“The Picture Book That Started As An Assignment”
I still remember sitting at my school desk wondering what to write about. It was eighth grade and my teacher, Ms. Ribar, had asked her English class at All Saints Middle School to write a creative story. My classmates were scribbling away, but I was stuck. What should I write?
Every writer at every stage deals with the problem of coming up with ideas. Where do ideas come from? It’s very likely the most common question an author gets. Looking back, I can see that the idea for my story came from a combination of luck, life, and imagination.
As luck would have it, there was a pencil lying on my desk. When I glanced around the room for inspiration, the pencil caught my eye. It could have been a binder or a paperclip, but it wasn’t. No surprise then that a pencil features prominently in my story.
At the time, I was 13 and my life had been turned upside down by the arrival of a new brother. He was two then and I’m sure that he was disrupting my ever-so-important teenage world. So, it’s not surprising that a little brother was a key character (or should I say antagonist?).
Most importantly, the freedom to imagine and create in that classroom let me consider a range of possibilities. What if the pencil was magic? What if everything it drew became real? What if everything it erased was gone forever?
That idea and the inspiration of my eighth grade teacher stayed with me for a long time. When I was finally ready to commit to writing creatively, the story resurfaced. After weeks of rebuilding the story from memory and revising it to work as a picture book, it finally found a home. Fast forward to today, that story I wrote in English class all those years ago has become my debut picture book, Arabella and the Magic Pencil, illustrated by Shaney Hyde and published worldwide by EK Books in September 2019.
Now, as a new author, I get to bring my story full circle – back to the classroom. I like to think that Arabella and the Magic Pencil belongs there. Hopefully, it offers young readers a sense of endless possibility. Students can imagine their own stories about a magic pencil and the class can problem solve together figuring out how to get your brother back if you’ve erased him. (Yes, Arabella really does erase her brother.)
I reconnected with Ms. Ribar to acknowledge that this book began in her classroom. As always, she was encouraging and supportive. I hope that young learners appreciate the teachers who are there every day helping them discover their talents before they even know what they are.
Arabella and the Magic Pencil
Author: Stephanie Ward
Illustrator: Shaney Hyde
Published September 10th, 2019 by EK Books
About the Book: Arabella is a beloved only child who has everything a little girl could want. That is, until her brother, Avery, the master of mayhem, comes along. While she certainly loves him, she finds that it’s sometimes very hard to like him. So she spends her days creating marvelous, magnificent things with her magic pencil, and trying to ignore him. But when he spoils her perfectly proper tea party, she decides drastic action is required and she erases him from her life. Oops! But things aren’t the same without him — can she get him back?
Arabella and the Magic Pencil is a charming story, which will appeal to any child coming to terms with a new sibling and to caregivers who are supporting changing family dynamics, as well as those who love fantasy and engaging, alliterative language.
“A magical story with luscious language, whimsical illustrations and strong emotional core that will surprise and delight young readers.”
– Debra Tidball, award-winning author of The Scared Book and When I See Grandma
About the Author: Stephanie Ward is an award‐winning children’s author and reviewer who splits her time between London, Seattle and Sydney. She spent 15 years in public relations before deciding to dedicate herself to what she loves – writing stories for children. Stephanie has five award‐winning picture book manuscripts.
About the Illustrator: Shaney Hyde is an Early Childhood Teacher from Melbourne who runs art workshops for children and draws inspiration from her own playful childhood. Arabella and the Magic Pencil is the first book Shaney has illustrated, fulfilling a long‐held dream.
Thank you so much for this guest post looking at how one assignment can change everything!
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