Award-winning author and BYU professor finds inspiration in the lives of others

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    By AMBER MEAGER

    His office is lined with books from floor to ceiling, showing the award-winning author’s passion for literature.

    Micahel Tunnell said the inspiration to write books comes from the books he has read, as well as the human spirit.

    Tunnell, a BYU children’s literature professor, has published seven children’s books during his career and has two more on the way.

    His next projects include a fractured fairy tale of Cinderella and a historical fiction book set in Nazi Germany about the Heubener group, three Mormon boys who mount a resistance against Hitler. Both are slated for completion in 2001, he said.

    “I am inspired by human beings and their lives. I like to write about the little people in history who solve the daily problems of living,” he said.

    Tunnell’s book “Mailing May,” which received several awards including an American Library Association Notable Award, is based on a little-known historic event, he said.

    “Mailing May” published in 1997 relates the true story of Charlotte May Pierstorff, who was mailed by parcel post to visit her grandmother in 1914, Tunnell said.

    Tunnell’s research for the story led him to the old post office where May was mailed. From there, Tunnell rode the entire railroad circuit to May’s grandmother’s house, he said.

    “It is important to know as much as you can about the background and the subject. I wanted to know where May stood and what the mountains looked like,” he said.

    His books have received numerous awards including the American Booksellers Pick of the Lists, the Children’s Choice Awards and the Carter G. Woodson Honor Book Award.

    The Carter G. Woodson Honor Book award is one of Tunnell’s most cherished awards. He received it for “Children of Topaz,” based on the diary of a third grade class of Japanese students in an internment camp in Topaz, Utah, during World War II, Tunnell said. The award goes to books that support minority perspectives.

    George Chilcoat, co-author of “Children of Topaz” and professor of social studies education at BYU said Tunnell’s passion, integrity and tenacity make him a great writer.

    “Mike has a great passion and a great love for the stuff he writes about. Writing ‘Children of Topaz’ was an opportunity to do something for a wonderful group of people,” Chilcoat said.

    But for Tunnell, the awards aren’t really what matter.

    “Every author wants an audience. I love getting letters from teachers and kids. Getting feedback is an important motivation for me,” Tunnell said.

    Janet Young, assistant professor in teacher education at BYU, said Tunnell’s work inspires her and her grandchildren.

    “His contribution to the broader field of children’s literature is considerable. I admire his ability to write literature,” Young said.

    Tunnell said he did not always want to be a teacher or a writer; however, he said he always had a passion for literature.

    Tunnell said the decision to pursue a teaching career came after walking into an elementary school shortly after his mission.

    “The second I walked through the school doors, I was flooded with the strangest feelings. I remembered my favorite books and my magical childhood years. The next day I changed my major to education,” Tunnell said.

    Tunnell said he has been teaching for the last 27 years and had his first children’s book published in 1993.

    Getting this book published was an euphoric experience especially after years of rejection from publishers, Tunnell said. Tunnell’s first novel was rejected by more than 20 publishers, he said.

    Tunnell, whose strong work ethics motivates him to read and write, said he advises others to read and to sample new ideas.

    “It is the key to living a full life. A person who reads can be more empathetic, informed and fulfilled. It is a mentally healthy endeavor,” Tunnell said.

    Teaching children’s literature at BYU gives him the opportunity to share his love for literature, Tunnell said.

    “Teaching helps me capture and hold on to my childhood to some degree, which is marvelous. I want to pass that on to my students,” he said.

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