Frequently Asked Questions
Where do you live?
I was born in Minneapolis, but spent my childhood in St. Paul, Minnesota. For a while, I lived in Seattle, but I missed the oak trees and other Midwestern things, so my family and I moved back to Minnesota. Now I live in Minneapolis with my husband, and even though we can’t see the Mississippi River from our windows, this famous river is just a few blocks from us. I also spend quite a bit of time at my cabin in northwestern Wisconsin.
How many books have you published?
I have had nineteen children's books and one book for adults published. I’m expecting the publication of two more children’s books. See my books page for a complete list.
How many books have you written?
I've written dozens 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 Most of them sit unpublished in my files at home.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 thirty 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 thirteen 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. In VOLCANO WAKES UP, I chose the moon as one of the voices in the poems because I had fond memories watching lava flow on Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano under the full moon.
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).
Do you get to pick your own illustrator?
No, the publisher 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?
Two things: the solitary act of writing and the fact that society still values people like me who take the time to reflect about life and share their thoughts with the world.
What's the hardest part about being a writer?
Two things: waiting for editors to decide whether they want to publish a story and watching a beloved book go out of print.
Do you write by hand or on a computer?
I often take notes by hand, but when it’s time to work on a manuscript, I cozy up with a laptop.
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 story. That's when a writer is the happiest.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Sometimes I would like to just plop down and spend an entire afternoon staring at the sky, but most often I do other things. I have a garden of native plants at my cabin in northwestern Wisconsin and I spend hours and hours talking to the flowers and grasses. I also love to hang out with my three young granddaughters who live in St. Paul. In the summers, I like to hike and swim; in the winters, I snowshoe, ski, and skate. And of course I read, read, read.
For any questions or inquiries, you can contact me here.