More Than a Good Story

More Than a Good Story

Karen Hickman’s books also teach children how to write.


Karen Hickman

Karen Hickman always considered herself a writer. When she was in third grade, she wrote a proposal to her father that she needed a typewriter to get good grades. Hickman explained that at that time, she knew she was going to write stories and needed a typewriter to do it.

Today, Hickman has written four children’s books. Her first book, “The Missing Caboose,” (2014) was written for her grandson who loves trains and was her “consultant” explaining to her that passenger and freight trains cannot go together. Her nephew Patrick McLinden made the illustrations, including a sketch of the Manassas water tower so her grandson who lives in Manassas will recognize it.

HER NEXT BOOK, “Milton the Lighthouse Mouse,” (2016) grew over a ten year period. Hickman was the writing resource teacher at Wakefield Elementary School in Arlington, and she designed Milton – who was a matchbox decoration that came with a plant she received as a Christmas present – as a tool to teach students the parts of a story, paragraphing, expanding details or whatever their lesson is for the day.

Hickman has an ongoing fascination with lighthouses and loves the sea. Not surprisingly, she decided to place Milton in a lighthouse, thinking it was an unusual setting for a mouse. Hickman has six grandchildren, and over the holidays, they were asking for more stories about Milton. This time the writing process was shorter and “Milton’s Cousins Come for Christmas” (2017) was completed in three months. Her most recent book, “Milton Saves the Bakery,” which came out this October, was the result of one of Hickman’s grandsons saying that her molasses cookie recipe should be shared with everyone.

“I feel like I grew up in the writing project, in terms of being a writer,” explained Hickman, referring to the Northern Virginia Writing Project (NVWP) at George Mason University where she is co-director of its Young Writers and Family Programs. When she moved to Fairfax, she started with the office manager job at the NVWP which allowed her to come home early so she could be with her three children who were still young at that time. NVWP started out as a training program that showed teachers better techniques to teach writing in the classroom over the summer. Since then NVWP has branched out to teaching students of all ages during summer and Saturday workshops at George Mason University’s Arlington and Fairfax campuses.

HICKMAN has 25 stories on file and hopes to have a book out every year. She is currently researching her next book which is targeted for young adults. It blends history and fiction. It’s about a family that owns a bed and breakfast tavern on Route 236 and the plantation behind it during the war of 1812. She believes that this book will complement the history being taught in high school and hopes it will be enjoyable reading at the same time.

Hickman, who has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Trinity College and an MS in Library Science from Catholic University of America, clearly enjoys helping teachers and students write better. She is used to having five projects all at once but is adamant about writing daily. For those who share her passion for writing, Hickman’s advice is to write every day, adding that “I really believe writing is thinking.”