The Fox on the Box

FoxOne of my most exciting and rewarding writing experiences occurred thirty years ago, when I worked as a freelance writer-editor for School Zone Publishing Company. After I wrote many 32-page activity books for School Zone, I was asked to help develop a Start to Read series of ten books, each full-color, each 16 pages long. And each with a strong story. One other requirement: the total word count had to be approximately 50-100 words a book.

Was I daunted?


I dove into the assignment with enthusiasm. Perhaps, having been subjected to the Dick and Jane books when learning to read, I was thinking I would write a story with, well, story. A hero who wants something and faces obstacles in getting it. Conflict! Climax! Resolution.

In 50 words.


it's magicSo I plunged into the mission, feeling my way. The first story I wrote was Up Went the Goat, about a goat who climbs a mountain, wreaks havoc at a camp site, then scampers back down the mountain. That took seven sentences totaling 38 words. Of course each picture book is a collaboration between the words, which tell part of the story, and the illustrations, which also tell part of the story. Words and pictures together tell the full story. Up Went the Goat was illustrated by Robert Masheris.

Emboldened, I wrote another book about a creature wreaking havoc: a fox who is most inconsiderate of a box. The Fox on the Box was told in six sentences totaling 36 words. This story was also illustrated by Robert Masheris.

From there I went on to longer books in the series, such as Sue Likes Blue, a whopping 131 words. The books were highly popular and are still available today, though mainly in ebook format. I still receive occasional fan mail from 5- and 6-year-olds about the books. In fact, I receive fan mail from 35-year-old parents who remember that the very first book they ever read was one of the Start to Read books I wrote — and now their children are learning to read using the same book. This is awesome to me: to know that books I wrote so long ago still live in the hearts of those who read them.

Autographing Start to Read Books, San Francisco, 1984

Autographing Start to Read Books, San Francisco, 1984

In addition to writing children’s books, I write for adults. In baseball circles, I’m known as the author of Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball and/or the author of She’s on First. In mystery circles I’m known as the author of Dirty Proof and Sound Proof and, I hope, my recent book, Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies.

But if you look at what’s selling in children’s ebooks here and in Europe, or if you log into Goodreads and search for me or my books, what you’ll see is that I’m known as the author of The Fox on the Box.

And that gives me a good feeling.

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