Writing for children has been my lifelong dream.

The cover of Barbara Odanaka's book "Construction Cat"
My latest book, Construction Cat

As a youngster, I adored books, especially those by Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl. I also loved creating stories and poems for my parents and siblings. These days, I consider it a great privilege to be able to create fun, playful books for all ages.

Like many writers, I've long been fascinated by words — just like my dear mother, Dorothy, who was the family whiz at Scrabble. I remember playing rhyming games with my mom during long car rides. Her love of words — along with my discovery of an old Royal typewriter deep in our garage — inspired my six-year-old self to write my very first book: The Happy Hamster, a one-paragraph ode, and a mess of misspellings and smudges.

As an author, I tell children that there is nothing so rewarding as a good tale told well. Whether you read it, or write it, a great book is a like a treasure chest that stays with you your whole life. And it all starts with one string of wonderful words!

I have performed more than 100 shows for schools, libraries and community events.

From playful story-times to academically-geared presentations, I aim to inspire and empower students of all ages and stages.

And, yes, I skateboard, too — sometimes as one of my characters, Skateboard Cow! Although that might sound silly, I take my school appearances seriously. I know that my performance might actually inspire a child to become a real-life author someday. All children need inspiring role models, so I emphasize the importance of hard work, diligence and patience — as well as the wonderful feeling of a job well done!

My presentations can be customized for any age or audience, but they typically start with a lively reading of one or more of my books, which I follow with a brief talk combining my passion for reading and writing with my love of skateboarding.

I tell students that learning to read and write is like learning to skateboard — there will always be setbacks, some more painful than others! But if you stick it out, and work through the tough stuff, the rewards can be thrilling!

My slideshows vary depending on grade level, but generally they detail how a book comes to be — from that first “aha” moment to the finished treasure. I emphasize the importance of revision, and how working with a book editor is like working with a teacher — they are there to help you produce your best work!

Depending on the school's needs, I also might include a few words on my former life as a Los Angeles Times sports reporter, or on the year I spent writing travel stories while backpacking around the world on $15 a day. As a middle-aged woman who rides a skateboard, I also enjoy demonstrating how stereotypes are not to be believed. Of course, I top off every show with a few skateboard tricks!

My finale? I put the school principal (or another willing authority figure) on a skateboard for a brief, introductory lesson. Don't worry — I bring a complete set of safety gear (plus some fun extras) and I keep a tight hold of my special student as I gently roll him or her across the stage, often to the roar of the audience. This makes for a fun photo opportunity and a moment the students and staff may never forget!

In the days of yore, I was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times.

I left daily journalism to backpack around the world for a year, on $15 per day. A few weeks before I left the Times, an editor asked me, in a kind but curious way: Barb, what's up with all the rhyming?

I had not realized it, but I was writing bits of rhyme into my columns. That's when it hit me: perhaps it was time to embrace my dream of writing books for children.

I didn't give up journalism entirely, though. While traveling around the world in 1994, I wrote monthly dispatches for the Daily Pilot, a Times subsidiary that covers my hometown of Newport Beach. I did this mainly so my parents could keep up with my globetrotting and be assured that I had not fallen off a mountain or been devoured by a tiger.

This was , after all, when newspapers served as social media. I remember my tech-savvy brother pushing some newfangled thing called “e-mail” so I could relay news back home more quickly. I thought he was crazy. “That Internet is just a fad,” I told him. As it turned out, I composed most of my monthly dispatches on ancient, often decrepit typewriters rented from shopkeepers from Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu. Halfway through the trip, I bought a small, portable typewriter and lugged it with me the rest of the way.

These days, I freelance for a number of publications, mainly the L.A. Times. Some of my published articles include an essay on skateboarding moms, a story on elder skatesmen, and a package of travel stories on skateboarding up and down the California coast. I also served as editor of the fabulous Skateboarder's Journal (now, alas, out of print). Sometimes, I actually write about topics other than skateboarding!


I began skateboarding on ,

when Santa brought me the Hobie Super Surfer skateboard. It was love at first roll.

My obsession with skateboarding came from my passion for surfing. I tried to emulate my favorite surfers, especially 1970s style master Gerry Lopez, as I rode the paved waves of Newport Beach, California. My skate buddies and I were always on the lookout for empty ditches and reservoirs and silky-smooth fresh asphalt. In , I was lucky enough to earn a spot on the Hobie amateur skateboard team. What a thrill! Six months later, I gave up skateboarding for competitive running, but the magical memories lingered.

A quarter-century later, I got back on my board and fell in love all over again. Skateboarding was now my fountain of youth! With my first book, Skateboard Mom, due to be published in 2004, I created the International Society of Skateboarding Moms, which evolved into the nonprofit Skateboard Moms & Sisters of Shred. Every Mother's Day, our group hosts the Mighty Mama Skate-O-Rama, a gathering of skater women from around the United States and beyond. We have a raffle to raise money for children's charities, and we skate like women possessed. It's one long day of smiles, sisterhood and stoke.

Our group has been featured by over a hundred media outlets including Good Morning America, The Early Show, CNN and NPR. In 2015, AARP produced a fun video on some of our older members, including myself. Check it out: