Before I read this book written by Dano Moreno and illustrated by Hannah Abbo, I associated the name Ryan White with tragedy. A teen who was diagnosed with AIDS after a blood transfusion, Ryan was told he had six months to live AND THEN he had to face discrimination from his community and the education system. But Dano's book reminded me that Ryan lived five years longer than expected and he chose to use that time to educate others about the disease because "the more people knew, the less they feared." Since reading this biography about the young activist, I now equate Ryan White's name with hope—hope that his legacy lives on, inspiring young people to fight fear with facts.
Today Dano Moreno discusses how he tackled a tough subject while honoring a young hero in Hope for Ryan White.
Ryan White's life was too short—passing away at 18 years old. How did you turn such a sad subject into an uplifting children's book?
I kept young readers in mind as I wrote Hope for Ryan White, and I focused on Ryan's life—which was short, but heroic. Ryan knew that if he was kept out of school for having AIDS, others would be too. This motivated him to become an advocate and a public figure, educating and inspiring people all over the world. My goal was to amplify Ryan's voice and remind young people that we all have the ability to create a more inclusive world.
While researching this book, which fact surprised you the most?
I enjoyed learning about the White family's friendship with Sir Elton John. I also loved learning about Jill Stewart, the student body president at Ryan's high school. She played a pivotal role in ensuring Ryan would be welcome at his new school and in the broader community.
Was there one aspect of Ryan life—a specific scene, quote, or image—that guided you as you wrote this biography?
Yes! There's a photo of Ryan that came to mind many times while I wrote. It shows Ryan speaking with the media. He's happy, confident, and surrounded by adults with microphones who are eager to hear what he has to say. I love this image because the traditional power dynamic between children and adults is flipped. This photo also inspired the cover of Hope for Ryan White, illustrated by Hannah Abbo.
Why do you think kids can relate to Hope for Ryan White?
Ryan's story is about the need to be accepted, heard, and treated fairly. It's about challenging misinformation and discrimination. These are relevant themes for kids today.
Which sources were invaluable to writing this biography?
My primary source was Ryan White's autobiography, Ryan White: My Own Story, coauthored by Ryan White and Ann Marie Cunningham. I read old news articles and watched interviews with Ryan and his mother too.
How did you choose the title for this book—was it your working title or did it change over time?
I landed on Hope for Ryan White as the title early on. Though I revised the story countless times, I knew I wanted to convey a sense of hope in both the title and the story. Hope is a common and important element in children's books. They're wonderful tools for opening up conversations about difficult but important topics.
What's your #1 tip for writing true stories?
The main character's emotional journey is just as important as the events that occurred. We're better able to learn from our history and our heroes when we connect with their humanity.
If you could pick the ideal place for a Hope for Ryan White storywalk, where would it be?
I'd love to see a Hope for Ryan White storywalk anywhere! If I had to suggest one place, I'd choose a park in Cicero, Indiana—the town where Ryan found acceptance.
What other books would you recommend to readers who love Hope for Ryan White?
Two of my favorite picture books that address challenging topics with hope and sensitivity are That Flag by Tameka Fryer Brown and Nikkolas Smith and Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd and Christian Robinson.
True Story Tidbits
Inspiring and educational, this book is on two shelves in my TrueStory Bookshop:
To take a peek inside the book, checkout my BookTok.
Every day is a good day for a true story but here are some special tie-in dates for Hope for Ryan White:
- August 18 (1990): Congress passed the Ryan White CARE Act, creating programs that provide health care for people living with HIV.
- December 1: World AIDS Day—unite in the fight against HIV, show support for people living with HIV, and commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness.
- December 6 (1971): Ryan White's birthday