Originally published in Easy Street Magazine.
In her neatly decorated office, one wall is adorned with framed copies of letters, poems and scribbled drawings.
Some are from close friends, others from noted authors. They include messages from the likes of Ogden Nash, Archibald Rutledge and Pearl S. Buck. They are all personal communiqués to Idella Bodie, teacher and writer.
Close inspection reveals a handwritten note from famed writer Ray Bradbury. It says, in a simple scrawl, “Idella Bodie and students – If you wish to become writers – write EVERY day of your life from now on.”
Mrs. Bodie shared this advice with her English students years ago. And with 20 books to her credit, Mrs. Bodie is still taking Mr. Bradbury’s advice today.
Idella Bodie was born on a farm in Ridge Spring, S.C., about 20 miles north of Aiken, and lived a simple, country life. Growing up the youngest of three children, family was key, and the gift of storytelling was a cornerstone of her upbringing. In a home without electricity for much of her childhood, stories were a rich and deep source of entertainment as well as a powerful bonding force for her family. Mrs. Bodie’s mother would read to the children, most often from Grimm’s Fairy Tales or the Bible. And she brought the words to life.
“She just had such a magical voice when she read to us,” she said.
From her mother’s tales grew an imagination that would serve as the impetus behind her writing success. No one to play with? Just invent a friend.
“I had so many imaginary friends I didn’t even like all of them,” she quipped.
When she was 16, Mrs. Bodie left for Mars Hill College in North Carolina. After two years, she transferred to South Carolina’s Columbia College, where she earned a degree in English. Next came a teaching career that spanned 35 years. She retired from South Aiken High School in 1985, and today she lives and writes in Aiken.
During her tenure as a teacher, she began to craft what would become her first novel, “The Secret of Telfair Inn,” published in 1971 by Sandlapper Press and reprinted for the fourth time last year. The mystery revolves around an old Aiken inn and provides both historically accurate information and a rich tale of intrigue.
The book’s engaging historical fiction captured the minds of young adventurers. Children were learning, but also enjoying the journey. Many of her subsequent novels would be mysteries or adventures as well, such as “The Mystery of the Pirate’s Treasure,” “Ghost in the Capitol,” and “Stranded!” All told, she has sold more than 100,000 books nationwide.
When asked about the immense popularity of her books with younger audiences, Mrs. Bodie modestly offers up one reason for their success: She includes one of three words in the title, either “mystery,” “secret” or “ghost.”
“That’s one of the keys. And when they get started, they find out there really is something they want to know, and they have to keep reading to find out,” she said.
Her unassuming explanation aside, most would offer up other reasons, including a strong writing style that speaks to young adults without condescension, a gripping story, and an easily flowing writing style. In fact, educators have solidly endorsed Mrs. Bodie’s works. Supplemental teachers’ guides have been developed for several of her works and are widely used throughout schools in South Carolina.
Mrs. Bodie’s latest project is a series of patriotic works entitled “Heroes and Heroines of the American Revolution.” She recalls being a young girl during World War II, when thousands of young American men volunteered to fight for their country.
“All the boys I knew – including my brother – signed up immediately to go fight the war,” she said. “It was almost a warm feeling of what they were doing for their country.”
Her desire is not only to teach children about some of the courageous figures of the era, but also to re-instill the sense of pride and patriotism that she knew growing up. To date, the series has highlighted the lives and accomplishments of such men and women as Thomas Sumter, Francis Marion and Emily Geiger. She is currently writing her next installment, a work on Andrew Pickens.
The books are geared for grades three through eight, providing Mrs. Bodie with a challenge when crafting the story. The topic, after all, is war. And war is not pleasant.
“There’s no way to make these easy, just by the nature of what they’re about,” she said.
Mrs. Bodie said the future is filled with writing possibilities. One certainty is that each of her future endeavors will be crafted with young readers in mind, and with a singular purpose.
“My goal in writing is to help young people enjoy reading as much as I did when I was growing up,” she said. “That’s why I write.”