Staff Writer

For author Eileen Birin, one thing always seems to lead to another.

A 36-year teaching career led to Birin's first book, "Chalkboard Dust," anecdotes from teachers about some of their most inspiring students.

When Birin discovered the hardest part was actually marketing her work, she founded a publishing company and proceeded to sell the collection of memories.

That experience led to a second book, "Go Ahead, Self-publish!"

The author found the subject of her most recent book, "Whatnots!" in her Arrowhead Ranch home: the artworks, figurines and teddy bears she has accumulated over the years.

Tiny boy and girl teddy bears with names from A to Z, are scattered around Birin's perfectly decorated home, some sitting in her latest collectable n little chairs n making up several collections in one.

A group of Lladro ceramics accompanies other collectibles on a glass etagere in the living room and about 100 music boxes are displayed on more glass shelves in another room.

Birin could easily be one of the subjects in her latest book, the full title of which is "Whatnots! Thirty fascinating people share their extraordinary collections."

"I'm a collector of sorts," Birin said. "… So I thought, wouldn't it be great to find other collectors and find out what they collect, why they collect, how long they've been doing it."

Birin said her small collections are "just the tip of the iceberg" compared to collections she discovered while researching the book.

"I've met people who have 4,000 toys, 6,000 license plates and about 500,000 postcards," Birin said.

From Tuba City to Green Valley, Birin traveled throughout Arizona in search of collectors and their collections.

In Tuba City, Birin met Gary Kmett, an earth science and paleontology teacher who collects dinosaur tracks, fossils and mineral specimens.

In Green Valley, Birin interviewed Dinghy Sharp, whose great-great-grandfather, Clement C. Moore, penned the poem, " 'twas the night before Christmas." Sharp collects copies of the poem, including an Irish version containing Leprechauns and a Pennsylvanian Dutch Quakers rendition featuring cows instead of reindeer.

Esther Miller, who lives in Globe, collects mice.

"Her collection was so incredible because she gave each mouse a name. She dressed each mouse," Birin said. "She built little homes for the mice out of cardboard."

Other collections in the book have more historical value.

Birin said the founder of Glendale's Bead Museum, Gabrielle Liese, an interior designer, ordered what she thought were shade pulls from a catalog, but they ended up to be a string of beads.

Finding them interesting, Liese kept the beads and wore them, receiving many comments about them. Liese decided to research their beginnings and discovered they were African trade beads.

"So she researched the history of the beads and found they came from Venice, and were used as money," Birin said. "What absolutely floored her was they were actually used to trade slaves. And she began such an extensive study of the history of beads that eventually culminated in a bead museum."

Among the collections, and their collectors, featured in "Whatnots!" are pine cones, branding irons, egg cups, angels, juke boxes, Roy Rogers paraphernalia and dozens more.

"The most important thing is the fun, the meeting of people," Birin said. "You make some great friendships. It's a whole new world of writers and editors."

Birin's next project is another collection n what else? n called "Excuse My Dust," which is a book of literary trivia highlighting the eccentricities of famous authors.

"Hemingway wrote standing up, with a No. 2 pencil on onion skin paper," Birin said. "Agatha Christie wrote in a tub of warm water at 4 a.m."

"Whatnots!" is available at Barnes and Noble Booksellers and via the Internet at