Author Susan Verde's first published poem was written when she was a ninth-grader, about her brother, for her school's poetry magazine.
Verde loved to write and kept journals. But she was also shy. It was an English teacher — "It's always a teacher, isn't it?" Verde chuckled — who encouraged her writing by reading her work aloud in a class.
"The reaction that it got validated that feeling inside me. It kind of changed everything," Verde said, "and I was able to break through that anxiety, and slowly got more comfortable with myself."
The encouragement of that teacher, Mr. Truxton Hare, led her to a career that included writing, as well as teaching elementary school, yoga and mindfulness.
Verde is this year's guest author for "Hooked on Books ... and the Arts, Too!" sponsored by Eastern Carver County Community Education and the Carver County Library. Verde's most recent children's book, "I Am Human: A Book of Empathy," is a New York Times best seller.
This week, as part of the Hooked on Books program, Verde was scheduled to speak to third-graders in each of the district's elementary schools. On Wednesday, she was scheduled to speak to the Chanhassen Rotary.
Young readers and their parents will be able to meet Verde from 9 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Feb. 2 at Hooked on Books.
According to Verde's whimsical website, "every child's experience is unique and should be celebrated. Her books tell tales of magical museum visits, share the keys to lasting friendships and help you find a moment of calm in a sea of busy."
We caught up with Verde to learn what sparked the idea for five of her books.
'I Am Human: A Book on Empathy'
"It's my latest one. It debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times book list. It really struck a chord. My illustrator and I were having dinner with our children; his son is younger and my daughter is a teenager. We were all talking and we started talking about how it's OK to make mistakes. Kids can be so self-judgmental. It's OK to make mistakes. We are all human."
"Based on a true story about my son when he was 7. We were in a local museum looking at exhibits. Finally he just collapsed on the floor.
"'I can't look at another picture of food,'" he said. "'I'm starving.'"
At that, Verde picked up a pencil, and wrote a poem on the spot about how art made him feel hungry, leading to her book on how art makes us feel all kinds of things besides hungry.
'The Water Princess'
Verde was introduced to supermodel Georgie Badul in New York City and learned of Badul's childhood in the West African country of Burkina Faso, and the hardships that come from the lack of fresh water.
"I wanted kids to understand this is a real problem," Verde said. "Kids don't realize the luxury of having water. But they have power to do something about it. It's a call to action and the proceeds go to the Georgie Badul Foundation that builds wells in Burkina Faso. And the story has inspired kids to raise funds for the foundation.
'You and Me'
Watching her three children as they grow up inspired Verde to wonder, what if things had been different on the day each of them was born; and taking the thought further, that could be said for any relationship. If one thing had been different would you have missed out on meeting and being friends?
"It's about serendipity; every step we take takes us to where we're supposed to be," Verde said.
"It's not just my kids, all kids are obsessed with their sneakers, but they also get bummed out when they have to get rid of a pair," Verde said.
While the upside is they get a new pair, Verde saw it as a story of transitions in general, of letting go, honoring the old and welcoming the new.