“What do you do?” is a hard question to answer. I do so many things! I’m a children’s author and a poet. But I’m also a college lecturer, a teacher, a mother, a grandmother, a retired librarian, an educator, a Kentuckian and a Michigander, as well as someone who is intoxicated by color and 3-d doodling. (I make quilts, do mosaics, and glue together strange things I find, when I’m not writing or working on our farm.)
Storytelling was in my family’s blood long before I was born. I was born in Kentucky. And it was fortunate for me that I happened to be born in the mountains where telling “whoppers” and listening to tall tales long into the night is part of the Appalachian heritage. In those dark and scrawny hollers (narrow valleys) I’d cling to my father’s tall legs and stare wide-eyed as I listened to the hair-raising tales my relatives told. We are all big talkers in our family. “Yeaaah, buddy!” (This phrase is Kentuckian for “That’s the truth!” To say it right, ya gotta drag out that “a” in the first word.) So don’t ya doubt it, Kentucky has rightfully claimed a huge hunk of my heart.
Ours was an oral tradition, not bookish. Books were scarce in our home, and therefore highly prized. The tiny library in the elementary school by our house became a second home. That was after my father moved to Michigan to work in the auto factories. Therefore, Michigan gets to lay claim to a piece of my heart as well—for it was there that I went to school, learned to read, played “school” and “library” and then grew up to become a teacher and then a librarian.
To be a little more specific for you:
As a teacher: I taught high school English in Michigan and creative writing at the community college level. (I still do workshops for writers around the country.) While at the community college, I was also an assistant editor for a nationally distributed literary arts journal.
As a librarian: I spent my first two years as a librarian being a library director in a small town in Michigan. Then I moved to a much larger library and spent almost 24 years as a youth librarian and a storyteller. I’ve done storytimes in a number of interesting places including hospitals, Safehouse (the local home for abused women and children), at schools for kids with special needs, at classes for the profoundly deaf, for senior citizens, and on the Bookmobile. Just before retirement, I was the sole children’s book selector for a large and very busy library system in a cosmopolitan and diverse community. In 2002 I was awarded the Michigan Library Association’s Award of Merit as youth Librarian of the year. It was a blast! What a great time I had being a librarian—I LOVED it! I still call myself a librarian—for once a librarian, always a librarian. “Yeaaah, buddy!”
As a writer: I write at several levels for children; picture books, chapter books and teen novels. A number of my books have won awards, been nominated for state awards, or have appeared on other prestigious lists. I also write articles about writing and teaching for professional journals. And my poems for adults appear in various print and online journals. In 2005, I was invited to read at the White House Easter Egg Roll. (It rained, so we couldn’t read outdoors as planned. But I had a lovely trip and breakfast in the White House!) In 2010 I was invited to do a month-long tour of U.S. schools on American military bases throughout Japan. What a trip!
I love writing and wrote my first poems and stories in elementary school. I remember a little of the first poem I wanted to share with the world. It was about someone coming down the stairs to find something horrible at the bottom. My first important poem was scary! And so was my first book, WHO TOOK MY HAIRY TOE?
I didn’t work on books for children until the fall of 1997. I sold my first manuscript by early December of 1999. Then five more of my picture book manuscripts sold in a little over a year. In the fall of 2001, I had an offer on my first children’s novel. I had become a children’s author!
I am sure that would not have happened without the deep love I had for my other career, that of being a children’s librarian. (See above.) Getting to read and share so many wonderful books in the Ann Arbor District Library where I worked has been an important part of my life. I wanted children to find my books on library shelves, too. And now, they can!