Weathering rejection on the road to writing success

Children's book author Nancy Carlstrom leads Juneau workshops

Posted: Thursday, February 08, 2001

Children's book author Nancy White Carlstrom will publish her 50th book this spring. Carlstrom is a successful writer, but she was not an overnight success.

"It was something I wanted to do for many years," she said. "I owned a children's book store in Seattle from 1977 to 1983, and owning a bookstore offered insights into the book market. I also worked with a writer's group, and we studied the market - and our rejection slips. I received more than 100 of those before my first book was accepted."

Carlstrom will be in Juneau this week to talk about writing and to meet with young writers. The author of nine books that feature Jesse Bear, she'll be the guest at a "We Love Jesse Bear Valentine's Celebration," at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Mendenhall Valley Public Library. She'll lead a workshop for young writers, age 10 and older, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the downtown library. She also will lead programs at Mendenhall River Community School and Riverbend Elementary School on Friday.

Carlstrom said she'll help young writers explore ways to develop their own story ideas and she'll show how her stories develop from initial idea to final book form.

"I have some exercises that will help them jump start their own writing," Carlstrom said. "I talk about where some of my own ideas come from.

Carlstrom grew up in western Pennsylvania and started writing at age 7.

"I always dreamed of being a writer, but I didn't have any models when I was that young," she said. "It's fun to show kids that it can be a dream, but it can be something they can start working on right now."

Fresh out of college in the early 1970s she taught first and second grades for four years in inner city Pittsburgh, Pa., and in Gloucester, Mass. In the mid-1970s she owned and operated The Secret Garden Bookshop in Seattle. She moved to Fairbanks with her family in 1987, where they still live.

Her young son, Jesse, proved to be the inspiration for her first published book.

"We called him Jesse Bear when he was a baby, and the first book, 'Jesse Bear What Will You Wear' grew out of a song I sang to him," she said.

Last fall Carlstrom's ninth "Jesse Bear" book was published and she has three more in the works. All are illustrated by Bruce Degen, who also has illustrated the "Magic School Bus" books. She credits Degen with some of the success of the Jesse Bear books.

"He's a really good illustrator and I was lucky to have the editor chose him for the first one," she said.

Another reason Jesse Bear has been a popular character for children is because he really is a boy, not a bear.

"For myself, most of the stories and poems really did grow out of experiences we had as a family with two boys," she said. "I think young children can relate - they're typical experiences they have. Even though it's a bear character, it's really my son, and things human children have done."

All 49 of Carlstrom's books are illustrated books for children, although one is a collection of short stories for readers 10 and older.

Carlstrom will read several of her Jesse Bear stories and poems at the Valentine's Party Saturday morning. The library will provide refreshments and craft activities. Young writers are encouraged to register in advance for the Saturday afternoon workshop by calling the library at 586-5267.

Riley Woodford can be reached at

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