I grew up in a small shingled house down at the end of Guilford Road in College Park, Maryland. Our block was loaded with kids my age. We spent hours outdoors playing "Kick the Can" and "Mother, May I" as well as cowboy and outlaw games that usually ended in quarrels about who shot whom. In the summer, we went on day long expeditions into forbidden territory -- the woods on the other side of the train tracks, the creek that wound its way through College Park, and the experimental farm run by the University of Maryland.
In elementary school, I was known as the class artist. I loved to read and draw but I hated writing reports. Requirements such as outlines, perfect penmanship, and following directions killed my interest in putting words on paper. All those facts -- who cared what the principal products of Chile were? To me, writing reports was almost as boring as math.
Despite my dislike of writing, I loved to make up stories. Instead of telling them in words, I told them in pictures. My stories were usually about orphans who ran away and had the sort of exciting adventures I would have enjoyed if my mother hadn't always interfered.
When I was in junior high school, I developed an interest in more complex stories. I wanted to show how people felt, what they thought, what they said. For this, I needed words. Although I wasn't sure I was smart enough, I decided to write and illustrate children's books when I grew up. Consequently, at the age of thirteen, I began my first book. Small Town Life was about a girl named Susan, as tall and skinny and freckle faced as I was. Unlike her shy, self conscious creator, however, Susan was a leader who lived the life I wanted to live -- my ideal self, in other words. Although I never finished Small Town Life, it marked the start of a lifelong interest in writing.
In high school, I kept a diary. In college, I wrote poetry and short stories and dreamed of being published in The New Yorker. Unfortunately, I didn't have the courage or the confidence to send anything there.
By the time my first novel was published, I was 41 years old. That's how long it took me to get serious about writing. The Sara Summer took me a year to write, another year to find a publisher, and yet another year of revisions before Clarion accepted it.
Since Sara appeared in 1979, I've written an average of one book a year. If I have a plot firmly in mind when I begin, the writing goes fairly quickly. More typically, I start with a character or a situation and only a vague idea of what's going to happen. Therefore, I spend a lot of time revising and thinking things out. If I'd paid more attention to the craft of outlining back in elementary school, I might be a faster writer, but, on the other hand, if I knew everything that was going to happen in a story, I might be too bored to write it down. Writing is a journey of discovery. That's what makes it so exciting.
WAIT TILL HELEN COMES.
THE DOLL IN THE GARDEN.
THE DEAD MAN IN INDIAN CREEK.
THE SPANISH KIDNAPPING DISASTER.
STEPPING ON THE CRACKS.
THE WIND BLOWS BACKWARD.
TIME FOR ANDREW.
LOOK FOR ME BY MOONLIGHT.
THE GENTLEMAN OUTLAW AND ME, ELI: A Story of the Old West.
“In 1887 twelve-year-old Eliza, disguised as a boy and traveling to Colorado in search of her missing father, falls in with a gentleman outlaw and joins him in his illegal schemes. "With plenty of twists and turns -- and a cameo appearance by Doc Holliday--it's a real cowgirl, triumph."
“Eliza Yates, who calls herself "Elijah Bates" when she runs away from her unloving relatives, is headed west in search of her absent father. She finds Calvin Featherbone, left for dead by muggers; thus begins a funny, cliff-hanging melodrama that features a sparkling text containing rapid-fire dry humor and a fresh, determined heroine who manages everything to her own satisfaction.”
“Hahn has obviously done her research, and succeeds in bringing the ambiance of the Old West to her novel. The result is a fast, funny, and entertaining adventure...”
FOLLOWING MY OWN FOOTSTEPS.
AS EVER, GORDY, a sequel to FOLLOWING MY OWN FOOTSTEPS.
ANNA ALL YEAR ROUND
“Though set in a bygone era of gas street lamps and horse drawn delivery carts, these episodes in the year Anna turns nine have timeless themes.”
“[Anna’s] exploration of a bigger world beyond her block has details evocative of the pre-World-War-I era but also emotional resonance for every child whose limits are expanding. Homey and decorous, this story has American Girls-style appeal with more depth; its episodic nature makes is eminently suited for reading aloud, but its accessibility, aided by & DeGroat’s sturdy pencil drawings of a tidy but unprissy Anna, will make it a useful step up from Molly, Samantha, and friends.”
“Hahn's use of the present tense to tell Anna's stories helps keep nostalgia at bay, as does the energetic, just-dashed-off quality of deGroat's rough pencil sketches.
“Reading this book is like taking a peaceful carriage ride over the cobbled streets of an earlier time.”
“Children will recognize the personalities and rivalries of the neighborhood (e.g. snobby Rosa with the perfect coat and her sidekick Beatrice as foil for tomboyish Anna) and will see the similarities between Anna's time and their own.”
PROMISES TO THE DEAD.
“Hahn skillfully blends the language and customs of the Civil War era with an exciting plot. Phrases, such as a "bilious" uncle, a "daring deed", and "the big house", lend an authenticity to the story, as does Judge Baxter's statement, "My son would never miscegenate with a slave!" With a comfortable place in history, an appropriate sprinkling of expressions of the times, and a genuine conflict for the protagonist, this solid historical novel will appeal to most younger teens."
“The details in the setting (early-twentieth-century Baltimore, Washington, and rural Prince Georges County) add to the richness of the text, as do the illustrations by Diane de Groat. A good choice for easy-chapter-book readers, especially those who have met Anna before.”
“Once again, Hahn defies nostalgia with both the immediacy and the honesty of her up-close, present-tense telling.”
HEAR THE WIND BLOW
"The Old Willis Place." A GHOST STORY
A VISIT WITH MARY DOWNING HAHN.
Works in Progress
THE WITCH CATCHER
CLOSED FOR THE SEASON
For information about author visits, see my Speakers Bureau page.