Life Lessons:
Penny Noyce


*Are you happy at the moment?

Yes, I’m happy. I have a great husband and kids, meaningful work, both professional and volunteer, and reasonably good health. I live in a dynamic city, Boston, and I meet with wise, funny, thoughtful friends and new people every week.

*If you could go back and say anything to your 16-year-old self now – what would it be?

Be patient, forgive yourself, and don’t lose hope. There are some hard years coming up, and things you thought would always be there, like your parents’ marriage and your health, may fall apart. But you are still there, strong inside, eager to learn, and ready to care about other people. Not everything you want will come to you at once, no matter how hard you try, but that’s all right. Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams, both in medicine and in writing, and they will all come together someday.

*What’s the most important thing you’ve learned this year?

I’ve continued to learn how to relate to my grown children as adults, giving advice or support when they ask for it, but leaving them plenty of room to grow in their own professions and relationships. It’s fun when we send each other articles or ask each other to look over a piece of work we’ve done. I learn a lot from them. I have a two-person book club online with one daughter, and I always ask my daughters to take me clothes shopping because they’re so much better at that than I am.

*What do you most want to achieve in the next 12 months?

I am hoping to lead our publishing company, Tumblehome Learning to success. We publish books for young people, both fiction and nonfiction, that connect in some way to science. I’m continually seeking out new authors and guiding them through the publishing process. It’s satisfying to help a fine book come to life. Publicity and marketing remain a challenge for a small independent publisher, but I have ideas for new partnerships and approaches that I think are going to help us break through.

*What’s your secret to happiness?

Being kind to others really does lead to happiness. This can mean both service to the community, which gives you the satisfying sense that as a citizen you’re helping to build a better world, and personal kindness to family, friends, and strangers. Sometimes someone takes advantage of your kindness; put it aside, and don’t make general judgments about humanity based on one or two bad experiences. Warm human contact is a big part of what makes us happy.

*What one ritual or practice keeps you grounded?

I love to read before bed. Lots of sources advise us that to fall asleep quickly and sleep well, we should avoid this, but reading in bed relaxes me and sometimes seeds new ideas that sprout during the night.

*What’s your biggest regret?

I wish I’d done more scientific research. I studied cancer-causing viruses in college, but the experiment I was working on never did work out. I should have persisted, chosen another project, and involved myself in research in medical school. There is something peaceful and yet exciting about the lab, with its quiet, unassuming atmosphere set alight by the possibility of seeing something no one else has seen.

*What’s the most important lesson you’ve taught your kid(s)?

Ooh, that’s a hard one! I’ve tried to teach my kids to respect themselves and others. In our family we have always tried to treat our kids as real people, listening to them and taking their feelings and opinions into account (though certainly not always doing what they want!). In return, we have expected respectful speech and honesty, and we’ve seldom been disappointed. The kids have grown up able to find their own way, and advocate for themselves with adults and bosses. They don’t put up with being mistreated, and they don’t have to get angry to get their point across.

*What bad habit would you most like to change about yourself?

I eat too much! A lot of this dates from my teenage years, when I had to take a lot of prednisone for bad, life-threatening asthma. Prednisone makes a person ravenously hungry, and I picked up a lot of bad eating habits. Since I’ve now been taking prednisone for forty years, this has been a constant struggle for me.

*Aside from motherhood/fatherhood and marriage what are you most proud of in your life?

I am very proud of the nine books I have written for kids. The day I held my first book, Lost in Lexicon, in my hands approached the joy and pride I felt holding my children when they were born. I have tried to create books that will challenge kids while nourishing them and allowing them to try on different identities as part of the long process of figuring out who they are and who they want to be. That has stayed true right up through my latest book, which is written for girls in high school and up. Called Magnificent Minds, it tells the true stories of sixteen pioneering women of science and medicine, and how they defied stereotypes to achieve their dreams.

*When were you happiest?

Oddly enough, I was very happy during my medical internship year, even though I was alone in a new city and working a hundred hours a week. I felt deeply involved in the lives of my patients, and I was constantly learning as a member of teams of doctors who were trying to figure out how best to cure people. I lived in Minneapolis that year, and during my rare days off, I sometimes walked around the lakes and saw parents and children biking, playing ball, or paddling a boat. Then I remembered, “Oh, there are people out here who are well!” and I would feel grateful for the happiness I saw around me. The truth is, I have continued to get happier as I get older.

*What ten words best describe you?

Creative, dedicated, steady, motherly, unfashionable, independent, asthmatic, peacemaking, intelligent, adventurous.


Pendred E. (Penny) Noyce is a doctor, education advocate, writer and publisher. She is author or co-author of eight novels for children ages 9-12, including Lost in Lexicon and The Ice Castle from Scarletta Press and six books in the Galactic Academy of Science series from Tumblehome Learning. Her most recent book, this one nonfiction, is Magnificent Minds: Sixteen Pioneering Women in Science and Medicine. As cofounder of Tumblehome Learning, which publishes science mystery and adventure stories for young people, Penny serves as Tumblehome’s editor and chair. Penny and her husband, Leo X. Liu, MD, live in Boston with their youngest child, who will be leaving for college in one more year.