In a new post in the Alumni Bookshelf series, we are delighted to feature alumni Noah Harris (MS-2018), who recently wrote a children’s book called Successville to inspire and encourage children to “dream big” and work hard to achieve their goals. Based on his own childhood growing up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the brightly illustrated story teaches children about the importance of education. It tells readers that everyone has their own Successville, and everyone’s Successville is a different, special place. Through hard work inside and outside of the classroom, everyone can reach their Successville. We are delighted to share more about Noah’s experience writing this book and his path to his Successville. He is currently a sophomore at Harvard University and active in many extracurricular activities on campus. His commitment to children, education and service evidenced in his book embody the USSYP mission to promote leadership, service and education.
What experiences or ideas helped you decide to write your book?
Noah: Growing up, I recognized how blessed I was to have had supportive parents, as well as a great school system behind me. Looking back at how blessed I was, I wanted to find a way to give back to those in my community and others like it who did not have that same opportunity. This took the form of a children’s book because of how important a great education is to what we want to achieve in life.
How did you make time to write given your numerous other academic and extracurricular obligations?
Noah: Creating this book was an added extracurricular for me, so just like student government, service organizations and classes, I had to make time for it whenever I was free. Anytime I had a free fifteen minutes, I just had to think about how I could make the book better.
What were the key milestones in moving the project from idea to execution?
Noah: Because Successville is a children’s book, our biggest obstacle was finding an illustrator. When we found one, it was even more difficult to manage the editing process. The illustrations came out amazing, but it was a tougher process than I would have thought. Identifying the illustrator was challenging because I didn’t even know where to begin selecting someone to do arguably the most important aspect of a children’s book, the illustrations. When I set out to find one, I sent out as many emails as I could to anybody whose contact information I could find. Then, I came across the self-publishing company Mindstir, and within their company, they matched me with an author that was experienced in the type of illustrations I wanted. After that, I got a character sample from Andrew Thomas, and I was very pleased with his style. After that, we went back and forth from the conception stage to drawing and from drawing to coloring until it was finished. I never anticipated how long that process would take. We went back and forth for several months until I could get it exactly how I wanted down to the smallest detail.
What has been the response to your book? Have there been any highlights or surprises?
Noah: I have been surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response from friends, family and my community as a whole. Kids have loved the book everywhere that I have gone with it. That was something I wasn’t sure about. I had no idea if kids would even like the book, but my worries were soon put to rest.
Have you been on a book tour for Successville or partaken in other promotional activities?
Noah: Last spring break, I went on a book tour around my old school district in Mississippi. We took the Successville career and character education program home, and we did twelve shows at seven schools in five days. These programs are where I really saw the enthusiasm of the community. Everyone was so supportive. We were putting on a whole production. I played piano, dunked a basketball, and had a career parade with kids from the audience. Our promotional activities have been mainly selling t-shirts and hoodies to help get the word out.
Can you offer any advice on finding Successville as a college student, be it at Harvard or elsewhere?
Noah: For college students wanting to get to Successville, the first thing you have to realize is that you are already on the right track. However, taking the next step to achieving your true potential is all about striving to be the best you can possibly be on a daily basis. It’s about never getting complacent and continuing to improve.
What advice would you give USSYP alums who are interested in pursuing writing books or literary endeavors relating to children and education?
Noah: I would tell anyone not to write a book just to do so or to become an “author.” Make sure you are so passionate about the topic or issue you are writing on. If you really care about something, that passion will come out on the pages that you write, and that will resonate with your audience.
How has your effort to inspire the youngest members of our society honed your commitment to the tenets of USSYP – leadership, service and education?
Noah: It all goes hand in hand, because my commitment to urge kids to value their education is matched by the onus I put on lawmakers to make that process as simple as possible for all children. If I want change, I have to embody this leadership role.
For potential readers of Successville, where can they find it?