My sabbatical proposal just entered the final stage of the approval process, which means that it will hopefully be granted sometime in the near future. If so, I will spend my sabbatical beginning to research and write the story of Josephine Tucker and her family. As I’ve written here before, Josephine is a teenager from Sierra Leone (though she is Liberian by ethnicity). Jo and her sister, along with her Aunt Matilda and two cousins, Amie and Kadie, all came to Grand Rapids in the summer of 2005. My wife and I were involved in helping the family make the transition to life in West Michigan.

Jo is now a junior in high school, and she is the center of the book I hope to write–a young adult, multigenre retelling of her escape from Sierra Leone. I’m hoping that Jo and Matilda will both write significant portions of the story, and I’m beginning to think that an exchange of letters is a promising way to go. I plan on contributing found documents, third-person narratives to glue pieces together, and additional information to flesh out the story of the war. I envision the final book containing a range of perspectives, giving legitimacy to all of the voices involved, and capturing the voices and perspectives of those involved.

Sounds easy, right? I am daunted by the process and feel unworthy to undertake the task. After all, I have never been to Sierra Leone, unlike my friend Aaron, who lived in Sierra Leone during the brutal civil war of the 1990s. Still, I have many close friends who know as much as Aaron about the country, and who are more than willing to help me learn. And I can’t help but think that my anxiety about not knowing or experiencing enough will find its way into the book somehow, not as a liability, but as a common fear shared by many westerners who want to do the right thing but are afraid of looking the fool.

For now, I’m trying to read as much as I can on Sierra Leone. I’ve mentally written the first page of the book, though this too could change. And I’ve got a broad idea of some of the writing I’ll ask Jo and Matilda to do. I’ll keep rehearsing all of this in my head for a while.

I may even begin another blog about the writing process. I am hoping that I’ll be able to create a supplementary site IF the book gets picked up. I’d really like to archive the video interviews I’ll be doing with the family and others, supply more information on the war in Sierra Leone/Liberia, and perhaps even include some resources for teachers. That, of course, is a long way off.

Exciting. Terrifying. This is why I love my job.