Remembering Generosity

by Jody Feldman

It didn’t matter that I paid for it or that she, as author/instructor, had taken on the responsibility of teaching us how to write for kids. Every week, for 8 weeks, she showed up in the basement classroom, her husband/co-author in tow. He would be carrying a mountain of books that she would use to illustrate a point. He would take a seat in the back; and yet, he was a presence, too. As for her, she commanded the room with such assurance that you might have mistaken it for a certain haughtiness, but it wasn’t. This was, perhaps, the clearest depiction of confidence I may have ever seen.

Was she truly that self-assured? She had published only a few books at the time, but that didn’t matter either. What did is that she strengthened my writing forever. The course started with the very basics—margins, fonts, type size—then morphed into opening paragraphs, point of view, dialogue, precise word choice, and more.

No matter how tiring my day had been, her energy kept me sharp. I can still hear her reading sections of her books to underscore a point. Or explaining why she made certain choices in her stories. Or showing us how Jerry Pinkney took her words and brought them to life with his illustrations. Or Rachel Isadora. It was important that her illustrator received as much credit as she did.

She could have gone home each of those nights, only to forget us until the next session, but she expected us—probably two dozen of us—to turn in assignments that she would carefully and thoughtfully critique for every person every week.

For me, outside class, the rejections were coming, snail mail, in waves. But it was her care and encouragement that made me know this dream of being an author would happen. I’m not certain I would have persisted without her.

Several years back, I had an all-too-brief opportunity to thank Pat McKissack for the impact she had on my writing career. I’m just sorry I never got the chance to sit down and tell her everything I’ve written above. But maybe, trying to pay it forward myself, I’ve found a way.