by Lou Mancinelli
Local children’s book author and school counselor John McGranaghan wrote his first book, “Saturn For My Birthday” (Sylvan Dell, 2008), when his then three-year-old son Kyle asked for the planet Saturn for his fourth birthday.
His second book, “Meet the Planets” (Sylvan Dell, 2010), which was just released by the publisher on April 11, is an informative favorite planet competition emceed by the former planet, Pluto, that was demoted to a dwarf planet by scientists in 2006, because of its small amount of mass compared to other celestial organisms and planets.
McGranaghan’s personal story of getting his writing published reflects the message of perseverance he teaches children in his role as school counselor for the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit’s (MCIU) non-public school division, and during school visits to promote his books.
“Everyone tells you to dream your dreams,” said McGranaghan via telephone at the end of March, “but everyone leaves out the part about hard work.”
McGranaghan, 49, lives in Flourtown with his wife, Dina, and two sons, Kyle, 12, who asked his father for Saturn, and John, 14, a freshman at La Salle College High School, where McGranaghan is currently stationed for MCIU.
Getting your first book published is like going for a Ph.D, McGranaghan was once told by popular children’s and young adults writer Laurie Halse Anderson. At the time, McGranaghan was taking an education class, and a classmate had a connection to Anderson. McGranaghan got the author’s number and called her to ask for advice.
When he wrote “Saturn For My Birthday” in 2002, it was rejected by 10 publishers before the 11th accepted his manuscript in 2006, and published it two years later, when he was able to give his son the gift of Saturn, if only in book form.
McGranaghan was raised in Feasterville and attended high school at Holy Ghost Prep in Bensalem. He majored in mathematics as an undergraduate at Villanova University (1983) and spent a year in New York as a volunteer with the Franciscan religious order, a branch of the Roman Catholic Church. He returned to Philadelphia and earned his masters degree in counseling psychology from Temple University in 1990.
“I always wrote as a kid,” said McGranaghan, “but stopped for a while when I got to college.” When he started writing again in the early ‘90s, he mainly wrote for personal expression in his journals. “I kind of made the transition from personal writing over to more market-driven writing,” he said.
When he became a father in 1996, McGranaghan started to focus on children’s writing, a creative outlet that has served over the years as a way to develop solid father-son relationships with his two boys. He also became a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
Before his first manuscript was accepted, McGranaghan published articles in children’s publications like “Columbia Magazine,” “Pockets Magazine” and “Boys Quest Magazine.” In 2001, his short story about a boy who for his birthday receives a symbolic empty box in which to store his memories won a Pockets Fiction Contest.
His first published piece was a parent’s reflection article he wrote for Parents Express, a free parents newsletter available in places like local book stores, and he once published a piece for the Philadelphia Daily News.
Since 1991, McGranaghan has worked for MCIU in various elementary and high schools. He is assigned to different communities at different times. He helps students with administrative issues, as well as any personal issues that may be troubling the students with whom he works.
“Meet the Planets” actually started as the informative section of a separate manuscript McGranaghan turned in to editors for consideration for publication at Sylvan Dell. At the end of all Sylvan Dell children’s books, which focus on math and science education, there are a few pages of additional educational material relating to the story.
In 2006, when Pluto was demoted from planet status, McGranaghan was inspired to write a children’s book about the events. At the end of his Pluto book, he included meet-the-planets-style introductory information about each planet. Editors at Sylvan Dell did not want the Pluto story, but did ask McGranaghan to develop a story based on the meet-the-planets idea. It took him about a year to write the story and then revise it, given the editor’s suggestions.
Surprisingly, the author has very little say in choosing the illustrator of the book, according to McGranaghan. The publishers have their catalogue of illustrators to choose from, but the Flourtown author did communicate with illustrator Laurie Allen Klein via email. “My research really led the direction of the illustrations,” said Laurie Allen Klein, 53, a Florida resident, during a telephone interview in early April.
Since the story was about a competition, Klein envisioned illustrations in terms of the way awards are announced at events like the Academy Awards. Research provided her with information beyond the physical facts about the planet and other interesting technological information.
McGranaghan plans to do a number of school visits and inspirational talks about perseverance to promote the publication of “Meet the Planets.” His next school visit is May 13 at Evans Elementary School in Limerick. In the past, he has spoken at a number of Chestnut Hill locations and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
“Kids always ask me if I’m going to write a third book,” said McGranaghan, who also dabbles in young adult fiction. “I tell them, ‘I write lots of books, but they don’t always get published. You just keep plugging away.’”