As a child, Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff studied the author biography and accompanying photograph on the back flap of each book she read. “Almost every author seemed to be a middle-aged lady with pearls who lived in Connecticut.” At age 10, Koehler-Pentacoff lived in the Midwest and didn’t own pearls, so naturally writing was out of the question. “I was the child of a factory worker; writing wasn’t a realistic goal. You got a job!” For several years Koehler-Pentacoff taught elementary school and directed plays for children and adults, but when her son, Christopher, arrived she changed course. “I always expected to work out of the home, but after Tofer [short for Christopher] arrived I didn’t want to miss one moment.”
Her writing career began with various articles, humor pieces and opinion columns for magazines and newspapers like the San Francisco Examiner, the San Francisco Chronicle,Parents Magazine, and Parenting. When Tofer reached toddler-hood, Koehler-Pentacoff made deals with him. “Tofer, you play for 15 minutes while Mommy types a page, and then I’ll play with you.” As a result, Tofer learned two things: how to tell time and Mommy was a typist.
Koehler-Pentacoff’s first efforts at writing for children were several books of Tofer-antics—their sole purpose, to show her son what she really did at the typewriter. Soon ideas sprang from not only her son, but his friends, family members, and overheard conversations. “Louise the One and Only was born on the soccer field after I overheard a kindergarten teacher complaining that every child in her class decided to change his/her name. Janet became Suzy; Mark became Steven. It was impossible to pass back papers or call roll.” Koehler-Pentacoff arrived home after soccer practice, forgot about cooking dinner and wrote. “Louise talked to me. She was a loud voice in my head—the child I would have liked to be,” says Koehler-Pentacoff, remembering her own more quiet and reserved behavior. In fact, Koehler-Pentacoff confesses to observing her son’s first grade classroom as Louise. “I had to consciously make an effort to stop ‘being Louise.’”
In Help! My Life is Going to the Dogs, Koehler-Pentacoff writes about several funny incidents that actually happened to her as a youngster in Wisconsin. The two-umbrella car is a vivid memory. “We didn’t have much money. Our old Chevy had survived many years of wet Wisconsin summers and below-zero winters. Rust framed the car and the lower side and bottom occasionally flaked away, leaving less and less car. The roof was liberally sprinkled with holes. Driving in wet weather was an event. Once, a large woman squeezed into the back seat. Her high heels went right through the floor boards. I remember yanking her feet out. My mother passed an umbrella to us, while opening hers. Between my mother and father on the front seat was a bucket. Raindrops plunked from the ceiling to the umbrella and into the pail.”
Most recently Koehler-Pentacoff expanded her sense of humor to non-fiction. You’re Kidding! Incredible Facts About the Presidents focuses on Koehler-Pentacoff’s love of quirky historical facts like: When Democratic President Harry Truman visited Disneyland for its grand opening, he refused to ride the Dumbo ride because the elephant is the symbol of the Republican Party.
Koehler-Pentacoff continues to write humorous chapter books for children and magazine and newspaper articles for adults in her Pleasant Hill, California home. She also teaches drama to educators through the California State University, Hayward Education/Extension Department. Prior to her current career, Koehler-Pentacoff boasts of being her cousin’s magician’s assistant and the Easter Bunny.