Chatham University

About the Author

Katherine Ayres

Katherine Ayres, author of Up, Down, and Around, has been a lover of books since earliest childhood, when she began inventing stories before she could write them. Katherine lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and has three grown children and three grandchildren.

Up, Down, and Around is the 2008 selection for the third annual Pennsylvania One Book, Every Young Child program. It is a story about the many edible things you find in a garden, such as corn that grows up, onions that grow down, and tomato vines that twine all around. Published in 2007, the book is being considered for the 2008 Texas 2x2 Reading List. Up, Down, and Around was published by Candlewick Press of Cambridge, MA.

Ayres is the author of two other picture books including A Long Way (Candlewick Press 2003) and Matthew's Truck (Candlewick Press 2005). She also has authored fiction chapter books including Family Tree (Random House 1996), North by Night: A Story of the Underground Railroad (Random House 1998), Voices at Whisper Bend (Pleasant Company 1999), Silver Dollar Girl (Random House 2000), Under Copp’s Hill (Pleasant Company 2000), Stealing South: A Story of the Underground Railroad (Random House 2001), and Macaroni Boy (Random House 2003).

In her words
About growing up, Ayres says, “When I was a child, I loved stories. I loved them so much, I made up tall tales of my own, and whoppers, and told these stories as if they were true. Sometimes I explained later that the stories were pretend. Sometimes I didn’t. Oops!”

“I came to love books because the people in my family, my mother, father and grandfather, would always find time to read aloud to me. My grandfather was the best – he was never too busy. And if sometimes he fell asleep in the middle of a story, when I tugged him awake, he always started right back in the spot where he’d left off. He also never tried to hurry the story along, never skipped words or pages. And I could always tell if somebody did that.”

“It also was natural for me to try to write some of my own stories. My first training came when I was quite small. I hated bedtime. I was sure that once they put the kid to bed and shut the door, they’d tell secrets, have seconds on dessert, and play games. So I showed them, I refused to fall asleep until I heard them going to bed. I kept myself awake by making up stories and TV shows in my mind. So my imagination got a lot of practice and today, years later, I still find myself making up stories at night. So I’m a story spinner, and an insomniac.”

As a small child her favorite book was The Poky Little Puppy by Margaret Wise Brown. “That puppy was always getting into mischief and I sympathized. When I was older, I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder and Nancy Drew.”

Ayres’ love of literature was a theme during her first career as a teacher and elementary school principal, and she continues to enjoy working with children and teachers in school settings. She teaches Writing at Chatham University, where she also coordinates the Masters of Arts in Children’s and Adolescent Writing. She is a founding member of the Playwrights’ Lab at Pittsburgh Public Theatre. She has been a speaker at the California Reading Meeting (for teachers of reading), at Aspen Summer Words (a writers’ festival), at the Ligonier Writers’ Conference, Fall Festival of Children's Books presented by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and at numerous schools as a visiting author and writer-in-residence.

Ayres is a frequent visitor in the classroom, and she will be making appearances at libraries, museums, and early childhood programs across the state as part of the One Book, Every Young Child program. When she is not writing, she skis, plays golf, gardens, and quilts.

About vegetables
“While I loved stories, I didn’t like my veggies – not a bit,” says Ayres. “I liked corn on the cob, potatoes, and tomatoes, but in my opinion, the rest could just sit in their dishes forever. Or even better, they could stay in the cans or in the freezer or in the garden, so I wouldn’t have to look at them, or smell them, or get in trouble for not eating them.”

“Growing up is funny. Some things change and some things stay the same. I still love stories; I read books and books every week. But now I like vegetables too. I like them so much I’ve written a magazine story about sugar peas and another about roots and stems and leaves. Up, Down, and Around is now a book. And yes, I now like every vegetable in the book, including okra!”

“Some of my favorite pictures from the book are near the beginning when the dirt piles up and the water splashes around. When I was small, I spent lots of time outdoors and loved to play in the dirt – digging in the sandbox, building roads in the dirt, making stick and stone dams in the tiny creek in the back yard. Even better than dirt by itself, was dirt plus water. Mud! I still spend time digging in the dirt. These days I call it gardening. But there’s something about feeling warm, crumbly dirt in my hands that makes me feel calm and busy and happy, all at the same time. When not playing in the dirt, I write stories and books and I teach students how to write at Chatham University.”

“When I visit schools, children often ask if I wanted to be a writer when I was a child. The answer is no. I wanted to be a kid. I didn’t imagine myself as a grown-up. Couldn’t think about giving up the fun of running up and down hills with my dog, finding stones, swinging my baseball bat, climbing trees, digging and mucking about. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy writing books for children so much – it’s another kind of playing – playing with words. And it allows me to keep childhood alive in my mind.”