I am best known for my nonfiction work, which has received dozens of awards and honors, including the ALA Newbery Honor, the ALA Robert F. Sibert Award for Nonfiction, the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Nonfiction, the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction, and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award. Most recently, I won the Washington Post/Washington Children’s Book Guild Nonfiction Award for my body of work.
Although I have always loved to read, I had no idea I was going to be a writer when I grew up. In school, I liked art class best. In college, I filled my schedule with literature classes. I took a creative writing class where I wrote short stories and poetry for the first time. I interned as a journalist at a local newspaper. These experiences fueled a desire to write my own stories.
But within days of graduation, I was offered a job teaching eighth-grade English, and I accepted. I never thought I’d stay, but I did. For the next eighteen years, I taught eighth grade.
My students wrote poems, stories, and essays. They researched, wrote, and illustrated their own nonfiction picture books. They held poetry readings. It felt good to see my students grow as writers. They inspired me to practice what I preached. I joined a writer’s group and got serious about my own writing. I credit my students with helping me find my voice and my audience — and a passionate research interest that would lead to the writing of award-winning nonfiction books for young readers.
By 1997, I had published short stories, two picture books, and an award-winning nonfiction book. I had a novel and another nonfiction book under contract.
The time had come for a difficult decision: either teach full-time or write full-time.
I already had one career that I loved — teaching. Was it time for another? Could I make it as a full-time writer?
“Leap and the net will appear,” a friend told me.
And I did.
And it did.
Although I now write full-time, I find it impossible to separate my love of story from my love of teaching and my love of learning. I often teach graduate classes and lead writing workshops and find excuses to take classes and workshops just for fun.
When I left the classroom, I returned to school as a full-time doctoral student on a full fellowship. I earned a Ph.D. in English from Binghamton University (State University, New York), where I won the Excellence in Research award for my doctoral dissertation. I also hold an M.A. in English from the University of Scranton (Pennsylvania) and a B.A. in English/Secondary Education from Marywood University (Scranton, Pennsylvania). I live with my husband near Scranton, Pennsylvania. We have two grown children, three grandchildren, two dogs (Shih Tzus), and a seventeen-year-old cat.
I am often asked where I found the time to write, while teaching full-time and raising a family. My answer is this: We make the time to do the things we really want to do. Weekdays, I wrote in the early morning hours, from 4-7 am, while my children were sleeping, and longer on weekends.
(If you’re curious about that small building in the photograph, it’s my backyard snuggery, an 8×12 office that my husband, Joe, built for me, partly from recycled cedar boards and other reclaimed materials. In the winter, I use snowshoes for the short commute from the house.)
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