A generation before she became a children’s author, Holly Niner was an avid reader.
Niner will meet her young audience and sign copies of “The Day I Ran Away” twice in April at Barnes & Noble in Jefferson Pointe.
“This would probably be for the 4-to-7 age range,” the Fort Wayne writer said. She remembers reading “a lot of Dr. Seuss at that age.” She also read Childcraft books. “It was like a kids’ encyclopedia, but it had a poetry section and a short story section, so we would read a lot of those,” she said. “My dad would tell us stories, too, so there were the made-up stories.”
Niner has made up yet another story, this time about little Grace telling her dad about her complicated day.
“It’s just a fun book about a little girl who’s having a bad day,” Niner said. “Her favorite shirt’s dirty, her favorite cereal’s gone, and her mom sends her for a time-out after a tantrum and she decides to run away.”
But Grace is oh-so-young that she isn’t allowed to cross the street to run away. “And so Mom comes up with a way she can have the space they probably both need without crossing the street,” Niner said. “And she’s relating this day’s events to her father as he tucks her in. So in one of the father-daughter scenes Grace is actually doing bedtime yoga as she transitions to sleep.”
Niner’s fascination with books continued through her childhood. “In elementary school we could take three books out a week, and a friend and I would pick our books out together and exchange our books midway through the week because both of us needed more than three books to get through the week,” she said. “This would have been like fourth, fifth or sixth grade.”
She and her husband, Keith, read to their children at a very early age. “We read with them before they were born,” Niner said. “They had to read every night. Nobody watched TV after dinner and there was reading before bed and then we read together even into high school. We even read the first couple of Harry Potter books together. So we always enjoyed that time together.”
Her children are now ages 27 and 29. “They read all the time,” she said.
Niner said children gain both knowledge and insights by reading or listening at a very early age. “They may learn about things they don’t know, or people, or places,” she said. “But it’s also a way to experience emotions safely and see how someone handles them. That’s why with a lot of books for small children, the illustrations — the main characters — might be animals who are personified. They’re acting like people because they can explore even adult-like behaviors that a child wouldn’t explore themselves.”
Niner is a speech therapist, working at skilled nursing facilities. She also does skill modifications for people who speak English as a second language.
“I actually started writing for children back in 1991 or 1992,” she said. “My children were toddlers and I did not work outside the home then.” Her mother reminded Niner of her longtime love for reading and writing. “She sent me information on a correspondence writing for children course. So that was the beginning,” she said.
As with many authors, much of her early contributions netted rejection letters. “It’s really a business where you need a very thick skin,” she said. “About 2000 I decided to learn more about the business and once I understood about the publishing business the rejections started hurting a lot less. So I started reading and going to some conferences and I first got into publishing with the magazine market.” Her first book, “Mr. Worry: A Story About OCD,” was released in 2002. Next came “I Can’t Stop: A Story about Tourette Syndrome.”
Those were niche books, each addressing an issue, she said.
“The Day I Ran Away” offers a lesson through a fun story. In September, readers can learn about a mole named Jackson in Niner’s “No More Noisy Nights.”
She looks forward to meeting illustrator Isabella Ongaro, who brought Grace to the pages of “The Day I Ran Away.”
“The editor really manages how the book comes together,” Niner said. “So during the whole process she is the go-between. I would see sketches and make comments, but I never had contact with Isabella until the book was finished and then I was able to contact her and tell her how much I liked her illustrations.”
Read more about the author and her works at hollyniner.com.