Once, a girl read a lot of books and wrote stories and drew pictures and
wanted to be a writer. At fifteen, the same age as Sleeping Beauty when she
pricked her finger on the hidden spindle, this girl decided to write children’s
books. She told her mother she needed a typewriter to be a better secretary
(her mother’s prophesy was that her daughter would need a real job when/in
case her daughter’s husband walked out, leaving her with two kids and no
money). The girl bought a manual typewriter from Montgomery Ward for the
princely sum of $119.
That summer she wrote her first children’s novel, “The Mystery of Miller’s
Forks.” She had a Persian cat named Boogers who lay on her desk. Some-
times the girl’s fingers flew so fast, she hit the return and grabbed the cat’s
tail at the same time, a flurry of fur and papers. At night, she read children’s
books from the library. She loved her future so much she couldn’t wait for it.
When school started, she mailed her mystery novel to Harper & Row.
Months passed. The girl wondered what was taking so long. A thorny post
office strike was delaying her acceptance and check! In December, her
original story came back with tire tracks on the envelope. The Harper &
Row editors thought her book was so bad, they ran a car over it.
But the girl had another idea. She wrote a picture book called “Seymour
and the Christmas Toys” and illustrated it with green, red, and blue ink
pens. Off “Seymour” went to Albert Whitman. Back “Seymour” came flying.
Still, the girl was not daunted. She would become a writer of children’s
books. Even when she couldn’t go to college. Even when she became a
secretary (surly but efficient). She just knew her dream would come true.
Now that girl–me–is 70 years old, a crone by fairy tale standards. I’ve
published 175 books for children (HarperCollins published The Big Green
Pocketbook, still in print after 30 years; and Albert Whitman co-published
18 of my Boxcar Children books). After 40 years working in the field of
children’s books, plus 10 years learning the craft, I feel surrounded by a
It began in November 2020 with my first bout of Covid. As a long-hauler,
I worked hard to get my life back, piece by piece. I regained dexterity in my
fingers by putting together children’s puzzles. I walked in our cul-de-sac with
a trekking pole. I bought a girl’s cruiser bike and taught myself to ride to
improve my balance. I was terrible! If I saw a car coming 50 blocks away, I
threw the bike and myself into the ditch!
After that came my second round of Covid (vaxxed, boosted, and masked),
as devastating as the first. Long-hauling worsened, but finally ended Decem-
ber 2021. 2022 brought no relief with my sister’s returning cancer (I was one
of her caregivers), my hospitalization two days after her death in September,
my husband’s fall in December, followed by three months helping him walk
again. Weeks of driving to daily appointments. Weeks of throwing rotisserie
chicken and Bob Evans mashed potatoes on the supper table. Weeks of
ignoring the house (months, really).
During these years, I worked on a novel. The novel of my heart, a fairy tale
about two sisters. I loved every minute I was in this fictional setting and hoped
one day children would want to find this place. The novel gave me something
to hang onto as I lurched from one bad thing to another. I hoped it would save
my sister. It didn’t.
The book was acquired. I finished the sixth draft (total from late 2021) the
day before my cardiac ablation. The procedure was no walk in the park. I was
led to believe I’d be back at work–house, yard, writing–on the third day. It’s
been two and a half weeks and I still have trouble putting one foot in front of
the other. I have mild pericarditis, inflammation around the heart lining, which
causes fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches, and chills. I feel I’ve been a
carthorse these past two and a half years, plodding every single day.
Last night, just before I went to sleep, I remembered that girl who so loved
the field of children’s books. How I long to have her enthusiasm again, the
kind of joy I experienced at the beginning as a writer. I have ideas but I
shove them away due to lack of energy and confidence. I still want to con-
tribute to the field I’ve devoted my life to.
I just need to find a way through the thorns.