving," basically. [chuckle]

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: "So we're gonna go ahead and make money off of this future generation of people...

Nic Stone: Right. This idea that they were being persecuted for religious beliefs, I do not buy it for a second. That's just not like, "No, y'all. You wanted to make more money, you saw a way of pulling that off involving unpaid labor, and here we are," right? And I think because of that focus, that capitalistic center of American society, once you get to that point where it's like, "Well, I have to make money," it can be very difficult to just stop and smell the damn roses. So for me, when it comes to the things that I'm writing, it's important to me to talk to the people who aren't having to pay bills, who have the mental space to ponder and ruminate over the way the world is. And hopefully pondering and ruminating over it when your values are still forming will be what drives change in the future.


Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: An idea we've spoken about before in this podcast is letting kids read in a way that is natural to them. Shutting a child down for reading things like graphic novels, books at lower grade levels or stories that you may frankly find ridiculous is no different from discouraging reading in general. Nic Stone feels strongly about letting kids read what pleases them. She says, "There's no such thing as a reluctant reader," and instead prefers to call them high-taste readers. But understanding that not all kids will read what you think they should read isn't where the work ends for Nic, she also argues that we should invest time into understanding the things kids like and why they like them.

Nic Stone: It's helpful having my own kids and actually paying attention to what they're into. So right now, there's this shift happening where kids, third through sixth grade-ish, everybody is obsessed with Dav Pilkey, and Jeff Kinney, and Lincoln Peirce. These books that are, to an adult they seem rather simplistic, but they're just... Kids want, they want the next step. My son makes sure that the next Dog Man and Cat Kid books are pre-ordered. Like, "When's the next Wimpy Kid? When's the next Captain Underpants? When's the next Bad Guys? When's the next... " And these books are like... They're not super complicated. If you are going to be a person who wants to interact with children, you can't disdain the things that children like. It just doesn't work. You can't dislike the stuff that the person you're trying to interact with likes because you can't actually... It's impossible to get to know a person when you have disdain towards the things that they love.

Nic Stone: And so keeping my thumb on the pulse of what's on young people's minds, etcetera, you just gotta talk to them, which is why I love The Visit so much. It gives me an opportunity to sit down and hear what they're talking about. You know what? Young people are very powerfully aware... Who, I should say who. There's a person that young people are powerfully aware of and super latched onto, and I hate it. It's Elon Musk. They are obsessed with him. I have yet to meet a first grader who does not know who Elon Musk is, who does not know what Tesla is, who isn't awe-inspired. It's just like the eyeballs go wide anytime they see a Tesla. It's wild, but it's also informative. There's something about this man that they find fascinating, so it's my job to figure out what it is.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: Yeah, maybe it's 'cause he's like a comic book figure, the billionaire genius inventor, and the tuxedo, the rocket ship, the accent. Clearly, kids are not the only ones that are struggling with the distinction that this guy is not Bruce Wayne. Actually, my mom-friends and I have been talking a lot. Recently, we've been deep in conversation about Andrew Tate and trying to understand why some of the kids in our son's grade find him appealing. Why is he heroic or something to some of them despite this overwhelming evidence to the complete contrary? But I digress, and to your point about parents disdaining their kid's books, I tell people my son is 13 and he still appreciates a lot of the books from his elementary school years. And if he sits down to read the latest installment of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or... I don't know, those things are comfort books to him, it takes him maybe 10 minutes to read now, but it still brings some kind of comfort.

Nic Stone: Yeah, and a lot of it is just... It's the fantastical. So the books that kids are gonna pick up on their own are gonna be different from the ones that they're having to read for school. Sometimes they don't wanna have to interact with a bunch of information. So I took my older son... My older son goes to this really cool middle school. He's in fifth grade, but they start at fourth. So it's fourth through eighth grade, and they have two weeks of spring break. Last year for his first week of spring break, he and I went to the Grand Canyon. And we're on the drive, I'm asking him like, "Okay, explain Dog Man to me. I wanna understand, from your nine-year-old brain, tell me the plot of Dog Man." And he just laid it out. Every single book, he knows the plot of every single book. There is something really powerful about that.

Nic Stone: While I could sit and judge it and be like, "Well, that's stupid," why would I? This is the thing that I want any adults listening to this podcast, get off your high horse. You at some point were nine or 10 years old, and you liked something that your parents thought was stupid. And that's something that I think we really need to lean into, probably heal from a little bit, and then make sure we're extending the grace we didn't receive to the children in our lives. And appreciate, even if it's not something you would necessarily enjoy, appreciating the fact that they are reading. Dude, graphic novels take more brain power to comprehend than books in prose. You're having to use two different systems. There's a visual element, and then there's the internal auditory element. So you're reading words, but you also have to process pictures. That's huge. The fact that they can do it and we can't actually looks bad, like we're the problem. We should probably be reading more graphic novels and making our brains a little bit more elastic. We just need to change the way we think about childhood and embrace it.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: Not surprisingly, Nic is one of those authors who also embraces school visits. In fact, "embraces" may be too mild a word.

Nic Stone: Pro tip, I do not say no to kids. When kids ask me to come to their school, I will do everything I can to pull it off.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: There's one story in particular that exemplifies the effort Nic is willing to put in for kids and the impact that effort can have.

Nic Stone: Late 2017, I get a DM from a kid named Jabari. He's like, "Yo Miss, I'm 14. My name's Jabari. I just started reading your book. It's really good so far." And that was the end of the message. [chuckle] So I write back and I'm like, "Oh, that's really cool. I'm glad that you're liking it. Let me know when you finish and what you thought of the whole thing." A couple of days go by and he writes me again. He says, "I finished it. It was amazing. I've never actually finished a book before. This is officially my favorite book." And I was like, "Well, thank you." And then he says, "Will you come to my school?"

Nic Stone: So I get with the media specialist and we set up the day that I'm gonna come. And I said though, "Okay, this is the thing though, Jabari. If I come to your school, you have to be the person who interviews me in front of your friends." And he said, "Bet." [laughter] These kids with their one-word responses kill me. So I show up, he's there, he's got all his Jordans. He's got a bow tie, he's so cute.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: He was ready.

Nic Stone: Yeah, he was ready. And we go into the media center, and I just watched this kid blossom. I have pictures from it. He put his jacket on in the pictures, and I just watched him blossom. And that experience in and of itself was memorable because then I had all of his friends who I don't know were necessarily would have considered themselves readers, all of them wanted to talk to me after and they had all of these questions. And then all of a sudden, and you have this one kid's curiosity kind of explode out like confetti and land on everyone else. And it was the most impactful for me. It was the most impactful school visit I've ever done just because of him, and now he's in college. And he's been very clear with me about the fact that he didn't even think he wanted to go to college, but then last year, he's a freshman now. So 2021-2022 school year, we stayed in touch and he'll send me stuff like, "Can you read this for me? I gotta do my college essays."

Nic Stone: It's just knowing that a single book can spark a kid to the point where they not only want the author to come visit, but then they take their relationship with that author and hold on to it, and now he wants to be a writer. Come on. There's nothing in the world like that. If I never visit another school again or have another successful book, I have done what I feel like I needed to do and... Yeah, that one. My little Jabari.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: You have a very devoted social media following and some wild hashtags that you write and are my favorite part of your posts. Is it odd to have followers who don't maybe know you as a writer to feel like you can influence people beyond the page? 

Nic Stone: Yeah. Honestly, I don't really think or feel too much about it. I think of it as a thing that is, and I think of how I can best be of service if that makes sense. It is odd. I'm like, "Y'all listening to me?" I don't even listen to me! Have you lost it? I'm completely off my rocker, but maybe that's the point. Maybe the point is that you don't have to be on it. You don't have to have it all together. Just existence. I think the strangest thing for me in all of this is that people are listening to me, 'cause I'm like, "Hi, okay." But that also means that it's important to me to make sure that what I'm saying matters. I don't root any of my identity or my sense of self in the fact that people listen to me. Not at all. I just happen to be talking and you happen to be standing there. That's how it is in my brain. Being a person of influence, I just don't even think about it. I'm just like, "Nope. What did I have for breakfast? Let's talk about that."


Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: While Nic tries not to overthink the influence she has on young people, she's still constantly using her platform to help inspire them to think critically about the injustices of the world and to take actions against them. Her new book, How to Be a Young Antiracist, is a prime example of this. That book, co-written with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, recently made it to shelves. And when we spoke, I asked her about its impending release. How to Be a Young Antiracist is coming out really soon, right? 

Nic Stone: It comes out on the 31st.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: Okay.

Nic Stone: I'm just scared. I'm scared. I'm very scared.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: Because of the backlash that will come to you from...

Nic Stone: Absolutely. And who knows, maybe no backlash will come. I do feel like 2020, 2021, and 2022 were this bizarre vortex of death and things that forced evolution to go faster. The past three years were hell. I feel different now, and I do feel like something has shifted. I'm not depressed anymore, that's great. But I have no idea what's coming. I've spent the past three years dealing with book bans, and hatred, and people saying that I'm pedaling CRT who don't even know what CRT is.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: Oh my God, the other day I was at a dinner and I met this woman who actually... She's a professor of Critical Race Theory at AU.

Nic Stone: Yes.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: And I'm like, "It's you. You're the one." She's like, "That's it." And she's teaching... It's a high-level law school class.

Nic Stone: It's like a graduate, yes.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: And I'm like, "So, Dear Martin, that must be on your syllabus, huh?"

Nic Stone: It's amazing.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: It's wild.

Nic Stone: Yeah, and I think the past three years, we've been dealing with everyone trying to find something to feel in control of. A significant portion of our agency was literally taken from us by a microscopic virus. For people like us, Americans who are taught to be self-actualizing and to go for the things that you want, and we have...

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: Go get your passport, right? 

Nic Stone: Right. I think we had this false sense of our own power, and having to reckon with that power being taken away very, very quickly, it did a number on a lot of us.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: I think then there's a whole other group of people behind the book bans that are also dealing with their power being taken away in other... Or perception of their power being taken away, and they maybe just couldn't... They can't handle that.

Nic Stone: They can't handle it, right? They can't handle it. Seeing all of this stuff happening, I remember George Floyd was a huge turning point for the globe. Not even just America, but for the world.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: Yeah, it was like all over. People are having... Yeah.

Nic Stone: Everywhere. And I think the way that people responded to that view... If you notice most of the fallout and book bans and stuff came after that. There's all of this... All of a sudden you're having paradigms challenged and people being told that like, "Oh yeah, your obsession with the police and this idea that they're gonna keep you safe, what if that's not true?" Having all these things challenged that you leaned on or took for granted just as a result of like, "Well, this is what I was taught and this is what I've known," that really messed people up. So I actually have a lot of compassion for people who are just trying to find their way back to their feet, even though a lot of them are going about it in ways that are not necessarily great for other people.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: A guest voice you'll likely have come to recognize on the show is my 13-year-old son, Cassius. He's an avid reader, and he often gets excited when I tell him about the authors we speak to. He was particularly happy about Nic Stone joining. That excitement comes with questions, which I of course love more than anything to let him ask. Cassius blew through Dear Martin and Dear Justyce and was curious.

Cassius: If you were in prison like Quan, who would you write to the way that he wrote to Justyce? 

Nic Stone: Okay, so Dear Martin came out of when I would journal, I would write letters to God. And then if I were to pick a human being alive on earth right now to write letters to and hope to get a response, it'd be Bryan Stevenson. He wrote Just Mercy, and he does a lot of work. All of his work really is around getting people off of death row, having cases reopened, etcetera, etcetera, the Equal Justice Initiative.


Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: Shaped by her experiences in school and her time in Israel, Nic has developed a passion for challenging her readers and telling stories that people otherwise may not hear. That's why for her reading challenge, Mirror Mirror, she wants us to step as far outside of our shoes as possible.

Nic Stone: A challenge is to read a book about a person who is as vastly different from you as you can possibly find. A book that would fit this, for me, would be like Andrew Smith's Winger. It's about this straight white boy who goes to a prep school. And the goal of the challenge is you read a book about a person who is vastly different from you, and you find your similarities. You find the areas, the things that you can identify with in that character. Whether it's in their struggles, whatever. The goal is just more humanity. We are living in very divisive times. I think a part of that divisiveness comes from people basically inoculating themselves from people who are different from them. And so actively going and reading a story about a person who's different has the power to open us up in ways that I think we wouldn't expect. So Mirror Mirror, find that book of a person who is very much not a mirror, and find the mirror images within it.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: This episode's Beanstack featured librarian is Rita Smith, the children's and teen's librarian at the Hershey Public Library in Hershey, Pennsylvania. She told us about a recent heart-warming story that reminded her of the value libraries play in the community.

Rita Smith: When we first came back after lockdown, we were doing all of our story times on Zoom. And when we finally had a chance to have kids back in the library, I had a really lovely group of families. And within that group, I had a family that English was not their first language at home. And that's not unusual in Hershey, we have a lot of international families. And a lot of them will come to the library because they want their kids to learn English, so that was not unusual. And so we had six weeks of story time, and this little girl is soaking things in, but English is not her first language. Then we had this other little girl, was very outgoing, very friendly, and they hit it off. There was a language barrier, but they hit it off.

Rita Smith: And on the last day of story time, the two moms were like, "Oh, there's no story time next week, do you wanna meet at the playground?" And they're swapping numbers. Again, this is not anything unusual, this happens at the library all the time. I had to go in my office and have a cry because it just really hit me that this is why I do what I do. Yes, stories are great, early literacy is great, but a public library is about the community that you're in and people making connections with each other. After doing this for 25 some years, I needed to be reminded that it's not just the books. It's the people.

Jordan Lloyd-Bookey: This has been The Reading Culture. You've been listening to our conversation with Nic Stone. Again, I'm your host, Jordan Lloyd-Bookey, and currently, I'm reading All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir, and Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. If you've enjoyed today's show, please show some love and rate, subscribe, and share The Reading Culture among your friends and networks. To learn more about how you can help grow your community’s reading culture, check out all of our resources at This episode was produced by Jackie Lamport and Lower Street Media, and script edited by Josiah Lamberto-Egan. We'll be back in two weeks with another episode. Thanks for joining and keep reading.


Learn More About Beanstack

Motivate readers of all ages with reading challenges proven to increase engagement.