1968-1979/The Early Years
"I was born in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania on April 2nd, 1968. According to my mother, when I was born, the doctor slapped me on my behind . . . and I peed on him. She also said that I was supposed to be born on April Fool's Day and they expected me to be a girl. These were my first baby steps into comedy."
My dad, Tom, was supremely talented and could draw really well. I actually think he was a genius, even though I never really give him credit for that. He could do or make anything. He chose architecture as his profession, but I think deep down he just wanted to be a fine artist and paint watercolor landscapes for the rest of his life. He also said one time long ago that he wanted to write a book. He died in 2000 from Lung cancer, months before I got my first book deal. I like to think my dad handed off his dreams to me and I've been running with them ever since. My book, My Dad, My Hero is dedicated to him.
My mom, Brenda, was someone who was just always around. She went to nursing school, but wasn't practicing once we were born, so she dabbled in yoga, astrology, even woodworking. She was, and still is, at 75, a very energetic woman with a lot to say. She has always been my number one supporter, even when I don't always listen to her advice (sorry 'bout that, Mom.)
I also had an older brother, Alec, who was two and half years older and always one foot taller. In between indian burns and punch attacks, Alec and I bonded over baseball cards. To this day, we still talk a lot about baseball. He sends me almost-daily texts of player's batting averages and on-base-percentages and other random stats like that.
My sister, Ashley, was 21 months younger than me, but 20 times smarter. She and I spent a lot of time together as kids, building blanket forts, playing board games, listening to music and running around outside. She had a frog collection made up of ceramic frogs, stuffed frogs, frogs carved out of wood, glass frogs, and many other varieties of frogs. There may have been some toads in there, too. Ashley's frog collection and our love of music was the inspiration for my book, The Croaky Pokey.
Starting at about three years old, I used to wake up early, maybe 6:00, and go downstairs to the dining room table to draw. Crayons, pencils, copy paper, I didn't care. I just liked watching something come out the end of my writing implement. And it was always something cool. To this day, I still wake up early before anyone else to start my day.
Modeling clay was always available in the house so I took to that as well, making tiny sculptures of food, like mini hot dogs, hoagies and pizza. A lot of my time was spent watching cartoons, reading the comics and playing with my Super Friends action figures. My favorite characters were Popeye, Spiderman, all the Super Friends, Bugs Bunny, and Donald Duck. Around this time, my parents bought me a book titled The Art of Walt Disney which I became obsessed with. I had a little tracing desk and I would lay on the floor, open to a page and trace the characters and neatly as possible. I still have that book.
Life was good, but my dad had some issues, mostly with cigarettes and alcohol, and also had a wanderlust that drove us in and out of homes every year or two. By the time I started 2nd grade, we had lived in four houses!
The fourth house was the best house. It was a farm on 6 acres in Green Hills, Pennsylvania, just outside of Reading. We moved there when I was in first grade. It had an old barn (with an old, rusty tractor and no animals), a chicken house (with no chickens), and a spring house (with toads and frogs). My parents had no interest in raising animals, but my Dad wanted to live out in the country, so this seemed like the perfect spot to raise kids. Not only did we have 6 acres to roam on, we also had another 50 acres of adjacent space at our disposal. Our house sat at the base of what you'd call the "Hundred Acre Wood" and across the road from a lake, complete with a dam and a connecting stream. The lane that led to the lake was one of my favorite places because you could search for fool's gold. Crayfish catching, bass fishing and rock skipping filled my days when I wasn't drawing. This setting, along with the memories I have playing with my siblings, was the inspiration for one of my latest picture books, Lion and Tiger and Bear in: Tag You're it!.
When I was 8 years old, my mother signed me up for oil painting lessons with her friend, Lou Garraway. She had a 2nd floor garage studio, which worked out well, because it was quiet. I made four paintings with her that summer. Here are two of them.
My grades were good in school and I usually placed first or second in the classroom art competitions. I was always drawing. Mostly cartoon characters. At this time family and friends, even strangers, were asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I always said "Artist".
In June of 1978, my parents divorced. It was a very sad time, but our family made the best of it. We lived with our Dad. Remember when I said my Mom was always around? Well, now she wasn't around at all, and it was a very anxious time for me. We saw her on the weekends but it wasn't enough, and we didn't always see her because she had to work. My dad was now a single dad, and he was dating a lot of ladies. It was confusing for me as an 11 year old. Luckily, I had my brother, sister and good friends around to keep me laughing. Humor became a huge part of my personality, and is the driving force behind my writing and art."