By Ruth Cuevas
Author Wendelin Van Draanen turned a sad experience for one child has turned into a wealth of books aimed at captivating the minds of young readers.
Van Draanen, guest speaker at Friday”s Children”s Lecture Review sponsored by the BYU Bookstore and the Harold B. Lee Fransworth juvenile literature library, said she didn”t plan to become a writer.
Those plans changed when an arsonist destroyed her family”s business and she discovered that writing was cathartic for her.
“It just seemed like such a crime, and I had trouble dealing with it,” Van Draanen said. “I took it out on paper, so everything that I was feeling about what had happened, I slashed on paper.
Van Draanen is the author of twelve books, with more in the works. She is best known for her Sammy Keyes Mysteries book series.
In 1999 “Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief” won the Edgar Allen Poe award for best children”s mystery.
“I wasn”t expecting to win because it was up against two mystery writers that were really well established,” she said.
Van Draanen decided to write children”s fiction books after her adult books were rejected by publishers.
“In fiction anything can happen,” Van Draanen said. “Anything that you want to have happen can happen, because it”s your world and you are creating it. Fiction and I got along right away.”
Although employed as a full time computer science teacher in Santa Maria, Calif., Van Draanen decided to begin writing and committed herself to wake up at 5:00 each morning to write, a tradition she continues today.
“I didn”t know anything about writing, but I knew that I liked it,” Van Draanen said. “I knew that I wanted to do it.”
Van Draanen used her experience as a teacher to create some of the events and names in her books.
“When I was stuck for a name … I would open up my grade book and steal theirs [her students”],” she said. “I took a name from second period and a last name from sixth period and I created a hybrid student. I was taking the way they treated each other: the nice things they did and the mean things, and I was weaving them into stories.”
Becky Lewis, a librarian at Amelia Earhart Elementary School in Provo, said the children at her school really enjoy Van Draanen”s Sammy Keyes series.
“The kids go through those just like Harry Potter,” Lewis said. “It”s very applicable to the kids. She”s very enthusiastic and it shows through her writing. She does a great thing for the middle school age, and the kids just love them. If she”d write more, the kids would read more.”
Janice Card, children”s book buyer for the BYU Bookstore, said although there is not a great demand for Van Draanen”s books yet, she believes interest will build.
“She writes wonderful, fun books, but with a message,” Card said. “They are thought provoking, but they are fun, they are funny and she has quite a wide variety. I like them all for all different reasons. They stand on their own.”