January 31, 2008



March 15, 1925 – January 30,2008

Our phone conversations always began with, “Hey, Sweetheart” and ended with, “You know I love you, Pal.”

Even though Jake Gephart was my father-in-law, I can’t remember a time I didn’t call him “Dad.”

He taught me how to garden. He taught me how to work hard . . . and enjoy it. He taught me that family always comes first. And that kindness is simple but important. He taught me to laugh . . . often and with great gusto.

I remember dashing over to his house on cold days, and he’d welcome me and our small sons with hot chocolate and canned peaches. Then before I knew it, he’d be on the floor with our boys, building houses from playing cards or pitching pennies against the wall or playing grocery with cans from his shelves.

When Jake’s wife, Jane, passed away (the month before I met him), his four sons and his grandchildren became the focus of his life. I love my brothers-in-law, and realize their fun-loving personalities and closeness to each other come from the example set by Dad.

Gephart family parties were always warm and welcoming and fun. In the early years, they were spent splashing in the above ground pool in the back yard. Later, wiffle ball games took center stage. And when Dad got too old to safely round the bases, he was dubbed steady pitcher. And he jokingly dropped more balls than he threw.

I will always remember Dad’s gnarled hands that held mine with strength and warmth. And his bent pinky finger. His sons joked with him. Every time their beloved Philadelphia Eagles scored a touchdown, they’d hold up palms, bend their pinky fingers and say, “Dad, give us a high four and a half.”

There were football games to shout over. Family parties to celebrate at. Breakfasts, lunches and dinners out. He loved going out to eat. And have his Jamisons to drink. There were weddings to attend – his grandson and granddaughters most recently. And births to celebrate. Baby Matthew made him a GREAT grandfather.

Jake was all about celebrating life and family.

He loved dogs. I remember him going to Burger King to get his dog, Trixie, something special to eat. Trixie ate something special every evening, whether it was Burger King or something Jake cooked.

I remember the walks. While my husband worked, Dad would join me for walks around the neighborhood with our kids in a double stroller. Once, when a wheel from the stroller broke, he held the hand of our older son and pushed the broken stroller home for me while I carried the baby.

When I was sick – really sick – he made me the most delicious scrambled egg I’d ever eaten.

Our friends loved “Big Jake.” Standing only 5’ 2’’ (on a good day), he was still referred to as “Big Jake” by many, including my father, who stands 6”. I’m sure it had something to do with the size of his heart.

When my niece was young, “Big Jake” would have races with her in the back yard till she doubled over, laughing.

He told stories with great expression and despite being a quiet man, was the life of the party. Waitresses loved him. My family loved him. When my dad called over there recently to speak to the family, he broke down and cried.

It’s hard to see a good man go, even though he lived a wonderful life.

I remember when our boys were born, Jake took me aside and said, “I just hope I live long enough that they’ll remember me.” They not only remember him, they adore him. He was there for every theater production, school event, baseball and basketball game. He listened to them, even when he didn’t understand what the heck they were talking about. He bribed them to get good grades on their report cards and slipped them extra cash at every opportunity.

We could not have asked for a better grandfather for our boys. I could not have asked for a more devoted, loving, funny father-in-law. And I let him know every single day how much I loved and appreciated him.

I’m going to miss you, Dad, but you already know that.

“You know I love you, Pal.”

January 28, 2008

Lawn Weenies, Spanking Shakespeare and other Funny Reads

During my recent middle school visit, I left the students with a list of books I thought were funny:

1. Invasion of the Road Weenies: and Other Warped and Creepy Tales

In the Land of the Lawn Weenies: and Other Warped and Creepy Tales

The Curse of the Campfire Weenies: and Other Warped and Creepy Tales

by David Lubar

2. Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

3. Holes by Louis Sachar

4. Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

5. Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

6. Tangerine by Edward Bloor

7. Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee

8. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

9. The Prince of the Pond: Otherwise Known as De Fawg Pin by Donna Jo Napoli

10. Squashed by Joan Bauer

11. Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen

12. Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl by D. L. Garfinkle

Jake Wizner's Spanking Shakespeare is next on my list to read.

What funny books are on your to-be-read pile? Which funny books would you recommend to middle school readers?

January 24, 2008


One morning, when our youngest son was two, we told him we’d go to Miami soon. Of course, “soon” turned into an hour of finishing up things around the house. Impatient, our son tugged on my pant leg and asked, “When we going to Your Ami?”

“My Ami?” I asked, confused.

He nodded vigorously. “Your Ami!”

“Ooooh,” I said, finally understanding. “We’ll go to Miami soon. Really.”

And we did.

This past weekend, I packed a suitcase and headed to Your Ami, er, Miami for the 6th annual Florida SCBWI Conference.

Friday evening, I gave a short talk titled: “Don’t Quit!”

Later, at the speaker’s dinner, Sid Fleischman leaned toward me and said, “Your talk was fantastic.”

Sid Fleischman! The man who has a humor award named after him!

When I was able to breath, I thanked him.

Donna and Sid Fleischman

On Saturday, attendees enjoyed a bevy of inspiring and interesting speakers. Here's the schedule.

Saturday evening – “Ahoy, Matey!” – a nautical-themed dinner party.

Here I am with some of my sailor buddies . . .

Linda, Captain Dan, Riley and Donna

There were pirates . . .

Pirate Ena

Look who washed ashore . . .

Dan, Amy and Chery

And who dropped in from Gilligan’s Island . . .

"Where's the Skipper, Little Buddy? Was he, um, voted off the island?"

And here's Sailor Sylvia . . .

"Swab that deck! Critique that manuscript!"

All had boatloads of fun.

Sunday was filled with workshops. I taught one about finding and applying for grants. The participants were so much fun. I hope they all get big, fat grants to further their careers.

This bunch was only pretending to be studious while we waited for the rest of the group to return from lunch. "And yes, Paul, you may go to the bathroom!"

Three cheers to Linda Bernfeld (and a lot of dedicated volunteers) for pulling the conference together. To thank Linda for helping create a vibrant community of children’s book writers and illustrators in Florida, we chipped in to get her a big card and a spectacular cake, created by Gaby Triana. If you think Gaby bakes amazing book cakes, you should read the books she writes!

The titles on the book cakes were as follows:

1. Frying Nemo

2. Rhyme of the Agent Marinara

3. The Old Man and the Critique

4. 20,000 Leagues Under the Slushpile

5. A Cake of Nautical Puns

6. Pirates of Penned Rants

7. Tuesdays with Morays

After an energizing weekend, it was time to say so-long to friends and Your Ami, er, Miami.

Until next year. . .


January 16, 2008

So-long Philly; Hello Miami!

My ALA trip to Philadelphia was a wonderful whirlwind!

At the Convention Center, publishers displayed their newest books and encouraged you to take them. A writer’s dream. I tossed out a pair of shoes so I’d have room in my suitcase for nine brand new novels.

Even though I sold my novel to Stephanie Lane at Delacorte Press in April 2006, this was my first opportunity to meet her. She is lovely! As were the other Random House people, who made me feel welcomed and comfortable.

Dinner with Stephanie Lane, E.M. Crane (author of Skin Deep), and her editor, Krista Marino was a blast. I wish I took a picture of the luscious desserts. I wish I took a picture of my editor and all the wonderful things I saw, but I was too busy enjoying everything to pull out my camera.

The highlight of the evening was a cocktail party where I was introduced to librarians from all over the country, who were passionate, dedicated and funny. It was so much fun to talk about my book with them and learn about the libraries where they worked. And my editor did a fantastic job of introducing my novel to the group; she could moonlight as a stand-up comic.

Sunday found me sitting in the back row of a ballroom with authors Liz Gallagher and E.M. Crane as the Newbery winners were announced.

This is what it looked like:

The excitement in the room was palpable as each award was announced, and finally – the Newbery. I kept pinching myself because I couldn’t believe I was sitting in the room where the Newbery Award was being announced. I still can’t.

As if the weekend weren’t exciting enough, the festivities took place in Philadelphia – my home town.

I was thrilled to walk around and see City Hall with William Penn’s statue standing proudly on top, the Franklin Parkway leading to the Museum of Art and the Reading Terminal Market, full of food stalls crowded with people and delicious smells. I treated myself to a vegetarian cheese steak.

And I managed to squeeze in time to enjoy a few meals and a lot of laughs with family and friends.

Barely recovered from my delightful weekend, I’m now preparing to head down to Miami.

It’s time for the Florida SCBWI Conference. I’ve attended it nearly every year since its inception. And this year, I’m giving a short talk about being a first-time author and a longer workshop entitled: Free Money: Finding and Winning Grants to Propel Your Career to the Next Level. And I’ll be doing my first autograph party.

I’m looking forward to it. Drop me a comment if you’re planning to attend.

Until next time,


January 10, 2008

Publisher's Weekly

Just wanted to share: Publisher's Weekly puts out an e-newsletter about children's literature. In their latest issue, they wrote an article about political books for children.

I was delighted to see a short blurb about my novel along with a cover photo. Click here and scroll down.


A Literary Adventure

I’m off to the ALA (American Library Association) in Philadelphia this weekend.

On Sunday, I’m going to meet my editor, Stephanie Lane, for an early dinner. Then we’re slated to mingle with librarians at a cocktail party sponsored by Random House. I’ll be one of four first-time authors at the party. The others are: Liz Gallagher (Opposite of Invisible), E.M. Crane (Skin Deep) and Maria Padian (Brett McCarthy Work in Progress).

I’m looking forward to meeting my editor and several people from Random House, the other authors and many wonderful librarians.

I’ll post details and photos when I return.

Have a lovely weekend,


January 4, 2008


Welcome to 2008!

May the promise of this year fill your days with hope and happiness.

Quiz-O-Rama: I’ve written award winning poetry, stories and novels for adults before writing a young adult novel that won a prestigious award this past year. I’ve also done stand-up comedy, and a movie was made based on my short stories. Who am I? (Answer at the end of this post.)

Each year I read approximately 50 books. This year I made it only to 45, but hey, I was busy WRITING books.

Books only make it to my list when I finish them, so this year, a gem -- Blindsided by a Diaper, edited by Dana Bedford Hilmer -- a collection of essays about parenting, including ones written by my friends Beth Levine and William Squier – didn’t get included because I didn’t finish a couple of the essays. The ones I did read, especially the one by Moon Unit Zappa (funny and real) and Andrew Corsello (wow!) were hilarious and touching and true.

This year, I also had the joy of hearing parts of (so far) unpublished books by the fabulous and talented members of my critique groups.

For a list of "best books of the year," check out Publisher’s Weekly. (Scroll down for the children's list.)

And to do something randomly nice and put good karma into the world, take a gander at Kiva.org.

Speaking of good karma, every year hubby and I help Christina Wood collect children’s book for the Wood Memorial Book Drive. This year, thanks to the generosity of friends, organizations, schools, businesses and a great kid named Todd, the book drive delivered 1,700 books to the Palm Beach County Literacy Coalition. Hooray!

The answer to the Quiz-O-Rama in the beginning is none other than Sherman Alexie, author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. So far, he’s won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. I’m sure there are more awards in the future for this wonderful book.

Now, onto the list of books I read (and completed) in 2007. (Adult books are denoted by an asterisk.) Please let me know if you’ve ready any of these books or if you’ve read something else that you’d like to share.


1. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

2. Side Effects – Amy Goldman Koss

3. Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie – Jordan Sonnenblick

* 4. Cancer Vixen – Marisa Acocella Marchetto

5. Monkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial – Ronald Kidd

* 6. Deaf Like Me – James Spradley & Thomas Spradley

7. Wait for Me – An Na

8. Crank – Ellen Hopkins

9. Geography Club – Brent Hartinger

10. The Amazing Life of Birds (The Twenty Day Puberty Journal of Duane Homer Leech) as Discovered by Gary Paulsen

11. American Born Chinese – Gene Luen Yang

12. Totally Joe – James Howe

* 13. Teenproofing – John Rosemond

* 14. akiane – her life, her art, her poetry – akiane and foreli kramarik

* 15. 19 Minutes – Jodi Picoult

16. How it Feels to Fight for Your Life – Jill Krementz

17. Grief Girl – Erin Vincent

18. Wrecked – E.R. Frank

19. Rules – Cynthia Lord

20. Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Jeff Kinney

* 21. Worlds of Childhood – The Art and Craft of Writing for Children (Jean Fritz, Maurice Sendak, Jill Krementz, Jack Prelutsky, Rosemary Wells, Katherine Paterson) – Edited by William Zinsser

* 22. Prisoner of Tehran – Marina Nemat

23. Poetry Matters – Ralph Fletcher

24. Scribbler of Dreams – Mary E. Pearson

25. The Higher Power of Lucky – Susan Patron

26. Lawn Boy – Gary Paulsen

* 27. Pursuit of Happyness – Chris Gardner

28. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl – Tanya Lee Stone

29. Eggs – Jerry Spinelli

30. Forever – Judy Blume

31. What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know – Sonya Sones

32. Avalon High, Vol. 1 – Meg Cabot

* 33. Which Lies Did I Tell? (More Adventures in the Screen Trade) – William Goldman

34. Tuck Everlasting – Natalie Babbitt

35. I Am the Messenger – Markus Zusak

36. A Field Guide to High School – Marissa Walsh

37. Deadline – Chris Crutcher

* 38. Life on the Refrigerator Door – Alice Kuipers

39. The One Where the Kid Nearly Jumps to His Death and Lands in California – Mary Hershey

* 40. A Long Walk: Rediscovering America Along the Appalachian Trail – Bill Bryson

* 41. About Alice – Calvin Trillin

42. Story of a Girl – Sara Zarr

43. Taken – Edward Bloor

44. If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period – Gennifer Choldenko

45. The Absolutely True Story of a Part-time Indian – Sherman Alexie

Happy reading in 2008,