National Writing Project

Author's Corner: Jeanette Hopkins and The LadyBug Waltz

Date: March 10, 2010

Summary: Jeanette Hopkins, teacher-consultant with the Iowa Writing Project, turns the discouraging diagnosis of her granddaughter's heart condition into inspiration for her book, The LadyBug Waltz.


Jeanette Hopkins is from Sioux City, Iowa and is a National Board Certified teacher. Hopkins has visited over 50 schools, and shared The LadyBug Waltz with students and teachers across the country.

What was your inspiration to write The LadyBug Waltz?

In 2003 my granddaughter, Chloe, was diagnosed with congenital heart disease. Chloe spent most of her first year in the hospital, hooked up to machines, which made it difficult to hold her. We used stories like Goodnight, Moon, massage, and music to let her know we loved her.

I'm the type of nana who uses music for everything: cooking, cleaning, learning to brush teeth, etc. One day, Chloe was looking out the window and spied ladybugs. After weeks of baroque music, a waltz came to mind; the ladybugs were waltzing, which is pretty hard when they have six legs. This idea became our song, and when I could hold her, I sang it often.

What is your writing process—especially since you have to write and teach?

I keep travel journals, "being in the classroom" quotes, and notes and such from children. When the idea comes, I write it down. I play with language, especially with children's literature. I want to expose children to wonderful words and rhythms because I know how good literature is critical at the young levels. I revise, and I read to children and adults. I read children's literature, poetry, and books. To write, you must read. Most of my first drafts are on tiny pieces of paper, napkins, and whatever I can find. Chloe's song was on a napkin.

I've learned that I now have the best job in the world and I love it.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating this book?

That I could do it and that it would take time. The most surprising thing is how much I have learned from the children. They delight and express themselves in the most wonderful ways. They humble me. I've learned that I have the best job in the world and I love it.

Does teaching others about writing inspire or challenge your own writing?

I was working with some college students and they were listening to the story behind the story and they wanted my autograph. They wanted to know how to teach children to love reading and writing. My faith in the younger teachers and children keeps my perspective right. I will not make great deals of money, but I get to make a very quiet difference as Lucy Calkins would say. I like that. A young boy with autism came up to me and said, "Mum bought the book you write good." And he walked off. What a compliment.

Has your involvement with the Writing Project influenced your writing in any way?

Yes, and it completely changed my approach to literacy. The experiences I've had with the Iowa Writing Project have shaped me. I've been in institutes for sense of place, rural education experiences, and leadership roles. I've written to my senators, supporting the National Writing Project, and advocating for continued funding. I've been introduced to the writers and researchers who have influenced all of the writing: Lucy Calkins, Nancie Atwell, William and Kim Stafford, and Glenda Bissex. I believe in the NWP's philosophy, as it is much more than any strategy; it is a set of belief systems.

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