April 23, 2015
Um...I guess April kind of got away from me. This is embarrassing. After returning from my trip, there were so many things to take care of. Like reacquainting myself with my kids. And removing the twenty-three pounds of dog hair that had accumulated on the floors of my house. And still dealing with the snow.
And then I had some wonderful school visits in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. (Hi, kids, at Frenchtown Elementary, Daniels Farm, Middlebrook, Sanborn, and Rye Elementary!) And then my daughter left for France (exciting!) and I decided to take myself on a 10-day writing retreat—right here in my own house.
Really, it's the best place to write, and it doesn't cost anything. But I'm serious when I say I've been "on retreat." I wake up every morning, eat my bowl of cereal and read the New York Times, and then get right to work. Usually fourteen straight hours with just a two-hour break to exercise. (Love my treadmill!) No vacuuming, no walking the dog (sorry to my dog, Harley), no cooking dinner (sorry to my son, Henry), no answering emails (sorry to everyone). And no apologies! It has been wonderful sinking deep into my current work in progress, a complicated but riveting (at least to me) story of a young boy who travels back in time to learn where he belongs. I've been thinking and dreaming of this book for years, and it is such a joy and luxury (and challenge) to be able to devote every waking minute to it. At least until my daughter returns from France on Sunday. C'est la vie!
March 29, 2015
The most exciting thing that has happened in my life since returning from the very exciting Publicity Tour is that I had solar panels installed on my roof. A crack team of electricians, carpenters, and solar experts descended on my house and completed the whole job in three days—in the pouring rain. I'm talking torrential. When the lead carpenter told me they had finished and I expressed my amazement that they could work in that weather, he said (total deadpan voice): "It wasn't fun." But there they are: 36 panels on the back of my house that should produce an average of 8,040 kilowatt-hours per year. Yay, renewable energy! Yay, preserving the planet for our kids and grandkids! Yay, carpenters who aren't afraid of rain! (You couldn't have paid me to be up on a roof in that storm.)
March 28, 2015
FYI: It's snowing here today. But what I really like about this morning's video of snow falling in my backyard is the sound of birds singing in the woods. They're back! To paraphrase Thin Lizzy: "The birds are back in town." So despite the cold temperatures and that fluffy white stuff that keeps falling out of the sky, it really is spring. The birds know, right? Forget about the groundhogs (sorry, groundhogs!); it's the birds that really know. And to celebrate that miraculous time when the birds return each spring, here's the second-to-last spread from THE BOY WHO DREW BIRDS: A STORY OF JOHN JAMES AUDUBON, with the joyful artwork of the incomparable Melissa Sweet. Happy Spring!
March 20, 2015
First day of spring and I'm back home in Boston...and it's snowing. Just a little, but still...more snow. I wowed the kids in San Francisco, Tucson, Miami, and Houston with pictures of my house covered in record-breaking amounts of snow. Yep, we did it! While I was in Tucson, soaking up the sun, the following was announced: "As of 7 pm EDT on March 15, the National Weather Service in Boston announced that Boston Logan Airport received 108.6 inches of snow, officially making the 2014-2015 season the all time snowiest season for the city." So I got my wish: we broke the record. And now I'm ready for spring. To get us all in the spirit, I'm including here a picture of a bird sitting on a nest that I spotted in the parking lot of a restaurant on my last day in Houston. It was a balmy 75° that day, and this bird was sitting pretty.
March 19, 2015
Once again, I'm flying high in an airplane—this time at 38,000 feet on my way from Houston back home to Boston. Today was a real treat. Not only did I get to visit two terrific schools (Metzler Elementary School in Spring, Texas, and McFee Elementary School in Katy, Texas), but I also got to tour the Scholastic Book Fair warehouse in Houston. The good people of Scholastic arranged both school visits, and in between the visits we zipped over to the warehouse. Look at the size of this place!
Yes, that's me, dwarfed by the shelves and shelves of books that Scholastic Book Fair organizes and ships off to schools throughout their region. Here's a picture of my wonderful Scholastic hosts for the day: Houston Field Rep DeAnna Bradley, Houston Branch Manager Scott Hesseltine, and Houston Regional Manager Joe Shaw. Behind them is a tower of the silver Book Fair carts that are filled with books and sent off to schools.
And here's a fun picture of DeAnna showing off THE MAGIC TRAP in the section of shelving that warehouses my Lemonade War books, followed by a photo of me showing "my" section in the warehouse: the much coveted "B3," which my hosts assured me is the "best" of the sections. (I know, I know, they say that to ALL the authors!) But notice the blue sign that reads: "Favorite Authors and Series."
One last picture: a "returned cart" back from a book fair that will need to be unpacked and then reloaded for the next book fair. We had to crack open a few to find copies of my books; apparently, quite a few of the titles had sold out. Hooray!
As an author, it was really fascinating to learn all that goes into running the Book Fair operation. It's an incredibly labor-intensive process, and I loved hearing about the various systems that make it possible to get all that work done in an efficient and timely manner. Many, many thanks to my kind Scholastic hosts who took the time to give me the "nickel tour" of their impressive warehouse. It made my trip to Houston that much more memorable.
March 18, 2015
You know what I love about Houston? They love author visits. I've been to this city before to visit schools, and I was happy to return to visit two more today. First stop: Nottingham Country Elementary School, in Katy, Texas, which had a medieval suit of armor in its entry hall! I met with three hundred third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders. The kids had made cards for me (including a giant one the size of a lunch tray. Hmm...I'm going to have to figure out how to fit that in my suitcase), and also made the wonderful display below. Each picture corresponds to one of the books in the Lemonade War series. Can you figure out which picture goes with which book?
As a final thank you, they gave me a trivet that's shaped like Texas! I love it! When you think about it, Texas is the perfect shape to hold a hot plate. Not every state can claim that!
After Nottingham, I met with the students of Williams Elementary School. Oh, it was a squeeze to get all the second- and third-graders in the library, but we did it. Good job, kids! (Everyone had to take a deep breath in.) Then I talked with the fourth-graders to finish the day. And then I fell asleep in the middle of the afternoon at my hotel, because, honestly, I've been in and out of so many time zones over the last two weeks that I don't even know WHAT time it is anymore.
March 17, 2015
Today, a feast for your eyes. I paid a quick visit to Miami (was in the city for less than twenty-four hours), but managed to visit two wonderful schools: Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart and Westminster Christian School. The students at both schools were wonderful AND patient. (I was a tad late to each presentation. My apologies!) This was my first visit to Miami, a city I've always been curious to visit. And it did not disappoint. The architecture is quite spectacular, from the remarkable collection of Art Deco buildings on Miami Beach to the sleek and whimsical high-rise buildings of downtown to the beautiful and lushly landscaped bungalows of Coconut Grove where wild peacocks wander about (apparently causing quite a nuisance). One of the schools I visited today, Carrollton, is housed in a beautiful old mansion overlooking Biscayne Bay. Here are a few pictures of this stately school. The last one shows the school's librarian, Melinee Fernandez, who graciously took us on a tour of the school, with my fabulous media escort for the day, the endlessly knowledgeable Kristen McLean. I MUST find a reason to return to Miami...soon.
March 16, 2015
At the moment I'm 30,000 feet above Odessa, Texas (according to the in-flight map), on my way to Miami. I had no time to post yesterday because I was busy soaking up (and speaking at) the wonderful Tucson Festival of Books. What a marvel this festival is. An estimated 130,000 people attended to hear a stellar line-up of speakers. I was lucky enough to speak on two terrific panels. The first panel was a workshop for adults focusing on getting that first book published. I spoke with Lori Alexander (BACKHOE JOE), Amy Nichols (NOW THAT YOU'RE HERE), and Dianne White (BLUE ON BLUE). We all talked about our own experiences of getting published, and, as always, it was fascinating for me to hear the stories of other authors. The audience was great: very engaged. And our moderator, Michelle Parker-Rock, was stellar. She kept the conversation focused AND moving along. Moderating is not an easy job to do, and I'm always impressed when someone does it particularly well.
The second panel I participated in addressed a topic near and dear to my heart: "Redefining Family from a Child's Perspective." It was moderated by Cynthia Giorgis, who is a Dean of the College of Education at the University of Texas, El Paso—also a fabulous moderator. What an honor it was to share the stage with two Newbery Award–winning authors: Katherine Paterson and Cynthia Kadohata. We all have books that focus on families that don't fit that strictest of models: a mom, a dad, and their biological children. It was a delight for me to listen to both Katherine and Cynthia and share with the audience my own thoughts on the family in the 21st-century. Times are changing, and to that I say, "Amen!"
March 14, 2015
From the Sublime to the Ridiculous. I'll begin this post with a picture of the view from my hotel room window. Please understand: I'm someone who has just survived a New England winter of such epic proportions that it can hardly be comprehended. Eight-foot snow drifts in my yard, seven-foot icicles hanging from my roof, and two months of near-daily snow. So to feast my eyes on palm trees and terra cotta tiles is almost more than I can bear.
And now on to the Ridiculous. The Tucson Festival of Books kicked off last night with a benefit concert by the Rock Bottom Remainders, a "musical" group of bestselling authors. Maybe you've heard of some of them? Steven King. Amy Tan. Dave Barry. Mitch Ablom. etc. etc. etc. Here's a couple of photos of the sold-out concert and a short video of Amy Tan singing "La Bamba." Something I'm sure you've always wanted to hear! Kudos to the Rock Bottom Remainders for raising more than $50,000 to help support literacy efforts in southern Arizona.
March 13, 2015
Hello, Tucson! I arrived this afternoon for the Tucson Festival of Books after a wonderful morning spent with the students at the Charter School of Morgan Hill, in Morgan Hill, California. What a great group of kids. I spoke to all 600+ students, from kindergarten through eighth grade. The entire school had read THE LEMONADE WAR, and it was fun to introduce them to the other books in the series. On my way to the school (early, early morning) the sun was rising in the East.
After the morning visit, which was short, but sweet, my skillful driver, Romi, dashed us off to the San Francisco airport (manageable traffic along the way, thanks be to the traffic gods!), and I flew into Tucson. I am agog at the mountains here. Literally, they make my jaw drop. Here are just a few photos that show the scenery on the approach to my hotel. How beautiful is that?!? More photos tomorrow.
March 12, 2015
What a splendiferous day. This morning, I traveled south to the San Jose area, passing many Google buses on the freeway. (Well, in truth, they passed ME, but it was still fun to spot them as they glided along like giant white whales.) By the time I reached San Jose, the sun was out and the temperature was in the seventies. For this Massachusetts gal, it was heaven on earth. Here's a photo of me with Poonam Majmudar, the gracious and stylish principal at the Stratford School in Los Gatos. I talked to the third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders there, and we had a terrific time. Look at that sunshine!
Then it was off to DIscovery Charter School 2 in San Jose, which was teeming with lively, energetic, inquisitive kids who had a LOT of questions for me about my books and being a writer. I talked with the kids in the beautiful atrium that is the center of their school.
No time to rest, though. I was off to Hicklebee's bookstore for a signing. How to even describe this place? Frankly, I can't. Part museum of all things creative, part whimsical otherworld, part best-reading-spot-on-earth...Just go visit it. Here's a picture of me with the energetic owner, Valerie Lewis. Does her smile say it all? I think so. And then another photo of me with two terrific teachers from Christopher Elementary School who use my books in their fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms. Hurray for teachers!
As I was getting ready to leave, Valerie invited me to sign a wall! They have EVERYONE'S signature in the store: J.K. Rowling, James Thurber, Jon Scieszka, Lynne Rae Perkins—everyone. I chose a spot on a column (not easy to write on a rounded surface) right by the front door. Kids, don't try this at home!
March 11, 2015
We all have anxiety dreams, right? Those recurring nightmares that signal we're worried about something. For years, I've had a (terrifying!) recurring dream of driving up a road that is so steep that the car I'm driving in falls backward and tumbles into nothingness. Today, that dream came true! Okay, we didn't tumble, but look at how steep this street is! Honestly, I thought I was going to lose it. Again, my media escort Dolores (seen here calmly surveying the breathtaking view from the hill), drove as if we were not about to fall off the edge of the earth. What would I do without her? She has become my new best friend.
The lovely school behind Dolores is the School of the Sacred Heart. It's located in Pacific Heights in San Francisco. I had a fabulous time meeting with the kids there. Here's a picture of me with the school librarian, Tevis Jones, who was a delightful and enthusiastic host. Doesn't her dress just scream SPRING! I love it. And she was as bright and cheerful as her garment.
And finally, I just want to show you the view from one of the windows at the school. In the first photo, you'll see the Golden Gate Bridge to the left, and in the second photo, that's the island of Alcatraz! Of course, Alcatraz makes me think of Gennifer Choldenko's wonderful middle-grade novel, AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS. Have you read it? You should. Dolores explained to me that Alcatraz is now a museum (no longer a working maximum security prison) and a huge tourist draw. I'll be honest: it gave me shivers every time I saw it.
March 10, 2015
Publicity Tour 2015 begins! I arrived in San Francisco yesterday and had a wonderful time in the Santa Rosa area today visiting three schools: Binkley Elementary, Strawberry Elementary, and Yulupa Elementary. The kids were in such great spirits and had wonderful questions to ask. They couldn't believe the picture I showed them of my house buried under two months' worth of snowstorms! In the afternoon, I signed books at Copperfield's Books in Santa Rosa. In addition to meeting the bright, inquisitive students at these schools, my favorite part of the day was driving over the Golden Gate Bridge—twice! In the morning, the bridge was enshrouded in dense fog, so it felt like we were driving through a thick cloud. You couldn't see anything! (My media escort, Dolores, was intrepid!) Driving back in the afternoon, the fog had lifted and we had spectacular views of the ocean, the city, and Alcatraz. San Francisco is quite sublime. More pictures to come!