My love for art always held hands with my love for books. As a kid with an early bedtime, I would read by flashlight under the covers. I loved the stories so much I wanted to bring them to life with my drawings. Sometimes, when friends came over to ask me to play, I would pretend I wasn't home, so I could stay inside and draw.
My life began in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1969. My dad was an engineer whose job was to gear up new power plants, and our family moved every time he finished. So, I grew up in several small eastern Pennsylvania towns and attended three different elementary schools. I was slow to make new friends and preferred the company of books and pencils. Picking up three sisters along the way, we eventually settled in South Whitehall when I was 11.
My parents made sure I experienced more of the world than the library. I was also a Boy Scout. For my Eagle Scout project, I lead a group of fellow scouts in building a wigwam for the Museum of Indian Culture, in Allentown. I also played the xylophone in the high school band.
I took my first art lesson in the third grade. I rode my bike to a local painter's studio and copied postcards in chalk pastel. In high school, I decided I wanted to be a professional artist and studied at The Barnstone Studios, in Coplay. I graduated from Syracuse University with a B.F.A. in Illustration in 1991.
When I showed my portfolio to children's book publishers in New York, they did not offer me any assignments. However, many of them suggested I write my own story to illustrate. I spent a few years washing dishes, sweeping floors and eventually even creating pattern designs for children's clothing.
It was during that time, living with my parents, that my mom showed me a box of trinkets that belonged to her father, whom I never met. The box inspired me to investigate my Polish and Irish coal-mining heritage, which led to writing and illustrating my first book, Together in Pinecone Patch, which Farrar, Straus & Giroux published in 1998.
Since then, I have written and illustrated three more books, and illustrated a dozen by other authors, including picture books, chapter books and easy readers. My only non-fiction book, Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story, was a New York Times Notable Book and won a Cook Prize Honor from Bankstreet College.
I like to do things besides read, write, and draw. I like to cook vegetables; I've been a vegetarian for over twenty years. Since I like to eat, I have to exercise a lot. That's okay, because I also like to run. I've finished a dozen marathons. I also love going to museums and staying in to watch old movies with my wife Eleni. I have some great friends. Now when they come over to ask me to play, I don't pretend I'm not home so I can stay in and draw — usually.