featured speaker at writers' conference speaking about writing, poetry, and the Common Core 2003 White House Easter Egg Roll Camp Terry counselors doing "Lion Pose" yoga with Janet Wong

I’d Love to Speak to Your Group!

I’m so grateful to have been invited to speak all over the world—from Boston to Borneo—doing school visits, conferences, and workshops where I have shared my stories and writing tips with children, teachers, librarians, parents, writers, toy companies, marketing experts, and women leaders in need of a creative nudge. Meeting people is my favorite part of my work!

Lawyer to Poet

Twenty-five years ago I was the Director of Labor Relations at Universal Studios Hollywood, negotiating union contracts and firing people. The worst part was it was starting not to bother me. One night I announced: “I think I’m becoming a mean person”—and my husband agreed! I wanted to do something that would make me feel good. And I couldn’t think of anything more important than working with kids.

But I had been a substitute teacher when I was working my way through Yale Law School—and being a teacher is the hardest job I’ve had. I knew I wouldn’t survive as a teacher. Searching in a bookstore for gifts for my two-year-old cousin, I looked down at my armful of books and the idea hit me: “Someone wrote these books. Why not ME?

Children’s Author to Publisher

Twenty years later, I had become the author of 21 books published by Simon & Schuster, Harcourt, Candlewick, FSG, and Charlesbridge; I had been featured on Oprah and CNN; and I’d spoken all over the world, including at the White House. As a way to thank teachers who had supported my work, I started volunteering for literacy groups and was honored with appointments to the NCTE Commission on Literature, the NCTE Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry committee, and the IRA Notable Books for a Global Society committee.

It was at one of these conferences that teachers first told me they needed more help with teaching poetry—specifically, teaching it in a way that worked with this “new thing” called the Common Core. A few months later, my friend Sylvia Vardell, a professor of children’s literature at Texas Woman’s University, told me that Texas librarians were clamoring for help with the new “Poetry TEKS,” similar to the Common Core standards for ELA/Poetry. We had already collaborated to produce the PoetryTagTime series, the first original ebook anthologies for young readers; we liked the feeling of being publishing pioneers. After some R&D, Sylvia and I came up with the new “Take 5!” approach to teaching poetry; and The Poetry Friday Anthology series was born. Our books have become part of the standard language arts curriculum in thousands of schools nationwide, with more teachers celebrating Poetry Friday each week.

I love to share the story of my transition from lawyer to author to publisher. I’m told that my keynotes, assemblies, and workshops are “inspiring.” Are they? Well, yes, I think so—but only because you can take my stories, follow my steps, and make your own dreams happen for you.