Tiny Stitches-A Story Written by Gwendolyn Hooks
Gwendolyn Hooks started off as a high school teacher, and now as a professional writer she has a creative gene for writing nonfiction stories. She has written numerous stories for children to enjoy. However, Vivian Thomas’ story had a great impact on her writing.
Vivien Thomas’ unique life captured in the movie, Something the Lord Made, shows how he developed a surgical procedure that saved babies born with the heart defect, Tetralogy of Fallot. For Gwendolyn, writing about Vivien Thomas was a monumental task. Vivien’s achievement was monumental, yet unrecognized until nearly three decades later.
Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas is a picture book biography. Gwendolyn stated, “I wanted to tell Vivien’s story. I had to write so others could see what drove him to his great work. I let his persistence and determination shape the narrative story.”
In Tiny Stitches you learn how a high school educated young man became a critical and necessary scientist during the 20th century. Vivien learned carpentry at a young age and worked with his hands most of his life. When he graduated from high school, jobs were scarce. While he looked for one, he was invited to work in a research lab at Vanderbilt Medical School with Dr. Alfred Blalock. Vivien’s mind was so sharp that Dr. Blalock trained and supervised him to perform lab experiments. Vivian shined. Because of his skin color, he was not welcomed by everyone. In essence Vivien pushed through his difficulties but he was living two lives: He was as a black man living in a segregated community and he was another man where he provided great medical achievements for millions of people.
Vivian Thomas’ life had many ups and downs, and at first, Gwendolyn had to reassure herself that she could write his story. “My first thought was, “I can’t do this.” “I have never written a picture book biography before. I had to show his emotion and describe major parts of his career.” Gwendolyn wanted it to read like a story, not a list of facts. “Vivien’s story was close to my heart, but I had to convince myself, “Yes you can do this.” Gwendolyn was deeply affected when she traveled to a Washington D.C. conference in 2013. “I took a side trip to Baltimore and visited John Hopkins Hospital to see his portrait. On one wall is Dr. Blalock and opposite is Vivien. When I looked at his portrait, it was as if he was reassuring me. ‘I want you to write my story. So go home and do it.” Seeing Vivien’s image propelled her to finish Tiny Stitches.
“During my research, I learned that not all his colleagues appreciated his influence in the laboratory, but he overcame that.” She learned that, Vivien accomplished so much with so little, and his life should be an inspiration especially for young people. He started off as an apprentice and became a medical researcher at John Hopkins. Gwendolyn wants young readers to understand, “Vivien’s life was not an easy one, but he was motivated and persistent. Incorporate those traits and see what a difference your life can make in the world.”
An important premise within this story is that Vivien experienced unfairness and sacrificed much to make a life for himself and his family. Some of the medical staff who worked with Vivien did not value his research and looked down on him. Since he started off as a non-researcher, his learning did not mean much to some of the staff. Fortunately, he had the “grit” and determination to be the best. Gwendolyn illustrates the highs and lows of Vivien’s life when his mentor Dr. Blalock took recognition for Vivien’s success. “Whenever I heard someone else talk about the book, social injustice was a part of the conversation. Some of the things that he went through was hurtful, being called a janitor was hurtful, and earning less than white co-works was hurtful. When he wore a starched white jacket outside the lab, hospital staff frowned. If Dr. Blalock had a social party, Vivien was a bartender.”
An important highlight that Gwendolyn shows is Dr. Blalock needed Vivien. In the lab he and Dr. Blalock worked and discussed research projects for hours after work. Gwendolyn wondered, “Why didn’t he encourage Vivien to go to college? I think that without Vivien he would not had had as much success. Dr. Blalock was busy as chief of surgery and he assumed that he would not get another Vivien. Other doctors in the lab loaned Vivien medical textbooks. It almost felt like he was learning in school instead of a laboratory.” Despite the setbacks he faced, Vivian overcame so much so he could contribute the work in the laboratory.
What also makes this story so fun to read is the rich vocabulary such as pediatric, circulate, spirometer, and more. It needed the large words to make Vivian’s story as real as possible.
Gwendolyn wants all of the readers to learn something from Vivian’s story. She wants them to know that, “Sometimes you may have a dream to do something, accomplish something, or be a certain someone. There might be stumbling blocks along the way. Remember, Vivien did not become a doctor as he had hoped. Instead he became a researcher, saving the lives of thousands of kids today. It was not his first dream and it was slightly different. Always have your mind open to life’s possibilities. You may not be a famous basketball player, but there are millions of ways to lead a fulfilling life. This story can be a true mirror for a young person’s life. They may see themselves as the next Vivien Thomas. If not in a laboratory, then living an equally monumental life.
Learn more about Gwendolyn click here at http://GwendolynHooks.com
Follow her on Twitter: @Gwenthegweat