Valerie Tripp

Here, Ms. Tripp addresses her readers and talks about her life and how it has influenced her writing.


Read. That's what I tell people who ask me what they should do to become a writer. Read and let the pleasure of reading delight you. Walk right straight into the stories you read and let them work their magic on you. As you are reading, you will be learning how to write. Read everything, anything, as much as you can -- just read.

I love reading, and I love stories. That's why I became a writer. My mother and father were both great readers. Our house was full of books and magazines and newspapers. I can remember my parents reading parts of stories and articles aloud to each other. My mother would say, "Oh, listen to this lovely paragraph!" Or my father would read a sentence or phrase aloud to her, and they would laugh together.

Even before I could read, my parents showed me what a pleasure reading could be. My father read aloud to my sisters and my brother and me at night, before we went to sleep. He'd stretch out on the bed, and we'd surround him as he read Charlotte's Web, Madeline, Beezus and Ramona, The Secret Garden, Cinderella, and hundreds of other wonderful stories. Sometimes he would get so caught up in the language and humor of the story, he'd read chapter after chapter, forgetting to stop. We'd all keep still so he'd keep reading. When I read to my daughter, the same stories he read to me, I remembered how his low, slow voice sounded. He enjoyed the stories as much as we did. Like Josefina, I have three sisters. My older sisters, Kate and Rosemary, taught me to read when we played school. My younger sister, Suzanne, and my brother, Granger, were my pupils later. We were a noisy, ragtag, rambunctious bunch. We loved to be outdoors and we were always up to something. In winter there was sledding, ice-skating, or making snow angels, as Molly does in Molly's Surprise.

In the summer, we squirted each other with the hose, put on plays in the front yard, went roller-skating like Molly and Emily, or had picnics, as Josefina and her sisters do. Like Kit, sometimes we typed family newspapers on our father's old black typewriter. And just like Ruthie, we all spent a lot of time reading. Every Sunday afternoon, my father would take us to visit his elderly aunt and uncle, whom we called Aunt Clara and Uncle Frank. They lived in a pretty Victorian house, like Samantha and Grandmary. Aunt Clara let my sisters and me dress up in the long skirts and big hats she had saved since the 1900s. It seemed to me that my sisters and brother and I were like parts of a jigsaw puzzle. We were different from each other, but we fit together well to form a whole family. My parents encouraged us to be independent. My mother did not solve problems for me, but helped me to find solutions for myself. I grew up in Mt. Kisco, New York, which is not far from New York City. Sometimes my whole family would go into the city to see a Broadway show, or go to a museum or a concert or the ballet. When I was writing Nellie's Promise, I remembered the feeling of exhilaration of being in the busy, fast-moving, enormous city. I knew just how Samantha and Nellie felt.

Every summer, the whole family would pile into the station wagon and we'd set forth on a vacation to the ocean or the mountains, or to a lake or a historic place. I was ten when my sisters and I went to a concert at the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was one of the most elegant evenings of my life, just as the visits to the Palace were for Felicity and Elizabeth.

Mt. Kisco Elementary School was a wonderful old school with glass cases full of stuffed birds in the hallways and the smell of school-lunch hot dogs, poster paint, and new books everywhere. The classrooms had tall windows, rows of desks, and maps and bulletin boards; they looked very much as I imagined Molly and Emily's classroom to look in Brave Emily. I was lucky, because in my class I had friends from all over the world; Italy, Ireland, Bolivia, Greece, Finland, Latvia, and Japan. My best friend, Bobby, was the inspiration for Kit's friend Ruthie.

I liked school, especially reading. I was like Molly in that I loved the teachers, and always wanted to be the star of the school play and winner of the spelling bee. Also, unfortunately, just like Molly I was terrible at multiplication! I used to feel awkward because I was always the tallest one in my class. I was afraid I daydreamed too much. And my hair never looked exactly the way I wanted it to, so I fussed with it, just as Molly fusses with her hair in Changes for Molly.

When I went to college, I studied how children learn and grow. I worked with young children every day. I used to ask them to tell me the stories of their lives, and I would write the stories down for them. Their stories were always partly true and partly made up. Now when I visit schools and talk to children, I always say, "Pay close attention to your hopes and daydreams. Remember your experiences -- both real and imaginary. Everything that is happening to you right now and everything you are thinking about is important. You must be especially observant and thoughtful if you are like Kit and want to be a writer, because your memories and your imagination will be your best source of ideas."

My husband, Michael, has lots of brothers and sisters, so my daughter, Katherine, has 15 aunts and uncles and 14 cousins. We all visit each other often. I'm glad Katherine is part of a large family, just as Josefina and I were. My hope for my daughter and for all of you is that you will find something you love to do. I wish a passion for you. That is, I hope you can find something -- a sport, a hobby, a talent, a form of work -- that you love and that gives you back the energy you put into it. That is what writing is for me.