Children’s author to speak at fundraiser for library

She says success comes from working toward one’s dreams

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter



If you go

What: Fort Vancouver Authors & Illustrators Dinner.

Who: Judy Schachner, children’s book author and illustrator.

When: 5 p.m. silent auction, 7 p.m. dinner Thursday.

Where: Hilton Vancouver Washington, 301 W. Sixth St.

Tickets: $70 per person. Purchase until 5 p.m. today at Fort Vancouver Regional Library Foundation or 360-906-4704.

Details: Silent auction featuring 200 gift baskets, gift certificates; dinner, program.

Learn more about the author at her website.

“If you have a dream of doing something, success comes in doing it,” said Judy Byron Schachner. “It doesn’t matter if you make a ton of money. Go for it.”

Schachner’s lifelong dream was illustrating children’s picture books. But she was 40 before it came true.

The author and illustrator of the best-selling “Skippyjon Jones” books is speaking at Thursday night’s Authors & Illustrators Dinner benefitting the Fort Vancouver Regional Library Foundation.

“I have been drawing since I could hold a pencil, but never thought about being a writer,” Schachner said in a phone interview from her home in Swarthmore, Pa. “I wasn’t a great reader. I wasn’t that great in grammar. But I could draw and could tell a good story.”

After art school, she designed greeting cards for Hallmark. When she became a mother and began reading stacks of picture books to her daughters, she dusted off her dream of illustrating children’s books. But she still didn’t consider writing books.

As her youngest daughter started first grade, Schachner gave herself a year to create an art portfolio. Armed with her portfolio, she traveled to New York and knocked on publishers’ doors. A publisher liked her drawings and asked if she also was a writer.

“I lied and said ‘yes.’ Then I went home and breathed into a brown paper bag,” Schachner said. “I studied a picture book with the same rhythm I wanted in my first book,” she said. “Then I started writing.”

Her first book, “Willy and May,” was published in 1995.

Many of Schachner’s stories are inspired by her own life.

When her daughter, Emma, was in third grade, she was so immersed in Viking research that her dream was to have a real Viking ship for her ninth birthday. That’s a tall order to fill. But a newspaper ad announced that the local chapter of the Leif Ericksen Society was selling a 29-foot Viking ship for $7,000 or best offer.

Emma and her sister, Sarah, emptied their piggybanks and pooled their money. They had $128, a tad short of $7,000. Emma found hope in the words “or best offer,” wrote a letter to the Leif Ericksen Society and offered $128 for the ship.

“The only offer was Emma’s, and we ended up with a Viking ship in our backyard,” Schachner said.

One day a truck driver knocked on Schachner’s door and asked, “Yo, lady! Is that a Viking ship?”

That led to Schachner’s favorite book so far, “Yo, Vikings!”

Her family’s Siamese cat, Skippyjon, inspired her Skippyjon Jones stories. Skippyjon Jones is a Siamese kitten whose ears are so enormous that he thinks he’s a Chihuahua pup known as “Skippito Friskito.” Using his imagination, Skippyjon Jones travels through time and around the globe having adventures, once as an astronaut and later as a mummy in ancient Egypt. The first book about the cat with a wild imagination was a New York Times best-seller.

In her book, “Mr. Emerson’s Cook,” she wove the true story of her great-grandmother, Annie Burns Byron, who emigrated from Ireland and was hired to cook for 19th-century philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson.

On the book’s back cover, Schachner quoted Emerson: “Your work should be in praise of what you love.”

Schachner’s work does just that.

“I live in a constant state of third-grade bliss, making up stories and drawing pictures,” Schachner, 62, said. “It’s great that I get to stay a professional 8-year-old.”