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The Gift of Story

I never set out to write children’s fiction. My creative writing pursuits were more commonly centered on nonfiction, the occasional poem, or flash fiction stories that ranged from the melancholy to the savage: a woman facing the reality of a passionless marriage, a woman confronting a trapped racoon, a vicious crime that takes place under a crescent moon.

When I became a grandmother, stories of another sort tumbled forth. I made up tales to entertain my granddaughters on the hour-long car rides between their home and mine and encourage their own flights of fancy. Together, we came up with plotlines featuring a pair of mischievous fairies, and I began to dabble with the idea of working with an illustrator to turn our ideas into picture books.

Then I witnessed my oldest granddaughter’s sorrow when the family moved and she had to leave behind a beloved tree—the first big tree she had learned to climb, the first place she ran to every day after school. I was touched by Eleanor’s deep attachment to her tree and wanted to honor her feelings with a story, so I set aside the fairies to work in earnest on my first kid’s book, The Climbing Tree.

Having written a book for Eleanor, I went on to write books for her sisters, Virginia and Caroline, coming up with plots that centered on unique aspects of their personalities. Caroline was a baby at the time, but I spent hours collaborating with her sisters, then ages 5 and 3, reading drafts aloud and incorporating the editorial changes they insisted I make. Their suggestions made the stories better.

I never imagined trying to have the books published conventionally. I wanted to share my love of books and reading and storytelling with the people I love most in the world. I wanted my granddaughters to hold glossy, colorful picture books in their hands and know that they had both inspired and contributed to them. Now, four years after publication, my granddaughters don’t call the books by their titles: The Climbing Tree, Virginia Loves Dogs, Caroline and the Not-Mamma. The books are “Eleanor’s Book,” “Virginia’s Book,” “Caroline’s Book.”

As a grandmother, I can’t imagine a better legacy than the gift of story.

©2023 by Barbara Leary


Write Your Own Picture Book This Fall!

You have two opportunities to work with award-winning children’s book author Barbara Leary this fall: a KidLit Basics webinar on September 13, and P is for Picture Book, a five-week series beginning on September 27 that will help you create your own picture book from start to finish. For more information and to register, visit Register by August 31 for an early bird discount!

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