Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Behind the Books: Choosing a Favorite

Whenever I do a school visit, one of the questions kids ask me is “Which of your books is your favorite. I never feel completely comfortable answering this question.

Sometimes I say my current work-in-progress is my favorite. After all, if I hope to complete it, I have to stay enthusiastic about it. This is an honest answer.

Other times I make a joke about not being able to choose a favorite—just like parents can’t choose a favorite child. We love them all in different ways and for different reasons. This is an honest answer too.

The truth is that my ideas about favorite books are a bit mercurial—always changing. My current book really is my favorite when I’m working on it. But when I stand back and look at my body of work objectively, it's hard to pinpoint one or even two or three favorites.

When I am less objective, I begin to remember the story behind the stories. I think about what else was happening in my life as I wrote them. I think about reviews and book signings and letters I've received from young readers. I think about the place each book has occupied in my life and my career and my heart. In these sentimental moments, I can clearly identify two books that really mean a great deal to me.

One is my first published book, Life without Light. It’s a favorite because it was my first. I learned so much while I was researching and writing it, and when I was trying to sell it. That book is all about my orad to becoming an author and the path to publication.

Sadly, Life without Light went out of print about a year ago. But I have to admit, it was time. In the 10 years it was available for sale, so much research was done about creatures that live in Earth’s dark, hidden ecosystems that the book was completely out of date by the time it went out of print. Some people have asked if I’ll update it or write a sequel. Right now, I don’t really think so. But you never know.

My other favorite is A Place for Butterflies, my first picture book. That book is like the Little Engine that Could. It sold slowly at first, but the honors and awards have steadily piled up and up and up. This is very gratifying to me because the book’s message is very close to my heart.

The book, beautifully illustrated by the very talented Higgins Bond, is a collection of eleven stories about things people—both scientists and citizens—are doing to protect butterflies and their habitats. The book came out in 2006, just before people began to become re-energized about environmental issues. And the book has ridden the wave of enthusiasm to thrilling heights.

At this point, the book can stand on its own. I no longer actively look for opportunities to speak about it or do book signings. But every now and then I get a potent reminder that the book is still making its way into new young readers’ hands and that it is still making an impact.

Last summer, Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Worcester, Massachusetts, created a StoryWalk trailside exhibit that honors the book. I was thrilled by the news because the exhibit gives families a chance to do several important things simultaneously—read, enjoy time together, and learn about the magic and mystery of the natural world.

Where will The Little Book that Could take me next? I have no idea, but I can’t wait to find out.


  1. This is great - how proud you must have been to see your work in the StoryWalk. As a young writer, I have to say I'm incredibly inspired by all your writing, not to mention how far your message travels. Thanks for the work you do - (and posting about it!)

  2. Thanks for your comment, Jessica. It's wonderful when I can see tangible evidence that my books are making a difference.