Shirley Neitzel Books & Biography
In Her Own Words...
"My earliest memories are of my mother reading aloud. A lot of characters from books were real to me, as our family ritual included bedtime stories for me and chapters from longer books for the older children.
"I wanted to read for myself, so I often lay on the kitchen floor while my mother worked and I 'read' to her from memory. Soon I realized I could tell the story more exactly if I looked carefully at the words on the page. Spelling aloud the words I couldn't figure out, I worked my way through enough stories to satisfy me until our nightly reading session.
"I was eager to start kindergarten, and the day finally came when I walked the mile from our small farm in the western part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula to a one-room school. I watched eagerly as the teacher gave each child a stack of books. When she gave me only one, I was disappointed, but I turned it sideways and read the parts that said 'To the Teacher.' Then I carefully followed the directions. When my teacher said she wanted to talk to my mother, I thought I was in trouble, but it turned out she thought I should work with the first graders. That made me happy because they each had more than one book.
"My love of reading continued. In sixth grade I went to the 'big' school in town. The school had a room with one whole wall filled with books. Immediately, I decided to read every book in that library. A story I wrote was chosen for our school newspaper. I enjoyed people telling me they liked 'My Life as a Pencil.'
"In high school I won some essay contests, so I thought of a career in journalism. But I became a teacher instead so I could continue reading wonderful books for children. I encouraged my students to write, and sometimes I shared my writing with them.
"While planning one assignment for my students, I played with the pattern of the nursery rhyme 'The House That Jack Built.' My students laughed in the right places, and friends encouraged me to send my rhyme to an editor. It took a lot of courage to do that, but I sent it to Greenwillow. The editor-in-chief, Susan Hirschman, liked my rhyme, and chose Nancy Winslow Parker to illustrate it. Nancy drew little pictures to replace some of the words. The result was The Jacket I Wear in the Snow, the first in our series of rhyme-and-rebus books.
"Usually I start with a topic and decide how the story should end. Then I write little snippets of rhyme and, like putting a puzzle together, figure out how each part connects to another. Before I finish, the story changes many times.
"Sometimes when I read my books to children, one of them says, 'Read it again.' I think that's the best reward a writer can have."