Friday, May 30, 2008

POETRY FRIDAY: A Poem by Sherman Alexie

Recently, I read Sherman Alexie’s book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I have become a fan of both his prose and poetry. I selected the following poem by Alexie, which I found at the website of the Academy of American Poets.

Alexie's poem reminded me of how, for a period of time after my father had passed away, I somehow expected to see him at my parents’ house when I visited my mother.

Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World
By Sherman Alexie

The eyes open to a blue telephone
In the bathroom of this five-star hotel.

I wonder whom I should call? A plumber,
Proctologist, urologist, or priest?

Who is most among us and most deserves
The first call? I choose my father because

He's astounded by bathroom telephones.
I dial home. My mother answers. "Hey, Ma,

I say, "Can I talk to Poppa?" She gasps,
And then I remember that my father

Has been dead for nearly a year.
"Shit, Mom," I say. "I forgot he’s dead. I’m sorry—

How did I forget?" "It’s okay," she says.
You can read the rest of the poem here.

At Wild Rose Reader, I have an interview with poet and anthologist Paul B. Janeczko.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Wild Rose Reader today.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

what I've been doing

Other than going to doctor appointments, which take up a TON of time... and running every day in the park... and lifting weights (I'm trying out for American Gladiator) I've been painting. Doing 30 X 30 pieces. Here they are:

I'm also still working on designing a new website (if you have any suggestions, please let me know!)... and my newest book ASTRONAUT HANDBOOK is coming out next month! Look for it soon!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I've been traveling so much that I tend to forget about the place where I actually live. I've been in the Boston area for more than 12 years now, on and off, and I think it's one of the best places for a children's book author and illustrator. I love when children's books seep into the real world like...

a children's bookstore called Curious George,
or a tree made into Pooh's house,

and a statue of ducklings.

New painting

No time for a long post today as I'm busy painting Abigail Spells. Here is a recent finish:

Just One More Book podcast review

I recently discovered that there is a really sweet review of Priscilla at Just One More Book. Their web site is great if you haven't discovered it already, I like the informal book discussion format. Really gives you a sense of what the books are about. Click here to listen!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Dulce et Decorum Est: A Poem by Wilfred Owen

Today I have selected a special poem for Memorial Day. I first heard the poem in 2001 when I participated in the First Summer Poetry Institute for Teachers at Boston University in 2001. The poem about World War I is powerful. Read Dulce et Decorum Est and then watch the Favorite Poem video of Mary McWhorter recite it and talk about her father, a veteran of World War II.

(Note: The Favorite poem videos can all be found here.)

Dulce et Decorum Est
By Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

You can read the rest of the poem here.


At Wild Rose Reader, I have a review of Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers, a picture book that includes haiku.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Becky’s Book Reviews.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

egg auction continued

So on Saturday, I drove 2 hours (I kind of didn't realize how long of a drive it was going to be) to go to the Open Fields Egg Auction. And I'm really glad I did. Like the snowflakes, nothing compares to seeing the original art in person. They were so lovely, I was quickly circling my list to for possible bidding. Did I want Marla Frazee's? Ashley Bryan's?

Or should I bid on my own? But, unlike Robert's Snow, the auction for the eggs is done live, not anonymously online. So, if I tried to up my own egg price, it would be quite obvious that I was a big loser. Darn!

Luckily, I didn't need to--it went for a very respectable price. It did make me wonder what that broken egg might have gone for.

And I got to get in on the action as well. In a heated competition with a grandfather who seemed to be buying up all the eggs (he must have thought of them as investment property) I finally won the egg I had my eye on...

It's called Twilight, by Mary Peterson. She's not a children's book illustrator but she's a beautiful egg painter, don't you think?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Abigail jacket post finished- finally!

After two lovely weeks in Hawaii (see below- you can tell I'm thinking hard about painting, right?), I am at last finishing this post (you are so patient). It is actually really good to be back to work. Good to get away, but good to be back- I can never really get a project off my mind until it is finished...

When last we left off the jacket painting for Abigail Spells looked like this. Next I filled in the letters some more and started on their clothing:

Started on Abigail's face, and still working on the clothes:

Face finished, clothes coming along:

Then finally, voila! A few more finishing touches and all finished.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sergio Makes a Splash!

It's been a while since I've posted the acquisition story for a book I've edited, in part because I haven't had a book by a brand-new author/illustrator come out in a while. Well, I have a new one for you now.

You've all probably heard me mention Sergio Makes a Splash by Edel Rodriguez before. This isn't Edel's first book that he's illustrated--he has Float Like a Butterfly; Oye, Celia!, and a few others. But Sergio is the first book he's also written, and it's the first in a different art style.

I met Edel for the first time I think about 5 years ago. My company was still part of Time Warner, and we were in the Time & Life building. Along with all the Time Inc. Magazines that we got for free that I sorely miss (especially Entertainment Weekly and People), we also received a company newsletter/internal magazine that highlighted things going on within the company (new movies, magazines, etc.), and also occasionally profiled employees who were doing interesting things. Well, in one issue I saw a little profile of Edel Rodriguez, who was an Art Director for Time Magazine. The profile mentioned that Edel was a children's book illustrator, and I thought, What? An illustrator possibly right here in the building (Time was also housed in the Time and Life Building), and I don't know who he is? I promptly looked up his books, and loved his art style. I was also very interested in picture book biographies, and he had illustrated a few of them. I emailed him to introduce myself, and the next day he came down to my office and dropped off his portfolio.

I showed the portfolio at editorial meeting, and everyone loved his stuff. At the time, I was pursuing a picture book biography of Jimi Hendrix, and thought Edel would be a perfect match. Unfortunately, that project didn't pan out (I believe the book will be coming out with Clarion later this year), but I always kept Edel in mind for projects.

Several years later, in February 2006, I received the submission for Sergio Makes a Splash from his agents at Pippin Properties. Sergio is a penguin who loves water, but is afraid of deep water, because Sergio can't swim. Edel was inspired to write this story after observing his daughter and other neighborhood children in their backyard swimming pool.

I've always loved penguins, and I was so taken by this adorable character. I also loved the new style Edel was using--a very simple, bold, three-color style that felt both retro and fresh. Everyone loved the character at our acquisitions meeting as well, and we made a two-book deal.

There was some talk at editorial meeting and acquisitions meeting about having Edel write a first introductory book--this is similar to what we did for Chowder by Peter Brown, although in this case, although we explored other story lines, in the end we went back to the original concept and shaped it more so it worked as a first book in a series.

It was certainly convenient working on the first book, as Edel was right in the building, although I know he'll testify that it wasn't always so great, as I would sometimes run into him randomly in the cafeteria and nag him about missing deadlines. But now we've moved on, and Edel has as well--he left his job at Time at the beginning of this year to spend more time with his daughter Sofia, and to focus on his illustration work full time. We're working on the second Sergio book now, Sergio Saves the Game, about Sergio playing soccer, slated for next Spring.

Edel contributes to a great illustrator blog, and he had a great post a few weeks ago about Sergio's publication here where he shows some interiors and some of the promotional things we've been doing. I love how he's Sergio-ized his blog!

And speaking of promotional things, last week we got in what is definitely the coolest promotional item ever made for any of my books. A full-sized Sergio beach towel!! It's sitting on one of the chairs in the office right now, so it kinda looks like Sergio's here with me. Isn't it awesome?!
Sergio has been extremely well-received so far, including a starred review in Publisher's Weekly: "A penguin with a fear of swimming is both a comic and a useful premise—plenty of similarly haunted readers will want to laugh at Rodriguez's (Float Like a Butterfly) sympathetic presentation, and his illustrations guarantee that they'll be able to share the fun, too...One of those rare books that doesn't sacrifice child appeal in its embrace of up-to-the-minute visual techniques."

And one of my favorite reviews is from (gasp) Kirkus: "Sergio comes with his own website, but a celebrity like Olivia he's not--more of an everypenguin, whose angst in the face of new experiences will strike a chord in many young children."

And as I mentioned in my Bologna post, we gave Sergio a big push there--here I am, about to make a splash:
And I'll leave you all with this final picture. Here's Sergio's first fan--this is the designer, Tracy Shaw's niece, who of course got one of the advanced copies.

I love Sergio! I hope you all will, too.

Friday, May 16, 2008


Jane Kenyon is one of my favorite poets. Here is one of her most well-known and popular poems.

By Jane Kenyon

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

You can read the rest of the poem here.


At Wild Rose Reader, I have another original poem I wrote for an unpublished collection entitled A Home for the Seasons.

Edited to Add: I posted another poem at Wild Rose Reader that I wrote for Tricia’s Poetry Stretch - Six Words. It’s called Poetry on Demand.

Two Writing Teachers have the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


I keep forgetting to post. I've been completely out of it lately and far too preoccupied with things such as doctor visits and redesigning my website. The goal for the new design is to put my artwork on every page and to give the thing a more cohesive look... but not completely the same on every page. I want to hammer home the idea that I'm a nonfiction book author.

Anyway, I said maybe sometime last week that I'd talk about my first school visit but I never got around to it. The evening before started out with a drive to CT at 10 at night. I got stuck at an evil gas station and cheated out of 25 bucks. Some stupid gas attendant thought it would be cute to put oil and break fluid into my car without my permission and then proceeded to charge me. I was too late to put up a big fight so I drove on. I got in at about 1 am and settled into the hotel room so that I could continue my obsession of trying to make the power point talk perfect. It never reached perfection. Maybe next time.

The next morning I fussed with it more and drank some coffee with powdered creamer. This made me a tad late. Well, not late, but not really on time or early... whatever that means. It was raining and as soon as I got out of the car a woman came running out of the building and said, "You must be Meghan! I hope you're a calm person because you're supposed to start in 10 minutes!" I nodded and said hello and thought in my head, "Oh yeah, Meghan is a calm person." And I was. I didn't seem to care that I had no time to set up. Oh well. That way there was no time to be nervous.

The talk began on an adorable note. (Yes, that means I wasn't involved). Two girls were assigned the role to introduce me. Somehow they had managed to dig up some interesting information and said "Meghan does not like public speaking." I laughed. How did they know!

My talk started out with an introduction of what an author and illustrator is and then launched into my own childhood goals, which involved many things such as being in the Olympics. I also shared how my parents had some important rules. 1) No TV (the kids howled) 2) No video games (the kids howled louder). I explained how this forced me to be creative. I played a lot and I drew a lot. I didn't sit around doing nothing a lot. I illustrated how my art improved through the years and then talked about what it took to get published. I also explained how a book gets made, complete with plane trip to China or some other 3rd world country.

So all went well. Very well. The teachers seemed pleased. The organizer was pleased. Even the principal was pleased. They took my computer upstairs to set up for the next talk and left me alone to eat a piece of pizza (pizza upon my request. No health food) and sign the huge stack of books. Then in came the organizer. "I hope you're a calm person!" she said again. Hmm. These were becoming familiar words. "Something popped up on your computer! I didn't know what to do so I unplugged it!"

This is what popped up in front of 200 children or so. It's a photo on my screen saver--I have an "abandoned" series. This is one of many B&W shots and I forgot that this particular one was on there.

Apparently one child began tugging on his teacher and saying that a bad word was on the wall. She ignored this until she turned around and saw it for herself. Havoc broke loose. "They'll be talking about this for a while" said one teacher. "I heard about the F bomb,” said a parent.

Oh yeah, I know how to make an impression!

Ignoring this little faux pas I was told I did a great job--top 1%. I'm pretty proud of myself because I really do hate public speaking. I had an out of body experience while doing it... watching myself... thinking... wow, you are really doing it... AND doing a good job.

So I've patted myself on the back. I'm glad I pushed myself to do something that was uncomfortable for me. Now I'm open to doing it again. And I promise I'll remove the Fuck picture for next time.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

egg auction

Hey, remember this?Well, the Open Fields Egg auction is happening this weekend. Eggs painted by illustrators such as Thatcher Hurd, Ashley Bryan, Ed Young, Emily Arnold McCully (and little ol' me) are up for auction to benefit the Open Fields School, in honor of Caldecott great Trina Schart Hyman who founded the event. Here is the schedule:

free and open to the public Gala Opening: May 16 (Fri)7-9PM
Public Viewing: May 17 (Sat) 9-11 AM
Doors Reopen for Auction 1 PM
Auction Begins 1:30 PM
All events in the Hayward Lounge, Hanover Inn, Hanover, NH

Saturday is my birthday, so I am thinking about heading over to Hanover to win myself a birthday egg! Anyone want to come?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

slow paint

I spend so much time trying to be a faster artist that I often forget the raw joy of paint that made me want to be an artist in the first place. Quite often paint is a frustrating thing; a temperamental, uncooperative partner as unreliable as the weather, ever in the way of me reaching a deadline.

It seemed paint and I had reached the end of our love affair for good. But I had a resurgence of affection when I was on the mend with my hand, when my work was put off and I was able to play again the way I used to. It turns out paint is just a fickle lover who won't put up with rushed liaisons. Getting along with it requires time, patience, and intense courtship.

I try to keep this in mind now that I'm back to deadlines. James Elkins in his book What Painting Is, reminds me:

Paint records the most delicate gesture and the most tense. It tells whether the painter sat or stood or crouched in front of the canvas. Paint is a cast made of the painter's movements, a portrait of the painter's body and thoughts. The muddy moods of oil paints are the painter's muddy humors, and it's brilliant transformations are the painter's unexpected discoveries. Painting is an unspoken and largely unrecognized diaglogue, where paint speaks silently in masses and colors and the artist responds in moods. All those meanings are intact in the paintins that hang in museums: they preserve the memory of the tired bodies that made them, the quick jabs, the exhausted truces, the careful nourishing gestures. Painters can sense those motions in the paint even before they notice what the paintings are about. Paint is water and stone, and it is also liquid thought.

A master paint lover, Rembrandt:

Monday, May 12, 2008

IRA in Atlanta

Last week I was traveling yet again, this time to Atlanta for the International Reading Association (IRA) conference. I have a soft spot for IRA, as it was the very first conference I attended, back when it was held in San Francisco. I think it was back in 2002--I was just an assistant editor and it was all new and exciting for me. This year, I was quite excited to check out Atlanta. My father has a PhD from Georgia Tech and was finishing up when I was born. We moved away when I was about 9 months old, so I have no memory of it, and haven't been back since. From the little I saw of it, it was a cool city, but I'll have to go back when I have more time to explore--I didn't end up leaving the downtown area all week.

It was quite different from last year's under-attended conference in Toronto. We had a heavily-trafficked booth, partially because of our booth location (right near the entrance), and perhaps also because everyone who skipped out last year came this year. This, added to the fact that one of our colleagues wasn't able to make it at the last minute, leaving us short-handed and scrambling, resulted in all of us being busy from morning till night. I found myself with barely a spare minute all week.

I hadn't quite been prepared to see the extent of the damage from the tornado that hit the downtown area in March. Some of the hotel rooms in the Omni were damaged, although mine was untouched. Jerry Spinelli said that one of the windows in his room was held together by duct tape. "But it seemed study," he said--he had pushed on it. (!) Thank goodness it held.

Here's the view from my hotel room. You can see some damage in the building on the left.
And here's a closer photo of another building with extensive damage (I think this is actually one of the towers of the Omni).
Here are a few pics of the booth:We had seven authors/illustrators at the fair: Jerry Spinelli, Gail Giles, Joan Steiner, and Jerry Pinkney for the first half, and then Wendy Mass, Chris Gall, and Sherman Alexie later in the conference.

I'm not going to give the detailed play-by-play of this year's conference, and I didn't end up taking as many pictures as I usually do, but here are a few highlights:

I had met fellow editor Stacy Whitman for the first time at last year's IRA, and we managed to meet up again this year for some ice cream in the CNN center food court. Here's Stacy, and she has a wrap-up of the conference and more pics on her blog here.
Because we were short one staff member, the only session I was able to attend was the one with Wendy Mass and Pam Muñoz Ryan, which was excellent. I hadn't heard either one speak before, and found both to be passionate, heartfelt, and poised.
Later that day I ran into Lisa Yee while on the floor. Earlier in the conference, I had asked someone if "Lisa Yee had taken out her Peepy" which I realize sounds a bit weird. But here we are, and yes, she took out Peepy. Lisa is holding up her iPhone which had almost this exact same picture on it (except, of course, without the iPhone)--too bad it didn't show up.
Wendy had three signings after her panel, one at our booth, one with Scholastic, and then one at the Anderson Book Shop booth. I got a call from her during her last signing. "You have to come over here and see what's going on," she said. She wouldn't tell me more. I made it over and took a double take. There was quite a crowd, cameras flashing, women squealing. Do you recognize the gentleman sitting next to Wendy?
It's Jeff Foxworthy! Needless to say, Wendy didn't get much attention at that particular signing (but at least her other two signings were great). She was a good sport about it, though, and came away with a signed book for her kids, and a story to tell.

It was a conference full of author signings (back to back to back to back on Tuesday), dinners, cocktails, authors, editors and other publishing folk, and of course books books books. I didn't have too much time to walk the floor, but I did manage to snag the new Sharon Creech (Hate That Cat) and Andrew Clements (Things That Are--although I haven't read Things Not Seen yet).

We ended the fair on a high note, with a signing by Sherman Alexie on Thursday morning. The last day of the fair is generally quiet, so it wasn't quite the frenzy that we were expecting (although a few die-hard fans started lining up over a half hour before the signing), but Sherman stayed in the booth for a full hour and a half signing away. And for you fans out there, you'll be happy to know that his follow-up to The Absolutely True Diary of the Part-Time Indian should be out next Spring.
Thankfully, I don't have any more work travels until ALA at the end of June, although the hectic schedule isn't ending. I'm scrambling to edit all of my Spring 2009 novels right now so that they can go into copyediting by the end of the month. And this afternoon is our library preview for our Fall 2008 books (read about some of our previous ones over at Fuse #8 here and here). Stay tuned to find out who our surprise guest will be.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Poems for Mother's Day

Mother’s Day is this coming I'm posting some special poems for the occasion. Here are the selections I have for you this Poetry Friday.

To My Mother
By Robert Louis Stevenson

You too, my mother, read my rhymes
For love of unforgotten times,
And you may chance to hear once more
The little feet along the floor.

From What I Learned From My Mother
By Julia Kasdorf

I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewing even if I didn't know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then. I
learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.

Read the rest of here.

by Nikki Giovanni
(These are the ending lines of Giovanni’s poem.)

she was very deliberately waiting
perhaps for my father to come home
from his night job or maybe for a dream
that had promised to come by
“come here” she said “i’ll teach you
a poem: i see the moon
the moon sees me
god bless the moon
and god bless me”
i taught it to my son
who recited it for her
just to say we must learn
to bear the pleasures
as we have borne the pains

Read the rest of the poem here.

Happy Mother’s Day!

At Wild Rose Reader I have two more poems for Mother’s Day.

Wrter2b has the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

my first school talk

Stay tuned for details... and my big faux pas.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

SCBWI workshop?

So, the lovely Anna J. Boll has been encouraging me to propose a workshop for the April '09 NESCBWI conference. This is all very well and good-- I think it would fun to go and I am fairly used to public speaking ...but I have no idea what to have a workshop on. The most popular programs at SCBWI conferences tend to be about getting published or promotion, neither of which are my particular expertise. Sure, I have done both--but not so successfully that I have anything new to share or any great insights. When I mentioned my dilemma to Anna, she kindly suggested that I consider other avenues. Here are the ones that I came up with (mostly with her direction):

1. How a midlist author can move up (Hey, that sounds great! I'm a midlist author, I want to go to that workshop! Hm, see my problem?)

2. A workshop for experienced illustrators (Can I do something with cupcakes?)

3. A panel with the Fusion authors that focuses on Asian authors/illustrators in the world of children's books.

4. A panel with the Blue Rose Girls that focuses on blogging and professional support.

5. Diversify one's career across genres--making the jump to picturebooks to early readers to novels (though my early reader won't be out until 2010!)

6. Answer any question (I was trying to think of a workshop I would've liked to gone to and I was thinking it would've been great to go and hear the no punches truth about everything--how much money, how many books, etc. But at the same time I'm not sure if I am brave enough to divulge everything...)

Which one do you like? Or do you have a better idea? I'd LOVE to hear it.

giant monkey

And now for something completely different.

My latest part time job is assistant teaching a circus class at a New Haven arts magnet high school. I had the pleasure of helping a dozen students design and build this amazing monkey puppet, which included rolling, detachable eyeballs.

Then we got to take it onto the streets of New Haven to harass passers-by. It was a thrill to see young people get excited about puppetry.

The monkey will make another appearance at the Edge Festival on Audubon Street on June 7th.

(I'm posting to fill in for Anna this week!)

Friday, May 02, 2008

POETRY FRIDAY: Consolation by Wislawa Szymborska

It’s a busy time of year for me--end of semester. Earlier this week I spent many hours correcting my students’ final projects. Now I have to set about calculating course grades--not my favorite part of teaching.

I thought I would treat myself this Poetry Friday to a poem that was written by one of my favorite poets, Wislawa Szymborska.

by Wislawa Szymborska
(Translated by Clare Cavanagh & Stanislaw Barańczak)

They say he read novels to relax,
But only certain kinds:
nothing that ended unhappily.
If anything like that turned up,
enraged, he flung the book into the fire.

True or not,
I’m ready to believe it.

Scanning in his mind so many times and places,
he’d had enough of dying species,
the triumphs of the strong over the weak,
the endless struggles to survive,
all doomed sooner or later.
He’d earned the right to happy endings,
at least in fiction
with its diminutions.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

At Wild Rose Reader , I have Why Nobody Pets the Lion at the Zoo, a humorous children’s poem by John Ciardi.

Kelly has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Big A, little a.