December 25, 2011


Our seventeen-year-old and almost nineteen-year-old woke us this morning, like they did when they were little.  Except this time it was because they were excited to give us gifts they bought for us. 

Our oldest bought me a lovely teapot because I don't write without a steaming mug of herbal tea beside me.

And our younger son filled a basket with our favorite food and drinks.

Hubby knocked it out of the park, as usual, and got me something I will really enjoy . . .

A purple bike -- just like my sister and I shared when we were kids, well, except that one had a sparkly banana seat and a flowered basket for library books.  I got my first real bike from my mom when I was 14.  Now, at 46, this is only my third bike.  Can't wait to ride it!

And here's a closeup of the shirt Hubby snagged for me from the Newseum in D.C. . . .

It's true, especially when the food is chocolate chip mint ice-cream.  

Oldest son and I each got my hubby an e-reader.  Oops.  A Kindle and a Nook Color.  Which one should he keep? 

Our faraway family sent gift cards and books and all manner of goodies.  And mostly love.

Even the pups got things to chew on and chase.  The cat snubbed her new catnip toy as all regal felines must.

I was happy to have all my guys home with me, even the four-legged ones.

Happy holidays to all, and to all a good night . . .

December 12, 2011

40 Reasons I Love S.C.B.W.I.

Forty years ago, Lin Oliver and Steve Mooser, noticed something was missing -- a community of children's book writers (and eventually, illustrators) who support, educate and inspire one another.

Lin Oliver and Steve Mooser

So they went about the business of creating it.

When they started S.C.B.W.I.  (SOCIETY OF CHILDREN'S BOOK WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATORS), Lin and Steve couldn't have imagined the people around the globe they'd positively impact . . . or how hard those initials would be to pronounce. "Scubahwi?"

Here's an homage to my favorite community on the planet:



1.  I connected with my uber-agent, Tina Wexler, from International Creative Management through the S.C.B.W.I. message board.

 2.  Jay Asher's dreams came true.  Did you know that before Jay became a best-selling author, he won S.C.B.W.I. creative writing contests and grants with his funny, clever entries?

3.  Bruce Hale, author of the popular Chet Gecko series, met his agent, Steven Malk, at the S.C.B.W.I. conference in L.A. in 1998.  (That's the same year that Steven Malk connected with Sonya Sones and acquired her fabulous novel in verse, Stop Pretending:  What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy.)

4.  Debbie Ridpath Ohi, illustrator and writer, exuberantly shares how S.C.B.W.I. made her dreams come true in this YouTube video:

5.  With international reach and local critique groups, S.C.B.W.I. is helping make dreams come true every day.


6.  Thanks to the standards, education and support of this organization, the quality of children's literature has increased exponentially.

7.  If writers or illustrators are members of S.C.B.W.I., an agent/editor/art director knows they have taken at least one giant step toward professionalism.

8.  It's good to have the combined muscle and companionship of a huge, world-wide organization.  It makes one feel less alone in an inherently lonely profession.

9.  With master classes by Tomie dePaola and Richard Peck, one can't help but improve one's craft.  (I shared the Richard Peck DVD with our local critique group, and it was a big hit.  "Pass the popcorn, please.")


10.  As S.C.B.W.I. grows, they try to provide opportunities for the pre-published and the published.  Their newest offering is a grant for students studying illustration to attend conferences.

11.  The year I was nominated for the Sue Alexander Award, I'd never felt so much validation.  Thank you!

12.  Speaking of opportunities, in an effort to recognize an often ignored genre of children's literature, S.C.B.W.I. created the Sid Fleischman Humor Award

13.  And I had the great pleasure of winning the award in 2009 for my book As If Being 12-3/4 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President!

14.  S.C.B.W.I. flew me to L.A. to accept the award.  You'd think I'd be nervous giving a speech in front of 1,000 people, but they were my people.  My community of children's book lovers.  And it turned out that surrounded by my community and my friends and family, I had the best weekend of my life.

Me, Hubby, Agent, Tina Wexler, friend, Riley Roam in L.A., August 2009

15.  There are so many grants, awards, etc. available.  Did you know that Ruta Sepetys's novel, Between Shades of Gray, is now a New York Times best-seller and has received 4 starred reviews . . . and in 2007, Ruta won an SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant?

16.  Three years before that, Cynthia Lord won a Work-in-Progress Grant.  She went on to write several books:  Touch Blue, Hot Rod Hamster, Happy Birthday Hamster and her Newbery-honor-winning book, Rules.  

17.  Which grant or award will have YOUR name on it?


18.  I had the great pleasure of attending the national summer conference in L.A. three times -- 2001, 2005 and 2009.  And I hope to get there this year, too.  Don't forget the New York conference, January 27th - 29th!

19.  At the conference in 2009, I met amazing people like Karen Cushman, Ellen Hopkins, Varian Johnson and Mary Hershey.  The authors, illustrators, editors and agents are all so accessible at these conferences!

Karen Cushman

Ellen Hopkins

Varian Johnson

Mary Hershey

20.  I remember hearing Sherman Alexie's opening talk and thinking, "Well, I could leave right now and I've gotten so much out of this conference."  But of course, there was more.  Much more!

21.  Dove Bars.  Yeah, S.C.B.W.I. is like that.  Served those delicious treats between sessions. 

22.  And crazy, wild parties.  The D.J. at the party I attended said, "Who knew children's book authors and illustrators were such a wild bunch?"  Hadn't he ever read Where the Wild Things Are?  The wild things are at S.C.B.W.I. conference parties!

Dan Santat and others get wild at the 40 Winks Pajama Party in L.A.


23.  While S.C.B.W.I. has a global reach, it's the local component that gives members access to great resources, like critique groups, meet-ups and conferences.  (Check out regional events here.)

24.  I floundered for years after I moved from Philadelphia to South Florida.  Where were my people?  More than a decade ago, Linda Bernfeld, Saundra Rubiera and a group of dynamic volunteers put on an amazing conference with excellent speakers in a school cafeteria -- serving lunch and dessert -- all for $35.  I had found my tribe.

25.  I've gone to nearly every annual Florida conference since, watching it grow and flourish.

26.  It was at the regional conference that Sid Fleischman reached over and touched my arm and said, "That was a fantastic speech you gave."  Sid Fleischman!  I'm so, so grateful I got to meet this kind, gentle and generous man.

Me and Sid Fleischman, 2008

27.  It was at the FL regional conference that I heard Linda Sue Park talk about story structure -- point of view, showing, not telling, first person vs. third person, etc.  (If you want to hear Linda Sue Park and Rebecca Stead talk about winning the Newbery Medal and other stuff, check out Katie Davis's Brain Burps Podcast.)

28.  I had the good fortune of attending a workshop about character building with the late, great Paula Danziger.  I share Paula's gem when I teach my quirky character workshop:  "What is your character hiding in his/her closet?"

29.  I've presented at regional conferences in New England, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida.  Each has its own flavor and vibe.  Hard-working regional advisers and volunteers make it all happen.


30.  The Bulletin is brimming with information, articles and great artwork.  You can contribute articles and artwork to The Bulletin.

31.  S.C.B.W.I. members find unique ways to give back.  The Fairy Godsisters (Thalia Chaltas, Valerie Hobbs, Mary Hershey, Robin La Fevers and Lee Wardlaw) pooled their resources to provide an annual scholarship to the international conference as a way to give back for several years.  Jay Asher has done the same. 

32.  Want to help bring an author to a school that can't afford an author visit?  Consider donating to the Amber Brown Grant

33.  Want to help fund a scholarship for someone to attend one of the summer or winter conferences?  Consider honoring someone by donating in his/her name to the Tribute Fund.

34.  More than a decade ago, I joined the West Palm Beach critique group run by the magnificent Sylvia Andrews.

Sylvia with author, Sharon Creech at Books & Books

35.  When Sylvia asked Linda Marlow and me to run our own S.C.B.W.I. critique group in the Palm Beach Gardens, we said, "Yes!"  Seven years later, our group of compassionate, talented writers and artists is still going strong . . .

Laura, Amy, Ruth, Linda, Donna, Becca, Sylvia, Riley (Not shown:  Dan, Kelly, Stephen King, Gail, Amy, Ann, Carmen, Felice, J.K. Rowling, Janice, Jennifer, James Patterson, Maryann and Peggy)

36.  Linda Marlow and I volunteered to drive speakers to the FL regional conference.  We picked up Arthur Levine -- author and publisher -- a real mensch.  He asked about my new book -- How to Survive Middle School -- and I told him how my Jewish main character wanted to the the next Jon Stewart, but first had to survive 6th grade.  Arthur invited me to speak at the BK Book Festival he helps put on every year to benefit his synagogue and local bookstore, Watchung Booksellers.  I combined the event with a couple school visits and had a great time!

Arthur Levine, Margo Sage-EL (owner of Watchung Booksellers) and me  

37.  When people tell me they want to write or illustrate books for children, I tell them five letters that might change their lives . . .  "S.C.B.W.I."


38.  S.C.B.W.I. is the most generous community I know of.  Steve and Lin began that spirit of generosity, of living and learning and passing it on.  Now, thousands of people around the world continue that tradition of providing help and hope.

39.  I've left every conference I've ever attended (both international and regional) with at least one new friend.  (Hi, Margie, Lisa, Melinda, Gail, Carole, Katie, Ena, Paul . . . )

40.  The wonderful people I've met through my local S.C.B.W.I. critique groups are among the most precious in my life.  They enrich my life daily.

Sylvia, Dan, me, Linda and Riley celebrating my first book's release

These 40 reasons don't begin to cover how grateful I am for Lin and Steve and the amazing community that is S.C.B.W.I.  I hope this organization continues to grow and flourish, because while those initials may be difficult to pronounce, they are filled with magic.

Thank you.

December 9, 2011

Last Book Signing of 2011

A boy came up to me at my book signing and said, "Did you write How to Survive Middle School?"


"I loved that book!" 

He went on to tell me his favorite parts. 

Awesome kid!  Meet Alex . . .

December 7, 2011

Alone and Scared . . . in Middle School

You've probably seen this video.  It's gone viral. 

But if you haven't, it's honest . . . and sad.

There is an addendum this boy wrote on YouTube.  It's several months after he created this video, and he's happy and doing well now.

I love his honesty.  It made me want to reach through the screen and give him a hug.

As a children's book author, it reminded me why I write:  So kids like him can feel less alone.

This video is a great reminder how important it is to be kind to one another.

December 2, 2011

Where's the Lorax When You Need Him?

When we walked our dogs, they always stopped under the Royal Poinciana tree on our corner.  We admired the orange blooms and long green pods.  It was the only shade for blocks.

When Hubby saw a "For Sale" sign in front of the property, he said, "Uh oh.  That tree's going to come down."

"Don't say that," I said.  "It might not."

A few weeks later, there were two men out there.  One had a chain saw; the other stood back with arms crossed.

"You're not going to cut down that tree," I said to the man with his arms crossed.

"I've got to," he said, gesturing.  "Look how it's hitting that wire up there."

"But we love that tree.  It barely survived the hurricanes, then came back to what it is now."

He shrugged.

I fumed.

It reminded me of this book, where residents saw an orange traffic cone one day near their beloved orange tree and knew trouble was brewing.

And this book about how Julia Butterfly Hill spent TWO YEARS living in a tree to save it from being cut down.

It wasn't long before the beautiful tree on our corner looked like this . . .

And then this . . .

The book we really need is this one . . .

Where's the Lorax when you need him?

"You're in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.
And Truffula Trees (Royal Poinciana Trees) are what everyone needs.
Plant a new Truffula.  Treat it with care.
Give it clean water.  And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest.  Protect it from axes (and chainsaws) that hack.
Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back." 

-- The Lorax by Dr. Seuss