Teaching was my first passion. Even before I went to school, I played teacher with all who would study under me. And then I became a real teacher… teaching 4th grade for 35 years. Almost as soon as I began teaching, I started my Masters’ Degree in reading and language. I also took many workshops introducing me to new picture books. It seemed every title fit my curriculum. There were books on desserts, multiplication, parts of speech, and on and on. My personal library sprouted. My requests for my school librarian’s future purchases bloomed. The piles of books the librarian consistently carried to my room became fodder for jokes. Who knew I was starting to do the work of an author….read, read, and read in your genre.
I also took many writing classes from poetry to incorporating writing workshops into my lessons. I applied for and was granted a half-year sabbatical, taking more writing courses and traveling to observe teachers who integrated the Lucy Calkins writing project philosophy. But in all that time, I never had an ounce of interest in writing for children myself. I found writing a challenge. I was traumatized by my 7th-grade report on chicks. I cried and cried trying to organize my index cards to write that paper. Writing did not come easily to me. I truly believe that I did not choose writing. Writing chose me. Like an out-of-body experience is how I describe it. The summer after I turned fifty, I left my sweet spot on the beach and walked, in a zombie-like fashion, to get post-its and a pencil to begin my first book. I don’t know why it happened that day, but writing snuck into my heart and head. The timing was perfect. I was nearing the end of my teaching career. Goodness, I never would have had time for writing when I was younger! Teaching consumed me. Raising a child and life filled in all my extra time.
With my daughter grown, I had the time to explore this new path. And it meshed with my teaching so well. I shared manuscripts with my students. They saw me as a writer and I believe it inspired them. Until I started writing myself, I didn’t understand why some children teared up when I gave suggestions about their writing. After my first critique group meeting, I got it. Becoming a writer made me a better teacher. I had compassion and real life experience. I told them how others’ suggestions made my stories better. I joined multiple critique groups. I asked for students’ advice on my work. I shared my rejections. And before I retired, my first book, Where Am I Sleeping Tonight? (A Story of Divorce), Boulden Publishers, 2008, entered the world.
I had felt my students’ pain of going through their parents’ divorce–so many of my students experienced this, through the years. This shared-custody story was inspired by a former fourth grader. My first signing was full of students, parents and teachers, crowding around me, as if I were in a cocoon. I reflect on that joyful evening often.
In retirement I have more time to write and promote. More time to submit and collect rejections (about 1600 at this point). More time alone. But with each picture book I write, I continue to think like a teacher. What follow-up activity can I do? Will this story touch lives? Will it model beautiful language and strong verbs? I’ve been blessed to get a few more acceptances…subjects with a teacher’s heart at their core…organization, gratitude, book genres (in an e-book for an educational publisher). And now I’m able to do Skype and school visits, allowing me to still have a hand in teaching.
The English version, You Know What? came out September 2017.
The Korean translation came out in 2019. Arabic and Chinese translations are expected to publish soon.
I felt myself transitioning away from my teaching self in this book. It is geared towards younger children and deals with a child trying to postpone his bedtime. But then, when the art director wanted me to think about changing the final page to the previous spread, I couldn’t do it. I knew that last page invited readers to imagine what the open-ended “You know what?” might mean…what Oliver might say next. I had already designed the sheet to go with it so that children could write and draw their own final page.You can see the book trailer here.
I persevere through the rejections, isolation, constant waiting, self-doubt, and disappointments that inevitably come with a writing life. It is very different from the daily immediacy and human contact experienced in the classroom. But I am so grateful for the #kidlit community…like SCBWI, Nerdybook Club, critique groups, and my readers here at this blog. My focus on all things education has shifted more and more to living and breathing writing, words, books and all things #kidlit. Yet when I do classroom presentations or Skype visits…my teaching-self emerges with great enthusiasm. I believe my true passion now lies in the perfect blending of teaching with writing. And my newest book, showing the many ways a father can look, both inside and out, Some Daddies, will be out in 2021 with Beaming Books.
And I’ve already prepared some follow-up activities!