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Bestselling Author Discusses Her Journey to Publication with Pound Ridge Students

Abby Hanlon speaks with students at Pound Ridge Elementary School

“What if her nightgown grows bigger and bigger and she gets stuck under her bed?” a Pound Ridge Elementary School student asked, eyes gleaming with excitement.

“Ooooh, I love that!” said Abby Hanlon, author of the popular Dory Fantasmagory chapter book series. Hanlon was visiting the school to discuss how she became an author-illustrator and share with students how she comes up with book ideas. They were in the middle of going through a “so/but” exercise, where they advanced a story by saying “so this happened, but then this happened, so then that happened.”

While she made the process seem easy enough that even the kindergartners in the room could do it, Hanlon’s road to becoming a bestselling author was filled with perseverance and hard work.

She told students that she started out as a first-grade teacher.

“My favorite part of the school day was what we called writer’s workshop,” she said. “The kids in my class were having so much fun doing it that I started getting kind of jealous. I wanted to use words and pictures to make books, just like them.”

There was one little problem: Hanlon didn’t know how to draw. She didn’t let that stop her though. She used a kids art book called Make a World by Ed Emberley to teach herself. She practiced and practiced, showing students proof of her hard work with photos of her desk buried in drawings.

After five years of trying, she published her first book, Ralph Tells a Story, which was about one of her students who hated writing.

“You never know, your teacher could be secretly writing a book about you!” she said.

After telling them how she got her start, Hanlon dove into talking about writing the Dory Fantasmagory series, which many of the students were very familiar with and excited to learn more about.

She told them that it started with her twins. They loved fairy tales, and she decided she wanted to write something like a fairy tale — and her kids wanted to help. So, they did. She added a lot of her kids’ ideas into her books and even included details that happened in their real life.

“Writers have to pay attention because stories are happening all the time, everywhere,” she said.

Students hung on to her every word and had plenty of questions when she opened the floor to them.

“How old were you when you started writing?”

“Did you have to pay a lot of money for them to make a lot of books for you?”

“Why did you name the main character Dory?”

She answered each one and ended the discussion with one very simple sentence that really drove home the importance of perseverance: “Writing and drawing are very hard for me, but I love it, so I do it anyway.”

Abby Hanlon poses with a class at Pound Ridge Elementary School