About Mary

I grew up in rural Minnesota surrounded by cornfields, oak trees, and lakes. Our town school was a three-story brick building with primary grades on the first floor, middle grades on the second, and high school on the third. I spent all of elementary school confused as to how everyone except me had figured out the mysterious process of reading. I recall teachers being exasperated by my inability to simply write my name. Each time a worksheet landed on my desk I busied myself with organizing my pencils and crayons. With time, I learned that it was okay for me to copy other students’ work. My teachers turned a blind eye in conspiracy with me to alleviate the demands I had made upon them.

In sixth grade I was introduced to a “special teacher” who met with me twice a week. She would read the worksheets to me and transcribe my answers. When she read me the science test questions, I understood her value. Suddenly I (who failed everything) was getting the highest grades in my class. Science was a favorite subject because there was no text book and our teacher did presentations. My pride was short lived. Classmates loudly protested that my success was due to having the help of an extra teacher which they considered unfair.

Our town, in 1970, did not have a teacher who could teach me how to read. Fortunately my best friend was a lover of books, and because she lived in Minneapolis (and happened to be my cousin), she had no idea that I could barely read. We would get together three or four times a year and I was inspired by the books she shared. Similar to Maddie in Once Upon a Time a Sparrow, I sought out books way beyond my reading level. But my motivation (and imagination) compensated for the many skipped and misunderstood passages.

I exited special education at the end of ninth grade branded with the label MBD (mildly brain damaged). In tenth grade, one day my psychology class took a field trip to an institution for brain damaged students. Here I met children who were described as retarded and unable to read. I found out that the teachers were called “special education teachers.” I knew then, this was what I wanted to become, a special education teacher.

 With a BA in education, I spent the next twelve years attempting to teach children who struggled to recall their ABCs, how to unlock the “code” turning letters into sounds and words into meaning. My own past continued to haunt me and I wanted to find answers as to “why some children learn to read as effortlessly as a bird learns to fly, while other flap their wings until they almost break, and still end up in a nosedive.”

I spent a decade going through a masters and then a PhD in educational psychology at the University of Washington all the while taking in the complexity of the reading process (and never revealing in this highly academically competitive process my own continuing struggle with reading). I had thought I wanted to be an academic, on the forefront of understanding the neuro biological issues that prevented people like me from moving without hiccup from symbol to word to meaning. Ultimately the academic environment failed to satisfy my yearning and I returned to public schools as a school psychologist.

I currently divide my time between writing projects and working as a school psychologist in Seattle Public Schools. I diagnose learning challenges, consult with parents and teachers, and strive to bring some understanding to the unique ways children learn. My debut novel, Once Upon a Time a Sparrow, takes inspiration from my early experience with reading. I am continually grateful to the valuable lessons that have come to me through the teachers and children both whom I have been blessed to work with.