Cindy Neuschwander is a third-grade teacher and the author of Mummy Math and the Sir Cumference series. She lives with her family in northern California.
Where did you grow up? I was born in San Diego, CA, but because my father was a naval officer, I grew up around the country in places such as Newport, RI, and Honolulu, HI. We always lived near the ocean and I still love the beach today.
What is your earliest memory of writing/drawing?
My earliest memory of writing was feeling important making linear scribbles on a piece of paper and showing my 'note' to my mother. Even though I don't illustrate, my earliest memory of drawing was the large crayon mural I drew on my bedroom wall during naptime. It was a picture of my house and family. I thought it was exquisitely drawn but my parents thought otherwise! As an aside, naptimes were so boring for me that I often got into trouble during them, trying out things I had wondered about during those quiet moments.
What inspired you to write/illustrate your first book?
I was teaching second grade in an international school in Germany and a colleague shared an idea for teaching math to young children. She suggested that stories with mathematical themes or content could teach mathematical ideas more powerfully. I tried using a book to do this and found she was right. When I went home to the United State that summer, I found there were very few books in this area so I decided to try to write one myself. Although the ideas in my first book were mathematically clever, I knew my writing was not very sharp. I took a writing class at a nearby university and learned how to better communicate my ideas. In this way, my book writing career was born.
Do you use your childhood as inspiration?
I do. I can clearly remember many moments in my childhood. I grew up in an idyllic time in America when children were free to roam the neighborhoods and play outside until dinner. We could ride our bikes across town and go to the markets for our moms to buy a half-gallon of milk or a can of olives. We had great independence and we were free to imagine and play many different games.
What books from your childhood have most influenced your work? What about adult titles?
I read voraciously as a child and I still read children's books. As a full time third grade teacher, I think it is important to keep current in this area. I have to say, though, that Charlotte's Web is my favorite children's book. We read and study it every year in third grade and I never tire of hearing the story. Every year I discover new elements to E. B. White's story. He was a masterful writer! My third grade class gave me a first edition copy of CW one year. What a gift that was! Another one of my favorite books as a child was Mrs. Coverlet's Magicians by Mary Nash. I own a copy of that book and I read it once a year, feeling just like I did as a kid. I read lots of adult titles too but I can't say that they have really influenced my writing.
What are your hobbies and interests besides reading and books?
I'm a very active person. Our entire family participates in triathlons. So I'm always on my bike or swimming. I also love to travel. We own three dogs, two Dalmatians and a Gordon Setter so I am definitely a dog lover! By the way, our Gordon Setter, Riley, is the dog in my math adventures! I watch what he does and those details go into my stories.
Who are a couple of your favorite author/illustrators? What is it about their work that inspires and interests you?
E. B. White inspires me because he used words so masterfully to communicate his ideas. He never wrote down to children and his vocabulary was always so rich. He knew that children would rise to his writing and they always do. Dietrich Reitlof, the author of the Freddy series, also does this. I like Mark Teague's picture books. He has a wonderful talent for taking ordinary childhood experiences and turning them into wildly imaginative adventures. I am thinking of books of his such as Pigsty, Lost and Found, Frog Medicine, and The Secret Shortcut.
What one or two words of advice would you give for young authors/illustrators?
Published books are the result of many years of practice, both in writing and illustrating. So . . . if you like to write or draw, keep practicing until you develop your own unique style that resonates with others. Also, look for the unusual in the usual.
Cindy Neuschwander; illustrations by Bryan Langdo
Holt Books for Young Readers
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
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