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

November 30, 2011

Learning a Thing or Two About Our Education System . . .

Our children taught me what was wrong with the education system.

Through grade five, they were sponges, curious and excited to learn about everything that came their way.  After school, we hit the playground or flopped our legs over the couch and read library books and comic books or . . . cooked or built or whatever struck our fancies.

As the years went by, our boys became less engaged in the traditional teaching model.  By this point, they knew what they loved to do -- theater, sports, cooking, music, etc. -- and were getting precious little of it during school hours.  Homework was done shoddily or ignored.  They just couldn't see the point.

And I couldn't promise them that if they did well in school and got into a good college, they'd get a great job and be set for life.  They could see that wasn't necessarily true anymore.  They sensed they needed something more -- a different approach to education to prepare for our changing world.

Everything in it was changing, and so fast.   Except our model for public education.

Then I discovered a video by Sir Ken Robinson, PhD -- an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity and innovation. 

While watching, I wanted to shout, "Yes!  That's exactly how I feel.  Indeed, standardized testing for dollars is one of the worst things to happen to education!  Of course, collaboration produces amazing results."

If you have a minute (or eleven), watch Sir Ken Robinson share his ideas in this entertaining video:

And if you appreciate what Sir Ken Robinson has to say as much as I do, check out his Ted talk here (about 20 minutes) . . . 

My favorite of his points is that we need to help children discover what they love, what they're passionate about and let them grow from there.  It was true for me, as I knew I wanted to be a writer by the time I was ten.  Everything else fed into that.  Finding one's passion and a love for literacy are the two things  I try to impart to children during every school visit.

What do you think? 

November 22, 2011

8 Best Things About Miami Book Fair International

1.  That I finally got there after living in South Florida for 15 years and wanting to go.  (It's only 1-1/2 hours away.)

2.  Got to spend the entire day with Hubby because, by some miracle, neither of us were traveling for work, attending a meeting or driving our kids somewhere. 

3.  The weather.  Gorgeous Saturday, even though it poured buckets the previous day.

4.  Arrived just in time to see our good friends, Riley and Kenny, of Page Turner Adventures, perform "The Great Pizza Contest," based on Riley's book.  After they finished performing and emceeing the children's stage for the day, we joined them for a delicious Cuban dinner on Biscayne Bay

5.  Finally heard the guys who make being a book nerd cool -- The Rock Bottom Remainders.  Dave Barry rocked out, his brother Sam Barry played a mean harmonica, Ridley Pearson sang with soul and the whole band got a huge audience dancing to "Mustang Sally." 

6.  We even got to hear a Chinese orchestra play Jingle Bells.

7.  Dave Barry introduced the one author/comedian we saw -- Andy Borowitz.  Hubby loves his Borowitz Report and his very funny tweets, so we bought his new book and listened to his presentation.  Funniest dude around!  Laughed the entire time.

8.  But for me, the best part of the Miami Book Fair was meeting this guy . . .

Papa Bear

When our kids were little, they LOVED the Berenstain Bear books so much so that we all acted out the parts.  Hubby got to be Papa Bear.  I, of course, was Mama Bear.  Oldest son played Brother Bear.  And our younger son got stuck playing Sister Bear.  

November 17, 2011

I Went to Manatee Academy and All I Got Was This LOVELY T-Shirt

Did I ever tell you about Debbie Remington?

Here I am with Debbie at the St. Lucie County Family Reading Festival last year.

She's one of those people who will do anything (ahem, ANYTHING) to get kids reading.  As the media specialist at Manatee Academy and President of the St. Lucie County Reading Council, she dreamed up a wild idea. 

Last week, every single student at Manatee Academy read books.  All day!  Short books.  Easy book.  Any books.  All day long.  Reading.  Reading.  Reading.  At the end of that day, the students had read more than 70,000 books.

Since they broke the record set last year, Debbie Remington kept her promise.  She kissed an animal live on the school's TV station.  This year, she kissed a python.  "Not on the head," she said.  And before that?  A hedgehog!  "That one hurt," she admitted.

When Debbie Remington asked me to visit her school, I said, "YES!"  Anyone who would kiss a hedgehog to get kids reading was okay in my book.  Debbie was also responsible for HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL being St. Lucie County's One County/One Book read for this year.

Boy, did they make me feel welcome . . .

And even more welcome . . .

I had the pleasure of speaking to the entire 7th grade (well, those who read the e-mail and got there on time).  And then the entire 6th grade.  The 5th graders, the last group, were crazy enthusiastic.  Bunches of them came up to tell me what page or chapter they were on in my book.

Half of the 5th grade students at Manatee Academy

When I was done, I got to give away some books, which always makes me happy.  Here's one of the winners . . .

Ryan, who told me he loves to read.

And then I was presented with this awesome T-shirt, which I will wear when I keynote at the St. Lucie County Family Reading Festival April 21st.

Another Florida author, David Mark Lopez, spent the day enthralling 4th grade students with his fantastic story-telling ability.

David Mark Lopez running from a bear . . . in his story.

What's the best part about doing a school visit?  The kids, of course.  They're so much fun!

Crystal, my escort, rockin' a pair of red sunglasses! 

Thank you Debbie Remington and the fine folks at Manatee Academy for a fun, funny, memorable author visit!

November 9, 2011

Doing What You Were Meant to Do . . .

It was only 8:45 pm, but I was tired.  Our high schooler, exhausted, was sleeping already.

In pajamas, I was watching the documentary The One Percent, about the growing wealth gap in America.  I let our two dogs out in the fenced back yard for the last time of the evening. 

I couldn't wait to get to bed.

About five minutes later, I called the dogs in.  "Puppies!"  Expecting to hear the jangle of their tags and the thump of the doggy door flying open, I heard nothing.


They had dug below the chicken wire and under our fence through a space that looked so small it could barely accommodate a gerbil.

Actually, it was this guy.  He's our digger.  Our chewer.  Our sweet boy, Benji.  Teddy follows along.

When the dogs got out in the past, they never strayed far.  We'd usually find them meandering around the playground a block away. 

This time they were not at the playground.  I grabbed our college-aged son and drove there.  I drove up and down the streets of our neighborhood.  No doggies.  Our son went home to stay by the phone.  I kept driving.  Our wonderful neighbors came out to help me look.  (Hubby was out of town on business.)

No doggies. 

Forty-five minutes had passed.  It was dark.  I worried about a car hitting one or both of them.  They stayed together when they wandered. 

That's when my cell phone rang.  "Someone has them," my son said.  "She's in front of the middle school."

In front of the middle school?  That was over a mile and a half away.

I drove there to find Benji (aka Butthead) sitting in a woman's car.  She gave him to me on a leash.  "I work for an animal hospital," she said.  "When I see a dog walking by himself, I always look for the owner.  Your other dog wouldn't stay, though.  He went up that street."  She pointed up a dark street.

Teddy.  He's our skittish one. 

After thanking the woman and getting Benji in the car, I drove down that dark street.  And another, calling, "Cookies!" out the window.  That one word always got the dogs running to me to discover which small treat I had for them.  No luck tonight. 

But I did see another car criss-crossing the same area.  It was that woman!  She stopped beside my car.  "Give me your cell number.  If I find him, I know he won't come to me, but I'll call you."

How do you thank someone like that?

"I'd do this for anyone," she said. 

We drove in opposite directions.  My cell rang.  "He's near my car.  When you called 'Cookies,' he went charging down the street."

I drove back and saw Teddy on the sidewalk to the right of the woman's car.  I jumped out, flung open the back door and called, "Teddy!"  He ran fast toward me, stopped short, looked up at me, then hopped into the car.


I thanked the woman, then texted her again when we got home.  This is what she wrote back:  "I'm just glad to know they're home safe."

And she was . . . because that is what she does.  Cares deeply about animals. 

I have this theory:  When we do exactly what we were meant to do, what we are passionate about, what we care deeply about, we make a substantive difference.

This woman made a difference.  I believe our dogs would not have been home safely by 10 pm if she hadn't done what she cared deeply about. 

The leash around Benji's neck was from the animal hospital where she works.  I'm going to call later today to let her employers know about how her dedication extends beyond the boundaries of her work environment. 

Earlier that day, a local school librarian sent me an e-mail:  "One of our 7th grade intensive reading students started How To Survive . . . and came back to tell me and her reading teacher that over the weekend her mother had to tell her to put the book down! That has never happened to her before! Her teacher got tears in her eyes! Your book may make her a lifelong reader!!"

When we do what we care deeply about, what we were meant to do, we make meaningful differences.

Thank you, Crystal!  Because of you, our dogs are home safe.

November 8, 2011

'Cause You Can't Work All the Time . . .

Kayaking with my niece, Nicole, who was visiting from Philadelphia.

Docking on Munyon Island (MacArthur Beach State Park) for a picnic of peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches. 

While hiking through Munyon Island, we learned there was a 5-story, 21-room, 8-bath hotel built on the end of the island in 1903.  It burnt to the ground in 1917. 

Nicole and I decided it would make a great setting for a horror story, where ghosts from the hotel still inhabit the tiny island.  And visitors, like us, are sometimes lured to the hotel . . . and never leave.

Hmm.  I guess when you're a writer, even when you're not working . . . your imagination is always on call.

November 6, 2011

Book Twins . . .

Here are two books with VERY similar covers, but one is for a best-selling adult book and the other is for an award-winning children's book:

Do you know of any other similar book covers?  What are your thoughts about this?

November 3, 2011

School Visit in PA, Surprise Snowfall and Something SCARY

You know your school visit is going to be fun when the principal introduces himself . . . and he's dressed as a scarecrow!

I had the pleasure of visiting with some of the students at Newtown Middle School in PA.

Big thanks to media specialist, Jana Bovino, for pulling this visit together on short notice.

And the talented Selin, who created this welcome poster:

Selin is on the right . . . Beth is on the left.  (I'll tell you about Beth in a sec.)

Beth is the reason I was visiting Newtown Middle School.  I've been friends with her mom, June, since high school.  Beth has been a BIG supporter of my books.  When she e-mailed to ask if I could visit her school, I replied, "I just booked a flight to the area. I'd love to visit your school!" 

And it turned out to be a delightful visit!

Here's Beth at home with her new guinea pig . . .

And Beth's sister, Melissa, with her new rabbit . . .

After the school visit, it was off to Penn State -- Happy Valley to visit another high school friend, Monica, and her lovely family.

Here's Monica whipping up something delicious for breakfast . . .

I woke Saturday to something I hadn't seen in THREE YEARS!

This Florida girl really enjoyed it.  I drew pictures in the snow and threw snowballs and caught flakes on my tongue, but mostly I enjoyed it from inside . . . where the fireplace (and dog, Cocoa) was.  

Then I found out something scary.  There was a BEAR on the deck during the night.  A BEAR!  Fortunately, I slept right through it.  So no photos of the bear or what it did to the bird feeder, while trying to get at the seeds inside. 

As if that wasn't scary enough, I flew home on Halloween with my niece, Nicole. 

THIS is what we saw at the counter at Southwest. 

Reason #5938 why I LUV Southwest!