Interview with author Toni Buzzeo

By Laurie Knowlton

I'd like to introduce a new friend, Toni Buzzeo. I met Toni while in Florida. Prior to meeting Toni I'd read a preview of When Sue Met Sue, published by Abrams Books for Young Readers. The article caught my attention because of my love of fossils.

Not long afterwards I met Toni. When I entered her home I saw her author copy of new book sitting on her coffee table. I picked it up immediately, recognizing it. “I know this book!” I said. “I read about it!"

We quickly became friends, talking about writing, publishing, a love of fossils! After enjoying our time together, I knew our readers would love to get to know Toni also.


New York Times bestselling children’s author Toni Buzzeo has published 27 picture books for kids as well as 11 books for teachers and librarians. Toni and her books have won many awards, including a 2013 Caldecott Honor for One Cool Friend, illustrated by David Small. She writes for a broad audience, from the very youngest readers through elementary-aged children. Her characters are sometimes real and sometimes fictional, sometimes human and sometimes animals whose experiences echo those of a human child. No matter what, her characters are as lovable as the children Toni writes for. Before publishing for children, Toni was a Maine elementary school librarian and college and high school writing teacher. Now she lives and writes full time from her charming writing cottage in Arlington, Massachusetts. For lots more information, visit

What inspired you to write When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex?

After I published A Passion for Elephants: The Real Life Adventure of Field Scientist Cynthia Moss (Dial, 2015), I knew that I had found a publishing niche I wanted to continue to occupy—telling the stories of inspiring women scientists in illustrated picture book biographies. So, I put out a call to my school librarian community on the LM_NET listserv and asked for suggestions. When someone mentioned Sue Hendrickson, I dug into preliminary research and loved what I found—that she was yet another self-taught scientist, like Cynthia Moss, another woman so strong and independent that she devoted her life to the work she trained herself for, in Sue’s case, a life of discovery. A major event of that life of discovery was her encounter, in 1990, with the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever uncovered. Not only did she use her skills and knowledge as a paleontologist, Sue also trusted her intuition—the entirely internal sense that the cliff, seven miles away, was calling to her, as indeed, it was!

You have two very different books about dinosaurs: No T. Rex in the Library and When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex. Can you share some insight on the similarities and differences in writing these two books?

Would it do to just say that they are completely different in every way? That is almost true, actually. While No T. Rex in the Library (Simon & Schuster, 2008) is fiction with a young character who misbehaves in the library and brings a T. rex to life from a book, thus causing ensuing impossible events such as a broken aquarium and knights doing synchronized swimming in the spilled pool of water, When Sue Found Sue (Abrams, 2019) is nonfiction, featuring the accurate story of Sue Hendrickson’s life, from her shy and lonely childhood to her astonishing and unlikely discovery of the largest T. rex skeleton ever uncovered.

However, it is true that a single author—me!—wrote both of these books. And that author is not even a huge dinosaur-nerd. While I think dinos are cool, and I am curious about them, they aren’t the thing I am most passionate about. Actually, the thing I am most passionate about is writing.

I noticed you have several series books. How is writing a series different that a single title?

The answer is different depending on the genre. For the fiction books I have written in series, the Dawdle Duckling (Dial) and Adventure Annie (Dial) books, there are several advantages. First, as the fiction author, you already know your character and how he or she will react to the situations you put her or him into. And, to some extent, you know the secondary characters. You may even know the setting. The challenge in that can be to come up with unexpected plot twists that challenge the well-known character.

For nonfiction, such as my Whose? (Abrams Appleseed) series, what you have at the outset is a predictable format. For each of these board books, for instance, I know that I will be focusing on six professions and that the professions will be revealed through a guessing game which will require the young reader to identify the tools or vehicle that the professional uses to accomplish her or his work. Beyond that and the requirements of a rhyming text following a prescribed pattern, the content is entirely unique.

What is the most exciting event you had as a writer researching for a book?

My first published book, The Sea Chest (Dial, 2002) in which a ship’s captain and his wife cast their baby upon the ocean waves in a sea chest to save her life, was based on a legend from mid-Coast Maine—a legend that many Mainers believed to be true. As a certified librarian, it was important to me to get to the bottom of the mystery and determine whether I was writing a fiction or nonfiction book! I was delighted when I met Barbara Skinner Rumsey, former director of the Boothbay (Maine) Regional Historical Society who was able to share with me her work in trying to answer that very question. She had done extensive research that included reading page-by-page and word-by-word the lighthouse keeper’s log books from the decade in which the shipwreck was said to have occurred. Barbara found no record of such a storm, no record of a lost ship, and no record of a baby washing ashore on that lighthouse island. My question was answered, and I got to share vicariously in Barbara’s search!

What was your favorite book as a child?

My favorite books as a child were any of the Beverly Cleary books then in print, including Beezus and Ramona, all of the Henry books, and especially Ellen Tebbets.

What do you like to read now?

I read all genres of children’s books, picture books, middle grade, graphic novels, young adult, and nonfiction. But I also love adult literary fiction, memoir, and the occasional inspirational/lifestyle/philosophy book.

What advice do you have for new writers?

My strongest advice is to take yourself seriously as a writer. In order to do that, you need to join our professional organization, SCBWI (, take as many classes as are available to you and which apply to your work—both locally and online—and attend writing conferences regularly. You also will want to find a critique group (SCBWI can help with that too) and use your membership in that group to learn as much as you can about the revision process and the importance of revising work over and over as you peel away each layer of the onion.

What do you do when you aren’t writing?

I love to read. One guilty pleasure is to get up in the morning, make a cup of coffee and, if it’s warm enough, sit out on the back porch (or during my Sarasota, Florida winters, on the lanai) with the sun shining in and read whatever book I’m immersed in until the coffee is gone. If it’s cold here in Arlington, Massachusetts (early spring/late fall), I prop myself up in bed with the mattress warmer on and drink that same cup of coffee while I read. Guiltiest pleasure of all? A second cup of coffee and more chapters. That hardly ever happens though. I’m too much of a first-child rule-follower, even when the rules are my own!

I also love to work with fiber and fabric as my alternate creative outlet, and I spend time every day playing with each of my young grandchildren.

What is the best investment you’ve made in your writing career financially or time wise?

I’ve invested both time and money in attending conferences and workshops all over the country. They’ve given me new knowledge and often new opportunities. There’s no discounting how much there is to learn at every stage of one’s career.

What author do you wish you could sit and have a conversation with?

See my answer to my favorite book as a child. I would love the opportunity to sit down with 103-year-old Beverly Cleary and ask her about how she weathered such a long and successful career and what advice she’d have for someone like me, with 27 books in print and two more under contract.

Short and Sweet

Panster or plotter?
Guilty Food Pleasure? Cake with lots of frosting
Dog or cat person?
Best time to work? Mid-morning or late at night

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