Books Really Do Open Doors to the World by Lisa Schroeder

When I was growing up, we didn’t travel much. We went camping sometimes, when I was young and my parents were still married. After they divorced, though, most of my vacations were spent at my grandparents’ farm. It was a wonderful place, and I was happy to be there, but I also wondered about the world – wondered what it was like in other places. The first time I flew on an airplane I was a senior in high school, as we went to Washington D.C. for a senior class trip.


We’ve all heard that saying, “Write what you know.” But somewhere along the way, I realized I didn’t want to write what I know. I wanted to write what I wanted to know. And that’s how my middle-grade novel My Secret Guide to Paris (Scholastic, 2015) came to be. I’d never been to Paris, but oh how I wanted to go. To visit Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the world-renowned museums that feature work by Van Gogh, Monet, and Renoir. To eat croissants and drink chocolate chaud with real cream, like Nora does in the book. A ten-year-old recently wrote me a letter about this book and said, “Paris is my dreamland.” It made me smile as I thought, me too. Me too!


And so, I wrote a book that allowed me to visit Paris every day through research and imagination. After Paris came London, with a companion novel Sealed With a Secret. And now, a third book about a girl having fun adventures around New York City, called Keys to the City, comes out today.


I’ve been to NYC twice, the first time in 2011. Since I’ve spent a big part of my life as a small town girl, I was nervous. But it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the city. And I fell hard. The restaurants. The theaters. Central Park. The New York Public Library! I could go on and on. In Keys to the City, twelve-year-old Lindy lives there, but she visits places in the city with a new friend, Tyler, who is visiting for the summer, his special dog, and his grandmother. Lindy has to apply for high schools soon (a big city thing, for sure), and so she goes out into the world trying to unlock her talents and abilities, since she’s mostly been a bookworm up to this point.


I think for most writers, our greatest hope is that readers will fall in love with our characters and remember them long after the book is put away. After all, that’s what the best books do. In a way, these big beautiful cities where I’ve set my stories become characters as well. When readers put the books away I hope they find themselves dreaming of Paris, of London, or of New York City. If they are like me as a child, and don’t get the opportunity to travel, I hope reading these books gives them their own fun adventures while reading.


When I talk to kids and teens about writing, I talk a lot about setting. Sometimes it’s comforting writing about places we know well. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But I tell them to ask themselves – is there somewhere you’d like to visit? Some place you wish you could go? Write a story there. Have fun doing research by reading books and travel blogs, and studying maps. And don’t forget to use Google Earth and walk the streets virtually. It’s so much fun! And then, when you finally get the chance to go to the place you’ve dreamed about, the way I got to finally go to Paris this year, and the way Sofia (pictured here, used with her father’s permission) did when she visited London with my book in hand, you’ll be a little less nervous about going. Why? Because it’s almost like you’ve been there before.


Once upon a time, Lisa Schroeder wanted to join Encyclopedia Brown on his fun adventures. Since that didn’t work out, she decided to be an author instead. Lisa’s written over a dozen books for kids and teens including the popular verse novels for teens I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME and CHASING BROOKLYN, and her most recent YA novels, THE BRIDGE FROM ME TO YOU and ALL WE HAVE IS NOW. She’s also the author of the middle grade novels IT’S RAINING CUPCAKES, MY SECRET GUIDE TO PARIS and THE GIRL IN THE TOWER. Her books have been translated into foreign languages and have been selected for state reading lists. Lisa is a native Oregonian and lives with her family outside of Portland.