Hello, I'm Elle Thornton, and I'm glad you are visiting. I grew up on military bases in the South and West, a background that is reflected in my first novel, The Girl Who Swam to Atlantis. In this award-winning novel, the murdered youth Emmett Till comes to life in twelve-year-old Gabriella's heart when an African-American Marine teaches her to swim in a North Carolina river. The year is 1957, two years after Emmett's brutal death at the hands of savage racists in the segregated South. The book is set on a Marine base.
The Military Writers Society of America awarded the book a Bronze Medal for YA historical fiction. The Florida Writers Association recognized it with a First Place Royal Palm Literary award.
In writing the book I discovered that a surprising number of people from all backgrounds and ages do not know the name Emmett Till. Yet Emmett's murder helped bring to life the Civil Rights movement. When she refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, AL, in December of 1955, Rosa Parks, the mother of the Civil Rights movement, said she was thinking of Emmett. Despite progress, racism is still a part of our lives. Emmett's story should be told in grade schools so that our children understand the destructive evil that is racism: the view that human beings who are perceived as in some way different are dangerous 'others.'
Fiction for young people involving military history is another area that I believe deserves far more attention. Because of their isolation from the community outside the fortress, military bases present unique challenges for our young people, the sons and daughters of warriors, who are trying to connect with the larger world.
Here are some of the fine works available about Emmett Till:
Crowe, Chris. Getting Away With Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case. New York: Dial, 2003.
Crowe, Chris. Mississippi Trial, 1955. New York: Speak, 2003.
McFadden, Bernice L. Gathering of Waters. New York: Akashic Books, 2012.
Nelson, Marilyn. A Wreath for Emmett Till. Boston: Houghton, 2005.
Nordan, Lewis. Wolf Whistle. New York: Algonquin, 2003.
Till-Mobley, Mamie, and Christopher Benson. Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America. New York: Random, 2003.
The Murder of Emmett Till
"American Experience: The Murder of Emmett Till." DVD Dir. Stanley Nelson. Public Broadcasting System (PBS). WGBH. 2003.
"The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till." Dir. Keith A. Beauchamp. Thinkfilm. Videodisc. 2005.
I only knew Emmett's name from the Bob Dylan song "Ballad of Emmett Till," until one of my students in a university writing class, a young woman from Chicago, asked if I knew his story. Something in her eyes and voice told me I needed to learn far more than what I knew at the time. What I learned and my earlier training prepared me to write about him in the context of growing up on Marine bases. I am grateful to say that because of my student I have come to know Emmett's story in a way that has changed and enriched my life.
In addition to teaching university freshman how to write term papers, I have worked as a newspaper and television reporter and technical writer. My poetry has been published in The Connecticut River Review and The Concho River Review.