The Mud Angels: How Students Saved the City of Florence by Karen M. Greenwald and Olga Lee

Happy Monday from Prague! I'm thrilled Karen M. Greenwald returned to Watch. Connect. Read. to finish my sentences. We discussed Florence, Olga Lee's illustrations, school libraries, research, and more. I wrote the words in purple, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Karen! 

The Mud Angels: How Students Saved The City of Florence
tells the story of the Arno River’s 1966 dramatic, surprise flood in Florence, Italy. After enormous waves crash into buildings, museums, centers of worship, homes, and other structures, they leave behind tons of smelly, viscous, oil-filled mud. Everywhere. Covering everything. A young narrator watches as students from the US and other countries courageously trek through dangerous filth to save Florence’s rarest treasures. Their destination is the Central Library of Florence, which houses a copy of every piece of Italian literature (including originals from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). The students are in a race against time (and mud) and the harsh journey is nowhere near as challenging as what awaits them.

A vast amount of my research is primary, based on hours-long conversations with Americans who were in Florence at the time of the flood. Their bravery, tenaciousness, and sense of camaraderie captivated me.

Olga Lee’s illustrations portray the turbulence of the flood and slimy, grimy, nature of its aftermath. Her foreshortening skill is compelling, pulling readers into the depths of each scene.

#SunWriteFun is an annual non-fiction/informational fiction summer writing contest I co-created with Jenny Buchet four years ago. The contest offers fun ways to engage with prize donors (from publishers, editors, and agents to award-winning authors and indie bookstores), judges, and other entrants. Several contestants have successfully used their entries to get agent offers and/or book deals!

Thanks to our annual support of a #kidlit charity, #SunWriteFun also gives entrants an opportunity to help economically challenged public and school libraries. However, donating is not required. 

School libraries are magic! More specifically, they’re essential guardians of history, art, culture, and every topic in-between. All children should have the opportunity to browse overflowing shelves (don’t forget “new book smell!”). That’s why helping libraries get new resources has long been a passion of mine. In March, I led a book drive in celebration of “Read Across America” and for #SunWriteFun ‘23, entrants and supporters donated new books to the Navajo Nation Library system. Combined, the drives resulted in around $3500 worth of new books donated!

Nonfiction picture books can be time machines to the past, windows to new worlds, or sources of insight for understanding different realities. They can build bridges, encourage curiosity, and inspire greatness. (Also, they’re fun to read!)

John Schu, you should have asked me if researching this book inspired me. The answer is YES! I have started studying Italian and hope to be able to chat with those I interviewed in the language they went to Florence to learn. It also led me to take a greater look at Italian cultural and art history. Fascinating!

Congratulations, Karen! 

Look for The Mud Angels: How Students Saved the City of Florence on April 4, 2024. Pre-order a copy from your favorite bookshop. 


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