Tell me a little about yourself:
I’m a former fourth grade teacher. I’ve always loved writing and drawing. While I was teaching, another teacher convinced me to send one of my stories to a publisher, and that became my first book, A Christmas Guest, which was published 30 (!) years ago. Even though I loved teaching, I decided to focus full time on writing and illustrating, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. I still visit many schools every year to talk to kids about books, writing, and drawing, so I guess I haven’t left teaching after all.
When you were my age, did you like to read?
I’ve always loved reading. I couldn’t wait to start school so that I could learn how to read. During the summer, I always loved taking part in our library’s summer reading program and keeping track of how many books I had read.
What was your favorite story?
When I was in early elementary school I loved any books by Dr. Seuss. I also loved Beverly Cleary’s books about Ramona, Beezus, and Henry. When I got to 5th grade, my favorite books were the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis and the “Magic” books, starting with Half Magic, by Edgar Eager.
How do you get your ideas?
That’s the question I get asked the most and I wish I had a good answer. I can get my ideas from anywhere. The idea for my book The Best Pet of All came from a writing contest where entrants were asked to write a children’s story in 500 words or less. The idea for my my book Moo! was that I wanted to see if I could write an entire story using only one word. I have lots of notebooks where I doodle and jot down ideas. I will look through these notebooks and get an idea for a story from something I jotted down months, or even years ago.
What author do you really like right now?
I admire the creativity in so many of Mac Barnett’s books, such as Extra Yarn and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole. And I think Andrew Clements does a great job of writing realistic fiction stories about elementary age kids, such as Frindle and The School Story.
Do you have any new or lesser known authors or illustrator you would suggest?
Both Rick Chrustowski and Mike Wohnoutka (who has illustrated several of my books) are wonderful authors and illustrators. John Coy writes both picture books, middle grade novels, and books for young adults.
There is a lot of talk about the need for multicultural books. What do you think about this?
Everybody should be able to see themselves represented in the books that they read. I also think it’s important, not to mention interesting, to read about people who are different than us. I think it’s great that there are more and more books with a diverse range of characters.
What advice do you have for a kid who wants to be an author/illustrator?
It may seem simple, but the two most important things that anyone who wants to be an author can do are read and write. Reading is a great way to learn the structure of stories, increase your vocabulary, and get ideas…and it’s also a lot of fun. And without practicing writing, you’ll never get better. I know a lot of adults who say they want to be an author, but they never write anything. I’d also encourage young people to not worry about getting published now, but just enjoy writing for its own sake; you can worry about getting published when you are older.
For young illustrators, my advice is similar: draw as much as you can. Also, look closely at illustrations by other people. You can learn a lot simply by noticing how other people draw.
As an illustrator/author, do you hear from your readers? What do you like about that?
One of the reasons I enjoy visiting schools so much is that it gives me the chance to meet kids who are reading my books. Most of my time is spent alone when I’m working on a book, so it’s wonderful to find out that people are actually reading my stories. When kids tell me they enjoy my books, it energizes me and makes me want to keep writing.
If you could portal into any of your works, which would you portal into?
If I could portal into any of my books, I would choose to visit Arlo’s ART-rageous Adventure, a book that I both wrote and illustrated. In the story, the pieces of artwork in the museum come to life in unexpected ways. I’d love to visit a museum where the people in the paintings talk to each other, the statues dance, and the animals leap out of their frames – although it might be a little frightening depending on what comes alive.
I wonder what book you would like to portal into, Bridget?