Kimberly Brubaker Bradley always wanted to be a writer. But she also planned to become a research chemist. What she didn’t know was that one college class would make the difference between becoming a writer and pursuing another career.
"During my sophomore year, my roommate encouraged me to take an Introduction to Children’s Literature class," said Mrs. Bradley. "The teacher of the class happened to be Patricia MacLachlan, who had just won the Newbery Award for Sarah, Plain and Tall. She not only encouraged me to write, but also helped me to get involved in the local chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Jane Yolen (who has authored many children’s books) ran the group that year and was a tremendous encouragement to me."
She started writing for equestrian magazines and as a freelance writer through college. After graduation she worked as a research chemist (and still holds several patents for her work) but continued to write in her spare time. Finally, she got enough work writing that she quit her job as a chemist. But her first novel Ruthie’s Gift was originally supposed to be a picture book.
“When I started writing the book, I started writing as a picture book but I couldn’t quite get it in the picture book form. I tried 12 different variations. The book has to be under a certain number of pages long or there is not room for the pictures. You can’t put too much text on the page. All of the picture books are 32 pages long – all multiples of eight. It has to do with how they print it as one big enormous book. You really can’t just add two more pages. They don’t want to add eight because that adds a lot more cost to the book because you have all of the illustrations, too. The standard length of text has to be a standard length, and I really could not get the story told in a shorter form. I could get close, and I am quite good at keeping things pared down, but, you know, I had two editors that were interested in it, and they were sort of thinking about it.
"While they were thinking about it, I wrote another picture book about how my grandmother felt the day the seventh child was born and turned it was another boy. That was even longer, and I could not get it pared down. I took it to my husband, and he said this is the best book you have written, but it is not a picture book. I know, and he said, ‘what are you going to do?’ I said, ‘I will send it to the editors and let them hash it out. I sent it off to Random Press, and they wrote back ‘Aha, now I see what you are doing’. This is not a picture book, this is a novel. Put these together and keep going.”