About Sally

Books have always occu­pied a cen­tral place in my life.  When I was in fifth grade, my report card con­tained a note of con­cern from my teacher:  “Sal­ly often day­dreams dur­ing school.” My most fre­quent day­dreams?  Think­ing about the unfin­ished book that I was read­ing at home, or imag­in­ing that I was the author of the kinds of books I liked read­ing. After ques­tion­ing me—to make sure that I knew what was going on in class—my par­ents chose to let me day­dream in peace.

There are few things I dis­like more than clothes shop­ping. When I was a child, “out­fit­ting” me for a new school year—dresses (no pants for girls in those days!); shoes; socks—would have tried the patience of a saint. My moth­er sto­ical­ly endured my shop­ping tem­per tantrums. How­ev­er, once I became a read­er, she had the per­fect “car­rot” to keep me in line: if I behaved while we shopped for clothes, she would buy me the lat­est Nan­cy Drew mys­tery or Wal­ter Farley’s Black Stal­lion book. Worked like a charm; in fact, I still have and trea­sure all of them!

Although I nev­er kept a jour­nal, I often wrote sto­ries for fun and gave them to my fam­i­ly as presents. Each sum­mer, my sis­ter, a friend, and I wrote a week­ly neigh­bor­hood news­pa­per that con­tained neigh­bor­hood news, jokes, and short sto­ries.  The income from this lit­er­ary ven­ture was enough to keep us sup­plied with the lat­est issues of Super­man, Archie, and Richie Rich comics.

The pub­lic library was one of my reg­u­lar haunts. We went at least once a week dur­ing the school year. In the sum­mer, we were free to go as often as we liked. Horse, dog, and mys­tery books were my fic­tion of choice. But I also liked brows­ing non­fic­tion books, par­tic­u­lar­ly his­to­ry and science.

My father was an amaz­ing non­fic­tion sto­ry­teller. On sum­mer evenings, the neigh­bor­hood chil­dren would gath­er in our back­yard to hear his true tales of the Indi­ans and colo­nial set­tlers who had lived in our town long ago. I often sought out addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion about the peo­ple and events fea­tured in my father’s sto­ries in the library’s archives and micro­film col­lec­tion. My book The 18 Pen­ny Goose has its roots there.

Because my par­ents val­ued learn­ing and explor­ing, they encour­aged me to ask ques­tions and seek answers.  And also to rec­og­nize the “sto­ry” in every­thing I dis­cov­ered. I love doing research, because research is all about “sto­ry.” In fact, find­ing the sto­ry is a lot like…daydreaming!  Back in ele­men­tary school, when my par­ents allowed me the free­dom to day­dream, it laid the foun­da­tion for an impor­tant part of my cre­ative process. To write Fos­sil Fish Found Alive, the sto­ry of a mys­te­ri­ous fish called the coela­canth, I day­dreamed about peer­ing into deep sea caves. When I wrote Secrets of a Civ­il War Sub­ma­rine, day­dream­ing let me join the crew inside a cold, wet sub­ma­rine. Day­dreams allowed me to jubi­late with them when they suc­cess­ful­ly com­plet­ed their mis­sion, and to cry when they died in the dark, air­less sub­ma­rine short­ly afterward.

Par­ents often ask what they can give a child who wants to be a writer. The first thing is a library card. Paper and pens are anoth­er. But time is the most valu­able gift that any­one can give to a bud­ding writer.  Time to wan­der, time to learn, time to read, and above all, time to dream.

Sally M. Walker
Sal­ly M. Walker