Just how did a kid who spent her early childhood curled up with the latest Nancy Drew—or outdoors building tree forts and playing kick-the-can—end up a tiara-wearing queen?
I didn’t grow up in a palace, that’s for sure. It wasn’t exactly a shoe, but for a lot of years I was one of seven kids spilling out the doors and windows of a tiny two-bedroom, one-bath house in Ferndale, Washington.
But… I had a mom and dad who treated their children royally. They loved and respected each of us as unique individuals. They honored learning, collected books, and read to us every day—the funny papers, adventure stories, poetry, the dictionary, encyclopedia entries.
Mom and Dad took us on road trips to see the country and visit a slew of aunts, uncles, cousins, and our Grandma Lizzie Lou, who was a born storyteller. They took us to Sunday school, where we learned (and memorized) the beautiful English of King James. They filled our home with music. They taught us to care for the cats, turtles, chickens and fish that paraded through our lives, and to let the tiny shrew that cowered under the living room sofa live in peace.
Mom grew flowers, Dad grew vegetables, and both cooked healthy, hearty, tasty meals. And made sure we ate them.
In short, we lived in a kingdom of imagination, language, beauty and love, the very best sort of world for a story-queen-in-training. My childhood nurtured my mind and spirit, stimulated my curiosity and created memories—the places from which stories spring.
In the last dozen years, I’ve written about monsters, cats and fairytale characters, including the princess sisters from Disney’s Oscar-winning animated film, Frozen. Inspired by the pure gumption of Elsa and Anna of Arendelle, I don my tiara and gown for appearances in bookstores, retail malls, book festivals and anywhere else I’m invited to read my books and tell my becoming-an-author story. I visit schools to share what I’ve learned about writing and encourage young authors to express their unique insights in stories of their own.
I never asked to be a queen, but here I am—Barbara Jean, the Story Queen. If the crown fits, I say, wear it. We all deserve to sparkle!
Barbara Jean the Story Queen
Everything I know about writing, I learned from my cat.
Look, leap and learn. If you’ve ever had a cat in your life, you know what I mean. My favorite cat, Miguel, was curious by nature. He had a nose for adventure, leaping into the unknown like an old-world explorer, learning along the way. And he had the scars to prove it.
A writer, too, is a curious creature, always sniffing about for new ideas. Observing, reading, eavesdropping. Haunting favorite places and exploring new ones. Paying attention.
For me, starting a story or poem is always an adventure, a leap into the unknown. I might start out with a curious bit of dialogue, or a vivid description, or a word or phrase that tickles my funny bone. Before I have any real idea where I’m going, I’m on my way. I let the writing take me wherever it wants to. Unlike some of my writer friends, I’m a seat-of-the-pants-er more than a planner. It’s the way creativity works for me.
A writer learns by doing. There’s no substitute. It’s only after I’ve plunged into a project that I begin to find out what it’s really about. The act of writing teaches me what my poem or story is, and how it wants to be told, and why it matters. Slowly. Rewrite after rewrite. Not very efficient, I’m afraid. Messy. Unpredictable. Fun!
Miguel, my cat, my darling, my muse, taught me everything I need to know to be a writer:
Figure it out on the way.
Award-winning author, storyteller, speaker and educator Barbara Jean Hicks has published eight picture books, including ONCE UPON A PARSNIP, MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI, A SISTER MORE LIKE ME and THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER KITTY.
Barbara has taught at the preschool, middle school and community college levels and worked in an urban elementary school as author-in-residence, program facilitator and parent educator. She has also written adult novels and novellas and marketing copy for numerous businesses and trade publishers and worked as an editor and proofreader.
Based in Northwest Washington state, Barbara travels extensively to deliver her highly rated Young Author and Family Literacy programs to students, teachers and parents throughout the U.S.