Fairfield Now - Summer 2007
Class of '92 Profile
Kara LaReau: making words work
By Meredith Guinness
While other little girls brushed Barbie's hair or played hide and seek after school, Kara LaReau '92 could be found tapping away on her parents' typewriter. "I was fascinated with that typewriter," she says. "I started making up these little stories and typing them out because it looked official, like I was a real writer."
And decades later, she is a writer - and more. An executive editor at Scholastic Press, she shepherds budding authors through the highly creative, but arduous process of making their "little stories" into top-quality children's and young adult books. And she still uses her spare time to write, often teaming with her sister, Jenna, an illustrator, on fanciful tales of two mischievous sock monkeys. So far, the two have collaborated on Rocko and Spanky Go to a Party and Rocko and Spanky Have Company. On her own, LaReau has penned Snowbaby Could Not Sleep and Ugly Fish.
"It's absolutely fascinating to tell a story," she says. "I liken it to being a really good mechanic. I feel a good editor can not only say 'this isn't working,' but can also articulate why it's not working and offer suggestions or solutions."
It doesn't hurt to have an eye for a real winner, either. LaReau had just joined the staff at Candlewick Press in Cambridge, Mass., when she was given the unenviable task of cleaning the office of an editor who had gone on maternity leave and never returned. Each night she'd slog through a boxful of unread manuscripts.
One was from a Minneapolis writer who told the bittersweet tale of a little girl and her preacher father who've been abandoned by her mother. It was called Because of Winn Dixie. "I was so struck by it, I just loved the voice," says LaReau, who holds an MFA from Emerson College. "From the beginning, I knew this was a writer with a capital W."
Within months, LaReau, then 27, was assigned to edit the book, which was published in 2000, won a Newbery Honor, and launched best-selling author Kate DiCamillo. The pair also worked on DiCamillo's other acclaimed books, including The Tiger Rising, a finalist for the National Book Award, and Newbery Medal winner The Tale of Despereaux. Their latest effort The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, received the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for fiction.
Now married and living in Providence, LaReau recently finished a new book, Rabbit and Squirrel, which follows two garden dwellers who don't want to share their space. "Things escalate rather quickly," she says.
Classmates who remember LaReau's four-year tenure with the Glee Club and the Chamber Singers will be pleased to know she still sings, though sometimes just to the tune of a karaoke machine. "I always say, 'Oh, karaoke, I wouldn't do that.' But an hour or two into the evening I'm up there."