“I don’t know when I realized I wanted to be a children’s writer. I wrote the stories I wanted to write. It happens to be the voice I have.” Rosemary Wells’s voice is Max who desperately wants a dragon shirt instead of a new pair of pants; it’s also Edward who’s afraid to take off his water wings at a swim party or go to pre-school; it’s Yoko whose friends tease her about the sushi in her lunch box; and it’s Shy Charles who trembles at the thought of meeting other children.
Wells comes from a family devoted to the arts. Her mother danced for the Russian Ballet and her father was a playwright and an actor. She remembers her house being “filled with books, dogs and 19th century music. ..When I was two years old I began to draw and my family saw right away the career that lay ahead of me and encouraged me every day of my life. As far back as I can remember, I did nothing but draw.”
Now, Wells writes or draws eight hours a day. The ideas and images for her picture books come to her “out of the sky.” She’s an experienced eavesdropper, picking up tid-bits of conversations and trivia from every day life that she uses in her stories. “It’s a writer’s job to have ideas; without them I wouldn’t be much of a writer. I structure my stories around the things that make up our lives.” Wells’s daughters, Victoria and Beezoo (Marguerite) are Ruby and Max, two of Wells’s most popular characters. “They appeared on my drawing board in the summer of 1977.” At age five, Victoria decided to explain the world to her nine month old baby sister. Victoria dragged Beezoo around “like a sack of flour. . .shouting, ‘Table, Beezoo! say table. TA-BLE!’ Beezoo did not cooperate at all and was always off in a world of her own.”
Wells’s lifelong love of history and its characters comes through in Tallchief: Prima Ballerina (Viking, 1999), Streets of Gold (Dial, 1999), and Mary on Horseback (Dial, 1998). Wells scrupulously researched the three American heroines: Maria Tallchief, the Native American dancer; Mary Antin, the Russian Jewish immigrant who came to American to avoid persecution; and Mary Breckenridge, the founder of the Frontier Nursing Service. When writing Mary on Horseback, “I read all of the material in the Mary Breckenridge room of the University of Kentucky library, read her memoir, and visited her home.” Mary on Horseback recently won the Christopher Award given to the book that “lights a candle in the darkness and celebrates the decency of the human spirit. I am most proud of that single award. It’s a wonderful award, and I was honored to win it.” Currently at work on a Civil War novel, she has read 57 books on the war in Northern Virginia and attended several reenactments of various battles, and she is not finished yet!
Selecting a favorite among her books is like “choosing among one’s children” according to Wells. But she is most happy with My Very First Mother Goose, a New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Book, and its companion volume, Here Comes Mother Goose. “They are the best things I’ve ever illustrated; they’re my very best work.”
Wells has created over 60 award-winning children’s books in her 30 year career. Her art work appears on this year’s Miami Book Fair poster. She lives about 30 miles from New York City in Westchester County, New York with her husband, Tom, and her two West Highland Terriers, Lucy and Snowy. “If there’s any point to what I do, I hope children learn to love books and parents learn to enjoy reading them, because that’s what they’re all about. I want to encourage adults and children to learn about themselves and laugh at themselves. There is no substitute for the written word. I hope that I write for a lifetime reader.”