More about me

In these exclusive interviews with Celebrate Picture Books you’ll learn why I believe laundromats are magical, discover the importance of sunflowers in my childhood, and meet my kids in the sibling dynamic between two of my picture book characters.

In this guest blog post for the award-winning ParentChild+ program, you’ll learn about why I decided to write my Small Talk Books® series and how my work as an early literacy home visitor enriched this project. 

Thanks to a fellowship funded by the Heising-Simons Foundation, I had the opportunity to write math-infused narrative picture books, as a member of the TERC Storytelling Math community during their pilot effort. Learn more about this innovative new approach to sharing early math ideas. 


In these guest blogs with 24 Carrot Writing, you’ll learn about my experience as a fiction picture book author in incorporating math into stories and how I collaborated with my young grandchild to turn a manuscript into a book. And you can pick up a few tips for doing the same!


I was so fortunate to be able to attend Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple’s Picture Book Boot Camp master class in 2017. Here I am with the fabulous Jane and Heidi and fellow campers, on a field trip to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Picture book authors have a lot of fun.

So how did I start writing picture books for young children?

Yellow Ridiculous

From my father I got a love of language. He had a wonderful way with words. He would say of this picture: “This is Ellen with her tizzy named Yellow Ridiculous. This tizzy has lots of snifters.” (This is Ellen with her blanket named Yellow Ridiculous. This blanket has lots of fuzz.)



I have always loved to draw. So it’s not surprising that my earliest stories were done as picture books. My father listed himself as the second author on the cover of this one, but really he was just the typist.


My mother was a big reader. When I napped, she read her own books. When I was awake, she read mine. (And yes, I liked to suck my thumb.)


I was always rather shy. I liked to look, listen and daydream a lot – helpful qualities for a writer. My favorite picture book was about Jenny Linsky, a little shy black cat. On her birthday she bravely danced the sailor’s hornpipe with her friends in Central Park! Maybe I could be brave like Jenny…?


My first publication was at age 9 in Jack and Jill magazine.

I grew up in a lively household with lots of pets and lots of brothers. This is me with my brothers. 

Brother #3 and Pet Bingo

Little brother and pet Bingo

When liveliness veered toward pandemonium, I retreated to my room. There I had lots of time to read, write and draw.


When I was eleven, my favorite author was Madeleine L’Engle. (I even practiced my drawing by tracing the faces on the cover of her book Meet the Austins.) I wrote to her that I wanted to be a writer and she wrote back! She complimented me on my letter-writing skills. She also advised me to keep a journal. Click on the image to read her letter.


That year I got down to business as a writer. I worked hard at writing very long stories.

Following Madeleine L’Engle’s advice, I started keeping journals, a practice I continued through graduate school. In these journals I recorded life around me. In sixth grade this included a diagram of lunch table dynamics as I began to develop an interest in social analysis.


When I was in high school, my mother opened a bookstore. I loved helping break open the boxes of new books and putting the books on the shelves. I was in charge of arranging the window displays. This was very challenging as there was a huge high-up window and two very tiny ones below.


In college I took a creative writing class. But my new love was sociology, which I went on to study in graduate school.  Here I am probably writing about Max Weber’s theory of bureaucracy.

For many years my writing consisted of analyzing social behavior. I wrote articles on gender roles and evaluations of social service programs. Then as a researcher at Harvard Graduate School of Education, I wrote reports and teaching cases on how families are involved in their young children’s learning.

When my husband and I had children, picture books re-entered my life.

Big sister reads to little brother

Big sister reads to little brother

Playing Library

Playing Library

Daddy can’t read two books at once

One day at my research job, I was thinking about how to communicate some of our research findings to parents of young children. Why not as a read-aloud children’s picture book? After all, parents could learn something from a storybook as they shared it with children.

So I took a class on writing for children and wrote Tomasito’s Mother Comes to School, which we published as a free downloadable e-book. Click here to read the storybook.

photo by Karen Fairbank

I even got to work with the wonderful award-winning children’s book illustrator, Joe Cepeda, who created the art for the story.

And I was hooked! Writing for children was the most challenging and most fun writing that I had ever done.