To come…

…those may be a gardener’s favorite words! I planted these bluebells late last summer, when they looked pretty much like nothing at all–just a few tenacious leaves (in official gardener terms, bluebells are “ephemerals”). I had hopes they’d take, but with gardening–and yes, with writing–you never know!

Now here they are, all a-tremble in the April breeze, ready to burst forth. And The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe has gotten its first review, which I have to keep a secret for now but is as lovely and hopeful as these spring flowers!

(Pubbing on June 1 but available for pre-order now. And if you’d like a signed, personalized copy, order from this most-perfect indie bookstore,

Fill in the blank…

The title of my new middle grade novel comes from this quote from the noted nineteenth century naturalist Thomas Wentworth Higginson:

‘I think that, if required on pain of death to name instantly the most perfect thing in the universe, I should risk my fate on _____________”

What did Higginson say? Of course you could look it up. OR you could finish the sentence with your own idea of universal perfection! This is a prompt I hope my readers and I will be having a lot of fun with once the book comes out–which is this June 1 (pre-order available now would be a very nice thing of you to do)!! I hope you’ll join in–after all, there can never be too much perfection.

At last…

…I can share the cover of my new middle grade novel, The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe, coming on June 1. Whoa. That’s less than three months away! Better hurry up and show you.

That’s Loah, our hero, on the right and her new friend, Ellis, on the left. Making cameo appearances: Aquaman, the baby Angora goat, Loah’s nameless goldfish, and one of the many, many birds who sing and fly through the pages.

This book was a whopper of a challenge. It started out as my (probably one and only) attempt at a historical novel. (Why didn’t someone remind me that would require research and accuracy?) Like my one and only attempt at writing a crime/mystery novel, which instead became the mystery of the heart that is Moonpenny Island, this new book changed and changed and changed again.

What stayed the same through all the re-visioning was my Loah, a stolid, sweet homebody whose idea of who she is and what she’s capable of is tested when her ornithologist mother disappears on an expedition. Other things I kept: the creaky old house, the ancient caretakers, the new friend with big troubles of her own. The little goat was a surprise.

Now the book is done, it’s tempting to say this is how it was meant to be. A writer wants to feel a certain inevitability about how her story turns out, but really, I can never quite believe in that. Stories, like our lives, can go an infinite number of ways, and by my age I know I’m not in control of all the twists and turns.

But here is my Loah, one of the favorite characters I’ve ever written. I’ll be posting more about her, including some of my favorite lines, here soon. Meanwhile, a toast to her and her friends! (And if you really want to help me celebrate, you can pre-order now!)

January light

I spent this gray, sleety morning babysitting my granddaughters. They are 4 and 2 and when I’m with them, I am approximately 3. We started off with a few educational puzzles, but somehow the puzzle pieces became dishes, and some beads became picnic food, and off we went into Imagination-ville. We rode bikes and drove cars (got caught in a nasty traffic jam and had to be rescued by a crane, which let me tell you was hair-raising), visited a playground, broke bones, visited the hospital, befriended a monkey, ate broccoli-cranberry ice cream (better than you think) and in between had many lullabies and bedtime stories (people who live in Imagination-ville only sleep about 20 seconds a night, it turns out, but they spend a LOT of time getting ready for bed).

Of course we never called it Imagination-ville. While we were there, we just lived it, moment to exciting moment. Who knew what would happen next? We were the bosses of the universe, but the universe still surprised us.

When I write, I live in my imagination, yet even in my first drafts I’m at least faintly aware of bending the arc, shaping a cohesive whole. I feel the constraints of Story tugging at me. But this morning I just played. No need for a beginning, middle and end, or a plot that lasted more than a minute. We did have a theme, though. I’m pretty sure it was: Wow! Life is amazing!

New year, new hope, new book!

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to welcome a new year. As a friend of mine says, this is one January we will not make a mistake writing the date!

So much has been said and written about all that the world has been through in 2020, I won’t add anything more. Instead I’m looking ahead, hoping to leave behind the anger, confusion and pain and replace them with good will and good work.

I’m happy and excited to be sharing my new novel, The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe, coming in June. Meet three of its characters:

And here is the publisher’s synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Loah Londonderry’s mother, a noted ornithologist, works to save endangered birds of the shrinking Arctic tundra. Meanwhile, shy and timid Loah counts the days till she comes home. But to Loah’s surprise and dismay, instead of returning, Dr. Londonderry sets off on a risky solo quest to find the Loah bird, long believed extinct. Does her mother care more deeply about Loah the bird than Loah her daughter?

When Loah’s elderly caretakers fall ill, she finds herself all alone except for her friend Ellis. Ellis sees things in Loah no one else does, things as hidden yet wonderful as the golden feather tucked away on her namesake bird’s wing. When Dr. Londonderry’s expedition goes perilously wrong, Loah will need to uncover that hidden courage and strength to save her mother, lost at the top of the world.

Beautifully written, The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe is about expeditions big and small, about creatures who defy gravity and those of us who are bound by it.  

Perfect publishes in June with Holiday House! Stay tuned for more about it, and meanwhile, happy, hopeful, new year hugs!

A good question

In my recent reader mail:

Yes, this IS a real question, not just for readers but for me. Like all real questions, its answer is…complicated.

We humans love to quantify things– how many inches of snow expected, how high our kid’s score on aptitude tests, how many calories in that brownie, even how many followers or friends we have. I guess it gives us some sense of satisfaction and even control to put a number on a thing, and it lets us make comparisons, for better or for worse.

Even writing falls prey to this. NaNoWriMo just ended. Over 30 days, writers try their best to write 50,000 words, the draft of a whole novel or at least a good start on one. And of course we published writers, if we possess a masochistic streak, can always go on Amazon and compare our sales numbers (#7,642 in Children’s Mouse and Rodent Books–word! this is a real thing!)

But back to my reader’s question–how long does it take to write a book? You have to be careful answering this, because when the question-asker is only nine years old, and the answer is “maybe a year or so but sometimes possibly four years or even more”, you risk scaring that child silly and making her secretly vow to never, ever try to write a book.

“As long as it takes” isn’t a good answer for a child either, even though it’s the truth. Between the time I conceived of Khalil and Mr. Hagerty and the Backyard Treasures and the day I finished it, well over a year had gone by–and this for a book only a few hundred words long. While I had the idea for a long time, I couldn’t figure out how to write it, despite many attempts. Seeded between those attempts was the fallow time I spent thinking–consciously and unconsciously–about my characters and their story. I can’t calculate those minutes and hours, but I know I’d never have written the book without them.

Next spring I have a new middle grade novel, The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe, coming out. I’ll write much more about it as the pub date comes closer, but for now I’ll say: please don’t ask me to try to add up how long I spent writing it. I prefer amnesia. I know I actually wrote an entirely other, entirely different, complete novel first, and when I try to think about what of that book made it into the one I’m publishing, the answer is exactly one single thing: my good, steadfast, shy, self-effacing, infuriatingly timid main character Loah. How patient she’s been with me!

How long does it take to write a book? What I’ll answer my reader is that every book, like every person, is different. If it sometimes takes what seems like forever to finish a story, it’s only because I want it to be the best I possibly can make it. Only then will it be ready to share, and it will be worth every minute.

Digging In

The Department of Funny Things I Never Realized:

A lot of my books have holes in them.

Not plot holes (I hope)–actual holes. In the ground.

A geologist sets up a dig on the island
Cody and Spencer investigate a giant hole in his grandmother’s back yard


Khalil and Mr. Hagerty dig for treasure (the greatest of which, as if turns out, is their friendship)

This makes me smile. One of the metaphors I use when I talk to students is how writing can be like digging. At first you’ll turn up all sorts of stuff, some of it interesting (save that), but much of it expected and dross-y. Keep digging (in other words, drafting). The deeper you go, the more digging (and revising) you do, the closer you’ll come to uncovering the things that only you can find.

There’s also the idea of the funny, weird rock your shovel turns up. You wash the dirt off, polish it up, discover it’s in fact a gem…

BUT…I only just realized how much I write about ACTUAL REAL HOLES. Which makes me think again how little I really, truly know, about how my stories come to be. Which is frustrating on one hand, and kind of wonderful on the other.

Now please excuse me because I have a sudden irresistible urge to go out and dig in my garden…

Unexpected Treasure

Publishing Khalil and Mr. Hagerty and the Backyard Treasures has been a more joyful experience than I expected. Despite the limitations the virus puts on actually meeting readers, teachers and librarians, I’ve been able to connect in lots of other new ways–virtual story hours, on-line nErD camps, tweets and giveaways, and lovely, generous blog spots and social media posts from fellow writers and friends. I still really look forward to the moment when I can sign a book and put it directly into a reader’s hands, not to mention being able to read it aloud to a class and then talk with them about what they think makes a true friend, BUT, in the meantime, I’ll take the virtual joy! Thanks for sharing it with me.

A New Book

I began this blog in 2010, when What Happened on Fox Street first came out. Since then, I’ve published three more middle grade novels, four chapter books, two picture books, and I have a new middle grade in the works for next year.

Those are wonderful numbers! But in the end, they are only numbers, and they can’t even begin to quantify the joy, gratitude and SURPRISE I feel every time I’m lucky enough to see one of my stories go out into the world. Joy because I’ve put my heart on paper, gratitude because so many people–agent, editors, illustrators, marketing staff– have helped make my words real, and SURPRISE because each time the experience feels new.

New, AKA exciting and terrifying. Sending a little book out into the world is always an unknown, and never more than now, with our poor world battered on every side. Will readers find it? Will it make any difference in their lives? Does it matter at all?

Khalil and Mr. Hagerty and the Backyard Treasures is about many things–the power of language to connect, the treasures beneath our own feet, and– very important–chocolate cake. But friendship is at its heart. Friendship–a gift we’re never too old or young to give and to receive. Khalil and Mr. Hagerty are very different fellows, yet they enrich one another’s lives in ways neither could have predicted. I like to think that the story goes on beyond the last page: children who read it will want to delight someone else with a secret gift of kindness.

I’ll be writing more about how this book came to be, and how teachers can use it in the classroom, but for now I’ll just say, Welcome, little book! Spread your light!

School Clothes

Here’s a short essay I wrote for Cleveland Magazine. It took on new poignancy as I wrote it and my granddaughter’s school (which she loved) closed because of the virus.


To my mother’s surprise and delight, I made the newspaper on my very first day of school.

The night before, she’d twisted my stubbornly straight hair onto aluminum rollers, so in the morning miraculous curls framed my face. She buttoned me into my new plaid dress with the crisp skirt and round white collar. She buckled up my new shoes. I was her oldest child, the first she sent out into the world, and that morning everything about me was as close to perfect as she could make it. 

The other kindergarteners must have been driven to school, because I rode the school bus with only one fellow passenger, a little guy with a brush cut and a cool Hawaiian shirt. I’d never seen a Hawaiian shirt before, and it added to the immense wonders of the day. When we got to school, I wasn’t the least surprised to find a smiling reporter ready to snap my photo as I came down those tall bus steps. If any event in my life thus far was worthy of being immortalized, it was riding shotgun on a school bus.

In fact, the reporter was there because the two of us were brand new students at the town’s brand new elementary school. When the photo appeared on the front page of the local paper, my mother proudly bought extras for all the relatives. She pasted a copy into the family photo album. It grew yellow and crumbly, but my smile, my dress and curls endured. It’s clear that when my mother sent me off into the big world for the first time, she did everything she could to show how loved I was. The photo’s caption could have been, Take good care of this child! 

For first grade and the rest of my elementary years, she sent me to St. Hugh of Lincoln Catholic School, where we wore uniforms: navy blue jumper, white blouse, and a clip-on bow tie. That crazy bow tie! It was the only part of the get-up I liked, though by the time I was ten, I was sick of it, too. I hated the monotony of that uniform, but she insisted on keeping it neat and tidy. I remember her ironing my blouses and scolding me to polish my perennially scuffed saddle shoes. She even made me wash the shoelaces. I was lucky, really. Though uniforms were supposed to render us as equal in the eyes of the fashion gods as we were in the eyes of God Himself, we managed to establish our own hierarchy. Some girls got new jumpers every year, while others wore theirs till they grew too small, the fabric thin and shiny. One unfortunate classmate, a tall, craggy girl, had a mother who sewed her uniforms. She no doubt grew up to be gorgeous, but in sixth grade her unusual looks and homemade clothes doomed her to the land of outcasts. Today this breaks my heart. I pray her mother never knew.

When I sent my own children off to school, I could never achieve the polished perfection my mother did. I strove for clean and matching. I made sure their hair met a brush once a day. Civilizing children is no small task and I often worried I was failing, but at least I could make sure their sweaters had no holes and their shoes were on the right feet. Like my own mother sending me off on that first day of kindergarten, I could signal to the wide, indifferent world: these children are cherished.  

By now those children are long grown, and I should be exceedingly wise. Books are not defined by their covers, beauty is more than skin deep, and while clothes can be very nice things, they do not make the man (or woman or child). Yet I’m thinking about all this as my first grandchild’s first year of preschool has come to a premature end due to the coronavirus. Back in September, her mother, my daughter, asked me to go to the school orientation. I was delighted to be part of another first day. My grandchild is shy. She’s a thinker and dreamer. She looked forward to school, but she was wary, too. I was glad I could go along and help ease her in.

That morning she dressed herself, ready in a jiffy. I was the one who opened my closet and froze. Blue jeans and t-shirt? Slacks and knit top? What kind of Nana should I be? Would this make me look like an aging hippy? Would that make me look stiff and boring? On that first day at a new school, I was anxious to present myself as the perfect grandma, whatever that meant. I wanted the other adults to approve of my grandchild’s Nana.

It was ridiculous. I wanted to laugh at myself, but I couldn’t quite. It was embarrassing to still be so self-conscious. Yet now, thinking about it months later, I see it a little differently.  Nothing about raising kids is simple. It’s a terrible tangle of love, guilt, worry, and hope. The world is a precarious place where nothing is certain. It’s no wonder, really, that when we send our children out on their own, we grasp at whatever we can, no matter how flimsy, to protect them. A new dress. A hand-made jumper. A pair of polished shoes. A bit of armor, a badge that says, Take good care of her!

Who knows what my grandbaby will remember about her first day? Probably not her crooked pigtails or unicorn t-shirt. For that she’ll need to look at the photo I took.