I grew up on a 50-acre farm in Western New York as the youngest of seven children. We grew much of our own food and harvested eggs from our chickens. We also kept turkeys, pigs, rabbits, and oodles of dogs and cats. I was free to ramble around our pond full of frogs and turtles, and wade in our crick full of minnows and crawdads. I was lucky to be the caboose kid in a big family full of avid readers, with a mother who loved poetry.
I had a perfect little library of children’s classics to reread to my heart’s content. I think I came close to memorizing Charlotte’s Web, the Little House books, the Great Brain series, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, The Secret Garden, Just So Stories, Heidi, Alice in Wonderland, and A Little Princess.
In high school I filled my time with clubs, sports (volleyball, track, cross country), music lessons and singing, babysitting and jobs (YMCA), friends, and still, books. College was much the same – more volleyball, more friends, more jobs (slinging pizza, making copies). I attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, where I majored in communication.
I dreamed of being many things – a marine biologist, a chemist, a mother, a gymnast, a Solid Gold Dancer – but always, writing was on the back of my mind. Whatever else I might be or do, I hoped writing would be part of the mix.
In college I met my husband Phil. We married young and started our family soon after. Now we’re the parents of four boys, two in college and two teens, and we don’t know where the time went. To keep the gender balance more even in our home, we have a girl cat named Athena.
After my fourth son was born, I decided that since my family dreams were now well underway, it was time to pursue writing novels. I went back to school and earned an M.F.A. in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of the Fine Arts, where I learned from many talented and committed writers for young people. The Amaranth Enchantment was the second novel I wrote in school, and the first one to sell to a publisher. Since then I’ve written Secondhand Charm, All the Truth That’s In Me, and the Splurch Academy for Disruptive Boys series with my older sister, Sally Faye Gardner, as the illustrator. All the Truth That’s In Me, my first YA novel, was named a 2013 Horn Book Fanfare title, a School Library Journal Best of 2013 book, and a Kirkus Best Teen Read for 2013. It has been named a Junior Library Guild Selection and has been nominated for a Carnegie Medal and a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults award, and will be published in 14 countries internationally. My next novel, a middle grade titled The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, was published September 2014 in the US by Roaring Brook, in Germany by Theinemann Verlag GmbH, in the UK by Piccadilly Press, and in Brazil by Editora Rocco. It won an Odyssey Honor from the American Library Association, and was named a Best Children’s Book of 2014 by the Wall Street Journal, and was named to the Dorothy Canfield Fisher list. My most recent novel, The Passion of Dolssa, published by Viking Children’s Books, won a 2017 Printz Honor from the American Library Association, was a New York Times Notable title, was nominated for the Los Angeles Book Prize, earned five starred reviews, and earned a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten award. My upcoming novel, The Emperor’s Ostrich, releases June 2017 from Roaring Brook Press.
Now I’m home full-time, keeping the cats company by day while I write, and chasing the boys around in the afternoons and evenings. If you want to know if I’m working on another book now, the answer is always, “Yes.”