Q. As a child, who were your favorite children’s book authors? How have they influenced your writing?
A. I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and when I was in elementary school I had many favorite authors including Beverly Cleary, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Maude Hart Lovelace. The books I loved the most were usually set in other times or far off places. One of my favorites was Family Sabbatical by Carol Ryie Brink. Like the children in that story I dreamed that one day I might travel to Paris, learn to speak French and climb the Eiffel Tower. Although I’ve never been to France I do often travel to do research for my books and that’s one of the things I like best about being a writer.
Q. What inspired you to write children’s books?
A. My love of reading came from my mother who read to me from the time I was very small. But even though I loved books I never imagined that I would be writer when I grew up. I studied art in school and planned to be an artist and art teacher. After I got married and had my own children I read stories to them. I realized that perhaps I could use my training in art to be a children’s book illustrator. I started to write stories so that I could illustrate them and soon discovered that I enjoyed writing very much. After illustrating three books I stopped drawing and I’ve been writing ever since.
Q. When did you develop your passion for animals?
A. I’ve always loved animals. I got my first kitten when I was three--I named her Snoozy after a character in one of my favorite books--and have always had pets. During the summers our family spent in northern Wisconsin I learned the thrill of spotting birds, deer and porcupines and other wild animals in the forest. In 1971 I spent four months in East Africa with my husband and young daughter. We lived in a national park side by side with lions, giraffes, zebras and all sorts of other animals whose home is the African plains. A few of the photos we took on that trip are in my book African Animals. Birds have always been a favorite topic in my books. When I was a child I went on early morning bird walks with my father, who was an amateur birdwatcher, and now my husband, Art, studies birds in his research at UCLA. For my most recent book, Hawk Highway in the Sky: Watching Raptor Migration, I spent a week in the Goshutes watching and helping HawkWatch volunteers trap and band migrating hawks, eagles and falcons. Nothing is more exciting than getting close to these magnificent birds and my close involvement with the process helped me to learn the details that I need to write my book.
Q. How long does it take you to research and write a book? How do you decide what animals to write about?
A. There are so many different kinds of animals in the world that I could spend the rest of my life writing about animals and never run out of ideas. When I choose an animal for a book I often pick endangered species such as pandas or cheetahs. The more we all know about these animals, the more we will care about saving them from extinction. Sometimes, as in my book about snakes, I pick an idea suggested to me by kids. I usually spend up to a year doing background reading on the subject of a book. Then I make trips to the zoo to make my own observations of animals and also to help the photographer decide what pictures to take. After I have all the information I need, I sit down to write the book. It takes me about two months to finish the manuscript for one of my animal books.
Q. Now that you are celebrating the publication of your hundredth book, and you look at your vast body of work, what do you feel is your greatest achievement in your writing? What do you hope to achieve in future books?
A. Truth is often stranger than fiction and certainly just as much fun to write. With every book I’ve written I have learned something that I never knew before. If the children who read my books are as excited about reading them as I am about writing them, then I feel that I have accomplished a great deal. In my future work I hope to continue writing about animals and the places they live as well as other topics. And even though I have become well known mostly for my nonfiction writing, I also like to write fiction and perhaps I will try more of that in the future as well.
Q. What is the best advice that you can offer to aspiring young writers?
A. The best writers, whether they write fiction or nonfiction, are those who have developed a keen sense of observation. They notice details about the way things look, feel, sound and smell. They learn how to use words to paint a picture of a scene or action. You can develop your powers of observation by pretending you are a spy and making notes about what you see around you. Your “spy reports” might make the beginning of a good story. The other secret of becoming a good writer is practice. Writing letters or keeping a journal are two ways of practicing writing. Writing is something like baseball--you are not likely to hit a home run the first time you step up to the plate. Your first stories will not be perfect either, but with practice they will get better and better and soon you will be hitting the ball out of the park.
Click here to visit Caroline Arnold's website
Below is a list of Caroline Arnold books:
The Ancient Cliff Dwellers of Mesa Verde
Baby Whale Rescue : The True Story of J.J.
Bobcats (Early Bird Nature Books)
Cats in from the Wild
Cats (Early Bird Nature Books)
Children of the Settlement Houses (Picture the American Past)
Dinosaurs All Around : An Artist's View of the Prehistoric World
Mealtime for Zoo Animals
Mother and Baby Zoo Animals
Noisytime for Zoo Animals
Playtime for Zoo Animals
Sleepytime for Zoo Animals
Splashtime for Zoo Animals
Watch Out for Sharks!
All of these books can be purchased at amazon.com