DANVILLE — Once upon a time, a little girl named Alice loved to read and play with words.
She wrote poems and stories, making her words rhyme and have rhythm. She told stories into a tape recorder, creating funny voices for different characters.
Now an award-winning author, Alice B. McGinty travels to schools throughout the state — along with her guinea pig, Cookie, a character in one of her books — to talk to students about her love of words, how she turned them into books, poems and songs and got them published.
"I just hope to get them really excited about reading and writing and being creative and using their imaginations to write their own stories," McGinty said, during a visit to Edison Elementary School in Danville on Wednesday.
McGinty, of Urbana, has written 41 fiction and nonfiction children's books and has two more coming out next year. She also is a writing instructor, the co-regional adviser of the Illinois Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and a book reviewer whose column appears every third Sunday in The News-Gazette.
At Edison, McGinty told kindergarten through fifth-graders that she started making up poems, jump rope rhymes and stories at a young age. When she got older, she wrote them down and eventually sent them off to publishers.
"Do you know what they said? 'No, thank you.'" McGinty said, adding she got many rejection letters. "But I never gave up. I kept on reading and writing and sending things in."
After 10 years, McGinty's first book, "Eating Right," was published. It was inspired by her then 5-year-old son, Jake, who asked her one night at dinner, "Why do I have to eat my broccoli?" That prompted her to look for book about diet and nutrition written for children. When she couldn't find one, she decided to write her own.
After the book was done, McGinty's publisher asked her to write about other things. "I've written about dogs, spiders and people," she said. "I love writing books because I feel like a detective when I'm doing my research, and I learn so many things."
McGinty said her first published fiction book, "Ten Little Lambs," also was inspired by her sons, then 3 and 5. One night, she found them playing with Legos and told them it was time to go to bed, but they didn't budge.
"I said to myself, 'Two little boys who won't go to bed,'" McGinty recalled, adding she liked the sound of the words. "Then I asked myself a question, a question many authors ask themselves to get a story: What if? What if my boys didn't go to bed? What would they do all night long?"
She got her answer after "spying" on her sons and their friends during sleepovers. Then she used their antics — and some from her own childhood — as the basis of the story.
McGinty played a guitar and sang the story and led other exercises to show students how words have rhythm and language can sound like music. She also showed them how to pair two unlike things together and break the rules of common sense to create stories.
"You have fantastic imaginations," McGinty told the kids following some of the exercises. "I hope you use them to write your own funny stories."
Edison librarian Cindy Jett, who invited McGinty to speak to students and at the school's family fun night that evening, also hopes students are inspired by the author.
"We already have a school full of readers," Jett said. "I'm hoping this will encourage them to work at their writing and to never give up."
McGinty is offering her first writer's camp for girls this summer.
The week-long sessions will be held June 9-16 and July 14-21 at McGinty's property near Fairmount.
They are open to girls who will be entering sixth through ninth grade. Eight spots will be available at each session.
The cost is $400 per person. One $200 scholarship will be available per session, meaning the recipient will have to pay half price.
For more information or to apply, email firstname.lastname@example.org.