I started my first career as a ballerina dancing with the National Ballet, New York City Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, and the Danny Diamond Dance Theatre. I also served as alignist and choreographer for the U.S Figure Skating Team in preparation for the Pan American Games (1973), and for the 1976 Olympic Gymnastics team. In 1980 I became too ill with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA) to continue dancing. Because I had done a lot of children's theatre and children's dance, and I have always enjoyed children's literature, I turned to writing children's books for my creative outlet.
But my writing career actually began much earlier than 1980. When I was a young girl, I had two older brothers who took great joy in teasing me.
When I was in the fourth grade, I began keeping journals of the silly things they would say and do. Then I began adding things my pets did. Finally, I began to write down everything I saw and heard every day.
When I was in my early twenties, my mother found my journals and I turned the stories into my first book called, Happy Apple Told Me. But, I learned a very hard lesson writing that first book. I learned that you don't just write a book; you rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite a book. Thirty years later, I am still learning.
My passionate advocacy for children continually molds my writing style and subject matter. I have taken my one-woman educational program, The Writing Penn, into schools, libraries, and children's hospitals, where I shape and refine my story ideas in partnership with kids.
My favorite part about being a children's author is meeting my readers when I speak at a school or at a store. I get so many wonderful ideas from you, and you, and you. So, thank you for your inspired ideas, and letters, and emails. Now, it's your turn to keep a journal.
I live with my husband, my youngest daughter (who inspired The Kissing Hand ), and two dogs in Olney, Maryland. We have three children and one foster child.
- 1975 Outstanding Young Women of America
- 1993 Chronicles of Courage: Very Special Artists (Chapter 11), by Jean Kennedy Smith and George Plimpton
- 2002 Helen Keating Ott Award for Outstanding Contribution to Children's Literature
- 2005 Mom of the Month (March), Parenting.com
- 2006 iParenting Media Awards
- Happy Apple Told Me (1975)
- Caldecott Medal Nominee
- Midstate Library Association Award
- Blue Out Of Season (1984)
- Mid-State Library Association Award
- Very Special Arts Recognition Award
- No Bones About Driftiss (1989)
- The Kissing Hand (1994)
- New York Times #1 Bestseller
- Educational Press Association of America - Distinguished Achievement Award for Excellence in Educational Journalism
- Sassafras (1997)
- A.D.D. Not B.A.D. (2002)
- Feathers And Fur (2003)
- The Whistling Tree (2004)
- A Pocket Full Of Kisses (2004)
- New York Times Bestseller
- Mystery At Blackbeard's Cove (2004)
- A Kiss Goodbye (2007)
- Blackbeard And The Sandstone Pillar: When Lightning Strikes (2007)
- Blackbeard And The Gift of Silence (2007)
- Chester Raccoon And The Big Bad Bully (2008)
- The Miracle Jar (2008)
- Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories (2009)
- A Bedtime Kiss for Chester Raccoon (2011)
- Chester's Favorite Color Game (2011)
- Blackbeard's Legacy: Shared/Time (2012)
- Chester The Brave (2012)