Sunday, November 30, 2008


Instead of my usual summary post, I've made an Animoto video--now with text! Enjoy.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

"The Connecticut Adventure" and other horrors

When I was a child, I assumed our books in school would be boring and I don't remember any exceptions. The text was dull and the illustrations were ugly. The books even smelled different from the books we got at home as presents.

I thought that this had changed until I saw a new social studies book -- THE CONNECTICUT ADVENTURE was its name. I think the title says it all.....but just to be clear: this was no adventure story. It was just as boring as old-style social studies books. Our history is so interesting; I remember as a child being not only fascinated by the Revolution (liberty! freedom! all those grown-ups dressing up and dumping tea into the Boston harbor!) but really believing in all the American ideals we learned in school: checks and balances, liberty, justice, equality, all I learned it, I'm not sure. Maybe from those same boring books, maybe from what my teachers told me. I do remember one teacher explaining, when someone asked about "all MEN" being created equal that the idea of "men" had been gradually expanding since the Declaration of Independence, and that the Constitution had been written so that it could expand. That made sense: it was during my childhood that the Civil Rights Movement was starting to succeed, it was a hopeful time. But then all that progress seemed to stop and like many people my age, I lost my pride in my country during the Vietnam War era -- but I've always been glad I had it as a child.

So I was a little taken aback when I was flipping through one of Adam's books and our history was told ONLY in terms of all the terrible things the colonists and later Americans did. Of course, they did those things. But they did also try to form a new nation, based on ideas that were radically different from any other endeavors going on at the time....growing up ashamed of your country (as I think many people born after, say, 1960?) have is a sad way to feel. I've certainly hated feeling that shame for all these years!

Obama's election has made me believe in America again -- to think that maybe our system really can work the way it was meant to. I wonder if anyone else feels the same way? And if now, we can not only "form a more perfect Union" but put some of the hope and pride we feel into our textbooks, too.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

santa claus parade

My visit in Montreal coincided with their Santa Claus Parade, which I was excited to go see. Even the cold Canadian morning weather could not freeze my excitement. And how could it? My first glimpse of the parade was the float with... unicorns! (Did I ever mention I was a big unicorn girl in grade school?) Anyway, the parade was the perfect harbinger of my holiday cheer. And now, I want to do a book about a Santa Claus parade. It was such fun to see children's book characters like Alice, come to life,

a walking Christmas dinner,

oompa-loompa-ish ornaments,

and, of course, Santa!

Anyway, if I don't make a book about a parade, someday I would like to be in one. What do you say--a Blue Rose Girls parade? I'd be happy to be the one to throw the blue roses from the unicorn.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My new blog: Painting Bunnies

As I mentioned in the last question of the week, I've just started my own blog (at last I finished the design, phew!). I'll be posting a lot of the types of posts I do here at BRG; paintings in progress, process oriented posts, updates about new books and events. Come stop by sometime! Here is the link.

Getting crafty

As I mentioned before here, I've been working on a proposal for a sequel to my soon to be released book, What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe? A Green Activity Book About Reuse. So I've gone back to my teacherly roots and pulled out my craft supply bin...

Before I can turn a craft into a spread in the book I of course need to test it out. This week I did some bubble painting with a kazoo. These are the days that I think I have the best job ever. And perhaps the wierdest. Here are some pics.

Mixing the paint with dishsoap and water:

Place kazoo in soapy paint and blow bubbles:

Print bubbles onto paper:

So much fun.

Monday, November 24, 2008

National Book Awards, and WABI SABI video

Greetings from San Antonio! It's such a beautiful city. I'll try to write about NCTE/ALAN next week, because I'm still in the middle of things (NCTE just finished yesterday, ALAN starts today), but I wanted to share a few photos and videos from last week's National Book Award ceremony. I attended for the first time, and was both excited and intimidated. First of all, it was black tie, so I needed to dress appropriately. Second of all, I knew the majority of attendees would be on the adult side of the industry--in fact, at the Hachette Book Group table, I was the lone representative of the Young Readers division. But we were hosting Young People's Literature judge Holly Black and her husband Theo, so I knew they'd be some familiar faces there.
(unfortunately, I didn't take a good picture of my dress, but it was black chiffon, knee length, with a beaded waist)

Here is our dessert:
And here is a video of committee chair Daniel Handler announcing the winner:

[video to come--I'm having some technical difficulties]

Congratulations to winner Judy Blundell for What I Saw and How I Lied. Although she's published perhaps a hundred or so books under pseudonyms, this was the first time she's published under her own name. She gave the sweetest, most sincere thanks to her editor David Levithan, thanking him for "Giving me my voice." (Of course I remember how the editor was thanked!)

Congratulations to all the winners and nominees. Check out these great interviews with the Young People's Literature nominees from a while back in PW.


I received some unbelievable news right before the awards--Wabi Sabi debuted on the NY Times Best Seller list at #8! This is my first NY Times bestseller, and I must say, it was unexpected. I'm still in shock.

Speaking of Wabi Sabi (and I often do, don't I), remember that video I mentioned, the one we were filming when I almost lost the art for a second time?

Well, it's finally ready to be viewed. Check it out here.

I think it turned out quite well! And a last little coincidence that links this with the National Book Awards is that I ran into the filmmaker who interviewed Ed at the award ceremony, he was helping film material for Publisher's Weekly.

Anyway, that's all for now. Looking forward to all of the great ALAN presentations. Until next week! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Question of the week: How are you procrastinating?

Anna: Right now I'm obsessing over designing the blog I'm going to start. Yes it is work related, but hardly the most pressing thing to be working on right now! I seem to always want to do the project that does not have a deadline attached.

Alvina: I've been logging onto Facebook and reading people's status updates more than usual...oh, and I'm still watching those doggies on the Puppy Cam. They've gotten so big and active!

Grace: I've been consumed with the idea of candy making. I want to try making my own truffles or candy canes even though I am not particularly confident at how successful I will be. I blame the Martha Stewart magazine I leafed through the last time I was in the bookstore.

I haven't exactly been procrastinating--I've started preparing for Thanksgiving dinner at my house. I've been cooking up batches of reduction sauce for the turkey gravy. It's a long, involved process--roasting turkey parts with vegetables, then cooking them in a pot, then straining the stock and cooking it down until its almost as dark as bitter chocolate. I've done it three times this week. It's a lot of work--but the gravy will be tasty, rich, and so delicious. My husband says it's the best part of the Thanksgiving dinner.

Libby: Well, I think my last post answers that question. And that's only one example! I tried quitting my browsers, so I'd have to start them each time. Didn't work. Unplugging my modem (have to contort myself into a yoga-like pose to reach it) does. It makes me pause just long enough to control the impulse. I've also been perfecting the Pad Thai recipe -- when I can get it to come out perfectly three times in a row, I'll post it here.

How famous are you?

This easy and completely non-scientific test may surprise you.

Type your first name into Google -- if you're super-famous, or have an unusual first name (the bias of this test!), you will appear in the list of suggested names. Alvina is the only person I know personally who does.

The most famous author I could think of appears after you type her first initial followed by a period.

But here's where it starts to get fun and (to me, anyway) encouraging and interesting, too: type a space and the first letter of your last name (or maybe the first two letters) and if you have had a few books published, and a Web site, you will probably appear somewhere near the top of that list! Exception: if a celebrity with lots of Web sites and blogs has the same first name and initial. I can't even bring myself to write the name of the celebrity who hogged a slot that should properly belong to one of the BRGs.

But my other author friends all appeared.....and (this really surprised me!) we were only two places lower ("less relevant," as Google has it) on our lists than really famous authors like Jerry Spinelli and Linda Sue Park were on theirs! Did your name show up on this ______(first name) and __(last initial) list? I only tried ten authors, maybe it's just coincidence that they all -- famous, a little famous, and (like me) not at all famous - ended up in about the same spot on the list. All about equally relevant, according to Google.

Friday, November 21, 2008

POETRY FRIDAY: Defending Walt Whitman

Another Poetry Friday in November—and here’s another Sherman Alexie poem for you. It’s a poem about basketball and American Indian boys and God and brown skin and muscles and athletic prowess and hair and young veterans of foreign wars…and a bearded Walt Whitman observing it all. Who else but Alexie could write a poem like this?

From Defending Walt Whitman
by Sherman Alexie

Basketball is like this for young Indian boys, all arms and legs

and serious stomach muscles. Every body is brown!

These are the twentieth-century warriors who will never kill,

although a few sat quietly in the deserts of Kuwait,

waiting for orders to do something, to do something.

God, there is nothing as beautiful as a jumpshot

on a reservation summer basketball court

where the ball is moist with sweat,

and makes a sound when it swishes through the net

that causes Walt Whitman to weep because it is so perfect.

There are veterans of foreign wars here

although their bodies are still dominated

by collarbones and knees, although their bodies still respond

in the ways that bodies are supposed to respond when we are young.

Every body is brown! Look there, that boy can run

up and down this court forever. He can leap for a rebound

with his back arched like a salmon, all meat and bone

synchronized, magnetic, as if the court were a river,

as if the rim were a dam, as if the air were a ladder

leading the Indian boy toward home.

You can read the rest of the poem here.


At Wild Rose Reader, I have a bunch of original list poems I posted for Tricia’s Poetry Stretch this week.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Brimstone Soup.

distracted yet again

Well, it seems that my distraction continues. I went from making music (had to give that up because my friend needed to borrow my mic - and YES I went through withdrawal) to watching the X-Files nonstop. Ugh! I can't believe it's over! Now what? I miss that show so much and it's been yanked from me... or rather, I finished watching all the conspiracy episodes.

This leads me to wish something would happen with my sci-fi novel. Perhaps I should write another. This time it can be about ... aliens! I'm kidding. Sort of. Maybe. Maybe not.

Another distraction has been, believe it or not, the recent booksignings I've embarked on. There are booksignings and then there are BOOKSIGNINGS, which involve things such as wine and white cloth covered tables and fancy little food items on fancy little plates. Yeah, those are the ones I've been doing. And somehow I always get sandwiched between two very successful adult authors. They're either bestselling or famous or both... and then there's me. I wonder what I'm doing at those things? At the last one I was frightened of the sushi that was served and the other little meat sandwiches. I also asked for a beer when almost everyone else was drinking the bubbly. Oh well. The good part was that these other authors have been great to talk to. They don't seem to mind that I'm out of my league at all! And the attendants have also been very welcoming. As much as I like to whine about doing these things, one can't complain too loudly about the upper east side signings. So if you're out there organizers, I'll do another... as long as I'm warned about the attire. I recall that I did one last year and wore unacceptable shoes. Peter Brown was there as well, which made things more fun. He said he was not allowed to go in the time before because he wasn't wearing a tie. Hmm. Go figure. Anyway, the one I did this week was fine to go to in jeans... I THINK.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Uncanny or just paying attention?

I'm writing a novel now based on a real person -- very little is known about her, so it's mostly made-up; but the clues that I find to her real life are tantalizing and fascinating. The uncanny thing, though, is how real pieces of her life, mine, and the novel intertwine.

Some examples:
*She was born in Bermuda, I've never been there -- and I was just visited by some BOTM fans who live there. (Of course, I took advantage of this and asked them to describe what they remembered of it from when they were around 5 -- her age when she left.)
*In the book, there's a scene of her letting some rabbits out of their hutches -- one of the girls (9) described how someone had just done that to HER rabbits and how sad that made her
*a good friend of mine just moved to a neighborhood of London where she lived for awhile
*when I was wondering how rabbits reacted to being picked up and liberated, Adam was looking after someone's pet rabbits so I got to try it for myself....well, that's not a coincidence. I went with him to feed them because I was writing the book.

Then there are lots of similarities between her life and mine, both in childhood and adulthood, similarities that I didn't know about when the story came to me. It often seems when I'm writing something that the information I need just sort of comes; Maybe there is nothing uncanny about this at all. Probably there is always lots of information around and when I'm writing something, I just pick up what I need for the story, as though my mind is a radio tuned to a station, the book station.

It's fun --and also the test of whether or not I'm into something, because it's hard to UNtune it. I'll start reading, and find that I'm not concentrating on it, I'm still thinking about MY book. Or book to be: right now, it's still a ms.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I'm in Montreal now, and I've noticed that (just like in the States) all the stores are starting their holiday decorations and sales earlier this year. The anxiety of the retail market is fairly palpable.

This makes me think of book promotion, and my own book in particular. I'd be lying if I said the sales of my upcoming novel didn't fill me with anxiety. I have a lot riding on it---the risk of printing it in color, a genre and length I have not done before, etc. etc.; and that is after all the personal emotions that are attached to it. With so much weighing on it, I'm already trying to think of book parties, contests and marketing ideas for it

But it also not available until June 2009. So all the hype that I am feeling is a bit...premature. Or is it? How soon is too soon to start promoting your book? Is it like the retail stores--the sooner the better? Or will people get sick of me talking about it and, by the time June rolls around, not be able to see the book cover without rolling their eyes?

What do you guys think? When is it too early? Never?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Andover Bookstore visit

Last Saturday I joined authors Anne Broyles, Kathleen Benner Duble, and illustrator Alexander Farquharson at the Andover Bookstore for a brief talk and book signing. I'd never been to this book store before and I have to say it was a very impressive store on a number of counts. I didn't realize going in that it is one of the oldest book stores in the country, founded in 1809. You can read about the history here. The building itself is really neat- an old converted barn with a working fireplace in the center, very conductive to curling up with a book.

The staff was just as great. As any author knows book store signings can be pretty hit or miss, especially on a rainy day. But the store did a great job of bringing folks in, adults and kids alike. Each of us talked for 10 or so minutes, then people asked questions and we signed books. Anne kindly brought in a make your hollyhock doll craft which she is holding above.

Definitely a recommended stop for author and book buyers alike!

Monday, November 17, 2008

NY Times Best Illustrated

I don't have time for a real post this week--am scrambling to finish things up before I head off to San Antonio for the NCTE conference on Thursday, and then am off to CA for Thanksgiving.

Many of you probably saw that the NY Times announced their Best Illustrated Children's Books, and Wabi Sabi was among the honored. Last Tuesday we went to the new(ish) and very beautiful NY Times building for the cocktail reception. It was a wonderful event, and it was great to have the author, Mark Reibstein, there from CA, as well as Ed Young (it was his third time so honored by the NY Times), and their agent, the esteemed Edward Necarsulmer IV all there to celebrate.
Edward, Mark, Ed, and me


If you'll be at NCTE, be sure to stop by the Little, Brown booth and say hi!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Question of the week: Whats on your desk?

Anna: Lately I've been at my computer desk more than my painting desk, so whats been on my desk is a screen full of the web site for What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe?, soon to be finished!

Grace: Bookplates, lots of bookplates! It's actually pretty fun, and signing them has been strangely therapeutic.

Libby: A printout of a novel, with comments from my agent (thank you Sara!). Seven older drafts of the same book are stacked on the floor. I know my desk looks the same way it did last time; only the ms. in the stand is different.

What's on my work table? My brand new computer. And I love it!!! I got it last Tuesday. It's not a laptop; it's a Sony "all-in-one" (VGC-JS100 Series)--all the computer components are housed behind the screen. I love the wide screen...and I love the sloped keyboard. I've needed a new computer for a long time. This new one suits me perfectly.

Also on my desk: I have a batch of new books by Steve Jenkins--two of which I got at the Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature and three that I ordered when Grace and I returned home from the festival. I love Steve's nonfiction science books. (I minored in science in college when I was studying to be an elementary teacher. I read a lot of adult nonfiction books--like E=mc2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation and Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA.) Next to the books you can see some of my Obama memorabilia.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Boys, Girls, & Suite Life

I've never been much of a TV watcher -- for me, even as a child, it was a social thing. For long chunks in my childhood, our TV was broken or we just didn't have one and even when we did, I usually watched only with other kids. Our conversation and fooling around was more fun than what we were watching. But now, I watch with Adam and lately, with Anya upstairs, too. She has bought a trainer for my bike, so we can bike inside together. It's really fun -- we ride, we talk, we watch TV. I think we were both somewhat embarrassed by our TV preferences; but after she confessed to hers (it's not for me to out others here!), I told her about Adam's favorite show -- which I also really enjoy.

At first, SUITE LIFE appalled me. In case you haven't seen it: ten-year old twins Zack and Cody live in a hotel owned by London Tilton. Zack and Cody (boys) have long blonde hair and hip clothes -- even their pajamas are cool. Zack is dumb, and always coming on to beautiful teenage/twenty-something girls with cheesy lines, winks, gestures ...this I still find baffling and kind of weird. Does anyone (especially, the kids watching) believe that there is a chance that one of these girls will actually accept Zack's invitations -- invitations to his bedroom once he's in bed (and believe me, he's not asking them to read him a story)? Or is it supposed to be yet another humorous sign of what an idiot Zack is? That's how Cody takes it: he rolls his eyes and makes comments.

Their mother does, too -- in the last episode I saw, Zack and Cody were at a party London was giving (in their LA pajamas and bathrobes) when their mother stormed in and made them go to bed. Zack (typically) invited one of the girls (a teenager--I've never seen a girl their age on the show) to come with him and, as she followed, the mother shoved her back and said angrily:
"Not you!"

Adam watches it all intently. On THIS AMERICAN LIFE, a commentator said HIS son watches as though he was taking notes. I don't know what Adam thinks -- his comments while we watch TV are ususally limited to explaining the characters and situations and backstory to me. I can't tell from his expression, either; but he doesn't laugh at these parts. He does laugh a lot at London ("the only thing she's good at it buying stuff") and at the scenes in which Zack and Cody succeed in tricking their mother.

Adam doesn't even LIKE girls (as you might guess from the dialog with Morgan) has firmly told his father that it's not okay to have a girlfriend until you're twelve (it used to be ten, but now that he's eight himself, he's upped the age limit). If his father tries to talk to him about girls, or even comments on women's looks, Adam says, firmly,
"Daddy! Not until I'm twelve."
I've never seen a girl Zack and Cody's age on the show -- but maybe I've just missed those episodes? I'm not attached enough to the show to pay for the Disney channel!

I'd really like to know what other adults think of Zack and girls! Anya (24) also thinks it's weird and that I should talk to Adam about it, in case he thinks this is how you're supposed to do it.
"I've never heard Misha [her brother whom Adam worships] talk to girls that way."

Friday, November 14, 2008

POETRY FRIDAY: Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World

Here’s another poem by Sherman Alexie for this third Friday of Native American Heritage Month.

From Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World
by Sherman Alexie

The morning air is all awash with angels . . .
- Richard Wilbur

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.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

Visit the official site of Sherman Alexie.

Here’s a link to my I heart Sherman Alexie post at Blue Rose Girls last Friday.


Here’s a link to my Wild Rose Reader post Native American Heritage Month: Book Lists & Resources.

At Wild Rose Reader, I have a review of the poetry anthology The Sun in Me: Poems about the Planet.

Yat-Yee Chong has the Poetry Friday Roundup this week.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

more on the music thing

So I've done a lot of thinking today (mostly while stuck in the doctor's office - long story but I met with his assistant and then when the assistant went to get the dr. to come talk to me he was nowhere to be found - lunch break perhaps? I sat for quite a while. Yeah. And in all that makes 6 appointments this week and 3 in one day!). Anyway, so I thought about why I'm so obsessed with this music thing right now. Why not painting? It's because I'm so accustomed to painting and illustrating that I can do it w/out thinking. That means while doing such activities I have PLENTY of time to think. And what is on my mind right now? Nothing good. But the music and the making of my books on audio - those things require all of my attention. There's no room for extra thought! It's just me and the sounds and the sound editing. It's the same thing with running--my mind isn't capable, for some reason, of deep thought while I run. So that's my meditation, clear the brain time. And the music and audio--that's my escapism. Right now I need a lot of that because otherwise I'm an emotional mess. But I don't want to check out of life/being creative completely... thus the music.

So there you have it. I'm kind of happy that I figured it out.


signing this saturday

Hello all,

I always forget to announce things but I'll announce this. I'm doing a singing at the Brooklyn Museum this Saturday from 1 - 5. I think they're having kids' activities, etc., but I wasn't prepared to come up with any of that since I thought I had another speaking engagement and would be arriving only for the last hour. Thankfully, I won't be running around like a headless chicken and will be only doing ONE thing on saturday!

I have THREE doctor appointments today (one involves fasting and it's already 11:30!) so I can't post anything more interesting, though I am obsessed with creating a new and better studio, so I wanted to post about that. If any of you have any good studio tips, let me know - send photos! Give me links to good stores!


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

more music

I was in serious pain all afternoon (no thanks to the pain pills) so then I wasted the rest of my time making a new song. It's a rough draft. This is apparently how I'm escaping reality. Weird, right?

the other night I made 6 songs within a few hours... no accounting for quality

this is an odd one. Late at night I get odd

I'm buying books for the holidays!

The holidays are coming and with these not great financial times, this is my overly-earnest plea for you to consider a gift that will truly leave a long lasting meaning to the people in your life. Yes, baby clothes are cute. Yes, video games are cool. But books are timeless. Books are remembered forever. Books enrich your life. They are important. And, after being alerted by Jama Rattigan, the book industry is in trouble.

As Moonrat says in her post about supporting the book industry:
Buy your sister a book instead of a sweater for her birthday; buy your friend who can't even make toast or boil water a beginner's cookbook; buy your company's receptionist a novel you liked because most people probably ignore him/her (it's always a her, though, isn't it?) and you'll make his/her day.

Buy your holiday gifts now. Instead of a CD for your brother, buy him a book on his favorite recording artist.

Instead of going to the library this one week buy the book you were going to read--it might only be a difference of a couple of bucks in the end. One day this week, make a peanut butter sandwich, skip going out for lunch, and buy a paperback.

Got an anniversary? Skip chocolates; fiction is sexy.

Got a non-reading friend with a birthday? Buy them a book and tell them it's high time they got over it. Or, more kindly, that you're doing it to sponsor your own future writing career. Or blame me if you must; I can take it.

It doesn't matter what. It doesn't have to be a literary fiction hardcover. If could be a $5.99 mass market nutrition guide, a $4.99 young reader chapter book, a Harlequin romance. Your money will still prevent returns of other books--literary fiction is usually the first to go--and will trickle down to the publishing companies, who will then be more likely to be able to afford to publish unprofitable literary fiction. Even if it's not by your favorite author or your favorite publishing house, your favorites will be indirectly affected.

Do you have reluctant readers on your list? Change the adjective with your gift. I firmly believe that there is at least one book for everyone that can transform. It's a different book for each person and you can find it! The bloggers at BUY BOOKS FOR THE HOLIDAYS would be thrilled to help you. The girls and I, here, would be happy to as well.

I know that this might seem self-serving considering I am an author (especially after I offered free bookplates to those who order my books) but I would not make books if I didn't consider them important (and I am honestly urging you to buy any book, not just mine!). On the aforementioned bookplate, I designed it around the Chinese proverb A Book is like a Garden in One's Pocket. In this cold financial climate, during this chilly holiday season, plant the seeds and let books blossom for you and the ones you care about.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Foundation for Children's Books interview with Brian Lies

Last week I went to another great lecture put on by The Foundation for Children's Books. If you live in the Boston area I highly recommend attending some of their events; there is always a great line-up of speakers and the format is nice- more of a conversation with the author rather than a traditional interview.

Thursday the featured author was Brian Lies, author/illustrator extraordinaire of the much loved Bats at the Beach. Last week he talked about the follow-up book, Bats at the Library, which looks fantastic. He talked a lot about the process of creating his books and brought bunches of amazing art and sketches for show and tell. Below are some of the book dummies for the new Bats book, and a color study. I couldn't believe how detailed his "sketch" was, puts mine to shame! It could almost be the finished art!!

He also said some interesting things about promotion. When he got the contract for the first Bats book he enlisted the help of his wife (who was a pro at marketing/launching new products) and they decided to throw all their chips in and promote the heck out of the book. He said one of the things that helped was to make a list of real goals for the book (ie NYT Bestseller list kind of thing), and then strategize about how to accomplish those goals specifically, instead of shooting for a more generalized idea of "success". He compared it to lighting small sticks to make a bonfire- you don't start by lighting a log with a match, you start by making a smaller fire first. Or something like that (I may be botching the analogy). Anyways, I thought that was a good way to look at marketing books. He also said it is much easier to get people into a book signing when you park your car with a giant bat on the top in front of the store, ha.

After the talk I got a pic with fellow author/illustrator Mary Newell DePalma (left), and children's book expert Susannah Richards (right), who did a fabulous job of conducting the interview with Brian. I was too shy to take a picture of Brian since he was busy with a long line of people waiting to get books signed. Oh well, next time!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass

Today, I'll be talking about Wendy Mass's new middle grade novel, Every Soul a Star which was published last month. This is Wendy's fifth novel with us; her previous books were A Mango Shaped Space, Leap Day, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, and Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall. Wendy has gone back and forth between writing middle grade and young adult for a while, but has decided that middle grade is the age group she's most passionate about writing for, and I just love what she's doing. Jeremy Fink is one of my all-time favorite books ever! And of her previous books, Every Soul a Star is probably the most similar in the sense that it also has a strong message, but told in a fun way.

Every Soul a Star is about three very different kids, Ally, Bree, and Jack, whose lives come together at the isolated Moon Shadow campground to witness a total eclipse of the sun. What I love about Wendy is that she tries something new with each book she writes. In this book, she’s written it from three different points of view in first person, and she’s succeeded in making each kid’s voice distinct--not an easy task! Ally has lived at the Moon Shadow campground for almost her whole life and is a bit of a brain, passionate about nature and space, and a bit sheltered and naive. Bree is beautiful, popular, wants to be a model when she grows up. Jack is a bit overweight, a loner, and loves drawing and reading science fiction. The book alternates between these three perspectives with snappy dialogue and beautiful descriptions.

The climax of the book is the description of the eclipse from the three different viewpoints, which I must say is absolutely breathtaking each time, and for the three kids is a life-changing experience. Another thing I love about Wendy is that she’s very thoughtful about the message in each book she writes, and she has such a talent for creating a wholly satisfying read that will make kids think, and yet is not too heavy-handed or didactic. Every Soul a Star will make readers look beyond their own lives and try to see where they fit in the universe.

I just love the cover design (by Alison Impey). The jacket has uses pearlescent ink which gives it a lovely sheen:

There have been some really lovely reviews for this book so far, including one from Publisher's Weekly:
Confirming her mastery of the middle-grade novel, Mass (Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life) combines astronomy and storytelling for a well-balanced look at friendships and the role they play in shaping identity.

And a starred review from School Library Journal:
Readers who like quietly self-reflective novels like Lynne Rae Perkins's Criss Cross or Jerry Spinelli's "Stargirl" books will also enjoy this compelling and thought-provoking story.

Wendy's YA novel Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall is also now out in paperback. We decided to design a new cover, because we had gotten some feedback that said that consumers thought that the book was an inspiration/religion book. What do you think? Here's the hardcover:

And here's the paperback:

Which do you like better?


There was a great review of Wabi Sabi in the NY Times Book Review over the weekend, you can read it here. And here's a taste:

Remarkably, Reibstein and Young capture the essence of all of this with clarity, elegance and a kind of indirection that seems intrinsic to the subject... If wabi sabi is “a feeling, rather than an idea,” this outcome feels just right.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

newsletter promotion

I've just sent out my new-and-improved e-mail newsletter (please sign up for it!) and amongst the other tidbits I am offering this promotion:


I'm honored by the number of book-lovers who choose to give my books as gifts for the holidays! To make these holiday presents even more special, I've designed a new bookplate (see to the right) that I will personally autograph and send to you FREE. All you have to do is send an e-mail to (you can also send to Alice at, with the following:

1.To WHOM you wish the bookplate to be autographed to.
2.WHICH book the bookplate is for (I have different messages and drawings for each of my books)
3.Your name and MAILING ADDRESS
and you will get your bookplate ready to put in any book of mine which you have purchased.

This is a limited-design bookplate, which means this design is only for this promotion, but there is NO limit on how many bookplates you can request.

Promotion ends December 7th, 2008. All bookplates will be sent out that week (if you need it earlier, please make a special request when you send your e-mail)

Question of the week: Whats on your bookshelf?

GRACE: I've just read Elise Broach's MASTERPIECE, and I loved it. I was a huge fan of her SHAKESPEARE'S SECRET and I think this is even better. It is exactly the kind of book I would read over and over again when I was a child...and the kind of book I aspire to write. And fellow RISD alum, Kelly Murphy illustrated it too.

LIBBY: Adam is reading the GERONIMO STILTON series and has lent me WEDDING CRASHER -- " Thea, Trap, and Benjamin thought it sounded fabumouse. They dragged me along to Stingysnouts' crazy castle on Cheap Change Hill. Mouldy mozzarella, what a disaster!" etc. These books are really easy to read  and my guess is that's why Adam reads them: because he CAN - and quickly. Most of the pages are printed like this:

For school, Adam has to read every day and his parents have to sign his reading log...I don't think he'd be reading at all if it weren't for this requirement and, when I read Geronimo Stilton, wonder what the benefit is. The words are clever, sometimes, but the books aren't absorbing in any way: they seem designed for short attention spans and to enable the reader to say, "I'm done!" and enter a chapter in the log as quickly as possible.

No wonder he thinks reading is boring! Wouldn't it be better if in school the teacher read aloud the kind of books kids lose themselves in, read over and over? -Books with characters, stories, settings that engage the emotions, imagination, mind? 

Maybe not.  Adam's mother asked his teacher if other children like reading. The teacher said many of the GIRLS do and reeled off a list of novels that they love; but the boys don't like these books. They prefer non-fiction and won't even join in the reading group discussions of these novels "while the girls are yakkety-yakking." So the teacher is going to start a new non-fiction reading group for the boys in the hopes that they will read and talk more...I will post more about this when I know more about it. 

As for me, I have been rereading old favorites (novels, one a night); I answer with what Adam's reading because I think it's more interesting to you all! 

ANNA: I've been reading THE PENDERWICKS. I never picked it up the series when it came out so I am making up for it now. I'm not sure yet if the content is my cup of tea, but I like the way the author shifts perspective and develops multiple storylines at once.

ELAINE: I'm serving once again as a member of the Cybils poetry-nominating I've been reading some of the nominated children's poetry books, including Naomi Shihab Nye's Honeybee: Poems & Short Prose and Carole Boston Weatherford's Becoming Billie Holiday. I also picked up a copy of Mary Oliver's Thirst recently and have been reading it--a poem or two or three at a time. Grace gave me an ARC of her not-yet-published fantasy novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. I'm hoping to dig into that book soon.

Friday, November 07, 2008

honesty time... money talk

Maybe I can make this a new column. Honest talk. People either lover or hate me for it. But it's fun to read anyway, isn't it?

So here goes. This is about money... income... and the fact that it's a constant stress for freelancers.

First thing: Without an agent, and sometimes even with one, payment to authors is all over the place. It's not about who's more deserving, whose books have sold more, and so on... it's about who asked for more money and was stubborn enough to get it. I'm comfortable with where I'm at now. In fact, if I got paid more per book I’d be uncomfortable because I'd be too afraid that the sales wouldn't reflect my advance--no one wants that!

So I'm going to do something that I don't think any author has done before. I'm going to tell you all where I started. I'm going to list my advance. For my first picture book I got paid 8,000 dollars. Now a lot of non-published folks may say "Well, hey, that's great for a start... can't you be happy that you were published at all?" That's all well and good in theory but think of it this way:

I was living in NYC. My rent was 800 a month. I did one book that took A TON OF TIME. How on earth can anyone live off of 8,000 a year??? Suppose I did two books a year (which I didn't do at first). Then I would get 16,000 a year. Also NOT POSSIBLE. So of course I had a full time job. Full time job, and then I did a book on top of it. That equaled NO PERSONAL TIME, NO TIME TO WATCH TV, NO TIME TO RELAX, NO TIME TO EVEN EAT FOOD!!! I was a mess. I was VERY stressed. I had to put my rent on my credit card several times (still paying it off and that was about 6 or 7 years ago!!!). When I finally went to a doctor my blood pressure was 170/105 or something crazy like that and I was in my early 20s!!!

Okay, so of course for the most part I'm in better shape financially (thank god). BUT not right now. I have a ton of medical bills and because my fall 09 book was postponed I have literally no income for the year. My bank account is down to nothing and I am in the same place that I was 7 years ago. This sucks. I'm sick. I can't go back to working full time at B&N because of my illness, and I'm expected to be out there promoting my product.

So here's the other thing I don't think some people understand. I get requests from schools a lot, asking me to come do talks... only they don't always offer to pay! They think just me coming and getting to talk to kids is enough. Some don't even offer to order my books. Perhaps teachers don't realize that my income (despite the fact that I know theirs isn't great) is less than theirs. Would they go to schools and teach for free? I doubt it. I don't want to sound snotty. I would love to do some pro-bono stuff once in a while but I can't right now. My schedule is crazy; I'm stressed and broke, and feel well about 20% of the time or less.

So there's my bit of honesty for the week.

On another topic, I’ve discovered some really cool art books. I may start a "recommended art book" section on my website if I have the time.

The first book is called URBAN RECORDINGS and it's amazing--Tiny pen and ink drawings of urban landscapes--chock full of cars and buildings and amazing details such as every branch and leaf on a tree illustrated to its fullest.

The second book is on my wish list--Christmas maybe? It's 200 dollars. Yikes! But it's the coolest thing. It's a huge book that will barely fit on bookshelves (if at all). CHARLIE HARPER - AN ILLUSTRATED LIFE. He's a kids' book illustrator but I'm most intrigued by the medical illustration that's in there. It's done in a simple, kid-like fashion, which I find very, very cool.

Lastly, I've added some fun stuff to my website. In the astronaut section I'm adding coloring pages. In the Seabiscuit section I've added a video of the match race, a coloring page, and if you scroll to the bottom you can make your own Seabiscuit paper doll. The links at the top don't work yet but they will when I organize the page, so stay tuned!


A Poetry Friday Post for Native American Heritage Month

I Sherman Alexie!

I previously posted one of the two following poems by Sherman Alexie at Blue Rose Girls. November is Native American Heritage Month and The Powwow at the End of the World is one of my favorite poems--so I'm posting it again. The second poem is entitled How to Write the Great American Indian Novel. I have also included links to Iowa Review's 2001 Interview with Sherman Alexie and a video of Alexie's appearance on The Colbert Report.

I think Sherman Alexie is a brilliant writer. If you haven’t read his young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, get thee to a book store or library and get thyself a copy. It’s a wonderful book--and deserving of the all the awards it has received.

From The Powwow at the End of the World
by Sherman Alexie

I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall
after an Indian woman puts her shoulder to the Grand Coulee Dam
and topples it. I am told by many of you that I must forgive
and so I shall after the floodwaters burst each successive dam
downriver from the Grand Coulee. I am told by many of you
that I must forgive and so I shall after the floodwaters find
their way to the mouth of the Columbia River as it enters the Pacific
and causes all of it to rise. I am told by many of you that I must forgive
and so I shall after the first drop of floodwater is swallowed by that salmon
waiting in the Pacific. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall
after that salmon swims upstream, through the mouth of the Columbia
and then past the flooded cities, broken dams and abandoned reactors
of Hanford.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

From How to Write the Great American Indian Novel
by Sherman Alexie

All of the Indians must have tragic features: tragic noses, eyes, and arms.
Their hands and fingers must be tragic when they reach for tragic food.
The hero must be a half-breed, half white and half Indian, preferably from a horse culture.
He should often weep alone.
That is mandatory.
If the hero is an Indian woman, she is beautiful.
She must be slender
and in love with a white man.
But if she loves an Indian man
then he must be a half-breed, preferably from a horse culture.
If the Indian woman loves a white man, then he has to be so white
that we can see the blue veins running through his skin like rivers.
When the Indian woman steps out of her dress, the white man gasps
at the endless beauty of her brown skin.

You can read the rest of the poem here.
(P. S. I'm not sure all the line breaks are correct in this poem.)

At Wild Rose Reader, I have a not-yet-ready-for-prime-time autumn list poem.

Jone has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Check It Out.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

me, teacher

In between the election and visits, I have forgotten to tell people that I have accepted a teaching position at Pine Manor College for the their Low-Residency Creative Writing Program. Even though I am a bit delayed in announcing this, it is in no way a reflection of the great honor it is to be a part of their program. They boast of a diverse student body as well as an impressive faculty (An Na! Jacqueline Woodson! Laban Hill!).

So if you have ever thought about writing children's literature, consider looking into this program. If you end up being my student (I am only going to take 3), I promise to guide you with best I have within me.

The Solstice Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program of Pine Manor College ( is now accepting applications for the winter residency/spring 2009 semester, with a deadline of November 15, 2008. We offer concentrations in fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and writing for young people.

Designed for writers wishing to pursue their writing goals while balancing the demands of work and family, the Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Program offers affordable tuition, small classes, third-semester internships, the most diverse faculty in the country, and one-to-one mentoring in a friendly and non-hierarchical environment.

For more information, visit, email or call the MFA Office at (617) 731-7697.


I didn't take any pictures, but yes, I voted too. I drove to RI just to do it--no line! And I didn't have to change my address even though my parents moved. It was almost too easy--a little scary! It was a quite the battle to vote because I worked late monday night and didn't leave NY until midnight. I literally was asleep most of the way to RI. I tried all sorts of things to stay awake but nothing worked. I could blame the medication but I don't think that was it. I was feeling kind of odd and sick and think IT is what caused me to not stay awake. Oh well. I made it and voted! I'm sad that I wasn't in NY for the election parties, but maybe next time.

This is a day of unity. It may or may not last but I'm glad it happened and I'm glad my pick made it to presidency! Go Obama! I have the utmost respect for McCain as well and thought his final speech was well done.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Another Blue Rose Girl Casts Her Vote

I really felt more excited than ever about casting my vote in a presidential election. And I've been voting since 1968! The election of 1972 was the second most important to me. That was the year George McGovern ran against the incumbent--Richard M. Nixon. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts--where I was born, raised, and still live today--was the only state that didn't "go" for Nixon. Later, some people could be seen driving around my state with bumper stickers on their cars that read: Don't blame me, I'm from Massachusetts.

I am hoping my candidate will win this election. I am hoping, too, that our next president will help to end the divisiveness that has been a blight on our country in recent years.
Here are some scenes from my polling station. I arrived just before two o'clock this afternoon. There was no crowd. I didn't have to wait in line. The police officer standing outside the elementary school where I voted said that it was the quietest he had seen it all day.

This is Barbara Acres, one of the poll workers. She was kind enough to let me take her picture.

We're all in this together

I voted at an elementary school, and that's what the sign someone had painted on the wall said: we're all in this together.

My father grew up in Harlem, and I found myself thinking of him as I walked to the polls, and how happy he would have been. I thought about Little Rock -- I was only six, but I remember the news on the radio that morning, telling about the crowds full of hate outside the schools -- and my parents talking. I remember, later, when I was grown-up, reading about the little girl who had been so excited to start school that day, until SHE heard those radio reports. But she wasn't scared, even when she got to the school and saw the hostile crowds and heard what they were shouting at her, because she thought the police (or National Guard?) would protect her. Then, when she started to go in, they raised their rifles to stop her. She walked slowly home, and stopped in a park on the way -- and a white man put his hand on her shoulder and said,
"Don't let them see you cry."

I remembered my best friend telling me about watching Ku Klux Klanners marching. She was, I think, around nine and hadn't met many white people then, because she lived in the south and went to a segregated school. She looked at the faces full of hate, kids' faces, too, not just grown-ups, and realizing at that moment that there were people who would hate her without ever knowing her, just because of the color of her skin.

And I thought of someone on the radio yesterday saying something like, "Rosa Park sat so Martin Luther King could walk. Martin walked so Obama could run. And Obama ran so we could fly."

I know this election is about more than race -- and I'd be voting for Obama no matter what his race was -- but that's the kind of thing I thought about on my way to the polls.

PS Here in CT, the wait was about 30 minutes and the only ID I had to show was a letter with my address on it.