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Reading good books inspired me to start writing. Because I had a stutter, writing stories always made me feel better about myself.
At first, I wrote sad poems and stories. But when I met Nola Langner in the third grade, she wanted to draw happy pictures and so I wrote silly poems and stories for her to illustrate. We never guessed that when we were grown up, we would publish six books together, with my stories and her charming illustrations.
In high school the only class I enjoyed was my English class. The teacher, Miss Colucchi, was the first adult to encourage my writing.
At the University of New Mexico, I continued to write poems and stories. After my first year in college, I married. We had a baby son, Peter. When the marriage was over, Peter and I took a train back to New York City. We shared one small room with my sister on the fifth floor of a walk-up building. The kitchen was in the hall and the bathroom was down the stairs. I took free typing and secretarial courses at night. Soon I was able to get a job as a secretary, filing papers and typing out forms. The only time I had for writing was on the subway going to work.
At last I got a job in a publishing house that published Little Golden Books. The office was in a skyscraper right on Fifth Avenue. In front of the building was a huge statue of Atlas holding up the world. I loved the building I worked in!
My job was to stamp the date on pages before they went to the printers. By the third day of stamping, I was bored out of my mind.
In the office ladies room, I heard a woman say that they needed a Little Golden Book about Roy Rogers, the famous cowboy. I hardly knew who Roy Rogers was, but on the way home after work, I bought a comic book about him. I wanted to learn about the characters well enough to write a book. I stayed up all night, writing and re-writing.
The next day at work, I found the woman who had said she wanted a Roy Rogers book. I managed to tell her what I had done and I handed my pages to her. Very surprised, she read my efforts right then and there. She pronounced it “not too terrible,” and worked on it with me for twenty minutes. Roy Rogers and the Mountain Lion was published when I was 23 years old. Talk about being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of an opportunity! When the book was published, I was overjoyed to see “by Ann McGovern” on the title page.
I had a new job at Golden Books writing books based on kids’ TV shows — Huckleberry Hound, Shari Lewis, Winky Dink, and many others. I didn’t think of these books as really good writing. My sister suggested I leave the job because I wasn’t being paid extra for writing the books. Sure enough, after I left Golden Books, they asked me to keep on writing and I was paid $250 a book. I was in my twenties and had about 10 Little Golden Books published.
Every Saturday at the library, Peter and I took out many wonderful books for me to read to him. It never entered my mind that I, too, could write such wonderful children’s books.
Because I needed the money, I was writing anything I could at that time—descriptions for record albums, a New Jersey newspaper column, even a Classic Comic book on pirates. I wrote book reviews for children’s books for The New York Times, at $15.00 a review. I also wrote a movie script for The Princess and the Pea.
I bumped into Nola Langner, my friend from third grade, at a supermarket. We were delighted to see each other again. Nola told me she was illustrating books and having them published as well. Once again, we got together. I had an idea to write an unusual collection of fairy tales and it was published with Nola’s wonderful drawings.
I was later hired by the publishing company, Random House, in the children’s book department. My job was to go through stacks of stories people hoped to get published.
Labor Day was a holiday and I didn’t have to go to work that day. Peter asked me why. “Because it’s a holiday,” I said. “But why is it a holiday?” he wanted to know. At that moment, an idea came to me.
I asked the children’s book editor at Random House if I could write a book about the story behind each major holiday. “It’s a good idea,” she said. “But I can’t give you a contract because your writing experience is mostly from Golden Books. You’ll have to write the whole book and then we’ll see if we want to publish it.” It took me a year and a half to do the research and write the book. Can you imagine my joy when the editor said it was good and that they would like to publish it? WHY IT’S A HOLIDAY was published in 1960.
The book is now available again, in paperback. But back in 1960, when my book came out, there wasn’t a Martin Luther King holiday or Earth Day or Kwanza. These holidays came later. You can find out about these holidays on this website, under More About Holidays.
I kept writing ”good” books as well as working. I wrote many books after work, in my lunch hour, at the library, at home at night and on weekends. I wrote picture books, biographies, books about life long ago, animal books, retellings of famous folk stories — and more. You can read how I got the ideas for my books by clicking Questions About Books.
Later while working for the publishing company, Scholastic, Inc., I created a new book club. The SeeSaw Book Club was a way for kindergarten and first grade children to develop a love of books before they could read on their own. I became the book club’s editor and soon SeeSaw was very popular.
When I had worked at Scholastic for 13 years, I took a risky giant step. I decided to leave my Scholastic job to become a full-time writer. By then, I had 18 published books.
Could I make a living as a writer and be able to support my son and myself? The answer was yes! My stuttering was finally over. I began to be invited to schools to talk about writing and I was asked to be a speaker at educational conferences. I started to receive fan mail from children, teachers and librarians. I had to pinch myself to make sure all this was really true.
I was well on my way!