Today we’d like to introduce you to Virginia White.
Virginia, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I think I am like Leo the Late Bloomer, one of my daughter’s favorite picture books. Leo didn’t “bloom” at the rate expected by his parents and then in his own time, he did. It has taken me a long time to “bloom.”
Reading was a struggle for me growing up. I was taught to read by memorizing words rather learning phonics. I began to figure it out myself later. I loved stories so much that I kept plugging away at reading. And then, I reached the point where I was so excited about reading that I was reading under the covers with a flashlight when it was “lights out” and time for sleeping. Because my parents taught us never to give up, I kept working at reading like I did everything else. I had to work harder to read and understand things than many of my peers. In time, I was able to read and understand well enough to teach AP Literature, read AP Literature exams, and teach teachers at AP Institutes.
It was when I started teaching that I realized there were so many students who struggled with reading more than I ever did. I understood that struggle and wanted to help them. Everyone “blooms” at his or her own rate. Teaching made me increasingly sensitive to readers of all ages.
My Master’s advisor suggested I do an independent study using teens and young adult literature. I was thrilled with this and the students I worked with. I devoured the YA books at a rate I could not believe. I wanted to share this with students. So, when I was hired two weeks before school started in Lincoln, Nebraska, and was told I would have two sections of students the school was not sure what to do with, I was ready for the challenge! There were no books for this class, but the principal gave me money from his wallet and told me to see what I could do. We had little money of our own at that time, but I went to used book stores, garage sales, and Good Will. I wanted these kids to succeed and I felt I had the answer. I was filled with enthusiasm. They were not. I did book talks and attempted to get them as excited as I was about the books.
My enthusiasm was not catching. I loved talking to the kids and discovering their interests. They were teaching me. Then I found Scholastic magazine with short and interesting stories. I developed a plan to individualize reading and writing. I wrote a quiz for each story and they earned points for the number of questions they got right. We developed an individual point scale together. One day a student came in and said, “You got it, Mrs. White. This works!” I felt like doing a little victory cheer right there. I grew as a reader and so did they. I eventually put this program into two other schools. Individualized reading and writing worked because all kids “bloom” at different rates. I later called these kids my “leisure learners.”
Working with these kids reminded me that from my college days my goal was to write for kids. I wanted to write something for kids that would be entertaining and yet be laced with interesting facts about history, science, or the arts.
Has it been a smooth road?
The road to writing stories for young readers has been a struggle. I always knew I wanted to do this, but publishing doesn’t immediately pay the bills. I had to teach, take care of my kids, and take part in various life activities. But, I never gave up the idea of writing for kids or even writing for myself. I wrote poetry and short stories, some of which I gave to my mom on Mother’s Day. I always did the assignments I assigned the kids to see if they worked and to get my creative juices flowing. I thought there might be a nugget of something I could use later.
The creative writing assignments I gave were for all ages and all classes. My leisure learners were just as amazing as my AP Literature students. I created a class publication for the students so they could get the feel of having their own work published. They read each other’s works. I hoped one day to have that same feeling, yet I was filled with pride when I saw the thrill the kids felt after seeing their words in print.
It wasn’t until I retired that I was able to really focus on writing kid books and eventually feeling the thrill of my own words in print. When we got ready to move, I went through several boxes of my kids’ stuff. I found a story my youngest daughter wrote in third grade called “Warren the Honking Cat.” I remembered that story and asked her if I could play with it. She said yes and after many trials, Little Honker was born.
I had two books published by a company and a third one about to be published when the company closed its doors and I was left out in the cold. I owned the words, but not the illustrations. I had to start over. Finding an illustrator was difficult and took a long time. I needed someone who could bring my words to life as I saw it. Thankfully I found Gaspar Sabater. We have been a great team.
I also needed a support system because I knew next to nothing about this publishing adventure. When I found Bublish, a distributor, I was guided from writing picture books to early chapter books. I found out this particular level is much needed and it seemed to work for me.
When I read my Little Honker stories in schools, kids asked: “What’s he going to do next?” So, I asked them what they thought he should do. A third-grader said, “I think he should start his own band. It seemed perfect and I wrote two other Little Honker books after that. Then I wrote Glasses for Margie about a myopic skunk and a fun picture book called Would You Like a Scarlet Striped Schrinkler? The writing has been rewarding, but the publishing and getting the work noticed has been hard. Authors need reviews and that is easier said than done. People buy the books, tell me they love them, but don’t always get around to posting a review. It makes it challenging.
We’d love to hear more about your work.
Virginia K. White — author, is currently writing for young readers, reading and talking to elementary school students when I can, and selling my books at events such as craft fairs or other special events. I do not charge a fee for school visits when I read and talk to kids, but I would like to sell some books. It helps to pay for gas, but the thrill is when I can see my stories go into young readers’ hands.
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
This is a hard question. I would like to see this increasing. I know kids today have phones, tablets, and iPads more than they do print books. However, studies show that actually having a print book in hand increases the reading and is better for the child. I am working hard to make connections with people around the area and do volunteer in an elementary school as well as other places where young readers are present. It is my hope that things will move upward.
I plan to continue writing and hope that my stories continue to excite young readers.
- Little Honker books are $8.99
- Glasses for Margie is $9.99
- Would You Like a Scarlet Striped Schrinkler? is $10.99
- Website: virginiakwhite.com