Monthly Archives: June 2013

Show and Yell, err… Tell

In the Department of Nice Coincidences, this year’s national cooperative summer reading program theme is

That’ s helped make ol’ Phoebe and her digger popular for summer story hours. This week I read and talked at my own beloved Cleveland Heights Library, where the way to the children’s room is paved with

I took to the road to visit neighboring libraries in Amherst and Oberlin. The dynamite librarians in those two towns collaborated on an afternoon that featured

At Amherst, the computers were decked out in construction worker vests, and the kids wrote their own stories–my favorite featured a bunch of tigers who took a summer walk through town, got thirsty, and enjoyed a Pepsi break.

In Oberlin, a group of flip-flopped girls and I worked on stories that just happened to include, somewhere, the phrase “dig in”. Characters were excavating bones, diamonds, traces of lost civilizations and carrots (this a fat, lonesome bunny).  I believe a couple of novels were in the works by the time I left.

And that reminds me: here’s a photo from last week’s visit to Cleveland Reading Camp, courtesy of the very lovely and incredibly organzied Emily, the OSU student who ran it.

 Paul and I also took a field trip to the Akron Art Museum, where we caught, just before it closed, the stunning and moving exhibit “The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats”. I was going to write about that, too, but the fact is, his greatness deserves its own post. So, see you next week.

Round Round, Get Around

Knowing me and how serious I insist on being, you no doubt assumed  that image to the left was a metaphor for…umm…the evanescent nature of all good things, or, maybe, the messiness but essential sweetness of life.

But, dear reader, the truth is far simpler. Today has brought together so many of summer’s pleasures, there’s nothing left to do but list them. First I went to camp–reading camp, that is, the Cleveland branch of  The kids had just come back from rafting–lots of sunburned noses– but happily sat down in the lodge (I love that word) to do some terrific writing with me. Of course I forgot my camera, but photos got taken and I’ll share when I get them.  

Then Paul and I ate Lake Erie perch and walleye in a wonderful, shack-y place on the Grand River. From the menu: Did you know that Lake Erie is the natural outlet for the Niagara River, so most of that water cascading over the falls is from here? Neither did I and I still kind of doubt it. Afterwards we walked the beach, where children were chasing balls or digging epic trenches or refusing to get out of the water or hosing their sandy feet in the ice cold shower–an eternal scene. I was right back on the Long Island beaches of my childhood, scenes of  my happiest kid memories.

 One last treat: a chocolate-vanilla swirl from the Kurly Kone.  Riding home we rolled down the windows, and all I needed was the Beach Boys on the radio. (My very first date was on a night just like this one. I wore a dress I made myself and yellow Capezios. But that’s another story).

Happy Solstice!

Parents Choose

PHOEBE AND DIGGER received a Spring 2013 Parents’ Choice Award last week. This is nice in so many ways–who (beside Jonathon Franzen) doesn’t appreciate a sticker on their book cover?

But maybe the nicest thing is that word parents. I remember how picky I was about the books I gave my girls when they were small, both because I only wanted them to have what I deemed best, and because I knew I stood a good chance of having to read those books aloud over and over and over again. So having other Mamas and Papas decide PHOEBE fits the bill feels very good.

There’s more. In their description, Parents’ Choice talks about bullying. To be honest, I never thought I was writing a Bullying Book. The story sprang from something that happened to my oldest daughter one day in the sandbox at our favorite park, and I thought of it as just that: a slice of life in the day of a young child. 

But once you write a book and send it out into the world, it’s no longer just your own. What I like to point out is that Phoebe, too,  knows the pleasures of making mischief and feeling powerful,  and can be a bit of a bully herself. When the big girl steals Digger, Phoebe gets a taste of her own medicine, one of the quickest and surest ways to learn a lesson, no matter what age you are. I have the feeling that, having felt scared and small herself, Phoebe’s going to be a nicer big sister (at least for a while!)

A few parents haven’t agreed. One blogging mother criticized how Phoebe tries to rescue Digger: knuckles (just a little), foot (not too hard). ‘But Phoebe tries her words first, and when those fail, she’s gonna use whatever she’s got to get her toy back.  Her techniques probably aren’t in the How to Handle a Bully Manual, but I think they’re faithful to how a small child with limited options would behave. Likewise, at the end of the book the big girl hasn’t exactly reformed–that’s real life, too.  What Phoebe’s discovered–that despite the new baby, Mama will love and protect her just as much as ever–is the real heart of the story.

Still, I hate to think about offending parents, whose job today is harder and more complicated than ever.  So I’m grateful that a bunch them enjoyed the story enough to give  it that seal of approval.  Thanks, Moms and Dads.

(Braggart alert–the book is now in its third printing.)

Life in Its Muchness

Last night while working at the library I helped an almost-third-grader look for a new book to read. I love doing this, drifting up and down the stacks, pulling out my favorites, describing each a little bit. Some kids will have read pretty much everything I offer, and we’ll fall into our own mini-book-club, discussing favorite parts or characters, exchanging opinions on whether the ending worked or let us down.  Last night’s patron will be one of those kids in a year or two. Her eyes had that light.  So far, she hasn’t read all that much, but when I asked her what she’d enjoyed lately, she said, “I just finished a book called Two Plus One Makes Trouble.” GAAAA!

(like sands through the hourglass…)

“Wait,” said I. “Were the characters named Betsy and Ida?’

“Yup,” said she. “Betsy, Ida and Missy.”

“I wrote that book, ” I told her.

Her shoulders hitched, her brows arched, her mouth made the shape of an egg. I was  probably her mirror image, only three times bigger.

I said I’d written it a long time ago–i.e., before she was born.  Who knows how kids less than a decade old conceive of time? But we both knew it was an amazing, lucky lightning strike coincidence. When I showed her “Fox Street” and “Mo Wren”, both on the shelf, she grabbed ’em.

Next time I get crazy impatient over how loooong it takes me to make a book and whether it’s worth it, I’ll remind myself about her wide eyes. And how we both stood there in the stacks going, Really? Yup. Yup, really!

A little coda: I just sold a story (for grown-ups) to the literary parenting magazine Brain, Child. I’m not sure exactly when I first wrote it, but it had a reference to the coming new century (meaning the 21st). I pulled it out while taking a break from my WIP,  liked much of it, and went to work revising. Though it’s about mothering, and though I first wrote it when my girls were so much younger, an awful lot of it still holds true. Namely, wishing I was a better mother than I am. When it pubs, I’ll let you know!


Writing quote of the week, from Paula McLain, author of “The Paris Wife”: “I like to get in over my head. For me, the sweet spot is trying something I don’t know how to do.”