I was born in Camden, New Jersey in 1949 and lived in Oaklyn and Cherry Hill until the middle of sixth grade. Then we moved to Springfield, Illinois. My parents were avid readers and they gave that love of books and reading to me and to all my brothers and sisters. I didn’t think about being a writer at all back then, but I did love to read. I'm certain there's a link between reading good books and becoming a writer. I don't know a single writer who wasn’t a reader first.
Before moving to Illinois, and even afterwards, our family spent summers at a cabin on a lake in Maine. There was no TV there, no phone, no doorbell—and email wasn’t even invented. All day there was time to swim and fish and mess around outside, and every night, there was time to read. I know those quiet summers helped me begin to think like a writer.
During my senior year at Springfield High School my English teacher handed back a poem I’d written. Two things were amazing about that paper. First, I’d gotten an A—a rare event in this teacher’s class. And she’d also written in large, scrawly red writing, “Andrew—this poem is so funny. This should be published!”
That praise sent me off to Northwestern University feeling like I was a pretty good writer, and occasionally professors there also encouraged me and complimented the essays I was required to write as a literature major. But I didn’t write much on my own—just some poetry now and then. I learned to play guitar and began writing songs, but again, only when I felt like it. Writing felt like hard work—something that’s still true today.
Then a professor who taught at a nearby college saw some of my writing and liked it enough to invite me to teach creative writing at a series of summer high school workshops she had organized. And that was when I learned how hard it is to be a teacher, and also how rewarding and fun it can be.
After graduating from Northwestern I earned a Masters of Arts in Teaching at National Louis University, and then taught in the public schools north of Chicago for seven years—fourth grade for two years, eighth grade English for three years, and high school English for two years. Those were invaluable times. I loved getting to know so many people, having a year-long relationship with bright, funny kids, and also getting to read good books and think about big ideas together.
I got married my first year of teaching, and during my teaching years my wife had a career in professional theater in Chicago. We bought our first home, and then our second home, had our first son, and then school enrollments began declining in our area. I was fired a couple of times—they called it “Reduction in Force.” I was rehired both times, but it didn’t make me feel like teaching was a career I could depend on at that time. And so we sold our home, packed up our two-and-a-half year old son, and moved to New York City to so that I could develop a truly stable career as a singer-songwriter. It didn’t work out that way, of course, but during that year-and-a-half, I did learn how to make myself sit and think and write things down—a discipline that’s important for every writer.
After the songwriting came my first job in publishing. I worked for a small publisher who specialized in how-to books, the kind of books that have photos with informative captions below each one. The book in which my name first appeared in print is called A Country Christmas Treasury. I’d built a number of the projects featured in the book, and I was listed as one of the “craftspeople”on the acknowlegements page, in tiny, tiny type.
After about a year in the photo-caption-how-to world, a friend I’d met during college called and invited me help him launch a new company that imported high quality children’s books from Europe. It was while working for this company, first called Alphabet Press, and then Picture Book Studio, that I began writing picture book texts. As sales manager, I got to work with a terrific crew of salespeople who quickly taught me about the publishing business. As editorial director, I got to work with wonderfully talented authors, illustrators, and author-illustrators. I met people there who became life-long friends. And while there, my own picture books kept coming.
In 1990 I began trying to write a story about a boy who makes up a new word. That book eventually became my first novel, Frindle, published in 1996, and you can read the whole story of how it developed on another web site, frindle.com. Frindle became popular, more popular than any of my books before or since—at least so far. And it had the eventual effect of turning me into a full-time writer.
I’ve learned that I need time and a quiet place to think and write. These days, I spend a lot of my time sitting in a small shed about seventy feet from my back door at our home in Massachusetts. There’s a woodstove in there for the cold winters, and an air conditioner for the hot summers. There’s a desk and chair, and I carry a laptop computer back and forth. But there’s no TV, no phone, no doorbell, no email. And the woodstove and the pine board walls make the place smell just like that cabin in Maine where I spent my earliest summers.
Sometimes kids ask how I've been able to write so many books. The answer is simple: one word at a time. Which is a good lesson, I think. You don't have to do everything at once. You don't have to know how every story is going to end. You just have to take that next step, look for that next idea, write that next word. And growing up, it's the same way. We just have to go to that next class, read that next chapter, help that next person. You simply have to do that next good thing, and before you know it, you're living a good life.