Monday, August 31, 2009

Stand by

Stand by for a book launch tomorrow!

It won't be an ear-splitting roar over in two seconds---more like a gathering of excitement over the next few weeks---but I'll be adding content to my Operation Yes book site, giving away signed copies and other prizes, and participating in a Twitter Book Party. A spectacular teacher's guide for Operation Yes is in the works, written and designed by the talented Natalie Lorenzi. And Cheryl and I are cooking up some crazy jody call contest . . . (!!!)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Poetry Friday: If I Had a Boat

I can't believe I've never posted about Lyle Lovett on a Poetry Friday. I love him. And "If I Had a Boat" is one of my favorite "be happy" songs of all time.

Listen to the opening verse; it isn't a song for kids, but it has the perfect circling rhythm of a kids' chant, and the unguarded feel of someone who hasn't yet learned to rein in his wish-making.

If I had a boat
I'd go out on the ocean
And if I had a pony
I'd ride him on my boat
And we could all together
Go out on the ocean
Me upon my pony on my boat

...and then it ends with:

And if I were like lightning
I wouldn't need no sneakers
I'd come and go wherever I would please
And I'd scare 'em by the shade tree
And I'd scare 'em by the light pole
But I would not scare my pony on my boat out on the sea

And if I had a boat
I'd go out on the ocean
And if I had a pony
I'd ride him on my boat
And we could all together
Go out on the ocean
Me upon my pony on my boat
I've often tried to puzzle out why I love this song so. I don't like boats or ponies, at least not enough to own either of them. But Lyle re-opens the door to thinking about what I want, what I'd wish for, if I could remember how it was before I knew there were limits to what I could have. It's a great place from which to write children's fiction.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Kate Coombs at Book Aunt

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Promises and Light

Got children? Or need a hilarious plot point?

Then you should catch up with my friend Donna, who makes me laugh out loud with new school year snippets like this:

"(My son) was all in a rage because apparently, the student body president was elected at the end of the school year last year, and he ran on the platform that he would get boys only hot tubs in the teachers lounge for this year. He was so disappointed that it didn't pan out."
Ha ha ha ha!! I'm wondering why the "boys only" hot tubs would be in the TEACHERS LOUNGE??

Donna also had a beautiful piece in the Raleigh-Durham News and Observer yesterday about a magical childhood moment near the Cape Hatteras lighthouse with her dad. Read it, and think about which moment sweeps over you again and again.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Two things to share

I confess: I'm going to the outlets today with my daughter instead of working. She needs boots for her semester in Ireland, and I need . . . well, I don't need anything, but I'm happy to give her my opinion on heel heights and synthetic linings and roundness of toes. (Shoe shopping is such a perfect social activity to do while talking with a friend. No dressing rooms to interrupt the flow of chatter. Something for everyone, from the practical to the ridiculous to the sublime.)

But before I go, I have two things to share:

The dynamic duo at A Year of Reading are hosting an online writing gallery for the NCTE's National Day on Writing Celebration. What a fabulous idea! Here's what they're looking for, but read their whole post for the full scoop.


Members of the Kidlitosphere are invited to submit stories from their reading lives. Your submission can be an anecdote from childhood, a recent experience around books or reading, a memory from school (good or bad), a vignette about learning to read, the impact of a particular book--anything about your life as a reader.

We are looking for a variety of short pieces (think blog post length) from anyone in the Kidlitosphere, including bloggers, authors, illustrators, readers of blogs, etc.

Yes, I think that means they want to hear from EVERYONE with something to say about being a reader. Get going!

Secondly, if you're an author who lives anywhere near the East Coast, MotherReader makes an eloquent case for why YOU want to come to the Kidlitosphere Conference on October 17th. (Other than to see me, of course. I'll be there, speaking on a panel and helping Pam herd author cats. I'll go shoe shopping with you, too, if you want.)

Off to find the perfect pair!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Higher Learning

We're taking my son to college today, and I'm wondering how his mind and heart will be changed by the next four years. All I know is that I won't be there to direct it, and that's a good thing. At least I think so when I read this poem by Billy Collins---which seems to capture the absurd twists, high pleasure and zig-zaggy fun of finding things out for yourself.

by Billy Collins

I might as well begin by saying how much I like the title.

It gets me right away because I’m in a workshop now

so immediately the poem has my attention,

like the Ancient Mariner grabbing me by the sleeve.

And I like the first couple of stanzas,

the way they establish this mode of self-pointing

that runs through the whole poem

and tells us that words are food thrown down

on the ground for other words to eat.

I can almost taste the tail of the snake

in its own mouth,

if you know what I mean.

But what I’m not sure about is the voice,

which sounds in places very casual, very blue jeans,

but other times seems standoffish,

professorial in the worst sense of the word

like the poem is blowing pipe smoke in my face.

But maybe that’s just what it wants to do.

What I did find engaging were the middle stanzas,

especially the fourth one.

I like the image of clouds flying like lozenges

which gives me a very clear picture.

And I really like how this drawbridge operator

just appears out of the blue

with his feet up on the iron railing

and his fishing pole jigging—I like jigging—

a hook in the slow industrial canal below.

I love slow industrial canal below. All those l’s.

Maybe it’s just me,

but the next stanza is where I start to have a problem.

Read the rest or listen to Billy Collins read it here

Poetry Friday is hosted today by The Boy Reader.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

There should be laughter

A year ago, I blogged about Jon Scieszka's antics at the National Book Festival. Last Christmas, I stuffed a copy of Jon's book, Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Mostly True Stories of Growing Up Scieszka into my husband's Christmas stocking (which I mailed to him in Afghanistan.) Finally, finally, last week, as we drove up for Emily's funeral, I got to read it for myself.

Oh, my freakin' word. I found myself laughing, hiccup giggling, chortling, goofball grinning, and flat-out ENVIOUS of Scieszka's impeccable comic timing.

Here's a taste of the rhythm of his prose as he writes about birth order politics in a family of six boys:

"Jim and I had to sign up for everything. We were Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, altar boys, and choir boys.

Jim (#1) was driven to be first in everything. He was an Eagle Scout, Head Choir Boy, Chief Altar Boy, and class president.

I (#2) made it to Life Scout, just below Eagle Scout. I was in the choir for a couple of years. And I knew our class president.

Tom (#3) was in Cub Scouts for a few years, wearing Jim's pants that were too short for him. He joined the choir for one year. Was an altar boy for another year. And had heard there was a class president."

And then there is the chapter that opens with

"I learned how to cook because I like to stir oatmeal more than I like to pick up dog poop."

And the chapter with a setup like this:

"It was so cold that we had an electric space heater to use sometimes in the winter. The twisty metal coils on the heater had a great orange glow when they got hot. Just like the fires we would build with Dad out at the lake.

I guess that's what made me and Jim think we could put out the heater the same way we put out the fires at the lake---by peeing on it."

I think my favorite story, though, is when Jon has to write down every swear word he knows for his nun teacher. Without really swearing, of course. (Psst! Page 86, if you're furtively reading this book in a bookstore somewhere.)

I know humor has a low-rent reputation as less worthy than literary fiction---a complaint we could air as often as gorilla armpits and still not get rid of the condescending smell. But----agents are dying to represent humorous books. Editors crave them. Kids love them. I love them. In fact, after raving about Knucklehead to my family, I went so far as to declare with bombastic fervor that "EVERY book for kids should have some humor in it."

Recently, as part of a fun meme, I listed 15 movies that "stuck with me." The hysterical Bill Murray classic, What About Bob? was on that roster, right along with Shakespeare in Love. (Wait a minute! SIL is funny too!)

And if I had to list 15 kids' books that stuck with me, you can bet that hilarious books like Scieszka's Knucklehead would get their due. (Maybe because of his tale of a pecan log barfing kitty in a hot car filled with six boys. Now that's sticky.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Give sorrow words

“Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers the o'er-fraught heart, and bids it break." ~William Shakespeare

That quote was a tweet from TAPS4America yesterday. I've been struggling with how to resume blogging here, battling the "what does it matter?" blues. But that quote made me think: if I don't speak about Emily's funeral here on the blog, then I won't be able to keep writing here at all. And I want to keep in honest communication with you. So . . .

a few things I have words for:

Emily was buried with treasures she loved, including a purple hot wheels car, both halves of an "I love you/I love you more" necklace, and a tattered copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

My brother ended his eulogy with this laugh-inducing tribute: when the rest of us get to heaven, Emily will greet us with a brilliant smile and sing out: "Hi, peeps! It's Emily! Heaven is so coolio!"

This was my son's first funeral. We sat together and talked about life and death and love. Emily made that conversation possible, her first of many blessings to me after her passing.

Flying Horse Farms, a "magical, transforming and fun" camp for kids with serious illnesses, will open for family campers next fall. Emily and her dad were scheduled to speak at the groundbreaking ceremony, but Emily was too weak to go, and my brother tried to stay home with her. Emily would have none of it. She insisted that he attend, and he shared her words with those gathered: "Dad, there is no best part of camp. It's ALL good."

Then, on their last drive from the hospital in Cinncinnati to her home in Cleveland, my brother pulled over the car at the groundbreaking site. Again, Emily was too weak to leave the car. But she saw where the camp would be, just as she saw how the world could be different, a world without childhood cancer, and worked to make that world come to life, just like the magic in her beloved books.

Above one of the stalls in the Flying Horse Farms stable will be the name of Emily Lewis.

Kids can change the world. Emily did. She still is.

Thank you for listening.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Youth in Philanthropy

My niece, Emily, passed away this weekend. She was twelve years old, and in each of those years, she was dearly loved.

She also gave love joyfully and so freely that about a month ago, the Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital paid her a visit to issue a special proclamation, which read:

University Hospitals
Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital
Official Proclamation

Whereas, Emily Lewis and her Family have been energetic and passionate supporters of Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital;
Whereas, Emily Lewis has been an inspiration to us all;
Whereas, it is appropriate to celebrate Emily with an award named in her honor;
It is with great pleasure that we hereby announce the creation of the

Emily Lewis Youth in Philanthropy Award At Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital

This award is to be given annually to a youth who demonstrates Emily’s awesome qualities of enthusiasm, spirit and zest for life in philanthropic support of Rainbow’s Children.

In witness whereof, this Proclamation is memorialized at Cleveland, Ohio this first day of July 2009.

Signed by Michael J Farrell President of Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and Kim Pesses President of Rainbow Babies & Children’s Foundation.

Emily loved animals, reading, horseback riding, skiing, music, dance, school, going to camp, volunteering at church and having lots of friends. In lieu of flowers, please make a contribution to Flying Horse Farms, 225 Green Meadows Drive South, Suite A, Lewis Center, Ohio, 43035

Friday, August 7, 2009

Poetry Friday: Looking them in the eye

I don't like eels. They make me shudder. They are so alien I can't pity them. I can't even dredge up a desire to observe them for the sake of understanding their off-putting power.

So as I watched this slideshow of drawings by author and artist James Prosek, I was delighted to see his watercolors of birds, his first "obsession" from the age of nine. Then he moved on to trout, rendering them in beautiful swirls of color and exquisite details. Just as I was about to laud him for making me care about fish, not just as creatures, but as a spiritual guides, he declares himself to be obsessed with EELS.

Okay. Let me deal with this. He says the eel is "a rare creature that has kept a large part of its mystery from human beings." Certainly, it's kept any allure from me. And me from it. Not Mr. Prosek, though. He's working on a book about them.

I hope his book might do for me what the following poem by Harry Clifton doesn't. It's not that I don't appreciate this poem; it's that it makes me even more aware of how unknowable an eel is. How unknowable most alien things are. Especially if you can't bear to look them in the eye.

The Eel
by Harry Clifton

In the crowded yard, in the oily blue smoke
Of an eel supper, the eel looks on.

He is home for the summer. She is home for the summer,
Metamorphosing, the one in the other,

Androgynous, ambivalent, slipping in and out
Of the local, the universal,

Reading about itself, in the Book of the Eel,
As a disappearing species,

The rest is here.

Please do go watch James Prosek's slideshow. It's incredibly beautiful, plus there's a whole podcast from Speaking of Faith that goes with it, in which he reflects on "preserving the sources of our awe and inspiration." He almost has me believing that me and eels could come to terms.

James Prosek also has this children's book out:

Maybe I should start there.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Look what's here!

From left to right: Beautiful, amazing, shiny, incredible, first-I've-ever-seen hardback copy of Operation Yes; back of promotional postcard with stellar flap copy on it; front of promotional postcard with same glorious cover on it; pinch-me-I'm-going-to-be-in-the-Scholastic-Book-Fair edition.

And if that's not enough, here are the two blurbs that appear on the back cover of the hardback edition:

"Transformative, inspirational, and just plain fun, Operation Yes is a book that not only nudges readers to look around and ask 'Where am I?' but may just give them the courage to create answers all their own." --- Linda Urban, author of A Crooked Kind of Perfect

"Operation Yes grabbed me on page one---how I would have loved to have been a student in Room 208! Sara Lewis Holmes provides a heartfelt and honest look inside the lives of military families with an unforgettable cast of characters. There's only one word for this book: Yes!" --- Barbara O'Connor, author of How to Steal a Dog

Would now be a good time to tell you that the blog and website for Operation Yes is up and running?

Come see me!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I always looked for the little atomic symbol on the spine

As someone who ate up speculative fiction as a kid, I love this announcement from the newly designed SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) site:

AboutSF works to match donors with places that cater to young people, the future generation of science fiction readers. You can donate or receive books and magazine subscriptions. Suggest the following as a recipient if you would like to see them get books and magazines:

A school librarian.

A public librarian.

A youth center director or volunteer.

Your local school library or other youth organization.

An individual 17 or younger who would like a free SF novel or magazine subscription.

Is that not great? You can list your library or youth organization, and a SF writer or reader might send books to you, just because. And if you are such a writer or reader, DONATE to the list.

Hey, Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Boys! Don't you want to be on this list? (And if you run a book fair for girls, them, too, of course!)

P.S. All four of us in my family finished Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? We can now use kipple correctly in a sentence.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Finding Adventure

I'm ruined. I spent too much time outside, hiking and biking and rope course teetering in the shadow of mountains like this:

Garmisch-Partenkirchen is one of my favorite places on earth. In the 2 1/2 years we were stationed in Germany, we went here at least five times. But we had to go back. For one thing, the Partnachklamm (Partnach Gorge) is there, and I'll never tire of walking beside its roar through the dim tunnels and ledges that make up the trail. Maybe it's the writer in me, but I always get the sensation that I'm IN a story---a very, very good one where there is danger and bold deeds and something to be won if you persevere.

Onward and inward!

Yes, you will get wet.

And then there was more hiking and biking and kayaking and swimming and chilling on a boat in a place I'd never been before: Croatia. Oh, my. Mountains AND water.

Can you make out the name of our boat? It's Bozidar, "Gift From God." And it was.

I was so glad not to be on a cruise ship like the one in the background, but instead on our 100 year old beauty, crewed by accomplished sailors, one of whom made the best cappuccino I've ever had. The kids leapt from the top of the deck,

while I discovered that that same deck was the perfect place to read.

And in both countries, we ate as if we'd never had food before, on patios, decks, and balconies. Food like this,
eaten high up on a mountain, after hiking for two hours, served on a civilized tablecloth-bedecked table with beer and massive cake for dessert. Then on to hike some more.

In Croatia, there were meals that lasted three hours---through the sunset and beyond---because there's always room for one more platter of giant prawns right? (Seriously, one night, after seemingly fifty courses, the whole group burst out laughing when the prawns arrived. REALLY? What were we, a NFL team in training?)

But really, the best part was that I just lived. No writing, no blogging, no mental blogging, no processing. Just absorbing, listening, smelling, tasting, feeling, walking, sleeping, climbing, laughing, talking. There were times on trains when people chatted away around me and I LOVED not knowing what they were saying. It's freeing, being a stranger and an outsider and an observer. Like that is your job.

Which, as a writer, it is.

Now it's time to engage again. I may be ruined forever, but I think I'm also ready. Adventure awaits!