How a children’s book and two boys with special needs inspired a magical world

While Sarah and I didn’t have any creative writing experience when we started our book, we knew the key to a successful fantasy adventure series was having a magical world that kids wanted to escape to. But creating a magical world isn’t easy- at least not for me. Sarah, though, is different. She’s one of the most boldly creative people I know. That is one reason (of many) why I love writing with her. I, on the other hand, tend to worry and overanalyze, which is perhaps why it took three signs before I knew we were on to something with our magical world, Valorus.

Sign #1

We always knew we wanted animals to play a role in our magical world; we just had no idea what kind of role it would be. I happened to be visiting home one weekend and ran across a favorite book from when I was a child called, Incredible Animals A to Z (thank you mother for not throwing away our books). I took it home and excitedly starting emailing Sarah animal factoids. When Sarah visited for a book weekend, it turned out she had the book when little as well and had loved it. That was Sign #1. It led me to first ask Sarah about the idea of filling our magical world with amazing things from our world. She immediately loved the idea, but I was still unsure….

Sign #2

I worried about whether it was creative enough- it almost felt like cheating to take things from our world. I continued to think these very silly thoughts until I met Ollie. Well, I didn’t really meet him (unfortunately). He’s a friend’s son, and he has special needs. His family was doing an online voting campaign with the hopes of winning a van that accommodated his wheelchair.

While reading about Ollie’s incredible story and the way his family loved and supported him, I was reminded of my time as a therapist for an autistic child named Finn (pictured below). Finn is perhaps the sweetest and happiest child I’ve ever meet. He delighted in everything, from drawing happy flowers and “happy houses” to getting the mail each day. However, working with or raising a special needs child can also be an emotional battle. Every parent struggles with things like potty training and “use your words,” but most parents can reassure themselves that these things are, to a certain extent, passing phases. Those struggles are magnified by a million when you’re working with special needs children because part of you is always worrying whether some behavior won’t be temporary. But, the flip side is the unbelievable joy you feel at the littlest things. I will never forget the sense of elation I felt when Finn first asked for a toy in a complete sentence without me prompting him. I could see that same joy over little victories in Ollie’s website, and it moved me, which is what led me to clicking on the link to his Facebook page.

That was when Sign #2 happened. The page had a picture of a misty night with a tree decorated with glowing white lights. Across the image, there was a quote: “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” My first thought was how great it was to think of that feeling of joy in little things as magical. My second thought was, “Wow, that is exactly what I want to inspire in our book.”

Sign #3

I did a quick google search of the quote and discovered it was by Roald Dahl, another childhood favorite of mine and Sarah’s. And the full quote was even more in line with what we wanted Valorus to be about: “Watch with glittering eyes the world around you. Those who do not believe in magic will never find it.”

So there you have it. A children’s book, two inspiring little boys, and a children’s author was what it took for me to realize what Sarah understood right away: creating a world that recognizes the magic of our world isn’t cheating after all. It’s inspirational. And a little creative inspiration in your day never does any harm. 

**Because we don’t want you to have to wait until our book comes out to be inspired by the natural world, we’re starting the Jane Martyn version of Science Friday on our Facebook page (see link on left). Each Friday, we’ll post a picture or fact that we think will appeal to your imagination. We hope you have as much fun learning (and in many cases re-learning) about the incredible world we live in as we have.

Fest Finn

Finn at the Scandinavian Festival.


Happy flowers! One of my favorite of Finn’s drawings hanging on my wall- smiles so big they’re almost full circles.

Finn mail

I swear he smiled like that every time he got the mail.

Thank you for taking the time to read our blog today. We hope you enjoyed it and ask you to pass it along if you think others will enjoy it too.

What’s your favorite reading memory?

Since last week I wrote about some of my favorite reading memories, this week we decided to share our friends’ and family’s reading memories. Receiving people’s responses has been a lot of fun, and, in keeping with last week’s blog, it seems that many people’s reading memories are also memories with family and friends. Please take a minute to read the memories below.  What resonates with you?  Do the memories sound similar to some of your own? Comment below and let us know or share a reading memory of your own!

1.         James Miceli: My mom was an English major, and growing up, she always read to my sister and me.  Particular favorites were the Little House on the Prairie memoirs, especially during the years we lived in the Midwest.  We always wanted to hear more- the frontier adventures of Laura Ingalls Wilder always fascinated us and put us right to sleep, as a good family book will do.

2.         Carrie Crum: When I was 4, I tried to teach my best friend to read. We sat down with Green Eggs and Ham, and he patiently went through the book page by page, sounding out the words under my tutelage. He then went on to read the entire thing from cover to cover. I was so excited I had taught him to read! Until I handed him another book and quickly discovered he just knew Green Eggs and Ham by heart and couldn’t read after all.      

3.         Niki Lynn Frazier: Some of my earliest memories are of my mother reading stories to me in her room. She kept a pressed four leaf clover tucked in to the pages of her copy of The Secret Garden. Although the book had very few illustrations, which at first seemed boring, I would curl up next to her in bed and listen, getting sucked into the story but all the while waiting to see that clover.

4.         Bridget Galvin: The first novel I remember loving was Charlotte’s Web. I remember asking my dad what “manure” meant, although I pronounced it “manyure.” He told me it was pig poop…I couldn’t believe it! That book proceeded to break my 8 year old heart.

5.         Eve Richards: I loved myths, especially Greek Myths and someone gave me a gift of the large (9 X 12) book of D’Aulaires Greek Myths which had these great colored pencil illustrations. My favorite was a family tree with Zeus at the top. Medusa was a close second. I would just get lost in those myths and read them again and again. Another thing I remember is my Dad making me sign a reading “contract” at the beginning of the summer so that he could basically force me to read because I had signed the contract. It wouldn’t have been that hard because I loved to read but one of the stipulations was that he got to choose a book for me (just one). He always picked the hardest books! I remember they were worth it in the end but they required a lot of thought, not like what I was choosing, which didn’t require much at all. One book was Black Elk Speaks, another was A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. Both amazing books but a far cry from Nancy Drew which was my book of choice.

6.         Joanna Bopp-Yarnell: One of my most vivid memories of early reading when I truly devoured a story was a series recommended to me by an amazing friend, Marisa Keller Bailitz. The title of the starting book of the quartet is Alanna: The First Adventure written by Tamora Pierce. The main plot in this book is that a set of boy/girl twins, Alanna and Thom, are told they have to soon begin their lives in their respected trades learning the art of magic and the other becoming a knight. Of course, siblings always want what the other one has so they decide to switch places in their assigned destinies. Alanna soon realizes that this becomes exceedingly complicated and not only does her physical self betray their secret but, like so many of us growing up, she also discovers hardships and the cruel reality of betrayal from those thought to be friends. The biggest influence this reading experience had with me was witnessing such a strong character not just prove that she could do as good as her male peers, but going beyond any competition to really be herself. As a preteen girl then and a “grown-up” now, I really appreciate any example of someone, male or female, being able to live a life they forge for themselves successfully and unapologetically against the status quo. There a so very few opportunities to see those examples in other forms of media that it makes me so very grateful to have been encouraged by family and friends to be an avid reader.

7.         Sarah Martyn Crowell: I do have a favorite memory, or general memory:  my parents reading the Chronicles of Narnia to me before bed.  I remember every night falling asleep as I pictured the various animals, children, and scenery.  It was like my doorway into dreaming.

And enjoy the pictures of some our family and friends’ babies reading. Collecting the pictures may have been a little more fun than collecting the reading memories….but only a little.


Reading, A Family Affair

**For those of you who don’t know, Baby Crowell is supposed to arrive in 5 days! Consequently, I’m doing the majority of the blogging. I’m going to try and give you Sarah’s insights and perspective, but sometimes (like in this blog) it’s difficult to work in.**

As we all know, we should encourage kids to read- it’s good for their imagination, it’s better than tv, it’ll help them in school, etc. While I think all these reasons are valid, they aren’t what I love most about reading: it brings me closer to the people I love.

I came to this realization in a round-about way. I recently moved in with my long-time (and amazing) boyfriend and almost daily I discover a way in which we’re polar opposites. The most recent example is his reluctance to read the book we’re writing. “I didn’t read as a child!” he kept insisting. As he enjoys reading now, I didn’t believe him. He then clarified that he didn’t read middle grade books. Despite this explanation, I peevishly accused him of never reading at all.  He protested that he loved “The Poky Puppy,” and I (amusingly?) snapped at him, “It’s The Poky Little Puppy!”  When thinking about this silly exchange and why his lack of childhood reading bothered me, I realized that for me, reading is not just about the act of reading or loving reading. Reading has helped me get to know and appreciate the people in my life. This is what reading has helped me learn about my family thus far:

My brother’s overprotective nature is maddening but loving. Drew, the younger of my 2 older brothers, is surprisingly the more overprotective one, and it can be annoying. However, my earliest reading memory is Drew reading to me a Richard Scarry book in a futile attempt to keep me from nagging my mother who was trying to pack.  I love this memory, and (if I’m being rational) it helps me understand why he worries about me.

A huge part of what makes my family great is that we love laughing at things together. In 1st grade, I read Alice in Wonderland and first ran across the word, “ferret.” The white rabbit worries: “She’ll get me executed, as sure as ferrets are ferrets!” When my mom came to tuck me in that night, I asked her what a ferret was and when she told me, I got hysterical. And then of course my mother got hysterical because who wouldn’t love that their 5 year old daughter is uncontrollably laughing at the absurd exclamation, “as sure as ferrets are ferrets!”?

My family is beautifully critical. To most, this probably sounds odd because often criticism is mistaken for negativity. But, I love that my family enjoys thinking deeply about everything (although our debates can be exhausting). My Dad is probably the most critical of all. One of my earliest memories of this family trait came when I was reading a book I had borrowed from a friend, Marisa. My mother was drying my hair while I intently read my book. My father asked me what I was reading, and I told him it was a book about a girl who dressed up like a boy and became a knight (I was probably about 8 yrs old). I don’t remember his exact words, but he essentially said it wasn’t good literature (my Dad is an English professor, by the way)- my response: “I know, but it’s fun.” I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my father for always wanting me to read the best literature but not caring when I didn’t….and to thank Marisa who introduced me to all sorts of “fun” books that I never would have discovered otherwise.

Sometimes it’s just about having things in common with people you care about. No one feels more strongly about this than my brother, Jeremy. It didn’t surprise me when he told me this summer he had become irrationally invested in me both finishing and liking Lonesome Dove after I told him I was having problems getting into it. I don’t know if Alli (his wife) will ever convince him that she likes Nero Wolfe after she didn’t absolutely love the 1st one she read.

Now, to bring this full circle.  But what about kids who don’t come from book crazy families? Can reading similarly impact their understanding of the people they care about? I think so. For about 3.5 years, I mentored a child while working on an Indian reservation. I met him when he was in 6th grade, and he hated reading. I repeatedly bribed him to read but didn’t have much success. As he got older, he started getting in trouble and then I lost my job and had to move. Things got worse for him, and he’s now serving time in a juvenile detention facility. I still write him though, and he writes me. With nothing else to do, he has turned to reading. Every letter he sends talks about how much he is reading. Part of this is just him updating me on his life. But, he’s also telling me because he knows it’ll make me happy. He doesn’t have to make that gesture, but I think he does because on some level he understands that all my nagging about homework and reading was about what I wanted for him. Reading was my tangible, easy way to have expectations for him, which, especially for kids who are troubled, is the best compliment you can give them.

So everyone, read, read, read and share it with the people you love. I think you’ll be surprised at all the ways it can bring good things into your life.

Image credit:

Family Reads Together


Hello friends, family, and fellow children’s lit lovers and welcome to our blog! As many of you may know, Sarah and I are life-long friends who are writing a middle grade novel series together under the pseudonym, Jane Martyn, and we are just about done with our first draft (to find out more about this project, check out our website at or our facebook page at

While our blog will occasionally give updates about what’s going on with our book, what we really want is to just have fun talking with all of you about the books we love and the things that inspire us. So, if you already love kids lit, then you’ll LOVE this blog. If you’re on the fence about kid’s lit, we think it’ll just be a matter of time before you’re a die hard fan. We’re going to work hard to make sure there’s something for everyone, so please share our blog and Facebook page with people you know. The more the merrier. Thanks so much for taking the time to check us out- your support means a lot to us. More will be coming soon!

Sarah and Kate