“You Don’t Count. You’re a Grown-Up.”

The lovely Jeanne Birdsall, author of the Penderwicks series,  spoke recently at the Brookline Main Library. As the oldest big kid in the audience, I was heartened to see at least fifty young fans, including a healthy representation of boys!

Birdsall demonstrated how best to give a presentation: have a conversation with the fans and answer their questions honestly and respectfully. No podium or easy chair for her. She sat cross-legged on top of the table.


– Be encouraging. Birdsall just so happens to be writing an introduction for the 50-year anniversary of the classic. She said she hoped one of the young ones present would write the introduction for the 25th anniversary of her books.

– Make the children feel important. When asking who hadn’t read the first Penderwicks book, she pished a mom by waving the hand down. Refer to the title of this post. “You don’t count. You’re a grown-up.” Such a line also illustrates to a writer how to keep in mind your primary audience.

– Relate to their age. “Be very careful whom you sit next to in the 7th grade.” Hers encouraged her writing and became her second husband.

– Explain the writing process in humorous ways. Apparently the Penderwicks came into being because Birdsall took one of her favorite books, Little Women, and kept what she liked, and changed what she didn’t. Meg didn’t have a life; Jo got all the good stuff, which wasn’t fair; Beth’s awful thing happened; Amy was annoying (and “little sisters rock”). Also, writers, take note. In describing her work space, she said: “There’s a bed where I can take naps when I don’t feel like writing. It’s pretty much perfect.”

– Answer questions honestly. She always gets asked by the mothers why Mrs. Penderwick had to be dead. This time, a child asked the question. Part of her lovely answer was that she was a fan of “giving children the power to form the family they want.” Also, it would’ve meant portraying the natural push and pull between mother and teenage daughters. “We’ve lived through teenage rebellion. That’s enough.”

– Give little spoilers.  She’s going to discourage character Jane Penderwick from going the self-publishing route.

Concluding thoughts: “That’s the thing I hope for. That the book I’m writing right now or have just written is my favorite. If it’s not, well, maybe I didn’t work that hard.”

Work hard, dear writers!

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