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Children’s book writers cite chocolate, journal writing, among keys to success

Ten-year-old Melonhead lives on Capitol Hill and is full of fine ideas such as plastering a fake cast onto his friend’s arm as a secret hiding place for money.  Trouble is, the hardened cast won’t come off, and he’s got some explaining to do.

Dini, an eleven-year-old from Takoma Park, can’t believe her mother has taken a job in India.  She can’t bear to leave her best friend and be dragged around like a suitcase.   But when she figures out that her favorite Bollywood star is also living in rural India, she hatches a plan to meet her movie heroine in person.

Then there’s twelve-year-old Margie who is determined to find her missing mother, even if it means piloting her father’s Ford down the highway with a doubting kid sister at her side.   Their adventure requires a full tank of courage and a steady heart.

Melonhead, Dini, and Margie sprang from the imaginations of authors Katy Kelly, Uma Krishnaswami and Tami Lewis Brown, who read from their books at the Takoma Library on September 26.   After hearing excerpts from the middle grade novels, the young audience was hooked.

“I wanted to know what happened next,” said Olivia Haisley, age eight, “like whether the girl from Takoma really moved to India.”

The author trio also took questions about their characters and their writing careers, including:

“Why did you become a writer?”   

“Both my parents were writers,” said Kelly, “and I became a writer of children’s books because I wanted to make kids laugh their heads off.”

Krishnaswami, whose family is from South Asia, said she read many books as a child, but “there wasn’t a single one with a girl like me in it.  So I started to write my own stories.  But it wasn’t until my son was born (he’s now grown up) that it occurred to me that real, live people could write children’s books.”

“I got a late start too,” added Lewis-Brown.  “I didn’t think writing books was something regular people did — only old men, like Charles Dickens.”

“What advice would you give to kids who want to be writers?”

“Eavesdrop” was Kelly’s reply, which elicited giggles from the audience.  “When I sit down on the Metro I sit near people who look interesting, especially if they’re arguing or whispering.  It teaches you how people really talk.”

“Read a lot, write a lot, and keep a journal,” said Lewis-Brown.  “It’ll be a treasure trove for your writing.”

How long does it take you to write a book?

Lewis Brown and Krishnaswami said it took them between four and five years to finish their stories, with many drafts discarded along the way.  Lewis Brown wrote “The Map of Me” as an assignment for school; she studied children’s book writing at Vermont College, where Krishnaswami was one of her teachers

Kelly said her publisher gave her only six months to write the latest “Melonhead” sequel; but fortunately she is a news reporter accustomed to tight deadlines.
And if she runs short of ideas, she said she turns to her favorite literary therapy: chocolate.


To learn more about children’s book authors Kelly, Krishnaswami and Lewis Brown, check out their websites:

Katy Kelly
Latest book: “Melonhead and the Undercover Operation”

Uma Krishnaswami.
Latest book: “The Grand Plan to Fix Everything”

Tami Lewis Brown.
Latest book: “The Map of Me”


Photo Credit: Ben Frey

About the author: sandymoore

Sandy Moore, the Kids' Voice columnist, writes for young readers and is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Sandy is also a past contributor to Washington Parent magazine, a Board member of Lumina Studio Theatre, and resident of Silver Spring.