By Montana Bassett
It’s never too late to start over. Just ask debut author and Philadelphia resident, Christine Kendall. Roughly 30 years into her law career, Kendall, 61, wanted to do something different with her life. “I just felt like I needed something more creative to do,” she says. “I had a good first career, but it just wasn’t satisfying anymore.” So, Kendall decided to return to one of her favorite childhood passions, writing.
Growing up, Kendall says she would bring her notebook with her wherever she went, prepared to document any story or idea that popped into her head. Also an avid musician at a young age, she was driven by creativity.
Kendall accumulated notebooks full of stories throughout her life and says she wanted her new career to reflect her collection in some way. “I really did feel like there were just lots of things that I wanted to get out, lots of stories that I needed to tell,” she says.
Since embarking on her new career as a writer, Kendall initially focused on writing short stories and thought about writing picture books for children, but it is her new middle-grade novel, Riding Chance, that is capturing a lot of attention.
The book follows a young boy in present-day Philadelphia, taking chances to find himself after the death of his mother. One bad decision lands him in an after-school program caring for horses at the city stables in Fairmount Park where he develops a connection with a horse, discovers the game of polo and learns more about himself than he could have ever imagined. (And yes, this story was inspired by Philly’s Work-to-Ride Program.)
Riding Chance was praised by critics and was named one of the 50 Best Books for Teens by the New York Public Library, a Junior Library Guild Selection for 2016, and was the recipient of a 2016 National Parenting Publications Award. To top off all of those accolades, Riding Chance was nominated for a 2016 NAACP Image Award in the category of literature for youth and teens.
The book has gained traction within Philadelphia’s literary community as well. Ashley Montague, owner of Penn Book Center, says Kendall’s book signing at her store filled the venue. She attributes the popularity to the strength of the novel’s story and acute ability to paint Philadelphia’s intricacies. “You get a real sense of the city and all its diversity,” says Montague.
Indeed, the city is what provides Kendall with much of the inspiration for her stories. “There’s a lot going on here,” she says, referring to the West Philadelphia neighborhood where she lives. “It’s vibrant and alive and diverse, and I find it inspiring,” she adds.
Now working on a new middle-grade book with a young female protagonist, Kendall admits she likes writing for this age group. It wasn’t part of her original plan, but this new author isn’t afraid to change course and take a chance with her writing.