Allison's Book Bag

Polio Changed Peg Kehret’s Life

Posted on: July 9, 2015

PegKehretPeg Kehret’s novels for young people are regularly recommended by the American Library Association, the International Reading Association, and the Children’s Book Council. She has won many state “young reader” or “children’s choice” awards. A long-time volunteer at The Humane Society, she often uses animals in her stories.

PERSONAL BACKGROUND

As a child, Peg Kehret wanted to be either a writer or a veterinarian. Growing up in Minnesota, she had a happy life except for a bout in 1949 at age twelve with polio which paralyzed her from the neck down and hospitalized her for several months. Kehret had each of the three types of polio: spinal, respiratory, and the most severe kind, bulbar. No one knows how she developed polio, but Kehret surmises in her FAQ that she probably got it from someone who has such a mild case that they were never diagnosed. Fortunately, she made nearly a complete recovery.

Her experience of the illness changed Kehret’s life, as she describes in her memoir Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio. Peguin reports that because Kehret can remember her experience with polio so vividly, she finds it easy to write in the viewpoint of a young person. Most of her main characters are around age twelve. Her autobiography won the Golden Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and the PEN Center USA West Award for Children’s Literature.

After attending the University of Minnesota for a year, she married Carl Kehret. The couple later moved to California, where they adopted two children.

Before she began writing books for children, Kehret wrote radio commercials and plays. She also published short stories, articles, and two books for adults. Her first book for kids was published in 1985. Since then she has published many popular books for young people.

For many years, Kehret and her husband traveled around the U.S. in their motorhome with their pets on board so that she could speak at schools, libraries, and children’s literature conferences. Sadly, after forty-eight happy years of marriage, Kehret lost her husband.

According to her FAQ, Kehret’s home is a log house on a ten-acre wildlife sanctuary near Mount Rainier National Park. She often sees deer and elk from her window, which Kehret views as better than watching TV. When she isn’t writing, Kehret likes to read, do crossword and jigsaw puzzles, and play with her animals. She also likes to cheer for her favorite sports teams, bake, knit, and pump her old piano. Her children are now married with children and living in Washington State.

As you might expect from an author who writes about animals, Kehret is also a long-time volunteer for animal welfare causes, currently helping Left Behind K-9 Rescue and the Northwest Spay Neuter Center. She has a dog and two cats, all rescues.

WRITING BACKGROUND

In the back pages of Shelter Dogs, the book I’ll review tomorrow by Kehret, there’s the story of how she and her used to volunteer at the Humane Society. One day while helping out there, not intending to adopt, they saw Daisy and their hearts melted. According to the shelter, Daisy was a Cairn terrier, the same type as Toto in the movie Wizard of Oz. The couple already had a cat and a dog, but agreed to go home and talk it over. They never made it home. Instead they sat in the parking lot for a few minutes, then went back inside to sign the adoption papers.

Her FAQ that Kehret gets her ideas from personal experience, from items read in newspapers, and from her imagination. Naturally, all of the stories in Shelter Dogs feature dogs from the shelter where Kehret volunteers.

Kehret’s first book wasn’t for young people. After she wrote Winning Monologs for Young Actors, however, Kehret knew immediately that she had found her true voice as a writer. She tells Author Turf, “Before that, I’d published two books, several plays, and more than two hundred short stories – all for adults. From then on, I only wrote books for kids.” Of all the books Kehret has written for young people, she considered her three memoirs, SMALL STEPS, FIVE PAGES A DAY, and ANIMALS WELCOME the most special because they’re her own true experiences.

When researching into Kehret’s life, I found of most interest her answer to two questions asked by Author Turf.

Q: What was the worst advice you’ve ever been given?

A: “Don’t write a novel for children. They are impossible to sell. Write another how-to book instead.” This advice was from my first agent, who had just sold a how-to book for me. I did not take her advice. Instead I wrote Deadly Stranger which she sold to the first publisher who read it. Not long after that, she and I parted company.

Q: What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

A: “Don’t try to follow the fads; write what YOU want to write.” I heard this from a speaker at a writer’s conference and I’m sorry that I don’t remember who it was. Back when the Goosebumps books were wildly popular, I had an editor urging me to write horror books for kids. When Harry Potter first hit the scene, a different editor encouraged me to try fantasy. Instead, I kept writing the books I wanted to write and hoped they would attract like-minded readers. They did.

As for what’s the best part about being an author, Kehret says in her FAQ that it’s getting to do what she loves and being paid for it. “It’s fun to use my creativity and I like being my own boss. Writing is hard work, but when I hear from kids who tell me they never liked to read until they discovered my books, it’s worth it.”

Unfortunately, post-polio syndrome has required Kehret to give up school visits and conferences. She also has to write for shorter periods of time.

If you’re interested in learning more about Kehret, check out her three memoirs, which I’ll be myself reading later this month. In the meantime, tomorrow I’ll review Shelter Dogs. Save the date: July 9!

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2 Responses to "Polio Changed Peg Kehret’s Life"

I liked her book Small Steps.

Good book, isn’t it? 🙂

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