Describe your latest project.
The Curious Garden is about a boy named Liam who discovers a patch of wildflowers struggling to survive in the middle of his gray, dreary city. Liam teaches himself how to be a gardener, and under his care, the curious little garden recovers and eventually "explores" all the forgotten corners of the city.
This book was inspired by places like the "Highline," the abandoned railway on Manhattan's west side that has become overgrown with wildflowers and trees. I was fascinated by the idea that nature could spontaneously pop up in such an unlikely place. And so it got me thinking that if people truly cooperated with nature, magical things would be possible.
Describe your most memorable teacher.
Dr. O'Boyle had a mythological status among his kooky clan of high-school art students. He had a PhD in literature, a Masters degree in art history, a unique talent with pencil, pen, and brush, and a strange mixture of drill-sergeant discipline and utter silliness. He nicknamed me "Rosita" as a silly form of punishment when I failed to complete a drawing of a man picking his nose.
From the time I met Doc, he was unwavering in his belief that no artistic goal was beyond my reach. While my chaotic family life spiraled around me like a hurricane, his support was an immovable anchor that kept me from getting lost in the storm. Every kid wants to be good at something. Doc convinced me I was a good artist. And so instead of thrashing around in some self-destructive rebellious phase, I drew pictures.
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
George was fond of peeking in windows.
One day George peeked in on Martha.
He never did that again.
—from George and Martha by James Marshall
How did the last good book you read end up in your hands?
I was talking to my father, who is a scientist for NASA, about my idea for a story that involved retro-futuristic space travel. He encouraged me to read From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne. I immediately bought it and fell in love with Verne's ability to make the most imaginative scenarios seem scientifically feasible. I immediately read four more Verne novels in a row. So I guess that's how the last five good books ended up in my hands.
What is your idea of bliss?
My idea of bliss would be a life where almost every day included the following things: two cups of good coffee; reading, writing, and drawing in a big art studio that overlooked a beautiful place; a bulldog; plenty of music; a picnic; NPR; and a dinner party with seven of my best friends.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a zoologist studying mysterious animals, or a story artist at the Walt Disney animation studios, or a professional soccer player in the English Premier League.
Why do you write books for kids?
I create books for kids because I love the challenge of finding the right balance of words and pictures to tell a story. And since I love telling imaginative and silly stories, I think my natural sensibilities are quite appropriate for the kids' book audience.
Is there a maxim or philosophy that you live by?
Don't be too hard on yourself.