Another Column at MyShelf.Com
Babe To Teens, Past
A Youth Column
By Beverly J. Rowe
An Interview with Lisa Wheeler, and Web Site Recommendations

     This month we celebrate Lincoln's Birthday, Washington's Birthday, and then we get a general holiday to celebrate all the president's birthdays on February 17. What a great month to read the American Heritage Illustrated History of the Presidents by Michael Beschloss or stories about some of our greatest statesmen, like Abe Lincoln's Hat (Step into Reading, Step 2, paper) by Donald Cook or Young George Washington: America's First President (First-Start Biographies) by Andrew Woods.

Lisa Wheeler    This month, I had a chance to talk to Lisa Wheeler about her books. Lisa is a very talented lady who writes exciting adventures for young children. Her newest book, "Porcupining - A Prickly Love Story," is about a poor, love sick, confused character that you will love. Here is what Lisa had to say:

Bev: Lisa, could you tell us about yourself? What was growing up like for you?

Lisa: I grew up in a busy household outside of Pittsburgh, one of six children. Our town didn't have a public library, so all of the books I read came from our school library. Though I loved to read, I was an average student until the fourth grade when I began to excel. I am not sure why I started to get better grades, but it became important to me and I worked very hard to make each honor roll list.

I am still somewhat of a perfectionist but getting older has taught me to go easier on myself—no one is perfect!

Bev: What kind of books did you like to read as a child?

Lisa: I loved to read everything I could get my hands on. This included cereal boxes and many times I accidentally spilled my breakfast because I was so engrossed in what was written on the box.

My two favorite picture books from childhood were Over and Over by Charlotte Zolotow and Humbug Witch by Lorna Balian. Both of these books held magic for me and I checked them out of the library many times. I now own copies of my very own.

The first novel I ever read was Striped Ice Cream by Joan M. Lexau. It surprised and delighted me because the little girl in the story was so much like the kids I knew in my own life. I thought stories had to be about princesses and dragons, but here was a book written about regular kids doing regular things. What an eye opener!

Bev: Do you read recreationally now? Who are your favorite authors?

Lisa: I am reading all the time. I immerse myself in children’s books. I love so many authors that it is hard to name them all. I admire picture book authors Mary Ann Hoberman, Charlotte Pomerantz, Phyllis Root, Toby Speed, and newcomer Janet Wong, to name just a few. Children’s novelists I love to read include Louis Sachar, Jerry Spinelli, Gary Paulson, Mildred Taylor, Han Nolan and Jack Gantos. I secretly wish I were Barbara Park and that I had written the Junie B. Jones series. She is the only author I am extremely jealous of. I LOVE that series!

Bev: When did you realize that you wanted to be a writer? What inspired you to write?

Lisa: In the 4th grade I won a school poetry contest. I didn’t know I would be a writer.

In 6th grade I kept a journal and filled it with stories. I still didn’t know I would be a writer.

In high school I wrote angst-filled poetry and had lofty dreams of publishing, but let it all slip away by graduation.

I have always written, but it wasn’t until I was 32 and the mother of three kids that I thought perhaps I should ‘get serious’ and try to write professionally. I have always had stories in me, but I never thought I could be a real writer.

Bev: Did you try your hand at other types of writing before settling on children's books?

Lisa: I knew I wanted to write children’s books, but when I first got serious in 1995, I tried a few different things to gain experience. I interviewed a businesswoman for a local journal, I dabbled in adult poetry, and I tried my hand at personal essays. No matter what kind of writing I tried, nothing felt as right as writing for kids, so I finally focused all my energy in that direction.

The only time now that I write for adults, is when I am writing about writing for kids.


Bev: You have been very busy! Your web page shows a number of books that have been published, and many more that will be out this year and in 2004. How many books do you have published? What is the average time it takes to complete a new book project?

Lisa: Yes—I have been busy! At this date (Jan. 2003), I have five books out on the bookstore shelves. I have six more coming out later this year. Beside the five I have out, I have 17 more under contract and they are all somewhere in the publishing pipeline. Some are in the early stages being illustrated, some are at the printers, and some are with my editors who are looking for just the right illustrator. They say that two years is how long it takes a picture book to be born, but I had one book that was available in stores 18 months after I wrote it and another that took five years.

Bev: I'm really in awe of anyone who can write a story in rhyme. That's not a talent that can be learned....but a gift that a few people are born with. Are your other books written in rhyme?

Lisa: Not all of my books are in rhyme, and in fact, most of the text for Porcupining is written in prose. Only Cushion’s songs are in rhyme. But one of my editors told me that even my prose books have “a rhyming sensibility” to them, so I guess I am just destined to write in rhyme. That’s fine with me. It is my first love. From the time I was a kid and could recite TV commercial jingles by heart, I have had a thing for rhyme.

Bev: Some of your upcoming titles sound very exciting. What inspires you or motivates you to write a new story? How do your story ideas happen?

Lisa: If this were a face-to-face interview you’d see me laughing right now because I think my idea process is just ridiculous…meaning I have no process. Some of my books have come from playing with words, some came while I was in motion (riding my lawn tractor, swimming, or walking on a treadmill), one idea came while I was angry and most came when I wasn’t looking.

My theory is that ideas float around invisibly just above our heads. They are looking for a noggin to settle into. The emptier the noggin, the better. I get a LOT of ideas!

Bev: I love Janie Bynum's illustrations for "Porcupining." Are the artists usually assigned by the publisher, or do you have any input in choosing the illustrators and working with them?

Lisa: Janie is an amazing talent and also a friend. But when she was chosen to illustrate Porcupining, I did not give her my input. She is a professional and I would no more tell her how to do her job than she would tell me how to do mine. I saw the sketches after they were done and I fell in love. She captured the heart of the story and the character. It is definitely OUR book.

My editors know their job and are much better equipped to select just the right person for the book. I sometimes get to offer an opinion, but I never expect anyone to take it.

Bev: What's your favorite part of the book production process, and why?

Lisa: No question about it, my very favorite part is ‘getting the idea.’ This is when I am on fire. This is where the excitement comes in and I get to have fun playing with words. I love the creative process and after each book is written, I am sure that it is the last idea I will ever have. I am spent! So when a new idea shows up--WHEW! I am so happy...and relieved.

My second favorite part of the process is ‘art in the mail.’ On days when I get to see what the artist has been up to, I get so excited. I even have a little ‘art in the mail’ song I sing as I hop around the house.

Bev: How do you see your future in the writing business?

Lisa: My goal is to continue writing until I am buried. I love what I do and I awake each morning thrilled to be able to go to work in my pajamas. I hope that I get better as I go along, as I never want anyone to say that I am ‘slacking.’ I have a very strong work ethic and I feel that I owe it to myself to grow as a writer. So in twenty years, I hope to still be here, sitting in my dungeon at my computer, writing for kids.

Bev: Do you have any advice for young people who would like to become writers?

Lisa: Don’t drop out of typing class! In my sophomore year I quit typing because I was very bad at it. I hated to get bad grades and I could see my grade point average slipping. To this day, I type with two fingers and wish I’d stayed in that class.

But seriously, the most important thing they can do is READ! This is THE most important thing you can do. I am always shocked when someone tells me they want to write for children and yet they do not know about the Newbery or Caldecott Awards. I still check books out of my library on a weekly basis and I try to stay on top of what books are being published in the children’s market. If I did not have a lifetime of reading behind me, I doubt I would’ve been prepared to publish anything.

Bev: Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share with us?

Lisa: When I talk to kids in schools, I tell them about the joy of getting paid to do what you would do for free. I’ll say, “Imagine if someone paid you to ride your bike, or swing on a swing, or play basketball…well, that’s what writing is to me. It is my joy and the fact that people want to read what I write is a bonus. I LOVE my job!”

If you want to know more about me and my books, check out my website at

Bev: Lisa, thanks so much for telling us about yourself and your wonderful books! We are definitely looking forward to your new books.

Lisa: Thanks for the interview!

Coming out this year:
One Dark Night
Old Cricket
Avalanche Annie:: A Not-So-Tall Tale
Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum
Farmer Dale's Red Pick Up Truck

The books in print:
Turk and Runt
Sailor Moo
: Cow At Sea
Sixteen Cows
Wool Gathering
: A Sheep Family Reunion

Web Site Recommendations:

Here is a great site for Kids who love books:

Hey, Kids...would you like to write a fan letter to your favorite author? I found this site that has the addresses for many of the authors you love. Why not send them a letter? Authors love to hear from you!

2003 Past Columns

© MyShelf.Com. All Rights Reserved.