When I was a child growing up in New Jersey several decades ago, middle-class families didn’t have heaps of books lying around everywhere in their houses. Instead my younger sister and I carried home huge stacks of library books, often checking out the same book over and over and over again (I can still close my eyes and see the shelves where certain favorites stood). Finally, when we were nine and ten, we each chose one most-loved-of-all book to buy with our own money. She, an aspiring astronomer, chose The Stars, by H. A. Rey. I, an aspiring writer, chose Someday You’ll Write, by Elizabeth Yates.
I loved every sentence of Yates’s book, the only book on writing at that time (as far as I know) addressed directly to children. From the first sentence, Yates was writing just to me, to someone who was definitely going to be a writer: “So you want to be a writer someday, you even dream of being one; but you know as well as I do, that we cannot dream ourselves into being anything. We can, however, through work and acceptance of the discipline, shape ourselves into being what we want to be.” Yes!
Fast forward twenty years, and now I am a writer, a children’s book writer, with my seventh book about to come out: The One and Only Cynthia Jane Thornton. In the book, Cynthia wants to be a writer, and she and her younger sister, Lucy, each buy a precious book with their own money. Lucy buys The Stars by H. A. Rey. Cynthia buys Someday You’ll Write, by Elizabeth Yates. Cynthia opens her beloved brand-new book to the first page and reads those wonderful first lines.
My editor told me we needed to get permission to quote from the book. The rights to the book had reverted to Elizabeth Yates, and she suggested that I write to Miss Yates directly. So I had the beautiful opportunity to write to an author I had loved so much as a child, the author of a book designed to inspire children to grow up to be writers, to tell her that I had indeed grown up to be a writer and had written a book about a child who wanted to be a writer and was READING HER BOOK! Elizabeth Yates wrote back to grant me permission to quote her words; she was so warm, so gracious, and enormously pleased to have her book live on.
There are few things more satisfying than to have the chance to pay public homage to someone in this way. With my brand-new chapter book, Kelsey Green, Reading Queen, I’ve been given another chance to do this, because Kelsey is reading voraciously for a school-wide reading contest, and I had the fun of picking what books Kelsey gets to read. How sweet that was, to have the character I created reading some of the books that helped me become the author who created her. It doesn’t get much better than that.