Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I've been watching all the devastation in Japan with a great deal of sadness. I'm hoping to do a little BRG charity for Japan in the future but in the meantime, I've donated 3 prints from my etsy shop to the KidLit4Japan auctions! There's lots of great stuff on auction, so don't miss out.

These are the prints I donated:

BID HERE for this print!

BID HERE for this print

Bid HERE for this print

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Skype visits

Spring is usually my busy time for school visits (by usually I mean when I am on the east coast and not juggling a new baby), this year I had to make some changes. Lately I've been loving doing skype school visits. You can visit schools all over the place (next month I'm skyping with a school in Alaska!) without having to get on a plane, which is a lot more convenient now that I'm a mother. I plan to resume regular visits soon, but in the mean time its been a great solution. Kids get excited about the new technology (a couple of times its started some interesting discussions about time zones) and I get to talk with kids about books from home. The other day I got an awesome package of thank you notes from a skype visit in Masbeth, New York:

(Sorry about the hard questions Lindsey)

Sometimes there are technical issues, Skype can freeze or pixelate if you have a bad connection. I'm hoping the technology evolves soon. I've heard googlechat is pretty good quality, though I don't know how it would look when blown up by a projector. If anyone has had some experience with it or any other video chat I'd love to know what you think!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Two interviews, plus self-publishing vs. traditional publishing

Two interviews:
I had the wrong link for my interview with Jenny Han in my "Beyond the Book: CLARA LEE AND APPLE PIE DREAM" post last week. I've now fixed it; find the interview here.

Jerry Spinelli's Maniac Magee was recently named an "Essential Book for Children" by, and Jerry recorded a special introduction for the occasion. I also did a short Q&A with Jerry. (Now, I'm usually pretty comfortable recording these kinds of things, but for whatever reason, I felt really awkward during the interview. I sound like a robot. But Jerry is wonderful, of course!) Listen to both on the Amazon book page here. (under "check out related media.")

Self-publishing vs Traditional publishing:
So, have you all been following the news going on with the author Amanda Hocking? She's an author who writes paranormal romance for teens, and has thus far achieved amazing success self-publishing her books as eBooks. This is a good introductory blog post for you to read to find out who she is and why everyone started talking about her.

And here's a NY Times article about the breaking news last week. Basically:

Amanda Hocking, the 26-year-old author who shot to fame by selling more than a million copies of her self-published books, has signed up with a traditional publisher for her next series.

The traditional publisher was Macmillan. This news broke just days after we found out that bestselling thriller writer Barry Eisler chose to leave Macmillan and turn down a half a million dollar deal to self-publish. Read a fascinating interview with Barry Eisler here. He also addressed the Amanda Hocking news:

A lot of the Twitter conversation I've seen regarding the news has been of the "Which one is right?" variety. And at the risk of sounding a little harsh, I have to say, it's a pretty stupid question. Publishing, legacy or indie, is a vehicle, and you can't opine about whether someone has chosen the right vehicle if you don't know where she intends to drive it.

Very true. I was thinking that the decision to self-publish or go the traditional publisher route can be compared to the "agent or no agent" debate. For some people, I think it makes sense to not have an agent. For others, having an agent is absolutely necessary. Some people enjoy the business side of publishing more than others. Some enjoy the marketing side more than others. Some are better at it. Everyone will have their own priorities and goals. Amanda discussed her reasoning for accepting a deal with a traditional publisher here.

Friday, March 25, 2011


I did a school visit yesterday in NJ. The kids were great. Here's the problem: All the kids wanted my signature! The kids who got to come up and meet me were the ones who had bought my book... or rather their parents bought my book. Is that fair? Not really. One girl was CRYING. Man that made me feel SO bad! But if I gave her my signature I would have started a riot! She did end up getting it so the crisis was averted. But a really cute little boy had a note book full of sketches with a drawing of my alien in it and asked for my signature and I told him to ask his teacher and he never came back. I really wanted to be able to do it! But I'd get swarmed. They all would have wanted it!

Here's what I should do: Print out a little card with an alien on it and sign each of them and give them to everyone. That's the fairest way. The only problem is that if there are THOUSANDS of kids in the school then I don't know if it's possible. It makes me sad.

Here are some of the horse creations:

Silkworm Cocoon & Pupa Poems: Variations on a Theme

When I traveled to the People’s Republic of China with an educational delegation in the autumn of 1994, one of the places we visited was a silk factory in Suzhou. It was fascinating to see the boiled cocoons and the spools of raw silk. I wish I had pictures to post—but all I have are slides of my trip there.

Here are some of my poems about silkworm cocoons and pupae. These poems are variations on a theme. In my elementary classroom, I often shared a variety poems on a particular subject—butterflies, caterpillars, trees, the sun, the moon, winter, spring, etc.—to show my students how different poets might write about them from their own perspectives...and in their own unique styles.

The following poems in order are: a mask poem, an acrostic, a cinquain, and a haiku.


This silken nest
Is where I’ll rest
And sleep and change
And rearrange
Myself into another me.

In this small space,
This creamy case,
Six legs I’ll grow,
Four wings—and oh…
Can’t wait to see the ME I’ll be.

Case spun
Of creamy silken threads,
Cozy cottage for
One, changing room
Of a sleeping pupa who will awaken to a
New self.

creamy silken
sack—sleeping bag for one
young dreamer whose wish for wings will
come true

Swaddled in white silk
spinning dreams of a future
that will end too soon

Silkworm Moth (Pictures)

Information about Silkworm Moths

Silk Factory in Suzhou (Pictures)

Silk Factory in Suzhou

At Wild Rose Reader, I have Crocus Poems: Variations on a Theme.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at A Year of Reading.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Beyond the Book: CLARA LEE AND THE APPLE PIE DREAM by Jenny Han, illustrations by Julia Kuo

Clara Lee likes her best friends, her grandpa, kimchi, candy necklaces (her signature look!), and the idea of winning the Little Miss Apple Pie contest.

Clara Lee doesn't like her mom's fish soup, bad dreams (but Grandpa says they mean good luck!), speaking in public, or when her little sister is being annoying.

One day, after a bad dream, Clara Lee is thrilled to have a whole day of luck (Like!). But then, bad luck starts to follow (Dislike!). When will Clara Lee's luck change again? Will it change in time for the Little Miss Apple Pie contest?

I'm extremely behind in my Beyond the Book posts--this book pubbed back in January, in fact! But better late than never, right?

I first met Jenny Han at a panel at the Asian American Writers Workshop--she was on a panel with Grace Lin, Justina Chen, and I think David Yoo, too (or maybe that was a different panel...). I had known of Jenny already, as we had been the under-bidder for her wonderful first novel, Shug, which had gone to auction. I hadn't been the editor bidding, but had been one of the editorial readers and had loved it. My assistant at the time, Rebekah, was also a huge Jenny Han fan, and so I purchased a copy of Shug for her (I already had my own copy) and asked Jenny to sign it. Jenny was really friendly and seemed interested to know me. I think we may have bonded over cupcakes or Karaoke when we spoke. And so, when I ran into her again at a Kidlit Drinks night, and then another, our friendship was further sealed. We bonded some more over Pinkberry after Kidlit Drinks, and then started going to Karaoke together. And we started talking books, too. It turned out that she was working on a book for younger kids inspired by her grandfather. Unfortunately, her publisher (S&S) had a project too similar in age/concept already under contract. Well, unfortunate for S&S, perhaps, but yay for me!

I loved the idea of Clara Lee from the start. Clara Lee was a Korean-American girl living in a small, Gilmore Girl-esque town. Jenny envisioned it as a young chapter book with illustrations; Ramona Quimby was one of her inspirations. As Jenny got the manuscript ready for her agent to officially submit to me, we talked excitedly about working together. "I hope I don't hate it!" I joked one night. But of course, I didn't. I loved it. I fell in love with Clara Lee's voice first, her personality, and then her family, her friends, and her town. It felt real, and the book was touching, thoughtful, and also hilarious--especially Clara Lee's relationship with her younger sister, Emmeline.

Thankfully, everyone at Little, Brown loved the project, too, and I was able to offer a contract. While Jenny revised, I set out to find the perfect illustrator. Jenny, her agent (Emily van Beek), and I emailed around different ideas. We thought we had an illustrator lined up, but were starting to run into some scheduling issues. It was around that time that I attended the North American Taiwanese Women's Association conference with my mother. I was selling some of Grace's books for a fundraiser when a friend came up to me and looked at the books. "You know," Annie said, "I have a friend who's a wonderful artist. She would be a great children's book illustrator." Now, you can probably imagine how often I hear this, but I'm always open to possibilities, and so I asked her to tell me more. "She works for a greeting card company," she said. "Her art is so beautiful! It's so cute!" And so I asked her to email me her website. I'm so glad that she didn't forget, because when I visited Julia's site and saw her art, I fell in love. I mean, look at this art!
Jenny fell in love with her art, too. And thus a team was born! Julia was in NYC last Fall and we were able to all have lunch together, along with Julia's new agent, Emily van Beek!
We had Korean food for lunch, which was very fitting. And delicious. Yay!

Before Julia started on the art, Jenny sent me a few pictures to share with her as inspiration for Clara Lee, Emmeline, and Grandpa. I couldn't resist sharing a couple of the pics with you. Here's little Jenny:
And here is Jenny's Grandpa with two cousins:
awww x 3!
This is one of Julia's cover sketches, which turned out to be very close to the final book cover!
Here are some of the interior spots and full-page illustrations:

All in all, it's such an adorable package. And there's even GLITTER on the cover! The glitter was actually Jenny's idea--and I'm so happy we were able to make it happen. It's the first book I've ever edited that has glitter, even!

Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream was originally titled Clara Lee, Dream Genius in Training. I love the latter title, too, but it didn't turn out to be the most accurate title for the book. Also, we were afraid that it was a little too similar to the title Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee. But who knows, if Jenny Han writes more Clara Lee books (and I hope she will...although she's a bit busy with her YA novels right now...), maybe we'll get to use that title eventually!

As Jenny says on her blog:
This book was originally an assignment for my Writing for Children class at UNC, and it was called Grandpa’s Best Girl.  It was about when your grandpa gets sick and has to go live in a nursing home and doesn’t live with you anymore. Yeah.

This new version is a chapter book and not at all sad and is mostly adventures and happy times with Grandpa in the garden.  There is dream interpretation and even a Little Miss Apple Pie pageant.  It is pretty much a valentine for my grandpa who died when I was 15, so no one is allowed to say anything bad about it.  Just kidding! 

Listen to Jenny Han read an excerpt of the book, and also listen to me interview Jenny here!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Operating Instructions

For the past couple months when I have a few minutes I've been reading Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott. The book is a journal of her first year with her son, Sam, and how it changed her life. It is dark and funny and brutally honest. When I've had two hours sleep and am covered in spit-up and pacing the apartment trying to get baby to sleep its helps to hear about motherhood from a writer's perspective- she spares no detail good or bad. This is part of an entry when her son was 7 months old:

"I wish I felt more like writing. I don't particularly feel like I have anything to say these days. I feel like the propulsion is missing. All that emptiness and desire and craving and feeling and need to achieve used to keep me at the typewriter. Now there's me and Sam, and it feels like there's not any steam in my pressure cooker. Whenever I teach, I tell my students about that line of Doctorow's, that when you're writing a novel, its like driving in a tulle fog: you can only see about as far as the headlights, but that's enough; it's as far as you have to see. And I tell them that this probably applies to real life, too. But right now I feel like I'm just sitting in the car with Sam, not really going anywhere, just getting to know each other, both of us looking out through the window at what passes by, and then at each other again."

This is how I feel today. Writing and painting feel very far away.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Cupcakes for Japan

Last weekend in New York my sister and I saw this (she's a much better photographer than I am, and if she sends me HER pictures, they will replace this!).

In case you can't read the sign:

I loved this! Sometimes I think that children now don't have as much fun as they did when I was a child, with all their activities and pressures -- but as one mother said, those prepare them for life as it is now. It's true, too, that some kids thrive on scheduled lives.

But this kind of thing -- and (to site just one of many examples) how NICE I've seen kids be to kids with disabilities -- makes me think that many children now are just plain NICER than I was at their age. It would never have occurred to me or any of my friends to do anything for victims of an earthquake! It gives me hope.

It also got me thinking about charity and promotion -- what would YOU think of our doing some on this blog? My mixed thoughts: it IS nice to do something to help Japan or for that matter any group or cause that needs help. But is it better to do it without linking it -- however indirectly -- to products (even if those products are something else I believe in -books?) and the promotion of authors/artists? We as a group might raise more money than any of us could donate or raise individually. So I have come down on the side of doing something for the charity on the blog even though part of me does think it's in bad taste: what does good taste matter if we raise even $5 more for someone who needs it. BUt what do you think? Should we just keep it separate from our blog (what we have always decided to do up to now)? Would it offend or bore or annoy any of you?

Lastly, thank you, Jill and Julie, for your great advice about writing on the go! I'm following it already and it's working.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

from the BRG archives: It's not brain surgery

Back in July 2002, my company relocated us from Boston to New York (us as in the Children's Division, Bulfinch Press, International, and Production--42 positions in all). Leading up to the move and afterwards as well we were neck-deep in work and behind all of our schedules because of the move and all that entailed: time off for people to search for apartments, for the actual move, distraction because of all the changes, trying to figure out procedures and who had already done what, because whole departments had to be replaced (of the 42 positions affected, only 12 people made the move) and new people trained. Our submissions piles were sorely overlooked, we were acquiring very few new books, and we all just wanted to make sure that the books that were already on our list were published, and published well.

And then suddenly in the Fall we were down two more people and books were reassigned, even though we were all already overworked. That was a truly stressful time. The first 9 months of moving to NY was a nightmare in terms of work. I would work till 7 or 8 every day (leaving only because I had a significant other waiting at home waiting for me for dinner), would bring work home for me, read manuscripts in bed every night, pile them up under my dusty bed, go into the office almost every weekend. There was a period of a few months that I honestly wondered if I could stay in this job that I had normally loved. And I knew that I had it better than most. My consultant friends and lawyer friends working 60-80 hour weeks, but then again, they were getting paid literally 3 or 4 times as much as I was. I knew I was getting somewhere in my career, but it was all just getting me down. Our concerned and well-meaning HR manager would walk around asking us if we were okay, but we were all so busy that we didn't even want to stop for a moment to answer the question. One day she stopped by my cubicle and asked how I was doing and I just looked at her in a wild, frenzied, "I'm about to cry" way and she said, "Well, remember--it's not brain surgery. Nobody's going to die."

Now, I know she meant well by saying this, but it was the absolute last thing I wanted to hear. I felt that she was denigrading my job, telling me it wasn't important, that nobody would die if I didn't do it. My job WAS important, because so many people's dreams and livelihoods were at stake here. And it was important for me to do a good job, because that's all I knew, that was how I was raised. I hated her at that moment.

But the funny thing is, I say that sentence to myself all the time now. It's not brain surgery. It makes me stress less. (And it made me feel sorry for the real brain surgeons out there.) Nobody is going to die if I don't read this manuscript tonight. Everything can be done tomorrow. Sure, I still get stressed, I still feel guilty if I don't meet my deadlines, I feel bad if I keep an author waiting, or if an agent sends me a snippy email. My job is such a huge, important part of my life, and I feel so blessed to be doing what I do, but it's not worth killing myself over, sacrificing my personal relationships for.

And things got better. I was able to go to my boss and say, "I need to talk to you about my workload" and that was all I needed to say--she knew right away, she was probably wondering what took me so long to complain. "I know. I'm so sorry. We're working on it, we're hiring a new person soon, it will get better." and it did. My new boss now says things like "I don't know how you do all that you do! We need to watch out for signs of burnout with you." When I told my fellow editors from other houses this, they all looked at me, jaws dropped. "I would cry with happiness if my boss said that to me," one said. "Just knowing that she knew what I was going through would make all the difference."

And it does. I know I'm lucky working where I am, doing what I do with the people I work with. I think it every day.

Originally published September 1, 2006

Friday, March 18, 2011

Things to Do If You Are the Ocean: An Original List Poem

We had a brutal winter here in Massachusetts. It felt so good yesterday when the sun came out and the temperatures reached into the sixties. Ah, what a lovely taste of spring! I was so happy that I could take my ninety-three-year-old mother outside into the fresh air. I took her for a ride along the coast. I love living close to the ocean--don't know if I could ever live far from it. My favorite place to vacation is on the mid-coast of Maine.

Two Pictures Taken in Marblehead Harbor

Here is a "things to do" list poem about the ocean that I wrote a few years ago:


Wrap yourself in a shawl of sky-blue silk.
Trim its edges with lace.
Embroider it with seabirds and sequins of sunlight.
Lap the rocky shore with your salty tongue.
In summer, cool the burning sands.
Let Moon be your mistress.
Rise and fall at her command.

Picures Taken on Westport Island, Maine

This picture was taken in Salem, Massachusetts
at the house of a friend.
Here I am with some of my oldest and dearest friends.
I have known some of these women since
I was five years old.


At Wild Rose Reader, I have early drafts of two end-of-winter poems.

At Political Verses, you'll find Scott and Dot--a feminist nursery rhyme written by J. Patrick Lewis.
The Poetry Friday Roundup is at A Wrung Sponge.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Not exactly the same -- not even close!

I was editing a book proposal the other day and came upon this quote, attributed to Scott Fitzgerald:

"The true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time in the mind and still retain the capacity to act."

Fitzgerald was one of my favorite writers when I was a teenager and that did NOT sound like him --he wouldn't phrase anything so flabbily and clunkily. Besides, I was pretty sure I remembered that sentence (this is the kind of thing that sticks in my mind) and that what he actually wrote was:

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."

I checked online -- they had it various ways (most correct, I should add). Then I checked my copy of THE CRACK UP AND OTHER ESSAYS and sure enough, there it was (my way). He went on to say:

"One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise."

I could blab on and on about this essay (one of the most brilliant, and emotionally honest, descriptions of being at the end emotionally I've ever read), but the point is: those two sentences are NOT exactly the same. They mean different things.

I wrote to the Web sites that had misquoted him and told them so, and am going to start doing this whenever I see favorite authors misquoted. It's a little thing, I know, it's one way to repay my favorite authors for the pleasure they've given me over the years. And (I hope this isn't pompous or grandiose) it's a way -- also very small -- to fight what's happening to the English language. Watching television with the kids I babysit shows me maybe the worst of that, but even on NPR, people use words carelessly sometimes.

If nothing else, writing these emails will make ME feel that I'm doing something about it, other than trying to write as well as I can myself. Every little bit helps!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dream job

Our neighborhood here in San Francisco is teeming with families and the accompanying stores full of kid stuff, especially clothes and toys. I spend a lot of time taking baby on long walks and window shopping. Last week I wandered into a lovely store called Speesees a few blocks from our apartment. Everything is organic and fair trade and I just love the design. I can't wait til Tilda is old enough to wear this:

Or these:

They had some stuffed toys too:

I got to chatting with the owner and designer who is also a painter. When she found our I illustrated children's books she exclaimed that was her dream job. Its funny how the grass is always greener. I love my job but designing kids clothes sounds like a dream job to me!