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.

Cody is having a moment

I’ve always shied away from competition. As a child, this wasn’t hard. Though I loved to swim at the town beach and to play baseball in the street with the other neighborhood kids (our mailbox was first base), there was never a chance of being on a real, competitive team. That was for boys only. (When I recently said this during a school visit, hundreds of little jaws dropped–whaaaat? It made me very happy that they couldn’t fathom such a benighted world.)  Once in a while I’d win a class spelling bee, which was satisfying, but I hated the sweaty palms and racing heart that went with it.

My daughters were different. They were–they are–excellent runners, and they competed in track and cross country. As much as I wanted to cheer them on, I could barely stand to watch. I remember hiding behind trees on the cross country course, afraid to look as the runners pounded by. It’s ridiculous. I can’t even watch the Cavs play their post season games, I get so nervous and distraught. (For the record, let me say how proud I am that they reached the finals, no matter what happens. See? Bad at competition.)

It’s different with my books, thank goodness. Yes, I would love to see them all receive awards (they’re kind of like my children, after all). But my biggest wish for them is to be read. And so I’m grateful and excited when they become finalists for prizes, because it means that more kids, teachers and librarians will get to know and, I hope, love them. Recently, two of the CODY books have been recognized.

CODY AND THE RULES OF LIFE is up for the Nutmeg Award, which young readers all across  Connecticut get to vote on and choose. And CODY AND THE MYSTERIES OF THE UNIVERSE is a finalist for the Ohioana Book Award, chosen by a panel of librarians and educators. They’re both nominated along with many other stellar books for young readers. It’s an enormous honor and thrill to be in their company. It makes my heart skip, but in a good, happy way. Writing is not a race.






This post is part of celebrating Women’s History month with 31 days of posts focused on improving the climate for social and gender equality in the children’s and teens’ literature community. Join in the conversation on Twitter #kidlitwomen or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/kidlitwomen.


I recently read a New York Times article  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/19/us/twitter-mystery-photo.html about the search for the identity of the lone woman in a 1971 photograph of marine biologists. The young woman, who was African American and mostly obscured by the man standing in front of her, was the only one not named in the caption. It’s highly likely she’d have gone forever overlooked if Candace Jean Anderson, aiming to write a picture book about marine mammal protection, hadn’t come across the picture and wondered who she was.

Anderson turned to Twitter, where professional and amateur researchers alike joined the hunt, finally identifying and locating Sheila Minor Huff. Now 71 and a grandmother (not to mention a belly dancer), she holds a master’s degree and had a long, successful federal government career working on wildlife and environmental projects. The discovery drew cheers all around, but Ms. Huff just sort of shrugged. The Times reported:

“’It’s kind of like, no big deal,’ she said. ‘When I try to do good, when I try and add back to this wonderful earth that we have, when I try to protect it, does it matter that anybody knows my name?’”

Up till this point in the article, I’d been furious and outraged on Ms. Huff’s behalf. But here I paused. Because something in me was agreeing. A voice was saying, It’s true. If we do good work, if we know we’ve done good, important work that makes a difference in the world, why do we need others’ praise and recognition?

Sheila Huff and I are the same generation. As a white woman, I know our childhoods differed in deep, essential ways. To achieve what she did took a determination and courage I can’t begin to understand.  But when it comes to her thoughts on being recognized, I’ll risk saying: I think I know how she feels. Every woman of our generation heard a version of the same lesson. We were brought up to feel grateful for any good fortune, large and small. No matter how hard we worked, in school and our careers, no matter what success we experienced, pride was an unattractive, even dangerous, trait in us. Feel proud for your husband, feel proud for your children, but for yourself? Smile and say how lucky you are. Never blow your own horn, was the lesson we got with our corn flakes. Be humble.

Be satisfied, was the real message.  And I have been. Enormously. Like Sheila Huff, I’ve had the satisfaction of doing meaningful work and believing that work will live on after me. Tending the earth and writing for children are both joyful, creative, life affirming acts.  Who—especially a woman brought up to think that humility was her cardinal virtue–wouldn’t feel grateful for the chance to spend her life the way she and I have?

And yet. Every day this month, I’ve read extraordinary posts by other writers at  https://www.facebook.com/kidlitwomen/  They’ve made me laugh and fume, sometimes nod and sometimes gasp–and over and over again they’ve pulled me up short, forcing me to stop and think. They’ve made me consider the empowering, you-are-a-star messages I repeatedly give my daughters, my granddaughter, the children I speak to in schools and libraries. How fervently I believe what I tell them! And yet, this month I’ve come to realize that, hard as I’ve tried to banish the old attitudes, they still lurk inside, waiting to pounce.

True humility springs from embracing our commonality. It’s nothing like self-deprecation, just as pride doesn’t imply arrogance, and wanting recognition isn’t greed. One of my favorite quotes from this month of posts came from Lita Judge who wrote, “Thinking we are lucky when we are accomplished steals our power.” It’s exactly the message I try to give others, so why do I still have trouble believing it’s true for me too? And here’s the most important question of all: if I don’t believe it, deep in my own bones, can I ever be a real agent for change?

We all deserve to be seen, to be heard, to be named. Sheila Minor Huff—we see you now, we know your name, and we thank you for your wonderful, generous work. As this month of posts draws to an end, I’m grateful, in the most positive sense of that word, to the fellow writers (men and women) who’ve shaken me up. They’ve called out to me, and I’m going to try to answer.


The writer-teacher-librarian world has so many wonderful conferences. Years ago I got to go to the American Library Association, and last fall I was at the meeting of the National Council of English Teachers.  These are amazing events, with energy levels through the (very high convention center) roof.  I attend as a presenter, but spend most of my time listening and taking in what others have to share. Also–I get to fan-girl at talks by favorite writers and bloggers.

This coming week it’s

I’ve never been to AWP before–let alone Tampa. And though I know Karina and Janet through e-mail and e-chat, I’ve never met them for real. Writing is a solitary profession, so the chance to talk shop and craft with my co-workers is a crazy delight.  Besides the Florida sunshine, there’s much to look forward to.

(By the way, AWP stands for Association of Writers and Writing Programs! Lots of university presses and MFA programs are represented, so the book-browsing should be stellar.)


Show and Tell

It’s school visit time again.  One of the questions kids often ask me is, What inspires you to write? My answer is always YOU!  Writing is usually a solitary job. It’s me, my cat, and my muse, who too often sleeps in or decides to spend the day with some other writer. There’s a lot of mumbling to myself, a lot of squinting out the window (where the view, Cleveland in mid-winter, is bleak).

So visiting with kids who brim with energy and curiosity, who have imaginations and hearts so big that they care about the characters in stories as deeply as they do real people–well. I always leave tired out, but in the very best way, having given and received in equal measure. The next day, I’m ready to dive back into my work, renewed and inspired.

Here’s the fountain of happiness one school made to celebrate the visit:

IMG_1333(Kids wrote things that made them happy on those beautiful strips of paper.)

And here’s a portrait of me done by a kindergartner:

IMG_1379 (I didn’t really step on her, I promise!)

And here’s me, enormous talking head, during one of the many terrific Skype visits I’ve gotten to do this month:

DU_PlyiW0AAYqyO(It was as cozy as it looks.) (I’ve been everywhere from Alberta, Canada to the Bahamas, all in my PJ bottoms.)

Lots more visits to come! I won’t be lacking for inspiration any time soon, thank goodness.


Almost Time



Almost time to say goodbye to a year that brought me much personal pleasure, as I watched my children (grown but still my girls) navigate big, new professional risks (amazing to me, a woman whose career has been forged mostly in solitude, here in this house, at this old desk where I sit typing right now).  And as I listened to my granddaughter learn to speak (first the  Genesis syndrome, naming everything she saw, and now the sentence, declarative and interrogative and, most fun of all, the joke!) And as my love for my old friends deepened, and my delight in (still) making new friends reminded me how generous life can be.

Almost time to say goodbye to a year when my third Cody book, Cody and the Rules of Life, was published, and Every Single Second came out in paperback, and I sold a new picture book to Candlewick (picture books being the hardest of all for me to write,  the idea for this one came a zillion years ago, but only got itself onto paper last spring) which will be illustrated by a fabulous artist (how am I supposed to wait till 2020 for it to come out can someone please tell me???) I traveled farther and more often than ever before for my work, and can’t begin to say how grateful I am for the welcomes I received from young readers and the teachers, librarians and parents who nurture them.

For all that pleasure and good fortune, this is still a year I don’t for a minute regret leaving behind. The natural disasters and the mass shootings caused pain that will be years, if ever, healing. The country’s divisiveness is toxic, and I personally spent way too much time fueling my own fury at the Other Side.  I rarely make new year resolutions, but this year I resolve to be informed, but instead of letting the news eat my brain, I will let it feed my heart and move my feet. I’ll be working for change, in my community and state. And as always, I’ll be reaching deep into the well of hope as I write.

Welcome, 2018!!



How the West Was Done

I was invited to a book festival here

las vegas

It was my first time ever in Vegas, and all the movies and fiction didn’t prepare me for its strangely endearing mix of crassness and innocence.  I found myself loving the temple of Luxor– in that desert climate it was so easy to imagine we really were in Egypt! The Bellagio wowed me with its marble floors and formal Italian gardens and this Chilhuly ceiling.


Also–those dancing waters? How do they do that?  After a while though, round about the time we reached the awful Excalibur, the desire to be awed and wowed started to fade, and as night came on and the seams started to show, I was happy to know that the next day I’d be meeting the real Las Vegas–i.e. the families who live here. I had two wonderful school visits.

tricia2_origPlotting a story arc with K-2 students

tricia4_origStory hour with Brian Wenzel’s terrific “They All Saw a Cat”

The next day it was on to

IMG_0984where I was on a stellar panel

DMsTBXaUEAEQNiKand met some author heroes of mine (I knew Sharon but meeting Ibi was a first and an honor)


Afterwards Paul and I got in our little rented Yaris, which made going over 40 mph feel reckless and thrilling, and headed for Utah. But that is another post entirely.

(My) Linnea in Monet’s Garden

Do you know the wonderful picture book by Cristina Bjork and Lena Anderson? My daughters and I loved it when they were small.

And now we have our own real life Linnea! Here we are at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Her somewhat disconcerted expression may be due to how quickly I snatched her up as she arrowed toward those flowers in the lower right hand corner.

Two down and who knows how many more to go–hooray!

22089573_1589799371042127_5649290075855566793_nYesterday I finished draft # 2 of my new novel. Well, finished–the very last scene is only sketched in. I was too tired to actually write it!

As you can see, there are birds. Also baby goats. Volcanoes and vultures and a haunted turret. This one  is affectionately known as my Off the Wall Book.

I lay awake last night thinking of all the changes I need to make. And feeling the usual self-doubt. But underneath it all, a percolating excitement. I’m on my way, I’ve got a story worth crafting.  A writer can’t ask for more.

National Book Festival

It’s been a writer-dream of mine to someday go to the…

IMG_0789…and this year I did! My book Moonpenny Island was picked to represent Ohio in the…

…where every state, plus U.S. territories, had a booth.  What an honor and what a wild, wonderful day. Thousands–for real–of readers came out to share their love of books. I’d never seen anything like it. In between meeting and chatting and signing, I was able to duck away to hear Alice McDermott,  Gene Luen Yang, Javaka Steptoe, and Kelly Barnhill wow the crowds.  Roz Chast, my all-time favorite cartoonist, was there too,  Can’t even begin to name all the writers I was unable to catch. A ream of writers! An exaltation of readers! Truly a dream come true.