June 30, 2012

Crazy Bike Adventure in Columbus!

I accidentally rode a bike 26 miles today.

After writing all morning, I was ready for an adventure.  A board member here at Thurber House kindly lent me a bike.

I hopped on it and pedaled up busy High Street toward Cover to Cover Bookstore.

Traffic lights were out.  Most stores were closed.  Trees were down.  Last night's storms hit this area hard.

It was possible that after six miles, the indie children's bookstore would be closed.

But it wasn't.

 Couldn't have been happier to walk into that dark store and meet Salli, the owner.  She was a gem.  We sat back in the corner where authors and illustrators have signed the walls and we talked books a good long time.

Salli, Cover to Cover Bookstore

Then Salli allowed me to refill my water bottle, choose a book from her pile of ARCs and gave me directions to return to the Thurber House via a bike trail along the river.  (Much prettier and safer than city streets.)

Before leaving, I bought several new books and threw them into my backpack.

No trouble finding the bike trail or maneuvering around downed trees.  Was awed by the beauty of the trees and river along the trail.

While the scenery was gorgeous, I wondered why I hadn't passed the university, as Salli had said I would.  I wondered why the trail marker said Downtown Columbus was ten miles away.  It should have been fewer than six.

Finally, I asked someone how far to Downtown Columbus.  He pointed in the opposite direction.  "This is Worthington.  Downtown is about ten miles that way."

I'd gone the wrong way on the trail.  Four miles the wrong way!  The scenery didn't look quite as sparkly on the way back.  Maybe I should have paid less attention to the views and more attention to this . . .

I felt grateful I was able to refill my water bottle again at the one water fountain I saw along the trail.  I felt grateful the weather was lovely.  I felt grateful I packed snacks in my backpack.  In fact, I stopped on this bridge to eat an apple . . .

The trail heading toward the city was not nearly as lush as the suburban section.  I enjoyed riding along a detour that took me through the Ohio State University campus.  When the trail veered off, I had to ask directions a few times.  Such friendly people!  And I had to maneuver around some of these along the way . . .

Once I made it to Downtown Columbus, it was still a couple miles to get back to the Thurber House.  Those were the hardest miles!

Safe and sound now.  Astounded at how far I was able to ride . . . and how many calories I consumed when I got back.

Tomorrow's adventure will be at the Columbus Zoo with Pat Shannon and her hubby.

June 29, 2012

Best Teaching Experience of My Life

Revisited the kids at the Kings Art Complex this morning.

We gathered in a circle to share what we thought was the most important part of a book.  Character.  Plot.  Setting.  Dialogue. 

Then I read the beginning of Holes to show how sensory details bring a place to life.

The kids wrote about a place that mattered to them, using as many senses as possible.  I invited the two counselors to join the activity.

I wrote, too.  It brought me back to my mom's kitchen, when she used to fry onions and chicken livers.  (And cooked cow tongue.  No wonder I'm a vegetarian!)  I remembered how Mom's pink lipstick glistened and her odd, screechy laugh.

One of the counselors, Iris, read about sitting in the cafeteria in kindergarten and being forced to stay until she finished all her food.  The food was awful.  So she sat as all the other classes came and went, came and went.

John, the other counselor, wrote about the gym back home that he misses -- the sweat, the blood, the pain.  His writing drew us into his place entirely.

The kids were shy at first, but shared such wonderful writing.  I could almost taste the fried chicken at one boy's favorite restaurant -- Roosters.  And feel the eerie desolation of a place set in the future that was once happy, but not anymore.  We visited a classroom with a mysterious locked cabinet. 

We read more, chatted more, especially about the public library, and wrote more.  The hour passed too quickly.

I'm grateful to the Thurber House and the Kings Art Complex for arranging this time to share my love of reading and writing with the kids and counselors.

I'm especially grateful to the counselors, John and Iris, for not only participating, but embracing the activity.  Iris, it turns out, is studying to be a language arts teacher.  And John said he always wanted to be a writer.  He clearly already is a writer. 

Thank you, John and Iris!

June 27, 2012

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. . . . Made of Gumballs

I started the day at King Arts Complex, which is a cultural hub in the city that hosts creative summer camps for the kids.

This huge picture of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. greets visitors from the lobby wall.

It was created by the community and artist Franz Spohn using 12,408 GUMBALLS!

At the King Arts Complex, I worked with nine and ten year olds first.  There were about 20 kids.  There was drumming in the next room.  Loud drumming.  A counselor was tearing giant sheets of paper.  And sharpening pencils.  Those kids kept their focus on me and their mind on their writing.  I was so impressed with their kind and polite behavior.  Couldn't have asked for a nicer group of kids.

One boy pulled me aside to tell me how much he loves reading and shared some of his favorite books with me. 

The writing prompt was this:  Imagine yourself twenty years in the future winning an award for something important you've done.  Write your acceptance speech.   One boy pulled me aside and said, "I want to win the Caldecott Medal."  The Caldecott Medal!  Many adults have no idea what that is. 

The next group of eleven and twelve year olds were too cool for school, but they did share their writing.  One girl went so far above and beyond the prompt, adding a full story that involved her agent in Milan, Italy and included dialogue and an entire story around her winning the award. 

These experiences are always full of surprises.  And I always learn from them.

Later in the day, the young docents gave us a tour of the Thurber House.

Meg Brown with young docents

Me with young docents

Docents giving a tour of the Thurber House
Part of one wall in the Thurber museum

After the tour, I joined 100 people on the lawn for a delicious boxed dinner at a literary picnic.  We heard author Karen Harper talk about her books -- how place is so important when she begins a novel -- and about the publishing process.

Karen Harper signing books I bought for my friend Nancy and my dad.
Another beautiful day . . . for many reasons!

June 26, 2012

I Was in a Castle Today . . .

After a long day writing, I found myself at the beautiful public library in downtown Columbus.

Here's the wall leading into the children's room . . .

Once inside, you could enjoy reading a book in this CASTLE!!!

Raise your hand if you'd like to have had a castle in your childhood library.  ** Donna waves both hands wildly. **

My heart did a little skip when I perused the new middle grade books because I noticed a familiar title on the shelf . . .

My book may or may not have been face out when I, ahem, turned it face out.  

After the library, I joined the teen writers group at the Thurber House Writing Center. 

We did a couple short writing prompts.  This group was so smart, savvy, funny and creative they could have handled a highly complex activity.  I was so impressed with these young writers!

Tomorrow, I'll be doing a couple more writing workshops and attending a literary picnic in the evening. 

This Thurber House gig sure is fun!

June 25, 2012

Fun at the Thurber House . . .

Today, I met the young campers.

Can you say, "Enthusiastic?"

I call this one:  "Pick me!"

There were eager to write their six-words biographies and their character profiles.

 And when I was told a camper would "absolutely die" if he didn't get to share his writing with me, I did this . . .

I made it just in time.  Whew!

Favorite part?  When the last camper was leaving, she ran back and gave me a big hug.

In the evening, there was a reception to welcome me.  I met the coolest people:  Librarians.  A principal.  Teachers.  Corporate communicators.  A bookstore owner.  One woman was on the Newbery committee the year Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust won.

And I finally got to meet Pat Shannon, who recently retired from the Thurber House.  Pat was the one who originally interviewed me for the residency.  It was so good to finally meet her! 

Pat Shannon

The people who work and volunteer here and are on the board here are some of the nicest people I've ever met!

When the reception ended, Meg Brown and I sat under a huge, leafy tree and enjoyed the cool, breezy weather. 

Here's Meg playing piano in the Thurber House sitting room . . .

When everyone was gone, I sat on a lawn chair and ate an ice cream bar for dinner.  This was my view . . .

There will be a literary picnic here Wednesday evening with author, Karen Harper.  Can't wait!

Tomorrow evening, I will spend time with the teen writers.  

And if my agent is reading this:  Tina, I'm writing and re-writing and . . . HAVING FUN!

June 24, 2012

Guess Who's Freeloading at the Thurber House?

Somehow last week, I went from speaking at a conference in Orlando to speaking at a library in Miami Gardens to my residency at the Thurber House in Columbus, OH.   

That's right.  I'm residing in James Thurber's boyhood home!

That's me waving from the tiny window upstairs.  Or maybe it's the resident ghost.  Not sure.

Meg Brown, Manager, Children's Programming, gave me a great tour of Columbus, which may or may not have concluded with delicious sushi for dinner. 

Here's Meg Brown in the Thurber House store.

Seeing my books on the shelves in the store was pretty cool . . .

The first night getting used to new digs and not having my family around was a little strange. 

Sunday was all about exploring on my own. 

My feet found their way to the German Village.  There, I followed stone steps up to The Book Loft.

This bookstore has 32 different rooms!  It was a-MAZE-ing!

And because I'm the world's biggest book nerd, I followed that up with a trip to the Columbus Metropolitan Library.  The good folks at the Thurber House gave me a library card for this behemoth of a library.  (I'll be visiting often!)

And because I'm a cheapskate, I went to the Columbus Museum of Art.  (It's free on Sundays.)  There is a photography exhibit, a glass exhibit and paintings and sculpture galore.  Myriad opportunities abound for kids (and adults) to express their creativity through interactive art stations throughout the museum. 

Alice in Wonderland giant chess set in the museum's outdoor sculpture garden.

Tomorrow, I work with young writers at the Thurber House Writing Camp.

What are you up to this week? 

June 21, 2012

A Book So Good . . .

Did you ever read a book so good that even though you were dying to find out what happened next, you read slowly because you didn't want the experience to end?

I knew from the first page that A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness would be that kind of book for me. 

Here are the first few sentences:

The monster showed up just after midnight.  As they do.

Conor was awake when it came.  He'd had a nightmare.  Well, not a nightmare.  The nightmare.

Everything about this book was perfect.  Every sentence just right.  It inspired me to ask questions, then answered each with great satisfaction.  It's a sad book, but a healing one, too.  A beautiful book based on the idea by Siobhan Dowd, who died at 47 from cancer.  Delightfully dark illustrations were created by Jim Kay.  The publisher, Candlewick Press, did a fabulous job making this book.  It deserved every single starred review it earned.

A couple other great books for kids that provide therapy of sorts for dealing with loss, especially from cancer are MILO:  STICKY NOTES AND BRAIN FREEZE by Alan Silberberg and MRS. BIDDLEBOX by the late Linda Smith and illustrator, Marla Frazee.

Two other fantastic books I've enjoyed this year are WONDER by R. J. Palacio and THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate.

Which books have you absolutely loved so far this year?  (Or last year?)  Share your favorite books for children or for adults in the comments section.

June 18, 2012

Orlando? Check! Miami? Here I come . . .

What do you get when you combine Disney magic, kick-butt workshops and a hula hoop demonstration?

You get the awesome Florida SCBWI Mid-year Workshops and Intensives.

What fun!  It was an honor to be among the wonderful faculty.

Agent Tracey Adams and I had a great group in our middle grade workshop Saturday.  They were engaged, enthusiastic and full of funtastic ideas.

Tracey and I spent the day talking craft and marketing and . . . there was some hula hooping going on.  I mean, really, how can one talk about middle grade fiction without it?

Thanks, Fred Koehler, for bringing the hoop . . .

Tracey Adams, Fred Koehler and me

And then there was the lizard under the presenter table . . .

Here is Tracey taking a photo of someone rescuing the lizard.

By the end of the session, our heads were all ready to explode . . . with great ideas for writing middle grade fiction about, hmm, hula hooping lizards.  Yeah, that's it.  Hula hooping lizards.

During lunch, I had the pleasure of meeting author, Tracy Barrett.   Tracy and I recently presented at April is for Authors, but there were so many authors we didn't get a chance to meet, so I was delighted to enjoy lunch with Tracy.  And the tiramisu for dessert didn't hurt either.

Tracy Barrett and Donna.  Not shown:  Tiramisu

This conference was so well organized, it was a pleasure to participate.  Thanks to Florida's regional advisor, Linda Bernfeld, and amazing volunteers Kerry O'Malley Cerra, Dorian Cirrone, Marcea Ustler, Danielle Joseph, Curtis Sponsler, Laurie Taddonio and many others.  You do such a fine job!

And a big thanks for the lovely gift bag, waiting for me on the presenter's table.  Here are some of the goodies that were inside . . .

A lovely thank you card, Mickey Mouse pen, journal, homemade cookies, chocolate, bookstore gift certificate and commemorative pin, designed by Kathy Blackmore

After the conference, Danette Haworth, author extraordinaire, interviewed me for her cool iphone video.  Warning:  This video contains two adult women attempting to answer trivia questions.  It may not be suitable for viewers over the age of ten.

And the coolest part?  When the work was over, I got to enjoy a vacation with my guys at the Yacht Club, where they fold the towels like this . . .

And this . . .

What a fantastic, albeit exhausting, weekend!

Now, it's off to Miami for a presentation at the North Miami Beach Public Library.

If you are between the ages of 8 and a bazillion, this event is for you!

I'll be doing a presentation about the author's journey, including a reading from my new book, Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen, Q & A, prizes and a book signing.

Wednesday, June 20th at 2 p.m. at the North Miami Beach Public Library 1601 N.E. 164 Street. North Miami Beach, Florida 33162

I haven't decided yet if there will be hula hoops involved.  Or lizards.   

June 14, 2012

Summer Shenanigans, Schedule and a Ghastly GHOST!

I'm excited to head to the Thurber House this summer for the Children's Writer in Residence Program

Thurber House in Columbus, OH

I'll live in the upstairs apartment of James Thurber's boyhood home in Columbus, OH . . . along with a GHOST. 

Don't believe me?  Check out this video!

(With Spanish subtitles.  Heh heh!)

How did I get myself into this spooky predicament, er, I mean wonderful opportunity?  You can read about how many times I applied here.  After so many attempts, I'm so happy to be this summer's 2012 Children's Writer in Residence.  (Well, except for that pesky ghost thing.)

Here's a schedule of my activities (many of which are open to the public):
  • Monday, June 25th, 12:30-2:40 p.m. --  Teaching at the Thurber Summer Writing Camp
  • Tuesday, June 26th, 6:00-8:00 p.m.  -- Visiting the Young Writers' Studio
  • Wednesday, June 27th, 9:30-11:30 a.m. -- Teach creative writing class at the King Arts Complex
  • Friday, June 29th, 9:30-11:30 a.m. -- Teach creative writing class at the King Arts Complex
  • Tuesday, July 10th, 11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. -- Teach writing workshop at the Old Worthington Library  (Open to the public.)
  • Tuesday, July 10th, 2:00-3:00 p.m. -- Teach writing workshop at the Northwest Worthington LIbrary  (Open to the public.)
  • Wednesday, July 11th, 9:30-11:45 a.m. -- Teaching at the Thurber Summer Writing Camp
  • Thursday, July 12th, 6:00-8:00 p.m. -- Reading at McConnell Arts Center  (Open to the public.)
  • Monday, July 16th, 12:30-2:40 -- Teaching at the Thurber Summer Writing Camp
  • Tuesday and Wednesday, July 17th and 18th, 1:00-3:00 p.m. -- Teaching creative writing clsses at the Homeless Families Foundation
  • Thursday, July 19th, 2-3 p.m. -- Reading at Northside Library  (Open to the pubic.)
  • (A bookstore appearance to be announced.)
What will I be doing the rest of the time?  Missing these guys . . .

 And these guys . . .

 And these gals . . .

 And lots of other guys and gals!

Oh yeah, I'll also be writing!  And writing!  AND WRITING!!!

Maybe the Thurber House ghost can help me pen my mysterious new book.  Hmm.  Reminds me of this fun book by Kate Klise:

 The ghost and I wish you a very happy summer!

June 6, 2012

Fun Fan Artwork . . .

One of my favorite parts of writing for tweens are the fun letters, e-mails, etc. they send. 

Most of these letters contain hopes that HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL will be made into a movie.  Are you listening Judd Apatow and Rob Reiner?

Some of the letters ask if HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL will be a series.  Are you listening, Random House?

And some letters come with art.  Today, I wanted to share the cool artwork a young fan sent (with her permission, of course). 

Elliott and David, from How to Survive Middle School

Is that cool or what?  To see a clearer version along with her review, click here.

Thanks so much, Tengku Hana!