August 17, 2014
Do you see it? Look closely. On the left. It's the very first beginning-to-ripen tomato of the season. This particular type of tomato plant is called "Early Girl," and all I can say is that if the middle of August makes a tomato "early" then I will never again feel guilty for being late. My tomato plants are doing terrifically this year, and I can't remember when I've had so much fruit on each plant—but the fruit is all green! At this rate, I'll be harvesting my crop in the middle of November. All of which makes me think of writing historical fiction. I know, I know, that's a bit of a leap, but not really. Every year, I decide I'm not going to grow tomatoes. They require too much effort and they take too long! And besides, I have a fabulous farmstand just two blocks from my house.
Why bother? But every year, at the last minute, I find myself planting those little seedlings and dreaming of the most perfect summer pasta sauce that has ever been made. It's a dream in my head, that sauce, but I can't resist going after it. The same is true of historical fiction. It takes forever to write! It's hard! I'm never doing it again! And then, that picture comes into my head of that perfect story, set in the past, and told in just the right way. Next thing I know, I'm planting seedlings...and dreaming of the harvest.
August 15, 2014
Could I be more excited to announce this good news about FIREFLY JULY? No, I don't think I could. I'm fairly bursting. FIREFLY JULY: A YEAR OF VERY SHORT POEMS, selected by Paul Janeczko and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, has been named the 2014 Children's Book winner of the New England Book Awards by the New England Independent Booksellers Association (NEIBA). The book includes delicious, bite-size poems about the four seasons and has received gobs of praise, including three starred reviews. The New York Times had this to say about Melissa's artwork: "Sweet’s spectacular mixed-media illustrations seem poised to break free from the book’s large pages. They are alternately delicate and bold, mistily atmospheric and scorchingly bright. Her touch combines the rigor of a mature artist and the scratchy abandon of a child. Best of all, they illuminate the poetry with genuine wit, intelligence and emotion. They are poems come to life." Amen to that! Melissa, as you may know, illustrated my picture book biography of John James Audubon, THE BOY WHO DREW BIRDS. She is spectacular, in every way. Congratulations on the award!
July 28, 2014
Okay, this entry has nothing to do with writing (except that everything has to do with writing), but I was out in my garden this morning—uprooting old plants, turning things over, and simply mucking around—when I disturbed a Creature. I've been disturbing a lot of Creatures over the past few weeks because I've been digging up old flower beds, creating a couple of borders around the sides of the house, and all in all messing things up. So far, I've startled a rabbit, greatly perturbed a mole, and now this toad. He really wasn't sure what to do about me. First he hopped madly in one direction, then he changed his mind and hopped madly in the other direction, then he stood stock still in front of the Astilbe I had just finished planting. To all these Creatures, I offer my most sincere apologies. Change is hard. But sometimes, good things grow. I hope you'll create new homes in and around the planting I've done and be happy.
July 25, 2014
Hey, it's my birthday! Isn't that great? I love birthdays, and this one had a special treat because my daughter came home from sleep-away camp for a couple of days (before heading back up to camp; I know it's weird how they divide up the two sessions!). So it's a joy to see her, and we will celebrate with lots of gabbing, dinner out, and maybe a movie—if we can agree on what to see. (Unlikely!) When I picked her up this morning, I met one of her camp counselors, who is also a fifth-grade teacher (sort of like a super-hero: camp counselor by day, fifth-grade teacher by night), and she told me that she teaches the whole series of The Lemonade War books with her class. How wonderful to hear! And on my birthday! It is a GOOD day.
July 24, 2014
You may remember that I had the great pleasure of meeting author Erica Perl at IRA New Orleans back in May. She and I were both speaking at the conference, and I popped into her session to say a quick hello. Well, you can imagine how excited I was to see that she has a new book out this summer: GOATILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS. Not surprisingly, this is a retelling of a certain well-known story. Now truth be told, I'm very picky about retellings! So many of them fall flat, relying on a single joke, and riding on the coattails of the original without offering something new. But this story really delivers. It's funny, fresh, and can stand on its own, which means you won't get bored reading it over and over. I think it's hysterical, and I've read it three times already. Be sure to check it out for yourself, and in the meantime, enjoy the book trailer below. (It's funny; I'm not kid-ding.)
July 21, 2014
A very fun event tonight: a booksigning—and I got to relax because I was NOT the author. The "Author of the Hour" was the talented, intelligent, and vivacious Padma Venkatraman, whose newest book, A TIME TO DANCE, was recently released. She was speaking and signing books at the Robbins Library in Arlington, Massachusetts, and it was a great treat to hear about the genesis of this story. It's about Veda, a young girl in India who "lives and breathes dance" but then suffers a terrible accident that threatens her career. It was fascinating to hear the connections between the fictional story and Padma's own life, particularly a memory that Padma had of being bitten by a venomous snake (yikes!) that caused her leg to swell alarmingly. Padma is always full of energy and is a thoroughly engaging storyteller. If you have the chance to see her at any of her events, do go! I'm so looking forward to reading this story, which has a completely smashing cover.
July 4, 2014
Today, our country celebrates it's 238th birthday (did I do that math right??), and this year Houghton Mifflin Harcourt celebrates its 150th anniversary. Hurray for HMH! They're a wonderful publisher, and I feel lucky to be one of their authors. You can read a terrific article about this venerable house in Publishers Weekly. At the end of the article is a listing of HMH's top ten all-time bestselling children's novels, and I am proud to have The LEMONADE WAR included on that list along with some of my all-time favorite titles and authors. Happy sesquicentennial HMH—(do you like saying that word as much as I do??)—and to the next 150 years of great literature for kids.
July 3, 2014
How great are these book covers?!? These two books are THE LEMONADE WAR (left) and THE LEMONADE CRIME (right) translated into simple Chinese. I love the bright colors and fun graphics. The backgrounds are like colorful wallpapers. So different from the American covers (which I also love). My son asked, "Why didn't they just leave the covers the same and translate the words?" I thought about that and figured that both words and visuals require translation across cultures. It's an interesting thing to consider, how an image might not "read" the same in a different country. Every translation of the Lemonade War books has a wildly different cover, so it's interesting to think about the different decoding that goes on when readers confront those different images.
July 2, 2014
Did you see the cover story in this Saturday's Boston Globe G Magazine? It's a terrific article on Boston as a center for writing for children. "Make Way for Boston: The City is Among the Leaders in Young Adult and Children's Books," by Joseph P. Kahn points out the ways in which the city follows its tradition in children's publishing but also leads the way into the future. Within the article there's a quiz you can take to test your knowledge of the children's publishing world. And guess what book title is included in Question #10's fill-in-the-blank? For answers to the quiz, scroll to the bottom of the on-line link. Have fun!
July 1, 2014
I woke up this morning, and even before I got out of bed I realized that all the writing I had done yesterday had to be thrown out. That's right. Not revised. Not reworked. Just chucked. It's not that the writing was bad or that it wasn't interesting in its own way (as its own thing). But it didn't advance the plot and slowed the pacing of the story (this is Chapter 2, after all) to a crawl. And you do have to keep a story moving ahead, particularly in those opening chapters when a reader's attention is so apt to wander because she hasn't gotten far enough into the story to be wholly invested. So out it goes, every last word. Lucky for me, I had written only three pages yesterday, so it wasn't a devastating loss. The thing is, I should have been alert to what was going on, because the writing felt like a slog. And yes, we all have our sloggy days, and sometimes pushing through yields great results, but just as often, it means we've wandered off the path—and not in a good way. Now, I could be critical of myself for not recognizing sooner that I had gone off the rails and thus wasted an entire day of writing. But instead, I choose to commend myself for being able to (quickly) see what wasn't working and for being willing to toss it out—and with good cheer. After all, no writing day is ever wasted. Ever. Happy July, everyone!