Best-selling author visits local schools

BEST-SELLING AUTHOR Margaret Peterson Haddix visited students at Coal City High School on Dec. 12 to talk about her writing career and the inspiration behind her books for children and young adults. The visit was arranged by the school’s librarian Allison Peterson.
Ann Gill

    As best-selling author Margaret Peterson Haddix made her way across Illinois as part of an 11-stop book tour, she spent a day talking to students at Coal City High School and Wilmington Middle School.
    Haddix has penned more than 40 books for children and young adults. She is best known for her series “The Shadow Children” and “The Missing.”
    She’s also written the “Children of Exile”, “The Palace Chronicles” and “Under Their Skin” series, as well “Into the Gauntlet,” part of the multi-author 39 Clues series.
    “Excited doesn’t even begin to describe our excitement for Margaret Haddix’s visit,” Coal City High School librarian Allison Peterson said in advance of Dec. 12.
    During her visit she shared with students the inspiration for her books, many coming from factual stories she wrote as a general assignment reporter at The Indianapolis News.
    A graduate of Miami University in Ohio, Haddix earned degrees in creative writing, history and journalism. Her first position out of college was as a copy editor at The Journal-Gazette in Fort Wayne, IN.
    She then landed the reporting gig in Indianapolis.
    “It was a good experience for someone who wanted to be a writer and I had experiences I wouldn’t otherwise had,” Haddix said.
    Her work in the news business found her covering the inauguration of  President George H. W. Bush, riding the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, covering a host of municipal meetings and covering the people and events of the city.
    One story she covered for the paper was about Conner Park, an interactive history park where all of the workers portray settlers from the 1800s.
    She said that at the park, the workers must go about their day as if it was truly the 1800s.
    “I wondered what if there was a place like Conner Prairie where the kids grew up as though it was the 1800s and the parents didn’t tell them it was a different time period,” said Haddix, who turned the idea into a book.    
    Throughout the presentation she shared with students information about her life as a journalist, an author, a wife and a mother.
    She talked about the process of getting an idea on to the page and how she prefers to come up with her own ideas, rather than take them from others.
    In one case, she did take a concept pitched by her editor and wrote “Uprising,” a story that focuses on garment workers  at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City.
    In telling about the book, Haddix shared details about a 1911 fire at the factory, one of the deadliest industrial disasters in the city’s history.
    She told students about her visit to the building that is now part of New York University and how the fire resulted in a number of safety laws that remain today.
    Closing out her visit she opened the session to questions from the students.  Following the visit she wrote on her Facebook page about a question posed by a CCHS student who asked, “as an author, what was the best money she spent on something to help her career?”
    “For a moment, I thought they had stumped me. Then I knew: A library card. Twenty-five years ago, I lived in a place where library cards cost $25 a year. Ever since then, I have felt very grateful to live in places where library cards are free,” she wrote.
    The local visits were among her final stops during the week and a half tour of Illinois schools.
    As she looked back on her time in the state she posted a few of her favorite moments and two occurred during her Wilmington stop.
    The first was, “the teacher who rushed out in 19 degree weather without a coat and short sleeves to make sure I saw my personalized parking sign,” she said. And the other, “The boy who described kids in my writing workshop as ‘the Council of Cool Kids.”