When I was ten I gave my grandmother a poem I had written and her simple encouragement kept me writing—mostly poetry—through high school, college, and beyond. However, I didn’t think of myself as a writer and did not pursue a writing career until I was in my forties. My interest in language and its development led me on a path to receiving both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Speech and Language Pathology, but while working in that field for twenty-four years, I kept writing poetry. When I turned forty, I made a conscious decision—I would write a poem every day during my school’s summer vacation, and I would try to get my work published. I kept that goal—eighty-eight poems and my first of many poems published in magazines and literary journals. And, for the first time, I felt like I was a writer.
Three years later, I had life-changing luck. Sleeping Bear Press, a children’s book publisher in Michigan, was producing a series of fifty alphabet books, one for each state. They contacted my husband Ross, a professional artist, after seeing an ad of his in a magazine and asked if he would be interested in illustrating the book about Missouri. When Ross accepted the job, he found out that they did not have an author assigned for the Missouri book. I submitted a proposal to write it, as did many others, and six months later got a call from Sleeping Bear Press! They said there were three reasons they chose me over others: they liked the idea of a husband/wife team, I worked in the schools so I knew children and reading levels, and I had been published before. All my paths seemed to have led to that particular moment and in 2001, my first published book, S is for Show Me, A Missouri Alphabet, a mix of poetry and nonfiction, was released.
In 2004, after the excitement of having two more books accepted on the same day—R is for Rhyme, A Poetry Alphabet and Lazy Days of Summer—I quit my profession as a speech/language pathologist to write full time. I currently have twenty-nine children’s poetry, fiction, and nonfiction books published, ranging from board books, easy readers, picture books, middle grade novels, and a young adult novel written in verse.
One of the questions students frequently ask me is “Where do you get your ideas?” My response usually starts off that there is not any one place to get ideas—they come from so many places and in so many ways. I got the idea for my first novel Promise, by seeing a crow fly out of a deserted fire tower. The idea for my newest book, Bobby Babinksi’s Bathtub, came from hearing a parent say her child hates to take baths and remembering my child did, too. I got the idea for A Book for Black-Eyed Susan from reading a roadside historical marker about the Oregon Trail. Researching for that book led to an idea for Minnow and Rose. The idea behind The Wild World of Buck Bray series came when I was planning a trip to Denali National Park in Alaska. And sometimes, the way an idea starts has little or nothing to do with what a book ends up being about. This was the case with Sleepy Snoozy Cozy Coozy, A Book of Animal Beds, which is a mix of poetry and nonfiction for young kids. The initial idea came from hearing two different words for the foam sleeve that keeps soda cans cool: cozy and coozy.
There are millions of ideas out there and it really isn’t all that important of where you get an idea. It’s what you do with it. Ideas are short—just flickers. They happen as quickly as lightning and are as small as a seed. To make an idea grow from just something you read or heard or saw, to make it grow into a story, you have to think. You have to question. You have to imagine. That’s where the work of writing starts. I saw a crow fly from a fire tower and started thinking. Maybe there was a boy who saw that too. Why was the boy out in the middle of nowhere where the tower was? Maybe it was his secret hideout. Who would he be hiding from? A stranger? Someone he knew? Maybe a little of both. Maybe someone he wanted to know, someone he felt he should know, someone he was afraid of meeting.
My Journey as a Children’s Author
Rebekah E. Piper
Laurie A. Sharp, Ed.D.
Roberta D. Raymond, Ed.D.
Mary Jo Fresch