Friday, December 28, 2012

Happy New Year!

My granddaughter Julia continues to love books.
Her grandma made sure that she got lots more for Christmas.

The renovations on our new home are nearly complete.
The "must have" built-in bookshelves were installed two weeks ago.
I can't wait to begin filling them up with my poetry books and children's books for Julia.
Happy New Year to all my friends in the Kidlitosphere
from the Nanny Granny!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Getting ready to travel to Virginia to see my family for the holidays, I had a lovely (if not busy) time making ornaments, buying gifts, and decorating a tree. It's been especially sweet introducing Tilly to these traditions. She really seems to be getting the idea of gift giving... just a few days ago she handed me an empty brown shopping bag and declared "I got you a present!"

These sweet moments stand in stark contrast to the recent tragedy, which I can barely name without melting into despair. It's shadows keep rising to the surface when I least expect them. We are beyond lucky to walk this planet, live this life, love our children, family, and friends. The improbability of it all is almost too much to bear. May the coming year by fill us all with love and gratitude.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Battling burnout: how do you unwind?


I've officially been on vacation for a week now--although last week I was still doing some editing and checking and answering of email. This week, however, the Little, Brown offices are closed, so I have the peace of mind that no new business is being done. I still have some reading and editing to do, but I can do it in small doses, on my own time, which feels luxurious.

This has been an incredibly busy year, both in my personal and professional life, and for the past month or so I've been feeling incredibly burnt out--the "what is this all for" type of burnout. So, I'm trying to take this vacation to unwind and reinvigorate myself.

For me, unwinding means doing relatively mindless things. I spent last week doing things like watching TV (I've been catching up on shows like Glee, How I Met Your Mother, The Mindy Project, The Good Wife, The Voice, HGTV shows, and Food Network shows), seeing a movie (Argo), playing video games (Tetris and Fruit Ninja), napping (I've taken a nap almost every day of my vacation so far), running and walking in Prospect Park while listening to audiobooks (finally finished the Steve Jobs biography), reading the entire internet, eating, and cooking. I plan to take this week to read (I'm reading In the Woods by Tana French right now), meet up with friends, and finally tackle those wedding thank-you cards. And yes, edit.

The Blue Rose Girls recently talked about what we all do when we're frustrated or need a break. Some of the answers: yoga, meditation, food and alcohol, chocolate, walks, and crap TV (including Jersey Shore).

How do you all unwind?

Happy holidays, everyone!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

When words don't work


I believe in words--to me, sometimes, they're almost like magic spells. I remember my mother once saying, puzzled, "I don't think anything is real to you until you've put it into words."

But for Sandy Hook they just don't work. I don't think about it in words; I just see the faces and imagine the scene and feel. Words don't come and if they did they wouldn't make any difference.

These images are from Newtown -- I went there on Tuesday. One thing  someone said over the weekend that has stayed with me is that  when the rest of us think or pray for send metta to or for those suffering -- or just feel sadness we can't express, like me --  we share and lift their burden a little. I hope that's true.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

baking cookies and ideas

It's my annual baking bonanza! I am an enthusiastic baker (notice that I did not say good or skilled) but I find I rarely have time to do so except for special occasions. However, I was so enamored by the mooncake cookies that were made for the Starry River Booklaunch that I felt like I had to make my own. And holiday treat making for publishing people was the perfect excuse!

Along with the Sasquatch's mom (Mother Sasquatch?),  Saquatch's sister (Sister Sasquatch?) came to help me out:

Mother Sasquatch clued me in on the secret to  perfect mooncake cookies-- the adjustable rolling pin! It's rather amazing. The rolling pin doesn't allow you to roll your dough thinner than your chosen thickness so all your cookies are uniform:

But, the real magic (and fun) was using the mooncake molds:

Look how pretty they are!

But I have to admit, I love packaging:

I am particularly in love with my label. It's become an inspiration for a new baby book idea. I really hope it works because I  it! 

So, next time when students ask me where I get my ideas, I'll tell them I get them from baking cookies!

Monday, December 17, 2012



I think most of us are still in shock over what happened in Newtown, CT on Friday. I'm having trouble thinking of an appropriate post about children's books, and so I'll leave you with a few posts relating to the tragedy that I found helpful/moving/informative.

"Dealing With Grief: Five Things NOT to Say and Five Things to Say In a Trauma Invovling Children"
This post is by a reverend and is Christianity-based, but people of all faiths or non-faiths will find this helpful, I think, especially since most of the things TO say are not necessarily based in religion--they're based in kindness and support.

"I am Adam Lanza's Mother: It's time to talk about mental illness"
A powerful, frightening, and heartbreaking essay by a mother dealing with a child dealing with mental illness.
No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”
I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.
Saturday Night Live's Cold Open:

This is off topic, but I think now is a good time to be reminded that there is a lot of good in the world. Here are "26 Moments That Restored Our Faith in Humanity This Year". I found the love story of Taylor and Danielle to be especially moving.

My thoughts are with the families and community of Newtown, and with those who have lost loved ones.

Wishing everyone peace and joy this holiday season. Stay safe.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Roald Dahl interview and hut


You can listen to Roald's Dahls' answers here. The interview was given in 1988, two years before his death, in the gypsy caravan (or shepherd's hut?)

in his garden. The interviewer was Todd McCormack.

When you’re writing, it’s rather like going on a very long walk, across valleys and mountains and things, and you get the first view of what you see and you write it down. Then you walk a bit further, maybe you up onto the top of a hill, and you see something else. Then you write that and you go on like that, day after day, getting different views of the same landscape really. The highest mountain on the walk is obviously the end of the book, because it’s got to be the best view of all, when everything comes together and you can look back and see that everything you’ve done all ties up. But it’s a very, very long, slow process.

It starts always with a tiny little seed of an idea, a little germ, and that even doesn’t come very easily. You can be mooching around for a year or so before you get a good one. When I do get a good one, mind you, I quickly write it down so that I won’t forget it, because it disappears otherwise rather like a dream. But when I get it, I don’t dash up here and start to write it. I’m very careful. I walk around it and look at it and sniff it and then see if I think it will go. Because once you start, you’re embarked on a year’s work and so it’s a big decision.

I had a kind of fascination with the thought that an apple-there’re a lot of apple trees around here, and fruit trees, and you can watch them through the summer getting bigger and bigger from a tiny little apple to bigger and bigger ones, and it seemed to me an obvious thought-what would happen if it didn’t stop growing? Why should it stop growing at a certain size? And this appealed to me and I thought this was quite a nice little idea and [then I had to think] of which fruit I should take for my story. I thought apple, pear, plum, peach. Peach is rather nice, a lovely fruit. It’s pretty and it’s big and it’s squishy and you can go into it and it’s got a big seen in the middle that you can play with. And so the story started.

My work routine is very simple and it’s always been so for the last 45 years. The great thing, of course, is never to work too long at a stretch, because after about two hours you are not at your highest peak of concentration, so you have to stop. Some writers choose certain times to write, others [choose] other times, and it suits me to start rather late. I start at 10 o’clock and I stop at 12. Always. However well I’m going, I will stay there until 12, even if I’m a bit stuck. You have to keep your bottom on the chair and stick it out. Otherwise, if you start getting in the habit of walking away, you’ll never get it done.

One of the vital things for a writer who’s writing a book, which is a lengthy project and is going to take about a year, is how to keep the momentum going. It is the same with a young person writing an essay. They have got to write four or five or six pages. But when you are writing it for a year, you go away and you have to come back. I never come back to a blank page; I always finish about halfway through. To be confronted with a blank page is not very nice. But Hemingway, a great American writer, taught me the finest trick when you are doing a long book, which is, he simply said in his own words, “When you are going good, stop writing.” And that means that if everything’s going well and you know exactly where the end of the chapter’s going to go and you know just what the people are going to do, you don’t go on writing and writing until you come to the end of it, because when you do, then you say, well, where am I going to go next? And you get up and you walk away and you don’t want to come back because you don’t know where you want to go. But if you stop when you are going good, as Hemingway said…then you know what you are going to say next. You make yourself stop, put your pencil down and everything, and you walk away. And you can’t wait to get back because you know what you want to say next and that’s lovely and you have to try and do that. Every time, every day all the way through the year. If you stop when you are stuck, the you are in trouble!

My lucky thing is I laugh at exactly the same jokes that children laugh at and that’s one reason I’m able to do it. I don’t sit out here roaring with laughter, but you have wonderful inside jokes all the time and it’s got to be exciting, it’s got to be fast, it’s got to have a good plot, but it’s got to be funny. It’s got to be funny. And each book I do is a different level of that. Oh, The Witches is quite different from The BFG or James [and the Giant Peach] or Danny [the Champion of the World]. The line between roaring with laughter and crying because it’s a disaster is a very, very fine one. You see a chap slip on a banana skin in the street and you roar with laughter when he falls slap on his backside. If in doing so you suddenly see he’s broken a leg, you very quickly stop laughing and it’s not a joke anymore. I don’t know, there’s a fine line and you just have to try to find it.

When you’re writing a book, with people in it as opposed to animals, it is no good have people who are ordinary, because they are not going to interest your readers at all. Every writer in the world has to use the characters that have something interesting about them, and this is even more true in children’s books. I find that the only way to make my characters really interesting to children is to exaggerate all their good or bad qualities, and so if a person is nasty or bad or cruel, you make them very nasty, very bad, very cruel. If they are ugly, you make them extremely ugly. That, I think, is fun and makes an impact.

You never describe any horrors happening, you just say that they do happen. Children who got crunched up in Willy Wonka’s chocolate machine were carries away and that was the end of it. When the parents screamed, “Where has he gone?” and Wonka said, “Well, he’s gone to be made into fudge,” that’s where you laugh, because you don’t see it happening, you don’t hear the child screaming or anything like that ever, ever, ever.

I wouldn’t live anywhere else except in the country, here. And, of course, if you live in the country, your work is bound to be influenced by it in a lot of ways, not pure fantasy like Charlie with chocolate factories, witches, and BFG’s, but the others that are influenced by everything around you. I suppose the one [book] that is most dependent purely on this countryside around here is Danny the Champion of the World, and I rather love that book. And when I was planning it, wondering where I was going to let Danny and his father live, all I had to do, I didn’t realize it, all I had to do was look around my own garden and there it was.

In the seven years of this glorious and golden decade [the 1930s], all the great classic chocolates were invented: the Crunchie, the Whole Nut bar, the Mars bar, the Black Magic assortment, Tiffin, Caramello, Aero, Malteser, the Quality Street assortment, Kit Kat, Rolo, and Smarties. In music the equivalent would be the golden age when compositions by Bach and Mozart and Beethoven were given to us. In painting it was the equivalent of the Renaissance in Italian art and the advent of the Impressionsists toward the end of the nineteenth century. In literature it was Tolstoy and Balzac and Dickens. I tell you, there has been nothing like it in the history of chocolate and there never will be.

I find what he said about writing being like a long, long walk through a landscape and not seeing the whole book until you're standing on a high hill at the end very encouraging. As I write things often I don't know what I'm doing -- or where I'm going -- only now at the end (I am ALMOST done with my last chapter!) do I see what is important (to me, anyhow!) in what I've written.

To Roald Dahl, "everything fit" (but maybe that was after rewriting?). I will have to take out some things and rewrite others in order for the whole landscape to work -- but that, as a friend said, is what revisions are for!

The idea of stopping for the day when you know what is going to happen next is one I had read before (in some Hemingway essay or biography). But Hemingway didn't explain it or admit the part about being stuck if you don't do it -- so I GET IT when Roald Dahl says it.

Hurray for Roald Dahl and children's books!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


It's definitely that time of year! Things have been crazy, at least for me as I've been finding the baby + book balance a hard juggle. But I made time for what has become a little tradition--having a booth at the RISD sale and meeting up with some of the BRG:

Hope to post more later!

Monday, December 10, 2012

"It Gets Better" and "Brown, Brown, and Little, Brown."


Okay, so unlike people who work at Random House, employees of Hachette Book Group are not all receiving a $5,000 bonus this year. But I really can't complain (plus, I was here during the heyday of The Twilight Saga, and one year we all received a nice additional bonus).

I do so love working at Hachette Book Group--in fact, I often joke that I've "drunk the Kool-aid"--but really, we're not a cult! I promise!

I love Hachette Book group for things like this:

This was an employee-driven project that had full support of our CEO and management. We had a nice event in the office to premiere the video for employees, and there were many wet eyes in the room when the video ended (my own included). So touching and powerful and brave.

The previous week, we had another wonderful company event, "Brown, Brown and Little, Brown" where we invited author and illustrators Marc Brown and Peter Brown to speak about books, art, and life. Our Senior Art Director Patti Ann Harris was the gracious emcee, and it was an entertaining and inspiring event. Topics ranged from what book inspired them as a kid (Where the Wild Things Are for Marc, and The Rainbow Goblins for Peter), who would play them in a movie about their life (Divine for Marc, Ryan Gosling for Peter), and more. Then we played a quick game of Pictionary using book titles (Marc had to draw The Hunger Games, Peter drew A Clockwork Orange). Photos courtesy of Lisa Moraleda:
Peter Brown and Marc Brown, together for the first time!
Pictionary! Guess the title?
me, Peter, Patti Ann Harris, Megan Tingley, and Marc
Marc signing TEN TINY TOES, Peter signing YOU WILL BE MY FRIEND!
This event was the brainchild of our Executive Editorial Director of Picture Books, Liza Baker. Alas, because of Hurricane Sandy, this event had been rescheduled, so she was on maternity leave (she just welcomed her third child to the world!) and couldn't be there, but she was able to watch remotely from home.

Events like this keep us all inspired, and remind us what it is we're working for--even in the busiest of times, I think it's important to make time to remember.

Hope everyone's holiday season is peaceful and happy!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

RISD Holiday Art Sale this Saturday

Grace and I will be selling books and prints (and possibly ornaments if I can finish them in time!) at the RISD Holiday Art Sale this Saturday at the Rhode Island Convention Center from 10:00-5:00 pm. Come say hello and do a little shopping if you're in the area!