Meet Award-Winning Author Jenn Bishop

By Gloria G. Adams

Jenn Bishop is the author of five novels for young readers, including the Parents’ Choice Gold Award winner, Things You Can’t Say. Her books have been named Junior Library Guild selections and Bank Street College of Education best books and have been finalists for state book awards. 

A former youth services and teen librarian, Jenn is a graduate of the University of Chicago and Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults has served her well in her writing career.

She grew up loving to draw and write stories, as well as playing softball. Her love of sports shines through in her books and you'll find her rooting for her favorite teams in Cincinnati, where she lives with her husband and their cat, Lilly.

 Jenn,  tell us about your journey into children’s publishing.


I came into children’s publishing after first becoming a children’s librarian after college. Admittedly, I figured out I wanted to write for children partway through college, but I knew it could take a long time to get published (if I broke in at all) and becoming a librarian first felt natural. My librarian experience taught me so much about the publishing world and reader habits, in addition to, of course, introducing me to so many wonderful books and authors. I went to Vermont College of Fine Arts to get my MFA in Writing for Young Adults, where I worked closely with 4 incredible author mentors: Elizabeth Partridge, Rita Williams-Garcia, Sarah Ellis, and A.S. King. It was the best boot camp for craft you can imagine, and it’s where I wrote the first drafts of what became my debut novel, The Distance to Home.

Which children’s book authors do you admire?

 Looking back on the books I loved as a child, Lois Lowry, Judy Blume, and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor were major inspirations. I still can’t get over how many books Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has published—over 120! These days, some of my favorites include Erin Entrada Kelly, Rebecca Stead, Kevin Henkes, Rita Williams-Garcia, Barbara Dee, and Mariama Lockington.


What goals do you have as a writer? Where do you see your career 10 years from now?

My goals are always shifting, I think. Something about having a fifth book come out last year (and turning forty) has made me more future-oriented lately. I’d love to diversify the ages that I write for. I’ve been drafting some early chapter books and having a lot of fun with them. And though I never thought I’d say this, I think I actually do now want to someday writer for grownups!

What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

 I love being in nature, whether that means going on a long hike at my local nature preserve, attending a baseball game (go, Reds!), or simply sitting in my backyard reading once it’s warm enough. (Sadly, in February, there is not a lot of the latter.) What can I say? I am an outdoor plant. Thankfully my other favorite activity, watching college basketball, has eased the winter doldrums. Now if only my team could win more than one game in a row . . .

What inspires you? What about writing makes you happy?

I’ve discovered that I can find inspiration anywhere—truly! When I was stumped on what my third book could be about, I sat out on my front porch with an open mind and a motorcycle drove up the street. It turned out, that was all I needed: the first seed of Things You Can’t Say was planted. My favorite part of writing is when I begin to lose myself in the story—when I lose track of time during my drafting sessions and I start hearing conversations between my characters while I’m on a run or washing the dishes.




Best experience/story from school visits?

During a school visit once, a student asked, “When did you first learn that words have power?” Honestly, that’s such a smart question, I’m still figuring out my answer.

You write about some tough subjects. What are some things that you hope kids will take away from your books?

I hope my books help kids in tough situations feel seen and heard. For the kids who haven’t yet had any first-hand experience with my tough subjects, I hope my books help them understand those situations better from the inside. Stories have an incredible power to promote empathy.

Can you share with us when your next book is coming out?

Unfortunately, I cannot! At the moment, I don’t have anything under contract, though I have several projects in the works so hopefully that status changes later this year.

 Okay, I have to ask, why is the buffalo your favorite animal?

It all goes back to a wonderful summer after my freshman year of college that I spent in the northeastern corner of Wyoming with my roommate’s family. I’d never seen a bison outside of a zoo before (if I’d even seen one at a zoo—I honestly can’t remember), but we were on the long drive from Denver to her house and lo and behold, there was a bison grazing by the side of the road. Nothing against all the cows I’ve ever seen by the side of the road and managed to have a normal human reaction to, but I was spellbound by the bison. Spellbound! There was something so majestic and magnificent about this creature. To make up for never having a favorite animal as a kid, I fully embraced bison (or “buffies” as I called them) as my favorite animal in adulthood and I’ve never looked back.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

The library is your best friend as a writer. Embrace it! Use that library card! Check out all of the books! (If you are wondering, I really take my own advice to heart. I currently have 75 books checked out from my local library, and that’s pretty average for me.) Books are wonderful teachers. In every revision, I find that the problems I am trying to solve are usually unlocked by reading someone else’s published book.


Short and Sweet:

Pantser or Plotter? Plotser these days 
Guilty Food Pleasure? I don’t feel guilty about food but . . . chocolate!
Favorite Hobby? Watching college basketball
Dog or Cat person? Cat person
Who would you like to have dinner with (living or dead)? Miep Gies, my personal hero since my childhood
Do you do your best work in the morning, afternoon, or evening? Late morning

Learn more about Jenn and her books on her website: