In chapter 5 of Twirl, “Twirling,” 11-year-old Callie has a twirly brownish-beige dress. It even makes a swishing sound. The dress is a hand-me-down, but that doesn’t matter. It’s a dress in which she can dream big.
“Nobody I hung around with had a dress like this, and because I felt so wonderful in it, I kept the dress a secret because I didn’t want anyone to tell me it was something other than what I believed it was,” she writes.
The clothes that make me feel that kind of wonderful belonged to my mom, who was exactly my size. When I wear her hand-me-down swishy skirts and flouncy blouses and Børn heels, I feel like I am her dream, come to life.
Callie describes wearing the twirly dress when she goes to the library and sits in the little white house located in the children’s section. The house is filled with picture books. And suddenly Callie feels like she’s ready for big-girl books. Mrs. Grinbard, “the kindest, classiest librarian I’m certain the universe has known,” recommends reading author Beverly Cleary. And literary lightning strikes when Callie finds Cleary’s Newbery-winner Dear Mr. Henshaw. She’s captivated from the first page, in which Leigh Botts writes a letter to children’s author Boyd Henshaw.
Both Dear Mr. Henshaw and Twirl are books about becoming a writer. For Leigh Botts, it starts with a fan letter full of misspelled words and ends with a writing contest. For Callie, it starts with Adam and Eve and ends with Eminem.
Like Leigh, Callie finds school disappointing. Try as she might, she doesn’t get into the AA class. Also like Leigh, she notices things. For him, it’s the pinging of the gas station; for Callie, it’s the pinging of the el train. And like Leigh, she has a distinctive writing voice. Callie quotes Dear Mr. Henshaw in Twirl, relaying advice Leigh receives from another children’s author, Angela Badger, who says:
“You write like you, and you did not try to imitate someone else. This is one mark of a good writer. Keep it up.”
To develop her voice, Callie does what Leigh does — she writes in a journal. Sometimes she fills it with descriptions of apple-picking in Michigan and sometimes with “outfits I wore and outfits I planned to wear.” That’s what writers do: They write about what interests them. They write until they find their voice.
That twirly dress didn’t fit Callie forever. By sixth grade it was too small. A few years later Callie starts shelving books at that same library. Later still, she’ll work in a different library as an at-risk literacy specialist. That one dress wasn’t meant to be worn forever any more than that little white house was meant to be a permanent home or that first job would last forever or Dear Mr. Henshaw would be the only chapter book Callie would ever read.
Each of these things was simply meant to twirl, “like petals unfurling—just for a moment,” long enough for a writer to emerge.
Browse more about Twirl: my life in stories, writing & clothes by Callie Feyen
“Megan Willome’s The Joy of Poetry is not a long book, but it took me longer to read than I expected, because I kept stopping to savor poems and passages, to make note of books mentioned, and to compare Willome’s journey into poetry to my own. The book is many things. An unpretentious, funny, and poignant memoir. A defense of poetry, a response to literature that has touched her life, and a manual on how to write poetry. It’s also the story of a daughter who loses her mother to cancer. The author links these things into a narrative much like that of a novel. I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro