Born in 1948 in the Rio Grande valley, Sherry Garland was one of nine children in a family of fifth-generation Texans. As a child, she enjoyed climbing trees and playing with animals, and she made up complicated stories in her head to entertain herself. Inspired by an enthusiastic high school English teacher, Garland entered and won a local writing contest, and she used her prize money to help pay for college. But though she wanted to be a writer, she lacked the confidence, and it would be some time before she would publish again. Garland earned a bachelor's degree in foreign languages and completed graduate courses in linguistics and English at the University of Texas at Arlington, then went on to work as a librarian and a secretary when she married and was raising her children.
Though Garland's first published books were romance novels for adults that she wrote under a pseudonym, her first book for young readers was much closer to her interests. A nonfiction work on Vietnam, it grew out of interests Garland developed while working with the Vietnamese immigrant community in Texas. Her knowledge of and interest in Vietnamese culture and the Vietnamese-American experience is something she has drawn on again and again in the novels and picture books she has written since: these include Song of the Buffalo Boy, Why Ducks Sleep on One Leg, and the Texas story My Father's Boat. Her interest in Texas history also led her to write Voices of the Alamo and the acclaimed Dear America book A Line in the Sand: The Alamo Diary of Lucinda Lawrence.