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.