Do you remember that song from Sesame Street that went, “One of these things is not like the other?” It’s probably no surprise that it was one of my favorites.
Sometimes I feel like I’m living that song: none of my books is very much like the others! That genre-hopping is one of the things I like to talk about with kids during my author visits. How can all of those different books come out of the same person? It’s fairly obvious how they’re all different, but what about them is them is the same? My answer is—it comes down to heart. Writing a book takes a long time and a lot of hard work. If I didn’t have an emotional attachment to what I was writing, I wouldn’t want to persevere through all of those months and years or put in the necessary effort to finish a manuscript. It doesn’t matter how worthy the topic might be or how marketable, the subject has to matter to me.
When I was a kid, and for most of my adult life as well, I desperately wanted to make a difference in the world. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to begin or any confidence that I had the ability to achieve anything important. I wrote my teen nonfiction, Be a Changemaker, for that person and others like her, so no one would need to feel like they had to wait in order to contribute something of value.
Emmanuel’s Dream, my picture book biography, comes out of a similar place. When I first heard about Emmanuel’s story, I was so moved by his confidence and perseverance. It affected how I thought about myself and my capabilities, and it inspired me not to give up on my own dreams of being a published children’s book author. I wanted to show kids they, too, could follow their dreams, no matter what others might try tell them.
And my newest book, My Dog Is the Best, comes from—you guessed it—my love of dogs, plus a family story and a somewhat quirky sense of humor! I grew up with dogs. For the first few years of my life, I’m pretty sure I thought I was a dog. And dogs have always been my best friends. When I was young my grandfather used to say his dog was “one of the better dogs.” I worried about what he would think of my dog, but thankfully Grandpa proclaimed him “one of the better dogs,” too. Since then, everyone in my family has called each of our dogs “one of the better dogs.” As an adult, I realized that whatever dog we fall in love with is, of course, the very best. I also noticed that I tended tell my dog, “Good dog!” when she was curled up asleep, which struck me as hilarious. All of those things combined to produce a lighthearted fiction picture book for younger children.
Readers can expect even more genre-crossing strangeness in the future with Two Truths and a Lie, a middle-grade fiction/nonfiction hybrid series co-authored with my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette. These books reveal my nerdy side and love of the unbelievable and the absurd.
And there’s lots more weirdness where those came from, because I plan to keep following my heart and writing whatever grabs me, pigeonholes be darned!
In my author visits, I encourage kids to do this with their assigned writing, too. Yes, in the classroom there are requirements to do a particular kind of writing, be that persuasive writing, personal narrative, fiction, etc. But, within those confines, finding a way to tie a particular assignment to something that is uniquely them—a passion, interest, personal characteristic, or family story, for example—can make the assignments easier and more meaningful at the same time.
Professional authors choose their topics carefully to maintain that connection with their innermost emotions, and student writers should attempt to do the same thing. After all, if what to write about comes more easily, then perhaps more effort can be focused on trying to write about it well.
And that’s one way we’re all the same!