FACETIME- First page grabber: Award winner writes press releases, too

Jennifer Elvgren

Usually Delegate Rob Bell makes the speeches. But at the Library of Congress in 2007, it was his press secretary, Jennifer Elvgren, who made the speech when she received the prestigious Americas Award for children and young adult literature for her first book, Josias, Hold the Book.

"Her writing is well in excess of what a lowly politician needs," says Bell.

Elvgren started out in journalism– she has a master's from Regent University and worked at the Daily Progress, the Charlottesville Business Journal, the Business Ear, and Albemarle magazine.

"I always loved children's books," says Elvgren, When she left home– she grew up in Pittsburgh– she took favorites with her like The Story of Babar, Misty of Chincoteague, and Frances the Badger books. A class on writing for children during grad school sealed the deal.

Getting her own book published was another matter. "I didn't know anybody in publishing," she says. Elvgren joined a national society of writers and illustrators, attended a conference and broke into children's publishing with Highlights, the kid's magazine that's home to the classic "Goofus and Gallant."

"Once you have that children's writing credit in your cover letter, you're taken more seriously," says Elvgren, who now regularly writes for "the bugs"– like Ladybug– and has a story coming out in the March issue of Spider.

Writing children's books looks easier than it is. "It's a little misleading when you look at a picture book because it has so few words," says Elvgren. "Someone asked me once, 'How many books do you write a day?'" Josias, the story of a Haitian boy trying to get his beans to grow, went through 10 or 11 rewritings, she says.

Her part-time duties as Bell's press secretary segue nicely with being a stay-at-home mother of three and a children's author. That job has two very busy seasons– when the General Assembly is in session and elections. "In a way, working with Delegate Bell keeps my hand in journalism, which I love, by helping reporters get what they need," explains Elvgren, who is more sensitive to deadlines as a result of her own days as a reporter.

"Journalism, writing articles or writing children's books– it's all story telling," she says. 

Elvgren is sharing her storytelling skills at the Virginia Festival of the Book. Her writing group, the Moseley Writers, with members Deborah Prum, Andy Straka and Fran Slayton, will critique stories that wannabe writers send in to firstpage09@gmail.com.

 "It has to be an original, unpublished story," she says. "We'll pick a handful and talk about what's working, what could be improved."


"Great Beginnings:  How to Hook an Editor on the First Page" is at 10am Saturday, March 21, in the Preston Room at the Omni Hotel.