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 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.
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 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!