Debbi Michiko Florence, a third generation Japanese American, is a former classroom teacher and zoo educator. Her debut middle grade novel, Keep It Together, Keiko Carter will be published by Scholastic on May 5, 2020. Her four-book debut chapter book series is Jasmine Toguchi (Farrar Straus Giroux/2017 and 2018). Jasmine Toguchi Mochi Queen was a Junior Library Guild selection, Amazon’s Best Children’s Books of 2017, a Bank Street 2018 Best Children’s Books of the Year, on the 2018 Amelia Bloomer List, and on the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) 2018 Choices List (Best of the Year). Jasmine Toguchi Drummer Girl is a 2019 Cybils Award winner, a Junior Library Guild selection, on the CCBC 2019 Choices List, and on the Chicago Public Library’s Best Of list. Debbi is also the author of two early chapter book series, Dorothy and Toto (Picture Window Books/2016) and My Furry Foster Family (Picture Window Books/August 2019).
Debbi has spoken on panels at the National Council of Teachers of English conference, the Decatur Book Festival, the Brooklyn Book Festival, among others; taught workshops at the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators conferences; and presented at numerous schools. She is on the faculty of the Highlights Foundation. For a current list where she will be in the coming months, check out her Visits and Events page.
A native Californian, Debbi now lives in Connecticut with her husband, rescue dog, bunny, and two ducks. She loves to travel with her husband and daughter.
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Represented by Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.
I have always loved books. When I was a toddler, I would take a book to bed and sleep with it. Fortunately, my parents fostered my love. My dad read to me. I used to beg him to read Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss. I got a kick out of those tongue-twisters. My mom took me and my sister to the library every week. There was nothing better than lugging home a big stack of books.
I started writing stories before I could read. I drew cartoon strips. I’m not a good artist, so it’s a good thing I learned to write! I wrote stories about Fluffy the Dog for an elementary school magazine. In high school, I would get to class early so I could write short stories. But, not once did I consider writing as a career. While I loved reading, for some reason I didn’t connect the person behind the words to the story. I didn’t think it could be a job.
I have always loved animals as much as I loved books. I worked in a pet store, was a zookeeper’s aide, volunteered at a raptor rehabilitation center, and worked at the Humane Society. I’ve cleaned up after fish, hamsters, dogs, eagles, snakes, lions, hippos, elephants, and more. I could have been a professional poop picker-upper!
It wasn’t until I went to college at the University of California at Davis that I started to get a glimpse of that other career path, the one where I could be a writer. My creative writing instructor suggested that I submit my short stories to literary journals. I never did. An English professor wrote me a letter and strongly suggested that I change my major to English. Again, I didn’t listen. I graduated with a degree in zoology and a minor in English.
After graduating college and getting my teaching certificate, I taught fifth grade in Los Angeles. After that, I moved to Michigan where I was the Associate Curator of Education for the Detroit Zoo. It wasn’t until I married my husband Bob and moved to Mexico City for his job that I seriously considered writing as a career. I’d left my zoo job behind and found myself with a lot of time on my hands in a foreign country where I knew nobody.
I started writing travel articles about my adventures living in Mexico and got them published on a travel web zine. Then, I had a couple of short stories published in small literary journals. I recalled my love of the books I read as a teenager – books by Judy Blume, Paul Zindel, Katherine Patterson, and more. I think my internal age is stuck somewhere at 13; I wanted to use that voice. I joined The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and knew I found my true calling. Over the years, my husband and now-college-age daughter have been unwavering in their support for me. I wake up every morning with joy in my heart that I get to write stories. I clearly took the scenic route to get here, but I am forever grateful to be on this road!
Before I started writing as my career, I worked at a pet store, volunteered as a raptor rehabilitator, interned as a zookeeper’s aide, taught fifth grade, and was the Associate Curator of Education for the Detroit Zoo.
Want to know even more? To find out how I met a princess, what’s in my Word Nest, and other tidbits: click here.