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April 28, 2015

Guest Post by Danica Davidson --- ESCAPE FROM THE OVERWORLD

Posted by Shara

What does a book starring a character from the video game Minecraft have to do with a nonprofit dedicated to empowering young women through the arts? Way more than you might think.

ESCAPE FROM THE OVERWORLD author Danica Davidson explains how she got involved with the program Saving Our Cinderellas below, and how even things as seemingly diverse as books and organizations can come together when they have the same values!

Curtis Benjamin is the CEO of Saving Our Daughters, a nonprofit that empowers young women and fights bullying. I write about social justice issues for MTV and we met after I wrote about actress/singer Keke Palmer helping out his organization. Now, a few years later, Keke has broken new ground by being the first African American Cinderella on Broadway.

Inspired by what Keke had done, Curtis started a project called Saving Our Cinderellas that brings the arts --- particularly singing and theater arts --- to young girls who may not have access to it, otherwise. It also has a special angle about bullying, because too often girls are bullied into not believing in themselves.

Furthermore, Curtis wanted to make sure that the participants get the mentorships they deserve, so he arranged for powerful women in Hollywood to come speak to them, including Keke Palmer (of course), Grace Gealey from “Empire”, Shanola Hampton from “Shameless” and Tika Sumpter from “The Haves and the Have Nots”. The curriculum is just getting started now and is happening in cities around the country, including Los Angeles and Atlanta. Perspective girls are matched up through their local Boys & Girls Clubs programs.

I was going to write about this for MTV News, and then Curtis got himself a copy of my new book, ESCAPE FROM THE OVERWORLD, where an 11-year-old Minecraft character named Stevie finds a portal into our world and befriends a bullied girl named Maison. They deal with real-world issues like Maison’s eighth grade bullies and her adjustments in middle school --- but then zombies also break through the portal and attack our world. The book has both high adventure and normal kid issues, and Stevie and Maison make a great team.

When writing ESCAPE FROM THE OVERWORLD,it was important for me to really give Maison the attention she deserved. Too often in video game or adventure franchises, girls aren’t there or they’re secondary characters who need saving. Maison will never need saving. She is articulate, athletic and dreams of someday being an architect.

Curtis wasn’t initially planning to include books in his curriculum, but after he read mine, he said, “We have to include this!” He wants his girls to read about an 11-year-old black-haired, olive-skinned heroine who fights zombies, shows she’s better than bullies and goes happily after her passions of baseball and building. The fact it’s tied into Minecraft, he says, makes it better because Minecraft is so big now with both boys and girls.

I was totally floored by the honor of having my book included in such an important program for girls. Whether through a book like ESCAPE FROM THE OVERWORLD (or the forthcoming ATTACK ON THE OVERWORLD, which stars Stevie and Maison and takes on the issue of cyberbullying) or a program like Saving Our Cinderellas, we can all take action to mentor young people through storytelling.

*Photo on left: Danica's dog posing with ESCAPE FROM THE OVERWORLD.
Photo on right: Grace Gealey at a Saving Our Cinderellas class.

Danica Davidson is a writer at MTV who has also contributed pieces for about fifty other publications, including The Onion, CNN, Publishers Weekly, the Los Angeles Times and Ms. Her work at MTV earned her a Webby honor with a small group of writers for Best Youth Writing. She is represented by the James Fitzgerald Agency and her website is