When it comes to thanking only one author during our November TeachingAuthors Thanks-Giving celebration, how could I not choose my very first TeachingAuthor, former Illinoisan Berniece Rabe?
If her name is new to you, click here to read about some of her books, awards and accomplishments in this Chicago, Tribune 1993 article.
There’s also this lovely write-up that sadly, has not been updated to include Berniece’s death 3 years ago.
Her very own words as to why she writes for children speak volumes about who and what she was.
"My books speak of survival, of hard times. . . . Often there is love and humor interwoven and my characters not only survive, they live with hope and confidence. I write such books for I believe all children have a time for suffering and a time for happiness. How we cope with the suffering determines the time left to happiness. Our struggles cause us to crumble or to grow, the choice is ours. To make my readers aware that there is a choice is why I write."
The first of anything is always unforgettable, often eye-opening and if we’re lucky, life-changing.
Bernice deserves all three adjectives.
She first came my way at the very start of my Writer’s Journey, courtesy of SCBW - so long ago, the “I” for Illustrators wasn’t even an idea.
Think: no Internet (!), few Writing for Children classes and a handful of books on the craft of Writing for Children. J.K. Rowling was years away from becoming the Children’s Book Writers VIP Influencer.
The inexpensive SCBW membership offered me (1) validation, thanks to my lovely blue membership card that named me a Children’s Book Writer, (2) an informative newsletter, (3) an annual conference (of sorts) and (4) best all, The Manuscript Exchange, which is how I first met Berniece.
By that time she was already an award-winning published author of her first semi-autobiographical middle grade novel RASS and the 1978 Golden Kite Award-winning middle grade novel THE GIRL WHO HAD NO NAME.
I counted several sleepless nights awaiting the arrival of my SASE that held Berniece Rabe’s critical response to my first picture book, CATCH A PATCH OF FOG. I could only pinch myself when SHE asked ME to respond in kind to one of her manuscripts!
I still shake my head at her assessment: Berniece Rabe, a real honest-to-goodness author, thought I was a children’s book writer!
She qualified the affirmation, of course, while teaching me volumes about the truths of story-telling and the picture book format. I had years to go before I’d be published, she shared. She was kind enough not to tell me why. She kept to herself what she saw in my stories but I as yet couldn’t: I was unconnected to my characters, still unwilling to feel as my characters felt, writing well but above their plot lines.
As luck would have it, over the next 15 years, I continued to learn from my first TeachingAuthor - at Children’s Reading Round Table conferences in Chicago, at the Off Campus Writers Workshop in Winnetka, Illinois. Indeed, anywhere she was speaking and teaching, there I was.
In the beginning, her words would play through my mind as I sat at my kitchen table, typing away until my toddler son’s spilled juice on the floor pulled me away, then later at my desk, when I’d write in between Life’s comings and goings – i.e. mothering, wife-ing, freelance writing, Room Mother responsibilities, baseball playoffs, carpool, Hebrew School and familial obligations.
I was a Writer! It was my duty and my right to honor that calling! Berniece Rabe said so!
Simply put, Berniece gave me confidence and courage.
I remain grateful that in the late 90’s, I was able to share with her how she’d kept me growin’ and goin’ until I proved correct her long-ago assessment of my publishing time-line.
I could only smile when 3 weeks ago I handed her picture book THE BALANCING GIRL (Dutton, 1981), based on her granddaughter’s true experiences, to a Newberry Library Workshop student to use as a mentor text. Berniece Rabe lives on!
Thank you, Berniece, my first-ever forever TeachingAuthor, for your keen eye, your outstretched hand, your steely spine and your unyielding Spirit. YOU kept ME keepin’ on!