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Katherine Winters (1936-)


Katherine Winters once told SATA: "From the time I was seven years old, I was a writer. I kept diaries, journals, wrote for the school and camp newspapers, and the college magazine. When I graduated from Beaver College (now Arcadia University) with a bachelor of science degree in elementary education and a minor in English, I took additional writing courses at Boston University. I submitted poems, essays, articles, and stories to educational journals and textbooks. Now and then they were published. But making a living by writing books did not seem like a viable possibility at that time. My husband and I were just out of graduate school, and we had a big educational debt to pay to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), as well as a new baby.

"For the next twenty-nine years, I worked in public schools as a teacher, a reading specialist, an educational consultant, and a college instructor. And I loved it. At every conference I attended, I always went to hear the authors instead of the latest theory on the wonder of phonics. I continued to send in manuscripts now and then, but teaching was very consuming. There was little time for writing. In 1980, I coauthored a book for teachers with Marta Felber, The Teachers Copebook: How to End the Year Better Than You Started. In order to finish that project, I had to get up every morning at 4 a.m., sneak downstairs to my frosty office, and garbed in a fur robe, woolen gloves, and fleece-lined boots, would type until it was time to teach.

"In 1992, my school board offered early retirement. My resignation was on the superintendent's desk the next day. This was my chance! I was taking it. I started to write full time the day after I retired. I imagined that the Palisades School District was paying me to stay home and write. And write I did. I wrote every day. I went to The New School in New York and took classes in writing for children with instructors Margaret Gable and Deborah Brodie. I attended conferences and met editors. I went to New York to the Children's Book Council and read all of the picture books from the years 1991 and 1992 that they had on their shelves.

"Gradually, the rejection forms from publishers changed into personal letters. Finally, in 1994, I got a phone call from an editor at HarperCollins. They were interested in The Teeny Tiny Ghost. From there, my writing career began to take off. Publishers were soon interested in Wolf Watch and Did You See What I Saw?: Poems about School. In the meantime, I was also writing reading textbooks. Soon, Where Are the Bears? and How Will the Easter Bunny Know? were going to press, and I was writing Whooo's Haunting the Teeny Tiny Ghost?, a sequel to The Teeny Tiny Ghost, and Tiger Trail, the companion to Wolf Watch. I was researching Abraham Lincoln and delving into Voices of Ancient Egypt."

In The Teeny Tiny Ghost, Winters addresses the importance of mastering one's fears. In this take on a wellknown tale, a diminutive specter is afraid of his own boos and howls. On Halloween night, a rap on the door sends shivers through him and his teeny tiny kittens. But summoning up all his courage, he swears to protect his feline companions and opens the door to his ghostly pals who have come to take him trick-or-treating. Janice M. Del Negro, writing in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, said, "tucked into this humorously written and illustrated tale is the kernel of stout-heartedness that makes young children love the hero." "This tale of banishing fear has just the right blend of wit and supernatural suspense," commented a reviewer in Publishers Weekly.

The Teeny Tiny Ghost returns in Whooo's Haunting the Teeny Tiny Ghost? Coming home from his teeny tiny school one day, the pint-sized phantom finds some invisible creature "stomp, stomp, stomping" around his teeny tiny house. The Teeny Tiny Ghost and his two teeny tiny cats are scared, but once again, the small spirit finds the courage to save the day. He confronts the creature and discovers that it is just his cousin, Brad, whose homework assignment was to practice haunting. The tale "convey[s] a feeling of spookiness without being overtly scary," Lauren Peterson noted in Booklist, which makes the book good "for younger, more sensitive children." Describing the work as "an all out charmer," a Publishers Weekly critic called Whooo's Haunting the Teeny Tiny Ghost? "the treat of the Halloween season."

Drawing on her twenty-seven years of teaching elementary school, Winters wrote a book of poems devoted to life in the classroom. The day-to-day goings on in a typical schoolroom are highlighted in Did You See What I Saw?: Poems about School. Everything, from the pleasure evoked by a new box of crayons to snow days and passing notes in class, is explored in lighthearted verse. Poems such as "Lots of Spots," about the travails of chicken pox, and "Groundhog Day" paint amusing pictures of school life. "The rhythms and sounds and wordplay . . . are part of the fun," Hazel Rochman suggested in Booklist.

In the award-winning Wolf Watch, Winters uses poetic quatrains to tell the story of four wolf pups from birth until their first foray out of the den. The habits of a wolf pack are introduced, from howling to hunting and fending for their young. Danger is present in the form of a golden eagle who awaits the chance to prey upon one of the defenseless pups. School Library Journal contributor Susan Scheps called Wolf Watch "a treasure of a book," and noted that "there is a lot of information to be gleaned from this sparsely written visual masterpiece." A critic for Kirkus Reviews, meanwhile, hailed Wolf Watch as "a splendid complement to titles with a more fact-based approach to wolf life."

Another educational title is Abraham Lincoln: The Boy Who Loved Books, which uses "strong, economical language," in the words of a Kirkus Reviews contributor, to tell the story of America's sixteenth president. Written in free verse, the book strings together several episodes and vignettes from the president's life to explain how a poor frontier boy's love of books and learning led him to the White House. Winters has "an eye for details of particular interest to a young audience," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer, and Booklist's Kay Weisman thought that Abraham Lincoln's "simple language" and "engaging narrative" make the book "a good choice for reading aloud."

In a statement posted at her Web site, Winters explained how she came to write Lincoln's story: "I was drawn to exploring the life of Abe Lincoln because I wondered how someone could be born in extreme poverty, lose his mother at age nine, have less than a year of education, few role models, yet overcome these obstacles to become a beloved President whose words we remember today. I was delighted to discover that books made the difference." This respect for literacy came through in Winters's text: a reviewer for Kirkus Reviews called Abraham Lincoln "a moving tribute to the power of books and words."

Winters's book Voices of Ancient Egypt uses "evocative words and an arresting design to bring a long-gone civilization to life," Ilene Cooper explained in Booklist. Winters profiles a variety of prototypical Egyptians, During the Old Kingdom in Egypt, various workers and artisans explain their jobs in Winters's historical book. (From Voices of Ancient Egypt, illustrated by Barry Moser.) from the scribes and pyramid-builders to the often overlooked weavers, bird-catchers, clothes-washers, and other laborers. Each person is given a two-page spread, on which he or she explains his or her duties in freeverse poems written in the first person. This book is "a lovely browsing title," thought School Library Journal's Eve Ortega, in addition to "contain[ing] valuable information for students."

How Will the Easter Bunny Know? was inspired by a real-life incident. Winters told Jodi Duckett of the Morning Call that her husband's friend had been asked by his young nephew, "Uncle John, if I come to your house for Easter, how will the Easter bunny know?" Using that question and its worry as her starting point, Winters tells the story of a six-year-old boy who figures out a variety of ways to inform the Easter bunny that he is staying at his grandmother's house. He draws a map to grandmother's apartment, even carefully including a picture of her green door, leaves a letter to the Easter bunny, and makes signs to guide him. "The child has to solve the problem by himself; that's an unwritten rule in children's books," Winters explained to Duckett. Carolyn Phelan in Booklist called How Will the Easter Bunny Know? the "likable story of a child-size dilemma."

In But Mom, Everybody Else Does! a young girl tries to "convince her mother that her acts and desires are not only legitimate but also universal," as a Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote. All children have messy rooms, they all failed the test at school, they all get bigger allowances, and so on. The girl tells her mother that no one walks to school, everyone sleeps with the dog, nobody has to practice, and everybody can paint better than she can. Cushman's illustrations stretch these "statements to the point of absurdity," Kathy Piehl noted in School Library Journal, for example showing pupils riding to school on everything from dinosaurs to spaceships when the girl complains about having to walk to school. Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman believed that "this farce reinforces every kid's frustration about bossy grown-ups."

About her books for children, Winters told SATA, "Voices is being used all over the country as a readers' theater, as well as resource material for the study of ancient Egypt. My Teacher for President is spawning writing contests as second and third graders write three sentences about why a teacher they know should be president! Told in a humorous way, but describing real election issues—environment, peace, jobs, tolerance—children get a chance to examine candidate platforms and realize how many positive qualities their own teachers possess."

Winters once explained to SATA, "I write because that's how I know what I think. When I see what I say, ideas that were fuzzy come clear to me. And sometimes I am surprised at what I find out about myself.

"I write because I love to read and I want to give others that pleasure. Some of my happiest moments are when I am curled up by the fire in our old stone farmhouse in Bucks County. My husband and I seldom watch television. On summer evenings, we read in the gazebo, which looks out on our ten acres of meadows and woods. The hummingbird stops by for a sip from our feeder. Butterflies light on the cosmos. We have wild turkeys, deer, and pheasants who visit. I hope that children will become more aware of small wonders from my books.

"I write because I love to learn. Writers have the chance to play many parts, hear many voices, and dream many dreams. One of the exciting fringe benefits of being a writer is the ability to pursue what you care about. I am interested in so many things, nature, people, history, humor. Writing gives me a powerful motivation for learning. I loved finding out about wolves, presenting their warm family life, and dispelling the 'big bad wolf' myth in Wolf Watch. It's important to examine how to face fears and cope, as I explored in The Teeny Tiny Ghost, or how to observe and share experiences and memories, as in Did You See What I Saw?: Poems about School. I liked putting myself in the place of a six year old, as if I was going to Grandma's house for Easter and had no way of letting the Easter Bunny know of my whereabouts in How Will the Easter Bunny Know? Or imagining twin bear cubs, Sassy and Lum, in Where Are the Bears?, figuring out which activities they would copy as they met campers for the very first time. As I worked on the book about Abraham Lincoln, I lost myself in the wilderness, suffered on his hundred-mile trek to Indiana, and sympathized with Abe as he searched for books and learned to use words to lift himself out of grinding poverty. In Tiger Trail, I love putting myself in the place of the mother tigress and feeling her fear, her concern, and her triumph as she taught her cubs survival skills. When I was writing my book on ancient Egypt, the pharaohs seemed to come alive and walk right off the pages in their royal sandals. I hope that as youngsters meet the characters in my stories, they will realize that whatever their own circumstances may be, they can choose—to be brave, to forge ahead, to take positive risks, to be kind, to overcome severe obstacles, to appreciate the moment.

"My work habits are similar to those I used when I was teaching. I work every day. I am always on the watch for a story, even when we are on vacation riding elephants in Thailand or sailing on Lake Nockamixon. I have been very influenced by writers who use poetic prose, such as Karen Hesse, Jane Yolen, and Byrd Baylor. I love poetry by Aileen Fisher. I think Patricia Reilly Giff gets into the heads of her characters in a way I admire. And even though I frequently try to use other genres, poetic prose seems to speak up the most often. I am more interested in character development than plot. The story comes from the characters, and they frequently have a mind of their own. Still, writing the book is only the beginning. I also visit schools, attend book signings, speak at colleges, conferences, and bookstores.

"My advice for aspiring writers is to work, revise, and persist. Treat writing like a job. Make contacts. Go to conferences. Read current children's books. Join a writer's group. I am lucky to have a husband who is an excellent editor. Don't send your manuscript right off when you finish it. Let it breathe. Look at it again. And be grateful that you have chosen a career that makes every day matter. Whatever is going on in your life today will fit somewhere, sometime, in a story."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Winters, Katherine, Whooo's Haunting the Teeny Tiny Ghost?, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.


Booklist, August, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of Did You See What I Saw?: Poems about School, p. 1903; September 1, 1997, Lauren Peterson, review of The Teeny Tiny Ghost, p. 141; November 1, 1997, Julie Corsaro, review of Wolf Watch, p. 485; March 15, 1999, Carolyn Phelan, review of How Will the Easter Bunny Know?, p. 1339; September 1, 1999, Lauren Peterson, review of Whooo's Haunting the Teeny Tiny Ghost?, p. 151; October 15, 2000, Lauren Peterson, review of Tiger Trail, p. 448; December 15, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of But Mom, Everybody Else Does, p. 770; January 1, 2003, Kay Weisman, review of Abraham Lincoln: The Boy Who Loved Books, p. 901; September 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Voices of Ancient Egypt, p. 239.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1997, Janice M. Del Negro, review of The Teeny Tiny Ghost, p. 107.

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1997, review of Wolf Watch, p. 1539; August 15, 2002, review of But Mom, Everybody Else Does, p. 1239; November 15, 2002, review of Abraham Lincoln, p. 1703.

Morning Call, March 26, 1999, Jodi Duckett, article, Kay Winters Shares a Great Story Idea Family Fun, p. D. 07.

New York Times Book Review, November 16, 1997, J. D. Biersdorfer, review of Wolf Watch, p. 58.

Publishers Weekly, October 6, 1997, review of The Teeny Tiny Ghost, p. 48; October 27, 1997, review of Wolf Watch, p. 75; September 27, 1999, review of Whooo's Haunting the Teeny Tiny Ghost?, p. 47; November 25, 2002, review of Abraham Lincoln, p. 67.

School Library Journal, October, 1996, Marilyn Taniguchi, review of Did You See What I Saw?, p. 119; November, 1997, Meg Stackpole, review of The Teeny Tiny Ghost, pp. 103-104, and Susan Scheps, review of Wolf Watch, p. 104; April, 1999, Gale W. Sherman, review of How Will the Easter Bunny Know?, p. 110; September, 1999, Martha Link, review of Whooo's Haunting the Teeny Tiny Ghost?, p. 210; September, 2002, Kathy Piehl, review of But Mom, Everybody Else Does, p. 208; November 25, 2002, review of Abraham Lincoln, p. 67; September, 2003, Eve Ortega, review of Voices of Ancient Egypt, p. 239.


Katherine Winters Web Site, www.kaywinters.com/ (January 14, 2004).

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Carlos Watson Biography - Was a Student Journalist to Stefan Zweig (1881–1942) BiographyKatherine Winters (1936-) Biography - Awards, Honors, Sidelights - Personal, Career, Member, Writings