Picture Books and Readers
Pirates Go To School
Orchard Books, 2000
I've been writing ever since I was little. My first book was a tale about a prince, a king and an "evil lady," written in a black composition book when I was six. It had lots of chapters (some of them only a sentence long), crayon illustrations, and terrible spelling. I started writing books for children when I became a parent.
My first published book, That Dog Melly was co-authored with my son, Austin. I had him re-tell me the story in his own words so that the narrator would sound like a real kid. The illustrations are photographs I took of Austin and our standard poodle, Melly.Since the story is about a dog who runs away, and Melly was a dog who really did run away, it was a trick to get pictures of her. All my books afterwards have been illustrated by other artists, including Ted Lewin, Nancy Poydar, Michael Garland and Kathryn Brown.
Source of Ideas
Some ideas for my stories come from my own childhood. Some come from my children and their friends, or from kids I meet when I visit schools. Electra and the Charlotte Russe is based on a story my mother told me when I was a little girl about her own childhood. If Ever I Return Again was inspired by letters written by a real girl who lived a century ago.
I grew up in New York City and always wanted to have a dog, but they weren't allowed in my apartment house. (I had a pet salamander named Eggbert and a parakeet named Albert Einstein.)
Now I live with my family in the woods in Western Massachusetts. I have a dog, and two miniature donkeys.
Work (and Play)
I teach at Mount Holyoke College. I write first thing every morning--sometimes I even eat my breakfast at my desk. On days that I'm not teaching, I write all day. For a break I go for a walk with the dog or the donkey (they both have red raincoats for rainy days) or I dig in the garden. In the winter there's cross country skiing out behind my house. I love snow! (As you can tell if you read my book Snow Day.)
Mount Holyoke College professors wear academic robes on special occasions, like Commencement. Here I am with author Judy Blume, our wonderful Commencement speaker on May 25, 2003. I am wearing my doctoral hood (over my shoulders) and gown (blue, for Columbia University, where I got my Ph.D.)
Click on the picture for more from this event.
Because writing can be lonely, I like to get together with other writers in the area. Here I am with an informal group of writing friends. We called ourselves The Baystate Writers Group, and used to meet at the Baystate Hotel in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Standing (left to right): Alexander Eliot, John
Bowman, Jay Neugeboren, Jane Yolen, Richard Michelson, Zane Kotker
Kneeling: Me, Robert Abel
At my children's book writing group meetings we read our
work-in-progress to each other and offer each other suggestions and support.
I spend summers on Cape Cod, and several of my books are set there. Hurricane is a story based on what happened when Hurricane Bob hit the Cape. The Disappearing Island is set on a real island (that really disappears!) off the coast of Wellfleet. If Ever I Return Again is a novel about a girl who comes from Eastham and goes on a long whaling voyage in 1856. The Boy who was Generous with Salt tells about a kid from Wellfleet who goes to sea as a ship's cook on a fishing schooner.
To find out more about me, check out "Behind the Scenes" for each of my books. For lots more, read my memoir, Eleven Stories High, Growing Up in Stuyvesant Town, 1948-1968. It has illustrations from my family's old photo album. Also, check out the interviews at In The News.