Growing up in Kent, WA, I loved reading and storytelling. I started writing plays in the fourth-grade. I'd cast my friends in the roles and our teacher, Mrs. Zielinski, would let us perform them for the class and sometimes, the whole school! After earning a B.A. from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA, I became a TV news reporter and weather forecaster, first for KAPP TV in Yakima, WA then KREM TV in Spokane, WA. My first book contract for kids was a weather series for Scholastic. A few years later came my debut fiction series, Julep O'Toole (Penguin). Since then, I've published more than 100 fiction and nonfiction titles for young readers (you'll find a complete list of my titles in the media kit). With the release of the EXPLORER ACADEMY series, I became the first author to write fiction for National Geographic (a huge thrill!).
Third grade me
Explorer Academy FAQs
What inspired you to write EXPLORER ACADEMY?
I have always loved reading nonfiction - history, science, travel, weather, geography - you name it. A former TV news reporter and weather forecaster, I got my start in children’s literature writing library books for middle grade readers about the weather. Over time, I also started writing and publishing some of my fiction novels, too. This project for Nat Geo was an opportunity to combine my passion for nonfiction with my love of adventure stories. I get to use both left and right brain: utilizing my research skills as a journalist, as well as my imagination.
Which is your favorite book of the series?
Usually, the book I am, currently, working on tends to be my favorite because that is where my energies are directed at the moment. But now that I am finished with the series I can step back a bit, look at the entire experience, and say that THE TIGER'S NEST would be at the top of my list. Cruz has some major life changes happen in that book, and it was daunting for me to write the scenes where those occurred (it's hard to put your characters in peril, but, of course you must). Cruz has to learn to cope with the pain, the way we all must do when tough times come - and they always do. But he is resilient and has a support system of family, friends, and teachers that help him navigate the rough seas. He learns the greatest challenges often bring the greatest rewards.
Which character is your favorite and which one are you most like?
My favorite characters tend to be the non-humans, like Mell and Hubbard. It's fun to infuse them with their own quirks. Because there is a piece of me in every character I write, I do feel a connection to all of them, even the villains. If I had to chose just one I would say Lani Kealoha. Lani has traits I admire: adaptability, loyalty, and level headedness. She takes time to think things through but doesn't get ahead of herself. It's a lesson she teaches Cruz. She's always telling him, "one step at a time." I hope I share her optimistic spirit. For fun, you can take a personality quiz and see which character you are most like at www.exploreracademy.com. I took the quiz and it revealed that I am most like Emmett, which I can't deny. Like Emmett, I am more of an introvert, am fascinated by techno gadgets, and value close friendships.
I am married to my college sweetheart, Bill, a freelance photographer.
My hobbies are art, reading, photography, and gardening (can you guess which flower is my favorite?). I also enjoy the three c's: cupcakes, chocolate, and cats.
Speaking of cats, I have three furries: a big, mellow ginger tabby named Woody, Emmylou, a mischievous but sweet Siamese mix, and Misty, a chatty, white and brown 'cow print' tabby. The kits have their own Facebook page, where you can always find photos of their shenanigans and even some stories, too! (We started the page with Pippin, our clever snowshoe. Sadly, we lost Pip in the summer of 2023 but he's always in our hearts).
I have always loved the movies of old Hollywood: All About Eve, Rear Window, and Casablanca. But truthfully, I like any movie with an exciting plot and memorable characters, like The Princess Bride, The Incredibles and A Bug's Life. Here's a tip for writers: if you want to know how to weave a great story, watch a Pixar movie.
I enjoy all kinds of music from pop to jazz to bluegrass. My favorite performers are Kathy Mattea, The Corrs, and Adele.