Underwood realizes dream of being professional author

The Walla Walla native has penned numerous children's books, such as 'The Quiet Book'


If Walla Walla native Deborah Underwood's early ambition -- to paste labels on new pianos in a factory -- had come to fruition, she might have missed out on her current career as a full-time, best-selling children's writer.

She also wanted to be an astronomer as a child, she said in her website bio, which is accompanied by a photo of her holding teddy bear Ursa Major, named for the constellation.

"Then I wanted to be a singer. Then I wanted to be a writer. Today my jobs are writing and singing. I guess two out of three's not bad! (Okay, I also wanted to work in a piano factory and paste the labels on new pianos, but let's just ignore that one.)"

Underwood has produced such picture stories as "The Loud Book!;" "The Quiet Book;" "A Balloon for Isabel;" "Granny Gomez & Jigsaw;" an easy reader called "Pirate Mom;" the "Sugar Plum Ballerinas" chapter book series, co-written with Whoopi Goldberg, about girls in Harlem who attend the Nutcracker School of Ballet; and a collection of non-fiction books, with titles such as "Hiding in the Rainforest," "The Easter Island Statues," Watching Orangutans in Asia" and "Where Are Your Manners?." She has also written for kids' magazines, including Spider, Ladybug, Highlights and National Geographic Kids.

"The Loud Book!" is Underwood's latest work, published April 4. Illustrated by Renata Liwska, it helps young readers consider noises caused by everything from alarm clocks and old cars to burps and slurps, fire trucks and home runs, good and bad crashes and the sounds of a snoring sister and crickets.

Underwood previously teamed with Liwska in 2010 on "The Quiet "Book." Its illustrations give visual depth to the soft, silent moments of "tucking in Teddy quiet," a "Bedtime kiss," "Right before you yell 'SURPRISE!'" and "Thinking of a good reason you were drawing on the wall."

Humor is found throughout her tales.

"The Quiet Book," which came out in April 2010, was on The New York Times best-sellers list for 14 weeks and made nine year's best book lists, according to a release from publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. There are more than 100,000 copies of it in print, and the rights have been sold to nine countries for foreign language editions.

The daughter of Douglas and Sally Underwood, Deborah attended Green Park Elementary and Pioneer Junior High and graduated in 1979 from Walla Walla High School.

After graduating in 1983 from Pomona College, she settled in San Francisco, where she unsettled her parents by entertaining the populace as a street musician. "If you're looking for a great way to freak out your parents, tell them you're going to be a street musician when you grow up," she wrote in an email.

Many Walla Wallans will remember her parents: Douglas taught at Whitman College from 1958-1998; Sally taugh English as a second language at Walla Walla Community College and served on the Walla Walla Public School, planning commission and United Way boards. Her parents moved from Walla Walla to Davis, Calif., in 1999, and Sally died there in 2004.

Post street musician, Deborah typed memos for accountants in an office. "When the accountants weren't looking, I wrote screenplays. I found that if I glowered at the computer screen and yelled, 'Criminy!' once in a while, everyone thought I was typing a very demanding memo and left me alone.

"I finally decided to write for kids. At first my stories were pretty awful, but I kept trying. They got better in time -- but writing sure is a lot of work."

She sings in a chamber choir, resides with cat Bella and gives presentations to elementary students on interactive storytelling games, nonfiction research tips, animal facts and how she works as a writer.

She turns to writer friends who peruse one another's manuscripts and give feedback. "And whenever I say I'm going to get a job pasting labels on pianos because writing is too hard, they talk me out of it."

For more details, see www.DeborahUnderwoodBooks.com and www.facebook.com/pages/Deborah-Underwood-Childrens-Author/117952058227214. Her stories are available locally at Earthlight Books, 321 E. Main St., 509-525-4983, www.earthlightbooks.com.

Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at annieeveland@wwub.com or afternoons at 526-8313.


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