Did you always want to be a writer?
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
When I was little I wanted to be a clown. Later I thought about being a lawyer or an investigative reporter like my hero, Nellie Bly. But I was always a big reader and I always wrote. In high school I was the editor of both the newspaper and the literary magazine. (It was a very small school, so everybody had a lot of jobs! I was the captain of the chess team, too.) I also sold a little humor piece to Seventeen Magazine. That was the first time anybody paid me for my writing. I don't remember how much I was paid, but it was enough to buy a summer skirt on sale.
Why do you write for kids?
It's funny, everybody asks children's authors that question, but nobody ever asks adult authors why they write for adults. (Also, I'm pretty sure nobody asks pediatricians when they are going to become "real" doctors for adults!) I guess I've never liked to make things long and boring when they could be interesting and short. And I really like reading books for kids.
What are your favorite children's books?
When I was growing up, one book I read over and over was The Swiss Family Robinson. I also loved the Betsy-Tacy books, the All-of-a-Kind Family books, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Great Brain series, and anything by Noel Streatfeild, Margaret J. Anderson, Joan Aiken, Edward Eager, or E. Nesbit. Also A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels (back then, there were only two!) and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I never read the Anne of Green Gables books because they looked dull to me, but when I grew up I found out I was wrong, and now they are among my favorites. I also would have loved Harry Potter, the Penderwicks, Clementine, and everything by Eva Ibbotson, but none of those books had been written yet!
Where do you get your ideas?
Where do you get YOUR ideas? Yep, me too. (But if you want to know where I got the idea for a particular book, you could try going to my page about my books, clicking on the cover for that book, and seeing if there are any links to interviews.)
What inspires you to write?
Writing is my job, so I don't wait for inspiration. (Imagine if teachers, mail carriers, or firefighters only did their jobs when they felt "inspired"!) I work every day, whether I feel like it or not. I'm not always actually writing, though. Sometimes I'm doing other work, like researching an interesting topic I might want to write about.
What is your favorite thing about being a writer?
I get to work at home in my pajamas! Sometimes I go all day without brushing my hair.
How long does it take to write a book?
I wrote the first draft of The Busiest Street in Town in just a few hours. Get Real: What Kind of World Are You Buying? took most of a year. All of my other books fell somewhere in between.
How many books have you published?
That's actually a tough question to answer, because I've been writing since 1991 and I've written so many different kinds of books! As of 2016, I've published ten picture books, one easy reader, and one teen nonfiction book under my own name as well as all twelve books of the Milo & Jazz Mysteries chapter book series under the pen name Lewis B. Montgomery. I've also written many books for use in schools, including ten picture books in the Mouse Math series, two books in the Science Solves It series, two books in the Math Matters series, and ten books in the Social Studies Connects series under the pen names Nan Walker and Eleanor May, as well as sixteen leveled readers and more parts of middle school literature and history textbooks than I can count.
Why do you have pen names?
I use my real name for the books that are totally my own idea, and my pen names for books that editors ask me to write.
Are you going to write any more books about Milo and Jazz?
I think I'm done! If you have read all twelve and you have an idea for another story about the two sleuths, go ahead and write it. And feel free to send it to me. I would love to read it, and I promise I will not steal your ideas.
Are Milo and Jazz based on real people?
No, I made them up. (Although I did name Jazz after a girl who used to live across the street from me.) But the more I wrote about them, the more I got to know them and the more they felt to me like real people. Sometimes my editors would make a suggestion, and I would say, "But Jazz would never do that!"
What awards have your books won?
I've received many awards and honors for picture book writing, including a Cook Prize, an Orbis Pictus Honor, a Golden Kite Honor, and a Parents' Choice Gold Award for Mesmerized, an Anne Izard Storytellers' Choice Award for The Grudge Keeper, a Golden Kite Award and a Charlotte Zolotow Honor for Me and Momma and Big John, and an Ezra Jack Keats Honor for My Heart Will Not Sit Down, as well as a Green Earth Honor for my teen nonfiction book Get Real: What Kind of World Are You Buying? My books have received starred reviews in Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Shelf Awareness, and School Library Journal. They have been Junior Library Guild Selections, Indie Next Picks, ALA Best New Books for the Classroom, and Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, and have been featured by Scholastic Book Club and Scholastic Book Fairs and included in the New York Public Library's "100 Titles for Reading and Sharing" and the Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Books of the Year. They have also been selected for many state reading lists.
My book report assignment asks a question you don't answer here. Can I email you?
I wish I could help every student with a book report, but I have my own family and work! If you need to know more about one of my books, go to my book page and click on the cover of that book. If you need to know more about me, go to my "me" page, which has lots of information about me as well as links to interviews that I have done. Good luck!
Can you come to my school?
I love meeting kids who have read my books, and I have visited a ton of schools in the United States and even as far away as Jamaica, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Qatar. I'm no longer doing author visits on a regular basis, but if your teacher or librarian has a special reason for wanting me in particular (not just "looking for an author"), they are very welcome to contact me.