HomeBooks by AgeAges 9-12My Writing And Reading Life: Sheila O’Connor, Author of Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth

My Writing And Reading Life: Sheila O’Connor, Author of Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth

The Children’s Book Review | April 5, 2018

Sheila O'Connor

Sheila O’Connor

Sheila O’Connor is the critically acclaimed author of Sparrow Road, winner of the International Reading Award, and Keeping Safe the Stars, as well as the adult novels Tokens of Grace and Where No Gods Came, winner of the Michigan Prize for Literary Fiction and the Minnesota Book Award. A writer of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction for audiences of all ages, Sheila is a professor in the MFA program at Hamline University, where she also serves as the fiction editor for Water~Stone Review.

I write because …

I write because I was born with a deep love for stories.  I am eternally interested in everyone’s story, and for me writing fiction is a way of listening for a very long time to someone else.  Even if that someone began in my imagination. When I need to make sense of the world, or something I witnessed or wonder about, or another person’s heart, I turn to words.  

I read because …

Reading is the best way I know to enter lives that aren’t my own, to learn new things, to travel to places real and imagined.  

My latest published book is …

My most recent book is the novel Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth.  Told entirely in letters, it’s the story of eleven-year-old Reenie Kelly and the unlikely friendship she forms with her reclusive neighbor Mr. Marsworth.   Set in the summer of 1968, when tens of thousands of young men were drafted to fight in the war in Vietnam, it’s also about peace, and what it takes to stand up for our beliefs, even when others are against us.  It’s funny and sad, and full of moments that change Reenie Kelly’s heart.

I wrote this book because…

The book began for me with Reenie Kelly’s voice, Reenie Kelly arriving in my imagination with a story she wanted me to hear, but I didn’t know what it was.  I wrote the book to listen, and along the way I learned so many unexpected lessons. That may be the best part of a book, how much it teaches me about life.

Best moment …

The best moment for me the first time I heard Mr. Marsworth’s voice in a letter.  It was so clear and strong and secretly kind—he’s fairly aloof—and I knew immediately that I was going to like him, even if he didn’t want to be liked. 

My special place to write is …

I am incredibly lucky to have a tiny writing studio in my backyard.  It’s small and simple, but it’s silent. In the summer it’s in the shade of trees, in the winter it is always warm.  I live in the city, on a fairly busy street, but when I shut the door I’ve entered a cabin in the woods. There’s no internet, and very few decorations, because I don’t like anything to distract me from my stories.  

Sheila O'Connor Writing Studio
Necessary writing/creativity tool …

I like to work in very inexpensive spiral notebooks I pick up on sale at the drugstore.  Those notebooks allow me to jot things down, make a mess. It’s fun for me to look back through those notebooks and see all the things I imagined for the book that never made it to the page, or didn’t make it past an early draft.  

The person who has been my greatest writing teacher or inspiration is …

It seems strange to say this, but I have learned the most about writing from my children.  They both have a keen sense of story, and they are my toughest critics. They’ll say immediately when something doesn’t work in a story, and I trust them.   They’ve been reading for me since they were quite young, and I’d be lost without them.

Currently reading …

I am currently reading The Song Poet by Kao Kalia Yang.  It’s an exquisitely written memoir about family love, and sacrifice, and courage.

Favorite bookshop …

Well this is really tough because I live in an area with truly amazing independent bookstores, but  close to my home is the incredible Wild Rumpus, a bookstore with a chicken, a cat, napping ferrets, and an iguana.  It’s a must-see if you come to Minneapolis. When my kids were growing up, it was a favorite destination. Wild Rumpus and ice-cream.  

All-time favorite children’s book I didn’t write…

The book I return to, the book I buy for others, the book that made me want to write for young people is Missing May by Cynthia Rylant.  A picture book that I adore is When I’m Old with You, by Angela Johnson.  I’ve read it to countless rooms full of children, and I’ve watched hundreds of children sit spellbound by her words.

Favorite illustrator …

All these favorites!!!  This is impossible! My favorite illustrator this year is Thi Bui who won the 2018 Caldecott for her gorgeous illustrations in A Different Pond, by Bao Phi.  Both the story and the illustrations are stunning.  

A literary character I would like to vacation with …

I don’t know that it would be much of a vacation, but I would like to spend time in the Zuckerman’s barn with Charlotte’s wisdom and her patience.   

When I am not reading or writing I am …

Teaching other writers to write.  My life work has been mentoring other writers of all ages, and I think it’s safe to say I’ve given a great deal more time to the books of others than I’ve given to my own.  

Until Tomorrow Mr MarsworthUntil Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth

Written by Sheila O’Connor

Publiser’s Synopsis: Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, one young girl is determined to save her brother from the draft—and gets help from an unlikely source—in this middle-grade tale, perfect for fans of The Wednesday Wars.

When eleven-year-old Reenie Kelly’s mother passes away, she and her brothers are shipped off to live with their grandmother. Adjusting to life in her parents’ Midwestern hometown isn’t easy, but once Reenie takes up a paper route with her older brother Dare, she has something she can look forward to. As they introduce themselves to every home on their route, Reenie’s stumped by just one—the house belonging to Mr. Marsworth, the town recluse. When he doesn’t answer his doorbell, Reenie begins to leave him letters. Slowly, the two become pen pals, striking up the most unlikely of friendships.

Through their letters, Reenie tells of her older brother Billy, who might enlist to fight in the Vietnam War. Reenie is desperate to stop him, and when Mr. Marsworth hears this, he knows he can’t stand idly by. As a staunch pacifist, Mr. Marsworth offers to help Reenie. Together, they concoct a plan to keep Billy home, though Reenie doesn’t know Mr. Marsworth’s dedication to her cause goes far beyond his antiwar beliefs.

In this heartwarming piece of historical fiction, critically acclaimed author Sheila O’Connor delivers a tale of devotion, sacrifice, and family.

Ages 10+ | Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers | 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-0399161933

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Discover more books like Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth, written by Sheila O’Connor, by checking out our reviews and articles tagged with , and ; plus, be sure to follow along with our Writing and Reading Life series.

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