Another Column at MyShelf.Com
Babe To Teens, Past
A Youth Column
By Beverly J. Rowe

Spring Reading, Contest, An Interview with Janet Muirhead Hill, and Web Site Recommendations

     Ah...Spring. The wonderful season we've been waiting for since fall. The Iditarod sled dog race is over for another year, and the snow geese are stopping here in Alaska on their annual migration north to Russia. The sound of these beautiful birds talking to each other puts me in a gardening mood. Well....almost. I guess I would really rather read. There are great new books being published this spring...the long awaited new Harry Potter book will be out in June, but you can pre-order it now. For you Pokemon fans, there is a new strategy guide.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)
by J. K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré (Illustrator) (Hardcover - June 2003)

Pokemon Ruby &Sapphire Official Strategy Guide
by Phillip Marcus (Paperback -- March 13, 2003)

Lisa Wheeler       Horse stories were always among my favorites as a child, and still fascinate me. I loved reading the Miranda and Starlight stories, and when the third book in the series, Star Light, Star Bright came out, I just had to interview the author, Janet Muirhead Hill. Here is what she had to say:

Bev: Janet, tell us about yourself. What were your growing up years like?

Janet: They were very different, I think, from those of most kids growing up today. Ranch life is a culture unto itself, a culture that keeps the family together, nurturing strong loyalties, pride, and cooperation. I was a child in the forties and fifties, and though our family wasn't rich, our experiences were. We grew up in the outdoors, surrounded by natural beauty, animals, and hard work. Mom toiled along with Dad in the fields, the milk barn and on horseback, besides keeping up with the housework, childbearing, and childrearing. I was the middle child in a family of six kids. I idolized (still do) my older sister and tried to emulate my older brother, who was my constant playmate until my younger twin sisters were born. Although I was only four, I "adopted" one of them, and my sister chose the other, and we mothered them both with lots of love, attention, and pride. When my younger brother came along when I was seven, we had another baby to adore. There was a lot of love in our family. (Still is.)

Except for my strong maternal instincts and love for babies, I was very much a tomboy. When my older brother climbed a tree, I climbed higher, when he jumped off a building into the deep snow we get in the Colorado Yampa Valley, I had to do the same, no matter how scared I was. If he said he could ride a bull, I rode it too, just to prove (or rather disprove) I could. (That's another story.) Horses were one of the most important influences in my life. Dad taught all of us kids to ride, beginning before we were old enough to walk by carrying us in his arms as he rode. Most of the games we played as kids involved riding horses, as did a lot of our work. But horses were more than that to me; they were kindred spirits, friends I could go to for solace, companionship, and with confidences I knew they'd keep.


Bev: How does a girl go from being an oilfield roustabout and doing custom haying to being a writer and the founder, publisher, and editor in chief of a publishing company?

Janet: (LOL.) Well, believe it or not, there is a common thread in all of it. I have always been stubbornly independent. I enjoyed doing work that was not traditionally "women's" work. I still insist on changing the oil in my car myself. The more challenging the work, the more rewarding I find it, and believe me, operating a work-over rig on an oil well can be challenging. However, there was always the side of me that wanted to write, and I wrote. When I tried unsuccessfully to get my books published, I got to thinking, "I can do this myself." Owning my own company gives me control of my books, products of my heart and soul that I don't want to turn over to any one else. I am an "I'll do-it-myself" kind of person.


Bev: I really enjoyed your Starlight and Miranda books. Tell me, how much of Miranda is biographical?

Janet: Miranda is a composite. There is a little of me as a child, a little of my daughters and my granddaughter, with a lot imagination thrown in.


Bev: Miranda and Elliot are both living with grandparents instead of their parents. Tell us about your decision to write about parentless children.

Janet: I think it's mostly because I have had one or more grandchildren in my care for a lot of years, and not only do I love it, but I'm equipped with more wisdom, patience, and time than I had when I raised my own four kids. But it's also because I've observed that there are a lot of grandparents in this role, and there are increasingly more children being raised in nontraditional settings. I thought there should be more books written from their perspective.


Bev: Miranda is less than angelic sometimes...more like a regular kid. Do you have any reaction from parents and teachers about Miranda deliberately doing things that she knows will result in trouble?

Janet: Yes, I've gotten some criticism for Miranda's actions. She's not a model of obedience and conformity. Usually, however, by the time people read the second and third books, they see that Miranda is learning from her mistakes, while still being true to her convictions. I hear more praise than complaint about the fact that Miranda is spunky and independent, and, like you say, "a regular kid," modeling the principle of following one's heart, whatever the cost.


Bev: When did you realize that you wanted to write for children?

Janet: That's a hard question to answer. I can't pinpoint a time when I thought, "I want to write for children." The seeds for becoming a children's writer were planted in early childhood by my older sister, who not only read many exciting books to me, but also made up stories as she told them, and encouraged me to do the same. I loved to read to my children and grandchildren and tell them stories, "out of my head," as they call it. I first began writing them down as short stories, when my children were small and later as books for my grandchildren.


Bev: What have you written besides the Miranda/Starlight books?

Janet: I've written many short stories that were drawn from my own experiences, as well stories my mother had told me of her childhood. Many of these were published in various children's magazines, most by Christian presses. I've written hundreds of poems, just for the joy of writing poetry. Only a few have been published, and most of those in desk-top/self published periodicals of which I am the editor. I write more serious essays for Alone Together, a bi-monthly newsletter/forum for survivors of abuse and trauma which is also self-published. I have written a set of books for adults and/or young adults that I will publish, probably in 2005. They are adventure/fantasy books with a somewhat dark, though exciting plot. As I don't think they are appropriate for the same audience as my Starlight books, I will probably publish them under a pseudonym. They contain mystery and adventure, but also some violence and scary stuff; secret crimes that can and do happen in real life.


Bev: Pat Lehmkuhl is a wonderful artist and has done a beautiful job illustrating your Starlight books. Did you work together to decide which parts of the story should be illustrated?

Janet: Working with Pat has been a pleasure and an honor. She is the perfect illustrator for the Starlight books. To some extent we collaborate on the illustrations, because I tell her my ideas. However, she is an artist and I trust her judgment. As she reads the story she can visualize illustrations that will work, so unless she asks me to make a choice between a couple of sketches, I leave the decision to her.


Bev: Is your next book a Starlight series book?

Janet: Yes, the fourth, called Starlight's Shooting Star. It will be in print sometime this summer.


Bev: What are your future writing plans?

Janet: I have definite plans for two more Starlight books to be published in 2004. I have ideas for several books in mind including two adult novels I've started; one of them is a sci-fi, the other a romance/ mystery. I'd also like to write another book or series of books for children with a boy as the main character. I wish I could write as fast as I come up with ideas.


Bev: Do you have any advice for kids who would like to be writers?

Janet: Yes, four things.
1) Believe in yourselves, know what you want, and go where your heart leads you. Don't give up.
2) Read. Read a lot, sampling many authors from various genres. This will help you find and refine the writing style that best suits you. It will help you find your own voice.
3) And write. Write whatever interests you and write what you know from experience. Journaling is a good habit and not only improves your writing skills with practice, but also supplies a wealth of material to draw from later on.
4) And live with your eyes and ears wide open. Sample life by taking advantage of every opportunity to enrich your experience with new adventures. (Without putting yourselves in danger, of course.)


Bev: Would you like to share any other thoughts with us?

Janet: I recently heard that a writer should be careful not to let his or her characters take control of the story. I don't know who said that, but it's advice that doesn't work for me. What would be the fun of writing if the characters didn't lead? I think better advice is: clearly know your characters inside and out, and then let them lead.

When I write, I prepare an outline of the entire book at some point near the beginning of the process, though not always before I begin. (I usually begin with ideas that I must get down while they are flowing; dialogue and details intact.) But the outline is useful to fall back on when the ideas falter or if and when the storyline is wandering too far from my chosen plot. However, in every book and short story I've written, I follow the characters where they take me when they grab the reins and run. When my muse is on a roll, I go with it, enjoying the suspense just as much as my readers will later.


Bev: Janet, it has been a real pleasure to read your Starlight books, and to have you share your life and ideas with us on Babes to Teens. We are all looking forward to reading Starlight's Shooting Star. Thanks so much. Be sure to let us know your pseudonym for your upcoming adult books! Janet Muirhead Hill Club
Be a Resident Janet Muirhead Hill Scholar

You can e-mail Janet and let her know what you think about Miranda and Starlight:

Web Site Recommendations:

Kids@Random all the new kids books by Random House. How Wilbur and Orville became the first to fly. More about Gaspard &Lisa and the Magic Tree House.

Magic Tree House #28:
High Tide in HawaiiSurf's up for Jack and Annie! Learn more about this book.

Gaspard and Lisa's Rainy Day. Gaspard and Lisa find inventive ways to avoid boredom on a rainy afternoon. Learn more about this book.

Welcome to Time Warner Bookmark/Little, Brown and Company Books for Children

On the Ice With...Mario Lemieux
by Matt Christopher
Celebrate the hockey season with one of the sport's greats. Called Super Mario, Mario the Magnificent, and Mario the Miracle Man, Mario Lemiuex's story is engaging and inspirational.

First to Fly: How Wilbur &Orville Wright Invented the Airplane
The 100th anniversary of the first flight! Learn more about this book.

Travels with Toot and Puddle
by Holly Hobbie
A lovely box set, with a carry handle and easy-to-open cover, containing three favorites: Toot &Puddle, Toot &Puddle: A Present for Toot and Toot &Puddle: You Are My Sunshine.


Los Angeles Times - Kids' Reading Room everything from poems to a serial chapter book to reviews by kids, you can send in a review too.

2003 Past Columns

Janet Muirhead Hill
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