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May 9, 2023

On the Wings of a Story

Joanne Leedom-Ackerman is a novelist and journalist whose fiction includes her recent thriller, BURNING DISTANCE, and the upcoming THE FAR SIDE OF THE DESERT. Her younger son is author Elliot Ackerman, whose latest novel is HALCYON. Her older son, Nate, is a mathematician. As a child, Joanne would get lost in the pages of books that her mother read to her or encouraged her to read. This allowed her to travel all over the world and experience the sights and sounds of each destination she visited, all from the comfort of her own home. Joanne followed in her mother’s footsteps by making sure that Elliot and Nate were exposed to the joys and wonders of reading books and creating stories at a young age.


When I was a girl, I used to go to the flight deck of the Love Field Airport in Dallas, Texas, to watch the planes take off with my mother and sister. My mother hadn’t traveled much in her life, but she knew the world was out there, and she urged me to be part of it. “Where do you think that plane is going?” she would ask, and we would let our imaginations go. At least half of the destinations we determined were New York City, where I eventually lived, along with Baltimore, Boston, Los Angeles, London and Washington, DC. Because of work, I’ve had the opportunity to travel on every continent except Antarctica.

I first traveled to many of these destinations, however, in books that my mother read to me and encouraged me to read. The children’s classics THE WIZARD OF OZ, ALICE IN WONDERLAND and PETER PAN fueled my early years, along with a dozen blue hardcover Book House books that had stories from around the world. I remember the words as well as the illustrations, many of which I colored in. My flights of imagination began in books, going down rabbit holes, flying across chimney tops I’d never seen, and discovering my own yellow brick roads.

I did the same with my children. I both told stories and read stories to them every day, more than once a day. When there was an argument over who got to do what, I would often launch into a story as a way to distract and relieve tension as they each gave me two elements they wanted in the story that I would then create. I wove together disparate subjects, and they would help. It could be butterflies and dogs from one son and soldiers and dinosaurs from another. A story would emerge.

On the way to and from pre-school and early elementary school each day, I would weave a story about mice and cats and people in a round hotel on the freeway, and each day they would have to tell me where I’d left off. Often I couldn’t remember, but they always did. Later, when they were 8 and 10, we began writing a children’s book together called Adventures at the Mouse Hotel. They could remember my stories I’d forgotten and helped fill in descriptions of characters. We would have story conferences and edit the book together.

Stories and narratives were central to my sons, and for me they were a way to share and learn information and to shape the life we were living. It is perhaps not surprising that my younger son has become an accomplished writer and novelist himself. Books opened worlds for all of us. I remain grateful that my own mother made books and stories central to my childhood.