Our next book was a family adventure. Jack and I had grown up with farm kids who worked right alongside their folks to run their farms. But that way of life was dying out. Huge corporate farms were replacing the family farms of old. We wanted to document the life of a farm kid while there was still time. So we moved to the country with our boys, and for a whole year, shadowed farm boy Joel Holland about his chores. Keeping up with him was a challenge!
When we returned to Chicago, my writing took a whole new turn. My young sons tackled their lives with gusto. The books that we read to them at night fueled their imaginations—and mine, too. They inspired me to start writing picture books. The first one starred a funny parrot who starts talking “bad” when his feelings are hurt. (Max the Bad-Talking Parrot.> Dodd, Mead & Company. 1986.)
As my boys started school, I delighted in all they were learning. My writing veered off in a whole new direction, inspired by my passion for the natural world. I started to write nonfiction books for young readers, packed with juicy stuff—like snakes that swallowed a whole pig in one bite (Snakes, Penguin); old graying gorillas called silverbacks (Gorillas, Penguin); weird creatures that swim blindly in the dark, cold deep sea (Way Down Deep, Grosset & Dunlap).
Recently, I’ve written a number of books for the Who Was…? What Was…? series (Grosset & Dunlap). Real people, real life: they’re a real thrill to write about. Whenever I read about interesting things, I can’t wait to tell my readers.
After residing in the Chicago area for thirty-five years, I’m now living in northern Wisconsin for a time. The Wisconsin River winds a curving path behind my back yard. Around sunset, an elegant blue heron often waits motionless by the water’s edge. If I’m lucky and the fish are not, I see him strike like lightning to snatch up a wriggling prey in its beak.
Fishing is my sport too—only I fish for ideas, information, and stories. When they happen my way, you know for sure I’ll share them with you. With pleasure.