Sharon Dennis Wyeth

More on Good Times in Seattle, Washington

It’s February and I’m still basking in the glow of the A.L.A. Midwinter Conference at the end of last month in Seattle, Washington. One of the high points of my time in Seattle (a great place to visit!) was my presentation at Tyee Park Elementary School an hour outside of the city. I met the principal, faculty and four hundred students (!) at Tyee Park. While I was there I read “The Granddaughter Necklace,” talked about writing and responded to questions from students. One student asked what “came first” in ‘The Granddaughter Necklace’ “the words or the pictures?” I told her that the books started with my text which the illustrator Bagram Ibatoulline read before he began the paintings that appear in the book. I added that Bagram’s paintings were another whole way of capturing the story I had written; his very own creative response and his own way of telling the story in pictures. The editor of the book and the art director also had a great deal of input. It was my editor Arthur Levine’s idea that I think of an object to tie together the individual stories in my book. I came up with the idea of a necklace immediately. I think it’s because for a long time I’d wanted to write a story inspired by a set of old beads that were discovered at the site of the African Burial Ground in New York City. When I saw those ancient beads, I’d wondered where they came from originally and who had worn them. My other inspiration for the choice of a necklace was a set of crystals I own that were worn by my grandmother Mildred and mother Evon. Every time I take them out of my jewelry box and hold them up to the light, I think of these two women and what they contributed to my life. However, if my editor Arthur had not suggested that I think of an object to tie together my stories, the necklace in “The Granddaughter Necklace” might never have existed, which means it would have been a different book altogether and obviously one with another title!

“The Granddaughter Necklace” now available to readers was a collaboration between myself, illustrator Bagram Ibatoulline and the people at our publishing house who contributed their guidance, support and encouragement. This team includes the people whose job is to let people know about the book and to make sure it’s available to readers at stores and libraries and online. Working together as a team to make something wonderful is what I find most exciting about being a picture book author.

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Writing Childhood
My obsession with childhood stories began at the age of two…

I’m two-years-old, sitting unashamed in a tin tub set in a shady spot on a lawn in Culpeper, Virginia. My grandmother Georgie Dennis is soaping my back with a rag and a bar of homemade soap. It’s late in the day because I can see the mountains in the distance without squinting. The feel of the warm rag gliding across my shoulder blades is pleasurable. I squirm against the tickle of dripping water. I hear Grandma’s voice, a deep cooing sound reserved for me. “That’s gamma’s girl…” she murmurs, rinsing my back.

A man appears across the field, my grandparents’ neighbor Mr. Green. I stare as he strides toward us. Even from a distance, I spot his eyes. I’ve seen them up close so I know they’re green like his name. The only eyes green eyes I’ve ever seen. From far away, I see them sparkling. With his bright eyes and coppery skin, black, curly hair, like a sheep’s and overalls I also admire, my grandparents’ neighbor is utterly fascinating.

“Mr. Green must have been a beautiful baby,” I pronounce, twisting my neck towards Grandma.

She drops the washrag. “What did you say?”

“Mr. Green must have been a beautiful baby,” I repeat in my babyish voice.

Grandma throws her arms around me. “You have to hear this, Mr. Green,” she calls out. She lifts me out of the tub and dries me off.
When Mr. Green is upon us, I’m in Grandma’s arms wrapped in a towel.

“What’s is it, Georgie?” he asks.

Grandma gives him the report. “Sharon (she pronounces it “Shurn”) said ‘Mr. Green must have been a beautiful baby!” She laughs again. “Isn’t that funny?”

Since Mr. Green is shy his laugh isn’t loud, it’s a chuckle. “Why, you’re just a baby yourself,” he tells me, leaning closer.

When I think about it now, Mr. Green was my first crush. As he strode the field in his overalls, I was imagining his childhood, what he looked like when he was two-years-old and just my size. “A beautiful baby,” I decided, like the song my daddy sang to me sometimes.

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Sharon has a new book, The River and Me. Learn more at American Girl about Evette and her passion for nature!