Unlike many authors, writing wasn’t a favorite childhood pastime for Rosanne Parry. “I had terrible handwriting and was a terrible speller,” she recalls. “I didn’t love writing, but I always loved making things up.” One book she read over and over was From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. “I remember how satisfying it was to read about kids going off on their own and having an adventure. And later, as a camp counselor, a teacher and a parent, I came to see the unique power that stories have to keep kids’ attention.”

These days she’s a part-time teacher, living with her husband and four children in Portland, Ore. She has taught the spectrum of ages--from kindergarten to high school--but says her favorite to teach is middle grade, “which is probably why I love to write to that age.”

In her novel Heart of a Shepherd (Random, Jan. 2009), a 12-year-old boy’s father is shipped off to war in Iraq. The boy, Ignatius--known as Brother--assumes responsibility for the family’s eastern Oregon ranch; he promises to keep it running perfectly, in hopes that will bring his father home safely. Reviews have been laudatory; the starred review in Kirkus called it “an unassuming transcendent joy.”

The book actually began as a poem, 10 years ago. “I wrote a sonnet about my father teaching my son to play chess,” Parry says. “Their personalities are so different--it was hilarious to watch. A year or two later, I wrote a short story about a grandfather and a boy playing chess--I had visited a friend in eastern Oregon, and I set the chess game on the back porch of a ranch house there. The meat of the story hasn’t changed.”

She sent that story, which won a Kay Snow Award from the Willamette Writers group, to Random House’s Jim Thomas, whom she had met at an SCBWI retreat. “He told me, 'This is great writing. Send me something else.’ So I put it aside and worked on other things, but I kept thinking about how to integrate that chess game into a larger story.”

Then in 2003, when the U.S. went to war in Iraq, Parry began to remember how it had felt to send her husband off to Desert Storm, more than a decade earlier. “Oregon has deployed a lot of reservists, not proportional to the size of our population,” she says. “I started thinking about the people being deployed from these smaller towns. They’re all such a part of the community: they’re on the volunteer fire department, they’re on the school board. When you take them dozens at a time, it's hard. Once I combined the military family aspect with the ranching family aspect, I thought I had enough to sustain it as a novel.”

Nine months later, she finished a first draft; she asked her agent to send it to Thomas, who said, “This is the one I want.” Next came the revision process, which Parry says she enjoyed, but called it “very intense.” And she found Thomas’s guidance helpful throughout. “He’s really great about listening for character voice--I probably appreciate that more than anything else.”

She’s now working on a second book for Thomas, set in Berlin and Paris in 1990, which she describes as “sort of a Stand by Me for girls.” So far she’s having a banner year; she also has a debut picture book out (Daddy’s Home, from Candy Cane Press), and Heart of a Shepherd was optioned by Tashtego Films. “I was really surprised--that was very cool,” Parry says. “Really what I’m hoping is that my book does well enough so that I can just write the next one. It’s been such a great adventure.”

From the editor, Laura Godwin: "My first thought upon reading this manuscript was, Who wouldn't love this book? A novel that begins on a sweltering summer's day in 1899 that is described so vividly we can feel the Texas heat. Add to that an effervescent protagonist who is tenacious, un-self-conscious and a girl who likes science. The fact that she is surrounded by six brothers and wonderful grownups who actually act like real grownups do only makes the story all the more irresistible. The manuscript was so obviously fun, thoughtful and beautifully written that deciding to publish it was easy."