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By Olivia Boler
This is a banner year for local children's book author Lynn Hazen. The native San Franciscan will add two new books to her growing roster of work: a children's book called Cinder Rabbit in April, published by Henry Holt; and a young adult novel in September from Tricycle Press called Shifty. Her previously published books are Mermaid Mary Margaret (Bloomsbury 2004) and Buzz Bumble to the Rescue (Bloomsbury 2005).
Unlike many authors, Hazen, 52, did not always want to be a writer. After growing up in San Bruno and Danville--"My dad was a cop, and he decided not to have his kids raised in San Francisco, although my grandmother lived on Clipper Street"--Hazen attended the University of California, Davis, and received a degree in applied behavioral sciences. It's a degree that has a little bit of everything--education, human development, and psychology--she says.
Later, Hazen received her master's degree in education at San Francisco State University, and in 1983, she opened her own preschool, which she has been running ever since.
Between Davis and S.F. State, Hazen settled into an apartment on Chattanooga Street and worked at the Noe Valley Deli on 24th Street. She also waitressed at Panos' (now Pomodoro) and spent three years teaching in Japan. She recalls moving around a lot in the late 1970s and '80s because Noe Valley rents were so cheap.
"I'd jump around from flat to flat, travel, and come back," she says. "I watch my sons now trying to find places to rent. It's not the same."
The married mother of two boys--both of whom are post-college age--Hazen says she "had a thing for children's books and picture books when she was in high school," and also while taking writing classes. But it wasn't until she started reading a lot of children's books to her own children and to her students that she felt inspired to tap out her own children's stories.
She began sending out queries to publishing houses in the 1990s. Although her work kept getting rejected, the rejections became more encouraging. So she decided to work on her craft and entered a long-distance MFA creative-writing program at Vermont College. It allowed her to work from home while communicating long-distance with a professor/mentor.
Hazen's "excellent mentor" was Allison McGhee, author of 13 books, including Someday and A Very Brave Witch. In 2003, Hazen began writing Shifty, which became her thesis and won her a Houghton Mifflin scholarship that helped pay for the MFA program.
Shifty is about a 15-year-old boy in San Francisco foster care, and it addresses issues of homelessness, but Hazen is quick to point out that the book also "deals with hope and the human spirit."
"I was hesitant to write in the voice of a boy and a young adult," Hazen admits. "But the image that came to me was of this character in the first scene driving a car, and I realized, this isn't a middle-grade or picture book."
Hazen says she feels "more at ease in the world of younger children. But in the MFA program, I was practicing my craft, trying new things, and exploring."
The experimentation paid off, because Tricycle Press, an imprint of Berkeley's Ten Speed Press, will publish the book this fall.
Before Shifty, however, came Cinder Rabbit, which will be distributed this month, by Henry Holt and Company. This "young chapter" book (appropriate for ages 6 to 9) follows the trials and tribulations of Zoe, a young rabbit who attends Grand Rabbits School. Zoe has been chosen to star in her school play, "Cinder Rabbit," and must lead her classmates in the Bunny Hop dance. Unfortunately, Zoe has lost her ability to hop. Will she be able to get it back in time for opening night?
Hazen will be glad to tell you the answer at her book launch party at Cover to Cover Booksellers on Saturday, April 19. "I'll be reading and signing books, and we'll maybe do the Bunny Hop," Hazen says with a laugh. Elyse Pastel, the book's illustrator, might also come up from Los Angeles for the event.
In the meantime, Hazen is working on several new projects. She has another children's book about "a snail who's looking for a job in all the wrong places," coming out with Henry Holt in 2009, and she's partway through a novel for kids in middle grades. She's also thinking about taking on another young adult novel.
Hazen says she draws inspiration for her books not only from her years raising and teaching children but from living in "Baja Noe Valley." ("My front yard is in the Mission and my back yard is in Noe Valley," she jokes.)
"All the kids and families, and their interactions--I'm always observing them when I go on walks with my friends."
Such inspiration is evident in her first two books. Mary Margaret Mermaid is a middle-grade book about a girl who goes on a seniors' cruise to the Greek islands with her widowed grandmother. Hazen describes it as having "its tender moments. It's funny and full of heart."
Buzz Bumble to the Rescue is a picture book about sibling rivalry.
"There's a new baby in a large extended bee family," Hazen says. "As a preschool teacher, I've seen a lot of older siblings' worlds changed by the arrival of a new baby, so this translates well for parents dealing with that."
Hazen remembers taking her own children to the Acme Metal Spinning Works Café on 24th Street in the 1970s [now Casa Mexicana]. She recalls with fondness the Acme's lentil soup and molasses soda bread. "If anyone has the recipes, I would be so happy!" she says. "I've been around long enough that I remember when the stores all had different names."
These days, she often meets with her writing group at Fresca restaurant on 24th Street. "I love their mojitos--is that bad for a children's author to admit?!"
In between sips, they trade secrets on writing for children. "One is to write the story that only you can tell, in a voice and style uniquely your own," says Hazen. "Another is to be brave.... Of course, never talk down to kids, whatever the age range. Read lots of great books, and always keep them to perfect your craft."
A good place for reading might be the Noe Valley Library, one of Hazen's favorite spots. She says that seeing her books sitting on the shelves alongside other children's books makes her "a teensy bit choked up, because when I was a child, most of the books I read were from the public library--and the same for my own kids as they were growing up. So, knowing that my books are accessible to children all over through their local libraries is amazingly rewarding."
To find out more about Lynn Hazen or her books, visit www.cinderrabbit.com or www.lynnhazen.com. The Cinder Rabbit reading on April 19 starts at 3 p.m. at Cover to Cover, 1307 Castro Street.