Caroline Arnold's Books

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My Books >> Behind the Story

This page includes some brief thoughts about how I got the ideas for a few of my books, some of the experiences I had writing and researching them and some comments about the books themselves. The entries for CHEETAH and MUSIC LESSONS FOR ALEX describe how photographer Richard Hewett and I worked together on our books and the second to last entry expands on our long collaboration.


My Friend From Outer Space (Caroline Arnold/Amazon, 2023)

My Friend From Outer Space was my first published fiction book. (Its original title was The Planet Tinbambam but I changed the title at my editor's suggestion.) I got the idea for the story by listening to my own children and their friends play games in which they pretended that they were aliens. The trick, of course, was providing proof, and in my story I decided that the two girls would take a trip to outer space in a cardboard-box rocket ship.

After My Friend from Outer Space was published in 1981 I took it to my author visits at schools and read it aloud to the children. By the time I got to the third page you could hear a pin drop in the room as the children listened eagerly to find out what came next. Their favorite part was always the page where Sherry looks like an otherworldly monster. When I asked the audience at the end of the story if they thought the girls really went to outer space, a few hands always went up. When I asked who liked to pretend sometimes, all the hands were raised.

Keeper of the Light: Juliet Nichols Fights the San Francisco Fog (Cameron Kids/Abrams, 2022)

I love to travel and sometimes, when I least expect it, a travel experience becomes the source of an idea for a new book. KEEPER OF THE LIGHT: Juliet Fish Nichols Fights the San Francisco Fog, was inspired by a visit to Angel Island State Park in San Francisco Bay in the summer of 2012. Art and I took a ferry from Tiburon to Angel Island to meet friends, who had sailed their boat from Alameda across San Francisco Bay to the harbor at Angel Island. We had a delicious lunch on the boat and then took a tram ride around the island, narrated along the way with historic details about the buildings and the people who once lived on the island when it was the site of an army post, immigration facility, and a light and fog bell station.

Near an overlook on the south side of the island we heard about Juliet Nichols, the light keeper of the Angel Island lighthouse at Point Knox, who, during the summer of 1906, when the bay was filled with supply boats after the devastating San Francisco earthquake, heroically rang the fog bell by hand for more then twenty hours before the fog lifted.

Juliet's story intrigued me. It sounded like the perfect subject for a book. I began to research Juliet's life and the history of Angel Island. I searched the internet. I went to the Oakland library to read newspaper articles and other items in the archives. (Juliet grew up in Oakland and lived there after she retired.) I looked up Census records on . I visited the National Archives in Washington, DC, to read Juliet's lighthouse log. I went back to Angel Island several times. Although her house is gone, the giant bell can still be seen at Knox Point. It took me eight years and many rewrites to tell Juliet's story, then two more years to see it published. The book is illustrated with beautiful watercolor paintings by Rachell Sumpter.

Planting a Garden in Room 6 (Charlesbridge, 2022)

My third book with Mrs. Best and her students is Planting a Garden in Room 6: From Seeds to Salad. During the three months of the growing cycle, the children planted flowers and vegetables in raised garden beds in the play yard outside their classroom, measuring, caring for, and observing the plants up close as they learned firsthand about the growth cycle. The children's enthusiasm was contagious as they learned about the garden plants and watched them grow. I am extremely grateful to Jennifer Best for her cooperation with this project and for being my expert reader. I couldn't have done this book without her.

The story is set in Southern California where the weather is mild in winter and ideal for cool weather plants such as lettuce and radishes. The Room 6 garden was planted in mid-February and harvested in April. Every garden is different. What you plant will depend on the time of year, the climate where you live, and the location of your garden. A local garden store can help you choose the best seeds and plants for your area. For schools in colder climates, garden plants can go in later in spring--radishes mature and are ready to pick in just six weeks--or a fall garden can be planted in August at the beginning of the school year.

Butterflies in Room 6 (Charlesbridge, 2019)

Several years ago, when I was doing an author visit at a school in Los Angeles, I met Jennifer Best, a kindergarten teacher. Each spring, her students learn about life cycles. Two years ago I spent time in her classroom while they were hatching chicken eggs in an incubator. That resulted in my book Hatching Chicks in Room 6. At the same time, the class was also raising Painted Lady butterflies from caterpillars, watching the caterpillars grow in a jar, turn into chrysalises, and, after a week or so, emerge as beautiful butterflies. It seemed like the perfect sequel to Hatching Chicks in Room 6.

As with the book about chicks, I realized that the best way to tell this story was with photographs. I had taken photographs for some of my other books, so I decided to do it myself. I embedded myself in Jennifer Best's classroom, which enabled me to follow the process and get the photos I needed. (A challenge in taking the photographs was that neither the children nor butterflies stayed still for long!) Spending so much time in the classroom also allowed me to interact with the kindergarten students, which helped me to target my text at the right level. The children's enthusiasm was contagious as they learned about butterflies and had the thrill of releasing them outdoors and watch them fly into the neighborhood.

Hatching Chicks in Room 6 (Charlesbridge, 2017)

On May 12, 2014, I was invited to do an author visit to Haynes Center for Enriched Studies elementary school in West Hills, California, in honor of Amy Werner, a librarian who had worked for many years in schools in the area. After my presentation, Jennifer Best, a kindergarten teacher at Haynes, asked me if I had ever written a book about hatching chicks. Each spring, she brought eggs to her classroom and hatched chicks. But, she told me, she couldn't find any books that were written at the right level for her kindergarten students. I hadn't written any books about chickens, although I had written a number of books about other kinds of birds. I liked the idea of a book about hatching chicks, and a year later I was in Mrs. Best's classroom learning about eggs and chicks and documenting the process with photos. HATCHING CHICKS IN ROOM 6 is the result of that project.

Trapped in Tar: Fossils From the Ice Age (Amazon, 2017)

Illustrated with color photographs by Caroline and Arthur Arnold.

TRAPPED IN TAR: Fossils From the Ice Age is now available as a paperback book on Amazon. It was originally published in 1987 by Clarion and illustrated with black and white photos by Richard Hewett. In this new version, the text has been updated and is now illustrated with full color photos by Arthur and Caroline Arnold. I am happy to have TRAPPED IN TAR: Fossils From the Ice Age in print again and available to new readers. In the original version my children, Jennifer and Matt, were some of the models. They have now grown up and have children of their own. In the new book, my grandchildren, Alessandra, Lucas and Paige, are in some of the photos, taken on family trips to the tar pits and the George C. Page Museum. I am grateful for their cheerful cooperation! I also thank my son Matt and son-in-law Humberto for their photo contributions. TRAPPED IN TAR: Fossils From the Ice Age is also available on Amazon as an e-book. You can read it with a Kindle app on various devices (I use my iPad) or on your computer.

BOARD BOOKS: A Panda's World, A Penguin's World, A Zebra's World, A Polar Bear's World (PictureWindow Books, 2015)

What is the most radical change you have made to your manuscript in the editing and rewriting processes? This question was asked at the Annual Santa Barbara Breakfast With the Authors one year. For me, the answer was easy. It was the conversion of my 24 page nonfiction picture book A Panda's World (PictureWindow Books, 2006) to a 20 page board book. First of all, the page sizes were shrunk from 11 by 11 inches, to 8 by 8 inches. (The illustrations remain the same, except smaller.) Then all the front matter (information about panda size, weight, etc.) was eliminated along with three pages of back matter (map, fun facts, glossary, etc.). Then, the text on each page spread had to be shortened from two paragraphs to about two sentences! That's a radical change! And, the sidebars with fun facts were also eliminated. What was left were the essentials of the story. Net result: a new book perfectly suited for a parent to read to a young child or for a beginning reader to read alone. Three other titles from the same series: A Penguin's World, A Zebra's World and A Polar Bea's World have also been converted to board books. I am delighted to have the new board book versions of these books, which make the stories available to a whole new audience.

Too Hot? Too Cold? Keeping Body Temperature Just Right (Charlesbridge, 2013)

My book, Too Hot? Too Cold? Keeping BodyTemperature Just Right (February 2013), grew ot of many years researching animals and learning how each one has adapted in its own way to the weather and temperature of its habitat. Some animals migrate or hibernate; others grow thick coats of fur in winter and shed it in summer; some, such as those that live in the desert, restrict their activities to night, when the air is cooler. I began to realize that there were many parallels between animals and the way people adjust to variations in temperature in the places where they live. We may not grow thick fur to keep warm, but we do put on heavy coats and jackets when it is cold outside.

I grew up in Minnesota where winters are cold and summers are hot. When I was ten, my mother took a photo in front of our house of me and my brothers all bundled up in our snowsuits and mittens on a snowy February day. She wrote on the back of the photo that the temperature that day was minus fourteen degrees Fahrenheit! I have fond memories of sledding and ice skating on cold winter days in Minneapolis. In summer, when temperatures soared into the nineties, my brothers and I stayed cool by swimming in the lake not far from our house.

I now live in Los Angeles, California, where the seasonal variations are not so extreme. Even so, there are clear differences between winter and summer. On warm summer days, I often see lizards sunning themselves in my driveway. On cool winter days, the lizards hide among the rocks. In spring and fall, I enjoy watching birds as they migrate through southern California on their way to and from their summer homes farther north.

As I worked on the book, I tried to think of activities that would help readers understand the concepts I was describing. It is one thing to read about an idea, and another to experience it. Here are three simple activities you can do that are related to information presented in Too Hot? Too Cold?

Getting Heat From the Sun

Dark colors are good for absorbing the sun's heat. That's why vultures will hold out their dark wings on cold mornings to catch the sun's rays. Light colors reflect the sun and help keep an animal cool. The addax, an antelope that lives on the Arabian Peninsula, has a light-colored summer coat to help protect it from the desert sun.

Activity: Hot Rocks

In this activity you can test how well dark and light colors absorb the sun's heat.

You will need: Two rocks (about the size of your fist), white paint, black paint, a paintbrush

Paint one rock white and the other rock black. Put both rocks in the sun and wait for one hour. Then feel the rocks. Which rock feels warmer?

The white rock reflects the sun's rays and stays cool. The black rock soaks up the sun's rays and becomes warm. To stay cool on a hot day, would you wear a dark shirt or a light one?

Migrating to Keep Warm or Cool

Some animals leave their homes, or migrate, when the weather gets too cold or too hot. Many birds migrate. Some of them fly thousands of miles between their winter and summer homes. Strong wings make them good flyers.

Activity: Wingspan Measuring Tape

Have you ever wondered what kind of bird would you be, if you could fly? A bird flies with its arms, which are covered with feathers. Stretch out your arms as if you were flying. Here's how you can make a measuring tape to find out your wingspan.

You will need: heavy paper (such as cardstock), scissors, tape, a pencil, and a bird guidebook.

Cut the paper in 1.5 inch strips. A paper cutter works well if you have one. Or, use your scissors. You will have eleven strips, each eleven inches long.

Connect the ends of the strips with tape. (Strapping tape is best, but any tape will do.) You will have now a strip 121 inches long. Look in the bird guidebook to find the wingspans of various birds. Then, start at one end and use a yardstick or measuring tape to mark the tape with the width of each bird's wingspan. Here are some of wingspans on my tape: emperor penguin, 32 inches; peregrine falcon, 3.5 feet; red-tailed hawk, 4.5 feet; flamingo, 5 feet; turkey vulture, 6 feet; golden eagle, 7 feet; bald eagle, 8 feet; California condor, 9.5 feet. You can add the wingspans of any birds you like.

Ask two people to hold the ends of your tape. Then you can measure your wingspan. When you are not using the tape, it folds up like an accordion.

Keeping Warm Through Thick and Thin

Large objects gain and lose heat more slowly than small objects. Animals with large bodies warm up and cool down more slowly than smaller animals. They have less surface area in relation to their size than smaller animals do. For example, a crocodile's huge body helps it retain body heat longer than a smaller reptile could. This lets it remain active even after the sun has gone down.

Activity: Cooling Thermometers

This experiment is a simple demonstration comparing the length of time it takes for objects of two different sizes to cool down in your refrigerator.

You will need: 2 household thermometers, 4 washcloths, rubber bands, paper and pencil, a clock.

Look at the thermometers and write down the room temperature. Wrap one thermometer in one washcloth and fasten it with rubber bands. Wrap the other thermometer in three washcloths and fasten with rubber bands. Put both thermometers in a refrigerator for five minutes. Then take them out, unwrap them, and look at the temperature on each thermometer. Which one cooled off the most?

These activities can be done at home or at school. I enjoy doing the wingspan activity during my presentation when I do author visits at schools. Third graders are almost always red tailed hawks. Two students together, fingertip to fingertip, have the wingspan of one bald eagle!

A Warmer World (Charlesbridge, 2011)

It's clear from your books that you love animals. Of all the different kinds of creatures you've written about, do you have a favorite?

I like all kinds of animals, but birds have always been a favorite topic in my books. When I was a child I went on early-morning bird walks with my father, who was an amateur bird watcher, and now my husband, Art, studies birds in his research at UCLA. In my book Birds: Nature's Magnificent Flying Machines, I focused on all the different ways a bird's body is adapted for flight. In A Warmer World I looked at how climate change is affecting nesting and migration patterns, or, in the case of Antarctic penguins, how melting ice is diminishing their main food source, krill.

You've traveled extensively for research. What is your most memorable trip to date?

Over the years I have traveled to every continent except Antarctica and had many memorable trips, so it is hard to choose just one. Several years ago I went to Alaska for the first time. The most dramatic effects of global warming are seen in places like Alaska, which are in or close to the polar regions of the world. One day when we were traveling on the Kenai Peninsula, we took a boat trip to view Portage Glacier. When I got home, I compared my photos of the glacier with those taken by my parents, who had photographed the same glacier on a trip twenty years earlier. The glacier in our photos was visibly smaller. This was my first personal observation of the impact of global warming. It made me realize that even small changes in the world's temperature can result in easily observable alterations to the landscape in a relatively short period of time.

How did you go about researching the different animals for A Warmer World?

My research process follows the same pattern for all of my books. I start in the library and read books and articles. I also search the internet. In many cases I consult scientists and other experts in the field. And whenever possible, I try to make my own observations about the animals in my books. Ideally, I like to see animals where they live in the wild. Several years ago I visited a penguin nesting colony in southern Chile. More often, though, I observe animals in zoos and wildlife parks. To learn about polar bears and walruses, I went to Sea World and the San Diego Zoo. The wonderful thing about zoos is that you can see huge animals like these just inches away on the other side of the glass. Basically, I discovered, walruses are huge lumps. They are a bit like your living room sofa with tusks. And yet they are surprisingly agile in the water.

Your parents helped run, and therefore lived in, a settlement house. What was it like to grow up in such a diverse community?

Until I was ten, I lived with my family at the Northeast Neighborhood House (now East Side Neighborhood Services), a settlement house in Minneapolis. Settlement houses are community centers, something like the YMCA, offering a wide range of recreational and social services. I enjoyed after school puppet, drama, and cooking clubs, sports in the gymnasium, and holiday programs, and I didn't even have to leave home! The settlement house also had a camp in northern Wisconsin, which is where I spent most of my summers. The camp was in a pine forest around a small lake, which is where I developed my love for the outdoors. I think this is why so many of the books I write today are about animals, nature, and the environment.

A Warmer World tackles some serious issues and explores the consequences of global warming. What inspired you to write a children's book about climate change?

A Warmer World grew out of a suggestion from my editor, who knew of my interest in animals and the environment and my concern for the earth we live on. Many subjects in the book--polar bears, walruses, penguins, sea turtles, migrating birds, coral reefs--are topics that I have written about previously. In doing the research for those books I had learned how environmental changes are threatening their ability to survive. This book gave me the chance to focus on those issues.

A Polar Bear's World, A Walrus' World, A Bald Eagle's World, A Moose's World (Picture Window Books, 2010)

In 2011,A Polar Bear's World, A Walrus' World, A Bald Eagle's World, A Moose's World were honored as The Best Written and Illustrated Suite of Nonfiction for Children by the CLC (Council on Literature for Children in Southern California. The following are the remarks I made upon receiving the award.

The books that are being honored today are the last four in a series of twelve books published by Picture Window Books. The first four in the series were about black and white animals, the next four about Australian animals, and these focus on animals that live in Alaska or the Arctic.

Many of you know me as a writer specializing in books about animals and the environment. For many years, I worked with photographers, including my husband, Art, who is here today. With all of those books, I needed stories that lent themselves to photography. That meant, no nocturnal animals, no underwater animals, no remote locations. So many times I said to myself, "It would be so much easier if I could just do the art myself!" Then I wouldn't have to worry about backgrounds, I could set my stories in any location, and I could make the animals behave as I wanted. With the Picture Window Books animal series I finally had the chance.

The books in this series are intended for children in the primary grades. (They are also perfect in preschool) The main story of each book is short and told from the point of view of a baby animal growing up in the wild. Factual information not essential to the flow of the story is put in sidebars and in front and back matter.

For the illustrations in these books, I chose a cut-paper collage technique. I wanted a poster-like look with bold colors that would make the images easy to see, even by a child in the back of the room when a teacher or librarian is reading the book aloud. The essential parts of each illustration are the outlines. Basically, as I do the art, I am drawing with scissors. I do, in fact, draw each image in pencil first, but the final result comes from cutting it out with my best sewing scissors. I typically cut out the animals first and then position them on a background. I use flat colors, overlapping the paper in layers. When the art is scanned for the book, a slight shadow around the edges of the paper creates a subtle 3-D effect.

I rely on photographs and personal observations of the animals as references for my drawings. When possible, I like to observe animals in their natural habitats. I have been to Alaska and have seen both moose and bald eagles in the wild. To learn about polar bears and walruses, I went to Sea World and the San Diego Zoo. The wonderful thing about zoos is that you can see huge animals like these just inches away on the other side of the glass. Basically, I discovered, walruses are huge lumps. They are a bit like your living room sofa with tusks. And yet, they are surprisingly agile in the water. I also find nature films and video helpful in my research. While I was working on the eagle book, I kept my second computer screen open to a live webcam at an eagle nest on Catalina island. It was amazing. In real time, I could watch the young chicks toddling around the nest waiting for their parents to bring them food, and then suddenly the adult eagle would arrive, swooping in with a fish in its talons.

I never get tired of watching animals and learning about them. I know from my school and library visits that kids love to learn about animals too. I want to thank all the teachers and librarians and parents who put books like mine into the hands of children. And I want to express my gratitude to the CLC for choosing my books for this very special honor today. Thank you, Marjorie Arnett, for your great introduction. And thanks to Barbara Metzenbaum and all the people on the award committee for choosing me to receive this award.

The Biggest Living Thing (Carolrhoda, 1983) and Sun Fun (Franklin Watts, 1981)

Today, children's books are printed with beautiful full color illustrations created with a vast array of artistic techniques--painting, drawing, collage, photography, mixed-media--basically anything that can be digitally color scanned. Those scans are then used to make the printing plates for the book. Typically there are four plates: black, cyan, magenta, yellow. (These are the same colors in the ink cartridges of your home printer.) On the printed page the colors merge to create a full range of hues.

But in 1980, when I first started publishing books for children, many were illustrated with black-and-white art, especially if they were nonfiction, like mine, or were printed with limited color. Digital scanning had not yet been invented and the cost of separating colors photographically to make each of the colored printing plates was so high that only the most established artists worked in full color. Many books were printed with black plus just one or two colors.

For most children's books in those days, the artist was required to make a separate drawing for each printed color. Thus the art was "pre-separated" not needing expensive photographic separation. It was a technical process, converting the intensity of each color to shades of grey and then calculating how the colors would appear when overlapped on the printed page.

My first opportunity to illustrate one of my books was Sun Fun (Franklin Watts, 1981) a book of simple projects about the sun and solar energy. It was a two color book. Obviously, I chose yellow for one of the colors. The other color I chose was red.

The second book I illustrated was my book about giant sequoia trees, The Biggest Living Thing (Carolrhoda, 1983.) This also was a two color book. I chose brown and green.

The primary illustrations for the book were done in black pencil. Then working on a light table I created the pages for the two colors being careful to line up the registration marks to make sure that they would be in the correct places when the pages were printed.

The Biggest Living Thing was a 48 page book. I began by doing the black-and-white drawings--24 double-page spreads. With the additional drawings for the two colors I did a total of 72 drawings plus a full color painting for the jacket. It was a lot of work--for not a lot of money. After finishing the project I decided to focus my energy on writing books rather than illustrating them.

Twenty years later the world had changed. Digital separation made it possible to illustrate without pre-separating. I began to illustrate again, this time using a cut-paper collage technique. But that is another story.

Global Warming and the Dinosaurs(Clarion, 2009)

Where do ideas come from? On occasion, they come to us full blown in a sudden flash of insight. More often, though, they evolve a little bit at a time until suddenly all the pieces come together and we realize we have a book that needs to be written.

The first inkling of an idea for my book Global Warming and the Dinosaurs: Fossil Discoveries at the Poles began more than twenty years ago when an exhibit of Australian fossils came to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. For the first time, I realized that dinosaurs once lived in Australia. Looking at maps of continental drift, I also realized how far south the Australian continent was at the time dinosaurs were alive. It was right next to Antarctica! And although Antarctica was more north than it is now, both it and Australia were as close to the south pole as Alaska and northern Canada are to the north pole today. So, even though the world's climate was warmer then, some of those dinosaurs would have had to put up with the dark and cold of a polar winter.

About ten years later, when I was in London for a few months while my husband was on sabbatical, I became interested in Mary Anning, the young girl who made so many important fossil discoveries on the south coast of England in the early 1800s. The walls of the Natural History Museum in London are filled with her spectacular finds. That project evolved into research on other women who have made important fossil discoveries. That was when I learned about Joan Wiffen, an amateur rock hound who found the first dinosaur fossils in New Zealand. Like Australia, New Zealand was within the southern polar circle in the Dinosaur Age. So, now I had another piece to the puzzle of polar dinosaurs.

A few years after that, I was writing a book about pterosaurs, the giant flying reptiles that ruled the skies in the Dinosaur Age, and, as I did my research, I found an article describing the discovery in Antarctica of pterosaur fossils. Dinosaur fossils were also found. So, now I knew that dinosaurs were not only in Australia and New Zealand, but in Antarctica too.

At about the same time, I went on vacation to Alaska and realized that Alaska is a treasure trove of dinosaur bones. What amazed me was the variety of dinosaurs whose fossil bones have been found there, ranging from herds of plant-eating duckbills to powerful meat-eaters in the tyrannosaurus family. Previous fossil discoveries had been mistakenly thought to be those of Ice Age animals because, until recently, no one had thought that Alaska would have been warm enough to support cold-blooded animals like dinosaurs. The first realization that dinosaurs once lived in Alaska came just twenty-five years ago, and people have been making new discoveries ever since. They have also been changing their minds about whether dinosaurs were cold-blooded as reptiles are today. Another recent book project, Dinosaurs With Feathers: the Ancestors of Modern Birds, suggested to me that some of those dinosaurs might have kept warm with feather coats!

As I often do when I travel, I went into the local library when I was in Alaska and introduced myself to the children's librarian. She knew my work and encouraged me to write a book with an Alaskan theme. She gave me a copy of that day's newspaper, which happened to have a report of a new dinosaur discovery. A retired geology professor visiting Alaska had found several large bones protruding from a riverbank. This in itself wasn't enough for a book, but along with the earlier discoveries and what I knew about dinosaurs in the southern polar regions, it made me think that I might do a book that encompassed a larger world view.

Shortly after that, I heard about a traveling exhibit called Dinosaurs of Darkness, which featured dinosaurs from Australia, Alaska, and other places that were in the polar circles during the Dinosaur Age. This was exactly the information I needed to fill in the gaps of my world view of polar dinosaurs. Even better, there was a book accompanying the exhibit. As it happened, the exhibit and book featured the work of the same Australian scientists who had organized the earlier exhibit at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum. So I already had contact with important sources for the book.

But, even then, with my idea almost fully formed and the information virtually at my fingertips, I put off getting started. The final push came by accident (or, perhaps, fate) when I sat next to another author in a signing booth at a science teacher's convention. Her specialty was science fiction, while my books focused on natural science. The top project on her agenda, she told me, was a story that took place at the North Pole. She was working hard to finish it so that it would be published in time to coincide with the upcoming International Polar Year, 2007-2009, a period when scientific research worldwide would be focused on the poles and polar topics would be in the news. (The two year span was designed to encompass two seasons of research at each pole.) I realized that this would be the ideal time for my book as well, so armed with this information, I submitted a proposal to my publisher and they agreed it was a good idea. The book has now been written and was published in the fall of 2009. The germ of the idea was planted more than twenty years ago. Little by little it grew beneath the surface. It was just waiting for the right moment to burst forth and blossom into a fully developed book.

Wiggle and Waggle (Charlesbridge, 2007)

Wiggle and Waggle gets the prize for the longest gestation period of any of my published books. I began writing stories about Wiggle and Waggle more than thirty years ago when my children were in preschool. Our family had recently moved from our tiny apartment in New York City to an old farmhouse in the country. One of the attractions of rural life was the chance to grow our own food. We picked apples in the orchard, tapped the maple trees for sap to make syrup, built a chicken coop, which we filled with fifty baby chicks we ordered from Sears, and behind the barn, in what had once been the barnyard, we dug a garden in the deep, rich earth. As we turned over the ground to prepare it for planting, we watched the worms wiggle back into the soil, after being so rudely exposed to the sunlight. Without the worms to aerate the soil and recycle the plant residue, our garden would not have been nearly so successful.

That first summer we put in tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, and zucchini. The plants sprang up practically overnight and I soon learned how to make pickles to use up the glut of cucumbers and zucchini. Our tomatoes hung heavy on the vines in huge clusters, but because we started the garden late, they had not yet ripened by the first frost in September. So, following instructions from our gardening book, we wrapped them in newspaper and brought them inside–all five hundred of them! They slowly turned red and we enjoyed the ripe fruit until Thanksgiving.

Our gardening knowledge came from reading books and trial and error. Each summer the plot grew larger, requiring more fence to keep the woodchucks at bay. One of the joys of winter was poring over seed catalogues with their colorful photos and hundreds of varieties of seeds. Should we plant blue lake or runner beans? White or red Swiss chard? Cherry, salad, or beefsteak tomatoes? Summer or winter squash? We chose the Little Sweetie pumpkin, good for both pies and jack-o-lanterns. The pumpkin vines always had minds of their own, climbing over the fence and trailing off into the field. Luckily woodchucks didn't seem to like them.

We learned to follow the cycle of the seasons, planting cool weather crops as soon as we could work the ground. The first hot spell always provoked the lettuce to bolt, turning it bitter and telling us it was time to pull it out and plant summer vegetables. In the fall, we left our brussels sprouts in the ground to be picked after the first frost, which turned them sweet and mild. Almost everything we planted grew with little help from us, aside from occasional weeding. Our luck was the fertile garden soil, inhabited by industrious worms.

About the same time that I was learning to garden, I was immersing myself in the world of children's books. Every two weeks, my son and daughter and I went to the library and checked out piles of books, which I read aloud before naps and at bedtime. We all loved the stories and pictures and I began to think that perhaps I could write stories too. Using our garden as inspiration, I created the characters of Wiggle and Waggle (then called Wilbur and Ronald.). I discovered that writing for children was harder than it looked. The original stories of Wiggle and Waggle were too long, not well connected, and the characters didn't always motivate the action. I put the stories away and turned to other projects, but every now and then I would get them out and work on them again. One part that never changed was having the worms "write" words with the shape of their tunnels.

Like the seasons, my writing career has also come full cycle. I started writing when my own children were small and mainly focused on books for young readers. As my children grew up, I shifted to writing more for older readers. My son and daughter are now grown and have their own children, who have inspired me to go back to writing for younger readers. As I got out Wiggle and Waggle once again, I reshaped the manuscript into five stories for beginning readers. Finally, after thirty-one years, those stories have become a book. The writing of Wiggle and Waggle may illustrate the value of perseverance–or perhaps it was just one of those garden plants that didn't mature in the first year, but required more time to reach its peak.

Taj Mahal (Carolrhoda, 2007)

Interview on the Writing Process

Q: What inspired you to write and work on Taj Mahal?

A: In the spring of 2000, I went to India to do an author visit at the American Embassy School in New Delhi and was taken to see the Taj Mahal. I knew it was a famous tomb memorializing the love between a great emperor and his wife, but I was unprepared for its stunning beauty as I stepped through the gate and saw the shining white domes framed against the sky. I stayed until sunset and returned again at dawn. As I walked through the gardens, I tried to imagine what it had been like more than 300 years ago when the emperor of India walked these same paths. I knew that the Taj Mahal would be the perfect subject for a book because of the love story that inspired it, the artistic and technical achievement of its architecture, and for what it tells us about Mughal culture in India. When I returned home, I met with my friend, Madeleine Comora, and proposed that we could write a book together. I knew that she was also interested in the story of the Taj Mahal and that she had recently been there with her husband Rahul Bushan.

Q: With all of the vivid detail, how long did it take you to write Taj Mahal?

A: Madeleine and I spent about two years working on the manuscript until it reached the form that you see in the book. Then, during the editing process, we continued to make changes to coordinate the text as closely as possible to the illustrations.

Q: What was your favorite part of the process while writing and publishing Taj Mahal?

A: As with all my nonfiction books, my favorite part of the writing process was the research for the book. I have always been fascinated by India, and learning more about the Mughal era gave me a deeper understanding of many of the places I visited when I was there.

Q: What is your favorite part of the book?

A: My favorite part of the story is the meeting of Prince Khurram and Arjumand at the New Year's festival. Despite the difference in time of more than 300 years and a culture unlike our own, it is easy to imagine how a handsome prince could fall in love with a beautiful girl. It is a timeless story that could happen anywhere, anytime.

Q: What was it like working on the book with another author?

A: It always takes longer to collaborate with another author than to work on a project alone, but in an ideal collaboration, the combination of two people working on a project provides a product richer than either could do alone. In this case, I brought my nonfiction skills and publishing experience to the project and Madeleine brought her wonderful sense of poetry and connection to Indian culture through her husband Rahul. Each of us wrote sections of the story and then we went through the whole book together line by line, making changes to unify the tone and character of the manuscript.

Q: How did you research the Taj Mahal to make sure the story was accurate?

A: In addition to our personal experiences visiting the Taj Mahal and other monuments of the Moghul era, our research material for this book included historical documents, academic writings, books and articles about India, and talking with experts. We also asked experts on the Mughal history of India and on the history of the Taj Mahal to read the manuscript to check it for cultural and historical accuracy.

The Terrible Hodag and the Animal Catchers (Boyds Mills Press, 2006)

Caroline Arnold's Wisconsin Connection

Caroline Arnold, author of The Terrible Hodag and the Animal Catchers, grew up in Minneapolis and spent her summers in northern Wisconsin at Camp Bovey near Solon Springs. Stories of the Hodag were told around evening campfires and visions of this scary beast were “sure to keep campers in their beds at night!”

Camp Bovey is operated by the East Side Neighborhood Services in Minneapolis, where Caroline's father, Lester Scheaffer, was director from 1948 to 1966. Caroline first went to camp with her family, and then as she got older as a camper and a counselor. Camp Bovey was originally called Camp Hodag, and was used as an outpost camp by Camp Nebagamon, a boys’ camp on Lake Nebagamon. Tales of the Hodag are also told at Camp Nebagamon.

Caroline remembers summer trips from Camp Bovey to Rhinelander to see the real home of the Hodag. One of those trips coincided with Lumberjack Days and the chance to see log rolling, tree climbing and other lumberjack feats.

Stories of the Hodag and the lumberjacks were a regular feature at the Camp Bovey campfires. Each teller gave his or her own twist to the stories. One of Caroline's favorite stories told how the Hodag helped the lumberjacks to get rid of a mean bossman. In her first children's book about the Hodag, The Terrible Hodag, published in 1989, Caroline retold this story. Her new book, The Terrible Hodag and the Animal Catchers, is an original tale in which the lumberjacks help the Hodag. “I wanted to turn the tables and give the lumberjacks a chance to return the favor to the Hodag.”

Caroline began writing books more than twenty-five years ago when her children were young. Since then she has published more than one hundred books. Most of them are about animals and the environment. “My childhood experiences in the outdoors in northern Wisconsin developed my love of the natural world. Whether I write fiction or nonfiction, that passion for nature is the source of my ideas." (For more information about Caroline's childhood at Northeast Neighborhood House, now East Side Neighborhood Services, see the entry below for her book Children of the Settlement Houses)

African Animals (Morrow Junior Books, 1997)

African Animals will be my seventeenth book published by Morrow Junior Books and continues in the tradition of books about animal behavior but unlike the books of the baby zoo animal series it is written for younger children and is illustrated with pictures that I obtained through photo research from a variety of sources including my own collection. Photo research is a bit like being on a treasure hunt and as I searched for just the right photos to illustrate this book it brought back memories of my trip to Africa twenty-five years ago.

Hawk Highway in the Sky: Watching Raptor Migration (Harcourt, 1997)

Hawk Highway in the Sky: Watching Raptor Migration will be my fourth book published by Harcourt Brace and, like the my earlier book about the California condor, reflects my longtime interest in birds and in the environment. To research the book I backpacked to a bird banding station on a mountaintop in eastern Nevada and spent five days watching and participating in the trapping and banding process. Few experiences can match the thrill of seeing hawks and falcons up close and then watching them soar skyward after their release. The pictures for this book were provided by Robert Kruidenier, an experienced volunteer at the banding station who is also an excellent photographer.

Stone Age Farmers by the Sea: Scotland's Prehistoric Village of Skara Brae (Clarion, 1997)

Stone Age Farmers Beside the Sea: Scotland's Prehistoric Village of Skara Brae will be my eleventh book published by Clarion and reflects my continuing fascination with archeology. Some of my own ancestors came originally from Scotland and what intrigues me about Skara Brae and the other neolithic ruins in the Orkney Islands is that they show how people like my ancestors may have actually lived. With this book I continue my collaboration with my husband, Art, who took the photographs for the book when we visited Scotland in celebration of our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

Children of the Settlement Houses (Carolrhoda, 1998)

In 1948, soon after my fourth birthday, my family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota where my father, Lester Scheaffer, had a new job as the director of the Northeast Neighborhood House, a settlement house in northeast Minneapolis. Like settlement houses in other American cities, the Northeast Neighborhood House (NENH) had been started by social workers in the early part of the century to help people in the surrounding neighborhood, most of whom were recent immigrants. The services provided by settlement houses ranged from English classes and day care for working mothers to dental clinics, social clubs, and sports programs. It was traditional that the staff live in the settlement house building and be part of the community. Most of the workers at NENH were young and single and lived in dormitory rooms. Our family lived in an apartment that took up half of the third floor of the building. The other half of the floor was a large kitchen and dining area where everyone ate their meals. My mother was also a social worker, and her job was to supervise the meals, manage the residence facilities, and oversee the nursery school.

The Northeast Neighborhood House was a large brick structure, a bit like a small high school or YMCA building. From the windows of our apartment we looked down onto Second Street, where, until they tore up the tracks some years later, streetcars clanged by every fifteen minutes or so. After nearly eighty years of use, the building became increasingly crowded as programs expanded, and in the spring of 2000 construction began on a new larger building on land nearby.

My family lived at NENH until I was ten. It was a somewhat unusual childhood because in addition to my immediate family I was part of the larger "family" that lived and worked at the settlement house. And instead of living in a traditional home, my “house” included a gymnasium, an auditorium, clubrooms, workshops, and a fully equipped playground. Among the programs for children offered at that time were clubs and sports. Almost every afternoon after school I was busy with puppetry, cooking, drama, crafts, gym, or other activities with neighborhood kids. In the summer I attended Camp Bovey, the NENH camp in northern Wisconsin.

Bobcats (Lerner, 1997)

Bobcats will be published by Lerner Publications, the parent company of Carolrhoda Books, a publisher that I have worked with since 1982. With this book Dick Hewett and I continue our long collaboration together but in a new format for younger readers. For many years I have heard from teachers and librarians that there is a need for more books about animals for the primary grades so with Bobcats and several others we will do for the new Lerner EarlyBird Nature series we will try to fill this gap.

Watching Desert Wildlife (Carolrhoda Books, 1994)

Illustrated with color photographs by Arthur Arnold.

I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and it was not until I moved to California as an adult that I had any extended contact with the desert. At first I couldn't imagine that anything could possibly live in such a barren, alien land. But as I began to visit the desert at different times of year--in summer when the heat is so intense it almost takes your breath away, in winter when snow blankets the surrounding mountain peaks, and in spring when the profusion of flowering plants make the desert seem like a garden--I grew to love the desert. My book, WATCHING DESERT WILDLIFE, is about myfascination with the way living things have adapted to the lack of water and extreme temperatures of the desert. My husband, Arthur Arnold, and I traveled to deserts throughout the West to photograph and research the book. I loved getting up early to catch the sunrise--one of the best times for photography and also for watching wildlife. Footprints in the sand showed where nighttime animals had walked and with luck we knew we might see some of these creatures before they settled down for the day. We often saw coyotes on their way back to their daytime lairs and we listened to birds singing their early morning songs. My role on these excursions was to look for wildlife and also to be a photographer's assistant. In one case, as I backed away from one of our subjects I inadvertently stepped on a cactus!

City of the Gods: Mexico's Ancient City of Teotihuacan (Clarion, 1994)

Illustrated with color photographs by Richard Hewett.

I first became interested in ancient cultures of Mexico when I was writing my book The Ancient Cliff Dwellers of Mesa Verde. I learned that even before the Anasazi began to build their villages at Mesa Verde (in what is now the four corners area of the Southwestern United States), people far to the south had built a vast city with pyramids, temples and housing for more than 2000 people. I first saw Teotihuacan (pronounced Tay-oh-tee-wa-kon) as a tourist and, along with thousands of other visitors, mostly Mexicans who had come to experience part of their heritage, I walked along the Avenue of the Dead, peered at still colorful murals of jaguars and ancient priests, and climbed the 248 steps to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun--no small feat when you remember that the elevation of Teotihuacan is 7000 feet above sea level! In writing a book like THE CITY OF THE GODS it is important for me to experience as much as I can about the place--to breathe the air, feel the stones, see the landscape--to understand what it might have been like to live there twenty centuries ago. I hope that my book will enable readers to make a vicarious trip to this first great city in the Americas so that they can be amazed as I was at the vast accomplishments of that rich culture.

On the Brink of Extinction: The California Condor (Harcourt Brace, 1993)

Illustrated with color photographs by Michael Wallace, director of the Los Angeles Zoo condor program.

Since the publication of my book, ON THE BRINK OF EXTINCTION, many more condor chicks have hatched at both the Los Angeles Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park. By the end of the 1995 breeding season the total number of California condors had reached 103, an amazing number considering that the population was once as low as 21 birds. The success of the breeding program has meant that there are more birds available for release to the wild. In August, eight more zoo-bred condors were released in Santa Barbara county in California, bringing the total number of free flying condors in California to 13. The next step in the recovery project for this highly endangered bird calls for releasing condors in a remote area of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The aim of the release programs is to build up condor populations of 15 pairs of birds. And as birds become established at these places, additional sites elsewhere will be chosen to release and reestablish even more California condors in the wild. Many of the Andean condors raised from chicks hatched in North American zoos have been released in South America. Recently, biologists in Columbia reported that a pair of captive bred condors that are now living free have produced a fertile egg.

The Ancient Cliff Dwellers of Mesa Verde(Clarion Books, 1992)

Illustrated with color photographs by Richard Hewett.

My first visit to Mesa Verde National Park was on a family vacation when I was fourteen. We pitched our tent on the edge of the mesa and, like the ancient Anasazi, cooked our meals over an open fire. It was easy to imagine our campsite as a place where the Anasazi might have tilled the ground to plant corn and beans or hunted with bows and arrows for deer or wild turkey. As we looked into the canyon below our campsite we could see Spruce Tree House, a complex of square buildings that had been built into the cliff wall one thousand years ago. Protected from wind and weather by the overhanging rocks, they looked much as they had when they were new. My brothers and I delighted in scrambling up and down the ladders of the cliff dwellings and investigating the open rooms. I also spent hours inside the park museum learning about the people who had once lived at Mesa Verde. As I viewed the fine baskets, intricately decorated pots, carved stone and bone tools and other artifacts, I wondered about the ancient Americans known to us as the Anasazi and about why they had abandoned their homes around 1300 AD. Recently when I returned to Mesa Verde with Richard Hewett to research and photograph our book I discovered that even more ancient sites had been excavated and opened to the public. I was intrigued by the archeological process--how people discover evidence of ancient cultures and how they figure out what it means. The buildings and household objects that the Anasazi left behind are like pieces of a puzzle, which reveal what life was like on that high tableland over a thousand years ago.

Trapped in Tar: Fossils From the Ice Age (Clarion, 1987)

Illustrated with black and white photographs by Richard Hewett.

When I was growing up in Minneapolis I spent a lot of time in the out of doors and my parents interest in the natural world encouraged me and my three younger brothers to become involved in bird watching, learning to identify wild flowers, and collecting rocks. I still remember climbing cliffs along the Mississippi river to collect chunks of limestone and the thrill of cracking it open to discover the perfectly preserved skeleton of a creature that had lived millions of years earlier. When I moved to Los Angeles as an adult and saw the fossilized skeletons of Ice Age animals at the La Brea Tar Pits, I felt this same sense of awe.

Koala (Morrow Junior Books, 1987)

Illustrated with color photographs by Richard Hewett.

When I was working on my book, Koala, I was very lucky to be able to do my research in Australia. I had first learned about koalas on a family vacation to Australia. Later I returned with the photographer and we spent two weeks behind the scenes at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Queensland. I wanted to know what koalas look like (like living teddy bears), how they behave (they mostly sleep and eat), how they feel (their fur is soft but their claws are needle sharp),how they smell (like their food, eucalyptus leaves), and everything else that I could observe about how they live. At the same time I was helping the photographer get the photos we needed to illustrate the book. Our goal was to make our readers feel as if they were in Australia while turning the pages of the book.

Cheetah (Morrow Junior Books, 1989)

Illustrated with full color photographs by Richard Hewett.

The idea for our book, Cheetah, came by chance. Dick Hewett, the photographer with whom I collaborate, and I were trying to find a place to photograph giraffes for another book. When we contacted a wild animal park in Oregon, we discovered that although they didn't have any giraffes, they had lots of cheetahs. Perhaps, they suggested, we'd like to do a book on cheetahs.

I liked the idea of doing a cheetah book for our animal series at Morrow Junior Books. We had not yet done a cat book, and cheetahs fit into our theme of animals threatened with extinction. Also, as the fastest land animal in the world, the cheetah had tremendous child appeal. For Dick, the idea was attractive because the setting of the wildlife park offered the possibility of natural and dramatic photos of this elegant cat.

I wrote a short proposal, and our editor agreed that it would be a good addition to our series. Then I went to the library to read as much as I could about cheetahs. Based on this material and on information from the wildlife park, Dick and I made a list of the photos we wanted for the book. We knew we needed photos that showed the behavior and physical features of cheetahs. We also wanted photos that showed what was special about the cheetahs at the park. We discussed our project with the keepers and decided that spring would be the best time to visit. We decided that 10 days would probably be enough time to get to know the cheetahs, and it allowed for rainy days (which were likely in Oregon) and other unpredictable events that might interfere with taking photographs.

Our first week at the park was spent inside the cheetah enclosure--several acres of wooded hillsides where eight cheetahs lived. We sat inside the safety of our car (a park rule) and watched the animals, I taking notes and Dick waiting for photo opportunities. (His telephoto lens made the animals in the photos seem closer than they really were) We learned that most activity occurred around feeding time--otherwise, like most cats, the cheetahs spent much of their day asleep. The hours we spent observing the cheetahs helped us to know them really well. At the same time, Dick and I had plenty of time to discuss how to organize the book. One cheetah, named Damara, lived by herself near the park visitor center. She had been handraised and liked to be near people. Because she was tame, she was happy to sit still to have her ears examined or to be petted by children in a visiting school group. This gave us the chance for close-up pictures.

By the end of our visit, Dick had taken about 40 rolls of film. Back home in Los Angeles, we went through the photos together. I wanted photos that illustrated the points in my text and Dick was looking for pictures that were artistically interesting. Ideally, our final selection would be of photographs that fit both of these criteria. We hadn't been able to get two of the photos on our list--cheetah cubs and a running cheetah--so we arranged to borrow those from the slide collection at the animal park.

In the meanwhile, I began to write my final text, shaping it to fit the photos that I knew we had. When the text was finished, we were ready to make a dummy of the book. Paragraph by paragraph we decided what text and photos would go on each page spread. Then Dick used his enlarger to project the photos and trace outlines of the main objects onto paper that had been cut to be the same size as the pages in the book. I made a copy of the manuscript and cut it up to go with the pictures. This helped us to see if the pictures and text were working together. It also showed our editor our suggestions for the sizes and cropping of photos. When everything was complete, we sent the manuscript, slides, and dummy to our editor. We knew that some fine tuning still lay ahead, but for us, the hard work of creating our book about cheetahs was nearly finished.

Easter Island: Giant Stone Statues Tell of a Rich and Tragic Past (Clarion Books, 2000)

Illustrated with full color photographs by Caroline Arnold.

Perhaps the most exotic site I’ve ever visited is Easter Island in the South Pacific, where I went to photograph and research my book, Easter Island: Giant Stone Statues Tell of a Rich and Tragic Past. Although I had read about the giant statues and the people who made them a thousand years ago, nothing prepared me for standing in the ancient quarry amid dozens of half carved statues that never made it to their seaside platforms or climbing to the top of the cliff where the birdman rituals were once performed. My personal experience on Easter Island was important for bringing a sense of immediacy to my book, but the cost of time and travel meant that I could only spend a short time there. After I got home I needed to do extensive museum and library research as well. It took me a year to collect everything I needed and when I was ready to write I had a box bursting with notes, brochures, books, tapes, and other research materials. My book was for children ages ten and up so I knew I was limited to a manuscript of about 5000 words. Several months later, after distilling the mass of material I had collected to its essential points, the manuscript was ready to turn in to my editor.

The agony of being a nonfiction writer is that the space allotted for text in the book is never enough for all that wonderful information that was discovered in the research. This is particularly true when writing for children since the text and page length of the book are relatively short. Even if I were able to include every detail, I don’t want to overwhelm the reader by providing more than he or she wants to know. But there are several ways I supplement the information included in the main text and enrich the overall impact of the book: through captions, sidebars, charts, maps, time lines, projects, list of further resources, author notes and acknowledgments.

Since most books for children are widely illustrated, there are ample opportunities to add information through captions. Minimally the caption needs to identify the illustration and show how it ties into the text, but often there is room to elaborate. For instance, in my book Easter Island, a scenic photo showing several cultivated fields has the following caption: View from the crater Puna Pau. Now, as in ancient times, much of Easter Island’s land is tilled for agriculture. (Captions are almost always written in the present tense) Throughout the book I used captions not only to add information but to tie the photos and text together to create a more unified presentation.

Dinosaurs with Feathers: The Ancestors of Modern Birds (Clarion Books, 2001)

Illustrated with full color paintings by Laurie Caple.

Sidebars are a technique I use when I want to elaborate on points that are related to the theme but would slow the pace if they were included in the main body of the text. In my book, Dinosaurs With Feathers: The Ancestors of Modern Birds, the focus of the book is on the origin of birds and their relationship to dinosaurs. Sidebars on fossil feathers, birds with and without teeth, and stomach stones (stones swallowed by dinosaurs to aid in digestion), allow me to provide the reader with information that reinforces the main idea but is too detailed. I was pleased that the illustrator drew slabs of fossil rocks as background for these sidebars, a clever way to visually integrate them into the book.

El Nino: Stormy Weather for People and Wildlife (Clarion Books, 1998)

Illustrated with full color photographs.

In December 1997, the front page of the Los Angeles Times featured a picture of an emaciated sea lion over a headline that read, “El Nino Starves Sea Lions, Seals: As warm water drives away prey, 6,000 pups die on one island alone.” It was a heartbreaking photo and made one want to read the story that followed.

El Nino is the term used to describe a wide range of cyclic weather events caused by the warming of the central Pacific Ocean. In the western Pacific, El Nino typically creates drought and terrible fires, while in California, where I live, it usually brings an abnormally wet winter with floods and mudslides. Natural disasters are always good topics for nonfiction books, especially when they impact people and the environment. As it happened, I was already at work on my book, El Nino: Stormy Weather for People and Wildlife. I clipped out the article and added it to my file.

The idea of writing a book about El Nino and its effects on people and wildlife came to me in 1992, when I was researching another book, Sea Lion, a photo essay about two stranded sea lion pups being cared for at a local marine mammal rescue center. I often write about wildlife, an interest that grew out of my childhood summers spent at a camp in northern Wisconsin and I am especially interested in animals that are endangered. When I asked why the animals at the rescue center needed help, I got a long list of reasons ranging from injuries by motorboats and tangled fishing lines to starvation caused by El Nino. (1992 was another El Nino year) I realized that if sea lions were so devastated by the effects of El Nino, a lot of other animals probably were, too. Over the next year or so, I accumulated more information about El Nino and its influence on wildlife. When it was clear that I had more than enough material to fill a book I wrote a proposal and sent it to my editor. She agreed that the subject would make an interesting book, and so I got started.

Stories in Stone: Rock Art Pictures by Early Americans(Clarion Books, 1996)

Illustrated with full color photographs.

I frequently discover ideas for new books while I am working on other projects. What is mentioned as a passing fact in one book later turns out to be the main theme of another project. For instance, in my book The Ancient Cliff Dwellers of Mesa Verde, I wrote a short section about petroglyphs, or rock art. I was fascinated by the stone images carved into the rock and by the fact that they have endured for hundreds of years. A few years later, as I was leafing through a local museum publication, I learned of a rock art site in the California desert where thousands of petroglyphs lined the canyon walls. I arranged a visit and discovered the subject for a new book, Stories in Stone: Rock Art Pictures by Ancient Americans. In it I explored not only the stone images themselves but the people who made them, how they did it, and what the symbols may represent. Learning about people who lived in the past is another of my long time interests. When I visit an ancient site such as the petroglyph canyons or Mesa Verde, I find it easy to imagine myself living hundreds or thousands of years ago. I am amazed by how much archeologists can learn about the daily lives of people who lived long ago by examining the things they left behind. My goal in writing about these subjects for children is to convey some of that same sense of wonder.

Uluru, Australia's Aboriginal Heart (Clarion Books, 2003)

Illustrated with full color photographs by Arthur arnold.

The following is my diary report written after my first visit to Uluru and Australia's red center in 1999.

We have just returned from our Easter vacation trip with a week’s worth of clothes covered in fine red dust acquired in Australia’s “Red Center” where we visited Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock), in Uluru and Kata Tjuta National Park, and Alice Springs, the largest town in the heart of Australia’s enormous desert interior and the center of life in the outback. In the desert, daytime temperatures can easily rise to 110 degrees or more and in winter it goes below freezing at night, but we were lucky to have beautiful weather in the seventies. In the morning, though, it was so cold that I had to put on my thermal underwear! As in most deserts, one would think that nothing could live in such a harsh environment, but we saw a surprising variety of plant and animal life, especially near sources of water. Actually, the land around Uluru was green and flowering due to rains several weeks ago. This trip was also our first real exposure to Aboriginal life and we learned how people have lived and survived in this region for 70,000 years. About half of the land in the Northern Territory belongs to the Aboriginal Land Trust, the equivalent of America’s Indian Reservations, and most of Australia’s Aborigines live in this region.

We flew to Uluru on Thursday, arriving about noon at our hotel in the resort village of Yulara. Until the 1970's the only way to visit Uluru (then called Ayers Rock) was to drive there and camp or stay at a small motel, both located right at the base of the rock. (You may have seen a movie called Cry in the Dark starring Meryl Streep. It was based on the true story of a couple camping at the rock whose baby was supposedly stolen by a dingo) As Uluru became an increasingly popular tourist destination (currently 400,000 people visit each year) it was decided to move all the accommodation facilities outside the park boundary and Yulara was built. About the same time the government was under increasing pressure from the Aborigines, who regard Uluru as a sacred site, to return the national park to them. The Hand Back, as it is called, finally happened in 1985 with the agreement that tourists would continue to be allowed to visit.

We had a great time at Uluru but we didn't climb it. The Aborigines don't really like having people climb it although they don't stop them. Many people do but the more eco-minded tour companies are discouraging it. Not only is it disrespectful for the Aborigines who consider the rock sacred but it is wearing down the rock. In any case, Art doesn't like high places so he was easily convinced that we didn't want to climb. We decided that we'd much more enjoy our walk around the base of the rock. The Aborigines call the people who climb the rock Mingi, which means "ants" and that's exactly what they look like when you see them from a distance.

I had previously seen many photos of Uluru but I was unprepared for the impact it has in real life. It is located about seven miles from the resort and looms nearly 1000 feet above the flat desert floor. I always thought the photos of the brilliant red rock were color enhanced, but the sandstone really is a natural deep red and practically glows at sunrise and sunset, the two high points of every day. On our first evening we went to the official sunset viewing spot and along with hundreds of other tourists, took our photos. The next morning we got up at 5:30 to meet our tour guide for a sunrise breakfast walk around the base of the rock, a distance of about ten kilometers.. This was a small group eco-tour and this time we were nearly alone to enjoy the lighting of the rock at dawn. At the same time we had the double pleasure of seeing the moon set behind the rock. In the course of the walk we were introduced to desert plants, saw lots of birds (including our first sighting of zebra finches in the wild) and heard some of the aboriginal stories associated with the Rock. We had chances to try “bush tucker” (native edible foods) including a tiny red fruit called the bush plum and the so-called bush banana, which is banana shaped but more like eating the inside of a milkweed pod. Our outing the next day was a hike and sunset barbecue at the Kata Tjuta, an equally impressive but less well known rocky outcrop nearby. The Aboriginal name, Kata Tjuta, means stone heads and they do look like giant heads piled on the horizon.

On Sunday morning we flew from Ayers Rock to Alice Springs, a distance of about 300 miles. Although it was Easter, there wasn’t much celebration. We noticed that some people are trying to promote the bilby, a marsupial with long, rabbit-like ears, as an Easter Bunny alternative--eg, the Easter Bilby--but it doesn't seem to be catching on. At the Desert Park in Alice Springs (where we actually saw a bilby in the night exhibit) they had a special exhibit of eggs to celebrate the rebirth of life. They showed all kinds of eggs--birds, reptiles, insects and even mammals (the echidna) We got nabbed by a ranger on our way in who needed an audience to talk about the eggs but who managed to get sidetracked into telling us about his Aboriginal heritage and how he is part of the emu clan.

In Alice Springs we visited the shops and art galleries in the center of town and were tempted to buy some of the carvings and paintings but the ones we really liked were both too big and too expensive. We then drove north of town about fifteen miles to the Tropic of Capricorn marker (to take a companion photo for our Equator shot from 1971 and the more recent Greenwich Meridian) en route to the Bond Springs Station, a working cattle ranch that was also our bed and breakfast. We had our own small cottage and arranged to have dinner there which we ate on our own verandah as we watched the stars come out. In the morning we went out for a bird walk along a dry creek bed and saw parrots, cockatoos, budgies, zebra finches as well as some kangaroos who seemed as surprised to see us as we were to see them. Later in the day we had a tour of the station and got some insight into the challenges of grazing cattle over millions of acres in the outback. I always had a romantic image of cowboys on horseback rounding up the cattle, but on modern stations like this one the cattle are mustered with airplanes, helicopters and motorbikes because it is quicker and more cost effective. That evening we went to a barbecue and were served beef steaks from the station’s own cattle. At both Ayers Rock and Alice Springs we had terrific views of the night sky. For the first time we saw the Magellanic clouds--which Magellan apparently used to figure out where south was.

Our outings in Alice Springs included a tour of the old telegraph station (now a museum) which is at the site of the original Alice Springs. The “spring” is actually a pool in a river bed and was named after the wife of the Superintendent of Telegraphs. The telegraph station, constructed in the 1870's, was the beginning of the town of Alice Springs and the line, which went between Adelaide in the south and Darwin in the north, provided for the first time a direct connection (via an undersea cable between Darwin and Java) between Australia and the rest of the world. We got to talking with the managers of the Telegraph Station Museum and they showed us the three joeys (baby kangaroos) that they were taking care of after their mothers had been killed by cars. One was so small that they kept it tucked into a purse sized cloth pouch. Our other tourist destinations in Alice Springs were to the Desert Park (an exhibit of desert wildlife), the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the School of the Air, and finally a date grove where we had afternoon coffee and date cake before returning to Melbourne.

The Flying Doctor Service was started by a Presbyterian missionary in 1928 as a way of providing health care to people in remote areas. Communication to the center in Alice Springs was by radio and when a call came in a pilot and a doctor would head out hoping that when they got there they would find a suitable place to land. The radio service is also used to give medical advice for immediate treatment while the patient is waiting for the doctor to arrive. When we toured the center in the early afternoon, the log on the wall showed five emergencies had already been dealt with that day. In the 1950's someone had the idea of using the same radio service to provide schooling to children who live on remote cattle stations and that became the School of the Air.

The School of the Air now has its own facility and teaches about 200 children, some of them living as far as 1000 kilometers from Alice Springs. We listened in as a teacher gave a lesson to a six year old student. Kids get group lessons by grade level each morning for an hour and then once a week each child gets an individual lesson. The kids get lesson packets every two weeks in the mail and the work is supervised either by a parent or a governess. We saw samples of work on display at the school headquarters and it was well done. In many ways these kids have all the advantages of individual attention in their home schooling and at the same time they are able to grow up on their cattle stations and be part of that life too. School of the Air goes to grade 7 and after that the kids go to boarding school. Our tour guide on the cattle ranch where we stayed had grown up there and went to School of the Air with his brother and two sisters. (We saw the room that they had used for their lessons) Although we had driven into the ranch on a dirt road that was in bumpy but reasonable condition, until recently there was no road at all. Getting into town was an ordeal, especially if it rained and the creeks filled with water, so School of the Air was the best option.

It is hard for us to realize how self-sufficient people have to be in the outback. At Bond Springs they have maintained the original homestead buildings as part of the National Trust so you can see how people really lived when they first came to the outback. The first house was one tiny room with dirt floors and a canvas bed. Later a slightly larger house was built. (I had always thought that quilts were a uniquely American craft but when we visited the homestead we saw on the bed a wedding quilt that had been made for the couple by the bride and groom's mothers) The current family home was built in the 1930's and has at its heart a high ceilinged kitchen with a giant table where we ate breakfast.. Even at Bond Springs, which now seems quite modern, it has only been recently that the station has had telephone service and they still have to produce all their own electricity. Despite the obvious hardships, the people who live in the outback love it and can't imagine why anyone would want to live anywhere else. When we told one of the people working at Bond Springs that our home was in Los Angeles, she seemed sorry that we had to live in a city.

I am reading a book called We of the Never-Never that is a memoir of a woman at a cattle station in the early part of the century. During the rainy season they would be cut off for weeks when rain swollen rivers became impassable and then it would take weeks after it dried for wagons to travel from Darwin. Her solution to the perpetual fly problem was to construct a net that enclosed the entire dining room--table, chairs and all! The book was made into a movie that we saw the last time we were in Australia. (The outback is the Never-Never because once you live there, you never-never want to return to city life) Art is reading another classic, A Fortunate Life, about a man whose life would seem to be anything but fortunate.

I always take several books to read on vacations and never read any of them partly because I always buy books on the trip (like We of the Never-Never) and start reading them and partly because when I'm on the airplane I find it much more interesting to look out the window than to read. Our flight to Ayers Rock (from Melbourne via Sydney) took us over miles and miles of desolate desert where you could see the patterns of salt deposited across the bottom of enormous dry lake beds. It is hard to imagine that there are times when these lakes actually have water in them.

Our trip was so full of interesting things that I hardly knew where to begin and as it is I have just touched the highlights. At moments the Australian desert reminded us of experiences we’ve had in American deserts such as at Joshua Tree National Monument, in the Mojave or in Borrego Springs, but the scale and distances in Australia are so much grander. There is also the sense with the Aborigines that they are part of a really distant past--in a time long before there was any human life in the Americas. The Red Center is definitely the most foreign place we've visited in Australia and it’s a long way from anywhere. Its like flying from LA to Denver and realizing that there is nothing in between.

PETS WITHOUT HOMES (Clarion, 1983)

In 1984, my book Pets Without Homes was named a Golden Kite honor book by the SCBW. (It later became the SCBWI.) The following are my remarks upon receiving the award.

I feel particularly honored to receive this award tonight because, in so many ways, the SCBW has been critical to my success as an author. When I attended my first conference here in August 1977, I was an aspiring but yet unpublished writer. I was thrilled to meet already established writers, illustrators, editors and agents, and I hoped that someday I might be a bit like them. However, I certainly never dreamed that one day I would be standing up here receiving an award.

At the conference it had been emphasized that people usually write best about topics that they know and care about and with which they have had personal experience. The idea for my book Pets Without Homes began when my daughter Jennifer, who was about to turn nine, told us that she wanted a kitten for her birthday. So a few days before her birthday, which was in early February, I went to our local animal shelter intending to pick out a kitten. I looked in all the cages and saw lots of cats, but no kittens. I went to another shelter, but again, lots of cats and no kittens. Although I had grown up in the midwest where puppies and kittens are usually born in the warm spring and summer months, I was assuming that here in California where it is warm all year round, that kittens would be available at any time. However, I found out that I was wrong. Even in California, it seems, most cats have their kittens in spring and summer. Over the next two months I visited nearly every shelter in Los Angeles County, hoping to find an early kitten. I learned a lot about animal shelters and eventually, at the beginning of April, I finally found a kitten for Jennifer's birthday.

I could not have written Pets Without Homes without the help and cooperation of many other people. I particularly want to thank my editor at Clarion, Ann Troy, and all the other people at Clarion who worked together to produce this book. I am glad that Jim Giblin, as a representative of Clarion, can be here tonight to share the honor for this book, and I wish Ann could have been with us too. I also want to thank the staff of the Santa Monica Animal shelter who cooperated with us so cheerfully in this project.

Most of all I want to thank Dick Hewett, who illustrated Pets Without Homes with his wonderful photographs. Although Dick had previously done several fine books with his wife Joan, this was the first time I had ever worked with a photographer for one of my books. It turned out to be a truly cooperative project in which my text suggested photos for him to take, and in which his photos often suggested changes or additions to the text.

Dick and I had decided that the star of our book would be a lost puppy, and luckily, at just about the time we were ready to go to work on the book, the perfect puppy arrived at the shelter. It had big eyes, floppy ears, an a most winsome expression. Although it is hard to imagine how anyone could have abandoned this puppy, its owner never came for it. We claimed the puppy for our star and named him Buffy.

This afternoon the panel members were asked, "What was the biggest problem you had with your book?" My answer to that question would have been "time". Buffy, like all puppies, was growing rapidly and we knew we had to finish our story fast. Luckily everything went smoothly and in several weeks I had my story and Dick had all the pictures he needed. However, if you look carefully, you will see that Buffy is definitely bigger at the end of the story than he is at the beginning.

Pets Without Homes is a special book to me for many reasons, but particularly because I will always have a special fondness for Buffy, who did in fact find a new home by the end of the book.

Reflections on my Long Collaboration with Richard Hewett (adapted from a talk at SCBWI/LA Writer's Day, April 22, 2006

In 1981, I came up with an idea to do a book about a city animal shelter. When I proposed it to my editor, her response was that she liked the idea but thought it would be best to illustrate it with photographs. The problem was that she didn't know any photographers in Los Angeles. As it happened, I did. The photographer was Richard Hewett, the husband of my friend Joan Hewett, another children's book writer. He agreed to take the photographs for my book, which became Pets Without Homes. This book, which won a Golden Kite honorable mention, was the beginning of a collaboration that lasted nearly twenty years and produced almost fifty books. Looking back, I believe that meeting Dick was the most significant event in my writing career. Together we produced a new kind of photo book, in which the words and pictures told the story together to become an integrated whole. It was a true collaborative process in which my words influenced his pictures and his pictures inspired my words.

Sadly, Richard passed away on April 7, 2006, after a long illness. He will be greatly missed by his friends and family, and by the countless people who knew him through his books. Dick also worked with his wife, Joan, and with several other children's book writers. I learned a great deal about writing books from working with Dick and I would like to dedicate this talk to him.

Dick also came to the world of children's books as a second career. For most of his life he had been a magazine photographer, doing stories for Life, Look, TV Guide and various other magazines. His specialty was animal photography, so with my interest in animals and the natural world, we were a good match.

In all of our books we worked together as an author/photographer team. While Dick took photographs, I took notes and did on site research. One of the first things I learned from Dick was that each book sets its own rules. There is no one right way to get the information or pictures that you need. Dick was like all good photographers--he did whatever was necessary to get the picture he wanted and often drove people crazy in the process. In the picture you see here, we were working on a penguin book at the San Francisco Zoo, and Dick persuaded the zoo keepers to loan him a pair of hip boots so he could go into the water and get close to the birds. This is one of my rare pictures of Dick, because most of the time he was the one holding the camera. For some reason, I also had a camera that day.

For every book that we did, the first step was to come up with an idea or a topic. Typically we did life cycle books about animals and the challenge was to find a zoo or animal park where the animals were breeding and were displayed in naturalistic enclosures. Then my job was to do enough preliminary research to write an outline of the story. At this point we were usually ready to go "on scene" and start taking pictures. From the beginning, Dick was always looking for his lead shot, which would open the book and introduce the reader to the main subject, and for the end shot, which would be the final image of the story. Besides the cover, these were the most important pictures in the book--they were like the two pieces of bread that hold a sandwich together. The inside of the book could be a bit flexible, but the two ends had to make the book look and feel complete. The same had to go for my writing. I often spend as much time on the opening and closing paragraphs of my book as what goes in between.

My role during the picture taking process was as the photographer's assistant--I drove the car, carried cameras, held the sun shade, and provided an extra pair of eyes for spotting a possible photo subject. The advantage of being "on scene" was that I understood the circumstances surrounding each photo and I also could be aware of the nonvisual aspects of the scene. Later, when I was writing the final version of the manuscript at home, I always tried to include as many of the sounds and smells and other sensual information as I could, to make the reader feel on scene as well.

Another goal of Dick's photography was to capture some kind of action or emotion in the photo. One thing we learned in all our visits to zoos, is that the vast majority of time, animals just eat and sleep. The brief moments of interaction are rare and the only way to catch them is just to be patient and wait for something to happen. As I wrote my text, I too tried to create empathy or identity with the animals, without anthropomorphizing them and this is what connects the reader to the story.

Another type of book that Dick and I did together was a visit to a place, such as Mesa Verde National Park, where you can see cliff dwellings and other remains of the ancient Anasazi who lived in the southwest more than 1000 years ago. When we did a book like this, or about fossils, or rock art, Dick would moan and groan that it was just a pile of rocks--how was he going to get any human warmth into the photos? The solution was to find ways to include people in the photos, and if at all possible, pictures of children.

Sometimes, if no one else was available, I had to be a model, although always reluctantly. On the cover of our book, The Ancient Cliff Dwellers of Mesa Verde, you can see me climbing a ladder. We needed to have a person in the picture to provide scale. I agreed to do it as long as I remained very small! For close-ups I often volunteered my hands which helped show the actual size of objects.

Sometimes Dick and I did books based on museum exhibits. This photo is the title page of our book Watch Out for Sharks, an exhibit that was at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. A life size model of the mouth of an extinct relative of the great white shark becomes even more impressive when you see three people dwarfed inside it! Like all sharks, this shark regularly lost its teeth, some of which became fossils. I bought a real giant shark fossil that I use in my school presentations to show children that these teeth really were as big as a hand.

After the pictures were taken and my manuscript was complete it was time to assemble the book. In all our projects, Dick and I laid out the book page spread by page spread. In this way we could see the flow of the story and how well the pictures and text were coordinated. This process made me very conscious of page turns and the need to think of my text in blocks that would fit on a page.

Many nonfiction books are illustrated with photos. The advantage of a photo is that it shows what the subject really looks like. In today's world where children are exposed to amazing nature films on video and television, they want to see pictures of real animals in books. In all the books I did with Dick Hewett, his photos brought the animals to life and made them memorable in ways that he was uniquely capable of doing. He taught me how to see the world through the eye of his camera.

Music Lessons for Alex (Clarion, 1985)

Illustrated with black and white photographs by Richard Hewett.

On August 3, 1985, the first copies of my new book, Music Lessons for Alex, arrived in California--just in time for the Suzuki Institute (a summer music camp for children) at UCLA. Although I had written over 30 books for children, the publication of this book was particularly special for me. Music Lessons for Alex traces the story of an eight-year-old girl, Alex, from the time she first begins violin lessons to her first recital nine months later. Like Alex, my own children struggled through beginning lessons, also experiencing the joy of progress, occasional frustration and disappointment, and ultimately the triumph of success.

Many children who begin music lessons become discouraged because they do not understand the process involved, and imagine that they will become virtuosos overnight. I wanted to write a book that might help children and parents realize that learning to play music is just like learning to read, play a sport, or any other skill--that it is a slow, gradual, step-by-step process that can be fun and have rewards along the way.

In the spring of 1983, when I suggested my idea to my editor at Clarion Books in New York, she was interested. She remembered her own experience of playing the cello in her school orchestra and felt that if she had had a book such as mine, it might have helped her enjoy it more. We discussed how I would write my book and decided that it would be best to present the material in story form. The book would be illustrated by Dick Hewett, a Los Angeles photographer with whom I had worked before.

Dick and I were lucky to have the cooperation of so many people, particularly Alex and her family, her teacher, and the students and teachers of the San Fernando Valley Suzuki workshop program. We attended several of Alex's lessons, during which Dick took unposed photos--trying to be as unobtrusive as possible so that the lesson would not be interrupted. He also took photos when Alex went to group lessons at the workshops.

When we assembled all the photos for the book we realized that there were some points that I had made in the story, such as tuning, correct placement of the feet, practicing at home, that did not yet have illustrations, so we arranged to spend a day with Alex and Susan to take those photos. We also took photos of an elementary school orchestra to illustrate the point that as Alex progressed, playing in an orchestra was something to which she could aspire. We also wanted to show instruments other than the violin, for, although we had focused on the violin in our book, we felt that the basic process of learning to play music was similar for all instruments.

When the photos and text of the book were finished and assembled--a process that took several months--we sent them to our editor. Then we worked with her to refine and clarify details. One of the hardest things for me to remember was that because of my involvement in my own children's lessons, I understood a lot of musical terms that a child or parent new to music lessons, might not. As I wrote, I had to keep asking myself, "What would I want to know about music lessons if this were my first introduction to the subject?"" Finally, more than a year after we had submitted our completed project to our editor, the book was published.

As people attending the Suzuki Institute read Music Lessons for Alex, the people depicted in the photographs in the book discovered that they had become celebrities of a sort. Alex was even asked for her autograph by several people. I was pleased to have such a positive response to the book and hope that many children and parents will have the opportunity to read it.