Adoff joins the family business
When he was a child
growing up in Yellow Springs, Jaime Adoff didnt know that his mother,
renowned childrens book author Virginia Hamilton, was famous. But
he did know that, when she vanished into her study each morning, something
She went into her office with a cup of coffee and came out later
with pages of writing, he said in an interview Saturday. It
was like magic to me.
Adoff also heard his dad, Arnold Adoff, recite his poetry out loud and
listened as his mom read her stories. And though it took him years to
put his own pen to paper, Adoff, 35, is now making up for lost time. In
November, Adoff published his first book, The Song Shoots Out of My Mouth,
published in November with Dutton Childrens Books, and has already
completed two other books that will also be published as soon as the illustrators
complete their work.
Last weekend, Adoff returned to Yellow Springs to hang out in his hometown
and to sign copies of his book at Glen Garden Gifts.
Adoff said he had a wonderful time. Lots of old friends showed up at his
book-signing, as did several of his favorite teachers, such as Bev Price,
who taught Adoff to read when he was in the Antioch School, and Shirley
Mullins, who introduced him to music. Mullinss influence was profound,
said Adoff, who went on to become a professional musician.
I caught the music bug from her, Adoff said. She was
the first person outside of my family who taught me how to be a professional.
Adoffs love of music and language come together in his book, which
is subtitled A Celebration of Music, and illustrated with
lively, bright drawings by Martin French. A series of poems, the book
explores a childs love of all forms of music, including classical,
jazz and hip-hop, both vocal and instrumental.
In The Song Shoots Out of My Mouth, Adoff writes:
Each word running fast across lips.
A direct line to my hips, twist and shake.
My voice another arm, another leg.
My throat the Cape Canaveral of my soul.
into deep blue
In a poem about Mozart, Adoff says the great composers music explodes
into my ears. Makes me drop my chocolate milk all over the cafeteria floor.
I clean while the strings sing the melody. Pass it back the orchestra
I feel like an astronaut going to the moon. Just to refuel on my way to
Mars. Then Jupiter Symphony No. 41 playin soccer on
the sun, barefoot.
Adoffs love of language took him by surprise, he said. While he
knew he loved hearing his parents read their work when he was a child,
he didnt realize the depth of their influence.
I soaked it all in, Adoff said.
Using language to celebrate music seemed an obvious choice for the former
professional musician. Growing up in Yellow Springs, Adoff studied piano
with Ava English, then violin with Shirley Mullins. He went on to play
the trumpet before studying drumming at Central State University. After
moving to New York City, he took graduate-level courses at the Manhattan
School of Music. Adoff started his own rock band, spending about eight
years, he said, immersed in the music scene in New York City.
Though he re-corded two CDs of his own material and performed extensively,
Adoff found the life ultimately dissatisfying. While he started out performing
out of his love and joy of music, he said he became more focused
on trying to make it as a rock star, and lost much of his pleasure in
Finally, in 199798, Adoff said he took some time out to search
my soul, seeking more satisfying work. With a vague sense that he
wanted to do something positive that involved working with children, Adoff
began writing as a form of therapy. Soon, though, he realized the writing
process brought him even more joy than hed found with music.
Adoff laughed as he remembers the night he called his mom to tell her
he decided to be a writer.
I said, Mom, Ive decided to join the family business,
and there was this long pause, he recalled. Then she said,
What business is that? Then another long pause and she said,
Oh, you mean you want to write.
Hamilton, who died last year of breast cancer, was thrilled with his decision,
Adoff said, and their relationship became even closer.
I began picking her brain, he said. I saw my mother
in a different light. We had hours of conversation about writing, and
Im so glad we had that before she got sick.
His mother encouraged him to stay true to himself and his own style when
editors suggested he copy what others were doing, Adoff said. And his
father, who acts as his sons agent, offers more specific advice.
Like his parents when he was growing up, Adoff now works at home, which
he shares with his wife, Mary, a pediatric nurse practitioner, in Manhattans
Upper West Side.
Its great fun, he said of the writing process. I
love the revision process, shaping something from broad to crisp and polished.
Adoff also loves the feeling of communicating with children, especially
teenagers. When in Ohio last week, Adoff especially enjoyed visiting schools
in Millersburg, where he read his new book.
Its important to me when I write to get as close as I can
to being the kid whos speaking, he said, adding that doing
so comes easily. Most of the time, I feel like Im about 16,
Adoff said. When I was visiting the schools, I thought, Hey, this
is my crowd. Its not a stretch for me to get inside the head of
a third grader or a teenager.
While in Yellow Springs for the weekend, Adoff marveled at the sign in
front of Glen Garden Gifts that proclaimed Jaime Adoff, Author.
He shook his head in wonderment, saying: I never thought Id
see that. Back in the hometown where he learned to love both language
and music, Adoff clearly reveled in walking down Xenia Avenue, saying
hello to friends and acquaintences, and he appreciated the good turnout
at his booksigning. But something was missing.
I just wish she knew about it, Adoff said of his mother. Then
he added, But I think maybe she does.