Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


The origin of Vroomaloom Zoom

When I was a boy, my grandfather told me stories about taking his niece out for car rides because "that is the only way she'd fall asleep."

When I was a dad, my daughter would frequently fall asleep when we were driving around in the car.

When I was a writer, Phyllis Root suggested trying to write a picture book text in under 100 words. At that time, I was also working with the composer Libby Larsen on a concert involving students and sound, and I was paying a lot of attention to sound.

All of those things went into Vroomaloom Zoom. The book, with great illustrations by Joe Cepeda, had a fun run in both hardcover and paperback, and then went out of print. Now, however, I've found another publisher who is willing to bring Vroomaloom Zoom back for another lap.


A Child's Point of View

I have kept journals for both of my kids as they grew up, writing down things they would say, questions they would ask, games they liked to play. And when I joined my first writer's group in 2002, it was to these journals that I returned after the first meeting, to research my children's experiences for ideas. It was in my son's journal that I had written down his proclamation at the age of six, that most people think summer is the hottest season, but not him, because "in winter you wear warm clothes, drink hot chocolate, and sit by hot fires, so winter is the hottest season!" Playing around with this logic and listing all of the warm things found in winter and all of the cold things found in summer, I wrote my first picture book manuscript in three days, sent it to my editor, who bought it by the end of the week, and I went to my second writer's group meeting with the great news that I had sold my first manuscript, Winter is the Warmest Season! Needless to say, I have not produced new stories with such swiftness and clarity since, but I do return to my children's journals for story ideas, even when I am illustrating someone else's story. It helps to put myself back in touch with a child's point of view.


A Search For A New Idea

Where do we find the seeds that sprout into stories/art? Reading the latest posts on this blog reveals the many sources for inspiration, from mining personal experience (our own and others’) to attentive exploration of the world (inner and outer). Sometimes, too, the idea for a story can come from a random thought or (my favorite one) from the “imagination jump-start” that comes while reading a favorite book.

For me, the strangest seed came when I wanted to write an “animal” story but had no idea where to begin. I love bears, so naturally that was my first idea; but I wanted to explore beyond my own knowledge/interests and try something new, so I picked up a field guide to North American mammals and opened it to the first entry: American Pika. Though I grew up in Alaska, I had never heard of these cute little alpine critters, so I was immediately intrigued. Then, when the explanatory narrative in the field guide said pikas collect “haystacks” of dried grasses/flowers to eat during the winter, and that they also “throw” their voices to mislead predators, I was hooked! Next, I “googled” pikas and discovered that scientists predict they may be one of the early victims of global warming due to their low tolerance for high temperatures. Voila! In the space of ten minutes I had found an idea for a character and a “problem” for a story!

And so began a year-long immersion in the world above tree line, resulting in a middle grade novel entitled Angus – an “apprenticeship” novel that remains unsold but which served as a fun way to work on my craft, and an example of how ideas can sometimes come from consciously “looking” for them.


The story of Zoom!

Call me crazy, but I believe that one of the main reasons we become parents is to take our children to Disneyland, the "happiest place on earth." But what happens when your child is deathly afraid of roller coasters, and Disneyland turns into a place of torture? You write a book about it.

The beautiful thing about being an author is that you can tweak a few things in the re-telling of the story, such as the age of your child at the time of the the visit (15), the disappearance of said child into a huge crowd of people in order to avoid riding any more rides, the frantic half hour search for the child, and the very unhappy decision to go home after riding only two rides - the monorail and Indiana Jones.

With the above mentioned editing, Zoom! became the story of a worried young child and an overly enthusiastic father who successfully navigate the dino coaster at an unnamed amusement park. It also became my first book that sold.

Lest you think that our son is scarred forever, we have made it an annual tradition to give a day pass to Disneyland to him and his long-time girlfriend, who is equally terrified of roller coasters. They love to walk around the park and ride an occasional ride, and we all laugh about our book inspiring trip many moons ago. As for my husband and I, we went back to Disneyland on our own and had a ball.

(Chris and his long-time girlfriend Amanda at their college graduation. He is now an engineer. Perhaps someday he will be designing roller coaster rides!)