February 11, 2009 / 4:02 PM / 12 years ago

Children's author Byars tells her own tale

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - One of the world’s most successful children’s writers, Betsy Byars has sparked the imaginations of youngsters worldwide for half a century.

For both rural and urban children, the world was been made a less scary place, thanks to coming-of-age books like The TV Kid, The 18th Emergency and The Cartoonist.

Born in 1928, trained pilot Byars still writes children’s books at her home on a South Carolina airstrip, finding her inspiration as always, from friends, family and her local surroundings.

“Since I write mostly realistic fiction, I get my ideas from things happening around me,” said Byars. “A local radio request for searchers to join a rescue party in the West Virginia mountains became The Summer of the Swans.”

“A friend’s chance remark that neighborhood kids were sneaking into their swimming pool became The Night Swimmers,” she added.

Such methods have proved successful, as Byars’ books have now been translated into 19 languages and her awards include the Newbery Medal, American Book Awards and the Regina Medal by the Catholic Library Association.

Byars’ personal favorite of all her books is The Midnight Fox — as this was the first book to be published exactly how she envisioned it. “It was the first time, I put my own personality into my writing,” she said.

Asked whether she ever thought about writing books for adults, Byars simply replied: “I became aware over the years of writing, that I had a 125 page mind ... With 125 pages, I knew what I was doing, what I needed to do, where the climax should be, etc.”

Despite the emergence of computer games and technology, children growing up today still enjoy books — with the Harry Potter and Young James Bond modern favorites.

“I don’t often read children’s books,” Byars said. “My favorite book as a child was The Adventures of Mabel (by Harry Thurston Peck). Mabel had everything I wanted and could never have - her own horse, naturally curly hair and the ability to communicate with wild animals.”

Byars doesn’t try to change or modernize her books and mentioning television shows in her stories has sometimes been rather problematic.

“In the sixties and seventies, I sprinkled my books with TV shows,” Byars said. “I had a recent letter from a teacher who said she always read The Pinballs to her class and had to explain who Sonny and Cher were.”


Beginning her writing career five years after her graduation by publishing magazine articles, Byars then began to read to her own children and an interest in writing for young people developed.

But her first book Clementine was rejected nine times before it was published.

“I sent it to one publisher — got it back in a couple of months, rewrote it, sent it off again,” Byars said. “Rejections never bothered me ... Still don’t.”

Aspiring young authors often send letters to Byars asking for advice, and as always, Byars is always willing to offer her help.

“I give them what tips I have and I always end with this advice — read every day, write every day and never give up.”

When asked what the proudest moment in her career is, Byars modestly replies: “The proudest moment of my career came when I found my name in a crossword puzzle — The clue? Writer Byars!” Her books have also taken her to schools all around the world — from The United States, to England and Australia. Asked about the future, Byars is still writing her books but in recent times, this too has taken a novel twist.

“Two of my daughters — Laurie Myers and Betsy Duffey — have started writing children’s books, and we are now on our fourth one together,” Byars said. “This is a new experience for me.”

Reporting by Michael Taylor; editing by Paul Casciato

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