Friday, February 26, 2010

Poetry Friday: Get Your Seuss On

On Wednesday, I did my first Skype visit with a school, for their Book Fair and Literacy Night. My favorite part? When the kids came to the computer and asked me questions, things like: "What's your favorite Olympic sport?" and "Can you write a book in a day?" and "Are there really little green army men in your book?"

So much curiosity. So much energy. So much fun.

Which brings me to today's Poetry Friday selection.

Tuesday, March 2, is Dr. Seuss's birthday, and in elementary schools all over America, that means it's also Read Across America Day, a day to go wild and crazy about reading. There will be Green Eggs and Ham eating, Horton Hears a Who elephant trumpeting, Cat in the Hat jigs, and even some Hop on Pop Hopscotch.

And, if schools are savvy, lots and lots of poetry writing. There's something about the rhythm and wacky logic of Seuss's rhyming cadence that frees a writer of any age to get zany.

I'm sure you can find evidence of this poetic hurly-burly all over the Internet, but today, I'm pointing you to some third graders who got their Seuss on.  Here are some snippets of their poems about unusual pets.

I like to take hairs out of heads.
And I keep them on all my pink beds.


Every day I feed him my teachers,
And all of my crazy cool creatures.


It floats in a bubble
The only thing it says is subtle.

I've wondered at times about how my work of writing books for kids and my recreational love of poetry fit together. But in reading this article which mentioned Dr. Seuss, I came across Robert Frost's definition of poetry as "serious play."

OH. Right. Yes.

Too often for me,  literature has divided itself into separate camps: The Serious Camp. And the Play Camp. (Translated: "literary" and "commercial" fiction.)

Sorry. I don't want to choose. I need/crave/desire both the profound and the playful. Poetry does it for me. Kids' books do it for me, too.

So go ahead. Get your Seuss on with me.  Lots of ways to do that here. Or at the very least, open your life up to some "serious play." (Olympic snowboarder Shaun White's McTwist 1260 comes to mind.)

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Jone at Check It Out.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A TeRIFfic Visit to Reading is Fundamental: Part One

On Monday, I was privileged to visit the offices of Reading is Fundamental. On their website, RIF is described as "the nation's largest children's literary organization," but that doesn't begin to convey how exciting it was to tour the office of RIF's CEO, the delightful Carol Rasco, or to speak with her dedicated staff about Operation Yes and military families. 

You can get a flavor of the visit by savoring this:

A LGM cupcake! With sprinkles!

This is me and Carol Rasco, in her book-jammed office.
 I could've poked about her shelves for hours. 
She also blogs, if you haven't found her posts at Rasco from RIF yet. 
(And she tweets, which is how we "met" for the first time.)

The Miss Frizzle doll caught my eye. Our family was (and is) crazy about Miss Frizzle and the Magic Schoolbus books. (I think "the Friz" might be the reason my kids are both studying science in college.) But look closely and you'll see another Miss Frizzle in the framed photograph. That's Carol Rasco! 

More of Carol's incredible bookshelves

Artwork from kids

A character tree on Carol's desk

The view (and more books!)

"How will this decision affect children?" 
How would the world be different if EVERYONE had this slogan up in their office?

Recognize some favorites?

Carol is sending more pictures from my talk with her staff, and then I'll blog that as well. More soon!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Poetry Friday: Red Sings From the Treetops

White, white, white.

After weeks of snow here, that's all I can see.

 But Joyce Sidman owns a different set of eyes.

In the winter dawn,
Pink blooms
over pastel hills.

Pink prickles:
warm fingers
against cold cheeks.

and a few pages later:

Where is Green in winter?
Green darkens, shrinks,
stiffens into needles.
Green waits
in the hearts of trees,
the earth

--From Red Sings From the Treetops, written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski.

Red Sings From the Treetops is the winner of the 2009 Cybils poetry award, given to a poetry book that is both literary and filled with "kid appeal." I was honored to be part of the final round of discussion.

From the Cybils announcement:

Observation, discovery, connection . . . Red Sings From the Treetops embodies everything poetry is meant to be. The vivid words of poet Joyce Sidman -- which are fresh even when writing about the oldest of concepts, color -- and the gloriously hue-soaked pictures of illustrator Pamela Zagarenski combine to create a poetry book that is both thoughtful and exuberant.
Readers can hunt for small details in the sweep of larger images and thrill to a-ha! moments of discovery. They can read the book as one full, circular story or as a series of individual, eye-opening poems. Either way, the beauty of this book will leave them feeling connected to something larger than themselves.

Well-done, Joyce and Pamela.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Irene Latham.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Poetry Friday: The Impossibility of February

First, a reminder for all fans of great children's poetry:

The winner of the Cybils Poetry category is announced this Sunday, February 14. I was honored to be a second round judge, and I can promise that you will love the winner (and all the finalists, too.)

Now, on to the Poetry Friday challenge for today. Last year, around Valentine's Day, Tricia prodded us to write a love poem without using "love" words.  I took the bait.

This year, I had to make up my own challenge. An ode to February.

I know; I know. February is impossible.

Oh, February, oh February!

You make my heart sing, you do,
were it not for blinding blizzards and the swiniest of flu.

Oh, February, far too short the days
to count the shades of grayest grays

you send me, year after weary year.
If I were you, I'd watch my back, dear;

such nuanced love cannot last
before I exchange you for something less overcast.

Oh, February, love is patient, love is kind;
love doesn't leave you disinclined

to climb from underneath the warmest covers
to join the bitterest, iciest, and brutalist of lovers

on the barren street, no less! to watch how much snow
you can blow and blow and blow---some beau

you are. But how can I call it quits
when you bite my cheeks and grab my wrists

kissing color into my frozen face---
Oh, February, let's March on apace!

               ---Sara Lewis Holmes

Sickened by that sappy stuff? Then head over to The Pursuit of Happiness blog and snuggle up to Maira Kalman's poem in words and pictures, The Impossibility of February.

The Poetry Friday roundup today is hosted by the ever warm and friendly Lee Wind at

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Free Children's Book Writing Conference"

Author Fran Slayton calls it a "free children's book writing conference." See why.

P.S. I'll be on this panel, Saturday, March 20th:

(10 a.m.) Terrific Kids’ Novels Adults Will Love Too  (Moderated by SCBWI member and author Barbara Kanninen)

If you are writing for middle graders, this is the panel for you! Operation Yes is a finalist for the Cybil Award; When the Whistle Blows and The Last Newspaper Boy in America were in numerous Mock Newbery programs around the country; and Mockingbird and Leaving Gee’s Bend are getting great buzz prior to their upcoming releases. Come listen to these authors read from their works, discuss publication, and talk about all things middle grade writers need to know!

Fran Cannon Slayton (WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS)
Kathy Erskine (MOCKINGBIRD)
Sara Lewis Holmes (OPERATION YES)

and I'll be moderating this one:

(2 p.m.) Land Ho! Creating New Worlds in Any Genre  (Moderated by SCBWI member and author Sara Lewis Holmes)

Whether you’re writing fantasy, historical or contemporary fiction, world-building is part of your craft. Come listen to five authors discuss how to build believable, memorable worlds that readers will love falling into.

Suzanne Morgan Williams (BULL RIDER)
Keri Mikulski (SCREWBALL)
Stacy Nyikos (DRAGON WISHES)
Barrie Summy (I SO DON’T DO SPOOKY)

In between, I'll be listening to all the other great discussions. Thanks to authors Anne Marie Pace and Fran Cannon Slayton for organizing this booktastic day.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

How Long?

"A novel must be exceptionally good to live as long as the average cat."
~ Hugh Maclennan

See the Cynsations blog for an interview with Leonard Marcus on what makes a book "stand the test of time." I don't think it has to do with cats, although Millions of Cats sure has. And Time Cat. And Catwings.  

Also, apparently, the ex libris art of bookplates often outlives the books in which they are pasted (in terms of collector value.)  Thanks to Gurney Journey for the link.

Finally, in addition to Jama's rich feast of a post about Charles Dickens last week, I was intrigued by this article in the Guardian: Why are we still reading Dickens? I like the answer given there---of course, it's about his characters---but I have to add it's also because of the freakin' great names he gave those characters: Smallweed, Jeremiah Flintwinch, Wackford Squeers, Pip, Uriah Heep . . . was there ever a writer so gifted at the insidious power of the aptly bestowed name? 

(By the way, the writer of the Guardian article calls these sort of names aptronyms. Although it may not give my book as many lives as a cat is entitled to, it was a technique I tried to use, but not overdo, in christening a few of the characters in the somewhat large-casted drama that is Operation Yes.)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Poetry Friday: Relearning Winter

With another gigantic snowstorm barreling towards D.C., and forecasters tossing around predictions like "3 to 4 inches an hour," I'd like to say something to Winter.  I'm not sure that something would be "hello," but Mark Svenvold's poem is a bit more open-minded than I am at this point.

(True story: yesterday, when I called a feed supply store on the rumor that they had snow shovels in stock, the clerk said: "No, but we have pitchforks." Bwhahaha! Then again, maybe she was serious. Can one hold off a blizzard by threatening it with something stabby?)

Relearning Winter
by Mark Svenvold

Hello Winter, hello flanneled
blanket of clouds, clouds
fueled by more clouds, hello again.

Hello afternoons,
off to the west, that sliver
of sunset, rust-colored
and gone too soon.

And night (I admit to a short memory)
you climb back in with chilly fingers
and clocks, and there is no refusal:
ice cracks the water main, the garden hose
stiffens, the bladed leaves of the rhododendron
shine in the fog of a huge moon.

the rest is here

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Great Kid Books

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Flame on!

Anne Marie Pace pointed me to this piece in the Washington Post on celebrities re-recording "We are the World" as a fundraiser for Haiti ---and she mentioned how inspiring it was to read about Barbara Streisand rehearsing for 30 minutes for a 10 second solo.

What I fixated on was this line from the producer:

"This is like running through hell with gasoline underpants," Jones said.

Writing is like that sometimes too. Flame on!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Austin: Or why I want to go back!

I'm never going to be a reporter. It takes me too long to process events and decide what I'd like to say about them. 

Thank goodness for more pictures to get my thoughts going.

Cheryl Klein and I, as we begin our conversation
 about the editor/author relationship.

Despite having only met Cheryl in person the night before, I felt at home talking with her on a stage in front of 200 people. In fact, conversations are my favorite sort of "presentation." I find it easier than in a prepared speech to confess my weaknesses, to admit to being overwhelmed by editorial letters, and to share how unsure I was at the beginning of our collaboration on Operation Yes of how this particular editor/author relationship would go. But obviously---do you see my smiling face in that picture??---I love working with Cheryl, and that extends to speaking with her as well.

 Nathan Bransford, Stacy Cantor, Andrea Cascardi, 
Kirby Larson, me, Marla Frazee, and Lisa Graff
(Dang, we look good for 6:45 in the morning)

How I love getting to meet fellow authors and book creators! 

It was great to re-connect with Lisa Graff, who I'd met through Caroline Hickey, and remember how fabulously goofy she is. And because of her talk, I will always picture myself in a Seuss hat while writing, and a construction hat while editing. I also bought her latest book, Umbrella Summer, and was lucky enough to have her sign it. I peeked at the first page on the plane home, and wow! What a masterful first paragraph. I can't wait to savor the whole book. (She said she wrote 14 or 15 complete drafts of it. Now that's crazy/inspiring.)

I was also charmed by Kirby Larson, who I'd met before at the L.A. conference when she warm-heartedly invited me to sit and have coffee with her. Her act of kindness this time was giving me a signed copy of Nubs: The True Story of a Marine and a Miracle, which I've been coveting since it was published and wanting to take on school visits when I talk about Operation Yes. Thank you, Kirby!

Marla Frazee and I had also briefly met in L.A., mostly because I was gushing to her about how wonderful her co-creator of All the World was---my friend, Liz Scanlon. But on this visit, I really got to hang out with her, compare boots, lust after her (and Liz's) curly hair, share thoughts on running (she's against my ever doing it again) and see an early copy of The Boss Baby. I LOVE Boss Baby. I want to bust out laughing every time I see his suit-like pajamas and his angry eyebrows--- and then pick him up and squeeze him tight. Seriously, this is a picture book that I predict will sell like Boss Baby himself was in charge.

Critiquing manuscripts

More about how inspiring it is to read another writer's work later. But in short, looking closely at the words of other writers always teaches me something about my own writing---and often, it's exactly what I need to break through a block.     

With the ever-smiling Varian Johnson
 and illustrator portfolio coordinator, Mark Mitchell

Book signing

Book signings are sooooo much nicer when done in the company of other writers and with chocolate on the tables, don't you think so?

I remembered to bring my silver pen, 
the one that enables me to write 
on the black "chalkboard" of Operation Yes

Thank you, Austin conference organizers! I want to come back for the Texas Book Festival. (Just saying!)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Adventures in Austin

I'm back from Austin, and let me tell you, it's hard to get my boots back on the ground. The organizers of the SCBWI Destination Publication Conference should run the world. If they did, I'd get driven/escorted/herded through my day by fabulously funny, warm and lovely people and I'm sure I'd be out of my pajamas by now.  (Although, I have to say that if I ate barbecue and Cheetos and Texas Longhorn chocolate on a regular basis, I would ONLY be able to wear pajamas...and sleep.)

If you need details pronto you should check out Kirby Larson's post and Texas Sweetheart P.J. Hoover's report.

As for me, today it's pictures only.

reading All the World
(The two page spread of "All the world is old and new" makes me cry every time.)

PJ (Tricia) Hoover shows me the fur coats hanging in this innocent looking wardrobe at the home of Austin SCBWI Wonderful People Meredith and Clay Davis.

I decide to investigate.

Where did I go?


I return, Queen Sara.

More later, friends...