The exact details are fuzzy, but a couple years ago when I was 19, I came across a magazine ad for the Institute of Children’s Literature. “Do you dream of writing children’s books? Are you dying to be published? Well, this is your lucky day!”

I’m sure they promised big money and lots of fame if I’d just shell out a few hundred buckeroos for their one-of-a-kind writing course with top-notch instructors boasting loads of publishing experience.

I filled out a form for a free info packet and “writing aptitude test” and if my memory serves me correctly, the test consisted of 1.) some fill-in-the-adjective mad libs, 2.) a writing prompt involving a boy, a baseball, and a bottle of ketchup and 3.) a big blank box for me to try my hand at illustration.

I passed with flying colors, and my mom has been getting letters from the Institute of Children’s Literature addressed to Miss Marla R. Yoder ever since. When I first got married, she’d save them for me. Until one day when I was all, “Hey, Mom. You can just throw those away. It’s okay.” So for the next decade plus, that’s what she did.

Until this week. The sad-faced dalmatian puppy on the front of the envelope caught her eye. As did the words, “I’m afraid this is good-bye, Miss Yoder.” Without even asking my permission, she opened the letter to see what horrific circumstances had caused the Institute of Children’s Literature to terminate our one-sided relationship after 16 years of wasted stamps and paper.

Dear Miss Yoder,

Saying good-bye to you before you’ve done anything to develop your writing aptitude is extremely painful for us.

It’s one of the most trying times in a teacher’s life: We can recognize promise and see the potential in a prospective student, but we can’t just wave a wand and make it happen.

It’s also painful because, unless you become a famous author, we’ll probably never know whether you’ve pursued your dream of writing for children or whether you’ve just let it slip away.

It’s sad because we both know that you have the aptitude to write for children, yet, time after time, you’ve chosen not to develop it. The hundreds of applicants who fail our aptitude test every year would find that hard to believe.

So, the book you might have written, with our help and guidance, will go unwritten. Your stories will go unpublished, your articles unseen.

It’s a shame.

Yet, you’ll always have the aptitude you need to write for children and we’ll always be here to help you if you change your mind and decide to enroll. In fact, in case you’ve changed your mind since the last time we wrote to you, I’m enclosing an enrollment form. If you decide to join us, please return the form by April 29 with your $29 down payment.

[the next section goes on and on and on and on about how they’ve hand-picked a mentor for me and how fortunate I am to have Marilyn Strube, with her “legion of admirers,” as my personal guide…]

Of course, the Institute doesn’t guarantee success. But our training gives you the best possible prospects for publication.

But if you’ve already said good-bye to your dream, we’ll say good-bye and wish you well.


Judith Brunstad

Friends, it’s too late for me, but IT’S NOT TOO LATE FOR YOU! Run, don’t walk, RUN toward your dreams!! Please! I beg you! Don’t let them slip away!! DON’T LET THEM SLIP AWAY!!!