What inspired you to write The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie?
I often write about strong women and topics that I find empowering for young women. People might wonder why I chose to write about Barbie, but did you know that she was invented by an incredibly fiesty and intelligent woman named Ruth Handler? Ruth and her husband co-founded the giant toy corporation of Mattel. And Barbie was Ruth’s idea. She came up with her invention of a teenage fashion doll after watching her daughter Barbara and her friends grow out of baby dolls and be frustrated with the paper tabs and flimsy paper of paper dolls–the only other main type of doll available to girls in the 1950s.
But you’ve written several other books that are also about empowerment.
I have written a lot of books for younger readers as well as teens. Some are picture books, such as Elizabeth Leads the Way (which is about Elizabeth Cady Stanton–the women who led the movement for women to have the right to vote) and Sandy’s Circus (which is about famous America artist Alexander Calder who invented the mobile with his moveable art). Other books I have written include a Young Adult biography of Ella Fitzgerald and a teen fiction novel called A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl. My most recent book just before The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie was Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream, which won the Sibert Medal last year. That’s the ALA’s award for the best nonfiction book of the year for young readers.
How would you describe your writing style?
If it’s fiction, I rarely plot, I just plunge in and find out who my characters are and how they react in any given situation. If it’s nonfiction, I tend to read, research, and outline before writing.
How do you find your own personal work-life balance?
I struggle with the same thing. I am not the type who has a typical day. For me, routine kills creativity. I don’t have a particular time of day I write, for example, although I do try to get about three hours of writing in during the school day, mostly so I can write during uninterrupted times in the house. But I break up writing with things like running the household, walking the dog, and doing yoga.
In what ways did your childhood influence you as a writer?
Growing up in an environment so rich with books certainly shaped me as a person and a writer. Also, having a Dad who was all about experiential learning influenced me in a huge way. He was always all about doing–still is. To learn about something, we went out and did it, or experienced it in some way. We took family field trips on a regular basis–wind farms, solar houses, playgrounds made of found materials, road trips for art exhibits–there was always an adventure to be had. This made me a learner for life.
What were your favorite books growing up?
I read a ton as a kid. I loved Maurice Sendak, Crockett Johnson, Judy Blume, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Beverly Cleary, and on and on. Today, I read most often in the middle-grade and young adult genres, but I try to get my fix of books written for adults, too.
What would you be doing if your weren’t an author?
I would be deliriously happy to spend my time in the world of musical theater. On stage, behind the scenes–not sure it would matter. I’m a theater geek!