Welcome to my website!
NEWS: THE SECRET LIFE OF THE WOOLLY BEAR CATERPILLAR was declared a MYSTERY by Booklist! Published on April 1, 2014, this nonfiction story title earned a rave review in a surprising place: the May 2014 newsletter, Booklist Best of Mystery Month. Reviewer Lynn Rutan wrote, "I know this is Mystery Month but trust me, there IS mystery in this charming bug book." Click on the title to the left to read "the story behind the book."
Whether you are a student, parent, teacher, librarian, or just a curious person, you will probably find something interesting, and perhaps useful, here. Of course there's information about my books, and also the stories behind their creation. Since I love visiting schools and talking with students about writing, there is information about school programs. And, to start, here is a quick introduction:
Growing up in rural western New York, I had two strong interests: reading, and learning about nature. I was one of those "bookworm" kids, not good at sports. I loved to explore outdoors, roaming woods and fields, investigating ponds. I never dreamed that a person could have a career that called for lots of reading, and learning about wild animals. And if you asked me--in elementary school, or high school, or even after college--if I would ever write a book, my answer would have been a loud, clear "No!" (If you are curious about how I became an author, or how a person can take steps toward that goal, see BECOMING AN AUTHOR below.)
Life is full of surprises. In 2014 my 113th book was published. I'm thrilled, and also proud because each of those books took a lot of hard work. My books have been praised for their high quality--by reviewers, teachers, librarians, scientists, and by the children and young adults who read them. It feels great to know that the Chicago Tribune called me "one of America's top nonfiction writers for young people," with "a remarkable ability to succeed with topics others would turn deadly dull." A reviewer for the American Library Association's Booklist called me "an esteemed children's author whose gift is turning natural history and science into page-turning reading." Also, in addition to rave reviews for individual books, I have received major awards from the National Wildlife Federation, the American Nature Study Society, the Washington Post/Children's Book Guild, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
On the average day, however, I'm just a guy who often struggles to write a good sentence. For me, writing is hard work, and I have plenty of interests that lure me away from it. I have a wonderful wife, five children, and a house (or, as Zorba the Greek, a movie character of long ago, called this situation, "the full catastrophe!"). I still love being outdoors, whether working in flower and vegetable gardens, splitting firewood, fighting an invasive Asian plant called mile-a-minute vine, taking nature photographs, digging ponds for frogs and other aquatic creatures, or fishing at the ocean's edge.
I hope you enjoy exploring here, and using the links to find more information about my books, school visits, and writing life.
Click on the titles to the left to read stories and details about the creation of each book
BECOMING AN AUTHOR
If you ask ten authors how they arrived at their careers, you might be ten different stories. Some people dream of such a life early. Every year I meet some school students who vow that they will become authors. I often wonder how that works out. Nearly every one has made important first steps--reading a lot, and doing some writing that goes beyond whatever is required in school.
Those steps are vital. Reading helps your vocabulary grow (that's a fancy word for the collection of words that you know and use). When you read a lot you encounter many voices and styles--this can help you discover or develop yours. Also, you will notice that good writing often has a rhythm, for example, a mix of sentence lengths, with a short one right after a few longer ones. Readers like a mix, not endless long sentence after long sentence.
Try to get published, and by that I do not mean paying a lot of money to produce a few copies of a book you wrote and illustrated. This can be done, but it is not the same as having an editor judge that your writing is good enough to actually appear in a magazine. or be made into a book, which can be sold to the public. In some middle schools and high schools there are opportunities to have writing (fiction, nonfiction, poetry) published in school publications. If you dream of being a famous author these may seem like baby steps, but they are vital. Inside, your confidence as a writer grows. You are making progress. And you gain credibility with editors when and if you try to get published elsewhere. Most successful authors did not start right off with a book. Many first work hard to get something published in a magazine, newspaper, or certain internet web sites.
And, remember, being a book author is just one of many possible writing careers. Think of all of the places in our lives where writing is involved: advertising, journalism, scripts for TV and films, magazines and newspapers, the whole internet. (I know one woman who writes consumer information for drug companies and health organizations. She seldom gets a "by line," but has had a long, successful career as a writer.) There are many kinds of writing careers to aim for. Also, even if you never get published, just being a person who can write in a strong, clear way is a great skill, and can help in variety of jobs.
Part of my story of becoming an author: As a kid I never consciously wanted to be a writer, but some factors in my life helped lead me in that direction. I grew up in an isolated country home, and had few nearby playmates. So I read a lot and had a rich interior life (lots of daydreaming, imagining, and entertaining myself without people around). Alone, but not feeling lonely--a valuable characteristic for a writer!
In high school I was not good at sports, was not one of the "in" crowd, and read a lot. At 16 I had a short nonfiction piece published in a boy's magazine. Wow! And was paid $5 for it! However, this didn't make me feel that I was on a path toward being an author. Nevertheless, a thin thread of writing, and wanting to be a writer, kept running. For college I considered majoring in either journalism or wildlife biology. I chose the latter.
At Cornell University I took a course in writing for magazines. Then, and later, as a graduate student, I submitted nonfiction articles to magazines. A few were published. (Some of the magazines didn't even pay, but they had readers and I was getting published!) A key turning point occurred when I dropped out of a Ph.D. program, giving up my dream of being a wildlife researcher or professor. At the time, this felt like disaster. However, I took some journalism courses and learned enough to earn a job as a rookie editor at Nature and Science, a children's magazine published at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
This was extraordinary serendipity (I love that word!). I had never written for young readers but the magazine was for kids. Eager for ANY writing job, I landed one that just happened to involve writing for young people. I began to learn about that kind of writing. The magazine ceased publication after seven years, but by then I had begun to write books. And by then I was inspired because I believed that writing for children is more important than writing for adults.
That's my story. You might find it fun to ask other published writers about their paths to becoming authors.