I don’t think I had an exceptional imagination—but I think I relished the power of the imagination I had. It was like having magic powers—I could imagine something and then be inside of it, so it would feel real. Being the oldest of five, I lived in the middle of kid chaos. My three brothers were loud. They were loud when they didn’t get along and just as loud when they did. I didn’t have my own room, so my imagination was my room. I hunted wooly mammoths with a stick as a spear. I would get a flutter of excitement in my stomach setting out to play Pueblo Indian or pirate or prima ballerina--I was about to have an adventure! My imagination never let me down—it always took me (and my friends with me) to a place that was always fun to be. .
What were some of your favorite books as a child?
I would spend summer vacations walking or riding my bike back and forth to the library, checking out the maximum number of books each time, (which was six). I would read all day and sometimes all night, then return them and get six more. My favorite shelves were the magic section. I read and reread all the Mary Poppins, Narnia, Green Knowe, and Edward Eager books. I adored THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN by George Macdonald, (delightfully mystical) THE GAMMAGE CUP by Carol Kendall (eccentric outcasts save the day) and THE DIAMOND IN THE WINDOW by Jane Langton (children solving a mystery in their dreams). Books were not just great for disappearing into, they also gave me lots of themes for play. THE LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS, THE BOXCAR CHILDREN, and MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN, all gave me ideas for playing in my neighborhood. I would imagine that I lived in the bushes outside my house (there were hollow cave-like spaces inside). I pretended I had to live off the land--I had my entire neighborhood playing that for years. Gathering berries and making spears out of sticks and weaving floor mats out of iris leaves.
Do you have any early memories of making art?
It was raining outside and my mom sat me down at the kitchen table to paint. There were only 2 pots of poster paint: green and pure glorious red. I remember how satisfying the thick, smooth paint felt on the brush and then smearing across the rough, white paper. The red and green together on the page—the push and pull between these two complementary colors, cool and hot, was utterly gripping. It’s my first memory of the power of color. A few years ago, I looked around my living room and noticed that the color scheme (underneath the piles of books and magazines) is reddish and greenish.My second art memory is from first grade. We were all drawing at our desks. I made a person, the standard circle for a body and stick arms and legs. But Debbie V., a few desks over, had figured out that you could draw legs using 2 lines each—so they had thickness and then you could color them in! And you made white socks by letting the white paper show through. (This was killing two birds with one stone—she was clearly a genius.) So I asked her if I could use her innovation and she said sure, which seemed incredibly generous. So we became friends and played Secret Garden together and both grew up to be artists.
Why did you decide to make the main character in NOT A BOX an animal instead of a child, and why a rabbit?
When I did the first sketch of the idea, it was a child. But I didn’t want the gender to be an issue, so I tried various animals. My daughter had a pet rabbit, so I’m partial to them. Plus, you’ve got to love a creature so well punctuated: a period for a tail and exclamation points for ears.
When did you know you wanted to write and illustrate books for children?
Art had always been my very favorite thing. But by fourth and fifth grade, I was writing and illustrating my own stories, too. I wrote a story in fourth grade that the teacher really liked and showed to the principal who called me into her office and told me I was a good writer and to keep on writing. So I did! I got a notebook that I carried around just for writing poems and stories. My best friend Jeanette and I planned on being a writer and illustrator team when we grew up, but we never could agree about who would do which job.
What took you so long?
It took me many years to fulfill my dream of making children’s books. I worked in advertising and then at Disney Consumer Products. Life was a mad rush of working and being a mom. But I wanted to write and make books, so I changed my life to have time to do it.