August 31, 2009


Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high,
Take a look, it's in a book — Reading Rainbow ...

Reading Rainbow -- the 3rd longest running show on PBS after Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood -- is not returning after 26 years. Unless you have a few hundred thousand dollars to spare, the deal is done. Read the sad news here.
PBS is shifting focus to teach basic tools of reading, like phonics and spelling. In this rigid atmosphere of No Child Left Behind and teaching to the test, children's spirits seem to be left behind!
Mechanics won't matter if motivation is absent. If a child can't understand the "why" of loving to read, he's not going to care about the "how." Reading Rainbow shared and explored a love for children's books. It opened a door to the wonderful world of imagination and growth through literature.
That door, for me, was the one that led inside my local branch of the Philadelphia Public Library.
My mom took me to that library once a week until I was old enough to pedal my purple banana seat bicycle there myself and load my books into the flowered basket on the handlebars.
The magic that happened inside that library shaped my life.
I was friendless -- books provided companionship.
I was curious -- books provided answers.
I was bored -- books provided stimulation and ignited my imagination.
Our local library was a safe haven from some of the problems in the neighborhood in which I grew up.
Friends from Philadelphia just shared some discouraging news. Because of a budget crisis, the city might have to close the libraries. All of them. Not too long ago, they closed eleven branches to cut costs. Read more about this doomsday scenario here.
But there is some hope. There are some solutions.
This American Life aired a segment about a man, Geoffrey Canada, who wanted to make a big difference in Harlem. He discovered that research proved that if a child is spoken to and read to from the ages of zero to three, that child's brain will develop the pathways that lay the groundwork for success later in life. Canada created an 8-week program that includes a wonderful program called Baby College for expectant and new parents. Listen to the inspiring thirty minute segment here.
Rosemary Wells, acclaimed author of children's books, had the right idea when she created the program, Read to Your Bunny. Its simplicity and effectiveness are brilliant -- read to your child twenty minutes a day, no matter how tired or stressed you are. Twenty minutes to open up the world to your child. Learn more about the program and related research here.
Librarians understand how important language and the wonderful world of books are to the development of young minds and spirits. That's why they provide story hours and loads of books for parents to read to their children, among a treasure trove of other resources.
If we really don't want to leave any children behind, let's read to them from the moment they're born. Let's provide lots of wonderful libraries for them to explore. And let's leave Reading Rainbow on the air!

August 24, 2009

Can You Guess That Creature?


These are our usual household creatures:



This past weekend, we welcomed a new creature into our home. It was a lot of fun. Can you guess which one spent the weekend with us? (Bonus points if you find said creature's name somewhere on this blog.)





August 21, 2009

Busy or Bored?

Our boys went back to school Tuesday. The house was supposed to be a peaceful mecca so I could work, right? Wrong!

Guess which of these actually happened this week:

1. Brad Pitt stopped by for, ahem, coffee.
2. I was called to jury duty.
3. I won a lifetime supply of Brussels sprouts and Twinkies.
4. The electricity went out while I was cooking dinner.
5. I was voted Queen of Absolutely Everything.
6. Made an emergency run to Target for school supplies that didn't actually exist.
7. Squeezed in a quick lunch with Oprah to talk books.
8. Dog-sitting a sweet pea named Clover.
9. Flew to Washington, D.C. to offer my two cents to President Obama about health care.
10. Sister visiting from CA. Sister's rental car battery died. Twice.
11. Hubby whisked me off to Hawaii for a quick getaway.
12. Serious computer problems.
12 3/4. I wrote anyway!

I'm one of those people who gets more done the more I have to get done. Give me an impossible list of things to accomplish and I'm on my A game. Long, languishing days dull my mental spark.

And I'm not the only one.

After being widowed with five children, Mary Higgins Clark woke three hours before her day job to write. It was several years before she wrote and sold Where are the Children?

John Grisham wrote on the train to and from his job as a very busy attorney.

After a long day of work, Jerry Spinelli stuffed cotton in his ears so he could concentrate on writing with his six children in the house.

How do you work best? Amidst chaos or in peace? Do you prefer busy or bored? I love busy with a bit of bored thrown in for good measure.

Happy weekend,

August 13, 2009

The Blog is Back!


Also known as the best weekend ever!!!

I'm incredibly grateful to Lin Oliver, Steve Mooser, Sid Fleischman and all the wonderful SCBWI peeps involved in bringing me to this amazing conference. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

First on the schedule was a faculty dinner outside the Hyatt hotel. I walked up to the first person I saw, thrust out my hand and said, "Hi, my name is Donna." The woman shook my hand. "Hi, I'm Karen." I asked, "So, what do you write?"

It was Karen Cushman. Um, I know what she writes -- Catherine, Called Birdy, The Midwife's Apprentice, etc.

Donna and Karen Cushman

At the party, I met Jay Asher, Lisa Yee, Alice Pope, Melinda Long and hubby Thom, Paula Yoo, Jenn Baily and many other cool, funny people.

The next morning, Sherman Alexie kicked off the conference with a fabulous speech. I figured I could go home at that point and I'd have gotten enough from the conference.

But there were other wonderful speakers and workshops. Details here.

Then it was off to a wine and cheese reception, where I had neither wine nor cheese, but lots of fun.

Buddy, Jill, agent, Tina Wexler and Donna

I met Delacorte author, Varian Johnson, from Austin, TX. His new book, Saving Maddie, comes out a month before mine. Varian and I share an editor at Delacorte Press -- Stephanie Elliott. Varian and I have so much in common, I'll bet you won't be able to tell us apart . . .

He's the one with the great laugh. Donna and Varian Johnson.

More great speeches and workshops on Saturday. I had the pleasure of hearing Karen Cushman, Ellen Hopkins, Eve Bunting, Arthur Levine, Kadir Nelson, Melinda Long, etc.

Then it was time for the Blue Moon Ball Saturday night by the pool . . .

Here's Jill in her blue hat.

People dressed as The Blue Man Group, a blue octopus, an alien, Austin Powers, etc. Crazy, dancing, laughing fun, fun, FUN!

Sunday, after some more stellar speeches by Dan Yaccarino and Holly Black, it was time for the Golden Kite Awards luncheon with a special keynote by Richard Peck.

By this point, I'd practiced my short speech 4,783,264,096 times so I was able to enjoy the speeches of the other award recipients and the lovely lunch.

Here are Jill, Tina Wexler and Linda Bernfeld, Florida's Regional Advisor, readying their cameras for the big moment.

Really, I wasn't nervous at all. I mean, all I had to do was walk up the steps without tripping, find my way to the podium without vomiting and deliver a memorized speech with no notes in front of 1,000 people. I really wasn't that nervous, but he was . . .

Dan the Man, aka World's Best Hubby, flew in for the event and was way more nervous than I was. Next to Dan is Hyewon Yum, who won the award for picture book illustration for her book, Last Night. She told about how she had such a difficult time talking with people that she created the book, which won the award and caused her to have to, um, talk to 1,000 people.

Richard Peck's keynote rocked. He's such a smart and witty man.

Lin Oliver (co-founder of SCBWI, with Steve Mooser -- not pictured) and Richard Peck

Receiving the Sid Fleischman Humor Award was a thrill and a dream come true. You can read a bit about it here and see a photo of my face on a giant screen. The award presented to me was heavier than I imagined. To give you an idea of its size, it's beside a six-foot-tall sumo wrestler named Clem.

Sid Fleischman Award for Best Humorous Children's Book of the Year . . . and Clem

After the banquet, I had the pleasure of signing copies of my book, while sitting beneath this sign:

And who should come over, but the real life Vanessa Rothrock. (That's the name of the main character in my book.) Funny, she didn't look like a 12 3/4 year-old spelling bee whiz who lived in Florida's Governor's Mansion.

Vanessa Rothrock and Donna

Monday, I had the great pleasure of presenting a workshop, titled: 12 3/4 Ways to Tickle Young Reader's Funny Bones. I couldn't have asked for a more enthusiastic, engaged audience.

Wonderful humor writer and all around lovely and generous person, Mary Hershey, introduced herself. I owe Mary some dark chocolate because she managed to recognize me before I recognized her. We'd only connected on-line before here and here. Her books have great, long titles, like The One Where The Kid Nearly Jumps to His Death and Lands in California. Mary, the chocolate is on its way.

Mary Hershey and Donna

Dinah Stevenson gave the first speech Monday. Ingrid Law, author of Savvy, followed. My gosh, that woman can write! She created a story that was a metaphor for the trials and tribulations of the writing life. Best story ever! And her daughter is adorable! Kathleen Duey ended the day with an informative, inspiring farewell speech.

To top off the best conference ever, I was invited to the wrap party at Lin Oliver's home. Thank you, Lin! There I met more wonderful people -- regional advisors from around the globe, editors, agents, authors.

And because my niece will think I'm cool, I asked Ellen Hopkins if I could take a photo with her.
So, Nicole, this is for you . . .

Ellen Hopkins and Aunt Donna

On the flight home, I thought about the wonderful experiences during the conference and came up with reason #4,567,083 that I love Southwest Airlines. This was my seatmate . . .

A long-haired chihuahua that weighed under two pounds.