Official website of author Jo Knowles, Writer, and Presenter
I grew up in a very old, drafty farmhouse in a small New Hampshire town. My family had lots of animals while I was growing up: Dogs, cats, chickens, two ponies and three horses. My favorite pet was my pony, Smoky. He was already quite old when we adopted him, but he was a good sport about going to 4-H shows with me. I won a blue ribbon in my first ever show—the immensely challenging “Walk/Trot.” That show was a thrilling experience for both of us! Smoky lived to be over 30 years old. He was a good friend, even if he was stubborn and would only trot when heading back toward the barn.
I also grew up with lots of books. My mom and my sister were ALWAYS reading. I didn’t become “a reader” until high school, so I loved when my sister read to me. Even now, when I read certain books to my son that my sister read to me, it’s my sister’s voice I hear in my head.
My parents tried out lots of businesses when I was growing up. The first one I remember was called “Kellers’ Restaurant.” It was a family restaurant, but it was an ICE CREAM factory. Oh, we were popular children in the beginning.
Later my parents sold Kellers’ and bought a huge old Victorian home and converted it into a much fancier restaurant called The Hathaway House. The carriage house was converted to a bar and my brother, sister and I used to get into LOTS of trouble there. Our favorite hangout was the loft, where we’d lean through the wooden railing and try to throw popcorn into people’s drinks down below.
My favorite celebrity customer was Miss America. She brought my sister and me to her dressing room and showed us her “shoe” suitcase. We were very impressed. Another big celeb who ate there was John Travolta. This was a few years before Grease came out. Oh, if we’d only known!
I wrote some pretty amusing stories about The Hathaway House and other adventures when I was young. I think I always loved writing stories and poems about my family and pets. But it wasn’t until high school that I started to read. I have Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War to thank for that. I’m convinced that is the book that turned me into an avid reader, and eventually a writer. There is something about the raw truth of that book that showed me how powerful words can be.
In college I took a children’s literature course, got hooked, and went to grad school to learn more. There, I took a course on writing for children. I loved it so much, I decided to write my first YA novel for my graduate thesis. That semester I was lucky enough to meet Robert Cormier, my hero. I told him how his book had turned me into “a reader.” He gave me his address and said to send him my novel when I finished. That message helped me finish my book. I sent it. He wrote back and told me I had talent, and that he hoped one day my book would be published with a blurb from him on the back. I have that letter framed in my office.
In February 2006, I sold my first novel, Lessons From A Dead Girl, to Candlewick Press. My dream of becoming a published author finally came true.
Now, I live in Vermont with my husband and son. In addition to writing, I teach in the MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University and travel to schools and libraries to talk with people of all ages about books and writing for teens.