Learning About the Writing Process with Authors Shari Harpaz and Karina Yan Glaser

Posted on Tuesday, December 5th, 2023

In anticipation of the PA Book Fair this week, authors Shari Harpaz and Karina Yan Glaser visited Stephen Gaynor School to speak about the books they’ve written, what the writing process is like, and answer student questions. Last week, author and New York Times journalist Sarah Maslin Nir visited Gaynor to speak about her books The Flying Horse and The Jockey and Her Horse

Shari Harpaz, a renowned speech-language pathologist and author of “Molly Make Yourself Big,” visited the Purple, Pink, and Red Clusters on Monday, December 4. “Molly Make Yourself Big” is the first installment of the Be Like Molly series, and teaches life lessons about bravery, empathy, and understanding others. Ms. Harpaz described to the students the process of publishing a book, from the very first idea, all the way to holding the finished book in her hands. She emphasized the importance of the editing process, including how her daughter was her best editor. After reading a draft to her, her daughter would tell her “That’s not how kids talk!” and Ms. Harpaz would go back and write it again, until it was just right. 

Ms. Harpaz told the students that as a children’s book author, she needs an illustrator to bring the story to life. The illustrator creates the cover first, before sketching the images that would be used for the content of the book. They cycle through sketch after sketch, and Ms. Harpaz gives her feedback after each version, until finally the details are correct. After all of that writing and editing and drawing, the book is ready for print! 

Ms. Harpaz then read through “Molly Make Yourself Big,” accompanied by a doll of Molly herself! The students were engaged with the reading, and afterward asked thoughtful questions about the characters of the story, and the lesson Molly learned. They also asked further questions about the publishing process, including how many books Ms. Harpaz has written, how long it took for the illustrations to be completed, and if she’s always wanted to be an author. The students enjoyed the presentation and learning more about how to become an author! 

Karina Yan Glaser visited Gaynor students in the Orange, Yellow, Silver, Green and Blue Clusters during two assemblies on Tuesday, December 5. A New York Times best-selling author, Ms. Glaser is the author of The Vanderbeekers series and A Duet for Home. Her presentation to the students focused on the process of writing, and the tools that a writer needs to write: 

  • Something to write with
  • Something to write on
  • Snacks (brain fuel!)
  • A pet (walking her dog Lalo helps her generate ideas)

And, most importantly, a story. Ms. Glaser told the students that she firmly believes that everyone has a story to tell.“You can be any age, you can have any background, but you have a really special story that only you can tell. I really feel very passionate about all of you writing down your stories because when you write down your stories, you are leaving us with something that is very personal to you, and we can all understand each other better when we are really listening to each other,” she said. Ms. Glaser also said that a lot of her stories begin with observation, as part of her writing process includes journaling. She uses her journal to write down what she did during the day, but also to do a lot of drawing of people she’s seen or places she’s been. In fact, the drawings inside the books in The Vanderbeekers series are her own! 

Ms. Glaser talked about how real-life moments can inspire her stories, but also how her stories inspire her. In the fourth book of The Vanderbeekers series, The Vanderbeekers Lost and Found, one of the characters ran in the New York City marathon, and Ms. Glaser was inspired to run the marathon herself this past November! Another example she had was that the seventh and final book of the series, The Vanderbeekers Ever After, included a therapy dog. As part of her research of how therapy dog training works, Ms. Glaser took her actual dog, Lalo, to be trained as a therapy dog (and he passed)! Ms. Glaser emphasized to the students that stories are everywhere, and encouraged the students to do journaling and writing as a way to practice writing their own stories. 

Thanks again to the Parents’ Association Book Fair Committee for bringing these three wonderful authors in to speak with our students. We hope some of the budding writers at Gaynor found inspiration in their presentations, and the confidence to continue honing their writing skills.