Wilsonville couple's picture book named Oregon Book Award finalist

SPOKESMAN PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Authors Roland and Marie Smith live on the same farm where Marie grew up just outside Wilsonville. The couple's most recent picture book 'T is for Time' is one of four finalists for the Eloise Jarvis McGraw award for children's literature. The award winner will be announced April 11.From the list of almost 50 books by award-winning and bestselling Wilsonville author Roland Smith, it would be easy to assume that he is the driving force behind “T is for Time” — a picture book credited to Roland and his wife Marie Smith that was recently nominated for a 2015 Oregon Book Award.

As it happens, that isn’t the case.

“I did help Marie a little, but you notice her name is first,” Roland says. “I’m really the junior author on the seven picture books that Marie has written.”

Published in March 2015, “T is for Time” recounts the history of timekeeping. Each letter of the alphabet represents a word related to the topic, and poetry, prose and pictures are all employed to keep children and parents alike engaged with the work.

Roland certainly isn’t a stranger to recognition for his writing. His young adult literature has been nominated eight times for an Oregon Book Award, and won twice. His first published book, a work for young adults about the Exxon Valdez oil spill called “Sea Otter Rescue,” went into print in 1990. Since then, he’s published over 25 young adult novels and more than nine more nonfiction books, including bestsellers “Peak,” “Zach’s Lie” and the “I, Q” series.

The first book jointly written by the couple — and Marie’s first book ever — was “B is for Beaver: An Oregon Alphabet,” published in 2003. The book’s publisher, Sleeping Bear Press, had decided to have a picture book written about all 50 states. When Roland heard about the idea, he volunteered to take on Oregon.

Roland had been interested in writing a picture book for years, but knew that doing so would be no small endeavor.

“I think they’re really hard to write,” he says. “Because you’re so limited in how many words you can use, it makes it a lot more difficult.”

It was Marie’s willingness to help with the book that inspired Roland to take on “B is for Beaver,” the idea being that Marie would help Roland to complete the book so he could still work on the young adult works that are his bread and butter. At the time, Marie had primarily been concerned with helping to schedule her husband’s many reading and speaking engagements, and didn’t have writing experience beyond some poetry written in her free time.

“Roland just offered to do one with me, and I said yes,” Marie says. “It was fun, and exciting, and a challenge — and I got it done, which was really surprising. He believes anybody can be an author, anybody can write a book. ... After finishing ‘B is for Beaver,’ I agreed with him. It just takes time and a willingness to get it done.”

Marie found the work so engaging that she quickly took the lead on the project, an arrangement that remained in place as the couple authored six more picture books — among them “E is for Evergreen,” a book about the state of Washington; “Z is for Zookeeper,” which draws on Roland’s 20-year career working with animals prior to his career in writing; and “T is for Time,” the couple’s most recent work.

The couple’s combination of talents proved a winning one: “B is for Beaver” was the first of two Oregon Book Award finalists for the Smiths.

As Roland suspected, the books have proven quite labor-intensive, with their first book taking around a year and a half to complete.

All seven are structured in the same way: A word that relates to the book’s topic is established for each letter of the alphabet, and each topic is fitted with four lines of verse elaborating on the word, along with several paragraphs of prose that provide more detail.

Marie did all the research for the books, and wrote much of the verse and prose for each. Marie calls the poetry portion of the books in particular her “labor of love,” and says the verse is what took most ofSUBMITTED PHOTO - 'T for Time' her time.

“I’m a woman of few words, I’d say, and poetry fits my method,” she says.

The authors balance one another out, and although Roland has done some of the writing as well, his role is more of an editorial one. Regular road trips to visit a daughter in Washington provided the chance to debate the merits of different possible poems for each letter, and they would email pieces of verse back and forth to one another at other times.

“I’m good at gathering, he’s good at whittling away until it gets to be the nugget of information that you can put into a book that’s so limited in words,” Marie says.

“T is for Time” is the first picture book by the Smiths to tackle an abstract subject. Writing “W is for Waves” — which involved compressing the entire ocean into a children’s book — prepared them somewhat, Roland says. Roland has been a passionate collector of timepieces for years, and had the idea for the book.

“I wanted to make (Marie) interested in it,” Roland says.

It’s easy to see how writing “T is for Time” took over three years, with topics ranging from Einstein’s theory of relativity, to quartz crystals, to the always-challenging X — in this case representing the number 10 on a clock’s dial.

Among Roland and Marie’s favorite sections in the book is J for John Harrison.

Harrison was a British carpenter who, starting in 1714, spent 20 years solving the vexing problem of how to accurately keep time at sea — despite the failure of many of Britain’s most successful scientists. He didn’t receive a prize promised by the British government for the achievement until he was 83 years old, however, in part due to inter-class prejudice.

“It was a gigantic feat,” Marie says. “And their resistance was selfish and egotistical.”

While Roland remains at work fulfilling several contracts for young adult novels, Marie has several ideas for the couple’s next picture book that she is exploring. She says that she looks forward to having something definite to work on again.

“It’s fun having a project,” she says. “The last 10 years, at least, have been writing, and having a purpose in writing. And that’s kind of a good place to be.”

Contact Jake Bartman at 503-636-1281 ext. 113 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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