I grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio where my parents encouraged my creativity from a young age. I thought I wanted to be an artist, although I remember writing my first picture book in elementary school. I was a very slow reader so I wasn't always reading books, but my favorite authors included Carson McCullers, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the poet Emily Dickinson. I also had an influential teacher who taught Alice through the Looking Glass in math class.
I majored in painting in college in Northern California. After graduation, I kept painting while working at educational publishers, but as soon as I had my first two sons, who were very mischievous, I couldn't find a time or place to set up my oil paints. Since being creative was my way of staying sane, I stuck a pencil behind my ear and began to write instead.
My breakthrough came with Fresh Fall Leaves, which ended up in a Scholastic book club. Then came Mathematickles! (rhymes with pickles) made up of math poems in which words take the place of numbers in math problems (“rocks x waves = sand”) and Counting Our Way to the 100th Day. My forthcoming books include The Bees Must Know Geometry and Bird Songs, a backwards counting book. One of my goals is to make math creative, sassy, and beautiful, which is how I see it.
But in the middle of all this, I read Reviving Ophelia about adolescent girls and decided that it was time to hear first hand from teenagers. I started soliciting manuscripts from girls across the country asking them to write poetry, essays and stories about the issues that were important to them. Manuscripts came pouring in. I found a publisher, Candlewick Press, who in turn found a photographer, Nina Nickles. I also solicited manuscripts from teenage boys. Since my three sons, James, Tom, and Davy, didn't fit the stereotypes, I figured other teenage boys didn't either. People warned me I'd never get any submissions from boys and that the girls' poetry would be angst-ridden. They couldn't have been more wrong.
The power and the honesty of the submissions were palpable. I hired teen consultants to help me choose which submissions to use. And I felt more balanced, helping younger writers get published while writing my own books, which total sixty or more — poetry, picture books, anthologies, fun educational books, and nonfiction.
A few years later, Annette Ochoa, Traci Gourdine, and I compiled Night Is Gone, Day Is Still Coming to give visibility to American Indian teenagers and young adults.
Currently, one of my goals is to encourage young artists of all kinds. I know firsthand that it is possible to be an artist if you're as creative about how to make the living as doing the art itself. So far two of my sons have gone into the arts, as an actor and a sculptor. Every generation has its own set of artists. If you want to be one, go for it!