April 29, 2013

Meet My 1,100 New Friends . . .

What a fun school visit this morning!

Here are a few of my new friends . . .

 And a few more . . .

 Two sessions -- K-2 and 3-5 -- totaling 1,100 students.

After the presentations and meeting as many kids as I could, I was whisked off to the library to sign books.  And sign.  And sign.  For well over two hours.

Here are some of them . . .

I loved being in the library.  There were all these great reading areas.  In fact, one whole "bookshelf" was for students to place their shoes, so they could sit in this cushiony area and read silently.  Here are a few young readers in that area of the library . . .

There were other great spots, too, with furry friends to read with . . .

And this . . .


What a welcoming library!  What a great school!  What fantastic, book-loving kids!

Thanks, Sharon Wedgworth, for inviting me and treating me to a wonderful day!

Me and media specialist, Sharon Wedgworth

April 28, 2013

One of Those School Visits

I show up for school visits with a lot of energy and never know what's going to happen.

When the halls are bright and covered with student artwork, I know something about the school.  And when the librarian who invited me and the staff are friendly and welcoming, I know more.

Ms. Cruz, me and lovely librarian, Marie Smith

The morning I arrived at Hidden Oaks Elementary, parents were flooding into the library to participate in a monthly program to celebrate their children.  The librarian, Marie Smith, was coming from creating the morning news.  She was proud that every book in the library was chosen by her because she opened the library 8 years ago, when the school opened.

Don't even try to tell me librarians are anything less than the heart of a school. 

During this visit, I spoke to two large groups of students -- 4th grade and 5th grade -- in the music room.  It was a cozy atmosphere where I could be close to the kids and interact with them.

They were wonderful!

Jake got to hold Hammy the Hamster because he has a real hamster named Hammy.

These students were so enthusiastic about reading and writing.  They were nice not only to me, but to each other.  And they went out of their way to make me feel welcome. 

These girls made this terrific "Welcome" poster.  Don't you love the green Converse sneakers?

I loved meeting ALL the students, but two of them made an imprint on my heart.

Jackson, with Down Syndrome, was so excited to get his book signed that he hugged me for a long time and kissed the back of my head, then he turned and kissed the top of the head of the boy in line behind him.  "Best part of my day," I told the students.  "Best part!"  The kids were grinning like crazy.

A young friend, Ms. Cruz and Jackson

But the moment that slayed me -- and it was only a moment because that's the way these things happen -- a girl came up after my presentation to tell me something.  "My dad lived in Philadelphia, too," she said.  I asked her a question about where he lived, then said, "Tell your dad I said hi."  With students crowding behind her, she replied, "He's not here anymore.  He's up in heaven."

I gave this girl such a hug, then whispered in her ear, "My new book is all about that."  (It's about a boy in Philadelphia who comes to terms with the death of his dad.)

She looked up at me.  "It is?"

I nodded, then gave her an extra hug, because even if she didn't need it, I did. 

April 24, 2013

All the Fun Stuff Going On . . .

The past 5 months, I've had some late nights and long weekends writing and revising and re-revising DEATH BY TOILET PAPER.

Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of hitting "SEND."  My agent, Tina Wexler, responded with an e-mail that every writer dreams of -- praise so generous it made me tear up.  Twice.

Now, I'll work with my editor, Michelle Poploff, and the awesome team at Random House to make this the best book possible.  I can't wait for its release next year!

I've been doing lots more than writing and revising these past five months.

There have been oodles of school visits, including the week I spent in Fort Worth, TX with incredible hosts, extraordinary students and . . . Clifford the Big Red Dog.

Eager Briscoe Elementary students

I've traveled the country virtually doing tons of Skype visits, like this one with 6th grade students in VA . . .

Thanks, Ms. Buchanan, for sharing your FUNderful students with me.

I've received lovely notes from students, including these thank you letters from Mr. Schu's students in IL and Ms. Luchie's students in ME from World Read Aloud Day

Thank You Notes from Mr. Schu's students.  (Dogs not included.)
Teddy guarding the thank you notes from Ms. Luchie's students.  (Thanks, Teddy!)

I created a fun OLIVIA BEAN, TRIVIA QUEEN quiz for Random Buzzers that includes trivia and a chance for kids to earn Buzz Bucks and "buy" books with them.  Check it out!

Recently, I spoke at a luncheon with Jim Cummings.  He spent a year in Africa with no running water or electricity and counts it as the best of his life.  Jim has created an amazing project -- KIJANA EDUCATIONAL EMPOWERMENT INITIATIVE -- which connects children across cultures, provides educational spaces, puts books into kids' hands in Kenya and more.

Kijana Educational Empowerment Initiative
There are only 4 days left to contribute to his Kijana Lwanda Maktaba Campaign.

There are great "thank you" gifts for even the smallest donation.  Won't you take a moment to donate?  I just did.  Kijana Lwanda Maktaba Campaign.


1.  APRIL IS FOR AUTHORS -- Saturday, April 27th at Palm Beach Gardens High School, 25 authors from around the country will give presentations, participate in panel discussions and sign books at this FREE event from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.   This is a wonderful annual event.  If you live in or near Palm Beach County, FL, be sure to stop by this Saturday.

2.  I'll be attending the 26th annual CONFERENCE ON CHILDREN'S LITERATURE in Ft. Lauderdale Friday.  I had spoken there a few years ago.  This time, I'm going to enjoy a great lineup of speakers, including the Ambassador for Young People's Literature, Walter Dean Myers.  Can't wait!

3.  And I'll be doing THREE days of local school visits. 

I'm excited about each of these visits, but especially about the last one because . . . Thanks to the generosity of Kids in Need, Books in Deed, a nonprofit organization, every one of the students I'll be speaking to at this Title I school has been given a copy of one of my books.  A brand new book to keep.  (Something I never had growing up.)

I can't tell you what it feels like to present to a group of low-income students who ask how they can get a copy of a book, only to be told there are no copies for them.  Kids in Need, Books in Deed is a great organization, and I've already made a donation to thank them for the important work they do here in Florida, getting books into kids' hands in conjunction with author visits.

After the whirlwind of activity the past 5 months and what's on the horizon for the remainder of April, I'm pretty sure on May 1st, you'll find me here . . .

April 15, 2013

Guerilla Gardener . . .

Last summer, I worked with a group of enthusiastic, creative, smart economically disadvantaged kids in Columbus, Ohio.  (I, by the way, was an enthusiastic, creative, smart economically disadvantaged kid from Philadelphia.)

What got to me about the neighborhood in which these kids lived was this:  They did not have a supermarket.

Yet, in nearby neighborhoods, the residents got to choose between Kroeger, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, etc.

It.  Pissed.  Me.  Off.

Apparently, this food availability disparity pissed off Ron Finley of South Central, LA enough that he did something about it.  He became a guerilla gardener.

"If kids grow kale," Finley says, "they eat kale."

"Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant activity you can do, especially in the inner-city.  Plus you get strawberries."

I've seen creative solutions before, like a renovated bus that brought fresh fruit and vegetables to impoverished neighborhoods each week at a reduced cost.  (Kind of like a bookmobile, with low-cost, fresh produce.)

But I LOVE Ron Finley's solution . . . because it returns power to the people.  It offers dignity, education, good health and good karma.  (Plus you get strawberries.)

April 11, 2013


Every once in a while, I finish a book and have to share it with others.  Immediately.

The last book I felt that way about was A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness.  Perfect.  Before that, it was THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie.  True and heart-breakingly hilarious.

I just closed another book and must share.

ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell.

When I first saw this cover, I thought it was a picture book with thumbprint characters.  It's not.

This young adult novel is about Eleanor, a misfit on the outside, who defies the world and falls in love with Park.  Park, who feels like an outsider, sees beneath Eleanor's odd clothing, big red hair and large frame.  He's attracted to her like Romeo was to Juliet. 

Eleanor lives in a dire and dangerous home.  I worried for her and hoped for her the entire book.  I stayed up way too late several nights.  Just one more chapter.  Just one more . . .

This novel is written beat by beat, moment by moment, feeling by feeling -- simply and honestly.

If you don't believe me, read John Green's review in the New York Times.  Or the multiple starred reviews.   Or the blurbs from well-known authors -- all on Rainbow Rowell's site.

But really, forget about reading all of that and read ELEANOR & PARK.

There will be only one thing to do when you're done.  Tell someone else.

April 2, 2013

Opportunity for a Scholarship to Attend the Annual SCBWI Conference . . .

::::: fAiRy gOdSiStErS iNk ::::: anounces
Our 6th Annual SCBWI Conference Scholarship!

Fairy Godsisters:  Robin LaFevers, Thalia Chalta, Valerie Hobbs, Lee Wardlaw and Mary Hershey

wHo can apply: YOU with your shiny SCBWI membership (Make haste to www.scbwi.org to join/renew if needed)

wHaT: $1,000.00 toward conference tuition, manuscript or portfolio critique, and a bit of mad money during your LA stay.

wHeN: Conference runs from August 2 -5, 2013

wHeRe: The Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel, Los Angeles CA

wHy: We are five very fortunate authors for children and young adults who have been generously mentored, guided and supported by a host of talented individuals. We can't think of a better way to thank them than by easing the way for others. The National Conference is a game-changer.

hOw: To enter, write at least one but no more than three haiku telling us why we should pick you for this year's conference. (A haiku is a three-line poem, featuring a total of 17 syllables: 5 in the first line, 7 in the second, and 5 again in the third.) Have some fun with this!

Email your entry to fairygodsistersink@gmail.com by April 15th. Winners will be announced on May 1st. Questions, just ask!

Please feel free to share this info with your SCBWI buddies everywhere.

Best of luck to you all!