Hedberg librarian publishing three children's books

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

"We four nestled and listened to rain. Split, splat, splat, splop, a stormy refrain." —From "Boom! Boom! Boom!" by Jamie Swenson

On a dark and stormy night when the windows started shaking, Jamie Swenson's beagle jumped into bed with her.

With each new bolt of lightning, more frightened visitors dove under the covers. First it was Jamie's cat, then her two daughters—all clutching stuffed animals.

When the thunderstorm ended, the visitors slipped back to their own places. But words kept pounding in Jamie's head: Flash! Crash! Boom! Boom! Boom! She hurried to pen a story about a brave little boy and his frightened friends on a nasty night.

Jamie knew that many books have been written about stormy evenings and scared children, so after fleshing out her story, she carefully chose the perfect words and rhythm to finish it.

The result is a children's picture book—"Boom! Boom! Boom!"—that begs to be read aloud from start to finish.

"The book has fewer than 400 words," Jamie said. "But they are the right words in the right order, and they rhyme."

Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux of New York, the newly released book is a dream come true for Jamie. An associate librarian, storyteller and educator, she has worked in the children's room of Janesville's Hedberg Public Library for more than a decade. She also has been writing children's books in her head and on paper for at least that long.

To celebrate, the library is throwing a party Saturday. Kids and families can enjoy cake and Jamie's new book during a special story time.

"A lot of people who aspire to write books for children or adults go along forever without a publisher for their work," said Sharon Grover, head of youth services at the library. "This isn't something that happens to everyone. We are exceptionally proud that Jamie's work has been recognized, and we are excited to have a real published author in our midst."

Jamie lives in Janesville with her husband, Jon, and two children. Her success does not stop with "Boom! Boom! Boom!" which is illustrated by David Walker.

Next year, two more of her picture books will debut. Disney-Hyperion will publish "Big Rig," illustrated by Ned Young, and Farrar, Straus & Giroux will publish "If You Were a Dog," illustrated by Chris Raschka.

In the highly competitive world of children's publishing, Jamie attributes much of her success to determination.

"Don't give up," she advises other writers. "Just keep perfecting your craft. That is the difference between the person who is published and the one who is not. It takes skill, persistence and luck. How many times are you willing to be rejected?"

When Jamie decided to get serious about writing books, she earned a Master of Fine Arts in writing from Minnesota's Hamline University. She already had a solid love of books and words nurtured by her mother, who read to her and her brothers daily as children.

"One of my favorite things to think about growing up is reading and being read to," Jamie said.

The Janesville family also visited the library.

"If we had not walked down the hill to the public library every week, I definitely would have had a different career," Jamie said. "Books have always played a huge role in my life. I feel I'm one of the lucky ones."

Jamie began working at the Janesville library when she was a teenager and met "an amazing group of librarians who understood there needs to be fun, joy and excitement around books," she said. "Between my mother and these crazy librarians, how could I be anything but a writer?"

Today, Jamie passes on the message about the importance of reading to parents.

"In our busy lives, we forget to sit down and read books to our children," she said. "By their sizes and language, picture books are meant to be read aloud with a child in your lap. Any parent can come to the library and pick out picture books."

Jamie holds at least half a dozen ideas for picture books at any time and often writes them in her head while walking her dogs. At first, she submitted her own work to publishers but now has an agent to do it. She meets regularly with a local writing group that has been critiquing her work and offering support for a decade.

Jamie makes no apologies for being a self-described crazy book person.

"I'm one of those rabid book lovers," she said. "I tell everyone we are so lucky to have the kind of library we have in our city. I tell them to read, read, read!"

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

Last updated: 10:31 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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