TAKING THE PLUNGE

oI’ve been away from the journal for a while. I needed some time to reflect, to ponder, and to dive into some research for a future book. But during my time away, I have been able to consider the many people for whom I’m thankful and who helped along the way. It was in 1984–a lifetime away it seems now–that I decided to take a plunge. I had been writing since my college days (well, for as long as I can remember) and having things published here and there–the California Highway Patrolman, San Diego Home/Garden magazine, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Sunset magazine, Country Living magazine, NCTE’s English Journal, and numerous poetry journals. But in my heart of hearts, I wanted to write books for young people. So in 1984 at the age of 34, I walked away from my classroom. It was a risky decision. I had some savings in the bank, three or four credit cards that carried no balances, a roof over my head, and a car that was paid for, but no guarantee that any editor would be interested in what I wrote…or wanted to write…or would agree to write (which was just about anything at all). The driving force in my decision was that I didn’t want to reach the age of 40 and not have tried. I didn’t want to reach the age of 60 and wonder Could I have achieved my dream? And so I took that plunge.

I continued to write for magazines and newspapers after I left my high school classroom, but in 1986 I sold my first children’s book–a nonfiction title called BMX Freestyle–to Franklin Watts, Inc. In the interim, my delightful friend and former professor, Dr. Paul Erickson, had recommended me for a position that opened at San Diego State University. Reluctantly, I agreed to fill in on a temporary basis–one semester. That semester turned into a long-term teaching gig until 1992. By then, I was thinking that this writing thing was going to work out, but still there were slim years. My editor, Frank Sloan, was so happy with BMX Freestyle (it became a best-selling title)–that he wanted more titles along the same line and came up with ideas when my mind drew a blank. Footbagging, Karate. Snowboarding. Rock Climbing. I became the maven of individual sports. Russell Primm picked up after Frank left the company and together we expanded my writing repertoire. He was followed by the wonderful Mark Friedman. Russell and Mark introduced me to Children’s Press and Rookie Readers and fought for this writers’ royalties and escalations (which made it possible for me to continue to write and keep a roof over my head). Sandra Jordon became my first picture book editor at Orchard Books, followed by Simone Kaplan at HarperCollins. Laura Godwin bought my first chapter book at Henry Holt, while Kent Brown and Larry Rosler of Boyds Mills Press helped me introduce the world to Max & Felix, the “odd couple” of children’s literature. More recently, Marilyn Brigham, of Two Lions, helped me bring Puppy & Bear to life.

Soon approaching my fourth decade of full-time writing, the number of Brimner-books has grown now to more than 200. Yes, I think this writing thing might actually work out. Carolyn Yoder, at Calkins Creek, tells me that we’re “going to grow old together.” To that I say, As long as we work on books for young readers, we shall never grow old.

Of course, the librarians and teachers who enthusiastically brought and continue to bring my titles to young people have been essential during this journey. I don’t know all of you, but I am grateful to each and every one of you. To my mind, a good librarian is the heartbeat of a school, while a good teacher is the life flowing through its veins.

Looking back, I’m thankful that I took that plunge so many years ago (although in geologic time, it is but a flash). Yes, I miss my teaching days and MY students (who all played a role in my journey), but I am happy to be where I am. I know that I don’t express my gratitude often enough to those of you who have given of your knowledge and experience to guide me, but please know that my life has been enriched by you. And because of you, my heart is full.

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