On my bulletin board is a quote from Emerson: "May the work that you do be the play that you love." It's a perfect statement of the way I feel about writing: at times, it seems more like play than like work, particularly since I began writing almost exclusively for children.
Born in Wisconsin to an American father and a Canadian mother, I grew up in the Northern Alberta town of Grande Prairie, where the Aurora Borealis flickered and shimmered across the night sky. The winters were long and cold, so cold my nostrils stuck together when I breathed too deeply, so cold my legs turned blue if I were foolish enough to go outside without plenty of layers, so cold I could hear the ice on the slough snapping as I lay in bed at night. Winter days were short. It was dark when I left for school in the morning and dark when I came home. No matter how cold the weather, I ice skated and played hockey, often by moonlight. When I was older, I curled, my favorite winter sport. If only curling had been an Olympic event then! I would have loved to try out for the team.
In the summer, the prairie sun rose very early and darkness didn't arrive until nearly midnight. Days seemed endless, wonderful for a child who loved to wander the countryside, either on foot or by horseback. And both the long nights of winter and the long days of summer were perfect for a child addicted to reading. And I read everything. I'd check out as many library books as the librarian would allow, wake up early in the morning to read, and read under the covers with a flashlight at night. I'd even read while I walked somewhere. In those days there weren't as many books for children and young adults as there are today, so I was soon reading adult books.
After graduating from high school in Grande Prairie, I attended the University of Alberta, first in Calgary and later in Edmonton. I taught first grade for a few years, then studied journalism at the University of Utah. There, a class in writing for children unearthed my passion.
Writing is not a career that brings immediate rewards. Most writers put in years of hard work and struggle before they manage to have something published. That's the way it was for me. In the beginning, I wrote everything, for all ages of readers and for any kind of publication: greeting cards, short stories, magazine articles, even fillers, which are those short little ideas or thoughts that "fill" empty spots in magazines. First came years of rejections, then encouragement from fellow writers, then a few writing awards from art councils and writing associations. At last a children's Christmas story was published in a magazine. I didn't know the story had even been accepted until a friend saw the magazine and phoned to congratulate me. After a few more years I began to concentrate on writing books, and after about ten years, I finally had one accepted and published. I now write mostly children's books, both fiction and nonfiction.
Some of my published books touch on things that worry me or worry children, such as the bully in Beating Bully O'Brien or the animals being used in medical research in Saving Casey. In other books I tell readers about the world around them, such as in Flush! Treating Wastewater, or about the world as it was before they were born, as in Sarah On Her Own. At times I simply want to make a reader chuckle (Samantha Gill, Belly Dancer). I also like to write about people I admire. Jackie Robinson, Baseball's Civil Rights Legend tells the story of the courageous man who dared to make a difference. Woody Guthrie, America's Folksinger tells of the talented, tormented man who gave America his creative gifts despite suffering a debilitating illness. Children of the Dust Days describes the lives of the young people who faced a world of poverty, dust, and famine. Someday I'll write about growing up in Northern Alberta. Those memories are simmering inside me, waiting to come to an irresistible boil.