Saturday, February 16, 2013

Writing Begins at Home

Today I was fortunate to hear Dori Hillestad Butler, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, and Carol Gorman speak about experiences from their lives that they have managed to turn into stories for young readers.  Each of these three was a panelist in a forum at the Marion (Iowa) Public Library.  Writing Begins at Home: Turning Your Personal Experiences Into Stories was just one of four panels that was part of Celebrate Writing @ MPL -- the library's Author Fair was held February 16, 2013.  Hopefully this will become an annual event.

 Dori spoke about a concept Jerry Spinnelli shared with her while he was at her mentor during a week-long Highlights writing workshop.  He asked her to write 10 things she was passionate about (in sixty seconds).  She did and then he suggested that she never write about anything but one of those ten things.  Write what you are passionate about.
 Dori loves animals and during a time that one of her pets (an older dog) was nearing the end of his life, and her older son was about ready to begin his life away from home (and across the country), she began to think about what was to come.  Then she began to learn about therapy dogs, specifically those that read with children.  That seemed to the focus Dori wanted but she had to convince her husband that their household could go from a two pet household to a three pet household as she would need a dog that was young enough, and liked children enough to be trained as a therapy dog.  Eventually "Mouse" came to their house
That episode in her life is part of the seed that became the first book The Case of the Lost Boy that was the first in her Buddy Files series. The series, published by Albert A. Whitman is a best-selling series which is very popular with 2nd-4th grade readers.  Another series by Butler, is coming in 2014. The first book is now scheduled for release, by Grosset and Dunlap, during the summer of 2014. The Haunted Library series will feature a misfit ghost boy and a misfit human girl who come together to solve mysteries.
 Jacqueline Briggs Martin often draws on her connections and research when she writes books.  When her first grandchild was born, he lived in California and Jackie was in Iowa.  She wanted to visit him and especially was interested in his enjoyment of blue grass music.

So Jackie imagined that she stepped out of the door and with her own banjo case and a little magic that the granny in the story would have (but Jackie did not), she would manage to go over prairies, through the mountains and so forth until she reached her grandson.

 The book, Banjo Granny,  that resulted was co-authored by Sarah Martin Busse, Jackie's daughter and the grandson's mother.

She had brought a large photo of the grandson who was the inspiration for Banjo Granny.

 She had also brought a picture of one of her aunts who had The Finest Horse in Town.  This aunt along with another aunt owned a dry good store in a small town in Maine where Jackie grew up.  She researched the history of her aunts — and was able to talk to an old watchmaker in town who had known her aunts.  She augmented those facts with some stories that she imagined might have happened.  Combined with what "the old watchmaker told her" Jackie fashioned a story about the aunts and the finest horse in town.

Carol Gorman shared about her growing up in Iowa City and having a classmate who disappeared each day down a small sized door and into a maze of tunnels underneath the school in order to avoid going to class.

Later she was able to use that episode in a book and although in real life the door was locked shut after the administrators heard Carol and her classmate talking beneath the classrooms; in the book—since writers can change facts to fit their story, Carol was able to have the door locked but the protagonist managed to find an alternate way into the tunnels and was able to continue using the tunnel as an escape refuge.

Interesting tidbits from the lives of authors that made their way into the pages of the very popular books they write.

L-R: Dori Hillestad Butler, Jacqueline Briggs Martin,
Carol Gorman
During author visits each of these writers are able to share more background for how they use their own experiences, information gleaned (and researched) from many sources, and their imagination to construct books for young readers.

Anyone planning a major children's literature conference or just wanting to have an inspiring author/illustrator visit your school/community for a day with readers might wish to invite anyone of these three authors.
Each of them speak to many age groups with great success.  If you are interested in inviting Jackie, or Carol  to your school or library -- for an author appearance please contact us at McBookwords.
McBookwords has a dozen or more authors that speak with young readers.  If you would like to investigate having an author visit your school or library -- for an author appearance please contact us at McBookwords.  Each of these authors often speak  in schools with young readers, and at all types of groups that are interested in literacy and  books.