Write Here in NEPA

Getting to Know Our Local Children’s Authors and Illustrators

By Allison Mowatt

Creating a story children will love requires a vivid imagination and the ability to put oneself in their shoes.  Children’s authors and illustrators have a keen sense about a child’s world and what they care about.  For young ones, it’s about developing lovable characters they can relate to and want to get to know.  It’s about keeping it simple, fun, and eye-catching.  Our area is home to many talented children’s writers and illustrators who have discovered what it takes to keep children reading and loving books as much as they do.  Get to know several of them and see what they’ve recently released and what they are currently working on.

Lindsay Barrett George, White Mills, PA

Lindsay Barrett George is a talented and vibrant children’s book author and illustrator who makes her home in a historic school house in the quaint village of White Mills.

Since 1987, Lindsay has had nineteen books published, including Maggie’s Ball; Inside Mouse, Outside Mouse; William and Boomer, and the Long Pond series.  She has always loved children’s books, and as a child, books like Winnie the Pooh, The Little Prince, fairy tales, and the Little Golden Books inspired her.

She writes and illustrates children’s books from pre-school age up to fifth grade.  Lindsay loves animals and has a dog named Maggie, who was the inspiration for her 2010 release Maggie’s Ball, a duck named Duck Duck, and a cat named Misho.  It’s important to understand what children care about, and many children love animals.  Lindsay’s books always include an animal as one of the main characters, and each book contains motivation, conflict, and fun imagery.  When writing for children, it’s important to use simpler text, make it fun, and allow the pictures to tell a lot of the story.  “You have to have your head in that world,” said Lindsay.

Her first book, William and Boomer, is based on a true story, Lindsay using her own nephew as a model.  It’s about a little boy who finds a goose in the woods and the two become friends, even though one is human and the other feathered.  “My stories are about things that have either happened to me, been explained to me, or something I’ve seen and I expand on these true events,” she said.

Her ninteenth children’s book, That Pup!, will be released this month.  It’s a seasonal book about a dog interacting with another animal.  Lindsay wanted to write a book featuring the harvest season, and after brainstorming ideas for the plot, the story took off and only took Lindsay two days to write. “The story’s theme often dictates what happens.  I start with a character I want to draw then I think about what I want the character to do.”  That Pup! is about a puppy who finds acorns all over the yard; in leaves, the pumpkin patch, on the car, and inside an apple tree. He eventually finds ten acorns in all.  He bumps into a squirrel, and the squirrel tells the puppy that those are her acorns she’s saving for the long winter.  The two become friends and find a solution to put them back.  It is a book for pre-school aged children and follows several themes, including the season, counting, and making new friends.  The cover depicts a yellow lab pup that is a real model Lindsay observed.  She got in touch with a Hawley resident, Paula Heiser, who breeds English golden retrievers and allowed her to use one of the pups as her subject.

Lindsay often uses local people and scenery when writing and illustrating.  She used Honesdale as a model for the town in Maggie’s Ball, and the Long Pond series borrowed scenes from Hawley.

Some books like That Pup! only take a day or two to develop while others take longer depending on the theme and characters.  For Lindsay, the story comes first and the pictures follow.  Writing and illustrating children’s books is all about rhythm, conflict, and imagery.  The words and pictures share the story.  “There needs to be a balance when writing a text for kids, and I leave room for the art to tell the story.”

To hold a child’s interest, the character should always evolve throughout the book and overcome some sort of obstacle.  Most kids want to read about a quirky character they can relate to and fall in love with.  “The connection between the character and the reader is what makes a lasting story,” said Lindsay.  “Writing for children is challenging because the story has to move quickly but still be engaging and make the reader connect with the character on an emotional level.  If the reader connects to my story on an emotional level, then my work is done.”

On September 10th, Lindsay will be appearing at the 6th Annual Princeton Children’s Book Festival in Princeton, NJ, and again at the annual Pages and Places Book Festival held in Scranton the first week in October in Scranton.  Lindsay is currently working on a couple of stories about her lovable and unique duck.  For more information, visit www.lindsaybarrettgeorge.com.

Pat Thomas, Carbondale, PA

An admitted country girl, she says, “I was born to be a writer.”  Pat grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania.  She lived all over the Northeast and eventually moved back to Carbondale, her husband’s hometown.

She can’t remember a time when she didn’t love writing and always knew she would write in some capacity as a career.  Classic writers, such as Mark Twain, James Thurber, Robert Louis Stevenson, James Fenimore Cooper, and even William Shakespeare, inspired her at a young age. “I was always captivated by words,” she said.  Poetry was the first genre she delved into, and at eight-years old, one of her poems was published in Jack and Jill Magazine.

Pat earned her degree from Penn State University and thought she’d like working for a women’s magazine.  Instead, she jumped into the world of advertising and became a copywriter and editor.  Pat and her family moved to Maine where they owned and operated a lodge for five years before coming back to Pennsylvania.

“Along the way, I discovered that I am a children’s writer at heart,” said Pat. “Maybe it was my love of words and rhyme, my wacky sense of humor, or having children of my own that led me to write my first children’s book, Stand Back Said the Elephant, I’m Going to Sneeze.” Thousands of copies and forty years later, kids are still giggling over the elephant.  Since the book was released in 1971, several different editions have been printed including, recently, a version translated into Korean.  The classic still has people coming up to her in recognition.

Her work ranges from pre-school picture books to middle grade non-fiction articles.  Her articles and stories have appeared in Faces and Appleseeds magazines, covering subjects from Arthurian legends to the Loch Ness monster to Benjamin Franklin.

Pat’s books, stories, and articles cover a spectrum of styles from the lyrical Firefly Mountain to Nature’s Paintbox, a poetic approach to non-fiction.  Firefly Mountain is based on a real event Pat experienced while she was visiting the Smoky Mountains.  “I was in a meadow with fireflies swirling all around me, lighting the mountain above me like Christmas twinkle lights,” she said.  Nature’s Paintbox is considered non-fiction since it describes the four seasons as different forms of art media.  Pat also enjoys writing nonsense verse such as There Are Rocks in My Socks Said the Ox to the Fox, The One-and-Only, Super Duper, Golly-Whopper, Jim Dandy, Really Handy Clock Tock Stopper, and of course, The Elephant, which has been featured on the PBS Storytime series and even on Captain Kangaroo.

One of Pat’s publishers is Boyds Mills Press, located in Honesdale.  She’s released about seven books since The Elephant.  Her newest book, Red Sled, which was released in 2008, is written in a unique, deceptively simple style, based on an ancient writing form, perfect for young readers.  The story describes an evening of sledding and hot cocoa between a father and son.

In addition to her children’s books and other written publications, Pat teaches a college-accredited course in writing for children and presents writing workshops for children and adults, while also serving as senior writer/editor in the Communications and Marketing Office at Marywood University in Scranton.

She is currently working on several projects with different editors.  This October, she will present a writing workshop in South Carolina for An Author World, an organization that features workshops, classes, and discussion groups for published and aspiring authors.

Bill Johnson, Honesdale, PA

A recently retired veteran of Highlights for Children, Inc. and a children’s poetry writer, Bill Johnson’s love of poetry and teaching inspires him to encourage children to love the magical realm of lyrical verse themselves.

While teaching in Detroit, Michigan, Bill was fortunate to meet Dr. Walter Barbe, the Editor-in-Chief of Highlights for Children at a Young Authors Conference.  He was offered a chance to work with Highlights as an assistant editor, so Bill and his family moved to Wayne County in 1969.  Bill continued to work for over forty years, writing stories, reading manuscripts, and in 1978 became a sales consultant for Zaner-Bloser Co., the Highlights’ school textbook division.

While Bill always loved writing and tinkering with words and poetry, he has just now, upon retiring, been able to focus on the publishing aspect of children’s poetry.  In 2009, he and former Highlights editor, Dr. Christine San Jose, compiled an anthology of poems for children called Every Second Something Happens, published by Boyds Mills Press.  “We selected the best children’s poems that Highlights published over the years,” said Bill.  The book is comprised of over sixty poems tailored for first through fourth graders.  They’re fun, happy, joyful poems that children and families can enjoy.

Currently, Bill is able to attend writers’ workshops and conferences through the Highlights Foundation.  “These workshops allow published and aspiring writers and illustrators the opportunity to hone their craft and network with each other at the beautiful Myers family farm in Boyds Mills,” said Bill.  “It’s a way for us to share our combined interest in the joy of writing for children through words and pictures.”

He and his wife, Beth, continue to work with elementary school teachers to improve the children’s writing skills and both their love of reading and writing poetry.  Bill and Beth are now working on a collection of children’s poems about pond critters inspired by the love and experiences they have while watching their eleven grandchildren play, swim, and explore around their ponds.

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