My first serious writing began when I was eight. I wrote letters to my grandfather in Indiana, telling him what was happening at our house. It seemed to me that he missed his son — my dad — very much, and he would be interested in hearing about him. Our home in California was three thousand miles away. My aunt told me that my letters helped him live a little longer, which made me feel really good about writing.
When I visit classrooms and talk to students about writing, I always bring my bag of rejections (or No Thank You's as I tell primary children). I also bring my box of flops, the stories no one wanted. But I tell the students how I still save them and how some ideas can be reworked — even my third grade poem! The children know that the first book I got published was not the first story I wrote.
My first book, Shhhh!, was written in one night. That's unusual for me. But this is how it happened: I was in class that day working with my second grade students on a Beverly Cleary mural. It was almost as long as the gym but we were painting it in my room. It was lots of fun. The children were thinking of favorite scenes to paint, and they were just bubbling with noise. So I walked around trying to show interest and 'shhhh'ed' them down. That night at dinner when my husband asked me to pass the salt, I looked at him and said, 'Shhhh!' He gave me a blank look, and so did my daughters. I realized I had so many shhh's in my head they were erupting out of control, so I immediately went to my typewriter and put them in a story!
The sequel, Don't Touch!, took several months to write. I just knew I wanted to deal with that topic too. With Ooops! the trilogy of expressions is complete. I think I said 'Shhhh!', 'Don't Touch!,' and 'Ooops!' more than any other phrases while my kids were toddlers, and I said them in the classroom daily.