Alums Carry On Tradition of Books for Youth

The iSchool's most famous alumna is undoubtedly Beverly Cleary ('39), the beloved author of books like Beezus and Ramona. But Mrs. Cleary is just the best known example of a long tradition among our alumni of writing what Cleary Professor Eliza Dresang calls "books for youth" - everything from picture books to young adult novels.

Many early alumni began writing books inspired by the children they were serving in their libraries. Ruth Hill Viguers ('26) was the longtime publisher of Horn Book Magazine, a journal of children's and young adult literature, and Gladys Conklin ('26) wrote a series of nature books for children inspired by a "Bug Club" she started with young patrons at the Hayward (Cali.) Public Library in the 1950s.

The three alumni profiled here are continuing this long and proud tradition, taking what they've learned at the Information School and in their careers as librarians to write the stories their young patrons want and need.

Margaret Read MacDonald ('64)
When she came to what was then the School of Librarianship, Margaret MacDonald wasn't planning to be a children's librarian, let alone a children's author. Her bachelor's degree was in anthropology and she planned to be a social science librarian. After completing all the available reference courses, she signed up for a summer of children's literature, young adult literature and storytelling. Bob Polishuk, King County Library's Children's Services Coordinator at the time, taught storytelling that summer, and he convinced her to become a children's librarian. "He insisted that no job on earth was as rewarding." MacDonald remembers, "I went into class and told my first "big" story, The Fast Sooner Hound. At its end, Mr. Polishuk leapt to his feet. 'Ms. Read! You have got to be a children's librarian!' I went down the next Monday and he hired me."

Being a part of the iSchool community was a great help at the beginning of her writing career. MacDonald's first four books were published by H.W. Wilson, through a contact she made at one of Spencer Shaw's annual storytelling conferences. And early on, as a librarian "I was able to go to ALA each year and chat up various publishers," she recalls. That's something she advises any librarian and prospective writer to do, "Just find a good topic and write a useful book. Then go to ALA and chat with the editors there. Don't expect to make a sale through the mail. Get out there and meet folks."

MacDonald makes great use of both her anthropology degree, her folklore PhD and her master of librarianship. She searches out folktales from around the world, stories that are new to most children here in North America, to share them in picture books and in story anthologies designed to be read aloud. She has traveled around the world gathering and telling stories, including serving as a Fulbright Scholar in Thailand, and now has more than 60 published books. "And all this because I said 'yes' to Bob Polishuk on the UW campus 45 years ago."

Teresa Bateman ('87)
In her day job, Teresa Bateman is a school librarian at both Brigadoon Elementary and Olympic View Elementary in Federal Way. In fact, she's always been a librarian. "In third grade, I was a student library assistant," she recalls, "and as a high student I volunteered at Clark Elementary in Issaquah. That's where I started learning the day-to-day skills." But she was also destined for a second career as an author. As one of ten children, Teresa remembers spending a lot of family time reading and playing words games, "Our mom read Alastair MacLean novels to us on long car trips. And I've always written."

Of the more than twenty children's books she's written, many have been inspired by the needs in her own school. The school library often does themed displays and readings for holidays, "but we didn't have much to read on St. Patrick's Day," she explains, "so I wrote a book for that." And when a school counselor suggested students could benefit from a book about bullying, she wrote The Bully Blockers Club, which her publisher fast-tracked because of demand and is now one of her most widely-read books.

Becoming a published children's author took some time. "I had been writing for a while and never published so I took one summer to write and try to get published. I thought if it didn't happen that summer, I would let the idea go. I got rejection letters, but I also got one rejection letter from Cricket magazine with personal comments. That felt like a big step forward." It was in magazines like Cricket and Highlights where she first saw her work in print. When she discovered that one publishing house was republishing stories from those magazines as books, she inquired and found her first book publisher.

Bateman counsels perseverance for other aspiring children's writers, both in getting published and in the writing itself, "Everyone has at least one book in them. The only difference is making the time to write, just like making the time to read."

Veronica Tabares ('00)
Veronica Tabares' first novel was inspired by her youngest daughter's needs as a reader. "She was reading way above her grade level, but she still needed stories that would interest a fourth grader instead of a high school student." So Tabares began work on a trilogy of fantasy novels, Behold the Eye, for middle-grade children ages nine to twelve. "It's a very particular type of book when it's intended for that age group." she explains, "They have unique reading habits. Many of them are just getting to a point where they can handle more complexity. It's a great age to write for."

And while working on the trilogy and serving as head librarian at Bear Creek Elementary in Redmond, Veronica found she had a built-in set of critics, which lead to one of the unexpected joys of writing the books. "Some of my work colleagues read the drafts, then when it was published I put the first book, Braumaru, in the library at school." she recalls, "and there were students who found it, and started giving me feedback, telling me what they liked and what they didn't, and asking when the next one was coming out."

Getting published has become an even more complex venture in the last few years. Fewer publishers do the marketing work for new authors that they might have done in the past. Tabares chose to look for a small publisher, so she could have greater control of her work. That has come with more work for her, including close involvement with the cover art and marketing. Luckily, that means keeping the books a family affair just as they were at the start. Her latest book, a novel for adults titled The Department of Temporal Adjustment, has cover art created by another daughter who is a student in the UW Art Department.

Tabares says she was "the neighborhood writer" as a kid, and she expects this is the beginning of many years as a published author. She is branching out in other kinds of books for youth, including a young adult novel and several picture books.