The newest American Girl to make her debut this month may be a Detroit native, but she has roots in Natchitoches. The latest historical BeForever doll is based on a character created by author Denise Lewis Patrick, a Northwestern State University graduate, and focuses on Melody Ellison, a 9-year-old African American girl growing up in Detroit in 1964 against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement and the Motown music scene. Melody was introduced in February and her full collection will be released Aug. 26. Melody’s story is told in the doll’s accompanying books, “No Ordinary Sound” and “Never Stop Singing” by Patrick.
Patrick is a freelance writer, editor, instructor and literary consultant who has authored books of poetry, short stories, picture and board books for children, non-fiction biographies, middle grade novels and a young adult novel. She lives in New York City and teaches writing and critical thinking at Nyack College. Her previous successful historical fiction series focusing on the American Girl character Cecile Rey exposed the Creole culture of Louisiana to a broad audience through the popular doll and accompanying books.
Patrick’s new character, Melody, is a singer who loves to perform at church and in her community. As Melody gains more awareness of racial inequality and her sense of community grows from her extended family to include her neighborhood and, ultimately, all African Americans, she is inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to lift her voice for fairness and equality. The story is intended to engage, entertain and educate by helping youngsters connect with a piece of American history. Melody’s story was researched and formed with input from an advisory board to ensure the story was accurate, sensitive and hopeful. In the story, Melody’s family has roots in Alabama and Patrick said some aspects of the story were lifted from her own life as an African American growing up in Natchitoches in the 1960s.
“Anytime I write anything, there are elements from my own experience that trickle in there,” she said. “There are things in the way her family interacts and the fact that she has extended family. They talk and the kids are involved in the conversation. I didn’t grow up in a home where kids were excluded from asking questions. We were aware of what was happening in the nation and could talk about it.”
Patrick loves historical fiction but when she began her first collaboration with American Girl, she was a bit surprised by the subculture surrounding the dolls.
“I don’t have daughters. I have four sons, so I thought ‘This is interesting but so different from the stuff going on in my house at the time,’” she said.
Patrick earned a degree in journalism at Northwestern State in 1977 and a master’s in creative writing from the University of New Orleans. She has written narratives for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center exhibition, published a review in the New York Times and has written sections for Fodor’s Travel Guides to New York City. She has also worked as an editor for Scholastic, Inc., as well as several other publishing companies and teaches intermediate writing at Nyack College.
Patrick was lauded by the African American Academy of Arts and Letters for Children’s Book of the Year, was a runner-up for the Lamplighter Award by the National Christian School Association and has had two books listed as Best Books for the Teenager by the New York Public Library. She has served on the advisory board for the Books for Kids Foundation, as a mentor for an afterschool writing club, as a writer’s coach and as an elementary school reading volunteer.
She was inducted into Northwestern State University’s Alumni Hall of Distinction, the Long Purple Line, in 2014.
Currently, Patrick is working on two collections of adult short stories, one that addresses current events and the Black Lives Matter movement and another based on a class reunion, inspired by Patrick’s most recent visit to Natchitoches in July for her mother’s Central High School reunion.
For more information, visit her website at deniselewispatrick.com