About 18 months ago I read a book called My Orange Duffel Bag that instantly became one of my favorites. Part memoir, part personal development, the book was written by Sam Bracken and co-written and illustrated by Echo Garrett.
This was an odd little book to be sure. For one thing, the cover was made out of orange canvas. And it actually zipped shut like a duffel bag!
Another thing odd about this book was its brevity. It said so much with so few words. In fact, by the twentieth page, I knew the author's entire life story. (You'll have to see the unique approach the co-authors took to appreciate how they accomplished this.)
For this reason alone, My Orange Duffel Bag stands apart: Young people will actually read this book from beginning to end because it's so darn short and easy to read.
But way cooler than the duffel bag cover or the way Echo uses images to help Sam say so much with so little is the content itself. I was so moved by what Sam had to say, I burst into tears on page five. (We empaths are like that.)
I went and got a box of tissues and cried some more. Then I felt overjoyed. Because in this memoir, you aren't left feeling emotionally drained, but uplifted, as you cheer for the young man who made a choice that changed the course of his life forever.
And choice is what it's all about. Moment to moment, week to week, year to year. We make choices that either empower us and shift our direction or repeat more of the same old, same old.
Even cooler than that was what Echo told me yesterday: young people are actually reading this book and it's changing their lives — especially troubled youth. For many of these youths, it has become their most prized possession — even more important than their iPod. They are carrying it in their backpacks to school. They're reading it constantly as they go through rehab and overcome their addictions and age out of foster care, facing a tough set of choices as they try to create a good life with very little to go on. Choices like Sam had to make.
This book was self-published in 2010. And Random House picked it up. Yes, Random House. That's what can happen when your book gets its legs in the world.
My Orange Duffel Bag officially re-releases on Tuesday. So if you have a teen, pre-teen, you love positive vibes, you like supporting your local library, you've ever known a kid in trouble, you lost a kid to suicide or addiction or you just plain love good books that influence the world in a positive way like I do, I encourage you to read a little more about this book — and maybe even buy a copy.
When you unzip the cover (yes, you'll actually unzip it!), have some tissues handy. (It won't take you long to read.) Then, for goodness sake, when you're done, give it away. (I gave mine away a few months ago to Alexis Neely, who I know will pass it along to someone when she's done, too.)
By the way, check out the awards this book garnered so far as a self-published book:
2011 Outstanding Book of the Year in Young Adult/Children's from the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the first self-published book in the organization's 60-year history to win an award.
2011 Merit Award for Editorial Design from HOW Magazine
2011 Benjamin Franklin Book Award Silver Medalist in both Self Help and Juvenile/Young Adult Nonfiction categories from the Independent Book Publishers Association
2011 IPPY Gold Medal from Independent Publishers Book Awards for Most Outstanding Design out of 4,000 entries from 14 countries
2011 National Indie Excellence Book Awards Winner in these two categories: New Non-Fiction and Young Adult Non-Fiction
This is the kind of book that needs to circulate and reach the person who is longing for its message, not sit on a shelf gathering dust.
Even if it IS the only book you'll ever own made out of an orange duffel bag that you zip shut when you're through.