March 30, 2012

NERDS (and Elvis) IN NEW YORK!

When hubby had a business trip to New York, I tagged along.  We spent our first day enjoying Central Park.    

Nerds in Central Park!

Everything was in bloom.
Then we geeked out Times Square, taking in the lights and sights.  Had the best vegetarian burgers at Ted's Montana Grill.  The next morning, our friend Elysa drove from Connecticut to spend the morning with us.  She helped us get half-priced tickets for Memphis.

Our lovely friend, Elysa.

After Elysa left, an hour before the show, the lens popped out of my glasses.  We ran to the nearest Lens Crafters, where the person repaired my glasses, then we grabbed a bite and hustled to the theater.  Made it there in plenty of time to stand in the longest women's bathroom line ever.  And still was on time for the show!

After the fun musical, we strolled around Rockefeller Center and watched the ice skaters.  (Last time I was there with Elysa, they cleared the ice, and a man skated onto the ice to a woman and proposed to her.)  

Hubby and I saw many landmarks, including this one . . .

That evening found us in Rizolli Bookstore. This is what an independent bookstore used to be . . . and should be still.  What a joy!  I stood in the children's section and got all weepy, feeling so grateful to be part of this wonderful field. 

Monday found me in the lobby of our hotel, meeting a teacher (with whom I've only corresponded) and her daughter.

Tracy Smith and her lovely daughter, Victoria.

They treated me to breakfast at Carnegie Deli.  We had a lovely time getting to know each other.  I found out that Victoria plays drums, and they have a great shelter dog . . . just like we do.

When they headed to the American Museum of Natural History, I walked in the opposite direction to a meeting at Scholastic.  I knew I was in the right place when my name badge had Clifford, the Big Red Dog on it.

So happy to finally meet my Storyworks Magazine editor, Lauren Tarshis.  She's worked at Scholastic for over two decades, but we connected when I read and fell in love with her book, Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree.  Lauren has written several books.  And she also contributed a wonderful blog post about how to write a good short story.
Lauren Tarshis, editor of Storyworks and Scope magazines, author and mother of four.  Aka:  Superwoman!

Lauren introduced me to the magazine group and the people who choose the books for Scholastic's book fairs and clubs.  Then she treated me to a lovely lunch at the Scholastic cafe.

On the way out, I said so-long to Clifford the Big Red Dog, who stands guard near the front desk.  

Then I began the looooong trek back from SoHo to Mid-town.  Despite the cold weather, I vastly prefer walking to taking a cab.

Of course, along the way, I stopped in The Strand Bookstore.  And Books of Wonder, where I had the impossible decision of buying one of their amazing cupcakes or browsing the books.  I choose the books.  And I'm glad I did because manager, Scott, ended up chatting with me for half an hour about our shared love for children's literature and the amazing events they are prepping for this weekend.  Then, of course, I bought a book!

To continue my nerd love for New York City, I stopped in the New York Public Library.   In the main reading room, I sat and gazed up at the paintings of clouds on the ornate ceiling, grateful to be in that hallowed space.

Hubby and I enjoyed a lovely dinner with my agent and her family.

The next morning, I met the talented woman who edited all three of my novels -- Stephanie Elliott.  She has left Random House, so I was happy to reconnect with her and her adorable daughter and stroll through Central Park and catch up. 

Stephanie Elliott

Then off to lunch at Cognac, a great French restaurant, with my agent and wonderful new editor, Michelle Poploff, who took over the torch of Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen and worked hard to give it the best start she could.  I look forward to working on future books with Michelle.

Michelle Poploff, Vice President, Executive Editor at Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers (Random House)
Tina Wexler, Senior Agent with International Creative Management

My last meeting was with my publicist, Paul Samuelson.  Besides sharing great ideas, Paul and I discovered we spent our childhoods at different branches of the same library system -- The Free Library of Philadelphia.  Who knows how many enthusiastic book nerds that library system helped create?!

Donna, Elvis and publicist, Paul Samuelson.
One of the may things I learned during this trip is that children's book publishing companies retain a sense of fun in the workplace and are filled with dedicated professionals, who are passionate about producing and promoting children's literature.

Hubby and I spent our last night in New York revisiting Rizolli Bookstore and buying several books and EATING!  After a big dinner, we treated ourselves to dessert of crepes, hot chocolate, etc.  And headed home, full of sights, sounds, nerdy book love and FOOD!

We love New York!

March 23, 2012

Dog vs. Cat . . .

Sometimes you just need a funny dog video . . .

Isn't that right, fellas?

"You think she'll give us food?"  "Sure.  Just keep smiling."

"Puh-lease!  Dogs are so immature!  Back to my beauty rest."

March 20, 2012

Skype Me Up, Scotty

Who doesn't love a good Skype visit?

I had the pleasure of visiting with a middle school book club in New York without setting foot on an airplane.  I didn't have to take my shoes off and walk through airport security.  Heck, I didn't even wear shoes! 

The wonderful students asked me great questions about how I came up with my ideas, how they could become writers and why I decided to become a writer.  (Because I get to do fun things, like have Skype visits with amazing kids.)

Here's Zoe, who has a pink stripe in her hair . . .

The students were so sweet . . .

A big THANK YOU to Ms. Foran for arranging the visit and for allowing me to spend time with her book club members! 

What a delightful diversion during the day.  And to think, I visited a site 1,200 miles away and didn't even get jet lag.

March 19, 2012

Meet Olivia Green Beans . . .

It's not every day I get a can of green beans wearing a paper crown to celebrate my book's release. 

Some days, I get creamed corn wearing a tutu or petite peas sporting a sombrero. 

Weird friends are the best!

March 13, 2012

SHE'S HERE . . .


Crystal, rockin' a pair of red sunglasses.
To read Ken Jennings' (Jeopardy! champ) quote about Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen or to get a FREE reader's guide or to challenge yourself with some fun trivia, click HERE, then hit the Olivia Bean tab.

Two years ago, when How to Survive Middle School came out, I was up to my eyeballs in work and dressed like a homeless person when two friends arrived with amazing surprises.  Read about it here.  

This year, I worked like crazy the weeks leading up to today, so I could enjoy the day.  It's not every day your book lands on bookstore shelves across the country!

My talented author friend Maria Padian reminded me yesterday of the brilliant chapter in Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird, where she talks about publication.  I re-read it last night.  (By the way, Maria's gripping, glorious book JERSEY TOMATOES ARE THE BEST is also celebrating a book birthday today -- the paperback release.  If you haven't read it yet, treat yourself!)

So, what happens when a book is released?


That's right.  Absolutely nothing.  There are no parades, fireworks or marching bands to mark the day.  

Unless . . .

You have the most wonderful friends and family!

Two years ago, this is how I celebrated my book's release.

Today, my dear friend, Sandra, stopped by to deliver these . . .

Sandra owns a local music school, Jupiter Academy of Music.  She's forever doing wonderful things for the community, including creating the Grace Notes Foundation, to provide music education for children who can't afford it.  Love that lady!

Sandra Baran

Later, my friend Holly and I are having a quiet lunch to celebrate my book's birthday and her actual birthday.  Then hubby is taking me and the boys out for a fun dinner.  Can't wait! 

So, I'm going to enjoy my book's birthday for the same reason I enjoy every day -- my wonderful friends and family.  

Thank you!

With love,
Donna (and Olivia)


And from my wonderful friend, Holly:  Lunch out and these carrot cupcakes with citrus cream cheese frosting and a specially designed Olivia Bean card . . .

When I came home, I found these waiting for me . . .

Thank you, uber-amazing agent, Tina Wexler!  Olivia LOVES her birthday balloons!

I'm having more fun today celebrating Olivia's book birthday than I have celebrating my own birthdays!  Thanks so much for all the cards, gifts, kind words, hugs, emails, etc.  You sure know how to make a girl feel special!

Hubby and sons just took me out to Howley's -- a fun diner in West Palm Beach.

And gave me this Jeopardy! card . . .

What is "Woohoo?"

So, what's the plan for tomorrow? 


And our son's winter sports banquet.  Woohoo!

March 7, 2012


8 Classrooms.

6  States.


Today, I had the great fun of Skyping with wonderful students, sharing my love for reading and an excerpt from my new book, Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen.  

Thanks to Kate Messner for connecting authors with classrooms as part of this special day!

And thanks to the wonderful educators and librarians for connecting me with your students.

These kids live where I used to live in Bensalem, PA.  We had a great time talking about the one thing I miss almost as much as my family -- PHILLY SOFT PRETZELS!

I managed to keep these awesome North Carolina kids in the dark.

This Western Pennsylvania book club shared their favorite books.  I have a lot of reading to do to keep up with them!

Loved the kids from this New York middle school. 

While it looks like I was speaking to only a few, this was a great group from New Hampshire.  They were part of a book club that regularly Skypes with authors.

Iowa is in the house!  Thanks Ms. McClintock Miller for connecting during your very busy day.  This is our second year working together during World Read Aloud Day.

Bad lighting.  GREAT kids from NY!

Ms. Tyo, we meet again.  These Ohio students are great readers and totally rocked World Read Aloud Day!

March 2, 2012

Being a Golden Kite Award Judge

The e-mail asking me to be a Golden Kite Award judge included this sentence:  "This year we expect approximately 200- 300 books in the Fiction category."

I felt honored to be asked.

Then I thought:  200-300 books!!!

Who could I talk to who has read lots of books?  Hmm.  Author and book reviewer Sue Corbett.  Sue generously suggested how I might organize so many books.  Then she said these seven words:  "For what it's worth, I'd say yes!"

I said YES!

Then I spent the early part of the summer giving away my own books.  I emptied a floor to ceiling bookcase to hold the expected Golden Kite books.

Then I waited for the avalanche of books to arrive.

And waited.

About a dozen books came in.  I read them.  Then a dozen more.   I read them, too.

The deadline to receive books was in December, so by early November I was sure there would be fewer than 200 books to go through.  I can definitely do this, I thought.

Then the books came.

And came . . .

I realized I had to stop reading any other books.  In fact, the people who work at our local public library asked my husband, "I haven't seen Donna in here.  Is she okay?"

I was okay.  Just a little booked up . . .

Buddha sits atop the pile of books to be read.

It became clear I not only needed to stop reading other books, I needed to stop writing them.  That was hard.  No writing.  Just reading.

And reading . . . 

Be careful what you wish for . . .

This process gave me an appreciation for what editors and agents do all day, every day.  My only requirement when I opened a book was that it demanded that I keep reading.  If it did, I kept reading.  If not, well . . .

It helped to know I wasn't alone in this Herculean task.

One of the greatest parts of this experience was working with the other judges in the fiction category -- Julia Durango and Steve Watkins, each of whom have won the Golden Kite Fiction Award for their books.  

I can't say enough good things about these talented, thoughtful, hard-working, fun people.  We'd send e-mails to encourage each other through the process.   And sometimes, I'd get an e-mail like this: "Did you get the Random House books?  Mine arrived today!!!"

Living in South Florida, I always got the books a day later than the other judges, so I appreciated the heads up about what would land on my doorstep.  We judges had thought we were nearly done reading when the 70 plus Random House books arrived . . .

Here's our oldest son schlepping in the boxes before his shift at Best Buy.

That floor to ceiling bookshelf quickly filled, and books began piling up everywhere.  Our kids would show their friends when they came over.  I would show my friends.  It was fun to watch their eyes bulge as they looked at the sheer volume of books.

I kept reading.

Eventually, the pile of completed books far outnumbered the to-be-read pile.

Julia, Steve and I worked hard to select the winners -- sharing our top three books with each other and working from there.  We've each been on the receiving end of that wonderful phone call -- them for winning the Golden Kite Fiction Awards, me for winning the Sid Fleischman Humor Award -- and we were so excited for the winning and honor book recipients to receive those magical phone calls. 

We wished we could give out several awards.  But we had to make hard choices.  Ultimately, we were proud to send in our selections.

Congratulations to the Golden Kite Fiction Award winner -- Ruta Sepetys for her gripping novel, Between Shades of Gray.  And congratulations to Trent Reedy for winning the Golden Kite Fiction Honor Award for sensitively portraying a young girl in war-torn Afghanistan in his deeply touching novel, Words in the Dust.  We are thrilled for all Golden Kite and Sid Fleischman Award winners!

So, it's over.  Except for the books.  About  450 in all.  

I kept some for my home library . . .

I gave several to delighted young friends.

And I was able to donate about 400 brand new books to the Palm Beach County School system.  That felt good -- not just being able to see our floor again, but knowing good books will get into the hands of kids who need them.  Thanks, Janeen Pelser, for picking them up!

Thanks Sue Corbett for encouraging me to say, "Yes!"  Thanks Julia Durango and Steve Watkins for sharing this amazing experience with me.  Couldn't have asked for two better cohorts.  Thanks to my family for putting up with all the books and all the reading.  And thanks SCBWI for honoring me with this request and for the wonderful, wonderful work you do!