I was born and grew up on a crop and dairy farm in mid-Michigan. Some of my favorite things as a child were playing with the farm cats, swinging beneath the maple tree, playing with my brothers in the haymow, sitting on the back porch at night with my family talking and listening to the crickets—and reading.
My mom says that I was always curled up reading a book. That’s probably why I majored in English at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI. At some point, I also fell in love with Spanish, spent a summer in Spain, and graduated with a double major, with plans to teach.
But soon after I married, I saw an ad for a home-study course in children’s writing, enrolled, started writing, and was hooked. Becoming a published children’s author became my dream. Reading books to our kids became #1 on my list of favorite things to do. I had some success as a freelance writer, selling articles to magazines like Ranger Rick and Jack and Jill.
But I wanted to make a living as a writer, which took me on the following path:
Got another degree in journalism and moved to Wichita, Kansas, to be a reporter on a daily newspaper for three years (I loved writing feature stories, but hard news not so much).
Moved to Wisconsin to help start the national magazine, Country Kids–but the circulation didn’t grow fast enough and the job lasted less than two years.
Worked for twelve years creating coloring and activity books (Little Mermaid, Mickey Mouse, Sesame Street, Poky Little Puppy, and scores of others) for Golden Books in Racine, WI–a great job with wonderful coworkers!
In 1997, when Golden Books moved all of its operations to New York City and I lost my job, I returned to my original dream of being a children’s author.
I got my start on my dream by writing books for the Creative Company in Mankato, Minnesota. I visited the company for an informational interview before I decided to strike out on my own. Then when I made my decision, the company gave me the opportunity to write a series of insect books, and a children’s book author was born.
Now, I’ve had almost fifty books published and written many more. These days, I write mostly picture books. I find that the many years I spent thinking in pictures creating coloring books comes in very handy now in writing picture books.
Many of my books are on animals and nature, a love since childhood. My dad was what I call a “farmer’s farmer.” He loved animals and the land, and that love rubbed off on me. I also spent countless hours with my mother in our large garden—a pursuit I still love!
I also write about little-known people who have done amazing things, such as my recent books, Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School and The Clothesline Code: The Story of Civil War Spies Lucy Ann and Dabney Walker.
I write in a home office in South Milwaukee, WI, where I live with my husband Tom, an artist and retired teacher. We have four grown children, seven grandchildren, two grandcats, and a granddog.
When I’m not writing I enjoy spending time with my family; working in my garden; exploring nature; visiting new places, especially wildlife areas and living-history museums; and watching movies.
SOME INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT ME
Favorite color: Blue
Favorite song: Moonshadows
Favorite children’s book: Kitten’s First Full Moon
Favorite story as a child: Rumpelstiltskin
Favorite foods: Sweet cherries, potatoes, corn on the cob
QUESTIONS KIDS AND ADULTS OFTEN ASK ME
Where do you get your ideas?
I get my ideas from many places–from living my life and being curious about everything that happens around me, from my children and grandchildren, from remembering my children’s and my own childhoods, from observing nature, taking trips, doing new things, reading. Often I get an idea from something interesting I learn while researching another book.
When I’m stuck on where a story should go, I often find the answer if I take a walk, hang the laundry on the line outdoors, lie down to rest, or gaze at the big maple tree outside my home office window.
How long does it take to write a book?
It varies a lot, from a few weeks to more than a year, depending on the research needed and the rewriting involved.
Even for a fiction picture book, I often have a pile of research books several feet high, in addition to research I do on the internet. And often story ideas bounce around in my heard for a long time before I start to write them down.
How do you find your illustrators?
Almost always, the publisher chooses the illustrator. Publishers work with a group of illustrators and pick who they think will be best for the book. Often, the writer and illustrator don’t even meet—I haven't met the illustrators of any of my books. That way, the illustrator is free to do his/her creative thing, just as the author was free to do her thing.
TIPS FOR ASPIRING CHILDREN’S WRITERS
1. Read, read, read, especially the kind of books you like to write.
2. Write, write, write what you like to write, and revise, revise, revise until every word sings.
3. Study the market to make sure you send your manuscript to a publisher that publishes your kind of book.
4. Once you send out a manuscript, forget about it and move on to a new project.
5. Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and its local chapter, and attend writing workshops and other events.
6. Read books, blogs, etc. about writing by other writers.
TIPS FOR CREATING READERS
1. Read to your child from the time he/she is very young, and make it an enjoyable time. Make reading a daily routine, such as at bedtime. Reading is a wonderful way to bond with a child and creates memories that last a lifetime.
2. Have lots of books, magazines, newspapers, and other reading material available. Have a special place for the child to keep his/her own books.
3. Go to the library often and let your child pick out the books he/she wants. Also help your child find books related to his/her interests or activities, and books of an appropriate reading level.
4. Attend story times at the library and other places.
5. Include your child in your everyday reading—recipes while you’re cooking, road signs, etc.
6. Take books along when you travel and for whenever you have to wait.
7. Read yourself. Kids will do what you do.
8. Have paper, pencils, and crayons on hand to give your child opportunities to write and draw.
9. Talk to your child and listen to what he/she has to say.
10. And above all, always make reading enjoyable. Never use reading as a punishment.