FAQs

When I visit kids in classrooms, I always leave time for a discussion. Here are some questions that come up again and again.

What did you read when you were a kid?

I mostly read fiction, but I read a lot of it - from Nancy Drew to every single Oz book, from the classics to what people often call "junky" books. My favorites included everything from Bartholomew and the Oobleck by Dr. Seuss to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. My parents always left the hall light on so my brother and I could find our way to the bathroom (and not be scared at night). It threw a chunk of light into my room, perfect for sneak-reading.

Did you know you wanted to be a writer when you were a kid?

No. In fact, I wasn't a very good writer back then. But I was a good student so I got good grades. Then, when I was in twelfth grade, I got a D- on an English paper. I was astonished. Nothing like that had ever happened to me. I went to talk to the teacher.

"It's a bad paper," she said. "It doesn't say anything and it's disorganized. If you want, I will teach you what to do. You can rewrite it as many times as you need to get an A."

I am forever grateful to that teacher. She taught me that writing involves two major steps. First, figure out what you want to say. Then, find the right words to say it.

So why did you become a writer?

Truthfully, I hated my job as a social worker. I just fell into writing. It was only years later that I realized it was a good match.

Which of your books is your favorite?

This is a tough question because I like different ones for different reasons. I like Unseen Rainbows, Silent Songs because it was my first. Ultimate Field Trip 1 because it took me to the Amazon.  Skyscraper lifted me above New York City; The Truth About Poop and Gee Whiz made lots of people laugh.  On This Spot?  I'm proud of that one, pure and simple.

What was your favorite animal when you were in the Amazon?

There were so many great animals there, but I did get attached to a baby capybara - in more ways than one. I was sitting on a bench with my hand hanging down at my side. Meanwhile, this hungry capybara was looking for his mom. He saw my fingers, got confused, and latched on...

Once I calmed down - and, got my hand back - I started to like him.

Why don't you illustrate your own books?

If you ever saw one of my drawings, you wouldn't have to ask.

Is Michael Doolittle (the photographer I often work with) related to Dr. Dolittle?

Mike has a few doctors in his family but none of them is that famous doctor who is the main character of several novels. I have caught Mike muttering to some of the animals he is trying to photograph but they rarely seem to listen, let alone respond.

To answer another frequently asked question, Mike and I are not married - to each other, at least. We just work together a lot. We also work on separate projects as well.

Why aren't you in your Ultimate Field Trip books?

Full pictures of me do not appear in the books because I'm not really a part of the story. But, who says I'm not in there! I usually get into the books one way or another. Here, for example, is my ear modeling a Shuttle earring from Ultimate Field Trip 5: Blasting Off to Space Academy.

Do you take your own kids on the Ultimate Field Trips?

My stepson Matthew has a job of his own so he's too busy. And, I have never taken my younger son Jake. When I'm on one of those trips I am taking notes, working with Mike the photographer to get pictures, asking the kids questions, and trying to plan ahead. It is a full-time job; it would be hard to be a mom too.

I have been able to take my kids along on trips to research articles, though. Matthew and I swam with the dolphins in Florida. And Jake came with me, when I wrote an article about Hersheypark.

What's the best part of being a writer?

The answer really depends upon the day. Sometimes it's feeling proud about the way I managed to express something. Sometimes, it's having kids tell me they've read a book and liked it. Other times, it's that I'm my own boss and I can work in my pajamas.

Do you have any advice for kids who want to become writers?

Sure. Read a lot - then read some more.

Think a lot - then think some more. While you're thinking, find something you are really interested in. It could be how scared you felt when your grandmother died. Or maybe what it would be like to be a character with real thoughts and feelings trapped inside a video game. When your subject is important to you, it shows in your writing.

And imagine a lot - then, imagine some more. Use all your senses to describe your subject. What does the situation look like? Sound like? Smell like? Even, taste like? If you include all these things, your writing will come alive.