Love for Short Books and Short Stories by Barbara O’Connor

First, a big thanks to Colby Sharp for inviting me to the Nerdy Book Club today!


As a result, I’ve discovered something about myself. While looking through some childhood books to prepare this post, it dawned on me that when I was a child, I was particularly drawn to short books and short stories.


As a very young child, I adored all those Little Golden Books. (Some had paper dolls and decals – bonus!)



Then I moved on to mysteries and inhaled Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew. The Pink Motel was a favorite, too.



But when I climbed into the dark and dusty bookmobile that came to our neighborhood every few weeks, I often searched for books of short stories.


My family often gave me storybooks.


My favorite was a book of fairy tales called Shirley Temple’s Storybook, given to me by my father when I was 8.






My grandmother gave me Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I think I knew every one by heart.



My grandmother also gave me a book of stories by Charles Dickens. I’m sure I must have smiled and thanked her politely, but, um….



My great-grandmother gave my mother this nonfiction book of short stories about natural landmarks like Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon. (Ironically, New York City is also included.) I loved them!



I loved Mr. Wizard’s Science Secrets.



I loved Uncle Remus. (This is the updated version signed by Jerry Pinkney!)



And as if you needed further proof of my nerdiness, I even loved reading the encyclopedia. I know, I know…. My family couldn’t afford those fancy World Book Encyclopedias like all the cool kids had. (Remember those transparent pages of the human body!). So once a week my mother bought one volume of the Golden Book Encyclopedia at the grocery store.



Now I’m going to play armchair psychiatrist and present this theory: Maybe my love of short stories as a child is the reason I write short books. Whatdoya think?


That might be a lame theory but the truth is that I do love to write succinctly. I like to make every word earn its keep. I follow the rule, “When in doubt, take it out.” Why say it with more words when you can say it with fewer?


I’m particularly fond of multiple viewpoint stories because they are a bit like individual short stories woven in with others. My book Greetings from Nowhere had four points of view and was challenging to write.


But that was nothing compared to my upcoming middle grade novel, On the Road to Mr. Mineo’s. That book has EIGHT, yes, you heard me right, EIGHT points of view. It nearly killed me to write it. How in the world was I going to weave eight points of view into one story?


I bit my nails and paced the floor and checked my email incessantly while waiting for the brilliant author, Kirby Larson, to finish the manuscript in hopes that she would write an endorsement for it.


Imagine how thrilled I was when she wrote this:


ON THE ROAD TO MR. MINEO’S is an intricate Chinese puzzle box of a book, into which BarbaraO’Connor has lovingly and carefully fit the stories of nearly a dozen characters, including a homeless brown dog and a “dern fool” one-legged pigeon. At first glance, it might seem like Meadville is too small and sleepy a town to offer much to any visitor. But once readers climb up on Gerald’s roof with Stella and see what she sees, they will never want to leave. I know I didn’t. This rich collage of mismatched friends, big brother bullies, waffles, bait shops and empty dog houses is yet another example of the kind of story Barbara O’Connor tells so well, one which unwraps the small but powerful transformations in everyday life.


A Chinese puzzle box of a book? Oh, Kirby, how I heart you.


And so it feels as if my childhood reading life has come full circle. I’ve grown from that little girl devouring stories to a grownup woman writing them.


To quote the mother of a child in my neighborhood, “Just think, while you’re on one side of the neighborhood writing books, she’s on the other side reading them.”


Barbara O’Connor is the author of sixteen novels and biographies for children. Drawing on her Carolina roots, Barbara’s novels have a distinctly Southern voice. Her books have received many distinctions, including ALA Notable, NCTE Notables and Parents Choice Gold Awards and have been nominated for young readers’ choice awards in 38 states. Her upcoming middle grade novel On the Road to Mr. Mineo’s (FSG/Macmillan) comes out October 2012. You can find her online at or on Twitter as @barbaraoconnor.