Children’s author Dusti Bowling visited Blessed Sacrament School (BSS) on September 24 to speak to students about her books, the importance of not giving up on your dreams, and finding what inspires you. Bowling—who has visited over 100 schools—has written three novels for children, each of which received starred reviews. Her first book, “Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus,” received several awards and is often praised for the inclusion of characters with disabilities.
The main character, Aven, is born without arms, and one of her friends suffers from Tourette Syndrome. Bowling explained her inspiration to feature a character with limb differences. Her cousin was injured in Iraq in 2007 and was severely injured, which resulted in the loss of his arm. Bowling began to imagine what his future would be like. How would he perform routine daily tasks? Would he ever be able to work again?
When she set out to learn more about this disability, she realized that there were no children’s books that featured characters who suffered from limb differences. Bowling said this was unfortunate, because all children should be able to see themselves in the stories they read. After further exploration, Bowling found information about women who lost their arms but were able to adjust to this disability. They used their feet to perform daily tasks, including driving a car and even flying a plane. Knowing these women could succeed despite their physical challenges confirmed to Bowling that she should show readers that this type of disability doesn’t have to prevent someone from living a normal life. The sequel to this book, “Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus,” was released on September 17, and continues Aven’s story as she begins high school.
All of Bowling’s books are set in the Sonoran desert in Arizona, where she lives. She spends a great deal of time in the outdoors with a notebook and a pencil, she said. She observes her surroundings using all five senses to allow her to accurately provide the reader with an authentic experience of the setting. In her presentation, Bowling described a variety of the creatures that inhabit the desert, such as rattlesnakes, tarantulas, scorpions, bobcats, bats, horned lizards, and javelinas. Many of these animals are featured in Bowling’s second book, “24 Hours in Nowhere,” a story full of action, adventure, mystery, and humor. She even brought molted tarantula and snake skins for students to observe up close.
Bowling shared with her audience that her childhood was often difficult: she was an introvert, and her family experienced challenges such as poverty and addiction. She did not have much support at home, and she struggled with reading when she was younger. But once she learned to read, it became a comfort to her when she was lonely or needed an escape. She shared some of the titles of her favorite children’s books, including classics such as “Island of the Blue Dolphins” and “Anne of Green Gables,” and more contemporary titles such as “Ghost” by Jason Reynolds, “The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise” by Dan Gemeinhart, and “The Wild Robot” by Peter Brown. She also praised graphic novels as a valid reading choice, despite the negative opinion that some adults have regarding this comic-book-style format. In her opinion, any book that makes you fall in love with reading is a good book.
When she shared some writing tips to the students, Bowling stressed the importance of spending ample time as a reader to improve focus and creativity, two essential skills for writers. She recommended that students spend less time on their phones and more time reading books, since screen time decreases both attention span and creativity.
Bowling explained to students that she was rejected repeatedly while attempting to get her first novel published. After many rejections and over 100 revisions, her dream of becoming a published author was realized. She said that while it was difficult to hear criticism from agents and editors, she tried not to get discouraged and instead used the feedback to make her writing stronger. Bowling strongly believes it is better to try to accomplish what is in your heart and to fail than it is to have never tried at all. She also urged students to write about what they love, and their passion will shine through.
The presentation ended with a question and answer session and book signing.