How I became an Author

In 1996, while I directed the YWCA of Bucks County, I started a tutoring program for first grade students who worked with a high school student volunteer once a week. The program was very popular and when we were asked to expand it from 3 to 12 schools, we needed to buy a few hundred more books. I spent many Saturdays reading children’s books in book stores, so I could find the best ones. That’s when I decided I wanted to learn to write beautiful books for children and I hoped to become an author some day.

First, I found a published author, who was willing to teach me in her home. I also became a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).  During the past 16 years I have attended many SCBWI conferences and workshops, I read many award winning children’s books and also some “how to write” books to improve my skills. The most important lesson I learned was, “The more you write, the easier it gets, the better your writing becomes and the more fun it is to write!”

I write mostly about subjects I love, or those I want to learn more about.Since penguins are my favorite animal, Penguin Chick became my first nonfiction manuscript and also my first book.  It was published by HarperCollins in 2002 in the award winning Let’s-Read-an-Find-Out Science series.  I was happily surprised when my book won numerous awards and honors and its successes continue to amaze me. (See awards won by Penguin Chick and my other books.)

After finding a snake skin in the woods, I decided to write my second book, How Animals ShedTheir Skin .  I couldn’t find any books on this subject, so it took me a whole year to do the research – in 9 libraries!  Later I was curious about how animals send messages to each other, so I wrote How Animals Communicate. Another topic I wanted to explore was “play” and How Animals Play was my next book project. All three of these books were published by Scholastic Library. Play and Communicate were reprinted, but all three went out of print in late 2011. I am looking forward to having students read them as e-books in the future. 

After falling in love with sea otters at Monterey Bay Aquarium, I wrote Baby Sea Otter and I dedicated the book to Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Conservation Program with special thanks to marine biologist Michelle Staedler, who provided much helpful information. During my three day visit there, I enjoyed watching sea otters romp and play, eat, and race around in their pools and I took many photos.  The marine biologists who care for them also showed me how they electronically track sea otters that have been raised at the Aquarium and released to live on their own in the ocean. I also did a book signing at the Aquarium during that visit.

I have five books about animals published and several others are being considered by editors.Children often ask me what I like best about being an author and these are the things I enjoy most:

  1. School visits and sharing my books and writing  tips with students
  2. Writing – I love to write and I have fun finding exciting words and phrases
  3. Research - and most of all, on-site research is fantastic! I especially enjoyed learning about pandas at the Chengdu Giant Panda Research and Breeding Center in China and holding 6 month old baby Mao-Mao on my lap while feeding her apple pieces (see Photo Gallery).

The Role of Experts in Nonfiction Writing

Photo: Steve Gengler, Bucks County Courier Times

When writing a nonfiction book, it is very important that your “facts” are correct.  So I was extremely lucky that marine biologist Frank Todd, who has studied and lived with emperor penguins (off and on) for more than 30 years, was very helpful when I wrote Penguin Chick. While I had read numerous books and thoroughly searched the Internet, some of the information I had found was not correct. Frank not only critiqued my nonfiction story, but he also lent some of the 10,000 pictures he had taken of emperor penguins in Antarctica to Helen K. Davie, the illustrator of my book and he reviewed her illustrations as well as my text. Both Helen and I thanked him in the book.

Since I love writing about animals, I am lucky to have a friend who is a biologist at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and also an author of nonfiction books for children. Doug Wechsler reviewed all three of my “How Animals…..” manuscripts before I sent them to Scholastic. Then my editor had a “content expert” check the science facts to be sure everything was correct. I have also reviewed some of Doug’s books for him, but not the science facts, since he knows more than I do. Check him out on his website