Patricia M. Newman

Who Wrote That?
Featuring Jackie French Koller
Published in California Kids!, December 1999 , South Florida Parenting, December 1999

“Ever since I read The Primrose Way, I have a favorite book
and that comes with a favorite author.”

Jackie French Koller has written over 20 books for early readers, young children, and teens. She began by writing stories for her daughter, Kerri. When her two sons, Ryan and Devin, were born, she wrote more stories for them. “When [Devin] graduated from diapers, my husband gave me a brand new electric typewriter and I began to pursue in earnest my dream of being a children’s book writer.” Sixteen years passed from the time she wrote her first story until her first book, Impy for Always (Little Brown, 1989), was published. When aspiring writers ask Koller’s advice about a career in writing for children, she encourages them but she tells them “the hard, cruel facts.” Koller wrote 50 books before one was published, so she cautions new writers to be in this business for the long haul. Additionally, she says there are two requirements when writing for children: a tough ego which can handle painful rejection and another source of income.

The ideas for Koller’s young adult novels usually come from something that happened to her or her family—there’s a personal connection to the story. Nothing to Fear is based on her mother’s childhood in New York City during the Great Depression; Luke, in The Falcon, is patterned after her son; and The Primrose Way grew out of Koller’s passion for Native American history and culture. “Rebekah [from The Primrose Way] is feisty and a lot of fun. She’s me the way I wish I had been.”

“I really liked your dragon books. They opened up reading to
me and that means a lot because I’m not a very good reader.”

The Dragonling was the only book that wasn’t Koller’s idea. In third grade, Koller’s youngest son, Devin, was required to write a book report on a chapter book. Devin wanted dragons, but the public library didn’t have any chapter books on dragons. “Not to worry. Devin had a solution—‘Write me one, Mom.’ And so I did. Each day he would rush in the door after school and ask, ‘Did you do another chapter?,’ and each day I would hand him the product of my labors. Ten days later, The Dragonling was done. He reminds me all the time that I owe him a great deal for having launched me on that series.”

Koller was writing chapter books even before the genre existed. In the late 1980s, children’s publisher, Little Brown, announced a new genre—the chapter book—which would bridge the gap between picture books and middle grade novels. Koller was ready with Impy for Always. The Dragonling series followed, and three more Mole and Shrew books will follow Mole and Shrew All Year Through. Koller confesses that her ideas for her humorous stories for younger children “seem to come out of the air. I don’t know where they come from.”

Koller generally writes for six to seven hours, four days a week. “I don’t outline. I used to try to, but once the characters came to life, they would take the books in different directions. . .I feel I’m no longer in charge of the stories and where they go. . . So now I go with the flow.” Koller’s characters are so real to her she knows what happens in their lives even after the book is written. But she’s unwilling to share an example because “I may write sequels about portions of their lives, and I don’t want to give them away.”
The one thing Koller would like her readers to know about her is that she’s an ordinary person. “I do the grocery shopping and the ironing, and clean up the dog messes. I’m very approachable, very timid, and a nervous wreck when I get up to speak in front of people.” Koller lives on ten acres atop a mountain in Massachusetts with her husband, George, and two Labrador retrievers, Sara and Cassie. Twelve year old Sara is featured in her new Christmas book The Promise. Cassie “will get her book, but Sara was running out of time.”

In Koller’s opinion, one of the best things to happen to children’s books is the new recognition of young adult novels—the books between middle grade novels and adult novels written for ages 12 and up that speak directly to the adolescent experience. “I am hooked on reading books for children and young adults. I rarely find an adult book that can measure up to the quality I’m used to in children’s literature.”

“When I finished reading Nothing to Fear I had this very good feeling inside of me
. . .I think you are one of the best writers in the world. You can blow away Stephen King anytime.”





Nickommoh!--A Thanksgiving Celebration, Atheneum, 1999.
The Promise, Knopf, 1999.
Bouncing on the Bed, Orchard, 1999.
One Monkey Too Many, Harcourt Brace, 1999.
The Falcon, Atheneum Books, 1998.
Mole and Shrew All Year Through, Boyds Mills Press, 1997.
The Primrose Way, Harcourt Brace, 1995.
Nothing to Fear, Harcourt Brace, 1993.
The Dragonling series (6 books) including The Dragonling, A Dragon in the Family, Dragon Quest, Dragons of Krad, and Dragons and Kings, Archway Minstrel, 1995-98.

Mole and Shrew Make Two, Random House, Fall 2000.
Mole and Shrew, What Will You Do?, Random House, Spring 2001.
Mole and Shrew Get a Clue, Random House, Fall 2001.