Award-winning author Janet Tashjian worked in sales for years before realizing she had another calling in life. One day, she was reading “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien when she told her husband she had decided to end her 14-year career.
“When I get letters from kids that say ‘Your book changed my life,’ I really know that can happen because (“The Things They Carried”) literally changed mine. I quit my job the next day. I went to CVS. I bought a stack of notebooks and a box of pens,” Tashjian said.
In a talk sponsored by the Donoghue Children’s Literature Center at the Pollak Library on Tuesday, Tashjian shared this story and many others that have transformed a split-second decision into an illustrious career.
In 1993 Tashjian ended her career in sales. Twenty five years later, she’s published more than a dozen children’s and young-adult books, one of which helped inspire a Disney Channel movie, and has won several awards.
During her talk, Tashjian emphasized the connections between her novels and personal life.
Tashjian’s 1997 novel “Tru Confessions” is about a young girl named Trudy Walker who dreams of having her own television show, and wishes her twin brother would become un-handicapped,” according to Janet Tashjian’s website.
Adapted into the Disney Channel movie of the same in 2002, the story was inspired by Tashjian’s husband whose brother is disabled.
Another one of Tashjian’s stories that connected to her personal life is the “My Life as” series.
When Tashjian learned her son, Jake, had a reading disability, she and her husband took him to a reading specialist. After seeing Jake’s progress, she said she wanted to share those improvements with children who may have reading disabilities as well.
From “My Life as a Book” to “My Life as a Ninja,” the series follows the story of a middle school student and “reluctant reader,” Derek Fallon.
The “My Life as” series incorporates imagery with storytelling to help encourage children to read stories they feel connected to. As the inspiration and illustrator for the series, Tashjian’s favorite part about the “My Life as” series is Jake’s impact on young children.
“My son took a learning disability and turned it into something that has helped kids in 26 other countries and languages. We get letters from Argentina and Finland and Japan, from kids who are looking at Jake’s pictures (which are) helping them be better readers,” Tashjian said.
Tari Apreala, a fourth-year child and adolescent development major, valued the message behind the “My Life as” series. With hopes of being a writer one day, Apreala said she learned the power of encouraging words.
“As a writer, you have to be connected to the outside world and readers,” Apreala said.
With children and young adults as her main audience, Tashjian tailors her talks and workshops to not only teach them how to write, but to motivate them to persevere.
Tashjian said she’s had teachers who’ve warned her that the only thing students would want to write about is pickles or that they would avoid sentences starting with “and.” She shot down those warnings though, knowing there was already magic within their stories.
“I’m a big believer in kids putting a stamp on their own work,” Tashjian said.
She said the only way creativity and storytelling can flourish is if kids aren’t afraid to fail.
At the Pollak Library, in a room primarily filled with college students and faculty, her words of encouragement resonated with her audience.
Claudia Villasenor, a third-year child and adolescent development major, hopes to be an elementary school teacher and writer. She said Tashjian’s speech taught her not only to continue developing her writing skills, but to also stay confident and determined.
“I learned that in order to be a good writer, you just need to keep working at it. Be persistent,” Villasenor said. “People are going to like it. People are going to hate it. You just need to put yourself out there and don’t care what anyone else thinks.”