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. 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.)
Four-year-old Susie with Piglet
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.”
Reading aloud comforted me when I feared raising my own children. Books became my fallback, rescuing me when I didn’t know 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?
Books opened conversations I never would have imagined. 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. 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! Over forty years, I wrote and interviewed for and currently, I am posting reels on Instagram, Facebook, and BookTok several times a week through Geems Gems. I post about books I discover for children, 0 - young adults, and also post about the gem-like insights I get as I work on my memoirs.
Around the same time, my children’s book greed began, I started writing children’s books myself. 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, and I looked for new ways to create book and writing communities. For thirty years, I shared literary experiences on college campuses, led writing residencies in elementary school classrooms and presented in libraries, bookstores, and community centers. Today I lead classes and critique groups where I welcome people of all ages to join me in the adventure of wondering about and delighting in books and writing.