Instead of a charm bracelet, renowned author Peg Kehret wears a necklace representing all the states in which she has won Young Reader’s Awards. She showed the necklace to students at Horace Mann Elementary during a May 2 visit.
Extra special was that this was Kehret’s last guest appearance at any school — ever. She’s struggling with health problems related to a childhood case of polio. So she’s slowing down, but came to Mann because of their recent pet supply drive and because Mann librarian Lynn Detweiler was one of the first educators to welcome her when she began winning those dozens of awards.
Currently residing near Mt. Rainier, Kehret does volunteer work at Pasado’s Safe Haven in Sultan. Growing up, she wanted to be either a writer or veterinarian, but complications from polio left her without the strength needed to perform that job.
She told students assembled in the Mann Commons, “When people find out I’m a writer, the first thing they ask is ‘Where do you get your ideas?’”
She described how she was on vacation in Oregon, spotted signs about Tsunami Evacuation Routes and ended up writing “Escaping the Giant Wave.” She incorporated real-life details such as a town that broadcasts the sound of mooing cows, instead of a siren, to warn people of tsunami danger.
“Ideas are just everywhere. I take things I hear about, change some things, then put them into a book,” said Kehret.
A close-to-home story was inspired while Kehret and her late husband were driving in the Overlake area, getting onto the freeway and saw a man walking through a field, tossing carrots into the weeds. She told her husband to go back, because she wanted to know what the man was doing. The man explained to her that people would dump unwanted pet rabbits there and that he was collecting spare produce from grocery stores to feed the unfortunate animals.
That book was to be called “The Great Rabbit Rescue,” but Kehret switched her original title to “Don’t Tell Anyone,” and made it not about neglected bunnies but feral cats needing homes. She spiced things up with a scene in which a rescuer gets abducted in a hot air balloon and included details about Marymoor Park.
Kehret also wrote a book about a Redmond dog which had been adopted from an animal shelter and saved the life of a deaf woman and her baby, by waking them and bringing them out of a burning home.
“I’ve published 46 books and done lots and lots of revisions until I run out of things to fix,” she told the kids. “I rewrite most books at least three times.”
A student asked which book was her favorite. Kehret said it was the autobiographical “Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio” and said she likes to write books for young people, especially around the ages of 12 or 13, because she has such vivid memories of that time in her life.
She encouraged kids to try one of her habits called “Five Minutes of Non-Stop Writing.” Whatever ideas pop into their heads can be the catalyst for creative writing, she said.
And she offered her three biggest tips for aspiring writers: “Number one, read a lot. Read lots of different kinds of material. Two, practice writing. Just like playing a musical instrument, the more you do it, the better you get. And three, be persistent.”
To learn more about Peg Kehret, visit www.pegkehret.com.