News and Events
May 2024

Foreword to “When Duty Calls”

When Duty Calls cover in burst graphic

Get a sneak peek at reporter and author Kat Chow‘s foreword for When Duty Calls, the latest book from 826DC’s Young Authors’ Book Project!

Kat Chow
Kat Chow (Photo by Ariel Zambelich)

Kat Chow is a reporter, writer, and the author of Seeing Ghosts: A Memoir, which was named a Notable Book by The New York Times. She was a reporter at NPR, where she was a founding member of the Code Switch team and podcast. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, New York Magazine’s The Cut and on Radiolab, among others. She is a lecturer in the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Foreword to When Duty Calls

A warrior is someone who goes into battle and is an experienced fighter. A hero is someone who carries out special deeds, usually in the name of justice. Both a warrior and a hero are brave.

The sixth graders from Brookland Middle School who are a part of 826DC’s Young Authors Book Project have also considered what makes a warrior and a hero. They’re the real experts. They’ve brought to life their own versions of these archetypes in their short stories in When Duty Calls.

There are stories about evil soccer coaches. Parents who are more than they appear to be. Classmates who are bullies. Protagonists who must find and defeat villains, and in the process, are pulled back into painful memories that they also must overcome.

In “The Fire In My Heart,” Kaiya writes about a character’s outward and personal struggle as she searches for a mysterious killer, Mr. X: “I headed out of the school to start my mission,” Kaiya wrote. “I walk through the rotting neighborhood my grandparents used to live in before they died.

Then I see a faint orange light. My curiosity takes over and I walk in the direction of the strange glow … it is a house fire. It reminds me of so much.”

In Jonathan’s story, “Soccer Hero,” he writes with great suspense about the moment his main character realizes his soccer coach isn’t who he thought. “The next day I realized my coach kicked me for no reason—” Jonathan wrote. “When I was talking to him he didn’t seem normal with his hands, feet, and head being big. Then I searched in a book about that and realized my coach was an evil giant!!!”

In Jaden’s story, “Unstoppable,” a dynamic fight scene breaks out: “His robotic mask looked at me causing me to back away a bit, giving him distance. I saw his gloves charging up to hit me but as soon as he tried to strike me with a punch, I dodged it. Then I struck back with a powerful punch to the chest making him fly back. But he got up quickly, landing a strike on me that sent me flying into a building, causing it to fall down.”

What these stories have in common is that they feature warriors or heroes who are striving to right certain wrongs—to shape their imagined worlds into better places. Combating adversity, drawing on our strengths to follow our values and champion what we believe is important—that’s what makes a warrior and a hero.

Writing often is a solitary, bewildering act that requires a big leap of faith. Bravery, even. It’s the process of taking something that lives only in your head—the strange, the mystical, the powerful—and finding the words to illustrate that feeling or idea or character. Sometimes, we write about difficult topics that reflect our lives. Sometimes, we create characters who are fighting against issues that we, too, fight against in our everyday. To create these stories, these students dove into their writing processes, which included drafting character profiles and conflict descriptions; writing the stories themselves; and finally, reflecting on what their stories meant to them.

When we finish a writing project, we take what we’ve labored over for hours and days and weeks, and give it to someone else so that they too can hold what we’ve created. This sharing—that’s in part what makes writing so powerful and transformative.

So now, I’m thrilled to share with you what these exceptional, creative authors have made. Congratulations to these writers for creating such rich worlds and adventures. Reading When Duty Calls, I’m reminded of the great power of young imaginations and I applaud how each of these writers has shown us through their stories how they too are warriors and heroes.

When Duty Calls

When Duty Calls is now available for preorder.

You can buy the book for $20 each at 826DC’s shop, Tivoli’s Astounding Magic Supply Company! Your purchase will support all of 826DC’s free youth writing programs, including the Young Authors’ Book Project.

Orders will ship in late June/early July, after the young authors get their copies.

Come hear the authors read their work!

These sixth-graders will be some of the readers at the upcoming Young Writer Showcase, a free, all-ages celebration of young storytellers. Everyone’s invited to join us downtown at the MLK Library from 4 PM to 6 PM on Wednesday, June 12th. Past, current, and (hopefully) future 826DC students will share their writing with the community! We’ll also get to learn from some of them on a special craft panel.

All DC students ages 6-18 (and 826DC alumni) are welcome to share their writing, in any language. Each reader will have up to five minutes to share stories, essays, poems, scripts, lyrics, speeches, spoken word, work in progress, and more.