Children's author is aloft at last

April 05, 1994|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore County teacher Jerdine Nolen Harold spent years writing, polishing and hoping to sell her children's novel about mourning and coping with loss. "I wrote my heart out with angst and emotion," Mrs. Harold says of the book.

The manuscript was mailed to a New York publishing company, along with other stories that demonstrated her range and style. Representatives of Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, a children's division of William Morrow & Co., said they wanted to publish the manuscript.

But not the manuscript Mrs. Harold was promoting. They bought a story titled "Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm," which Mrs. Harold whipped out in less than two weeks back in 1984.

She wrote the whimsical tale during slow moments while employed as an office temporary worker at an insurance company.

"I never thought this was the story that was going to hit. I was in shock. I had very conflicting emotions," says Mrs. Harold, a special education teacher at Campfield Alternative Middle School in Northwest Baltimore County. She writes under her maiden name, Nolen.

But hit it has.

"Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm," with illustrations by Mark Buehner, should be in bookstores any day now, says Susan Pearson, editor-in-chief at Lothrop. The first printing of 35,000 is "significantly higher" than the usual first run for a new author, Ms. Pearson says.

"It's an outstanding book. It's just magic. It makes you wonder why anyone else hasn't thought of a balloon farm," Ms. Pearson says.

It has already received favorable notice from Kirkus Reviews, which called the 32-page picture book "wonderfully appealing" and "skillfully developed."

Mrs. Harold has book signings scheduled around the Baltimore area, including an appearance in a few months at Borders Books and Music in Towson.

"Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm" is based in the rural South more than 30 years ago and told through the eyes of a young girl. Harvey Potter owns a U.S. government-inspected balloon farm that grows clowns, animals and other assorted balloon characters.

But how he grows the balloons is a secret because Mr. Potter farms only at night. The child ventures out in the middle of night to learn just how Harvey Potter grows his balloons.

"I describe it as a 'coming of age' story," says the author, who lives with her husband, Tony, and two small children in the Lochearn area of Baltimore County.

Mrs. Harold, who has written for children's magazines and textbooks, does most of her writing in the middle of the night while her family sleeps.

Her stories usually have some sort of rural or farm setting, which matches her family's roots. "My parents were farmers from Mississippi," she explains. "So there's this connection for me."

For Mrs. Harold, the evolution of writing "Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm" in 1984, having it accepted by a publisher in 1990 and finally seeing it in bookstores has been a long one. "I feel as if I've given birth to a whale."

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