I grew up in Springfield, Missouri. We thought we lived in the city, and compared to our grandparents, we did. But my neighborhood on East Elm Street had no fences, and there were wide, open fields all around us. My family raised chickens in our backyard, grew peach and apple trees, and had a huge garden (my dad’s hobby). So compared to most cities, Springfield was a small town.
When I was a kid I spent most of my time playing in the backyard, riding bikes, and inventing games. I also spent a lot of time in libraries—public libraries, our church library, and the school library. I loved books and often signed up for book clubs or contests where you’d get points for the number of books you read.
We—Dad, Mom, Butch, Patti, and I—spent a lot of time at home. We planted flowers and tilled the garden in the spring, mowed the yard and played ball in the summer (my brother and sister were both much better than me), raked leaves and harvested pumpkins in the fall, and shoveled snow and made snow ice cream in the winter.
I also spent a lot time with my grandparents. Granny and Gramp Raney (Mom’s parents) lived on a farm in Norwood, Missouri. Grandma and Grandpa Sanders lived nine miles down the road from Norwood in Mountain Grove, Missouri. Granny Raney taught me how to take care of baby chicks and make chocolate pie. I used to take long walks with Grandpa Sanders. Grandma Sanders loved to cook, sew, do crafts, and help out at her church. I would followed her like a shadow and mimicked whatever she was doing.
You can probably tell from my photographs that family is important to me. There were always aunts, uncles, and cousins around and we spent lots of holidays together. The Sanders Family celebrated Christmas the first Sunday of December. The Raneys gathered for Christmas the weekend after the big day. We headed of to Uncle Jack and Aunt Shirl’s each Thanksgiving and to Uncle Richard and Aunt Becky’s pool each 4th of July.
I walked three blocks to Bingham Elementary School for first through sixth grades. My favorite teacher was Mrs. Henley in third grade. She was young, wore bright neon colors, and was the first teacher to read a chapter book to us—Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Mrs. Henley also took us on our first field trip.
We went to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home in Mansfield, Missouri. We saw Laura’s handwritten manuscripts, Pa’s fiddle, a quilt Ma had made, and many other items mentioned in Laura’s books. I bought a set of Laura Ingalls Wilder books in the gift shop and proudly took them home.
Laura’s home in Mansfield was about ten miles from Granny and Gramp’s farm. I never dreamed an author could live so close to me. I’m not sure I thought authors were real people until that field trip.
In fourth grade, Miss McGregor told wild stories about being chased by a bear, being kidnapped by gypsies, and floating down the Mississippi River. I thought she had to be related to Daniel Boone or Tom Sawyer. With her around, my imagination grew and I searched for adventures and stories to tell. Years later, I realized that Miss McGregor was telling fictional stories, but who cares, they were still wonderful!
In sixth grade Mrs. Woods encouraged me to use my talents—art, music, and writing. She was the first adult I met who valued such things. At open house she complimented me on a bulletin board I had designed and created. My dad innocently said, “Yeah, Robby likes fooling around with stuff like that.” Mrs. Woods immediately corrected Dad. “Oh, Mr. Sanders,” she said, “your son is not fooling around with stuff, he is using his talents—and he has many of them.” I felt like I grew three feet taller at the moment. I was so proud.
Throughout junior high and high school I had wonderful English teachers who taught me to diagram sentences, speak in public, read the classics, show what I learned in creative ways, and who taught me to write. I wrote letters, poems, stories, plays, radio scripts, and more. Even now those teachers would be considered among the best.
I’m still reading and writing today. As a matter of fact, every school day I teach kids about words and books, and stories and writing. Helping my students become strong writers is my favorite thing to do.
Now I also write books. My first picture book, Cowboy Christmas (Golden Books/Random House), was released in 2012. Outer Space Bedtime Race (Random House Books for Young Readers) followed in 2015. You’ll find fun activities for both titles in the FOR KIDS section of this web site. My two Ruby Rose books are on the way in 2016 and 2017. Watch for Rodzilla coming from Simon & Schuster in 2017 and Pride: The Story of the Rainbow Flag from Random House 2018.