age 6

My favorite books at this age were:

The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams

Blueberries for Sal and
Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCluskey

Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans

A Child's Garden of Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Horton Hears a Who, Horton Hatches an Egg, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, by Dr. Suess

The Country Bunny, by Dubose Heyward

Curious George,, by H.A. Rey

A Fish out of Water, by Helen Palmer

Cranberry Thanksgiving, by Harry Devlin

Frog and Toad books, by Arnold Lobel

Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll

7, with cousin Jack and sister Marie (both in red)

My favorite books in grades 1-3:

Fantastic Mr. Fox,
The Magic Finger,
James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Danny, Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl

The Littles series, by John Peterson

The Happy Prince, by Oscar Wilde

The Romona and Henry books, by Beverly Cleary

Charlotte's Web and
Stuart Little, by E. B. White

Rascal, by Sterling North

The Pushcart War, by Jean Merrill

Heidi, by Johanna Spyri

The Little House series,
by Laura Ingalls Wilder

10, my mom finally let me get my hair cut!

My favorites grades 4-6:

The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pene du Bois

The Great Brain series, by John D. Fitzgerald

Homer Price, by Robert McCloskey

Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George

Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeliene L'Engle

Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Mandy, by Julie Andrews Edwards

My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Jester Norton

Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery

Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

David Copperfield and
Oliver Twist,by Charles Dickens

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

My favorite books as a young adult were:

I am the Cheese, by Robert Cormier

1984, by George Orwell

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

The Man Who Was Magic, by Paul Gallico

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis

Illusions, by Richard Bach

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Loon Feather, by Iola Fuller

Newer Favorites:

Grandfather Twighlight, by Barbara Berger

Goodnight Gorilla, by Peggy Rathmann

Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown

The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn

Fanny's Dream, by Caralyn & Mark Buehner

The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein

The Lorax and Gertrude McFuzz, by Dr. Seuss

The Golly Sisters books, by Betsy Byars

Julius the Baby of the World and
A Weekend with Wendell, by Kevin Henkes

Island Boy, by Barbara Cooney

One Yellow Daffodil, by David A. Adler

Brave Irene, Gorky Rises, Amos and Boris, Dr. DeSoto, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Steig

The Dumb Bunnies’ Easter, by Sue Denim

What is God?, by Etan Boritzer

Bridge to Terabithia and
The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson

The Education of Little Tree, by Forrest Carter

Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbit

The BFG, by Roald Dahl

The Weird Watsons go to Birmingham, 1964, by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Giver, Number the Stars, and Silent Boy, by Lois Lowry

Our Only May Amelia, by Jennifer Holm

Missing May, by Cynthia Rylant

Belle Prater's Boy, by Ruth White

Phillip Hall Likes Me, I Reckon Maybe, by Bette Greene

House of the Scorpion and A Girl Named Disaster, by Nancy Farmer

Night Flying, by Rita Murphy

M.C. Higgins The Great, by Virginia Hamilton

The Birchbark House and The Game of Silence, The Year of the Porcupine by Louise Erdich

The Year of Miss Agnes, by Kirkpatrick Hill

Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli

Esperanza Rising, by Pam Munoz Ryan

Sahara Special, by Esme Raji Codell

So B. It, by Sara Weeks

The Book of Everything, by Guus Kuijer

Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

Waiting for Normal, by Leslie Connor

George, by Alex Gino

Orbiting Jupiter, by Gary D. Schmidt

About Me

I was born Julie Agnes Polakowski on June 9, 1964, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When I turned six, my family moved across Lake Michigan on a ferry and then "up north", to Leelanau County, Michigan--if Michigan looks like a mitten, Leelanau is the pinky. It’s a beautiful rural lake-land area, my favorite place in the whole world.

Besides my mom and dad, I grew up with two older brothers and a younger sister and a grandma (much like the one in Going for the Record) who lived with us for many of those years. I also had tons of uncles and aunts and cousins with whom we celebrated every birthday, holiday, and special event--quite a clan.

I’ve always enjoyed writing. In elementary school I liked to write and illustrate stories and dreamt of getting them published. In jr. high, high school, and college, I got more into journal writing and poetry. I enjoy other forms of art as well--drawing, painting, pottery, sculpture, woodworking.

9, me with my family (in the middle, white shirt)
My dad was a builder and I spent many hours making things with his scraps of wood--birdhouses, Tom Sawyer rafts, treehouses. I loved building forts. We built them out of whatever we could, wherever we could: stick lean-tos with thatched roofs, wigwams made of a circle of saplings with their tops tied together, dug-out underground forts. With the great amount of snow we got each winter, we were always left with giant snow piles to tunnel into and make snowforts in, and plenty of snow for sledding, skating, skiing, and snowball fights, which I also enjoyed.

8, not happy to be the flowergirl in my cousin Lori's wedding (with ring bearer Jack and my Aunt Maureen)
I was the world’s biggest tomboy as a child. I hated being a girl! Back then, boys had so many more opportunities and freedoms, and the stereotype of what a girl was supposed to be was so much more restrictive. I felt I was being pushed into a fancy little mold that just wasn’t me! Although I was painfully shy and obedient, I was also stubborn and determined, with more than a streak of the dreamer in me. I fancied myself an inventor and was constantly making contraptions: attempts at perpetual motion machines, bionic arms, periscopes, space ships, wings that would make me fly… Few of my creations ever worked and I never did truly invent anything, but I had a great time. I also had a wonderful recurring flying dream (I still have it occasionally) that led me to believe I could fly, and I spent much of my time jumping from trees and sand dunes, trying to do just that. I don’t think I gave up until I was eleven or twelve!

11, with Jack and Marie in the woods between our house and the lake
We lived on a small lake just a half mile through the woods to Lake Michigan and except for coming in to eat lunch or dinner, we spent our summers almost entirely outside, swimming, fishing, catching any little creature we could find, camping, climbing trees, picking wild mushrooms and berries, playing in our forts. My two best friends were my younger sister Marie and cousin Jack, and I played pretend games with them until an embarrassingly old age!

#30 on the boys' basketball team in 8th grade
I found it a blessing that I was a late-bloomer physically as well, because I did not want to grow up—it would only make it more obvious that I was indeed a female! That part of growing up was hard for me, and I fought it as best I could until I finally accepted the undeniable. Playing basketball and other sports helped my confidence and let me carve out my own identity.

Our high school basketball coach got me absolutely hooked on basketball. I practiced for hours on end each day. It paid off for me and my teammates who did likewise, and we had fairy tale high school careers, going undefeated and winning state championships both my junior and senior years.

senior year in high school

Thunder Thighs with her hand over her teammate/little sister Marie's face

1st year as a Spartan
I went on to play basketball at Michigan State, where I studied to become a math and science teacher. Upon graduating, I married my husband Steve and got a job teaching high school math and coaching a varsity girls’ basketball team. A few years later, when our first daughter was born, I stopped working to be at home with her and pursue one of my many other dreams of what I wanted to be when I grew up—a writer.

We've bopped around the country, from Iowa to Vermont and New Hampshire, to California, and finally to Virginia, where we've lived in Charlottesville for the past 16 years. We have three children, two girls and a boy, ages 26, 23, and 19.