Barbara Kerley is the award-winning author of several picture books, including The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, a Caldecott Honor and an ALA Notable Book, and Walt Whitman: Words for America, a Sibert Honor Book. Her debut novel Greetings from Planet Earth is the story of how a class project on the space probe Voyager 2 prompts twelve-year-old Theo to investigate his family history in 1977. "In 2002, I happened to read an article about the 25th anniversary of the Voyager launch," Barbara explained. "Both probes carry a 'golden record' of sounds, pictures, and music, to introduce Earth to life forms in outer space. I started thinking about what to put on a record like that. It seemed like the perfect theme for a novel." In the book, as Theo's class grapples with the question of what it means to be human, Theo begins to explore the Vietnam War and what happened to his father. Writing the book was an opportunity for Barbara to delve into two significant events from her own childhood years: man's exploration of space and America's involvement in the Vietnam War.
After college, Barbara joined the Peace Corps and went to Nepal. She taught math and science, in halting Nepali. "I'd tell the class something" she says, "and then the smart kid who sat in front would repeat it in language the rest of the class could understand." She also met her future husband, Scott.
Back to the United States, she held jobs as a bartender and baker while going to graduate school. After she finished, Barbara and Scott took jobs in Guam. Barbara taught English and ESL at the university. She also had a baby. Barbara used Guam as inspiration for her critically acclaimed title, Songs From Papa's Island. Her experiences in the Peace Corps and on Guam led her to write A Cool Drink of Water, a global celebration of this precious resource. The book garnered many honors, including being named a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Children.
In 1996, Barbara Kerley's six-year-old daughter asked her how big was a T Rex. Barbara did not have a clue. They went to the library and checked out a book on dinosaurs. "We were just flipping pages," stated Barbara "when we saw this incredible picture. It was a drawing of a dinner party, with formal waiters, candlesticks on the table, and all these elegant gentlemen. But what made the pictures amazing is that the diners were sitting inside the model of a dinosaur." This was Barbara's introduction to B. Waterhouse Hawkins and his dinosaur models. His story hooked Barbara and she needed to learn more about him. The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, published in the fall of 2001, went on to become a Caldecott Honor Book, an ALA Notable Children's Book, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, along with receiving numerous other awards and accolades.
While Barbara has always loved the poetry of Walt Whitman, it was his Civil War experience that captured her attention. "I knew I wanted it to be the focus of this book on this remarkable man," she says. "Walt wasn't trained as a nurse, but he had a huge heart," Barbara explained. "He quickly saw that his cheerful visits helped some soldiers even more than medicine." For three years, Walt visited the hospitals in Washington, D.C. He wrote letters home for soldiers, fed those too weak to eat, kept quiet vigil so that young men would not have to die alone. "He considered the soldiers to be America's finest, and his time with them was “the greatest privilege and satisfaction' of his life," Barbara said. "Walt Whitman: Words for America is truly patriotic, showing how one man sacrificed greatly to help his country."
Barbara Kerley lives in McKinleyville, California with her husband, Scott and her daughter, Anna. For more information, please visit www.barbarakerley.com