Ok, my real name is Michelle Edwards, but for a long time, when I was a kid, I was known as Mush. In fact, there are still people who know me as Mush. But please, just call me Michelle.
I got my nickname at summer camp. I was the youngest camper at Camp Yowochas. I went to overnight camp before I went to kindergarten. I’m not sure why the director allowed me to start camp so young; my parents always said it was because my sister was there. Maybe the director just wanted someone she could call “Mush”. Someone too small to say “Don’t call me that.”
I grew up in a little town on the Hudson River; Troy, New York, home of Uncle Sam. I went to School 18 from kindergarten to eighth grade. I lived in the same house all those years. School wasn’t much fun. Teachers were very strict and we were always supposed to be quiet and listen. I liked to talk and so sometimes I got into trouble for talking too much.
Camp was the best and most fun place for me. I graduated from Camp Yowochas and started to spend all my summers at Camp Hochelaga in South Hero, Vermont.
Hochelaga was a special place and that is where I started to first think about making books. At Camp Hochelaga, we had a book making tradition. Every summer, the oldest group of girls, the seniors, hand made a book called the Log. An editor was chosen from among the seniors. My last summer as a camper, I was the Log editor.
A hand made book usually means a book that is printed on a printing press and later sewn together. If you read my book, Dora’s Book, you can learn all about that kind of hand made book. The Log we made at Camp Hochelaga was a hand written and hand illustrated book. There was only one copy and all the senior girls voted on who would receive the Log’s dedication. The dedication was a great honor and a huge secret until the the Log was presented and seen for the first time at the annual banquet held on the one of the last nights of camp.
Making a book like the Log, a book that was valued and treasured by everyone who attended Camp Hochelaga, made me realize that a book can be a shared experience. Working with my camper/editors on articles, thinking about the text and the cover and the illustrations helped me realize that each tiny piece of our book, our Log, was what made the whole book wonderful.
I started college early, at seventeen, and then wandered the world a bit trying to find out what I really wanted to be when I grew up. I studied art, worked on a kibbutz, learned Hebrew and printmaking. After years of making lithographs and etchings, I started to write little stories and I learned how to print and bind my own books.
I worked very hard to learn how to be a writer and an illustrator of children’s books. It was a long and winding path, but on the way I found an editor who wanted me to illustrate a book, then another editor who wanted to publish my story with my illustrations. With each book I do, I try to be open to new ways of writing and drawing. I illustrated my book, Stinky Stern Forever entirely on the computer using a Wacom tablet and pen.
Sometimes when I am working in my studio, I think back to that summer when I was editor of the Log, working with my friends to craft our special book and our excited anticipation of the historic moment of when we revealed to the whole camp what our Log looked like and who would be honored with its dedication. It was a feeling I will never forget. And it is still there for me, the wonder and the joy making pictures and stories into books and the nervous excitement when that book finds its way into a reader’s hands.