WRITERS AT WORK: Loving Libraries, Part 5

Hi everyone,

As Sandy Asher and I have discussed, there being five Tuesdays this month gives us a chance to add a 5th post to the November WRITERS AT WORK series, “Loving Libraries.” We’ve invited blog visitors to pitch in some of their own experiences and we’re delighted to feature them today. With thanks to our contributors, here we go.
Although my first real job (not counting babysitting) as a teen was working Saturdays at the county library, my big library experience started when I was a mother and took my boys to story hour on Wednesday mornings. Of course, the other mothers were readers or they wouldn’t have corralled their kids and hauled them to story hour. Through three moves to three different towns, I took the boys to story hour. In each library, I met women who became lifelong friends.

Veda Boyd Jones
New ebooks:
The Ranger’s Christmas Treasure
That Sunday Afternoon
Hey, David and Sandy — here’s my library story:

Back in my days as a children’s librarian, a girl about 12 asked me if the library had a copy of The Jellyfish Season. As I led her to the shelf, I wondered if I should tell her I wrote it. I handed it to her, took a deep breath, and asked her if she knew it was my book. Looking me in the eye, she said, “I thought it was the library’s book.” Already sensing I’d made a mistake, I told her I meant I’d written it. She stared at my library name tag and said, “Your name is Mary Jacob. The writer’s name is Mary Downing Hahn.” She held up the book and pointed to my name on the cover. “Well, yes,” I said, “but I remarried and my last name changed to Jacob.” Giving me a look that clearly said she wasn’t born yesterday, the girl walked away, leaving me to wonder why I felt compelled to tell a 12 year old stranger my marital history. After that, I never told any kids I was the writer of a book they’d chosen. This turned out to be good decision the day a boy asked about Wait Till Helen Comes. When I started to tell him the plot, he said, “Oh, yeah, I read this book, but you’ve got it all wrong.” As I stood there listening to him tell me about my own book, I was very glad my name tag said Mary Jacob.
Mary Downing Hahn

I have been involved with the Baxter County Library (1999-2016), then continued when the new Donald W. Reynolds Library was built in Mountain Home, Arkansas. I was a member of the Friends of the Library (FOL), hostess, and served as a board member. I have helped for several years with the FOL yearly auction, book sales, as a volunteer elsewhere when needed, helped bring authors and illustrators in the children’s library, and sometimes performed as photographer. The library supported my different writers groups and the yearly “Holiday Authors Book Sale.” I have spent a lot of time at this library and if I had my way I would live at it and be one happy camper.

Mary Nida Smith

I was visiting a school in Evansville, IN and a little boy was crying outside the library. When I asked the librarian what was wrong she told me he was upset because Eddie, Melody, Liza, and Howie were not visiting. He had been expecting the characters from the Bailey School Kids series-not one of the authors. It really brought home to me how beloved story characters can be and how important our stories can be to children.

Debbie Dadey
Debbie Dadey is the author and co-author of 162 books, including The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids series and Mermaid Tales

Our thanks again to today’s contributors to WRITERS AT WORK. Sandy will add your post to our ongoing and growing portfolio so be sure to look for this series and all the previous Writers at Work conversations at http://usawrites4kids.blogpost.com.

All the best,


Back in the wheel

Hi everyone,

New York was as New York as ever. We checked into our room at the Marriott at noon on Wednesday and by 2:00 we’d already bought tickets, caught a taxi, and made it to the matinee performance of THE KING AND I at the Lincoln Center, two minutes before curtain. As many times as we’ve seen the play, we were delighted with this latest production. That set the pace for what was to come.

Thursday I had productive visits with several editors and came away, as I always do, with good ideas and updated insights into the current market. That night we saw FUN HOME, a beautifully written and performed drama that keeps you teetering between laughing and swallowing hard.

The Pope was in town, United Nations was in session, enormous numbers of NYC’s 34,500 uniformed policemen plus plainclothesmen and suit after suit of secret service were very much in evidence. Streets were blocked off for blocks.20150925_175050_resized Pedestrians often had to walk far our of their way to reach their destinations. We took the subway more than usual. It was often the only way to get around. Here’s a glimpse of the pope in the middle in the back seat. His cavalcade came by us while we were walking along the side of Central Park.
We strolled through the Sculpture Garden at the MoMA and loved the Frick Museum. What an incredible collection! One of the highlights was riding an elevator up 1,250 feet to the observation decks around the One World Trade Center. Here’s what it looks like from the ground up.20150926_111043_001_resized And here’s what it looks like from the top of that incredible building.20150926_104018_resized The tall building with the spire is the Empire State Building.20150926_101815_resized20150926_105030_resized

On Saturday came another great experience when we sat in the audience (along with Mary Downing Hahn!) for Sandy Asher’s play, WALKING TOWARD AMERICA, beautifully performed by Annie Meek Montgomery playing all roles in the telling of Ilga Vise’s long, horrific walk from her war-torn Latvia to eventual safety and the life that awaited her in the United States. Naturally all that walking tends to dehydrate you and if there’s one thing NYC does well, it’s cater to the needs of those in such peril. 20150925_194711_resized And on that liquid note, I conclude my catch-up report. I’m back!

Happy Monday

Hi everyone,

Jane Yolen, I wonder how you’re doing with your project to write a poem each day for a year. I’m now in a similar situation. If I’m to meet some agreements I’m in the process of making, I’ll need to write a poem each day for somewhere between eleven months and one and a half years. I hope to hear from you that you are still on target, it’s a piece of cake, and you’re loving it!

I’ll be seeing Jane next month at the Rochester Childrens Literature Festival, along with a number of other friends including Mary Downing Hahn, Cheryl Harness, Betsy and Ted Lewin, Mary Jane and Herm Auch, Vivian Van Velde, and many others. About 5,000 attend the festival, which is now in its 15th year.

I’m reading all the poems posted this month inspired by the word, NEW. Keep them coming! Beginning this month we’ve dropped the voting process so we can stress the fun of writing, posting, and sharing one another’s comments. I hope you approve of the new format. It also gives us more time to write each month and get our poems up.


Mary Downing Hahn today

Hi everyone,

Today my Featured Guest is one of the most popular children’s authors in America. Mary Downing Hahn’s books for young people are always popular with her fans who line up patiently for a chance to meet Mary and get her autograph. I’m proud to bring her to my blog today. Mary?

What originally attracted you to writing?

Reading definitely attracted me to writing. I’ve loved books all my life; they were my solace when I was sad or lonely or confined to my room as a punishment. I read at the dinner table, in the bathtub, under the covers with a flashlight, in my tree house, in my lap at school when the rest of the class was learning math or social studies. The only place I couldn’t read was in a moving vehicle; my delicate stomach surrendered its contents on buses, streetcars, and cars.

Like most children who love to read I soon began making up my own stories, but instead of writing them in words I drew them in pictures. I thought of myself as an artist, not as a writer.
When I was twelve or thirteen, I realized my stories had become too long and complicated to tell in pictures. Although I didn’t think I was smart enough to be a writer, I decided I might solve my problem by writing and illustrating children’s books.

When I was in my thirties, I finally realized I was a better writer than an illustrator and turned my attention toward novels for young people. I suppose you could say I came to writing through the back door.

Do you keep a journal? If so, when did you start? What sort of material do you write in your journal?

I don’t keep a journal now — my imaginary life is much more interesting than my real life.

I kept a diary in eighth grade, a pretty accurate record of my coming to terms with becoming a teenager. I also preserved much of high school in a diary, most of which can be described as tear filled accounts of unrequited love. In college, I kept a rather pretentious journal in which I hoped to present my self as a sensitive young intellectual grappling with my identity in a heartless world.

Your books speak to the hearts of young fans everywhere. How would you describe your approach to creating such strong stories?

When I write, I become the person telling the story. I feel what the narrator feels, see what the narrator sees, and so on. Sometimes I think I’ve never really recovered from my childhood and teens.

Who is your audience? Who is reading over your shoulder while you write?

I hope my audience will be kids, but if I’m really absorbed in my writing I rarely think of my audience. When I begin revising, my editor is definitely reading over my shoulder. Jim Giblin and I have worked together so long, I find myself asking “What will Jim think of this?” and then telling myself exactly what he’ll think. Sometimes I change the wording, but often I leave him questionable things to ponder.

How do you write? At the keyboard? Longhand? In an office? At regular times?

I almost always write at the keyboard. As soon as I started using a computer, I was hooked. I used to call it my magic machine because it was so much easier to revise what I’d written.

However, when I was a children’s librarian, I used to write surreptitiously in longhand on a clipboard, but I was finally told I’d been hired to find books for people, not write them.

Now that I work at home, I’d like to say I write at least four hours every day, but, alas, that would be a lie. My hours are irregular. Very irregular.

What do you see happening in the world of children’s book publishing these days?

In a word: SERIES. And in a few more words: series that make publishing companies lots of money.

More seriously, the relationship between editors and writers has definitely changed. When my first book was published in 1979, my editor worked with me over a year, reading and rereading the manuscript through seven revisions. I don’t think many editors today have that sort of time.

Agents seem to play a bigger role in publishing; in fact, in many cases writers have a closer relationship with agents than with editors.

Do you have advice for emerging children’s authors?

Perseverance and optimism.

Mary, thank you.
Readers, please post your comments below.


Mary Downing Hahn tomorrow, our September Hall of Fame Poets, and the Word of the Month for October

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Congratulations to our September Hall of Fame Poets! Euleta Usrey is our poet of the month for the adult division and Courtney Clawson is our poet in the young poet division. Clustered behind Euleta were Steven Withrow, V.L. Gregory, and Gay Fawcett. In the young poet race, Maria Ciminillo was only 9 votes behind Courtney, 159 to 168. What a contest! My sincere congratulations and gratitude to everyone who enriched our lives this month by writing poems and sharing them with us.

And now for the first word of a brand new year of poetry. The word of the month for October? CHANGE. I’m eager to see what you do with it.

Here we are at Thursday again when it’s my pleasure to announce my new Featured Guest. This is one of my favorite blog activities. Tomorrow you’ll meet Mary Downing Hahn, and you’re going to enjoy the experience. As you know, I always ask my guests to provide a bio in their own words to give you an early glimpse into their lives and their voices. For additional information about Mary, visit her site at http://www.hmhbooks.com/features/mdh/

I was born in Washington, DC and have spent my whole life in Maryland, within 30 miles of my birthplace. Not that I haven’t traveled — it’s just that I’ve never had an official address outside my home state.When I was a kid, I loved reading, drawing, and getting into mischief, not necessarily in that order. I was lucky to grow up on a street with five like minded girls — the Guilford Road Gang we called ourselves. We spent our summers exploring woods and creeks, climbing trees, spying on suspected criminals (the result of an overdose of Nancy Drew mysteries) and spending as much time as possible out of sight of our parents. As long as we were home for dinner, no one cared. College Park was a small town then — what could possibly happen to us?

With the exception of reading and drawing, my school career was distinctly lackluster. I daydreamed, read library books in my lap, doodled on my homework, never mastered long division or learned my multiplication tables, and was in general unmotivated. Because of my math problem, I thought of myself as stupid.

Junior high and high school were not much better. If I read my diary correctly, I spent my teens yearning for a boyfriend, going to football and basketball games (in hope of meeting a boy), hanging out with my friends, getting out of class whenever I could, buying rock and roll records with my babysitting money, going to the swimming pool (in hope of meeting a boy),and complaining about my parents. Not a word about current events. Although I never mentioned them in my diary, I remember thinking the McCarthy hearings were incredibly boring.

After I graduated, I entered the University of Maryland, a half hour’s walk from my home in College Park. At first, it seemed like grade thirteen, but by my sophomore year, I realized I had a brain after all. I majored in Fine Art and minored in English, spending most of my college years doing what I loved best — drawing and painting, reading and writing. By the time I received my B.A., I was torn between a desire to paint and a desire to write. I did both for many years, mainly for my own entertainment. I also spent a disastrous year teaching junior high school art, returned to UMD to earn a Master’s in English, worked briefly for the telephone company, a department store, and the Navy Federal Credit Union, the sorts of jobs people with liberal arts degrees are offered.

After marriage, children, and divorce, I returned once more to UMD and began working toward a PHD in English. It was the 70’s, and there I was with the baby boomers. There were no teaching jobs for any of us.

I ended up taking a job as an associate librarian in the public library’s children’s department. I planned to write my dissertation and look for a teaching position later, but I wrote a children’s book instead. Hard work, yes, but definitely more fun than spending years researching an obscure English poet.

So here I am. all these years later, still reading and writing, drawing and painting and loving every minute of it — well, almost every minute.Thanks, Mary. See you tomorrow.