I grew up in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri called Affton. There, I wrote my first “book” at age seven and told my parents I was going to be a writer. The book was called Teddy Bear in the Woods and was followed by a sequel. Luckily, my parents encouraged me and my sister, Janet, was a great writer and role model. I didn’t just write, however. When I wasn’t roller-skating (my favorite pastime), I was riding my bike, playing piano, swimming, reading, playing cards and board games or hanging out with my friends. I loved school, but I loved vacations, too!
After working in advertising in St. Louis and in Chicago, Illinois, I moved to Southern California. First, I worked for Disneyland (fun job!) in the advertising department. The monorail whizzed past my window all day long. Then I worked at the Disney Studios in Burbank, where I had another fun job, writing and producing television and radio commercials and theatrical trailers (previews of coming attractions) for everything from re-releases of Cinderella and Fantasia to Tron (the original).
When the Disney Channel was started, I became a writer and story editor for Welcome to Pooh Corner, one of the first shows to air. Since then, I’ve written over 200 episodes of animated and live-action television programs including Madeline, Doug, Bobby’s World, Dumbo’s Circus, The Puzzle Place, Camp Candy, Fraggle Rock and Zoobilee Zoo. That’s right, I write cartoons!
I also wrote a number of award-winning afterschool specials and many interactive CD- ROM programs, including the award-winning Berenstain Bears on Their Own, Richard Scarry’s Busiest Neighborhood Ever and The Crayon Factory.
A made-for-television family movie I wrote, Mary Christmas, starring John Schneider, Cynthia Gibb and Tom Bosley, which still airs every year.
I have been fortunate enough to win a many awards including a Writer’s Guild of America Award and three Humanitas Prizes (as well as two other nominations). In 2002, I won a Daytime Emmy Award for Madeline, after two previous Emmy nominations.
But my first love – going back to age seven – is writing books. Over the years, I’ve written more than 35 children’s books.
Some people find it strange that I’ve worked in so many mediums but to me, a story is a story and I am a story-teller. Some stories are better told in a small flap book. Others belong on the big screen. Once I get “inside the story,” it doesn’t matter whether I’m looking at the world through the eyes of a classroom hamster or a confused teenager; the process of creating characters and plots is really the same and never boring.
When I was a teenager, I wanted to be an actress, as well as a writer. While I later changed my mind, I ended up marrying an actor, Frank Birney. Through the years, I have watched him play so many roles everything from a tango-dancing butler to a presidential cabinet member. Once he even played a children’s book writer! For six seasons, he played Judge Warren West on the ABC show, The Practice, followed by a stint as a judge on Boston Legal. He also does a lot of commercials.
I have two wonderful stepdaughters, Rebecca (married to Gary), of Los Angeles and Anna (married to Tobias), of Minneapolis, who are both artists and talented graphic designers, and an equally talented son, Walshe, who recently graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York. And then there’s Remy Bella, my beautiful, sunny, artistic granddaughter who lives here in Los Angeles – lucky for me!