May 27, 2011


Most parenting daze, er, days, we suit up, show up and nothing much happens. Some parenting days are filled with awful. But every once in a while, we get a parenting moment that fills us with joy.

Last night was one of those moments.

Our happy high school graduate with his brother

And with one of his good friends

Not only did Dan and I have the joy of watching our oldest son walk across the stage and receive his high school diploma, we did it while sitting next to friends who have been with us through all of it since pre-school and kindergarten.

But alas, not everyone was suitably impressed . . .

Only regret? Wish Poppy Jake were sitting with us to enjoy the moment. He would have been so proud of his guy.

May 25, 2011

Who Doesn't Love a Book Club?

Woot! Woot! The amazing Cindy Hudson is in the house!

Cindy is a book club expert and she's agreed to share her 6-1/2 list about mother/daughter book clubs and give away a copy of her book, BOOK BY BOOK: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO CREATING MOTHER/DAUGHTER BOOK CLUBS to one lucky blog reader. (Scroll down to enter.)

Cindy's advice works for all sorts of book clubs, I think. Father/son, Mother/son, Cranky old ladies who like to get together and have reasonably intelligent conversation while sipping (or gulping) wine. Whatever kind of book club floats your boat, Cindy is way cool and knows book clubs!

Here is Cindy, flanked by her two gorgeous girls . . .

Cindy is the founder of two long-running mother-daughter book clubs and lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two daughters. She's created some amazing Meeting Planner Guides on her site. These guides are chock-full of activities, info about the author, discussion questions, recipes, etc. There is a FREE sample guide for a book you may have heard of. (Yes, you're going to have to visit Cindy's site to learn which book the free sample is about.) All this and more is available at


(Note: Comments in parenthesis are mine, mine, all mine!)

1. Books. Different styles, different genres, different authors than the ones you usually pick up to read. Your book club friends will introduce you to all kinds of new titles. My favorite that I never would have read on my own was House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer. (And I LOVED The Eye, the Ear and The Arm by Nancy Farmer.)

2. Food. Book-themed snacks, tasty dinners, yummy desserts. There’s usually lots of good food at book club meetings. And most of the time I’m not the one cooking it since I only host once in a club-wide rotation. (And some thoughtful authors even include recipes at the back of their novels. I'm just sayin'.)

3. Friends. Social time is so much fun you have to force yourselves to cut it off and move on to talking about the book. That’s fun too, and you learn things about your friends that you may have never otherwise discovered. (I learned that my friends like to drink wine. Lots of wine. The only time I belonged to a book club, we read the book for the first meeting and after that it was all chatting and drinking, while the book lay on a table nearby. This would NOT happen at a mother/daughter book club meeting, of course. This would only happen at an old cranky lady book club meeting. :)

4. Moms and daughters listening to each other. This is not just a spectator sport; both generations get involved. And the observations of both are equally valid and important to hear. (Any time communication happens between the generations is a good thing. I know. I have teenagers.)

5. Field trips. You can read a book then go to the movie when it comes out and compare the two. You can all go shopping at a bookstore to find your next selection. A book you read might even inspire you to volunteer for a cause. (*Raises hand.* I want to volunteer for a cause. Baking chocolate chip cookies for cranky old ladies at a book club meeting is a cause. Right?)

6. Meeting authors. How cool is it that book clubs can connect with the authors of some of the books they read? We met Zlata Filipovic of Zlata’s Diary: A Child's Life in Wartime Sarajevo and were awed to see this confident young woman talk about her experiences as a child in war-torn Sarajevo. (Zlata has been called the Anne Frank of Sarajevo. I'm reading her touching book right now. Well not right now. I'm creating this blog post right now. Ah, you know what I mean!)

6-1/2. Weekends away. Dance, play cards, get a massage, walk on the beach, bake cookies, laugh a lot, and yes, talk about a book. (Did someone mention cookies?!)

(Note: Many authors will happily Skype with book clubs. So, contact a favorite author and ask.)

Thanks, Cindy! Now, onto the swag . . .

Cindy Hudson has generously agreed to give away an autographed copy of her book BOOK BY BOOK: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO CREATING MOTHER/DAUGHTER BOOK CLUBS (Seal Press, 2009).

To enter to win a copy, leave a comment and check back Friday, June 3rd to see if you've won.

May 23, 2011

Celebrating Young Authors

My last event of the school year was speaking at a wonderful luncheon at Manatee Academy to celebrate young authors from schools in St. Lucie County, FL.

The amazing Debbie Remington, Media Specialist at Manatee Academy and president of the St. Lucie County Reading Council, invited me to speak at this special event.

These award-winning young authors didn't write a poem or a story. They created BOOKS with chapters and artwork and dazzling covers.

About 200 people attended the event.

Attendees were treated to lunch, a book fair and a short talk by someone who once sat where those young authors sat (hint: me). Then winners were presented with certificates, free books and prizes.

It was inspiring to see adults celebrating these young authors. But my favorite part occurred before hubby and I even walked in. As we headed to the event, a young author and her mother walked behind us. We overheard the mother say, "I love you and I'm so proud of you."

That is what the event was all about. Hubby and I left with a warm feeling. It was great meeting these young authors and celebrating their hard work. Kudos to Debbie Remington, the St. Lucie County Reading Council and all the dedicated people who created such a special event to celebrate these remarkable young authors!

May 20, 2011

The Best Job in the World . . .

Just had a delightful Skype visit with a school book club. I've never seen students so excited in my life! And they had such great questions for me.

Mrs. Pelias deserves a big THANK YOU for coordinating the visit. And for helping get these kids so excited about reading.

Here are a handful of the students with Mrs. Pelias . . .

It's always great to hear and see how readers respond to my books. These kids were over the moon enthusiastic. Such fun!

Another great response was this awesome video on YouTube, created by MzLibbery:

She really captured the essence of the book with this trailer. Thank you for your creativity!

Tomorrow, I'm off to speak at a luncheon to celebrate young authors from elementary and middle schools in St. Lucie County, FL.

Do I have the best job in the world or what?

May 16, 2011

NESCBWI 2011 Conference and, um, Lobster Poop

What a wonderful, whirlwind weekend!

I just returned from the 25th anniversary celebration of the New England SCBWI Conference. About 590 people attended.

Here are the backs of some of their heads . . .

Oh, nevermind. That's Lin Oliver giving her fabulous keynote. Full of heart and hope. And the words that echoed? DO THE WORK. (Hmm. What a concept.)

After that, several workshops were presented. I gave my "Quirky Character" talk to a wonderfully enthusiastic group.

Oh, look. Here are some of them now . . .

On the other side of the room, a lovely woman offered a sweet smile every time I looked at her. (This is an important detail for what comes later in this post.)

During the autograph session, I had the honor of sitting between two seriously funny writers.

The amazing Linda Urban . . .

I'm a huge fan of her perfect middle grade book . . .

Linda has a new book coming out in September, which has already received a starred review from Kirkus . . .

Don't even try to butt in line at the indie bookstore the day it comes out because I will be first!

On the other side of me was the lovely Erin Dionne . . .

Erin's book, The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet, is on the Texas Lone Star Reading List along with my book, How to Survive Middle School. Hamlet is seriously funny. Don't you just love the cover?

After the signing, at the faculty dinner, I noticed a woman sitting by herself at a big table. It was the woman from my workshop who offered encouraging smiles. I sat beside her and said, "Thank you so much for your wonderful smile. It really helped during my talk." We chatted while the rest of the table filled. Finally, I asked, "So, what books have you written?" Very demurely, she said, "Oh, Annie on my Mind."


I was sitting next to Nancy Garden. The Nancy Garden.

Here's one of her books that started a firestorm of controversy, but probably saved a lot of lives and let a lot of people know they were fine just the way they were.

She just finished a new novella that will be part of a collection of four novellas that will benefit the Trevor Project. Keep your eyeballs out for it.

What a lovely, gracious woman! Turns out she was in the film we were watching later that evening -- LIBRARY OF THE EARLY MIND -- wit and wisdom from many luminaries in the field of children's literature.

Sunday began with breakfast with my roommate, Anita Nolan.

Then a great keynote by Steve Mooser. He shared his thoughts about all the things that could happen in the field of children's literature with new media and technology.

Then I had the pleasure of giving a two-hour workshop about writing humor. I couldn't have asked for a more engaged, creative, funny audience.

Here are some of them now . . .

If you look carefully, you'll see Steve Mooser and Lin Oliver (It's like Where's Waldo, only with Lin and Steve), the two astounding people who created SCBW (the "I" came later thanks to Tomie dePaola) forty years ago. I count myself among the thousands and thousands who are grateful to them for planting the seeds that blossomed into a generous, talented, nurturing community of children's book writers, illustrators, editors, etc. that have changed and enriched my life in so many ways.


After my workshop, I dashed out the hotel doors to begin my ten-hour trek home.

At the airport in Providence, RI, I saw this . . .

Not to be outdone, Florida offered these delicacies in its gift shop . . .

And . . .

Thank so much for an inspiring, wonderful weekend, New England SCBWI folks!

May 7, 2011

Meet Clarisse

This is Clarisse . . .

For years, I've wanted a place to sit by a window to write/read/edit. When I pulled into our driveway, I saw two men carrying Clarisse (that's the name on the label) into our home.

Hubby saw me and said, "Happy Mother's Day."

Clarisse and I will spend many happy hours/days/time together. And because much of that time will be spent reading, I thought I'd share some of the best children's books I've read so far this year (and one book for adults that's narrated by a child).

While these books are wildly different, the thing each book has in common is that the author managed to get deeply into the mind and heart of the main character.

Turtle in Paradise -- Set in the Keys in the 1930's. Spunky main character and hilarious secondary characters. A gem!

Summerhouse Time -- A sweet story that's a quiet celebration of the power of family and love.

Something Like Hope
-- Oh my Lord! This author gets inside the head of a girl who is inside a juvenile detention center, trying to come to terms with her horrific past and find a way to create hope for her future. Hard-hitting, yet doesn't hit you over the head. Sparse prose that hits all the right notes.

Mockingbird -- Sad, but hopeful as a girl, who views the world through the lens of Asperger's syndrome, deals with the tragic shooting of her beloved brother. Bit by bit, both daughter and father find a way to find their way.

How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy
-- Holy crackers and cream cheese, author Crystal Allen is a new voice to pay attention to. Fell in love with Lamar from the first page. Unable to play a sport like basketball, which his superstar brother plays, Lamar must find something that works for a kid with severe asthma -- bowling. This fresh, funny and heartfelt novel deserves to win its own trophy!

If I Stay -- This young adult novel is surprising and beautiful as it tackles big questions about death and dying. The main character, unlike many fictional teens, actually likes her family. She struggles to decide what to do when they are all in a devastating car accident and she has to make an unfathomable choice. Lyrical language, musical themes, original characters. A subtle standout.

Everything is Fine -- I never knew what was coming with this book, written in unrhymed verse, but I couldn't wait to find out. Secrets. Sadness. Redemption. Tough topic, but everything about the writing was fine.

A Long Walk to Water -- Linda Sue Park is amazing. She tells two stories in this short novel -- one set in 1985 about Salva Dut, who traveled hundreds of miles to find safety from political violence in Sudan and one set in 2008, where Nya walks eight hours a day to get water for her family. The two stories intersect in a hope-filled conclusion.

Room -- Narrated perfectly by a five-year-old boy, Room tells the story of a woman who is forced to live in a small room by her captor. After having a child with the man, the young mother fashions as normal an existence as she can for her son. In Room, the boy finds stability and love; outside the walls of Room, he discovers confusion and pain. This gripping story keeps you turning pages until the true, satisfying conclusion. (This book is up there with The Help, Like Water for Elephants and Kelly Corrigan's The Middle Place.)

May 4, 2011

Sending Your Child, er, Book Into the World

When someone asks which of my books is my favorite, I say, "That's a little like asking me to choose which of my children I like best."

My books are a bit like my children. I put time, energy and heart into them and send them into the world, hoping mightily, but having no idea what will happen next.

In fact, How to Survive Middle School, was inspired by the tough times our children had during those turbulent adolescent years. (And memories of my, ahem, challenging adolescence.)

This book seems to have struck a chord with readers.

I just found out How to Survive Middle School will be St. Lucie County's "One Book/One Community" for the 2011/2012 school year. I'll be speaking at a number of events and schools throughout the year. My favorite part is that my publisher, Random House, has generously agreed to donate books to a shelter for abused women and children and to donate books to lower income families in a "Read it Forward" program, where participants read the book then share it with another family.

A world of appreciation to the St. Lucie County Reading Council, for inviting me to participate. And for their dedicated, passionate work to connect children and literature in fun, meaningful ways.

Donna and Debbie Remington, media specialist and president, St. Lucie County Reading Council

I'm thrilled that How to Survive Middle School has been nominated for the New York State Reading Association 2012 Charlotte Award. The committee chose ten books in four categories from hundreds and hundreds of books. It's an honor to be on this list!

And my book will be featured at Scholastic Book Fairs this fall. My friends from Page Turner Adventures are making a hilarious video (about a rapping hamster) that will be shown to middle school students before they browse the book fair. And this fun sneak preview, which includes my book, has been sent to educators and media specialists across the country.

My books aren't the only things I'm sending out into the world.

Yesterday, hubby and I toured the college campus where our oldest son will attend school next year. It was so exciting to hear about the opportunities he'll be given. We are really proud of him for getting to this point.

And we're really happy that How to Survive Middle School is doing so well because -- HOLY HIGHER EDUCATION! -- college sure ain't cheap.