The Short Version
I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the fourth of four children. My parents were both professors. We moved from Cleveland to Burlington, Vermont when I was in fourth grade.
My first big job after college was working as an editor at Children’s Television Workshop (the company that produces Sesame Street). I met and eventually married a high-school history teacher, and after our second child was born, we moved from New York City to Connecticut, where my husband began teaching at a boarding school, and where we had our third child. Nowadays I’m a full-time freelance children’s book writer.
The Longer Version
I’ve had a lot of jobs over the course of my life. In retrospect, I think it is a good idea to explore varied work experiences if you plan to become a writer. You learn a lot about people when you see them from all angles, behaving at their best and worst. Here are some of the jobs I’ve had, more or less in the order that I had them, starting at age 12 or 13: babysitter, supermarket bagger, bus girl, waitress, secretary, hair fashion-model, dining hall breakfast-staff helper, laboratory pigeon-caretaker for a scientist/Harvard professor, translator/report writer at an archaeology institute in Italy, assistant to a member of British Parliament, semi-pro basketball player in Egypt, textbook illustrator, newspaper illustrator, substitute fourth-grade teacher, basketball coach for a 9 and 10-year-old boys’ team, editor, writer…oh yes, and mom.
I was looking around at the websites of some of my friends and fellow-writers, and most of them have posted pictures of themselves in their bios, showing what they looked like as babies and younger kids. I thought it might be nice to do the same thing on my website bio page. But I ran into a snag — I couldn’t find any baby pictures of myself.
Do you have younger siblings? If so, please encourage your mom or dad to take some photos of your little brother or sister. If you are a youngest, and are old enough to be reading this, then alas, it may be too late for you. You may be in the same boat I am. You see, because I was the fourth of four kids, I think my parents had run out of steam by the time I came along. They took approximately 19 million baby pictures of my oldest brother, several hundred thousand of my second brother, a couple of dozen of my older sister…and none of me.
All right, I finally did unearth one photo, but it’s a group shot, and I think they only took it because they needed something for a Christmas card. Here it is:
I’m not mad at my parents or anything. I know they were busy with four kids, and being professors and all. And it’s not as though they could have anticipated that one day their youngest child — the one that spent countless hours writing stories and illustrating them while all the other kids in the neighborhood were outside playing spud — would grow up to become a children’s book writer and might want to put a picture of herself as a young child on her website. I don’t blame them for this. But still. One group shot?
As kids, my sister and I and our friend, Jeannie, who lived across the street, put on a lot of plays. We usually wrote them ourselves, but sometimes we acted out skits from Mad magazine (my favorite reading material for years). We’d perform the plays ourselves and charge admission, or if the play had a large cast, we’d enlist our brothers, neighbors, and anyone else we could convince to perform in it with us. This one happened to be a spoof on the Night Before Christmas from Mad. That’s me, narrating. I can’t recall the name of the guy with shaving cream on his face. He was just some hapless dinner guest whom we talked into performing the role of Santa.
My favorite book growing up was A Little Princess, which I read at least a dozen times and which caused me to drop the h and spell my name ‘Sara” for several years. I loved the Narnia books, anything by Edward Eager, and the Andrew Lang Fairy Tale books that came in all different colors (The Pink Fairy Book, The Blue Fairy Book, etc). I also loved detective stories, from Encyclopedia Brown to Sherlock Holmes.
It was quite a shock moving to Burlington. It’s cold in Vermont, and not much fun in the winter if you’re not a skier. I was a basketball player, thanks largely to the fact that I grew seven inches the year I turned 13. (I topped out at 5′ 10”.) In high school our team won the state championship. (OK; I realize Vermont is a small state, but we were good.) Here’s a picture — that’s me, number 13:
I was captain of my track team and we went undefeated in my four years of high school. Here’s one of me high jumping.
I went off to Harvard for college. I played basketball there for two years but I wasn’t really big enough to be an effective forward, and I wasn’t a good enough ball handler to be a guard. Plus I was interested in other stuff, like music and writing and art, so I stopped playing organized basketball and just played a lot of pick-up games. Eventually I screwed up the courage to try out for the humor magazine (called the Lampoon). I was too shy to try out for the writing staff (even in those days, the Lampoon could be an intimidating place; my president for two straight years was Conan O’Brien) so I submitted a bunch of cartoons and art pieces, and became a member of the art board. After I graduated from college, and armed with that most practical of degrees, a BA in English, I realized I needed to find a job. I really wanted to travel, too, so the job that I found was in Cairo, Egypt. I worked in the press office of the American University in Cairo, got a part-time job illustrating English-language textbooks, and also joined a semi-pro basketball team. I had no idea basketball was so popular over there — even for women!
After a year in Egypt, I came back to the U.S., sunburned, flea-bitten, and culture-shocked, and slept on the floor of my sister’s bedroom in her shared apartment in New York while I looked for a job. Luckily it didn’t take too long to find one — and it turned out to be my dream job (at Sesame Street). Soon after that, I joined a men’s basketball league (there were very few women who played way back then), where I met my future husband. He had a beautiful jump shot. Still does.
It was really fun to work at Sesame Street, and that’s where I got my first books published. I worked there for nine years. After we moved to Connecticut I became a full-time writer, and now I write books for a lot of different television shows, as well as other books that I just thought up all on my own. I also love to write non-fiction. Once in awhile I also write for grownups, but I prefer to write for kids. I’ve written books about animals, science, and math, and these days I especially like to write about history, from unusual perspectives.
We have a dog — a poodle — named Rosie. Here’s a picture of her:
She’s the world’s greatest dog. She flops down on the floor of my office most of the day, and sometimes I talk to her about my plot difficulties and she really seems to be listening, the way she scrambles to a sitting position and cocks her head to one side.
Do you have a dog or cat — or an unusual pet? Send me a picture!