I was recently invited by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators to write an author’s article in their quarterly periodical. It was an honor to be selected out of the thousands of children’s book authors who are members of SCBWI. Here is the article in its entirety:
How to belong, how to deal with grave changes, how to accept oneself without needing outside approval, and how to face the death of a loved-one are just a few of the topics I broach in my writing. Subjects which I tackle with an intentionally unveiled, quiet, and realistic lens.
I’m told that my approach isn’t common, but that’s okay. I tend to swim upstream. It isn’t easy but going against the current is the most direct way for me to honor my mission, which is to meet kids at the crossroads of life’s difficulties. I aspire to help them unfurl and unfold amidst crisis, retreat into that special place where their innate capabilities offer them strength in the face of adversity.
I don’t mind admitting that I’ve had my fair share of rejection in the past twenty years of writing. I prefer to be as realistic in my own life as I am in my stories. But, over those twenty-some-odd years, I’ve worked as a child caregiver, teacher, and bereavement counselor and have learned that children desperately want to address the big issues. They want to plow head-on into these tough subjects in an effort to normalize life’s difficulties. They want to know the truth which lies beyond all the drama.
And I don’t blame them. In my view, drama is overrated. So, I keep swimming upstream, writing for those who sit in front of my books with smiles and stuffies and braces and cellphones. I work hard to trust that when I’m called ‘unique,’ it doesn’t mean that I’m not trendy enough to succeed. Deep down I know if I allow myself to get caught up in the race to make it onto the New York Times Bestseller list, I will inevitably lose my true motivation. In fact, I’ve been told that the best way to end up on such a list is to keep swimming upstream and possibly catch the attention of somebody standing on the sidelines who is looking for a new voice. But upstream is a gamble, and it can be as exhausting as it is exhilarating.
I’ve had success through a smaller publishing house, and, thanks to them, my books have seeped quietly into the hands of children, parents, teachers, therapists, librarians, and award boards. Reviewers have heralded them as “inspiring and encouraging,” having “the voice of spirit,” possessing “a clear and powerful message,” and “sparking rare discussions concerning celebrations of life.” Even after these and other accolades, 5 awards, and one large grant, swimming upstream is still quite challenging. But I’d be a hypocrite if I avoided the challenges in my life while at the same time impressing upon children the need to face the challenges in theirs.
I know firsthand that children want to touch deeper meaning in life, even if only for a moment. Kids are wonderful at celebrating cartwheels and sandcastles and rock candy and first crushes, but, like me, they crave balance and truly want to mark the trail of life by diving into rich and mysterious hardships with wonder. It is for them that I write, and it is my hope that these books survive the tattering journey upstream, making their way to a larger body of water where they may land in hands of even more kids needing encouragement.