Moving around was
sometimes lonely. All my aunts and uncles and cousins didn’t
move with us, of course, and with each move, I got a little
shyer. But we stayed put in Minnesota, and I graduated from
high school and college there. I also learned how to ski (very
badly) and canoe.
After college, I joined
VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). I wanted to be part
of the civil rights movement. I played only a miniscule part
in the fight for civil rights, but I learned some enormous
lessons about justice vs injustice, wealth vs poverty, and real
truth vs political “truth,” and I made some lifelong friends.
In 1970 I headed for New
York City. I wanted to write, even illustrate, children’s
books, and I figured New York was the best place to do that
since it was home to most of the big publishers. I duly
schlepped my “portfolio” around town, but no publishers jumped
at the chance to publish my first book, IF I WERE A CIRCLE. (No
one has wanted to publish it since, either.) But one publisher
was interested in hiring me as an editorial assistant. I went
to work for The Viking Press, which was then a small, privately
owned publisher on Madison Avenue. Very classy address—I was
impressed! And what an incredible list of authors and
illustrators—Robert McCloskey, Don Freeman, Betsy Byers, William
Pêne du Bois, Munro Leaf, Ludwig Bemelmans, Astrid Lindgren,
Marjorie Flack, on and on and on.
In those days, one of
the main jobs of an editorial assistant was to read the “slush
pile”—the pile of manuscripts sent in by unpublished writers who
hoped to be published. I must have read thousands of
slush pile manuscripts, and though every now and again there was
a gem, most of them were absolutely dreadful. But I learned an
invaluable lesson from them, one I would have taken years to
learn on my own: I learned what NOT to do in my own manuscripts.
My next job was as
Assistant Editor at The Dial Press Books for Young Readers,
where I stayed for seven years, working my way up the editorial
staircase—Associate Editor, Editor, Senior Editor. It was at
Dial that I put what I’d learned from the slush pile to use and
wrote my first (published) book, Izzie.
Since then I've written more than 35 children's books. I took some time off from writing while I was Editor-in-Chief of Carolrhoda Books and later of Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, but now that I'm no longer so busy editing, I'm writing more than ever. These days inspiration has been coming from the backyard garden (which has plenty of slugs and bugs), and from behind the garden, acres and acres of woods (through which an old logging road leads me to magical places).