I grew up in a suburb on Long Island, New York. Even though it was only a short train ride away from New York City, during the 1960’s/70’s, Massapequa Park had the feeling of a small town. People knew their neighbors. They shared recipes, cups of coffee and stories.
Summers were filled with kickball games and backyard barbeques. Each year brought something special. One year my older sister got a job driving an ice cream truck. Sometimes she took me on her route and let me be the official bell ringer. I was paid handsomely in swirly cones. That summer of endless ice creams was also the year of the first moonwalk. On a night in July we all crowded round the black and white television to watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin take those first steps.
Massapequa Park was a fine place to grow up, but I was always looking for a way out. I was a daydreamer. And I wanted what I had in my dreams. I spent a great part of my childhood searching for secret passages and magical places.
My quest was endless. My friends and I combed through the woods near our house. We built a secret tunnel in the yard. We found a crawl space behind the back closet and inched around the rafters, while my unsuspecting parents drank tea in the kitchen below. I climbed the highest trees and spent way too much time on the top of garage roofs.
The only secret passages I found came through reading. I wandered through Prince Edward Islands in Anne of Green Gables. I danced with the Fossil girls in Ballet Shoes and solved mysteries with Nancy Drew. I read anything I could get my hands on. Fortunately I got my hands on some pretty incredible books.
Like any good daydreamer, there were a lot of things I wanted to do when I grew up. Actress. Journalist. Diplomat. Writer. Lawyer. Chef. Architect. Somehow, I ended up in library school.
It was so quiet in the technology lab where I worked as a graduate student that I could hear the lectures from the children’s literature class in the next room through the air vents. Even though I was planning on becoming an adult services librarian, I listened, especially when they talked about books I’d read. One day, I found a bunch of books from that class on a table in the library. I picked up the skinniest book in the pile, Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. By the end of the first sentence, I was hooked. After that, I’ve never stopped reading middle grade books.
Eventually I started to write my own stories. Instead of magical places and secret passages, I wrote about, of all things, Massapequa. Only after I grew up and moved away, did I decide that Massapequa in the 60s/70s had a unique and dare I say magical quality of its own. In my first novel Neil Armstrong is My Uncle And Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me, I mixed in details of my own childhood. Kickball games. The neighbor who sang at barbeques. Hiding out on garage roofs. Watching the first moon walk. Even names of family members found their way into the story.
I love writing. It’s the perfect occupation for daydreamers. You can stare out the window. You can imagine. And you can share your dreams.
Nan Marino has Masters degrees in library science and in education. She lives with her husband and a very large dog in New Jersey, where she writes and works as a librarian.