I love books! This love affair began when I was small. My grandmother who raised me would read to me every day: fairy tales, comic books, and wonderful picture books like Caps for Sale and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. I soon discovered that books were the world’s best teachers and entertainers. So, naturally, I grew up wanting to spend my life working with books.
When it came time to pick a profession, I decided to study law (which doesn’t involve the kind of books I like). I was well into my university course work to prepare me for law school when something happened that changed my plans. At the time, I was working for an automobile dealer in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the service manager asked me to deliver a car to a customer at a nearby elementary school. The second I walked through the school doors, I was flooded with the strangest feelings. I remembered my favorite books and my magical childhood years. The next day I changed my major to education. Since then, I’ve completed several degrees, all of them relating to reading, children’s literature, and teaching.
As with many avid readers, I harbored, since childhood, the wish to create my own stories. I wrote off and on when I was young, and then tried my first novel during my middle twenties (it was rejected by twenty or thirty publishers). Then for a number of years, instead of creating stories I channeled my writing efforts into professional educational books and journal articles. All the while, my desire to write books for young readers stayed strong. In the early 1990s, I found my way back to writing stories. My first effort was the manuscript for the picture book Chinook!, which was accepted on my third submission attempt by Tambourine Books (William Morrow).
Because I teach children’s literature courses at a university, people sometimes ask if my teaching helps me to be a better writer. After all, I teach my students about children’s books, what makes some books “better” than others, and I have, as a part of my professional endeavors, critiqued books for review journals. Therefore, I should know what makes for good writing and what doesn’t. However, when I began writing my own books I discovered critiquing someone else’s work is an entirely different process than creating your own stories. Perhaps I was simply too close to my own work, which made applying what I thought I knew about quality literature difficult. In any case, I had a lot to learn (and the learning has just begun!) about the creative process. I guess writers are born perhaps more than they are made. (I feel the same way about teachers.) So, part of the challenge has been to find and cultivate any spark of literary creativity with which I might have been blessed.
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