First Person Singular

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, children's author, Bethesda

Sunday, May 14, 2006

My parents, they read aloud to us until we were 14 and 15. It was the late Depression, and we really didn't have much of anything. But we did have books. They read with great drama. I think Dad read almost all of Mark Twain's books aloud to us. He imitated all the voices, and I just loved it. And I must have thought, "If it's so much fun listening to books, it must be even more fun writing books." And it is.

I started writing about a girl looking for a role model, [The Agony of Alice], and I got so many letters from kids, and reviewers said things like, "Readers will await her next adventures." So I just turned it into a series. It's just following one girl through her life and the things that happen to her.

I get about 20 to 30 letters a day. Most of these kids have read the Alice books and ask very personal questions. They tell me things that they can't ask their parents. I hear from girls that have been having sex for a long time, girls who are 17 years old and never been kissed, never gone on a date, and are afraid that they'll never, ever get married. One girl wants to go with an Indian guy, but she's doing it behind her mother's back. At first I thought, I can't handle this. But then I thought, I'm getting as much from them as they are from me. It just tells me what topics are important to them. [And] they correct me on modern usage. Just simple things like, you don't "go steady" anymore, you "go out with someone." They talk a lot about the relationships in their families. They're upset. Jealousy with a sister. They talk about how hard school is. Some of them are coming from backgrounds where they're just pushed and pushed to excel. Some [have] fathers who are trying to abuse sexually their daughters. And then I just feel like the letter is going to explode in my hands. I have a list of hotlines I give them, when I think they really need help. I have to say every so often: I'm not a doctor. I'm not an expert on anything. I'm just replying as a friend.

-- Interview by Tyler Currie

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