I was born in Kittery, Maine and moved to Long Island, New York when I was about two. My mom comes from a great big family of 10 brothers and sisters. My dad retired from the NY Stock Exchange and can still outrun me. His sister, my Aunt Ann played a big role in inspiring my imagination in my growing years, and now is working her magic with her three great-nieces and two great-nephews. I have 2 younger brothers, Jim (a contractor) and Joe (a retired NYC detective), whom I consider my two best friends.
Growing up, my main interests revolved around watching and rearing insects. In fact, the first book I ever wrote (in third grade) was about this subject. I wanted to be an entomologist and I was eager to learn as much as I could about the little crawly things that surround us.
I also loved to read. My favorite books were the Babar the Elephant series and anything by Dr. Seuss. My parents had enrolled me in a book club and I always looked forward to getting a new book in the mail. One of my all time favorite books as a kid was The King With Six Friends by Jay Williams. I recently found it again and like it as much as I did over forty years ago!
As time went on, my interests broadened, but still remained in the field of natural science. Throughout my high school years in Commack, Long Island, my plan was to become a veterinarian. However, writing and art were also a very big part of my life. I wrote stories just for the fun of it, and painting and drawing was something that took up a good amount of my spare time. When it was time to choose a college, and subsequently, a career, it came down to aiming for an artist or a veterinarian. One night, after weeks of deliberation, I went for a walk. I told my parents that I wasn't coming back until I had made a decision. I walked for hours, mulling over my choices. In the end I decided that being a veterinarian would leave me little time for being an artist, however if I pursued art, there would be other avenues open to me in which I could explore my other interests.
I enrolled in the School of Visual Arts in 1977. Cartooning and advertising seemed to be the direction I was heading. But, as with the creative writing courses that I was also taking, the prospect of making a living in these fields was frightening!
By the last half of my fourth and last year of college, I still had no idea of how I was going to make a living as an artist. Then I took a course in writing and illustrating children's books. I had become interested in children's books while working as a page at the Commack Public Library. I was coming across some inspiring work like Arnold Lobel's "Frog and Toad" books. They showed me how I could combine both my love of making pictures AND making up stories. The course was taught by Dale Payson. For our last assignment, we were to write and illustrate our own book. I did a story about a lizard named Talester (he was a pet anole that my soon-to-be-wife, Betsy, had bought me before she went off to college). Dale liked it and showed it to her editor at Dial Publishers and Talester the Lizard became my first published book!
I then knew what I wanted to do.
I graduated college in 1981 with a BFA and with the money I earned from ''Talester the Lizard'', I bought a Subaru Brat and traveled across the country. When I returned, I moved to Connecticut and married Elizabeth Shanahan (Betsy), who was going to school to be an Art Teacher. I paid the bills by working as a cook and then as a carpenter, while at night I worked on my books. It took about six years before I could make a full time living in children's books. Betsy and I spent many years building a house on an abandoned pig farm which was once run by her grandparents. The house was surrounded by acres of woods and I got to pursue my love of nature. In time, birds, amphibians, and insects became my main focus of interest and they still are. I am an avid bird watcher and for two years I served as president of the New Haven Bird Club. I also created a county-wide survey on the bird population visiting our feeders in the winter, and a worldwide birding event called the "BIG SIT!". The BIG SIT! occurs every October and is a competition in which people try and see how many bird species they can count from their stationary circles within a 24 hour period. It now takes place in 12 countries! I've been involved in many conservation issues and served as president of the Killingworth Land Conservation Trust, and chairman of the Inland Wetlands Commission. In August of 1994, I cofounded the CT Butterfly Association. As much as I love butterfly watching, it's the moths that really shine for me and wrote a non-children's book titled Discovering Moths. Discovering Amphibians followed in spring 2006. In spring of 2008 I completed a field guide to identifying and recognizing the songs of crickets and katydids of the Northeast (Guide to Night Singing Insects of the Northeast - Stackpole Books - 2009). This was followed by Cricket Radio: Tuning In To the Night-Singing Insects - Harvard - 2011). I'm playing with bugs again! It's great how life sometimes travels in circles.
In 2001, I took on one of the more exciting jobs in my career as a muralist for the Museum of Science in Boston. The backdrops and large mural are of different habitats for a fascinating exhibit called A Bird's World.
Throughout the year I lead a number of nature walks for a variety of organizations in a variety of settings and habitats.
I am happy to say that my two children, Jeffrey(31) and Elizabeth(27) share many of my interests, including reading, writing, and drawing. Jeff graduated from my alma mater, the School of Visual Arts, and is an art director and illustrator. Here's his website. Lizzie graduated from University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She owns Friends Fur-ever and is doing the auditioning thing. I have a rat terrier - Jimmy, a Jack Russell terrier - Madigan, and a Calico cat - Chloe, to keep me company while I work in my studio.
Not a drawing, painting, or manuscript goes off to an editor without input from my wife Betsy. Being married to an Art Teacher works out very well. When you work alone, you need an honest art critic who pulls no punches! Betsy's best art advice to me?:
1) Don't fight the watercolors.
2) Loosen up!
3) Throw some random colors around.
4) Don't argue with your wife.
As it turned out, my decision to become an artist and writer did leave me with time to work with animals. A number of years ago, I spent the summers rehabilitating orphaned and injured wildlife with an organization called The Nature Connection. In addition to the life long friends I made, a book also came out of the experience - The Animal Rescue Club, Harper Collins.
I've been writing and illustrating children's books for over 30 years now, and have over 75 books floating around out there. When my schedule allows, I teach the craft to adults serious about getting published. A good number of students have gotten published, which is as exciting to me as getting one of my own books accepted!
Throughout the year I get together with a group of friends to scour the area for the wild things that interest us. We call ourselves the Corps of Discovery, after Lewis and Clark's expedition. We cover about 20 feet and hour.
I get together with other friends throughout the summer to play in a little bocce ball league and I'm in a couple of regular poker games. Poker, to me, is like sitting around a campfire with friends - shooting the breeze, tossing sticks into the flame (or chips in the pot) - always a good time.
I am a martial artist and co-president of Green Hill Martial Arts. We teach Combat Hapkido (the "Science of Self-Defense") and Jun Fan Gung Fu/Jeet Kune Do (Bruce Lee's "Way of the Intercepting Fist"). Visit our website here.
When I'm home, and not working, I spend a lot of time playing the guitar and recording music no one will ever hear....
I'm really into Alternative/Indie music - Radiohead, Sparklehorse, Mellowdrone, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Never, Death Cab For Cutie, Grandaddy, ILL Lit, Midlake, Spoon, Unbunny, Richard Buckner, Calexico, Coldplay, and Wilco, are among my many many favorites. My first Internet stop in the morning is Pitchfork.com, where I often find some new tunesmiths to latch onto.
Every night, I push away the problems of the day, and the ones awaiting me in the next day, by reading myself to sleep. Betsy and I have become addicted to Carl Hiaasen's "guilty pleasure" novels. But a good fantasy novel is the best escape around and I alternate those with books on history or natural history. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn't pay more attention in history class. I have come to realize that some of the best stories come from the lives of real people!
I am often asked by schools and libraries to send a bio before I come in for a visit or book signing. To make it easier -- for all of us, I put this together: