Teacher, Writer, Reviewer, Presenter, Consultant, Children’s Book Specialist
Like many people, I grew up in a less-than-perfect family. My mother excelled at reading aloud and when she put me on her lap and shared stories, books became a place of security, sanity, and closeness. My father died when I was two, and one of the few things he left behind was a bound book of his writings. Soon after receiving it, I wrote and illustrated my first book, Pete the Puppy. (Later it got tossed by a janitor when I left it behind at a presentation. To him, it looked just like, well, a book by an eight year old.) Not till I was grown did I remember my childhood vow to live out the writing passion he didn’t have a chance to fulfill.
My mother’s reading aloud made sense when I studied for my Master’s Degree with Dr. Marguerite Bougere at Tulane University. She talked much about the “Lap Method” of teaching reading. “You put a child on your lap and read aloud,” she said, “and the child will want to read and grow up to love reading.” This explained my passion for reading and for the excitement I remembered as I saw the same emotion in the children I was teaching.
Reading aloud comforted me when I feared raising my own children. Books became my fallback, rescued me when I didn’t how to talk about certain subjects. How could I have shooed away monsters from my toddler son’s room without repeated readings of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, or explained menstruation to my daughter without Karen Gravelle’s The Period Book?
Books opened conversations I never could have imagined. William Steig’s Dr. DeSoto helped me explain risk-taking to my son. My daughter learned the importance of a writer’s style in fifth grade as we chuckled at an overlong sentence in A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh.
Best of all, daily stress faded away during nightly reading sessions. We almost fell out of bed laughing at Don Wood’s illustrations in The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear. We cried together over John Gardiner’s Stone Fox. Books let us escape into magical worlds like the ones in Brian Jacques’ Redwall series.
As my children grew, so did my passion for children’s books. I’ve always been creative about getting what I want and I wanted an unlimited supply of books. To this end, I started a business called Once Upon a Lap, carting crates of new books to people’s homes for children’s book parties. I soon discovered I loved presenting and watching people connect with books and each other much more than the selling part. Still determined to satisfy my book greed, I hit on reviewing. It was a way to reach a larger audience and benefit from the book reviewer’s greatest perk— free books! In the past thirty years I’ve written and interviewed for Baby Talk, BookPage, and Learning Magazine. I still love this work (and the free books that arrive daily) and currently write at least three columns a month.
Around the same time my children’s book greed began, I started writing children’s books myself and was spurred on by twice winning the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference Award for Best Juvenile Writer. The publication of my picture book, Extraordinary Chester, (Red Hen, 1988) took me into school auditoriums where I read aloud and pulled horns and a long tail from a big black bag, turning myself into my monstrous main character.
I found working in schools so nourishing, I looked for new ways to create book and writing communities. For thirty years, I have been sharing literary experiences on college campuses, leading writing residencies in elementary school classrooms, and presenting in libraries, bookstores and community centers. Whether I’m leading critique groups at home, or presenting my “Good Book, Bad Book” talk to aspiring children’s book writers, I welcome collaboration and inviting people of all ages to join me in the adventure of wondering about and delighting in books and writing.