Cover Reveal: IT HAPPENED ON SATURDAY by Sydney Dunlap
Hi everyone! It is such an honor to have a chance to introduce myself and my book, IT HAPPENED ON SATURDAY. This story began a long time ago when I was teaching elementary school in Virginia and used to flip through TV channels at night before going to sleep. One evening, I landed on a movie that showed disheveled, miserable kids, who looked the same age as my students, being cursed at and loaded up into the back of a large van, like they were animals. It was a fictional movie but based on a true incident, and I stayed up late, first because I watched it to the end, and second because once it was over, I couldn’t fall asleep. I began researching and learning as much as I could about human trafficking and knew that if something this horrible was happening while I was on this planet, I wanted to do everything I could to try to help stop it.
Not too long after that, my husband was transferred to the Houston area for his job, and I found out that Houston was a hub for child trafficking. I got involved right away, volunteering for various anti-trafficking organizations in the area. I served as a community educator for two years, which included presenting a monthly trafficking prevention program to girls in a juvenile detention center and helping connect trafficking victims with the services they needed.
When I learned that eleven-to-fourteen-year-olds are especially susceptible to being lured or forced into trafficking, I decided to write a novel that would be kid-friendly and age appropriate, while introducing this subject matter to young readers before or during the time they were most vulnerable to this happening to them. As a long-time SCBWI member and conference organizer,I’d been studying the craft of writing for years and knew this was a story I needed to tell. I created the character of Julia, a thirteen-year-old who is grappling with many issues kids her age face, as well as a tough situation not often addressed in literature for this age group.
Julia would much rather work with horses at the rescue barn than worry about things like dating and makeup. But when her BFF meets a boy at camp, Julia’s determined not to get left behind. After a makeover from her older sister, she posts a picture of herself online and gets a comment from Tyler—a seemingly nice kid who lives across town. As they DM more and more, Julia’s sure that Tyler understands her in a way her family never has. Even better, their relationship earns her tons of attention at school.
Then Julia finds out Tyler’s true plan, and her world is turned upside down. She fiercely guards her secret, but could her silence allow her friends to fall into the same trap?
And now to the cover . . . I’m very grateful to Emily Paik for her beautiful illustration. I’m also extremely appreciative of Meg Gaertner, my amazing editor, for letting me share my ideas for the cover concept. The cover reflects the decision the main character has to make. Julia loves animals, and the farm where she volunteers with rescue horses is a safe, happy place for her. After the struggles with her family and friends, and then the traumatic event she experiences, she must decide whether to continue to isolate herself or to own her truth and allow something good to come from what’s happened. The illustration shows Julia starting out in a dark place, but looking ahead through the open gate to an opportunity to follow a path. Her journey, if she chooses to take it, will be uphill with twists, but it can ultimately lead her toward hope and healing. Emily did such a wonderful job with light, color, and mood, and I absolutely love how she drew the horse that’s off in the distance too.
It’s my hope that readers will relate to Julia and root for her. And I hope they come away from the story with a sense of appreciation for the value of honesty and true friendship, as well as a growing awareness that will help them make the best possible decisions, especially as they go online or use social media.
Sydney Dunlap is a former elementary school teacher who has worked with at-risk youth in a variety of settings, and she enjoys reading and writing heartfelt, hopeful fiction that expands young readers’ awareness of tough topics. She is a published poet and has also written for a newspaper. A lifelong animal lover, Sydney lives with her family in a home where the dogs and cats outnumber the people. Her author website is currently under construction but you can find her online at https://linktr.ee/sydneydunlap.