Can you point to the book that made you want to be a children’s writer?

For me it is Vera B. Williams’ Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe.


My kids and I checked it out of the library shortly after it was published in 1981. Night after night we revisited the story of the narrator, her brother Sam, Aunt Rosie and Mom as they bought a red canoe at a yard sale and took their first overnight trip down a river. Highlights include portage over a waterfall, wildlife, fishing, changeable weather, lots of paddling and the return home to Sixtoes, their cat.

The book is set up as the narrator’s journal, a first-person account illustrated in colored pencil. It has heart and quiet humor and a recipe for fruit stew. The voice is pitch perfect.

Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe was my gateway to Vera B. Williams’ work, including A Chair for My Mother; Amber was Strong, Essie was Brave, and the Caldecott-award winning More, More, More Said the Baby. All brilliant.

I waited until my kids grew up to start making my own books. But I returned to those Vera Williams books as models of what a picture book can be. When my first book was published, I sent it to Ms. Williams, thanking her for her wonderful work and inspiration. I received a nice note in return.

So it goes, the circle of creation and inspiration.

For which I am so thankful on this foggy Seattle Thanksgiving morning.

And I wonder: what book made you want to create children’s books?


Filed under Uncategorized


  1. Kathy Quimby

    Kevin Henkes was the author and either Chrysanthemum or Jessica. All his books were popular when my daughter was little, but it was one of those two that made me “wish I could do that.” I loved the way he hit exactly the sort of emotional heart of things for children at that age, in such a true, yet comforting way. I still haven’t nailed the picture book, but those are the books that set me on the path to writing for children and young adults.

  2. Martine Leavitt

    The book that made me wonder about the magic and power of books: The Secret Garden, when I was seven.

    The book that made me say, “I’m going to be a writer”: The Lord of the Rings. I almost failed twelfth grade because of that book.

    The most recent book I’ve read that makes me want to continue to strive to be better: Gilead by Marilyn Robinson.

    Thanks for asking, Laura!

  3. I remember finishing Albert Payson Terhune’s Lad, a Dog, at age 8. I looked heavenward, tears streaming down my face, and vowed, “Some day, I will make readers cry like this.” (I was a very dramatic child 🙂 )

  4. laurakvasnosky

    I love to think of those connections — writer to reader to writer etc. — that network us across time and space.

  5. Memorizing small poems from A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson made me think, “I want to do that, write poems kids remember in the dark, as they go to sleep.” Reading A Birthday for Francis by Russell Hoban, Rosemary Wells’s Noisy Nora, James Marshall’s George and Martha or The Stupids Die – all those pushed me toward picture books – permission to be silly and mischievous. I still remember reading Jeremy Visick by David Wiseman and bursting into tears at one point, then thinking, “Someday, I’m going to write a novel like that.” Still trying.

    Thanks for the lovely post, Laura.

  6. I wish I could answer this question, but my memory is too bad. I do know I wanted to be a writer when I was a very little girl. And as a much older girl, I think Vera B. Williams is a genius and I’m so thankful for all her books.

  7. For me, it was Cynthia Rylant’s “When I Was Young in the Mountains.” My boys and I must have read that book a thousand times. I still return to it for the wonder of it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s