Author puts hometown spin into children’s novel
Tonganoxie children's author Lisa Harkrader made sure Tonganoxie got a mention in her new book, "Airball: My Life in Briefs."
"I like Tonganoxie and it would be hard for me to write my first novel and not mention the place where I've lived most of my life," Harkrader said.
Harkrader, who graduated as Lisa Knudson from Tonganoxie High School in 1980, described her newest book as "a fairy tale upgraded to a middle school's basketball team."
The fairy tale that the book loosely follows is "The Emperor's New Clothes," Harkrader said.
Tonganoxie children who read the book will recognize the name of the town where they go to school.
"The book includes a cousin Mildred from Tonganoxie," said Harkrader, who has been a writer for 15 years.
But most importantly to Jayhawk basketball fans, the book makes several veiled references to Kansas University basketball players.
For instance, Harkrader said, there's a character in her book named Manning Reese. And, the story includes a trip to KU's Allen Fieldhouse.
Harkrader told seventh-grade students last Wednesday in Marilyn Daniels English class that Manning Reece was named for one of her favorite basketball players, Danny Manning.
"My favorite kind of books are funny books, so I tried to make "Airball" funny for people and I tried to put inside jokes in it for people like you guys, people who are KU fans," Harkrader told the seventh-graders.
Daniels' students had just finished reading Harkrader's book in class, and one who seemed particularly interested in "Airball" was Taylor Lawson.
Taylor, a die-hard Jayhawk basketball fan, said she found Harkrader's newest book to be interesting.
"It was funny," Taylor said. "I liked how she mentioned KU and she had them actually go to the stadium."
Harkrader also talked to students about what it's like to be a writer.
Her "uniform," she said, is her pajamas, robe and slippers.
Her best ideas come to her when she's in the shower. And her favorite thing about writing is that she gets to make up stories.
"You guys don't know it, but you have story ideas all the time," Harkrader said. "They can come from a phrase, a song's lyrics, something you hear on the news."
Harkrader, who graduated from Kansas University in 1988 with a degree in fine arts, has had hundreds of stories published in children's magazines, as well as a few how-to-write articles published for adults.
She has authored eight non-fiction books for children and ghost-written three books for the Animorphs series. "Airball" is the first novel Harkrader has published under her own name
One of her favorite things about writing is the ability to research, she said.
"I just love to research," Harkrader said.
She recently researched and wrote children's books about India, Cuba and South Korea.
But, she noted, fiction also requires research.
"You might make the characters up, you might make up the town, you might make up the whole situation, but there are certain facts you have to get right," Harkrader said. "Otherwise, when people read them they'll say 'That's not right, she doesn't know what she's talking about.'"
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