Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


Monkeys and turtles and bees, oh my!

When I was a kid, I was afraid of everything.

I was afraid of bees (they can sense fear) and dragonflies (if they land on your face they can sew your lips shut).

I was afraid of water. My fear intensified after I almost drowned, accidentally jumping into the deep end of the Holiday Inn swimming pool when I was trying to splash my older sister.

I was afraid of donkeys. When we visited Reptile Gardens in South Dakota, my parents wanted a picture of me standing next to the donkey at the petting zoo. "He's going to bite me!" I said. "He won't bite you," my parents assured. They took the picture and the donkey bit me.

I was afraid of turtles. My fear didn't stop me from entering the turtle races during the Park and Rec summer program at the local playground, because I didn't have to actually touch the turtle, all I had to do was bring a dollar from home and a turtle would be raced in my name. Then one year my turtle won, which meant I had to carry the turtle home so it could race at the next level of competition. Gingerly I held the turtle by its shell and ran until it began waving its claws, then I'd drop it on the ground. That's how I made it home, about five feet at a time.

But my biggest fear was a statue that my mother had in the living room. It showed a monkey sitting on a pile of books written by Darwin, examining a skull. I'm not sure which scared me more, the monkey, or the skull. In order to make sure that this evil monkey didn't do anything bad to me, every night when I went to bed I had to honor that statue by going to sleep facing it. I went to bed facing the same direction for years.

Thank goodness those fearful days of childhood are over!


My Biggest Childhood Fear...

I grew up in south Florida, and I often hopped on my bike and rode three miles to the beach. So you'd think my biggest fear might be the occasional alligator that I encountered stretched across the bicycle path OR the nearly 9-foot lemon shark that swam within a few feet of me when my father and I were standing along the seawall. Yes, these were a little "off putting" to say the least, but the creatures that gave me nightmares were the giant blue land crabs!

Whenever we had a heavy rain, the land crabs were flooded from their shallow holes, and they came out snapping. I hated going out my front door on a rainy morning because the crabs often took refuge on our front porch--not just one, but sometimes four or five. They were blue and white and pink and sometimes spanned more than a foot with their claws outspread. I could hear the clicking of their feet on the terrazzo floor of the porch, and their claws looked strong enough to snap off a toe or a finger. There was a nearby park where my family often went for picnics, but I always avoided the sandy/muddy area sloping down to the pond. It was pockmarked with holes, often with large eyes peering out at me and with a claw ready to attack. No, I was never actually grabbed by one of those claws--except in dreams.

Would one of these scare you?


So Many Secrets

I was born so blond you couldn't see my eyebrows or eyelashes. Soon my hair grew brown but for a highlight in front of my head that stayed blond. I didn't like it because people asked me why did my mother dye my hair. Worse yet, on the first Friday of the month the nuns, who were my teachers at Academia Santa Maria, made those students whose uniforms didn't fit the code stand in front of the whole school. It didn't fail. No matter how much my mother said that my highlight was natural, the nuns insisted that it wasn't. Now imagine that for a girl who was timid.

People think I am bubbly and energetic. Little do they know that those same teachers wrote home saying that I was too timid. Timid, believe it or not, I was. On top of that, my classmates had been speaking English since kindergarten. I was just learning. And did they laugh! There are certain words I still cannot say, like sheep. It comes out as "ship." Now take that last word and end it with a "t". I always say linen, never "sheet."


Speaking of cows. . .

When I was eleven I was a cow. Actually this is only half-true because I was only half a cow. My best friend, Leslie and I created a joint Halloween costume. We used a grocery bag for the head, added on ears and even curly paper eyelashes. We painted big brown spots on a sheet, braided yarn for a tail, and wore a cowbell. The best part was that we practiced walking in step, sitting and crossing our legs simultaneously. Leslie was the tallest girl in our class, so guess which half she got to be? And that meant all the kids at school felt entitled to slap me on the behind. It was worth it though. Sharing made for the best Halloween ever. My daughter was inspired to have this experience too. Here she is in '05 as Dolly Llama in a costume I created for her and her friend. She's lucky; she's the tall one.

More stuff you never knew about me:

I used to wake up in the dark and change into my school clothes then get back under the covers until it was light. I wanted to be ready. My father caught me at it one time and told me it was only 1:00AM. I'm the most eager person you're likely to meet.

I was hit by a flying saucer while walking my pet skunk. Wait—do you already know this story? Stephanie does because it shows we were meant to collaborate on Elizabeti's Doll. In Massachusetts, my father built stonewalls surrounding our land and flanking the steps that zigzagged up our back hill. I claimed a striped stone for my own, wrapped some rope around it and dragged it behind me—PepĂ© Le Pew. It was a windy day in early spring. Our aluminum snow saucers still leaned against the cellar door. One caught the current, flew across the yard, and hit me under the nose. You can still see the scar from the stitches. In high school I found an advertisement in a magazine from some children's book institute. I sent in a variation on this story and received a letter back assuring me I could have a career in children's books. Guess you could say I was marked for this.


A little sumpin' about me...

Our theme this round is to tell something about ourselves people may not know. And I suggested we reach back to our childhoods to do that. Here's me and my older brother:

I grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. If you don't know anything about dairy farming, here are the basics:

1. There are cows.

2. Those cows need to be milked twice a day. Always. 365 days a year. No days off.

3. Those cows also need to be fed and watered and cleaned up after, because what goes into a cow always comes out, in a much bigger and smellier quantity than it went in. And, trust me, they don't clean up after themselves.

4. Did I mention the cows?

When I was in third grade, my job was to feed the calves. Sounds simple, yes? Hold on. We kept our calves in hutches, small wooden calf-size sheds, up on a hill. I had to carry grain and water up that hill, two buckets at a time. Ever thought about how much a calf can drink? Trust me, on a hot day in summer, a lot. I have no idea how many hundreds of trips I made up that hill and back down by the time I turned ten.

Speaking of age ten, here's me at the Jackson County Fair with my calf Popcorn:

(No, I didn't win a blue ribbon. Or even a red. I got a white ribbon, one of those "Thanks for coming, I'm sure you'll find something else you're good at...")

As I got older, I did more chores. I fed the cows, which meant I progressed from buckets full of grain to wheelbarrows full of silage. ( chopped-up hay from the silo) Those puppies are heavy, trust me. And one filled while you pushed with the other one, so if you dawdled at all, it would overflow and then you'd have to shovel. Which I did a lot. Not just silage. I remember coming home for Thanksgiving my sophomore year of college. The barn cleaner, the thing that cleans all the gutters out, had broken. And I stood there for hours, knee deep in cow manure, shoveling.

Milking cows was another chore I did for years. But I digress. This is not all about the work. I meant for this to be about the cows, and that, even though they were tons of work, I loved them. And I named them. Most were named for characters out of books I had read. And I was constantly out in the barn playing with them, so by the time they had grown up to be milking cows in the barn, they were so friendly and gentle.

My parents no longer have cows. Now, if I want to pet a cow, I have to call upon rancher friends out here where we live. And in the spring when the fields are full of calves, I stop by the road and get out and walk over to the fence, hoping one will stray my way so I can pet them....