November 22, 2014
As I think I've mentioned in previous posts, I am behind on everything. I've been working feverishly to meet an upcoming manuscript deadline, visiting schools (hello to friends at Boyden Elementary!), and attempting to get ready to host Thanksgiving. (Tablecloth and runner, sewn! Pie server, purchased!) However, all this frantic activity means that I never did get around to doing much (ahem, any) yardwork this fall. (I will rue the day in spring when I have to muck out all the sodden, half-decomposed leaves from my flowerbeds.) I haven't even managed to clear off my back porch, and since we've had several hard frosts already, the abandoned plants out there are looking pretty grim. But the happy part of not clearing away the dead and the dying is that birds continue to visit and eat what they find. One little bird came by and repeatedly hopped in the air to grab the last few berries off my gaura plant. The berries must have been rock hard since the temperature this morning was 22°, but this bird didn't seem to mind. If only the birds and all the woodland creatures (as they did in Disney's movie of Snow White) would come and rake my yard. Oh, what a lovely thing that would be.
November 17, 2014
Ladies in hats! How great is that? An adult book club recently read my historical novel LOST, and when they met to discuss the book, they all wore hats circa 1910! Don't they look marvelous? In addition to dressing the part, the organizer, Pat, provided information relevant to the story, including pictures of fashions of the time, photos of the garment industry, and the history of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911. She also made bookmarks and served (homemade!) New York cheese cake, since the story is set in New York City. The women had a lively discussion about the book, responding to some of the ideas raised in my 2010 acceptance speech when the book won the Julia Ward Howe Award for Young Readers. The book was also a finalist for the Jewish National Book Award and winner of the Sydney Taylor Honor Award. Although it's a young adult book and has been included in high school curricula, it has a strong audience among adults, particularly those who have family that lived on the Lower East Side of New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. Thank you, ladies, for sharing this wonderful photo and for reading my book!
November 13, 2014
It's that time again! Time to sign up for the Great Lemonade War Contest, which is when schools from all across the country compete to see who can raise the most money for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, a non-profit organization that raises money to help fund research to end childhood cancer. The Grand Prize is a visit to your school from me! Wouldn't that be fun?I'd love to come to your school. Over the last three years, the Great Lemonade War Contest has raised over $80,000, and we're hoping to do even better this year. So sign up today! You get all kinds of free stuff just for signing up, including a copy of THE LEMONADE WAR. And here's a little video from me giving you all the details.
November 12, 2014
Are you going to be anywhere in the area of Burlington, Vermont, tomorrow? Because if so, you're going to want to be sure to make it to Phoenix Books at 191 Bank Street for a must-attend book launch party for LIKE WATER ON STONE, the debut young-adult novel by Dana Walrath that has so many people talking. Karen Hesse called it, "A heartbreaking tale of familial love, blind trust, and the crushing of innocence. A fine and haunting work." And Chris Bohjalian wrote, "I have walked through the remnants of the Armenian civilization in Palu and Chunkush, I have stood on the banks of the Euphrates. And still I was unprepared for how deeply moved I would be by Dana Walrath's poignant, unflinching evocation of the Armenian Genocide. Her beautiful poetry and deft storytelling stayed with me long after I had finished this powerful novel in verse." The book has already received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal, and one can only expect that more stars are on the way. Dana is funny, intelligent, filled with the human spirit, and a gifted speaker, so you definitely don't want to miss this evening. The event begins Thursday, November 13, at 7:00 PM, but I would suggest getting there early. It's going to be a night to remember!
November 7, 2014
I mentioned in yesterday's post that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is celebrating 150 years of publishing books for children this year. Here's a really fun montage of book covers that span those years. Watch it and you'll be astonished how many of your favorite books have come from this venerable house.
November 6, 2014
I pretty much had more fun today than should legally be allowed in a 24-hour period. First, I was greeted by dancing lemons at Jane Ryan School, in Trumbull, Connecticut. What a way to start the day! They were terrific, and the crowd of kindergarteners and first- and second-graders loved seeing the "big kids" in the spirit. (Jane Ryan School read THE LEMONADE WAR as a One School One Book text, and these dancing lemons made several appearances over the past month.)
On my way home, I stopped in at Edgewood Elementary school in Bristol, Connecticut. Their school was also reading THE LEMONADE WAR for a One School, One Book event, so I didn't want to miss the chance to meet with the kids and answer their well-thought out questions about the book and being a writer. We only had a few minutes together because I had to zip back home, but it was wonderful to see them and I appreciate the Herculean effort the principal and teachers went to (they re-arranged the lunch schedule!!!) so that I could spend some time with their kids.
Finally, I ended the day with a party (woohoo!) to celebrate Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's sesquecentennial (yep, that's 150 years of publishing books for kids). It was a wonderful gathering, and always great fun to meet other HMH authors and have a chance to meet and talk to all the wonderful people who do so much work on my books. Sales reps, marketing, art design, publicity—my instinct at such events is to wander from person to person and say, "Thank you, thank you, thank you for caring about my books." They are good people! And to top it all off, I got to meet Chris van Allsburg who was wearing a stunning ombre plaid orange suit. A show-stopper, as are all of his books.
Fun bookmark HMH created for the event. Can you spot my book in the collage of book covers?
November 2, 2014
Welcome to a new month! It's actually snowing here today for the first time this season. Not that the snow is sticking to anything, but still, there are big, fat, wet flakes hurtling themselves to the ground as if they're worried that they're late to the party. It's only November, snowflakes! Take your time!
Well, who am I to preach patience when I'm already thinking ahead to summer? Specifically Summer 2016, which is when my new picture book PANDA PANTS will be published by Knopf Books for Young Readers. I'm happy to announce that the illustrator for the book will be Sydney Hanson, and I'm even happier to share some of her wonderful artwork with you. I adore the EXPRESSIVENESS of her characters. Sydney's also done a lot of work in the field of animation, and I'm curious to see how she brings a sense of movement and action to the story of a young panda bear who wants pants and his father who just doesn't get it. But (sigh) I must cultivate patience, because the first rough sketches won't be ready until January, at which point I expect my house will be buried to the rafters in snow.
October 29, 2014
I was recently interviewed by The Stone Age Techie blog, and Karen, the interviewer, asked some thoughtful questions about applying labels to people (and characters), taking kids seriously, and raising children in a digital world. She also presents an ongoing work of hers, The Sincerity Project, which posits that children who are taken seriously when young are more likely to grow into thoughtful adults with ideas that can change the world. I enjoyed our conversation and hope that you will, too.
October 26, 2014
In THE BELL BANDIT, Evan and Jessie come to terms with their grandmother’s growing dementia. Alzheimer’s is a difficult topic to talk about (with kids or adults), and it’s one that’s even harder to laugh about, but laugh you will when you watch this stirring, heartfelt, intelligent, funny exploration of the subject in Dana Walrath’s TEDx talk, entitled “Comics, Medicine and Memory.” Dana—a writer, poet, anthropologist, artist, comic book creator, and musician—(seriously, is there anything this woman can’t do?) is also a dear friend of mine. Her graphic memoir, Aliceheimer’s: Alzheimer’s Through the Looking Glass, is a gripping, illuminating look at her experience living with her mother Alice, who has Alzheimer’s. In the TEDx talk, she shares some of her hilarious, wise, moving thoughts on the subject. Watch it and then send the link to anyone you know who is caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.
Dana also has her first young adult novel coming out in November. The novel, LIKE WATER ON STONE, has already received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly. I’ll be posting more about the book as the pub date approaches.
October 16, 2014
Here's a fun fact about me: I'm both drawn to the sea and terrified of it. There's nothing I like better than to look at the ocean, walk along the shore, and swim lazily in its shallow waters, but actually being out on the ocean scares me. And being out on the ocean, 800 miles from land on a two-masted schooner, is pretty much the stuff of nightmares for me. So, of course, I'm writing a book that takes place in just that situation, and the fishing schooner I'm using as a model for my fictionalized vessel is the real-life L.A. Dunton, which was built in Essex, Massachusetts, in 1921 and sailed out of Gloucester, fishing on the Grand Banks off of Newfoundland. The ship itself is at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut. (Have you been there? If not, you should go! It's one of those fabulous outdoor working museums where you walk the streets of a recreated 19th-century village and visit the sailmaker and the barrel maker and the ship carver. Plus, you get to crawl all over the actual ships. It's great fun!) Well, when I visited the L.A. Dunton in Mystic, I took pages of notes and hundreds of photographs, but I got to thinking it would be great to have an actual model of the ship as I worked on my book.
Sometimes, the nicest things happen in life.
When I got in touch with master model ship builder Thomas J. Lauria of Cape Cod, he generously loaned me his gorgeous model of the L.A. Dunton. Isn't his model magnificent? The details! The elegance of it! It's an act of pure generosity on his part and a great help to me in my work. So my thought for the day is this: People are good. But the wide open ocean is still a scary place to be!
October 14, 2014
Do you like birds, poetry, and winning competitions? If so, this blog post is for YOU. Born Free, a national non-profit organization devoted to the idea that wild animals should remain in the wild, is kicking off its annual National Bird Day with a children's poetry contest—and I'm lucky enough to be one of the judges! There are two separate age categories: 5–12 and 13–18, and you can write any type of poem you like that centers around the plight of exotic birds in captivity, the pet bird trade, or the dangers to birds in the wild. (Now, wouldn't John James Audubon like that!) The deadline for submitting your poem is December 15, and the winners will be announced on January 5, which is National Bird Day. So if you'd like to write a poem and have me read it, get going and send it in by the deadline. Here's a link that includes all the details on submitting your poem. Good luck! I can't wait to read what you write!
October 11, 2014
So as I was saying, I visited Pennsylvania earlier this week, in particular the small town of Catawissa, which sits right alongside the Susquehanna River. Catawissa has just 1,500 residents, so it's part of a larger school district that encompasses several towns and a whole lot of farmland in between. There's one middle school, Southern Columbia Middle School (Go, Tigers!), and each grade has five sections (or about 125 kids per grade). I was lucky enough to travel from class to class and then eat lunch with a funny, bright, interesting group of seventh-graders who talked with me about life in general: what they do on the weekends, how they feel about school, how they get around, how they stay in touch with school friends who live twenty miles away. They were very generous in offering all kinds of insights and witticisms. They even let me take a picture with them. Yes, they are ALL taller than I am. And quite a bit cuter than me, as well.
October 10, 2014
If you've been reading this blog for a while, you might have noticed I have a thing about rivers. (See postings on April 10, 2014, and May 9, 2014.) So it won't surprise you to see that I'm at it again. I visited central Pennsylvania earlier this week on a four-day research trip, and spent some of my time walking along, crossing over, and photographing the Susquehanna River. I was mesmerized. At 464 miles long, it's the longest river on the East Coast that empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Its headwaters are in New York State, but it runs through New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. In fact, the Susquehanna's watershed drains nearly half of the state of Pennsylvania. Amazing!
Aside from all these interesting facts, the river is just beautiful to look at, as I think you'll agree by looking at the photos below. More on my trip in tomorrow's posting. For now, just enjoy the view.
October 5, 2014
Well, there are two rather exciting things happening in Boston today. First, a statue commemorating Edgar Allan Poe and his work will be unveiled in Poe Square, which is at the corner of Boylston Street and Charles Street South, very near both the Boston Common and the Boston Public Garden. Poe was born in Boston and is best known for his creepy poems and short stories, such as "The Raven" and "The Tell-Tale Heart." Good Halloween stuff! (You can read more about the statue and Poe's complicated relationship to the city of his birth in this New York Times article.)
A few miles away is a second Boston literary event: the opening of the Make Way for Ducklings store in Faneuil Hall Marketplace. The store is a must visit for anyone who loves Robert McCloskey's classic picture book of the same name—and who doesn't love that book, I'd like to know? (You can read more about the concept behind the store in this Boston Globe article.)
Now, those beloved ducklings have had their own statues in Boston for quite some time, and the little bronze ducklings are located in the Boston Public Garden, near the corner of Charles Street South and Beacon Street. Yes. I hate to say it. But the swooping Poe raven is just a few short blocks from the sweet, waddling ducklings. And don't those ducklings look delicious? Yikes! Will the raven swoop down and snatch a duckling? Quoth the Mama Duck, "Nevermore!"
By the way, I am missing both events because I'm in central Pennsylvania doing some research for a book. But I'm looking forward to seeing the new Poe statue and the new Faneuil Hall bookstore upon my return.
October 3, 2014
Fun! A wonderful student (and possibly my new best friend in Basel, Switzerland) made the following "artifacts" from THE LEMONADE CRIME. Junainah is an 11-year-old student at the International School of Basel and asked me to answer some questions about the book for a class project. And what a project it is! In addition to the various items shown in the photos below, Junainah wrote some very thorough and thoughtful responses to questions about Jessie and the story's setting. She made lots of personal connections between Jessie and her own little sister (in both good and bad ways!) and made other connections between the school playground in the book and a playground Junainah remembers from her old school. I love to see work like this that extends the story in creative, personal, artful ways. Good work, Junainah! And thanks for sharing your brilliance with me.
October 1, 2014
One of my favorite children's book organizations (the Foundation for Children's Books) is hosting an event that's always fun and informative: "What's New in Children's Books." Here's what I love about this biannual event: first, they have great speakers. Featured in this upcoming one are two authors I particularly admire. You already know how much I think of Liza Ketchum (see my Sept. 5 posting), and she'll be talking about her new book OUT OF LEFT FIELD. But Susan Lynn Meyer will also be presenting at the FCB event. Susan is a multi-talented, super-smart author of middle-grade and picture books. Should I even go into how many awards her debut novel BLACK RADISHES won? (I don't think so, because we'd be here all day.) And now she has a new picture book (pubbing Jan 1, 2015) called NEW SHOES. Can't wait to see the finished book as I had the great privilege of reading an early manuscript draft. Other authors and illustrators who will speak at the FCB event are Greg Maguire and Eric Velasquez. A terrific line up. So that's the first thing I love about these "What's New in Children's Books" events.
The second thing I love is that smart, passionate librarians and booksellers give a rapid-fire rundown of the best 50–60 books coming out this season. They show the books, give a quick summary, and talk about why these books are standouts. It's a great way to get caught up in a hurry on what's new. (I always mean to keep abreast of the latest books in the field, but it's hard, right? This event makes it easy.)
And the third thing I love is that it's a great place to meet up with people who adore kids books. Everyone comes: authors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, booksellers, reviewers, editors, parents, kids. It's fun to see old faces and meet new. So if you're at the event and you catch sight of me, come up and say hi. Even if we've never met! Events like these are about connecting, so I'm very grateful to organizations like the FCB that host them.