I grew up in the small but famous town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and went to Middlebury College and Oxford University. Then I moved to New York City where I worked as a prop man in the film business for a few years before renting a garret and turning myself into a writer. Today I write for both kids and adults.
I make author visits to schools, as well, and teach creative writing to students young and old, kindergarten through graduate school. Most recently i taught Writing for Children at the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College's gorgeous mountain campus. I also give workshops to teachers. (Public Radio International's "The Next Big Thing" taped me teaching Wallace Stevens' poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" to fifth graders and that show (titled "Thirteen Ways") is archived on the show's website.)
I'm also the Dean of the New York Public Library's Cullman Center Institute for Teachers, held in the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers in the Library's landmark building on Fifth Avenue, the one with the famous pair of stone lions.
My books for children include The Araboolies of Liberty Street (Farrar Straus & Giroux), which was adapted into an opera and a musical; The Krazees (FSG), which is being made into a movie starring Robin Williams; and Gotta Go! Gotta Go! (FSG) which is my own personal favorite. I also helped my friend Katya Arnold write a terrific non-fiction picture book called Katya's Book of Mushrooms. My first novel, Jack and the Seven Deadly Giants (FSG), was just published.
I was awarded the 2006 James Thurber Fellowship for children's writers, and spent the month of June living in Thurber's home in Columbus, Ohio, where I began work on a new novel.
For adults, I recently published I Am a Pencil (Henry Holt, 2004), a nonfiction account of three years I spent teaching creative writing to a group of 28 kids from 21 different countries in a Queens public school. This book won a 2005 Christopher Award and was named one of the best books of 2004 by Publishers Weekly. Some years back I also co-edited Saving Wildlife: A Century of Conservation (Abrams, 1995), a history of the New York Zoological Society and the Bronx Zoo.
I'm sometimes review for The New York Times Book Review and have written (mostly) about teaching and my students for a number of journals, including The Threepenny Review, Teacher Magazine, The Teachers & Writers Collaborative Magazine, and Voices from the Middle.
I spent two years helping to found an ill-fated but terrific website, Chapbooks.com, which made it possible for teachers (and anyone without access to publishers) to easily and inexpensively publish their students' writing in real books, using the Internet. Thousands of beautiful books were published by teachers, but the website failed, a victim of the dotcom disaster.
My work in education made me an Independent Project Fellow at George Sorosís The Open Society. My project with the kids in Queens was partly funded by grants from The Spencer Foundation, The Overbrook Foundation, The Johnson Family Foundation, The Teachers & Writers Collaborative, NBC, and Teaching Tolerance. I'm grateful to them all.