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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In Which I Visit a School in Alabama

I always love reading authors' posts about authorly visits and such and I always swear that I am going to take more and better pictures of mine than I end being able to do.  Alas

My most recent visit was to Montgomery, Alabama.  That's right folks, Alabama!  The wonderful Benji Martin, librarian at St. James School, had asked me last Spring if I'd consider traveling all the way across the country to do an author visit at his school.  I replied that I'd love to, but that my time constraints were pretty narrow--basically we had to arrange it during my Spring Break or I couldn't do it.  Luckily, Benji was able to make it work and a year later, there I was, meeting the amazing kids of St. James School in Montgomery.

You know, bringing an author to a school is such a powerful thing for kids. It is a way of making literature come alive, and planting a seed in a book-loving heart that someday might bloom into something quite extraordinary.

 Like maybe even a new author.

But before I get too philosophical, here are a few pictures of my adventure:
Yes, a kid drew this, in about 45 minutes, too!

Yay!  The horse gets a moment of stardom!

Yeah, I know, it's blurry. My crumby hand shook.  But I love it so much anyway

I love how this young artist totally captured the dragon's stylin' clothes!

Monkey business.

More monkey business--and I look quite distressed.  But I can assure you I wasn't really.

Oh, she's not going to read her OWN book, is she?  Yes, as a matter of fact, she is.

What you can't see from these pictures is how incredibly HUGE and GORGEOUS this library is--and how filled it is with books and coolness.  There is even a sorting hat!! (Yes, I am still Hufflepuff, in case you were wondering.)

I wish I had gotten a picture of Benji and me together.  Boo.  But at least he was kind enough to send me the action photos.  (That's right, I only remembered to take pictures when I first got there then SSLLUURRP--down the drain went my good intentions.)

Thank you so much for having me, St James School!


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Literacy Night

Toler Elementary in San Diego invited me to attend their Literacy Night last week.  It was an amazing evening filled with stories, reading, and performances.  They even had a "wax museum" filled with students dressed as the authors they researched!

Moments from a school visit:

Look!  These kids read GET WELL, GOOD KNIGHT and wrote about it.  Adorable!

Those are some pretty amazing little dragons.  

And look at this mural--simply filled with little dragons and crumbly tumbly towers.

I think I see a few princesses...

And of course, the cozy little cave.

These are my mini-me's.  They were so knowledgeable about my life it was scary.

I'm the one in the middle, in case you can't tell.

Thank you so much, Toler.  I had a great time.  And I got to finish the evening by heading over to my favorite place in San Diego to eat this:


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Thinking About Graphic Organizers

The following post is written from the teacher part of my brain--but it's about writing, so the writer part of my brain is involved, too.

There are a lot of writing programs aimed at children that rely heavily on graphic organizers.  (A graphic organizer is a visual layout of a way that the writing that hasn't been written yet might be organized.  I hope that makes sense.) If you google graphic organizers for writing you can see examples of what I am talking about.  I don't want to post one here because I don't want to single any particular one out as being "bad".  That is not my intent.  I just want to give a little perspective.

Here's the thing, I am an author and  often I have no idea what I am going to write until I write it.  I can't organize the bits and pieces into parts that will eventually become a whole because I don't yet know what those bits are.  I can't fill in the little circles and squares because my ideas don't come to me in circles and squares.  They come in words.  I figure out what I am going to write while I am writing it.

And I don't think I am the only one.

I think there are kids around (and I work with some of them) whose brains work the same way.  Words lead to more words, which lead to more words, eventually leading to the right words.

Because folks, the truth that no one wants to admit is that writing is a messy process.  It cannot be shelved or boxed or circled into little spaces and made to be neat and pretty and EASY.  Writing takes work and commitment and sometimes rather large leaps of faith. We need to let kids wallow in the mud of it all, we need to let them get dirty and play with words and language. We need to let them figure out the way that ideas come to them by trying different approaches--approaches that might not include tidy little boxes and other cute shapes.

Perhaps this is a novel idea, but what if we taught kids to write by actually letting dunno...write?

Just a little food for thought.



Sunday, February 23, 2014

Some REALLY great books!

Just poking my head out of my self-imposed exile in a Hobbit-hole (where I am trying to make some headway on a middle-grade novel, but keep getting distracted by picture-book ideas) to tell you about some recent releases that you should really, I mean REALLY, pay attention to.

First up, the picture books:

This is just adorable.  If you have read my blog for a while, you know that I am desperately trying to write a chicken book just because....well, I am not sure why.  I just really want to. (The current incarnation also includes a baby porcupine in case you were wondering.) However, now I am not so sure I need to write a picture book with a chicken because this is the best one there is. All future chicken picture books will pale in comparison.  HENNY by Elizabeth Rose Stanton is THE chicken book.

Ah, what can I say about MAPLE?  It is the book I wish I'd had to read to my daughter when we were expecting my next daughter! (The girl on the cover actually looks like my eldest....) Anyway, this book is so sweet--it EARNS its name of MAPLE!  Also, Lori Nichols and I have a special project coming up next year called KITTEN WANTS A PUPPY, so I was super excited to see her 2014 debut.  It does not disappoint.  I feel so honored to be working with her!

Moving on to Middle Grade books:
First, let me say that I don't think this picture does the cover justice.  In real life, it is a gorgeous yellow.  But that is neither here nor there.  It's what is inside the pages that matters.  This book is heartbreaking and lovely and mysterious and the kind of book you think about for a long time after you finish it--I know I did.   When Nikki Loftin asked me if I' read it and maybe give it a blurb last year, I was honored but a little scared.  I mean, what if I didn't like it?  But I made and agreement with myself that I'd be honest and that if it didn't resonate with me, I'd just say so because not every book speaks to every person and that's just the truth of life.  So I read it and it made my heart ache and my eyes tear up because Nikki's voice is just to pure and true.
I am now quite proud that my blurb appears in her book.

Now, I do adore the cover of this book, but let me just say that the story inside is even better.  There is a way this story is told that makes you live inside of it.  You really get to know these characters and the town of Midnight Gulch! I loved my time with Felicity Pickle and am sure that Natalie LLoyd will be around writing wonderful children's novels for quite some time.  She's one to watch, and you'll be able to say you read her very first one!

There is not much I can say about this book but, "Well done, Newbery Committee."  This book is unique and wonderful and gives me hope as both a writer and a human.  Kate DiCamillo does not disappoint.  This might be my favorite book she has written EVER--and that is a very high compliment indeed. (Also, she is the new Children's Literature Ambaassador, which is awesome.)

So, I just want to sit around and hug these books and re-read them over and over again.  Each has touched my heart in a different way, which is exactly why we read, isn't it?  To be changed a little?  To have our hearts filled up?

But now I have get back at it. Stories are waiting for me, dangling about upon the page, needing my careful attention before they blow away with the wind.  Crawl back into the Hobbit-hole, StoryQueen.


PS I'll be at the San Diego County Office of Ed. for their Library Day of Learning on Tuesday.  Maybe I'll see you there!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Stuff to Love

So, lots of stuff to love this week!

The week started off amazingly!  On Saturday night, I was the keynote speaker at the California State Library Association Conference Dinner (to honor California Young Reader Medal winner Mo Willems--who could not be there due to being in Paris for the year.)

It was on a boat. Seriously.

A BOAT!  It was so cool.  The buffet was downstairs, then you walk upstairs...gorgeous!

This is the ceiling!  Stained glass like a Tiffany lamp.  I want one.
At the dinner I sat next to this amazing third-grader named Daniel. His job was to give his reflections on the importance of the CYRM to children, and to introduce the clip of Mo Willems accepting his award from Paris. I was a little nervous about giving my upcoming speech so I engaged Daniel in conversation.

Me:  I'm a little nervous.  Are you nervous.

Daniel:  Nope.

Me:  Really?

Daniel:  Just remember to have a good time. Even if you mess up, just have a good time.

Wise, wise words from an eight year old.

Really bad selfie of Daniel and me taken by the lady who canNOT take a selfie.  Me. Plus, this is the only picture of the night in which you can see the awesome 800 lb crystal necklace I am wearing.  It was sparkle-tacular.  Thank you for letting me wear it, Issy.
We signed each other's programs from the night, which was cool. Then I spoke for a while about how to find magic in the mistakes of life and how many of my books had actually been inspired by mistakes.  (Shocking, I know!) The audience was wonderful and laughed in the right places.  Whew.

This is what the room looked like after--when I remembered to take a picture!  Gorgeous boat!

When I was signing books in the lobby, Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver were, too!  This is the only sneaky photo I could get because my table was too far away.  Alas.


Yes.  That IS THE SEVEN TALES OF TRINKET in paperback.  It really didn't release until Tuesday, February 11th, but Miss Nelson's Bookstore managed to get it a few days early and had it there for the event. Yay!

It is SO pretty!  
And there is BONUS material inside!!

There is an interview in which you can find out which superpower I would have if I got to choose. (Which my husband did not even know.  He said I would choose time-travel, which I said could not even really be a superpower.  Time-travel would need a device, and a device was not a superpower, unless you had invented the device with a super-brain.  A twenty-minute debate ensued.  Yes, this is what we talk about in the Thomas house.)

AND There is MORE BONUS!!!


The only place you can read the eighth tale is in the paperback.
See? You cannot read it here because it is tiny. And blurry. And sideways. But if you get the paperback, you can read it in regular size and not blurry. And not sideways, either.
So, so much to love today!!



Sunday, February 2, 2014

Rigor? Really?

The teacher speaks:

Rigor.  What an unpleasant word. I am going to start by saying that I am tired of it.  The word just needs to go away.

We don't need more rigorous standards.  We need more thoughtful standards.

 We don't need a more rigorous curriculum.  We need a curriculum that inspires curiosity in a greater way.

We don't need to guide children only to books of higher rigor.  We need to inspire and invite children to read widely and wildly.

I could rant, but I am tired of ranting about this.

Rigor is not the answer.
Wonder is the answer.

What fosters wonder and curiosity?  Doubt. Difficulty. Uncertainty--that which is Strange. Perplexing. Weird. Unfamiliar. Novel.

Which brings me to my next point.

You can find all of the above in STORIES. .  More stories. That is what schools need.

(Well, that and a big dose of Humanity.)

If you want schools to be the best places for our children, bring Wonder and Humanity to the forefront, not Rigor.


Thursday, January 23, 2014


Yes, this is my Napoleon Dynamite sweatband.  Why do you ask? Some days,you just need to break out the Napoleons.  Usually, it is in its place of honor...uh...under the bed somewhere.  Actually, I am not sure where Henry found it but it seemed appropriate for the day.
Okay, so I don't mean Dang!  in a cranky way, like Dang, I just stepped in a puddle!  I mean it more in a Dang, it'st been quite a day! kind of way.  A good kind of dang, I suppose.

Anyway, I went to B and N tonight to see some author friends who were signing books: the wonderful  Shannon Messenger, Kiersten White, and Natalie Whipple  and I found this!!

The first Trinket paperback Ever!!!
I know it's probably cheesy to buy your own book in a store, but if Matt de la Pena can do it, (and admit to it!!) so can I.  (Boy, I am really dropping the names tonight!)

And then there is this from today's Publisher's Weekly:

Sarah Zhang at Boyds Mills Press has acquired two picture books by Shelley Moore Thomas: Kitten Wants a Puppy and There Are No Dragons in This Book. In the first book, a kitten can't understand why she isn't allowed to have a puppy and a few other not so cat-like things, and in Dragons, an interactive book, readers search for dragons that aren't there (or are they?). Publication of Kitten is set for fall 2015; Joanna Volpe of New Leaf Literary & Media brokered the deal for world rights. 

Yeah, so I have been kind of busy. And I can't wait to share Kitten and Dragons with you! 

Quite a day.