Why I Write Children’s Books
When I was ten and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I replied confidently, “Writer-detective-vet-artist.” Secretly, I really wanted to be a ballet dancer. But I lived in the country, where dance lessons might as well have been held on the moon, and I was stiffer than “forty boards,” as my mother joked.
While other kids played kickball and baseball, I slopped hogs and swatted gnats in our hot, buggy garden. I hiked in our woods and could name every bird by its song and every tree by its bark, yet I was feverishly jealous of my town cousins, who didn’t have to slop hogs and who had sidewalks to ride their bikes on.
Out of desperation, I wrote my first book at age seven. I had read all the books on the second-grade shelves in our tiny school library. One day on the bus ride home, I took out a sheet of paper and wrote the immortal sentence, “It was dark.” My career as a writer was launched.
I scribbled in my spare time and even when I was supposed to be doing school work. In my stories, I was the hero because I wanted to have adventures and solve mysteries, which were in short supply in Centreville, Virginia.
I gobbled mystery books like potato chips. One of my fondest memories was the time I bought a new Trixie Belden mystery (59 cents!), then went to McDonalds, a rare treat (hamburger 15 cents, French fries 10 cents, Coke 10 cents!). Back then you had to eat in the car. I watched the young man (no female workers in those days) put five splats of mustard and catsup on my hamburger with a nifty device, then settled down to read in the back seat.
Like Trixie Belden, I craved to be in a club with a close band of friends. I began a zillion clubs, electing myself president, with one or two members who were forever defecting because they said I was bossy. (I was not!) The mysteries I made up for my cousins were ridiculously transparent. It was tough running a detective agency in the sticks! As time passed, I realized I couldn’t stand the sight of blood, so I couldn’t be a vet. Detectives kept late hours on stake-outs and I needed my beauty sleep. Art was okay, but I liked writing best.
When I was a teenager, I thought about becoming a writer of children’s books but believed all children’s writers were dead. I was still frequenting the children’s room in our public library, drawing dirty looks from kids who thought I should be in my own section of the library. My high school English teacher assured me that not only were children’s books written by living people, but I could do it, too.
And so I did, because I loved children’s stories and because my relatives told my mother I wouldn’t amount to anything. This prediction sprang from the fact I couldn’t tie my shoes or roller skate until I was 12 (let them try roller skating in a field) and because I carried around a grubby stuffed elephant long past the age where I was okay to play with baby toys.
Today the stuffed elephant sits in my office. Ellsworth is a character in my series, Time Spies, and stars in her own blog. Not bad for a grubby stuffed animal. Like Ellsworth, I’ve lost some of my stuffing and my fur (hair) is thinner. But we showed ’em. I’ve written more than 100 books and I can tie my shoes!
Every day I get up early, feed my husband and our three cats (not the same things), then hit the computer. Sometimes literally. Like going to school, writing is hard. For fun, I take Jazzercise classes and am a scrapbooker.
Many of my books are set in Virginia, where my family has lived for generations. As a kid I loved the country (except for the gnats) and I loved to hear my relatives talk about their childhoods in the haunting Blue Ridge Mountains, the lush Shenandoah Valley, and the historic Piedmont.
Today I make my home in Fredericksburg. It’s a privilege to walk the same streets where Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Robert E. Lee thought their mighty thoughts. My thoughts aren’t nearly as lofty, but I hope my stories are lively.
I’ll be a writer forever because it’s fun, it pays the bills, and I can’t do anything else. (George Washington couldn’t roller skate either!)