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A thriving group of children’s and young adult authors call Baltimore home.
Photographed by Justin Tsucalas

Jonathon Scott Fuqua

Jonathon Scott Fuqua

In the attic studio of his Mayfield home, Jonathon Scott Fuqua has two separate work areas. At the desk in the center of the room, he draws and paints in the mornings. At a desk nestled into a cubby by a window, he writes in the afternoons. When it comes to books, Fuqua, 46, is a double threat. Since 1999, he has written and illustrated 12 books, including young adult novels, chapter books, a graphic novel, two books on architecture and a book on trains. This fall he has three more book projects coming out. He wrote and illustrated both “Flying Through History: Calvert the Raven in the Battle of Baltimore,” a children’s book about the War of 1812 (using his 9-year-old son, Gabriel, as a model for the main character), and “The Mystery of the Greaser Hotel,” a young adult novel set in an old hotel in downtown Baltimore. And he collaborated with Baltimore-based illustrator Steven Parke to create “Medusa’s Daughter,” a series of books designed to entice reluctant or hesitant readers.

I’m dyslexic. Books terrified me as a kid. I didn’t even like the smell and feel of them. I became a writer because I realized I loved stories. Books scared me but stories amazed me.

There are a lot of books for dyslexic children. With “Medusa’s Daughter,” I wanted to write a book for dyslexic high school and college students.

I always write about an issue— race, class, capitalism— but you wouldn’t know it. The worst thing a writer can be is heavy-handed.

I remember when I was a kid reading “Treasure Island,” I’d see the illustrations at the beginning of the chapter and it would have hints about what was going to happen that would make me read on. In my own work, the drawings are the hook. They sell the story.

Francis Scott Key was so ugly— nothing fit together in his face. I had to make him more handsome when I put him in “Flying Through History.”

I like to write about things kids don’t understand and give them a bit of knowledge.

My kids always inspire my work. Gabriel has pushed me to write a book called “The Cat Factory” about this colony of feral cats we discovered behind Morgan State University.

I write a lot of my protagonists as girls. My daughter, Calla, has inspired a lot of them.

I still don’t call what I make books— I call them stories. It’s not a museum. It’s a good time.

—As told to Laura Wexler

Elissa Weissman

Elissa Weissman

As a senior at Johns Hopkins University, Elissa Weissman took a creative writing class called “The Long Work” and wrote a draft of a children’s book about a girl who wore mismatched socks to school. Four years later, after she’d graduated and earned a master’s degree in children’s literature, that book, “Standing for Socks,” was published. Since then, Weissman, 28, has published two more children’s books. “The Trouble with Mark Hopper” looks at how two very different boys in one town deal with having the same name, and “Nerd Camp” explores one boy’s fun-filled summer at a ‘nerdy’ camp. Weissman, a Long Island native who lives in Federal Hill with her husband, daughter and baby-on-the-way, has two more books coming out in 2013 and 2014.

As a child my favorite books were ones that featured relatable scenarios.

When I was a kid, there was an author I really loved named Gordon Korman who published his first book when he was 13, and I wanted to beat him. I sent a book off when I was 11, but no one wanted to publish it, thankfully. About 10 years later, when I published my first book, I sent him a letter and a copy of it.

After having my daughter I took a stab at writing a picture book— it’s hard. Because it’s so short it’s like poetry. Every word is important.

My favorite character in my books is one of the Mark Hoppers— the mean Mark.

I loved “The Babysitters Club” series when I was growing up. I read every single one of them.

I don’t have the grit in me to write young adult books. They deal with more serious issues.

People think there are more differences than there are between writing for adults and writing for kids. What it boils down to is that good literature is good literature. A lot of kid’s stuff out there is more experimental and innovative than the stuff out there for adults.

I really hope I can try to keep that kid perspective in my writing, even as a parent.                

—As told to Emma Fesperman

Elisabeth Dahl

Elisabeth Dahl

Elisabeth Dahl, 43, an essayist and short story writer whose work has appeared in Urbanite, on NPR and elsewhere, has her first children’s book coming out in the spring of 2013. The book, “Genie Wishes,” offers readers a look at fifth grade from the point of view of Genie, the class blogger. It’s targeted toward middle readers, or children roughly ages 8 to 12. Dahl, who grew up in Baltimore and attended Johns Hopkins University, says her 12-year-old son, Jackson, helped her take the plunge into children’s literature. He’s read the book at its different stages— and has even earned money and Legos for proofreading it.

If you’re at a party with kids and adults, you don’t just talk to the adults. You converse with the kids. That’s a different kind of conversation, but it’s fun.

I’ve really had to work on my plot skills to write kids’ books.

The Walters Art Museum plays something of a role in my book— the main character and her father go there on her birthday. I love the Walters, and I thought my character would love it there, too.

Writing and parenthood go well together because writing can be worked around the other stuff.

The school that the book is set in has a lot of similarities to the school that I went to and the school that my son now goes to— Calvert School. The house that my main character lives in has a lot of similarities to the house I grew up in on Calvert Street with my mother and grandparents.

Having grown up here and being back here now, I think Baltimore is a really good setting for a book. In one scene, my character and her best friend are making Halloween costumes and they are dressing up as rowhouses. You set the book in a place you know, and I definitely know Baltimore.

Kids don’t have that much self-determination— what they get to eat for dinner, where they go on Saturday. But they do get to choose what they read, and I think that’s important.

—As told to Emma Fesperman

Ariel Winter

Ariel Winter

Ariel Winter got his introduction to children’s fiction as a bookseller in New York City, where he moved after graduating from Johns Hopkins University in 2002. After discovering he was passionate about children’s literature, he began a blog, “We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie,” that highlights children’s books written by 20th-century adult authors. (Think James Joyce.) Like the authors featured on his blog, Winter divides his time between writing children’s books and adult fiction. This summer, his first picture book, “One of a Kind,” was published, as well as his first adult novel, “The Twenty-Year Death.” When Winter, born and raised in New Jersey, isn’t writing at the public library, he is spending time with his wife and 3-year-old daughter, Sophie, in their book-filled home in Charles Village.

My picture book is about an only child at a school where the rest of the children are twins. He’s sort of an outcast, sort of unpopular. And he needs to figure out how there can be strength in being an individual.

The explosion in multiple births as a result of fertility drugs was the impetus for the story. I was struck with the thought that there could be a time when the majority of the population was multiples. 

Many, many children’s books are about moving. It’s traumatic for adults to move, and for children, who have no say in the move, it can be devastating and destabilizing. So it’s the kind of life event that really raises the stakes in a way that leads to good fiction

A truly great picture book is a book that can be told in no other way. If the story can function without the pictures, then it’s not realizing the essence of a picture book.

If you have become a lifelong reader and you fell in love with reading as a child, it wasn’t because of a carefully crafted domestic drama. It was probably because you read “The Wizard of Oz.”

Baltimore is definitely a source of inspiration for my work. Right now, Charles Village in particular, is a really young neighborhood, lots of kids. There are a lot of activities where we are around lots of young kids, and talking to the children’s librarians has been wonderful.

For the longest time, people were told, ‘Oh, well now you’ve grown up. So you need to read and write serious literature.’ And, quite frankly, most of it was boring. Now we’re all sort of getting permission as writers and readers to get back to what is more fun again.  

—As told to Taylor Colvin

Laura Amy Schlitz

Laura Amy Schlitz

Laura Amy Schlitz has been a librarian at The Park School for 21 years, a job she hasn’t surrendered despite winning the 2008 Newberry Medal for her book, “Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village”— though she now works three days a week, leaving herself the other four to write. As a child growing up in Hunt Valley, she loved fairy tales and fantasy, sometimes hiding bread crusts for the characters in her storybooks who didn’t have enough to eat. That love has translated into five books for young people as well as plays and oral stories. This month, Schlitz’s much-anticipated sixth book, “Splendors and Glooms,” a Victorian Gothic involving puppets, witches and plenty of intrigue, will be published. It’s an homage to Dickens, whom she first read as a child and still re-reads today.

When I was a child and I had déjà vu, I somehow got the idea that I was a character in a story and the story was being re-read.

I’ve always been interested in magic and fantasy and fairy tales.

I can’t pick a favorite character from my books. It would hurt my other characters’ feelings.

Villains are very valuable in stories. And it’s easy for me to get to know them. The shadow gets to come out and play.

I think children crave what’s frightening them. If it’s too much, they won’t read it.

I could write book beginnings all day long. It’s the middle that’s a killer.

“Splendors and Glooms” was so hard to write because I was working from an image, not an idea. I had to figure out what the structure of the story was.

I’m reduced to all kinds of bribery and coaching to get myself to write. I set a timer, I give myself a reward.

At this point in time, a lot of literary fiction is bleak. So some people who are looking for joy are reading childrens’ books.

I think joy is valuable. By all means, let’s have the glooms, but let’s have the splendors, too. I want a complete meal.

—As told to Laura Wexler


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