Erickson, Betty J. 1923–

views updated

Erickson, Betty J. 1923–

(Betty Jean Erickson)

PERSONAL: Born October 11, 1923, in Taft, CA; daughter of John Cooper Henderson Douglas (a cabinetmaker, truck driver, mushroom farmer, oil rig driller, and realtor) and Erva Edna (Lincoln) Young; married Richard Baldwin Erickson (in the military), November 29, 1952; children: Gregory Steven, John Jeffrey, Mark Kevin, Pamela Sue Erickson Escarsega, Timothy Forrest, Donn Bradley, Sara Jane Erickson Parry, Caris Anne Erickson Goryachev. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: College (now University) of the Pacific, B.A., 1945; Mills College, M.A., 1952. Politics: "Republican." Religion: United Methodist.

ADDRESSES: Home—14611 Anderson St., Woodbridge, VA 22193-1213. Office—Springwoods Elementary School, 3815 Marquis Pl., Woodbridge, VA 22192. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: Master teacher at public schools in Stockton and Alhambra, CA, between 1945 and 1951; Mills College, Oakland, CA, demonstration teacher, summers, 1947–51; elementary schoolteacher in Bellevue, NE, 1966–68; reading teacher at schools in Prince William County, VA, 1968–94; Springwoods Elementary School, Woodbridge, VA, volunteer reading recovery teacher, 1994–. Reading Recovery Council of North America, member.

MEMBER: Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.


Oh, No, Sherman!, illustrated by Kristine Dillard, Seedling Publications (Columbus, OH), 1996.

Play Ball, Sherman!, illustrated by Kristine Dillard, Seedling Publications (Columbus, OH), 1996.

Use Your Beak, illustrated by Lynne Srba, Seedling Publications (Columbus, OH), 1998.

Big Bad Rex, illustrated by Estella Hickman, Seedling Publications (Columbus, OH), 1998.

Where's the Snow?, illustrated by Kate Eason Power, Seedling Publications (Columbus, OH), 1999.

Look in My Book, illustrated by Kristine Dillard, Seedling Publications (Columbus, OH), 1998.

Sherman, illustrated by Kristine Dillard, Seedling Publications (Columbus, OH), 1999.

(Reteller) Little Rabbit Who Wanted Red Wings, illustrated by Ryan Durney, Seedling Publications (Columbus, OH), 2000.

In Search of Something Delicious, illustrated by Paul Richmond, Seedling Publications (Columbus, OH), 2003.

Why Do Worms Come Up When It Rains?, illustrated by Ryan Durney, Seedling Publications (Columbus, OH), 2003.

Developer of reading curriculum materials for local schools. Contributor to periodicals, including Reading in Virginia, Reading Teacher, Small Farmer's Journal, and First Teacher.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Dog stories for the "Sherman" series; a young adult novella tentatively titled The Phonies; Mighty Molly, on the life cycle of a leatherback turtle.

SIDELIGHTS: Betty J. Erickson told CA: "I'm a native Californian. I grew up in Santa Cruz, where two of my favorite pastimes were hiking in the mountains and dancing. One of my least favorite things was being rolled by the wicked waves in Monterey Bay. While I romped through childhood, my father kept the Great Depression at bay with a combination of ingenuity, horse sense, and hard work."

Erickson had earlier commented: "In the years B.C. (Before Computer), my ideas vanished before I could capture them on paper, and cutting and pasting with actual scissors and tape was tedious. In 1983, I met my first computer, bonded with it, and became a prolific writer. I could think and write simultaneously, and I had work space and tools for reshaping, clarifying, and correcting. My trusty monitor displayed gems, aberrations, and fuzzy images.

"Since I was, and probably always will be, a reading teacher, my audience was the children I served. When text in a particular genre, subject, or level of difficulty was not available, I wrote it using language I deemed appropriate. In the 1980s my captive audience read my books without complaint. Today's children select from a wide variety of titles and authors, and they are more discriminating.

"In the 1980s, I discovered a selection of books for beginning readers written by New Zealand author Joy Cowley. Joy writes from the child's point of view. Her youngest or smallest character sparks children's interests by overcoming obstacles, meeting challenges, winning races or prizes, and becoming the hero. Obviously, her books had charm and appeal that mine lacked. I deposited my children's books in the incinerator and started over. In 1992, Trudy Larson, a representative from the Wright Group, brought Joy Cowley to my classroom. Since that time, Joy and her husband, Terry Coles, have become my friends and have encouraged me to hone my craft as a children's writer despite the 'tick-tock' of my clock!

"I write nearly six hours a day during the summer. My study, a converted bedroom, is crammed with two computers, two printers, a work table, art supplies, paper cutter, copier, and shelves of children's books and magazines. When school is in session, I write on Saturdays. Most writing during the week is done for immediate use at Springwoods Elementary School, where I tutor reading recovery students and work with small groups of first- and second-graders who need extra support in reading. Children are candid and reliable critics, and they keep me supplied with fresh ideas. Our eleven grandchildren serve up an abundant supply of story material. My experiences as mother of eight can be triggered in a heartbeat. Also, my own childhood experiences are on automatic redial.

"Oh, No, Sherman! is based on an incident involving our son Donn when he was a paper boy. Play Ball, Sherman! is a true account of the antics of the family pet at our grandson's soccer game. Amazingly, Kristine Dillard illustrated the scene as accurately as if she had been a witness. Even her car resembled Niecy, the family Nissan. She captured the flavor of both stories, and children give her glowing accolades."

More recently Erickson added: "I've tried to retire from teaching, but it didn't work. I went back to being a reading teacher, and I also train volunteers to tutor young children in reading and writing. I write several hours each week. Being surrounded by small groups of young readers keeps the writing juices flowing. I know what children like to re-read, and I know what they want to skim and put out of sight. I strive to keep my writing out of that latter category.

"It takes a bit of courage to sit across the table and watch a group of first- or second-graders interact with one's creation. They pull no punches. If the book's a winner, they pour on the praise. If it's not, they leave no doubt in my mind as to what they think. When they discover I'm the author, they love to read the title page and read my first name aloud.

"One advantage of being a mature person (children would say old) is that I have a bulging collection of incidents to draw from. Most of my fiction that survived the editing process is at least seventy percent true. When it comes to nonfiction, I've found there's no better way to write about what interests children than to first brainstorm with the children themselves. That way I'll know if the subject interests them, and I'll discover what they already know, as well as any possible misconceptions they may have.

"While gathering information for Why Do Worms Come Up When It Rains?, I brainstormed with five-, six-, and seven-year-olds to find out what they thought about this subject. I had the opportunity to talk with the illustrator, Ryan Durney. He knew exactly what we wanted to show. He said he had fun illustrating this book because he got to draw his favorite weather. Ryan had to restrain himself from squishing a worm on the sidewalk but my young readers noticed that a bicycle tire came dangerously close.

"Children are a delightful audience, and they are the best critics. I'm grateful that I have them as partners in writing."