As Hannah Hoffmeister sat down to talk with Vox at Uprise Bakery, she gushed over her recent spring break trip. “I did a lot of nothing over spring break for the first time. And it was kind of nice. I actually think I learned how to relax,” Hoffmeister said, laughing.
It’s easy to understand why the St. Louis native is new to the idea of relaxation. In addition to being a full-time student and playing sports, Hoffmeister published a five-book children’s fantasy series, titled the Dream Ring Series, before her senior year of high school.
“I sacrificed a lot of free time for it, but to me it’s always been worth it,” Hoffmeister says.
Although many people would find writing five books in a year and a half stressful (and maybe even downright unimaginable), reading and writing have always been passions of Hoffmeister’s. When she wasn’t reading books by Andrew Clements or Laura Ingalls Wilder, she was daydreaming of owning a bookstore with her grandfather, Richard Baldwin. He is an author and the owner of Buttonwood Press, based outside of Haslett, Michigan.
“When I was really little, we came up with this idea to have a bookstore together,” Hoffmeister says. “We made up all of this stuff -- it was like this fun little dream. It was going to be called Baldhoff’s because his last name is Baldwin and mine’s Hoffmeister.”
Baldwin has been supportive of Hoffmeister's work since the beginning. “We have a bond, a shared passion for communicating through the written word,” he says.
As Hoffmeister grew older, she became more serious about writing and wanted to transform her imagination into reality. When she was 13, Baldwin helped her publish the first novel in the Dream Ring Series, which is about a witch in training who attends school on Neptune. The idea originated from a game she and her friends played in fourth grade.
Hoffmeister says many of the details in the series reflect aspects of her own life. For example, just as the mother of the main character, Ava, is a major character in the series, Hoffmeister’s mother has been an instrumental force in publishing her stories.
Amanda Hoffmeister says she provided her daughter with basic edits throughout her series and was always one of the first people to read her daughter’s work. From the beginning, she could tell her daughter had substantial potential as a writer.
“It was clear that she had full creative autonomy,” Amanda Hoffmeister says. She helped to edit an early story her daughter wrote, which was set in the woods many generations ago. “The young main character used a cell phone, and I suggested that the cell phone didn’t fit into the time frame of the setting. The young author declared, ‘I’m the author.’ However, for the Dream Ring Series, she was more willing to accept challenges to her storyline,” Amanda Hoffmeister says.
In addition to including a strong mother in the series, Hoffmeister also named a character, Nurse Norah, after her own sister. Her sister has read all the books in the series, citing the third book, Victoria, as her favorite. “My friends have read a lot of my sister’s books, and it makes me feel good that other people like the books as much as I do,” Norah Hoffmeister says.
The fantasy series has been a hit for fourth graders and older children, and Hoffmeister has visited a slew of schools in the St. Louis area, as well as Russell Boulevard Elementary School here in Columbia.
Although Hoffmeister looks back fondly on her visits to local schools, promoting her books wasn’t always easy for her. In fact, she was initially incredibly hesitant to speak at schools. However, her grandfather told her that her books could only be published if she visited schools and talked to the younger students. Baldwin says he thought the young students needed a successful, relatable role model to inspire them to work hard to accomplish their own dreams.
Becky Custard, the K-5 elementary librarian at Valley Park Elementary School in St. Louis, says Hoffmeister’s books were flying off the shelves after Hoffmeister spoke. “Many of the kids were really excited, especially the ones that had read the books,” Custard says via email. “It was fun to watch so many mouths drop when she told them how old she was when she finished the series! Several students went back to their classrooms and started creating characters.”
Despite the fact that Hoffmeister is essentially a celebrity to these young readers, she doesn’t let it get to her head.
“When I go and speak to schools, I really want to stress the idea that I’m not special because I am able to do this. I really believe if anyone sat down and decided they wanted to write a book, I really think anyone could do it. I don’t think it’s special because of that. I think what’s special is the amount of work I put into it,” Hoffmeister says.
So, what lies in Hoffmeister’s future? In addition to starting her sophomore year as a journalism major next year at MU, she has a goal of developing a new story ― and maybe even getting more sleep along the way.