Right from the beginning of her career in children’s writing, Patricia Lee Gauch was interested in what moves the words on a page and why they make a good story. As both an editor for children’s publisher Philomel Books and an author of her own work she strives to create books that have a sense of shape. According to Gauch, creating a book is a musical experience. “There’s a rhythm and a rightness of things.” For example, she says, “There’s a shape to a Bach prelude with its rise and fall and the feeling that now is the time for the rise and fall.” The same concept applies to good stories.
Before writing for children, Gauch was a reporter for the Louisville (Kentucky) Journal. After her first child was born, she left journalism and fell in love with children’s books. She enrolled in a writing class taught by well-known children’s author, Jean Fritz. Gauch describes Fritz as “a brilliant editor” and attributes her first sale to Fritz’s tutelage.
Now the author of almost 40 picture books and novels, Gauch is proud of her body of work. After 37 years of writing and 19 years of editing Gauch describes her third book, Christina Katerina and the Box (Cowan, McCann, 1971), as “rather perfect in form, shape and character.” Gauch’s daughter nearly drove her crazy playing with a box, but instead of getting angry Gauch channeled her emotion into a story. Instinctively she knew she had to have tension and created Fats Watson—an antagonist from her own childhood. Beyond that, she freely admits she had no idea what she was doing when she wrote the story!
Gauch says, “I made some statements about girls before the curve.” Christina Katerina and Tempe Wick are gutsy and independent. She describes them as “imaginative and not afraid to step into the world.” In the 1970s when Gauch’s first books were published, strong female characters were a novelty. Now they’re a requirement.
Gauch experimented with free-form verse when she wrote Thunder at Gettysburg (Coward, McCann, 1975), long before Karen Hesse’s free-form verse novel, Out of the Dust, won the Newbery Medal in 1998. According to Gauch, Thunder at Gettysburg began as a chapter book for beginning readers, but the verse flew out of her. Her story continues to be an important classroom resource 30 years after its publication date.
Aaron and the Green Mountain Boys (Coward, McCann, 1972) was one of the earliest easy-readers ever published, reprinted by Boyds Mills Press this year. Gauch calls the book “a wonderful detective story” because she had to fit together tiny pieces of Aaron’s life with her research.
During her childhood, Gauch remembers running barefoot on the beaches of Michigan lakes from May to September. She raced turtles, swam, and sipped milkshakes. “It was a wonderful world,” she says. Her books capture that sense of freedom and spontaneity. She’s a firm believer in the subconscious, getting up in the middle of the night to catch her mind off guard. Her stories bubble up from deep inside of her and have a heartbeat that drives them forward. According to Gauch, characters feel right when she can climb into their shoes instead of watching them from the outside with her nose pressed against the glass.
Gauch’s philosophy also applies to the writers whose work she edits for Philomel. When she acquires a manuscript, she pours all of her creativity into it—leaving her little time and energy to write one book a year like many of her colleagues. A particular talent that Gauch has developed is finding the perfect illustrator to bring an almost-magical lift to an author’s words. She introduced the Caldecott-winning teams of Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr for Owl Moon (Philomel, 1987) and Judith St. George and David Small for So You Want to Be President? (Philomel, 2000). Sometimes Gauch takes as long as a year to find the correct artist for a book.
Gauch’s passion is making the most perfect children’s books she can. Her dual roles as writer and editor combined with her enthusiasm and vision make each book she works on a work of art that touches the hearts of the children who read it.