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 worked her magic with her great-nieces and great-nephews. I have 2 younger brothers, Jim (a contractor) and Joe (a retired NYC detective), whom I consider my two best friends.
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:
Growing up, my main interests revolved around discovering, 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 mother 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 and made comics just for the fun of it, any chance I could. When it was time to choose a college, and subsequently, a career, it came down to aiming for an artist (at the time, cartoonist) 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! Aside from some of my teachers, I knew very few people who actually did this.
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 career of this. In art school, you try EVERYTHING, and while many of the different artistic directions were appealing, none grabbed me. If you plan to be a professional artist - a professional ANYTHING, you need to be driven almost beyond your control. Then I took a course in writing and illustrating children's books. An interest in children's books had been reawakened while working as a page at the Commack Public Library. I was coming across some inspiring work like my eternal favorites - 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, a successful children's book illustrator at the time. 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!
My first book, 1982
I then knew what I wanted to do.
I graduated college in 1981 with a BFA and with the advance 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.
Our first home, sitting in the woods. It was once a steam house for sterilizing "recycled food" for the pigs on the farm.
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 still playing with bugs!
Watching a singing tree cricket on a night walk I sometimes lead.