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Kelly Maple Polark, ’93 ElEd, is Authoring Her Own Career Path

by Communications Office / Apr 17, 2019

Kelly Maple Polark with her father and book Words on Birds

We recently caught up with Education alumna Kelly Maple Polark, who earned her Bachelor’s degree from the College in Elementary Education. Polark, who teaches kindergarten in the north Chicago suburbs, took a unique path to where she is today.

This educator was a stay-at-home-mom and the author of seven published books, a mix of children’s picture books and middle-grades novels, prior to teaching kindergarten. Her latest novel, Beyond Cabin Fourteen, debuted on February 28, 2019. Here’s more on Polark’s time at Illinois and her advice for aspiring authors.

BeyondCabinFourteen_175What experiences or people motivated or inspired you to get your degree in education and become a kindergarten teacher? Did you have any mentors during your time at Illinois?

KMP: I have always liked kids, and my parents suggested that I become a teacher. My grandmother and dad were both teachers. I took their advice, and I absolutely love my job. When I was at the University of Illinois, I completed my junior practicum teaching with a kindergarten teacher named Mrs. Worner. I thought she was the best. After that, I hoped to be a vibrant, intelligent, inspiring kindergarten teacher just like her!

I loved my time in the College of Education. My favorite class was a Children's Literature course with Dr. Violet Harris. She was amazing, and I was introduced to such a variety of books.

Tell us about your current career as a kindergarten teacher AND an author. How do you make this work, especially with a family?

KMP: I have always loved books: as a child, as a mom, and as a teacher. The best part of being both a kindergarten teacher and an author is I can share the books that I've written and books that I love with my students and other children at the school. One day this year, I was a guest author for my district, and I was able to do a presentation about writing and being an author to students aged preK-4th grade.

Many of my manuscripts that turned into published books were written when I was a stay at home mom for 10+ years. I needed a creative outlet, so I started taking online poetry and writing classes and started meeting with local writing groups. Currently, I don't have a set writing schedule. I might write one to three nights a month when I can fit it in. Most of my writing is now completed during the summer.

What led you to pursue writing and become a published author? What advice would you give those who are interested in children’s or young adult writing, with hopes of having books published?

KMP: Publishing is so very competitive. Most authors will tell you they receive a lot of rejections before finally getting a yes. I started a small press to publish some of my books due to this, because I felt passionate about the subjects and wanted to see them in print. When I went back to teaching full-time, I dismantled the press due to lack of time. Some of my books were published by a branch of Houghton Mifflin, and my newest middle grade is by a small press called Vinspire Publishing.

My advice is don't quit and keep practicing. I had my first poem published in a children's magazine after four years of writing and submitting. It took me five years to get my first book accepted! And like with anything, the more you write, the better you will be. Also, connect with online or local writing groups for advice and support. SCBWI (the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) is a great children's writing organization to connect with, as well.

Do you have any new books in the works, or any other exciting projects you’re working on?

KMP: I am currently submitting a picture book titled The Gingerbread Pup to different publishers. Over the summer, I plan to write a rough draft of a new picture book idea that I got from being a kindergarten teacher!