Elizabeth MacLeod - Author
It's difficult to believe that Elizabeth MacLeod never took a writing course during her four years at the University of Toronto. Instead, she studied science, graduating with an honors degree in biology and botany. Her training has come in handy for researching and writing children's information books, including most recently Why Do Horses Have Manes?, What Did Dinosaurs Eat? and Monster Fliers. MacLeod was managing editor of Magazine from 1986 until 1989. Soon after, Kids Can Press asked MacLeod if she would consider authoring a book on electronic communications for kids. The result was The Phone Book: Instant Communication from Smoke Signals to Satellites and Beyond. Since then, MacLeod has risen to the challenge of creating books to fascinate and involve kids including titles in the Kids Can Do It, Snapshots: Images of People and Places in History and Kids Books Of series. She lives and works in Toronto, Ontario.
Where do you live now?
When did you start writing?
I wanted to be a writer, but I was scared to admit it to anyone. One day I gathered up my courage and phoned a newspaper's travel department to ask if the editor would like me to write an article about traveling through Europe. He said yes!
What is the thing you like the most about creating kids' books?
There are two things that I really like about writing for kids. One is that I get to investigate lots of different topics. The other is that I think writing for kids is a challenge. They ask really interesting and difficult questions.
What is your favorite book? Why?
I love so many books that it's really hard to choose just one. But one that I read as a kid and still re-read often is Anne of Green Gables. I was really excited when Kids Can asked me to write a book about Anne's author, Lucy Maud Montgomery.
Where do you work/write?
I write in my office, which is on the second floor of our house, overlooking our backyard --- I'm there right now. In front of me is the picture of the Pterosaur from my book about dinosaurs --- it's my favorite artwork in that book. I've got art from most of my books around the room. My two cats, Gus and Smedley, like to lie either on my desk or on the windowsill beside me.
What are your hobbies?
I like swimming, reading, tap dancing and singing.
What was your training or schooling?
At the University of Toronto I studied sciences, such as math, physics and biology --- I didn't take any writing or English courses. Later, I attended the Banff Publishing Workshop in Banff, Alberta.
How did you get involved with children's books?
I got a job as an editorial assistant at , a science magazine for kids. I worked my way up to senior editor at , then switched to book publishing and became an executive editor at Kids Can Press.
How do you research or create your stories?
I use books, magazines, newspapers and of course the Internet. They're good ways to find experts who can answer my questions. I'm always amazed at how willing people are to spend time helping me understand a topic.
Where do you get your ideas?
From newspapers, Web sites, books, things friends say, the Internet, questions kids ask me when I visit their schools, the radio, TV, magazines --- lots of places.
Do you have any tips for young creators?
Read a lot and write a lot. If you want to show someone your writing, then do it --- but you don't have to. And if the person who reads your writing suggests changes, only make them if you want to. Try writing lots of different things --- poems, stories, articles --- to figure out what you like writing most.
Do you have any special secrets or insights about one of your books or characters?
Well, I don't want to give away all my secrets, but here are a few. The dedication in my book about the telephone reads, “With all my love to Paul --- thanks for giving me a r-r-r-i-n-g!” Paul's my husband so can you figure out the two special meanings of “ring” in the dedication?
We know that you bring some kind of delectable treat whenever you visit the KCP offices. What is your favorite recipe? Why?
My favorite recipe is for Shortbread Cookies. They're super easy to make and everyone loves them --- especially when I add chocolate chunks! I also discovered when I researched my book about Lucy Maud Montgomery that she used this same recipe. She and I both have Scottish backgrounds and this recipe has been in my family forever. You'll find it in my books Bake It and Build It and Gifts to Make and Eat.
Can you tell us any of the stories behind some of your books?
One day, one of the Kids Can publishers and I were talking and we both mentioned how much we liked rhyming books and ones with puzzles. Then she said to me, “There! Now go and write a book like that!” “Huh?” I thought. But that night as I was out shopping, ideas started to come to me. I drove home in a panic, frantic that I'd forget everything before I could write it down. But I got home in time and that was how I Heard a Little Baa started.