Tag Archives: Christine Pakkala

Author! Children’s Author!

Westport has a long history with children’s books. Hardie Gramatky illustrated classics like “Little Toot.” Robert Lawson wrote and drew “Rabbit Hill,” and illustrated “The Story of Ferdinand.”

While it’s easy to mourn the loss of artistic icons like these, we still play an important role in children’s literature.

Our neighbors include noted authors of historical fiction, multicultural-themed books, humor, plays — you name it.

Tracy Newman wanted to know more. She talked to some of Westport’s biggest names. Here is her report.


Sari Bodi writes plays based on myths and fairy tales for children’s magazines published by Scholastic. She credits the opportunity to fellow Westporter Lauren Tarshis — the New York Times best-selling author of the “I Survive” middle grade series, and an editorial director of children’s magazines at Scholastic.

It was in Westport that Sari transformed from writing plays and short stories for adults. She joined a children’s books writing group, hosted by Barnes & Noble (which has a robust program of author readings too).

She also appreciates the Westport Library. They help with research, and sponsor a young adult novel reading group that Sari took part in.

Sari enjoys walks on the beach and dinners with fellow writers, where they discuss current projects and the state of children’s publishing.

————————————

Tommy Greenwald

Tommy Greenwald is Westport’s hottest current young adult author. He specializes in funny stories for upper elementary and middle school children (the Charlie Joe Jackson series, which began with their “Guide to Not Reading”).

Tommy — a 1980 Staples High School graduate — also wrote “Game Changer,” a serious book about youth sports, and a picture book.

He writes at both Barnes & Noble, and the Westport Library. Tommy appreciates too Westport’s proximity to New York, for meetings with editors, agents and publicists.


Tracy Newman says, “The Westport community supports my writing in many ways — from forming critique groups and discovering like-minded pals, to offering a variety of classes, to providing a world-class library full of friendly faces, helpful staff and nearly limitless resources.”

Newman takes advantage of nearby New York City too, with trips to the Public Library, writing conferences and — as a writer of Jewish-themed books — events at the Jewish Theological Seminary and Jewish Book Council.

————————————–

Michaela MacColl

An author of historical fiction for middle school and young adult readers, Michaela MacColl has found many writing friends in Westport. She helps other authors too, organizing periodic meetings for local children’s authors.

The Westport Historical Society is an excellent resource for Michaela’s many questions. She finds inspiration in Westport’s history, especially cemeteries. (The lower one at Greens Farms Congregational Church is her favorite.)

Barnes & Noble hosts her writing group and authors’ book launches, while school media specialists have invited her to speak to classes. The Westport Library has also brought Michaela in, for book talks, WestportREADS and the Saugatuck Storytelling Festival.


Susan Ross is the author of 2 middle grade novels. “Kiki and Jacques: A Refugee Story” was this year’s WestportREADS kids’ companion book.

A Westport Writers Workshop instructor, she also takes advantage of easy access to New York’s children’s writing and book events.


Christine Pakkala

Christine Pakkala has written for very young and elementary school children. She’s authored a middle school series, and is currently working on a young adult novel.

She calls Westport “a very supportive community,” because its readers are as passionate and enthusiastic as its authors. “They’re well-read, curious and supportive.”

In her spare time, she teaches at the Westport Writers Workshop.


Fiction and non-fiction picture book writer Karlin Gray says that Westport is wonderful for providing opportunities for connections to writers who need a break from their solitary pursuits.

Meetups at Barnes & Noble, classes at the library and workshops at writing centers have provided herwith a valued community. She cites Westporter Victoria Sherrow — author of more than 80 books — with helping transform 3 of Karlin’s manuscripts into publications.


We may have missed some other Westport children’s authors. If you know of any, add details below!

Christine Pakkala’s Nightmare, Prize-Winning Trip

There’s a lot to learn at the Westport Writers’ Workshop. But it’s not all about the words.

Christine Pakkala has taken workshops, and been mentored, at the Sylvan Road center since 2008. Beyond important writing skills, she’s gained confidence. And learned to put herself waaay out there.

She did it so well that her essay — “The Vacation Nightmare That Changed My Life” — won 1st place in the prestigious Ladies’ Home  Journal writing contest. Chosen from thousands of submission, it earned her $3,000 — plus publication in the June issue.

Christine Pakkala (Photo by Kristin Hoebermann)

Christine Pakkala (Photo by Kristin Hoebermann)

Christine wrote grippingly about her fear of flying. She finally overcame it in order to spend Christmas in Costa Rica with her husband, attorney and author Cameron Stracher, and their kids (Simon, then 13, and Lulu, 10).

The vacation turned grim when Cam collapsed after a run. The only CAT-scan machine in the country was in San Jose — and the only way to get there was on a tiny plane.

Back in Westport — after a long commercial flight — the couple learned that a major artery was 90 percent blocked. He had survived only because his runner’s heart was so strong.

After a stent and medication, he’s back running. Christine has flown half a dozen times since then. And, of course, she writes.

A former Fulbright Scholar who received her Master of Fine Arts degree from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she says, “I’ve had Pulitzer Prize-winning writing teachers. But the best advice came from Jessica Bram and Suzanne Hoover” — 2 of her Westport Writers’ Workshop teachers. “They taught me to first listen to myself, then listen to others.”

Now others are listening to Christine. Last month she taught students how to break into children’s books. She should know: She’s got a multi-book publishing deal.

Christine got interested in writing for kids when Simon was in kindergarten. Her tales incorporated his classmates as characters. She read them aloud, and teachers encouraged her to do more.

She listened. She wrote. She branched out from kindergarten to middle grade fiction, and now to a harrowing but healing account of her terrible trip to Costa Rica.

Which — thanks to confidence gained through the Westport Writers’ Workshop — is a prize-winning essay, shared with Ladies’ Home Journal readers everywhere.

Westport Writers Workshop

(To read Christine’s essay, click here.)