After 27 year wait, he publishes first children’s book . . . then another It took 27 years, but author Michael J. Larson of Wheaton finally realized a dream . . the publication of his children’s book, “Nature’s Christmas Story.” Larson originally created the story way back in 1981 when he was writing for a monthly farm newspaper in western Minnesota. “I wanted to produce a special Christmas column for the newspaper’s December issue,” said Larson. He was teaching life science at Wheaton High School at this time and had just finished covering lessons on the tundra animals in northern Canada.” “I decided they would qualify as characters for the column, thus, ‘Nature’s Christmas Story’ had its beginning,” he said. As the story developed, tundra animals heard of the birth of Jesus. They wanted to give the new born babe a gift but couldn’t decide what the gift should be. An angel helped the animals select the perfect gift. As the special gift was delivered to Bethlehem, the animals underwent a change that astounded them all.
Years later, Larson added illustrations and expanded the story. The final manuscript was ready for publication. “For the next 23 years, the manuscript traveled in a brown manila folder from publishing house to publishing house,” he said. “The rejection letters piled up. Most were impersonal, form letters. Occasionally a rejection letter arrived with personal, positive comments.” These comments were the encouragement that Larson needed. “I never thought of giving up. I loved that story and I just knew it would be published someday,” he said. “I saved all my rejection letters . . . around 47 of them!” Larson said he was always anticipating a publishing house wanting his manuscript so every time he went to the mail box and found a brown manila envelope addressed with his handwriting, he felt an adrenaline rush. Last year, Larson decided to replace his pen and ink illustrations with color pictures produced by a professionally trained artist. “Janine Ringdahl Schmidt came to my mind immediately,” said Larson. “I had admired her artistic talent since she had been a student in my biology class 20 years ago.” After high school, Schmidt got a four-year degree from the Minneapolis School of Art and Design with an emphasis on book illustration. She married a farmer from Wheaton and moved back shortly after college. “When I called her she was very excited and quickly accepted the illustration job,” said Larson. “Her youngest had just gone to kindergarten and she had just started thinking about getting back into illustrating when I called. She had written several manuscripts and illustrated them and had them rejected. She didn’t feel comfortable writing the stories so we made a great pair.” The two teamed up again for Larson’s second book, recently released, called “The Easter Sparrows.” Easter Sparrows is a story of two sparrows, Chip and Chirp, who roost for the night in an empty tomb. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, the body of Jesus is brought in and a large stone is rolled over the tomb’s opening. The two birds are trapped. But the imprisonment allows the sparrows to witness an event that will change their lives. The books are available for purchase at www.Amazon.com and www.westbowpress.com. Larson and Schmidt will also be participating in area book signings starting in early June. Background Larson was a biology teacher for 34 years in the Wheaton Area School as well as 11 years in both the Wheaton and Herman School Districts. He has been married for 40 years to his wife, Kathy and they have three grown children and seven grandchildren. His first real writing assignment came in 1985, when he wrote an environmental column for the magazine “Minnesota Out Of Doors.” “During this writing stint, I used our three children as main characters who went into the outdoors and had adventures with critters living there,” he said. Larson did this for about six years, then self-published 73 columns into a three volume set titled “Children in the Outdoors.” For 15 years he did workshops for elementary teachers in Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota and Wisconsin. “We used the books and brainstormed ways to involve children in outdoor learning,” he said. Larson is presently the director of the Bonanza Education Center located at Big Stone State Park (near Beardsley). “Five schools send their students to the BEC: Chokio-Alberta; Big Stone City, SD; Ortonville; Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley; and Browns Valley,” he said. “Visits may include as few as 15 students and as many as 70. The Center is located in the north section of the park and includes native prairie, basswood/oak forest and lake shore and is a tremendous place to learn about the outdoors.” Larson’s job is to schedule the visits and then meet each group and provide a day of outdoor activities. Groups are usually kindergarten to eighth grade. ‘This past fall we had 663 visitors total and we’ll have about that many again in the spring,” he said. “During the winter we will have groups come to cross country ski, snowshoe, sled and look for evidence of winter life. During the winter Larson develops a lyceum and presents it to the five member schools. This years topic was on “Parasites In The Environment.” “I taught high school biology for 34 years and loved it dearly but my last seven years at Bonanza is without a doubt my most favorite teaching experience,” he said. Hooked early on writing “I knew I wanted to write when I was in late elementary and junior high. In sixth grade when Mrs. Sager, my teacher put my bird writing assignments on the bulletin board,” he said. “I was hooked.” In eighth grade he wrote his first manuscript, a 27-page story titled ‘Slinker A Mink.’ “Mr. Wray, my English teacher, got wind of my writing and he invited me to come up in front of the classroom and read a little bit the last five minutes of class,” said Larson. “After the fourth or fifth day the bell rang and as the kids charged out of the classroom Mr. Wray called me over and asked me how long my story was going to be…..I figured my ‘five minute’ reading session better end so I ended the mink story.” Larson’s mom helped him prepare the manuscript and they sent it to three magazines. “I was rejected three times,” he said. “Again I was hooked on the excitement of writing with the possibility of getting published.”