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
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
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.