Writing for Little Hearts
by Kathleen Long Bostrom
two sons sat in a warm tub of bathwater, scrubbing their
knees and pondering the deep questions of the universe.
"David, what do you want to be when you grow
up?" my eight-year-old son, Christopher, asked his
younger brother. "A scientist? A policeman?"
I smiled to myself as I pulled David's pajamas out of his dresser drawer in the bedroom a few feet away. It was no secret at our house that one of my dreams was to become a published writer.
Four years after that conversation, I am happyand relievedto report that I did not have to wait for my youngest son to grow up before my dream was realized. In August 1997, my first children's picture book, The World That God Made, was published by Tyndale House. And that's just the beginning. I currently have four more books under contract and possibilities for more.
One question most authors are asked at some point in their careers is, "Did you always want to be a writer?" My answer to that question is "Yes." And "No." I always enjoyed writing. My best friend and I began a novel in the sixth grade about two girls stranded on an island. I still have that manuscript, tucked away in the bottom of a cedar chest, where it will remain.
But though I enjoyed writing and received encouragement to do so over the years, I never pursued the thought of being "a writer" until the spring of 1992. My husband, Greg, and I had recently moved to Wildwood, Illinois, to become co-pastors of a small but growing congregation. I worked part time, in order to be at home with our young children, then three, five, and seven. I also suffered from chronic pain due to a condition diagnosed as fibromyalgia, and so I began walking in the mornings to try to relieve some of the stiffness in my muscles.
Wildwood is built around a beautiful lake. It is an older community, and trees abound. As I enjoyed my morning walks, thoughts and images began to dance around in my mind. I would hurry home to write down what I had seen, felt, and heard, relishing the challenge of finding a new and different way to describe the ordinary. I had no goal other than to write for the fun of it, and the thought of publication had not yet crossed my mind.
The writing fever began to spread to other areas of my life. As I worked on sermons, drove in the car, or rocked my children to sleep at night, words continued to tumble and tangle within me. And, being a mother, it was a natural progression that soon these words began forming into stories to tell my children.
So I began to write stories for children. Lullabies, poems, tales of dogs finding their way in the worldeverywhere I looked, I found a story waiting to be put to words. My children, of course, thought my stories were wonderful. Though I knew their enthusiasm was biased, their delight in listening to stories that were inspired by pieces of their own lives stirred my creative juices until I began spending every free moment writing.
My husband and I are great readers, and from the time our children were born, we read to them. As I sat with a child snuggled in my lap, reading Good Night, Moon or The Runaway Bunny, I began to think, "Wouldn't it be wonderful to publish a book that a parent and child would read and cherish together?" I knew that as I read to my children, we were building some of our most precious memories. To be a part of that memory-building for other adults and children seemed like a gift beyond compare.
Thus began my quest to be a published author. I read books about publication, joined organizations such as the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, the Children's Reading Round Table of Chicago, the Society of Midland Authors, and the Presbyterian Writers Guild. I attended workshops and retreats, joined a writer's critique group, and took a writing class at the local junior college. I did my research, discovered which publishers were looking for children's books, and then began submitting manuscripts to publishing houses, certain that some wise editor would snatch my stories from the dreaded "slush piles" and that I would get a phone call saying, "Kathy Bostromwe want to publish all your books!"
I liken the process of publishing a book to pregnancy. A book begins with the conception of an idea, then experiences a long gestation period during which the story takes shape and eventually reaches completion, ready to be birthed by a publisher-midwife and held up for all the world to see. Little did I know that for me, the pregnancy would last four, long years before I found an editor ready to bring one of my books to life. My children even began to tell Santa Claus that what they wanted most for Christmas was for "Mommy's books to get published."
Along the way, I began writing children's books with theological content. I listened to the questions the children of the church, including my own, would ask: "Where does God live? Is God a boy or a girl?" As I wrestled with providing answers to these questions at a level the young children would understand, books began to take shape. I discussed with an editor the possibility of writing a book for young children that would deal with these very basic and practical questions, and to write the book in verse, since children love rhyme. The editor was enthusiastic and encouraged me on my quest.
I spent six months writing the book, then submitted it, only to receive a form letter rejection. Discouraged, I set the manuscript aside, not sure what to do with it. Several months later, a friend suggested that I send the manuscript to Tyndale House, a religious publisher based in Wheaton, Illinois, about an hour from my home. I wrote one of their editors and asked if she would be willing to look at the manuscript. Her reply"We are not doing many children's books at this time, but I will take a look at your manuscript."
I mailed it off in March 1996 and waited. And waited. In the meantime, I continued to submit other manuscripts to other publishers. The rejections piled up. In August, I heard back from the editor at Tyndale House that they were "interested," but that the manuscript had to be approved by several other committees. I tried not to get my hopes up too high. I had come close to publication before, only to have it all fall through. But on September 23, 1996, the editor called me and said, "I think we have good news for you. We want to publish your book."
How can I describe my elation? Even for a writer, words are inadequate. After all those years of hard work, persistence, anonymity, and rejection, I felt like Cinderella at the ball. The glass slipper fit! I had found my editor and my publisherand they had found me.
When I announced to my family that I had a book accepted for publication, their reactions varied from my husband's and oldest son's enthusiastic, "Hooray for you!" to my daughter's supportive, "I knew you could do it!" to the would-be publisher, my youngest son's, slightly exasperated, "Finally!"
Two months later, a call came from Tyndale to offer me a contract on another manuscript, which actually became my first published book, The World That God Made. (The publication of the first accepted manuscript was delayed when Tyndale House decided to have me begin a new series for them, with that first manuscript being the first book in the series.) Questions from Little Hearts: What Is God Like? made its debut in bookstores in February 1998, and Questions from Little Hearts: Who Is Jesus? will be out in August 1998.
Also under contract with Essmont Publishing in Vermont is a book of biographies on the Newbery Medalists (the Newbery Medal is the most prestigious award given every year to the best children's book), and I am writing a book on teaching values to children, tentatively titled A Handful of Values: A Team Approach to Teaching Values to Children in Grades K-2, which will be published in March of 1999 by Goodyear Books, a division of Addison Wesley Longman.
Through the years of rejections (which totaled close to 250 before that call from Tyndale House!), I never gave up. I had sermons and articles published, but I never let go of my wish to publish books for children. All along, my writing felt to me like a "call," just as my "call" to ministry came quite unexpectedly nearly twenty years ago. There was a force, greater than my own will, urging me on. I sensed that there was a deeper purpose to my obsession with the written word, that somehow God would use me as a way to reach out to children and adults and to share the Good News. I pray that my books will do just this, and I see them as an extension of my ministry as an ordained pastor. My dream of writing books that adults and children would share together has now expanded into the gift of writing books that will also enable a sharing of the faith.
Part of the expansion of that dream has been for me to be a mentor for young writers. Several of the young folks in the church have come to me with their stories, asking for my advice. I offer my guidance and load them with encouragement.
Just like Presbyterian author Frederick Buechner
I will do everything I can to encourage the young writers I know; I believe it is part of my "call" to be a part of theirs. They are each gifted writers, but more than that, they each have a writer's heart. They are in love with words, as I am, with their joy and possibilities, and with the power that words have to create. After all, it wasn't until God spoke the Word that chaos turned into creation. God still blesses words with the power to give life, to turn the chaos of our thoughts and feelings into something that we can hold on to and claim as our own. And that, in my book, is truly a miracle.
© Copyright 1998 Princeton