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Writer, Poet & Editor


I cannot remember a time when

poetry wasn't part of my life. I still

have my battered childhood copy of

A Child's Garden of Verses and

remember well my own imagined

Lands of Counterpane. Even now

when it rains, I hear in my head

"The rain is raining all around,/

It falls on field and tree,/It rains on

the umbrellas here,/And on the

ships at sea" and see in my mind's

eye Alice and Martin Provensen's

long-skirted nanny rushing through

the city rain with her two young


Another childhood favorite was

Elizabeth Godley's "The Little

House," which draws to a close

with "If you've got a little house,/

And you keep it spick and span,/

Perhaps there'll come to live in it/

A tiny little man." My apologies to

Garth Williams, but in my Tall Book of Make Believe, I drew footprints to

the little man's door.

Another poem I dearly loved was Walter de la Mare's "Someone." You remember it --- "Someone came knocking/At my wee, small door."

Though my childhood fascination with small creatures may not be universal, I believe a childhood affinity for poetry is. The sound of language that rolls off the tongue, the rhythm of meter, the joy of rhyme --- these pleasures come naturally to young children. Perhaps it's because they're still learning language, so poetry has the appeal of the new and exciting; perhaps it's because they're too young to have learned to fear poetry.

The fear usually hits sometime in middle or high school, when we start studying "serious" poetry, when poetry becomes more difficult to understand. Unfortunately, everyone then seems to forget that, though "serious" poetry has more sophisticated and layered meanings, Frost, Shakespeare, Eliot still bring with them those childhood joys of sound and rhythm and sometimes rhyme. Those joys may be secret, may sometimes just whisper to you that they are there, but the added bonus of finding the meter, the rhyme, the plan can make the joy even greater.

I missed that adolescent stage of disenchantment with poetry and kept right on loving it. Throughout high school and college, I collected poems like jewels, hand copying my favorites into finely papered journals I bought for the express purpose of holding them. But I kept my own verse in far less beautiful notebooks, preferably notebooks from which the pages could be deleted without any mess, locked in my dad's old army footlocker.  


Even as an adult, I was shy about sharing my own poems. Though I've written more than twenty children's books in prose (including Molly Moves Out, Karin's Christmas Walk, My Favorite Time of Year, and the Eagle Eye Ernie mysteries), worked as a children's book editor with dozens of wonderful children's poets, and written poems for my own pleasure all my life, it still never occurred to me to write a volume of children's verse myself. Then, in 2002, I compiled an anthology of bedtime poetry (The Drowsy Hours). I loved doing it, so in the hope of doing more anthologies, I suggested several themes to editor Margery Cuyler. It was she who suggested that I try my hand at writing a collection myself, and Squeal and Squawk was born.

Though I continue to write in prose, these days I'm getting special pleasure from writing in verse. I love writing in rhyme and meter. I love experimenting with different forms. I love hunting for just the right word. But most of all, I love what I call the poemsearch --- the search for the essence of a thing --- a tree, an animal, a story, a thought --- the essence that makes a poem a poem.




1970-1971: Editorial Assistant, The Viking Press, New York

1972-1978: Assistant Editor, Editor, and Senior Editor, The Dial Press, New York

1978-1985: Editorial Director, Carolrhoda Books, Minneapolis

1989-1999: Editorial Director, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, New York

2000-present: Editor-at-Large, Chronicle Books, San Francisco