The Magic of a “Real Book”: How a Blank Hardback Book First Inspired One Author by Kim Howard

When I was young, I folded pieces of printer paper in half to make my books. Three staples up the side bound them together. I wrote stories about everything. Dinosaurs, Corduroy the bear, the adventures of my stuffed pig, Popcorn. I loved making these books, but to me, this was always just a part of my playtime. The stories were only make-believe books, so different than the real hardback picture books lining my bookshelf.

One summer I took an enrichment class at a local elementary school. The class was all about publishing your own book. On the first day, the teacher outlined our next few weeks. We would brainstorm. We would write drafts. We would revise. And when we were ready, we would be getting our very own blank hardback books.

I could not believe it. My ideas, my words, my pictures in a real book!

I wish I could have bottled up that feeling. It was pure amazement and magic and shock that something so wonderful could be mine. Something that seemed reserved only for real authors.

I crafted my first story with care. I drew my best pictures with my colored pencils. I used my neatest handwriting. 

When my first story was finished, I can still remember staring at the book in my hands, feeling with certainty that this was what I wanted to do forever. I would always be writing my stories. I couldn’t stop that—they just came out of me. But I knew then that I wanted to hold my real books in my hands.

And for the first time, being a real author seemed absolutely possible. Hadn’t I just created a real book? Why not do this again and again? This was all because some offered me a small opportunity of realness during a time in my life when it absolutely mattered the most.

All authors’ stories are different, filled with winding journeys and ups and downs. Mine took years to happen. It has been made up of persistence and trying and believing.

When I wrote the story that would become my debut picture book, Grace and Box, I remember feeling a bit of that familiar magic from when I held my hardback book. The words flowed out. The story took a shape of its own.

I had loved playing with boxes as a kid. Now, as a parent, I was watching my own kids toss their toys aside to imagine with boxes of their own. The story was full of adventure and wide-open possibilities, just like the stories I loved to read (and write) as a kid. Drafting the story felt easy. Right.

Of course, the hard part—revising—came later. My revisions were spanned over a few years of rejections. There were sad moments when I wondered what it would feel like to continue trying so hard for years more, if in the end nothing came of my work. But giving up truly was never an option. How could I, when I remembered so vividly what it felt like to be an author as a kid?

This year I had the opportunity to give my five-year old daughter her first blank hardback book. I gave her the book with hopes that she would find it fun, but I placed no expectations on the experience. Maybe this wouldn’t be the same magical experience for her as it was for me. But the second she saw the book, I watched her face light up with that same familiar glow. Her own real book? She couldn’t believe it.

She chose to dictate the story for me to write out a piece of paper, and then she copied the story into the book. Over the course of the week, she carefully illustrated her story. The book she wrote was called If You Give a Whale a Waffle, following the style of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by one of her favorite authors, Laura Numeroff. Her sense of pride once finished was beautiful to see, and it’s evident every time she reads the story. She has written and illustrated a bright, funny, sweet story. And she will tell anyone who asks her about it how she published this book and is an author now.

I wonder if there are kids in your life who would love some “realness.” Maybe realness to them is their own blank hardback books. Maybe it’s a recipe book. A canvas. A camera. How could it shape their paths? Their dreams? Maybe we’ll never know the impact, but they will. Maybe it could create in them a passion, a tenacity, a goal that they will chase with ferocity.

When Grace and Box, was published this January, I couldn’t wait to get my copy in the mail. I opened the box and stared at the book in my hands. Holding that book felt like amazement and magic and shock. It was, quite literally, a dream come true. And just like all those years before, I knew with certainty that this was what I wanted to do forever.

Kim Howard is an author and freelance writer. She is a former teacher and has a Ph.D. in Curriculum Studies. She and her husband have three children and live in Bloomington, Indiana. Check out her debut picture book Grace and Box and learn more about her at www.kimhowardbooks.com.

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