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Writing is Too Cool in This Family

Like many writers, Jane Harrington did not get her first book published. “I feel like I’ve been writing forever,” she said. “I have always liked words, even as a child.”

Harrington grew up in Northern Virginia and now lives in Alexandria. “All through school, I enjoyed writing,” she said.

Harrington wrote her first novel in college and is still polishing it. “You grow as a writer just as you do in every other aspect of your life,” she said. “I have pulled that novel off the shelf and have worked on it some and am optimistic that it will be published – different than it was when I first wrote it, but recognizable.”

She began writing children’s stories when her three daughters were young. “We read a lot at our house,” she said. “I liked making up stories for them when they were younger and they enjoyed them as well.”

It was natural, then, when she was facing a challenge within her own family that she would write about it. A few years ago, Harrington’s mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. “We had to make some decisions about where she was going to live and who was going to care for her,” Harrington said. “We decided that the best alternative was for her to come and live with us.”

That entailed adjustments for everyone, particularly the children. “Each of the girls has her own relationship with her grandmother,” Harrington said. “I think it has been particularly hard for my oldest daughter because she has vivid memories of her grandmother when she was well. My youngest daughter does not have as many of those memories, so the adjustment was different.”

LUCY SHAPIRO IS NOW 11 YEARS OLD. When her grandmother came to live with the family, Harrington suggested that Lucy keep a journal. She did and that is the basis for the book "Lucy's Cool (and totally true) E-Journal."

“I wanted for Lucy to have a place where she could express her feelings without fear,” Harrington said.

Lucy began by keeping a journal on her computer. “It was my mom’s idea,” she said. “But it’s really good because you can say things in a journal that you can’t say to anyone. I don’t keep the journal on the computer anymore; I write it now.”

While the book is based around Lucy’s journal, it is partly fictional. “I certainly didn’t want to invade her privacy,” Harrington said. “She and the two other girls were part of the book throughout the process.”

The book sees Lucy and her friends through a space of time. It deals with grandmother’s coming to live with the family, pre-teen friendships and school. “At first I didn’t think anyone was going to read it,” Lucy said. “But they did and people think it’s really good. I guess I think it’s cool now.”

Harrington plans to write a series of books about Lucy and her friends. The second one is slated for publication some time next year. “My mom lets me read the books before she sends them away,” Lucy said. “I edit them and sometimes she takes my suggestions and sometimes she doesn’t. We are going to do more of them.”

LUCY, A SIXTH-GRADER at Burgundy Farms Country Day School, doesn’t know whether she wants to be a writer or not. “I might want to be a writer,” she said. “But I like astronomy and photography, too.”

As for Harrington, she has met two goals. “Children seem to like the book and it might help someone to better cope with a relative who has Alzheimers,” she said.

She has been invited to conduct a workshop for children on just that topic. “That really is the point, isn’t it,” she said. “To write and to help others.”

Harrington’s book is now available through Scholastic or on the Internet. It will be in bookstores in July.