Why I Write Children’s Books
When I was ten and adults asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “Writer-detective-veterinarian-artist.” Secretly, I really wanted to be a ballet dancer. But I lived in the country, where dance classes might as well have been held on the moon.
While other kids played kickball and softball in the summer, I slopped hogs and swatted gnats in our hot 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 had sidewalks to ride their bikes on.
I wrote my first book at age seven. I’d read all the books on the second-grade shelf in our tiny school library. One day on the bus home, I took out a sheet of notebook 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 star because I wanted to have adventures and solve mysteries, which 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 McDonald’s, 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 at McDonald’s in those days) put five splats of mustard and catsup on my hamburger with a nifty device, then settled down to eat and read in the back seat of our car.
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 claimed I was bossy. The mysteries I made up for us to solve were ridiculous. It was tough running a detective agency in the sticks! As time passed, I realized I couldn’t stand the sight of blood, so that ruled out being a veterinarian. Detectives kept late hours on stake-outs and I couldn’t stay awake past nine o’clock. Art was okay, but 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 roaming the children’s room of the public library, drawing glares from kids who thought I should be in the grown-up section. 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 ride a bike until I was 12 (this was before digital clocks and let them try to ride in a field). Also, because I carried around a stuffed elephant long past the age where it was okay.
Today Ellsworth sits in my office. She’s been a character in many of my books. Not bad for an old stuffed animal. Like Ellsworth, I’ve lost some of my stuffing and my fur (hair) is thinner. Yet I’ve written more than 150 books and I can finally tie my shoes!