Dear twelve-year-old Alison,
When I look back at you from the distant future, I see you playing with your two best friends at recess. Two years ago, you made up an amazing, complicated game, “All News Channel,” in which the three of you are investigative reporters who run around solving mysteries. You play the news anchors. You play the interviewees. You play the sports reporters and the weather forecasters and even the commercial actors, who sell all kinds of silly, useless things that make you laugh. It’s an all-consuming game, and it never gets boring or repetitive, because you and Lauren and Emi have an endless capacity for imagination. You kind of feel like it could go on forever.
Unfortunately, it won’t. Because pretty soon, people are going to start thinking you’re too old to play.
In a few months, you’ll overhear your parents saying your imaginary games are childish, that you act younger than your age. They don’t feel childish to you, but the comment will sting, and it’ll plant seeds of doubt in your mind. Soon after that, Lauren will start spending recess at the picnic table with the new girl in your class, who wears ripped flannel and lots of eyeliner, and the guy who inexplicably has hundreds of safety pins attached to his weather-inappropriate trench coat. Emi will get really into popular music, and you’ll feign interest when she rambles on and on about the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. You’ll let “All News Channel” go, and you’ll start playing Four Square at recess with the other girls in your class instead.
You’ll still have fun, but it won’t be the same. You’ll miss your game, and you’ll wish you still had an excuse to use your imagination every day. But you won’t say anything, because you don’t want to be seen as childish.
But here’s something nobody will tell you for a long time, little Alison: there’s a big difference between being childish and being childlike. Having an imagination and a capacity for wonder will serve you very well throughout your life, and you should hang onto those qualities with everything you have. They’ll make you an interesting, fun grown-up who delights in things that are different, absurd, and unexpected. They’ll ensure that you keep an open mind. And they’ll give you the skills you need to be an author who writes for kids like you.
And guess what? When you start writing books, you’ll find tons of other adults who hung onto those childlike qualities, too. They’ll become your best friends, and you’ll stay up late into the night having conversations full of “what if” questions. You’ll even get to write collaborative books with some of them, which will mean spending all day every day making up stories about the people who live inside your collective brains. It’ll be like an endless game of All News Channel, and people will pay you for it.
So it’s okay to grieve when your game ends. But you don’t need to worry that you’ll never get to play again. You’re only taking a break.
P.S. Curly hair looks better if you don’t brush it.
Twelve-year-old AJ dreads spending an entire month living with her strict Grandma Jo. Not only does her grandmother dictate how she walks, what she eats, and which rooms she can enter, she fills all AJ’s free time with boring sewing lessons. Grandma Jo wants nothing more than to transform her adventurous, fun-loving granddaughter into a prim and proper lady.
But AJ’s dull summer takes a sharp turn when she discovers that her grandmother’s “bridge group” is actually a heist club. When Grandma Jo offers to let AJ learn lock-picking instead of embroidery in exchange for help with a few capers, AJ is happy to join her grandmother’s madcap band of thieves, who claim to steal only for ethical reasons. But even the most respectable ladies can hide truly surprising secrets, and AJ finds she must decide for herself what it means to be one of the good guys.
Find The Classy Crooks Club on Indiebound, B&N, and Amazon, or ask for it in bookstores and libraries near you.
Read more Hey Kid! letters here.
|Alison Cherry is the author of the young adult novels Red, For Real, and the upcoming Look Both Ways. She is a professional photographer and spent many years working as a lighting designer for theater, opera, and dance. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. |
Connect with Alison on AlisonCherryBooks.com, Twitter and Instagram (@alison_cherry), and Goodreads.
Yeah, you. The one coming out of the library with that…eclectic stack of books. I know the high school girl who checked those books out to you is now running around to all her co-workers, showing them what you checked out, laughing at you.
So what? Why do you care what anyone thinks of your choice of reading material?
Let’s see what you’ve got there:
-Two Nancy Drew books. Yes, you’re still a huge fan at age 12. You’re a little embarrassed by that because no one else your age reads Nancy Drew, but why shouldn’t you read what you love?
–Foster Child by Marion Dane Bauer. You’ve already read that (and Shelter From the Wind), but you want to read it again. You know that Marion Dane Bauer lives in Minnesota just like you! You fantasize about meeting her (or any author). She gives you hope that a girl from southern Minnesota can grow up to become an author.
–Forever by Judy Blume. The girls at school are passing a copy of that book around, but you’re too shy to ask for a turn. So you checked out your own copy.
–Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. You like the title. And the cover. You know it’s a classic and you feel like you should read the classics because that’s what people who want to be authors read.
– The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. You aren’t sure about that book, but your best friend is reading it, so you want to read it, too.
How do I know all that? Because I’m you! Thirty eight years from now!
I want to talk to you about just happened. I know this feels like a Big Deal. You just got laughed at in the library, your favorite place in the whole world, and you don’t know if you’ll ever get over it. (You will.)
Let me tell you a couple other things that might help you feel better:
- You’re not only going to meet Marion Dane Bauer, you’re going take a class from her when you grow up! She’ll read part of your second novel and offer you feedback. That book won’t ever get published, but that’s okay. You’ll learn a lot from writing it and you’ll apply what you learn to every book you write after that.
- You’re going to have that high school girl’s job one day. Yes, really. She’ll graduate and move away and you’ll never see her again. And the other people who work here are never going to remember laughing at you today. Pay attention to what it feels like to work for someone else because that may be the only time in your life that you’ll ever do that.
- You WILL become an author! I won’t lie—it’ll take a while to sell that first book. Eight years, to be exact. And even after you’ve sold five books, you’ll still feel like you’re not where you want to be…because those books won’t be novels. You’ll think seriously about quitting and becoming a midwife or a librarian instead. The idea of giving up your writing career will make you feel sick. Which is good because less than a year after you seriously consider this, you’re going to sell not one, but two novels! You’ll sell them to two different publishers within days of one another.
- I know the library doesn’t feel like a safe place to you now. You’ll return that stack of books and then you won’t come back for a while. You’ll go your school library instead, even though the librarian, Miss Kindstrom (don’t ever call her Blanche!), yells! And she knows your mother.
But you’ll come back. When you’re working here in high school, you’ll stay in the library by yourself after its closed and you’ll write. Yes, you’ll get caught. (Don’t worry, that won’t turn out as bad as you think it will.)
There’s something about the library that’s in your soul. You walk into a library and you feel things that other people don’t. That won’t ever go away. When you grow up, you’ll check out the library before you move to a new community. That will tell you everything you need to know about whether or not you want to live there. Some of your best friends will be librarians. You’ll be proud to know them because you’ll see what an impact they have on your community. You’ll join the Friends of the Library and eventually, the library board.
And one day, when one of your own books is among the most challenged books in the country, you’ll appreciate the library on a whole new level.
By the way, you’re NEVER going read the Exorcist. It’s not your kind of book. Why not put it in the book drop right now rather than haul it all the way home?
Oh, and get your mom to take some pictures of you reading. You don’t like it when your mom takes pictures, but one day, it’ll bug you that this is the only picture anyone ever took of you reading a book when you were a kid:
Okay, I’ve got to run. See you in the library! The Haunted Library, that is. I know you have no idea what I’m talking about. But you will…
The Haunted Library is about a ghost boy and a solid girl who work together to solve ghostly mysteries and find the ghost’s missing family. #7: The Ghost in the Tree House (Grosset & Dunlap) just came out on March 29, 2016.
A group of girls in Claire’s town have noticed strange sights and sounds coming from the tree house where their club meets. Is it a rival boys’ club trying to scare them away? Or is it a ghost? The girls ask Claire to tackle the mystery—and Kaz hopes to finally find the rest of his missing family members!
Look for The Ghost in the Tree House, and all The Haunted Library books on Indiebound, Amazon, B&N, and Seattle Mystery or ask for it in bookstores and libraries near you.
Find more Hey Kid! letters here.
Photo by Cheryl Fusco Johnson
Dori Hillestad Butler is an award-winning author of more than 50 books for young readers, including the Haunted Library series. Her Buddy Files #1: Case of the Lost Boy won the 2011 Edgar Award for best juvenile mystery. She’s been an active library volunteer, therapy dog partner, and mentor to many young writers. She grew up in southern Minnesota, spent 19 years in Iowa, and now lives in the Seattle area.
Connect with Dori at kidswriter.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter.
Guess what? I have the BEST NEWS EVER! Here it is: You’re going to grow up to be a writer. TRUE FACT. You are going to write all the books that you ever wanted to read. It doesn’t get any cooler than that. Am I right? And hey, you know that Scholastic book catalogue that comes out once a month and appears on your desk like magic? YOUR books will be in that catalogue one day and kids just like you are going to buy them. If your mind is not blown by this, then I don’t even know you.
But I do know you! I know you, because you are me.
This is weird, right? Right.
Mostly what I want to do is just reach through time to you and give you a hug, which you would find creepy and terrible and afterwards you’d immediately retreat to your reading nook, AKA your bedroom closet, which is devoid of clothes but has a nice lamp and some pillows and blankets and a fantastic stack of books. I don’t blame you. If my closet wasn’t such a mess – it turns out that once you grow up, you stay largely the same size forever, so “growing out of your clothes” isn’t actually a thing any more – if there was any room in there whatsoever, I might be tempted to do the same thing. My bedroom is in the attic now and it is very similar to sleeping in the closet, except there are skylights so that I can lie awake – I still sometimes can’t sleep – and look at the stars and think about everything everything everything. Just like you.
Sometimes this “everything” is more interesting than others. A lot of times, it’s the same as your everything: Is this tooth pain a cavity? Will I die at the dentist from a severe allergic reaction to flouride? What if one day, I’m walking too close to the edge of a cliff and I trip on my shoelace and next thing you know, I’m falling? WHAT THEN?
I mean, we both know what insomnia is like. It’s basically the meanest of all the mean girls.
But a lot of times now when I can’t sleep, instead of worrying about dying, I can think, “What would my character do if she was on a boat and suddenly, a humpback whale breached and the boat split in two?” (That’s what I’m working on right now. Don’t tell anyone.) Anyway, it turns out that your love for the oceans will play a big part in your books later and boy, is it going to matter a lot to the world that there are people who are passionate about saving the oceans. They’re a mess. You won’t even believe what terrible things we do to them in-between you being you and you becoming me. So keep trying to save everything. Everything is going to need to be saved like you wouldn’t believe.
Now listen: A few months ago, something really bad and very scary happened in your family, and the aftershock of that is that you’re going to have to change schools and start over in only a couple of short months from when this photo is being taken. This is going to be harder than you think, no lie. I wish I could make you ready, but the truth is, if I had to do that kind of “starting over”, even today, I’d do pretty much what you are going to do, which is to hide very far inside the covers of a thousand books. I was going to give you advice, like “Come out of your shell! Don’t be so shy! Smile at people!” But I’ve changed my mind because all that reading is going to pay off in the end. You will never regret a single book that you’ll ever read except for Thinner, because you’ll never be able to eat strawberry pie again after that. And you’re going to be OK. You’re going to make some great friends, who will still be your friends thirty years later, and you’re going to survive every single thing that you think you’re not going to survive. No one ever died of embarrassment, that’s the truth.
Listen up: I love you. You’re great. You’re funny and smart and interesting. And eventually, you’ll figure out how to dress nicely and do your hair like everyone else. I feel lucky to have known you. I feel lucky to have been you, no matter how skinny and awkward and poorly dressed you think you are. Seriously, it never matters what you’re wearing as long as you wear it like you mean it. No apologies.
If I were to give you one piece of advice, it would be this: Be brave and kind. That’s pretty much all there is to it. Take it all on with courage. And be nice when you do it. Simple, right?
Oh, there are two more pieces of advice that I’d like to give, seeing as I have this opportunity. The first is this: Never Google your symptoms. Right now, the word “Google” sounds like something I made up, but believe me, you’re going to know what it is one day, and the temptation to enter all your unusual health concerns into the search bar will be overwhelming. Do NOT do this.
The second is to travel, whenever and wherever you can. Travel is like reading in three-dimensions. It’s scary to go out of your comfort zone, but you’re brave, remember? Don’t say ‘no’ to adventures. It will be worth it, swearsies.
Be brave and happy, kiddo. You’re going to be just fine.
Longing to be one of the popular girls in her new town, Kammie Summers has fallen into a well during a (fake) initiation into their club. Now Kammie’s trapped in the dark, counting the hours, waiting to be rescued. (The Girls have gone for help, haven’t they?)
As hours pass, Kammie’s real-life predicament mixes with memories of the best and worst moments of her life so far, including the awful reasons her family moved to this new town in the first place. And as she begins to feel hungry and thirsty and light-headed, Kammie starts to imagine she has company, including a French-speaking coyote and goats that just might be zombies.
Karen Rivers has created a unique narrator with an authentic, sympathetic, sharp, funny voice who will have readers laughing and crying and laugh-crying over the course of physically and emotionally suspenseful, utterly believable events.
The Girl in the Well is Me can be found on Indiebound, B&N, and Amazon, or ask for it at bookstores and libraries near you.
Find more Hey Kid! letters here.
|Karen Rivers absolutely loves writing books told from the point of view of kids and teens. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, with her own kids, whose ideas she tries not to steal too often. She has two dogs, two birds, and two kids, because if one of something is good, then two of something must be twice as good. She is the author of nineteen novels. Her forthcoming books are THE GIRL IN THE WELL IS ME (Spring 2016/Algonquin Books For Young Readers) and BEFORE WE GO EXTINCT (June 2106/FSG). More information about Karen can be found at her website at karenrivers.com. You can follow her on Twitter (@karenrivers) or Facebook. |
This is future you. Right now you don’t much like the way you look, do you? You hate being skinny and wonder when you’ll finally grow some curves. Your school uniform is awful — especially that dumb hat. You think your hair will always be a frizzy mess and your teeth will always make you look like Bugs Bunny. But guess what, thing’s improve. You knock those front teeth out doing somersaults on a trampoline so a dentist gives you a new pair, and someone invents a handy thing to straighten your hair, and you just kind of grow into yourself. You worry a lot — about the way you look, and whether your friends really like you, and whether your grades are good enough and … Stop! Worrying is exhausting and things will all turn out well in the end, I promise.
You LOVE reading. Don’t stop — read everything you can get your hands on. Be thankful that a smart librarian gave you an adult library card when you’d read all the books in the children’s section (even though you were officially too young to have one) and that she let you read anything you wanted. That librarian gave you everything you needed to fill your mind and feed your imagination. Empathy — understanding and being able to share the feelings of others — is important and that’s what you get from the books you read, that and excitement and rage and sorrow and fear and so much more. Don’t ever stop leaving useful things for The Borrowers to find, or looking for your own Secret Garden, or peeking in the backs of wardrobes to find a way into Narnia. And don’t stop crying for Jody and his deer Flag. Skip Bilbo Baggins’s story for now, you’ll like it much better when you’re older, and as for those boys in The Lord of The Flies, they’ll still terrify you when you’re an adult.
You know how you’re interested in fossils and the way that mountains and valleys get their shapes and why some rocks are gray with pink specks and others are pink with gray specks? Well one day you take that interest all the way to university and get a degree in geology. But then you won’t want to be a geologist any more because studying takes all the fun out of geology so you’ll become a teacher instead and the best part of the day will be story time — sharing books you love with the students in your class. And then something big and unimaginable will happen — you’ll leave your home in England and move to America with your husband and two kids. (Yes, you have kids).
Being an immigrant is big and terrifying and strange. Minnesota is so different from Hull, where you live now. Most houses are made of wood, not bricks. Butter comes in sticks. People call casseroles “hot dish” and eat fruit salad with their meal instead of as dessert. It’s so cold in the winter that the stuff in your nose freezes when you go outside, the snow squeaks when you walk on it, and cars can be driven across frozen lakes. When you get here, you’ll miss your family and friends and England and everything that’s familiar, but you are stronger than you think. You know how you like to write? Well you’ll get lots of practice writing letters home telling everyone about the new things you’re seeing and doing. (Although you will NEVER EVER drive your car on a frozen lake.)
I’ve been saving the best thing for last. One day, when you’re pretty old, you will finally realize that there was only ever one thing you were meant to do and that’s write children’s books. You often wondered if you could, but you were never brave enough to try: being an “author” is something “special” people do, not ordinary people like you. But one day you will try and you’ll work hard and you’ll persevere. Some people will tell you your stories aren’t good enough to publish and then you’ll be crushed, but you won’t give up. And one fantastic day a book with your name on the cover will be published. You, ordinary you, will be an “author.” And perhaps somewhere a girl will love your book so much that she imagines herself riding in a Gypsy wagon and wonders what she would do if she found a lost baby in a field.
So stop worrying, you’ll have a pretty great life.
Love, future Cheryl
P.S. You know how you always skip the setting descriptions in books, well it turns out those are the bits you love writing. How ironic is that?
Ten-year-old Lizzie Dewhurst is an evacuee, sent with her younger brother Peter from their city home at the beginning of World War II to live with strangers in Swainedale, a remote Yorkshire valley. When Lizzie finds a lost baby in a field, her world is turned upside down. Will she have the courage to do what is right in the face of prejudice and opposition from the people around her? Told from the alternating perspectives of Lizzie and Elijah, a Gypsy boy, LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY explores the nature of intolerance, compassion, and the quiet bravery of ordinary people.
Lizzie and the Lost Baby can be found on IndieBound, The Red Balloon Bookshop, B&N, Amazon, and in bookstores and libraries near you.
Find more Hey Kid! letters here.
|Cheryl Blackford was born in Yorkshire, England but now lives in a house in the woods in Minnesota where she is entertained by a wide assortment of wildlife, including coyotes. LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY is Cheryl’s first middle-grade novel. She has written three non-fiction books for young readers and her picture book HUNGRY COYOTE (inspired by a coyote she saw one winter morning) won the 2015 Moonbeam Award for picture books for ages 4-8.|
Connect with Cheryl on cherylblackford.com, Twitter, and Goodreads.
It’s me — future you. No, time travel isn’t happening yet. And I haven’t figured out Mrs. Whatsit’s tesseract. But I don’t need it. I can still look back and see you as if it were yesterday.
I can see you in fourth and fifth grade reading all the different-colored Andrew Lang fairy tale books, and C.S. Lewis, and Edward Eager, and wishing so hard for magic to happen that it almost hurts. You wish on coins, on four-leaf clovers. You push your way to the back of every wardrobe, hoping to come out in Narnia.
I can see you hiding under the piano in the hallway outside your sixth grade classroom while the boys in the class make fun of you. You’re overweight, and they’re despicable. How do they come up with those awful nicknames? But you don’t cry. They never see you cry.
I can see you huddled in the corner of the schoolyard at the alternative junior high, writing in your notebook. You really, really want to be Harriet the Spy. The notebook defends you from what the other kids might be saying or thinking. You could be writing anything; they all wonder about it. It’s your shield.
I can see you reading and re-reading all your favorite books, even when your parents shake their heads in bewilderment, wondering why anyone would want to read a book twice when there are so many books to read. But you love them so much – Betsy, Tacy, and Tib; Harriet; Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter; all of All-of-a-Kind Family; the Melendys; Meg and Charles Wallace; Ged the wizard; Claudia and Jamie. They’re your friends when real kids aren’t. Why wouldn’t you want to visit them over and over?
I can see you at the library every Friday night with your family. Your dad toting a big box of books to return, you and your brother and sister filling it up again with the new books for the week. Everyone in your family reads at every meal. You won’t even realize it’s weird until the first time you have a friend over for dinner, in seventh grade, and when you all sit down at the table with a book she just stares, her mouth open.
I can see you lonely and lost, and I’m sorry that you can’t see me. Because here’s the thing: that loneliness, that lostness – it all has a purpose. Your longing for magic leads you to invent your own magic worlds. You endure the bullies, and you figure out how to be brave and persistent. You watch people and write about them, and you begin to understand how to create a character. Your love of the library starts you on the path to what you – what I – do now. Because you hang out in the children’s room so much, you’ll wind up working there, all through high school and college. You’ll realize that you want children’s books to be your life. You’ll work in children’s publishing for a while, and then you’ll start writing yourself.
It’ll take you a long time – a REALLY long time – to get your first children’s novel published. You’ll get more rejections than you can count. You could probably paper a whole room with them. Or a whole houseful of rooms. But you learn, wishing on coins, hiding under the piano, sitting in the corner of the schoolyard, reading at the dining room table, working in the library, that children’s books are what you love, and that patience and persistence will get you where you want to be.
So listen, kid, don’t give up. Remember the feelings. Write it all down. And keep pushing to the back of every wardrobe. Narnia might not look quite the way you imagined, but you’ll get there.
p.s. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but I can also see, from the future, that your Nehru jacket is a TERRIBLE mistake.
Bee is an orphan, alone in a poor, crumbling kingdom. In desperation, she steals a bun from a bakery, and to her surprise, the baker offers her a place at his shop. As she learns to bake, Bee discovers that she has a magical power, but when a new friend desperately needs her help against an evil mage, Bee wonders what an orphan girl with only a small bit of magic can do. Bee’s journey to help her friend becomes a journey to save the kingdom, and a discovery of the meaning of family.
Baker’s Magic is available on Indiebound, Oblong Books, Capstone Press, Amazon, and in bookstores and libraries near you.
Find more Hey Kid! letters here.
|Diane Zahler is the author of four middle-grade fairy-tale retellings, two nonfiction books for older readers, and a nearly infinite quantity of textbook materials for elementary and high school students. Her newest novel for young readers, Baker’s Magic, was published February 1. She lives with her husband in an old farmhouse in the Hudson Valley, where she bakes a lot – and eats what she bakes.|
Connect with Diane on dianezahler.com, Facebook, and Twitter.