Rachel Wildavsky, who has been a writer for many years, published her first book for kids with "The Secret Life of Rover." (Amy Sievers )

Within the first 20 pages of Rachel Wildavsky’s book “The Secret of Rover,” the lives of 12-year-old twins Katie and David are turned upside down. Their parents are kidnapped in a foreign country, and it’s up to them to figure out how to get them back. The only problem is, their babysitter is in on the kidnapping.

“What I wanted to do in a book is put my characters in very tough spots — the toughest spot I can think of — and then see if they can get out of it,” said Wildavsky from her home in Chevy Chase, Maryland. “That was the idea for this book.”

Katie and David’s adventure takes them out of their city, Washington, to Vermont and then back again before they figure out what’s going on, and what the secret of Rover is.

A lifelong writer and reader

Wildavsky, 53, has always been a writer, just not always one for kids. In fact “The Secret of Rover,” which is perfect for age 9 and older, is her first book for kids. She was a journalist for years, reporting facts and covering stories in cool places including the White House. She has always been a reader, too, growing up with the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and “The Chronicles of Narnia.” She never thought about writing for kids. Then one day, she came up with the idea of writing a story about characters who lose it all and then have to figure out what to do.

“I’m always . . . imagining what I would do in an emergency. If I’m standing in the mechanic’s and they’re working on my car, I’ll be looking around and thinking, ‘Okay, if a bomb went off or there was some sort of disaster and we were stuck in this place, how would we live here?’ . . . I think it took me a very long time to realize that random thoughts like these could turn into stories, and stories could turn into books,” she said.


Wildavsky, who has three kids in high school, started writing fiction when she was in her 40s, getting up at 4:50 in the morning to write for a couple of hours every day before work. She wrote the first draft of “The Secret of Rover” in about a year but then wrote many drafts after that.

The joy of making up stuff

“One of the things that I really enjoy about writing fiction is that in fiction, you can mess with [the facts].” Wildavsky makes up a country and some towns in her book.

Wildavsky isn’t sure if she’ll write more about Katie and David. She’s working on a new children’s book now, this one involving robots and tigers. And she keeps having this other random thought that she thinks could be the beginnings of another book.

“If I am driving on a freeway ramp, you know how they kind of curve around and there’s that empty space in the middle? I’m always thinking ‘Wow, there’s that space. What could we do with that space?’ ”

Her advice to young writers: Read closely and pay attention to which books you like. Plus, she said, “Your wackiest idea can be the [birth] of something. I drive on those ramps all the time around the freeway, and I look at that empty space in the middle and I’m always thinking, ‘There’s a story in that empty space.’ ”

— Moira E. McLaughlin