Judy Sierra grew up in a creative, bookloving family. Her father was a photographer and her mother was an elementary school librarian. As her parents read books aloud to her, Judy fell madly in love with poetry, beginning with Mother Goose. By third grade she was writing school reports in rhyme.
When Judy was seven, her father built a puppet stage and her mother helped her make puppets to perform a folktale, "The Three Wishes." Judy and her cousin charged kids twenty-five cents to see their shows and learned that it is possible to make money in the arts.
Artists often need day jobs, so Judy went to college for degrees in French Literature and Library Science. She combined library work with a career as a puppeteer, performing on television at schools, museums, libraries and Renaissance fairs. As an artist-in-the-schools, she taught children how to create their own puppets and shows.
Judy studied Folklore and Mythology at UCLA and earned a Ph.D. She wrote her first picture books while she was a graduate student, retelling some of the folktales she found during her research.
Over the years, Judy Sierra has worked with exceptional editors and illustrators to create more than 35 books for children. These books have received awards including the Aesop Prize from the American Folklore Society and the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award from the Association of Booksellers for Children. Four of her books were named Notables by the American Library Association, and two—Antarctic Antics and Wild About Books—were on the New York Times picture book bestsellers list.
Judy lives and writes in Portland, Oregon.
How did you begin writing children's books?
I never considered writing children's books until I attended a talk by picture book author and illustrator Uri Shulevitz. He said that a picture book is like a small theater. I thought to myself, "I know a whole lot about small theaters—puppet theaters. I should write a picture book!" I would think of each one as a puppet show. The words would be the script, and the page turns would be the entrances and exits of characters and the changes of scene.
I took classes in writing for children and within a year I'd sold my first manuscript, The Elephant's Wrestling Match, illustrated by Brian Pinkney.
Is it fun being a children's author?
Many parts of being a children's author are very enjoyable. For example, even though I'm a shy person, I love standing on stage and sharing my books to a room full of teachers or a school auditorium filled with kids. And of course signing a book contract or winning a book award are thrilling. On the other hand, creating a book that kids will love can be a long and difficult process.
How do you get your ideas?
Ideas for books arrive in different ways. Sometimes I give myself a challenge, for example, I wondered if I could I write a funny, exciting story about a rather boring subject, good manners. That challenge resulted in Mind Your Manners, B.B. Wolf, illustrated by J. Otto Seibold.
The idea for my bestselling book, Wild About Books, came from a poster I saw at a library that showed wild animals reading books. "How did they learn to read?" I asked myself. "And where did they get all those books?" I chose the title and wrote it in my idea notebook, but it took me five years to come up with just the right story.
What were your favorite books as a child?
As a preschooler, my favorite book was The Golden Book of Poetry. I asked to hear the poems so often that I knew every one by heart long before I could read.
Later on, I read and re-read the Oz books and Nancy Drew mysteries. I devoured the books in the school library and the public library. My favorite of all favorites was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.
Which picture books inspired you as a writer?
I was inspired by the picture books that made me a read-aloud star when I worked at the public library. Some favorites were Maurice Sendak's Pierre, and Alexander and the No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, and the folktale picture books of Gerald McDermott and Ashley Bryan.
What are you working on now?
I am finishing up a book about how to write rhyming picture books.
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