I was born on a commune in San Francisco. Upstairs, in a tub of water, in the Mission District.
But I grew up mostly in New Jersey. I lived all over the state as a child with my mom, who was a single parent. She worked very hard to make ends meet but we often struggled. Many years, I got free lunch at school and I was one of the only kids who did. I felt a lot of shame about it. (I’m over it now!)
I loved books, stories, and libraries from the time I was very little. We visited the library multiple times a week and I never got tired of the thrill of taking books home for free.
In preschool and kindergarten, I spent hours making up stories about a bear named Bobbie, who had a very intense picnic-based social life. My mom patiently wrote them all down and I added pictures. I loved everything about stories—hearing them and making them up.
Yet I was one of the last kids in first grade to learn to read and write. It took me awhile and I remember how frustrated I felt. I wasn’t a confident reader and writer until well into second grade. But eventually a lightbulb went off and after that, I was constantly reading. I even figured out that chewing ginger candies would help me read without getting nauseous on the bus and in the car, and ate lots of them so I never had to put down my book.
I also wrote and illustrated a lot of storybooks. Here’s a page from one I made in 1994, when I was almost seven, “The Love Garden”:
As you can see, I had a long way to go with spelling.
As a kid, my favorite authors were Lois Lowry, Betsy Byars, John Bellairs, Julie Edwards, Roald Dahl, and so many more. The book I read the most times was probably Mandy by Julie Edwards, about an orphan girl who finds a secret, abandoned cottage and makes it her own special place.
I mulled over becoming lots of different things: a doctor (I was obsessed with epidemics) or a vulcanologist (but I’m my mother’s only child, and that seemed too dangerous) or a journalist, and many more. Always, though, I knew that no matter what I wanted to write books.
When I grew up, I first went to Mills College, a very magical and woodsy school in Oakland, California that smells intensely of eucalyptus. Then I went to New York University, so I could be closer to home, and that’s where I graduated from. I studied literature and anthropology, and after college I worked in publishing and in museums, while constantly working on writing fiction for kids.
Now I live in Brooklyn, New York, with my husband, my mother, and my daughter, Alice, who is a toddler. I spend a lot of time going on walks in my neighborhood. I love studying the abundant insects, trees, animals, fungi, and plants that we live among. And I am still always reading, whenever I can!