<b>FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS | </b>By Ashley Stewart For the Weekly Herald
Many of us are faced with a choice between doing what we love and what will pay the bills. Local children’s author Heather Klassen never had to.
After earning a master’s degree in child development, Klassen, of Lynnwood, combined her love for children and interest in writing and began a 25-year career, producing more than 400 short stories, four books and a three-year teaching career at the Institute of Children’s Literature, where she attended.
“I’ve always been into reading and writing and kids,” Klassen said. “That’s who I am, that’s what I’m about: sitting in my house writing stories for kids.”
Klassen has had eight short stories published in Highlights for Children magazine. She earned the magazine’s Author of the Month award for three of those stories. Her other works have been published in magazines such as Pockets, Child Life, Hopscotch and Rainbow Rumpus, and in “Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul II.”
Klassen moved to Snohomish County in 1985 and has spent 14 years in Lynnwood. She said that she has been influenced by family outings around the state, and frequently uses the Seattle area as the setting for her stories, placing characters on a ferry or a Puget Sound beach. After taking her family to a corn maze, Klassen was inspired to write about 12-year-old boy who gets lost in a corn maze. The story was published in Highlights for Children.
Klassen teaches a correspondence course from home for the institute, based in Connecticut, sending assignments by mail. She continues to write about two short stories a month.
When her two children were growing up, Klassen drew inspiration from observing what they did and what they were interested in. Her daughter Tress, now a 21-year-old English major at Syracuse University, read through Klassen’s manuscripts when she was younger and offered perspective. Now that her children are grown, she continues to work with children and get ideas for stories from baby-sitting.
“I get ideas by keeping my eyes and ears open, observing children, reading, thinking,” Klassen said. “Every idea has been written about, so you really have to pay attention.”
Her most recent book is loosely based on experiences from her childhood. “I was really affected by Vietnam as a child, so it was something I wanted to write about from a kid’s point of view,” Klassen said.
“Hold on Tight” is the story of Suzanne, an 11-year-old girl growing up during the Vietnam War. When her older brother enlists, Suzanne is left with an anti-war mother and a veteran father. She has to endure the rift growing between her parents and receives letters from her brother about what the war is like.
“In everything you write, you created the character but part of the character is you,” Klassen said. “A lot of her experiences are based on my childhood — but it’s not me.”
Klassen lists author and Vietnam veteran Tim O’Brien, who wrote a novel about the war’s effect on American soldiers, as a major influence. She hopes this book will help educate children and would like to get the novel into schools. The book is aimed at children, ages 11 to 15, but Klassen hopes it also will be meaningful to adults, especially those who grew up during the Vietnam War.
The first 15 pages of children’s author Heather Klassen’s “Hold on Tight” are available to sample at www.rfwp.com.