A Page from Real Life
Why children’s books? “The purest, simplest childhood truth is what is the most penetrating for all of us,” Hunter says. For the author, Charlotte’s Web was one of her favorite books; she still keeps a copy of the children’s classic, first published in 1952, in her study. “The way E.B. White handles mortality, and goodbyes, and friendship is so pure,” Hunter says. “I aspire to do that in my books.”
Hunter says another influence on her writing came from a correspondence she had with Theodor Seuss Geisel—a.k.a. Dr. Seuss—when she was in middle school. “I sent him an epic nonsense poem called The Zork Saga and he wrote how much he enjoyed it and encouraged me to keep writing.” When Hunter was accepted to Dartmouth College’s first co-educational class back in 1972, she wrote Seuss—a Dartmouth alumnus—and he responded with a letter of congratulations.
Hunter also garners inspiration from her natural surroundings. Growing up in Dover, Massachusetts, the writer-to-be spent every summer on the Cape with her parents and three younger siblings. “Summers on Cape Cod were magical and open-ended,” she says. “There was an element of independence you didn’t have in structured suburbia. You just hopped on your bike and the day was yours.”
Today, Hunter maintains that the region serves as the perfect home for her profession. “There’s something about Cape Cod that is a literary landscape,” she says. “It just makes your heart sing.”
Including Every Turtle Counts, Hunter has written a total of 10 children’s books as well as articles for publications including Harvard Magazine, The Boston Globe, and Cape Cod LIFE. Early in her career, she took on assignments for major studios including Warner Brothers and Jim Henson. She published books like Beauty and the Feast and Miss Piggy’s Night Out, which she describes both as “a lot of fun,” yet limiting in terms of the creative control she was allowed on the projects.
Although friends urged her not to risk the guaranteed income these jobs provided, Hunter decided to pursue stories that had weighed on her mind for a long time. In 1996, she published The Unbreakable Code for Cooper Square Publishing. The story is about the Navajo soldiers from the southwestern United States, whose code helped save the lives of thousands of American soldiers during World War II. Her next book was The Lighthouse Santa, which was published in 2011. The story tells the tale of Edward Rowe Snow (1902-1982), a well-known American author and historian, who famously delivered individually-wrapped presents to children living in 300 lighthouses across New England by dropping the gifts from his twin-engine plane.
“I like to do books about unsung heroes,” Hunter says. For these two books, Hunter committed herself to extensive research, interviewing fascinating figures including Navajo veterans who invented the unbreakable code and women in their 80s who had lived in the lighthouses—and received ‘The Lighthouse Santa’s’ gifts from above. Hunter says she finds the research for these stories both enjoyable and enlightening. The writing, though, is a different story. “It nearly kills me,” Hunter says. “It never gets easier [because] you’re trying to be so trustworthy of the material.”
Despite the challenges inherent in her chosen profession, Hunter says she does not regret her decision to focus on stories that are more personally meaningful to her. “It’s not a risk to go with something that feels right in your gut if it’s a story that keeps nudging you,” she says. “It will come back tenfold. I mean, the Warner Brothers books are out of print and The Unbreakable Code is still going.”
When asked which of her books is her favorite, Hunter does not hesitate, listing her three classic picture books—with a slight edge to Every Turtle Counts. “I care a lot about the fact that the main character is inspired by my niece,” she says, “and it’s set on Cape Cod.”
Eliott Grover, a frequent freelance writer and contributing editor for Cape Cod LIFE Publications, began at the company as an editorial intern in the summer of 2009.
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