When I was in first grade my mother would take me to the bookmobile on Thursday afternoons. I loved climbing the steps and entering that library on wheels. This was not a direct connection to me wanting to be a writer or illustrator when I grew up but rather a bookmobile driver. I thought this had to be the greatest job in the world. In between answering questions and checking out books for patrons the driver simply sat in a cushioned seat, sipped a soda and read.
I loved books as a child but never imagined writing and illustrating them. By the age of eight I wanted to work as an artist when I grew up but my notion of that was moving to New York City, spending my whole life drawing and painting, slowly starving to death, and then after I was dead, everyone would buy my paintings. It seemed a noble and romantic life but I must admit, I do prefer being able to buy food and talk about my work while I'm alive.
I graduated from Pratt Institute in 1981 and began working as an illustrator for print publications such as Reader's Digest, Family Circle, Woman's Day and American Girl Magazine. In 1984 I began illustrating Young Adult book jackets and after painting the cover for Judy Blume's Just as Long as We're Together in 1987, the editor, Richard Jackson approached me to illustrate a picture book; All I See, written by Cynthia Rylant. When Mr. Jackson noticed I would extend the text with my pictures and bring new ideas to a story, he encouraged me to write my own. I've since published 46 books for children, 16 of which I've written, including Ivan the Terrier, Matthew A. B. C. and Emily's Art. The first of my emerging reader series; Monkey & Robot was released in 2013, followed by More of Monkey & Robot. I've illustrated for some wonderful writers including Mary Pope Osborne, Joanne Ryder, Megan McDonald, George Ella Lyon and Robert Burleigh. Since 1990, I've visited over 1500 elementary schools in 40 states showing students my creative process from inspiration to final book. I currently teach the first children's book writing course at Columbia University and in 2008, First Lady, Laura Bush commissioned me to illustrate the White House holiday brochure.
The biggest surprise to me about my career is how much I enjoy teaching. After 24 years of school visits I still love being in front of a group of students, whether I'm at an elementary school or my class at Columbia.
My favorite time to read is when I travel for school visits -- in the airplanes, hotels and restaurants. I love the solitude. Although I'm alone in my studio, my quiet time on the road is free of deadlines and chores. I like to beat traffic, arrive at the school early, recline my cushioned car seat, sip coffee and disappear into whatever I'm reading. While my back seat is often strewn with library books, it's not nearly as impressive as a bookmobile -- but I really do enjoy my job.