Children dressing up

For kids

When I visit classrooms, here are some of the questions kids ask me.

Do you have a limousine?

A limo! No, I don't have a limo. I drive a car with library books, candy wrappers, ice skates, mittens, parking tickets and doughnuts tossed in the back seat. I'm too messy to have a limo.

How many books have you published?

I have had nineteen children's books published. (See my books page for the complete list and descriptions.) Two more will be published by 2010 -- a picture book about my cat and a book of volcano poems.

How many books have you written?

I've written lots and lots of children's book manuscripts. Most of them sit unpublished in my files at home. Believe it or not, this doesn't worry me. I consider all the writing I do to be practice for the next writing I do. Even if I have worked really hard on a manuscript and it's never published, I don't consider it wasted time.

When did you start writing?

I started writing as a kid. I still have a story that I wrote in the third grade. Here is how it starts: "Once off in a fairy land, there was a small village of fairies. In this village lived the smallest of the fairies. Her name was Mara. Another fairy told her that if she would wish one wish, it would come true. Of course, she wished that she would not be the smallest fairy in the village." I wrote it on graph paper, which we always had around the house because my dad was an engineer.

I also wrote a lot of poetry as a teenager. When people realized I liked to write, they asked me to write their newsletters for them. I got pretty sick of that! Then I majored in journalism in college and became a newspaper reporter for a few years. I didn't start writing for children until I started reading hundreds of children's books to my daughters. I was about 30 years old.

Why did you start writing?

I found out gradually that writing was one of the most satisfying ways I had of expressing myself. I also remember telling my parents that writing was the only thing I did that really forced me to think. I LIKE to think because when I do, I discover something new about myself and the world! I especially like to write for children because I like to tell them about the things I've discovered about the world. I also like to make them smile.

Is it hard to write books?

Definitely! I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. The hardest part is trying to find out exactly what I want to say and the best way to say it.

How long does it take to write a book?

The longest time it took me to write a book was about 13 years. That was OUR FAMILY TREE: AN EVOLUTION STORY, a picture book that's only 650 words long. The shortest amount of time I spent on a children's book manuscript before selling it was about three hours.

Which book is your favorite?

I don't have a favorite book, but I have favorite parts in each of my books. For example, even though WATER'S WAY is a book about the water cycle, I used the word "water" only at the beginning and at the end. In between, I used lots of other splashy, "watery" words. I was proud of that. In GOOD MORNING, RIVER, the main character was very much like me, so of course, I liked that!

Where do you get your ideas from?

I used to get my ideas from two crazy kids, my daughters, Emily and Anna, who are grown up now. I also get my ideas from my pets (WHEN THE FLY FLEW IN, FRANKIE WORKS THE NIGHT SHIFT), from my interest in the natural sciences (THE SUN, THE WIND AND THE RAIN and OUR FAMILY TREE) from my childhood (OCTOBER SMILED BACK, THE HAYLOFT), and from my observations (COLD LITTLE DUCK, DUCK, DUCK). Sometimes it seems like my ideas come from the air, they just pop into my head.

Do you get to pick your own illustrator?

No, the editor always picks the illustrator. Sometimes an editor will talk to me about the choice of an illustrator.

What's the best part about being a writer?

The best part about being a writer is that our society still values people like me who take the time to reflect about life and share their thoughts with the world. Another good thing is that I get to read a lot of good books, and this counts as work!

What's the worst part about being a writer?

Two things are very hard -- having a story rejected by an editor, and watching a book go out of print.

Do you write by hand or on a computer?

Both. I often write first drafts on paper (my handwriting is terrible and nobody else can read it—that's my handwriting on the background of this website) and then I shift to the computer for rewrites.

Are you working on a book right now?

I'm always working on a manuscript, sometimes several at a time. My husband, Dave, will tell you that I'm more fun to live with when I'm working on a writing project. That's when a writer is the happiest.

How rough can a rough draft be?