Many years ago, I had the good fortune to be a student in the beautiful city of Paris,
France. Wandering around, poking into shops and museums was as much of an education as
were my classes at the Universite de Paris. My French at that time was so good, people
commented on my "cute" accent, and asked if I were from Quebec.
I was interested in children's books even then. As I walked around the city, I began to notice children rollerskating most places I went. I loved to rollerskate when I was a little girl. This gave me the idea for my first children's book. I was twenty years old.
My boyfriend came to visit. He was studying photography. I told him my idea and he liked it. We would go around Paris and he would photograph the children rollerskating for my story, which I would also translate into French, so that the book would be bi-lingual, in both French and English.
And so we did. I remember the day we were taking pictures in front of the then Museum of Modern Art, which had a large flat space in front where children skated. A bus stopped and a group of Japanese tourists descended. Each person stopped in front of me and my boyfriend, smiled or bowed to us, then snapped our picture. I imagined these same tourists going home, showing this photograph of a "typical" French couple to their families and friends, never knowing it was actually two Californians from the USA!
Months later when I came home, I worked on the picture book manuscript, which I
had entitled In Paris the Children Rollerskate. My boyfriend, who soon afterwards became
my husband, enlarged the photographs which we would send out with the story. This was in
the days of typewriters, film and darkrooms. When we thought it was ready, we submitted our manuscript to publishers.
We got back letters, a personal note from Charlotte Zolotow, regrets from other editors that they were not taking on bilingual books, or that publishing photographs was too expensive, thanks for submitting "an excellent, well-written manuscript", and my favorite, "It is obvious you can indeed write". We were too young and green to know what a gift these sorts of rejection letters were. After sending the manuscript out about five times, I stuck it into a drawer and left it there.
For a long time I considered the words of the gypsy who had read my palm in Montmartre. "Your luck is bad," she had told me. If I would cross her palm with silver, she would pray for me, and take some of my bad luck onto herself. Being a poor student on a small stipend, I declined. Yet I often wondered, if I had heeded the gypsy and given her some francs, would my book have been published? Because the fact was, everything else she told me about my fate came true.
"In Paris the children rollerskate. You can see them throughout the city, wherever a large, flat space is found..."