Kids ask me, "How old are you?" I don't mind. I'm sure those kids often get
asked the same question. I was born the day the World War II ended. If you don't
know when that was, you could ask a relative or teacher. Then you can figure
out my age. But remember, I get older every day! Here I am at a writers' group meeting. (If you like this picture, and if you've read Mrs. Toggle's Class Picture Day, you'll love
my bad hair picture, taken by my husband when I first woke up.)
I grew up in upstate New York. During my early childhood, I lived in the country, next to a farm. Cows grazed in the pasture behind our house. Across the road lived my best friend, Joan, in what used to be a one-room schoolhouse. Joan and I liked to play Betty Crocker, mixing up mud pies and cookies and cakes in her huge sandbox. I had to be Crocker, because I was younger. Joan always got to be Betty.
Here I am at age 4 with my dad, baby brother Paul, and older brother, David:
My big brother, David, and I slept in bunk beds. Ours was a small house, so the bunk beds were in the dining room. As the day grew dark outside, my mother would sit by the lower bed and read to us. How I loved the sound of her voice and the stories she read! There weren't so many picture books in those days, but I remember fondly, Ferdinand the Bull, Make Way for Ducklings! and Millions of Cats. Mostly my mother read from the worn and frayed chapter books that she and my father had cherished as children. My favorites were The Adventures of Poor Mrs. Quack, about a mother duck, and several books about Twinkly Eyes, a brown bear. (See more of my memories about this on Tedd Arnold's web site) I have loved animals and nature all my life, and probably The Adventures of Poor Mrs. Quack and Twinkly Eyes are part of the reason.
Learning to read was exciting for me. I remember the day in first grade when I learned the word, something. I thought I was really something to be able to read such a long, important word!
When I was eight, we moved to the village of Phelps, NY. By then I had three brothers, David, Paul, and Scott, and a sister, Claire. In town, I became a roller-skating maniac. On skates that fastened to my shoes and tightened with a key, I explored the sidewalks. Where there were no sidewalks, I rode my bike, especially up and down the biggest hill in town, Tiger Hill. Yup, that's what inspired the monster hill in Axle Annie. I loved to organize "shows"--talent shows, art shows, doll shows, circuses--with the neighborhood kids. My family had two English bulldogs, Chunky Cherub and Calibanne. Some of my friends thought those dogs were ugly, but to me they were beautiful. Except when they fought over scraps under the dinner table. What a rumble!
My Aunt Eleanor gave me a new book every birthday and Christmas. Charlotte's Web, Pippi Longstocking, The Borrowers, Anne of Green Gables became my favorites, and as an adult I enjoyed reading the same books with my own children, Nina and David. A few years ago, at Halloween, my husband and I visited Nina, then a student at Oberlin College. We watched Nina and her friends create costumes for a party. They were the characters from Charlotte's Web! In the photo, Nina is Fern, and now she's married to Seth, the handsome guy in the straw hat.
One day in third grade, my teacher sent me to a corner in the back of the room. She didn't send me there for punishment. She gave me the whole day off from regular lessons to write a story. I had a great time, and I read "The Flowers that Talked" to the whole class at the end of the day. When I grew up, I remembered that day and knew I wanted to do some kind of work that used writing.
I met my husband, Don, when were were both in high school, and we sat across from each other in algebra class. To the left is Don with our labradoodle, Sadie, born April 17, 2004. We live in Pittsford, NY, now, but we have also lived in Oregon, Idaho, Zambia (East Africa) and Ohio. Along the way I wrote stories and articles for newspapers and magazines. I also worked in a library and in potato cellars (in Idaho), weighed babies for a traveling medical clinic in Zambia, went on a walking safari in Zambia's Luangwa Valley, and wrote the in-house magazine for an insurance company in Portland, Oregon.
My first writing for children was about nature. I wrote about pileated woodpeckers and cynthia moths and cecropia caterpillars and monarch butterflies and bagworms and honeybees for magazines such as Highlights for Children, Ranger Rick, and Cricket. Then, when I had children of my own, reading with them brought back wonderful memories of my mother reading to me. Books are powerful! Sharing books with my children gave us a closeness that I hope will last forever. One day, Nina's coat zipper got badly stuck at school. That inspired my first picture book, Mrs. Toggle's Zipper. Way To Go, Alex! was inspired by my son David's experiences in Special Olympics.
Besides reading and writing, I enjoy bird-watching, hiking, cross-country skiing, and playing frisbee with Sadie. I love to swim too, in pool or lake or ocean. And guess what? When I'm doing any of those things (or even washing dishes), I can think about stories in my head!