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I Got Mail

It’s almost spring, prime time for school visits! Whenever I do one, I get repaid in three parts.

First, the prep, which makes me re-think what I want to share with kids about reading, writing, imagination and creativity–all in just 45 minutes. What do I really want them to know? How can I encourage them all to be makers and dreamers? (To tell the truth, I also get nervous during this part!)

Second, I do it!

And third, if I’m lucky–and I so often am–I get letters afterwards. Who gets REAL letters any more, let alone illustrated? My own personal illuminated manuscripts. Here are a few recent ones–enjoy!

Seeing 20/20

I started wearing glasses in seventh or eighth grade, though it really should have been much sooner. At St. Hugh of Lincoln Elementary, we had our eyes tested by the overworked Nurse McGrath, whose small office was on the echo-y, mostly empty third floor of the school. We would stand in line in the hallway waiting our turn to read the eye chart. It was a long wait, because our class had probably fifty kids in it, and so I had plenty of time to eavesdrop on the students in front of me and memorize the sequence of letters and numbers. By the time my turn came, Nurse McGrath, who resembled an agitated partridge, must have been too harried or weary to notice that I cheated.

I got away with this for awhile, but there came a point where even my mother, who with five kids didn’t pay much attention unless there was blood or screaming, must have noticed how fiercely I was squinting at the TV. My first pair of glasses were pinkish-beige-ish plastic, and while I loved seeing through them, I hated wearing them. I knew they made me look ugly (uglier). I took them off at every opportunity and was forever misplacing them.

I kept this up right through college. Everyone knew guys found glasses un-sexy and besides, they (the glasses, not the guys) made my nose sweat. I had been seeing (such a wonderful use of the word) Paul for weeks before he finally asked me, So what is with the glasses? When I confessed I hated how I looked in them, he was incredulous. He himself was so nearsighted he once wore his glasses water skiing (a sad story) and couldn’t believe I’d sacrifice vision for vanity.

Reader, I married him.

Now, in this first year of a new decade, in this last year of my sixties (gulp), and in the thick of my writing career, vision–literally and figuratively–means everything to me. And so I am hoping for a new year of keen and revelatory seeing.

I wish you the same. Happy new year!

(A quote on seeing from “The Story That Cannot Be Told” by J. Kasper Kramer, a beautiful middle grade novel published last year: “The truth is, sometimes it’s not just the world, but your eyes that have changed.”)

Do what is difficult…

I’m nearing the end of a first draft of a new book, and I’ve just written a scene that was very hard to do, both technically and emotionally. I’m not sure if it will stand in the novel’s final version, but I sort of think it will, maybe because it was so hard. And so I am thinking of this deservedly famous quote from Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” (though I am neither young nor a poet, this is advice I take to heart):

“Beware irony, ignore criticism, look to what is simple, study the small and humble things of the world, do what is difficult precisely because it is difficult, do not search for answers but rather love the questions, do not run away from sadness or depression for these might be the very conditions necessary to your work.”

Now I am going to restore myself with a sit outside in the afternoon sunshine…

The Most Perfect Thing

My new middle grade novel, “The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe” will publish with Margaret Ferguson Books at Holiday House in spring 2021. This book has been in the works for a long time–and in my heart even longer. My hero, Loah, has always considered herself a quiet, timid homebody, but when her home and her mother are in danger, she discovers she is anything but. Over the next months I’ll share some of the loooong writing journey she and I took together, but for now–so happy to share my most perfect news!  (Yes, I know–how can anything be “most” perfect? Believe me–that is how this feels!)

Our long vigil is over!

The long, harsh winter and cold, wet spring have finally given way to fragrant, blooming summer. To add to the happiness, I’ll soon have some good news to share…

Still, the end of a school year is always bittersweet. For me, school visits are wonderful for many reasons:

***Getting to hang out with kids, something that weirdly enough, holed up in my writing cave as I so often am, I don’t do nearly enough.

***Popping the bubble. I live in an inner ring suburb, and I get to meet kids growing up in settings far different from mine: urban schools where the challenges are enormous and never-ending, private schools where the environment is rich and nurturing for children of every ability and learning style, and everything in between. It’s a sober reminder that the kids we write for grow up in shockingly different situations and begin life on unjustly uneven playing fields.

***Being inspired. And I don’t mean just to keep writing, or to write the stories kids deserve, though that always happens. This year I took part in #KidsNeedMentors, where I partnered with two third grades who not only shared their writing with me but collaborated with me on first drafts of a new picture book. Their perspectives and observations blew my mind. I’ll be writing a post about this program and how teachers and librarians can become part of it next year.

But for now…it’s time to wander outside and smell the peonies.

Some Days in the Life

I spent the morning working on a new novel. About 11,000 words in and it’s going so well I should be alarmed. I shouldn’t even say how much I’m enjoying writing it aloud, much less put it in writing, for fear of jinxing myself–especially since it’s in two voices and one of them is a boy’s, something I’ve never been able to make work. But for now I’m humming happily along. It’s a little like the first stages of making a new friend, when the excitement over what you’re discovering about the new person (and so yourself) far outweighs the fear of the disappointments and problems that may life ahead.

Does that make sense?

Other things that have been happening–lots of school visits. I’ve done so many of these over the years, and yet they never get old. I still get nervous the night before. I still wonder, as soon as the kids start filing into the library or gym, why on earth I ever get nervous.

I’m about to make a small video for the Nutmeg Book Award. CODY AND THE MYSTERIES OF THE UNIVERSE  is one of the (many wonderful) nominees.

The State Library of Ohio hosted a celebration for all the Choose to Read Ohio authors. I can’t think of kinder or more interesting people to spend time with than these librarians and my fellow authors, including Jennifer Maschari, Carmella Condon Van Vleet,Brandon Marie Miller, Louise Borden, Mary Kay Carson,Margaret Peterson Haddix and Tim Bowers. This year’s Floyd’s Pick is Jacqueline Woodson. She is from Ohio and lives in New York. I’ve from New York and live in Ohio. So glad our shooting stars crossed. (The only reason I’m front and center is because I am so ridiculously small!)

And on a (more) personal note, on March 8 our youngest daughter Delia married Patrick, the love o’ her life, at New York City Hall. Delia had new shoes, a handsome groom and, I’m sure you’ll agree, the world’s most adorable flower girl.

My Moveable Feast

Years and years (and years) ago, when I was still a beginning writer, I read and loved Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast”, his account of his own time as a fledgling writer. He lived in a tiny apartment in Paris with his young wife Hadley. Sometimes he wrote there, standing at his desk, and sometimes sitting in a cafe, filling up lined notebooks like the ones used by French schoolchildren. In the evenings, he and Hadley would drink and talk with their friends, friends like Sylvia Beach, who owned the legendary bookshop Shakespeare & Co., and other writers like Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The life he described seemed perfect to me: the work, the companionship. It was romantic and productive–good and true, as Papa himself would say.  It still seems perfect, which means, I now know too well, mostly impossible.  Somehow Hemingway never had to go to a job, or do his laundry (poor Hadley, who wasn’t his wife for long), or take care of a sick child or failing parent. He didn’t have the distractions of social media (lucky him) or adorable grandchildren (poor him).

Still, now and then, I get to create my own version of that perfect life.  I did it earlier this month, with six other women writers. We rented an old farmhouse in the Ohio woods for a week. Each morning we had coffee together and then we scattered around the house, everybody holing up in her own nook to work.  Here was mine:

I started something new, and I revised the book I’ve been working on for what seems a century. In the afternoons I’d go for long, cold, glorious walks in the woods–okay, not Paris, but for me just as good. There was a waterfall about a mile and a half away, and this was the vertigo-inducing view from the top:

In the evenings we ate and laughed together. There was wine, and conversation on all things big and small, and a mouse who scurried around the dining room, intent, I became convinced, on having one of us write a picture book about him.

My work went so well. There’s much to be said for being removed from real life, and for being among others working hard at the same thing as you. In the afternoon when I’d come in from my walk, there’d be a sort of sacred silence in the house. Words floated in the air. Characters slipped around the corners. Invisible worlds hovered, softly humming.

Hemingway for a week! We all plan to do it again, as soon as we can manage.

Last of the Codys

This spring, the final book in my beloved CODY series published. Here’s a little essay I wrote about that for the Nerdy Book Club blog:



In this life, many things are bittersweet:

–the last day of school

–growing out of your favorite PJs, so you get a fuzzy new pair, but you feel bad for your old favorites

–publishing the final book in a series you’ve loved writing

On a recent school visit, a student asked me why I began all the Cody books with “In this life…” followed by a list. I got the feeling he considered it a lazy move on my part, so I tried to explain how I wanted to link the books and give readers the feeling of returning to a familiar world, but also hint at the new developments and adventures to come.  He seemed satisfied (or maybe he was just a very polite child).

The full truth is, I began every book with “In this life…” for me as much as for my readers. Typing those words was like opening a door and joining a family reunion. Everyone was there—Cody, of course, but also her parents, Dad in his cowboy hat and Mom wearing yet another pair of new shoes, big brother Quiet Wyatt, best friend Spencer and his tai chi master grandmother, the unpredictable Meen kids, loyal Pearl and sweet, deaf old MewMew. With each reunion, I had the chance to hang out with them again and get to know them even better. Like family, they stayed the same–but not really. They revealed new quirks, opinions and secrets. Some of them I could relate to easily, others not so much (think Payton Underwood, aka P.U.). But these were my people, and I loved being among them. Plus, each time I said goodbye, I knew I’d get the chance to visit them again.

Till this past April, when the final book in the series published.

People are often curious about how a writer plans a series. I was lucky in that, soon after signing up to write two Cody books, I got word that Candlewick wanted two more.  Book 1, Cody and the Fountain of Happiness, is set in the summer, so it felt natural and right to follow her and her friends through the school year and all four seasons, coming around to Book 4, Cody and the Heart of a Champion, set in springtime with another summer just around the corner. Cody’s friendship with Spencer, a friendship that thrives on how different they are as how much as it does on how much they share, has gone through its ups and downs and is about to enter a new phase. Cody’s discovered a lot about herself and her world. In this life, she won’t be good at everything she tries, but she’ll discover talents she didn’t know she had.  She will make mistakes (some big), but with courage and help, she’ll figure out how to fix them. She’s developed a pesky thing called a conscience. She will never be patient, for better and for worse.

Cody lives in a neighborhood like mine here in Cleveland–diverse, striving, bustling with activity. The other day when I was out for a walk, two little speed demons on bikes tore past me on the sidewalk, and I immediately thought, Maxi and Molly Meen. People were sitting on their porch swings, making me think, Spencer and GG. Book life and real life have merged, which is some comfort as I say goodbye to the first.

Another comfort is seeing all four books together, like siblings or best-friends-forever. They look so cozy, supportive and happy. (It makes me feel bad for my stand-alone books, which by comparison look a bit lonesome.) I feel good about them being out in the big world together, even as, in my life, I’ll sorely miss the pleasure of writing them.


What I Didn’t Do This Summer

I just came back from the pool, where the lifeguards, who up till now spent their down time twirling their whistles, playing cards and flirting, all had their heads in books. Summer reading! The deadline approaches. It made me smile and think of all those What I Did on My Vacation essays I had to write on the first day back to school. I remember how strange my fingers felt clutching a pencil again–all summer they’d held nothing but baseball bats, jars of lightning bugs, creamsicles, and, of course, books (no, I didn’t want to be a writer when I was growing up, but I have been a crazed reader since age 6).

My summer has been happy, though there was one thing I desperately wanted to do and didn’t. First, the happy news:

–I went to an art class at the museum with my 2 1/2 year old granddaughter.

(Rorschach test: I see pangea)

–I heard this girl laugh for the first time.

–I went to the conference of the International Literary Association in Austin, Texas, where I presented with my wonderful friends and stellar middle grade writers Ruth Freeman, Karin Yan Glaser, Janet Johnson and Laura Shovan on a topic close to all our hearts. This was one of the most wonderful conferences I’ve ever been to–it was all about the kids we try to serve. The teachers and librarians  who came moved me to tears with how hard they work at their jobs, often against odds those of us who aren’t in schools every day can only guess at.







I also got to yuk it up at the Candlewick booth where I was signing CODY.

Mr. Schu!

–I went on a writing retreat with my best women friends, including Kris Ohlson, who shared her family’s house in Lake Tahoe with us. Kris and I hiked the Barker Pass one glorious, glorious June afternoon.

I’m still a little surprised we ever came back.






—And, I wrote. And re-wrote. And re-wrote.

Which brings me to what I never did. Which is finish this novel. Not yet. It continues to twist and turn in my hands, a frustrating, thrilling moebius strip of possibility.

The book still isn’t done. But then, neither is this summer.