Sunday, May 17, 2015

I have books, and I have bedtime.

My boys are six and nine. I've spent many sweet hours reading to each of them since they were born. Each year, our read aloud time becomes more precious to me.

Connecting used to be easy. There were cuddles and snuggles—and the zoo.

But as time passes, I lose credibility. I commit outrageous crimes. I contaminate their Marvel world with my DC superheroes. I'm hilariously inept on their Xbox. Minecraft makes me dizzy. And between Pokemon and Skylanders, I don't know what they're talking about half the time.

But I still have two things going for me:
I have books.
And I have bedtime.

(Occasionally I also have kickball, UNO and Monopoly).

This year both boys started a new school. We were all nervous…especially my third grader, who had a traumatic teacher experience the year before. Before school started, I talked it up. I encouraged. I reminded him most teachers are amazing. I even showed him {this video} to prove some teachers are so spectacular you'll never forget them.

He remained very anxious.

But when the first day came, he went in with a brave face. And at the end of the day, he came out of his classroom smiling. It was a good day, he said. We all breathed a sigh of relief.

That night we read a new pile of picture books I had just picked up from the library. On top was Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato. It's about an elephant who feels invisible and alone.

When we got to this spread, my nine-year-old's face changed.

"Have you ever felt like that?" I asked.
"Yes," he said. "Today I did."
Then he spilled his guts.

Because we held Elliot between us that night, he found the words to tell me about his day. Both the good parts, and the hard parts. Because of a picture book, we hugged and cried and talked about it.

The school year is almost over now. It's been a good one. Really, it couldn't have been better. My nine-year-old wants to stay there forever. That first month he found a lot of friends. Friends who play Xbox. Friends who keep their superheroes straight. Friends who trade Pokemon at recess and play Minecraft after school.

Best of all, he ended up with one of those spectacular teachers he adores and will likely never forget. She doesn't jump on desks and proclaim her love of reading, but she's her own unforgettable brand of awesome.

Every day my kids get older. Every day they grow more independent. But every night, I'll be there—with a book and an opportunity to reconnect. And I hope it never ends.

Monday, April 13, 2015


April is National Poetry Month.

When my oldest kiddo was three, he went through a tornado phase. He dreamed of being a storm chaser. He dreamed of a life of adventure. Until a tornado whipped through our condo complex and changed his mind. Then he decided to be a volcanologist. Until the day he heard a documentary narrator state that most volcanologists meet an early end. When he turned five, he settled into the safer career path of game designer. Yesterday he told me he needs to find someone to negotiate a deal with Topps for a baseball card game he made up over the weekend. He keeps me busy, but his creative energy is contagious.

While Matthew was still in The Great Tornado Period of 2009, he created some digital art, named it F5 and asked me to write a poem to accompany it. Six years later, I still love the words, the boy and every thing about creating this with him.

In a flurry of surprise
and dust
and all the things
I didn't want
you swept in
and stirred things
--like a tornado,
its train whistle
in middle american
its arrival
in the } } h u s h { {
before we knew
what was
about to come upon us.
That is how you

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The book that made my head explode twice in one day

It's been awhile since I fawned over the sheer beauty of a book. Then yesterday I found this book at the library:

I stood there in the middle of the children's area—with toddlers and moms milling around me—oohing and aahing, and maybe drooling, over Sybille Schenker's Little Red Riding Hood. The paper quality.  The velvety ink.  The red stitched binding. Those exquisite cut-outs. The use of line, color and pattern. I couldn't get enough. My mind exploded with goodness.

Of course it came home with me.

Eventually, after more swooning and caressing, I sat down and read the text.

Then my mind exploded again.

I was all, "WHAT?! The wolf eats the grandmother?"
And, "What?! He eats Little Red Cap too?!"
And, "What?! The woodsman cuts open the wolf and they are alive inside?!"

I admit my childhood was sheltered.

But still.

How did I get to adulthood without knowing this story?

All I remember is the "my what big ears and eyes and teeth you have" part. Maybe I blocked out all the rest. My empathy dial has always been turned up unbearably high. We have an audio cassette of my parents amusing themselves by asking two-year-old me, "Want to read Hansel and Gretel?" Which sends me into a predictable toddler panic. "No, no! I'll cry really hard. They throw POTATOES at them!"

I think I've avoided fairy tales ever since.

But Sybille Schenker reeled me back in yesterday.

My Kindergartner found Little Red Riding Hood on the kitchen table after school.

"I know this story," he said.

"You do?!" Obviously not from me, I'm thinking.

"Yeah, it's on my reading app at school. The wolf eats the grandma, then he eats the girl.  Then the hunter cuts open the wolf and saves them."


Anyway, enough about my egregious literary gaps. I think I may need to own this one. If I'm feeling brave, perhaps I'll order Hansel and Gretel too.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

writing is like a lot like architecture

Before I decided that children's books were the best thing ever, I studied architecture.  For the record, architecture is pretty great too.

The Assistant Dean was my design instructor during my freshman year at Lawrence Tech University.  It was supposed to be an easy class.  One of our first assignments was to create a poster for a fashion show.  Before we proceeded to final art, the instructor had to approve our design direction.

I adored the first idea I submitted.
My instructor sent me back to the drawing board.
I came up with another idea.  He declined it.
We repeated this again and again and again.

Soon everyone else was painting—and finishing!—their finals, but I was still sketching.

Some students produced great designs.  There were also lots of not-great designs he approved with no revisions required.  Frustrated, I went to him.  The words he said turned out to be one of the greatest lessons I've ever learned.

He said, "I decided to teach you a more important lesson."

This was not what eighteen year old me wanted to hear.

He went on, "In real life you will never get to use your first idea.  You will rarely get to use your second, third or fourth.  If you can learn to approach each rendition of a project with a good attitude and equal passion and enthusiasm…if you believe you can always produce a result better than the last, you'll go far."

At the time, I was less than flattered.  My ears were steaming.  I didn't want to learn a different lesson.  I wanted an A on this lesson.  Thankfully there was a wiser part of my brain that perked up and took good notes.

It took twenty years to have another conversation as helpful as that one was.

Lately I've been pondering how very much his advice applies to the realm of writing.  Instead of getting that easy A on the first shot, I've been relearning the value of the process.  And that you can't get to the end version without first taking the journey through the others.  And that the winding road, while sometimes torturous, is also ridiculously fun.

Friday, November 7, 2014

happy news

It's an overwhelmingly good day when your favorite agent becomes your agent.  I am happy to announce that my dear Beatrice and I are now represented by the exceedingly wonderful Stephen Barr of Writers House.

"Yes, that's exciting," said my nine year old, "but have you seen my new Pokemon card?!"

Monday, June 23, 2014


Today Raina Telgemeier's graphic novel SMILE brought back all the drama, trauma & theatrics of my own childhood tooth loss accident, and the resulting reparative work over the years.

I may have dental nightmares tonight, but I thoroughly enjoyed being taken back to days long forgotten.

Also, I highly recommend diving into the land of graphic novels if it's not something you normally do.  It's a wonderful way to experience a story and add variety to your summer reading stack. For you, and your kids.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Make sure you catch the Number Five Bus

{source and photo credit}

I love listening to Philip and Erin Stead talk about books.  Their words are thoughtful, sensitive and genuine, and always stem from a true love of the craft.  They've started a wonderful series of written conversations with fellow book people and I have thoroughly enjoyed each installment.

Head on over to to read them all.  You won't be disappointed.  Perfect weekend reading.

So far they have chatted with:
ERIC ROHMANN, author/illustrator of My Friend Rabbit and Bone Dog, illustrator of Oh, No!
CECE BELL, author/illustrator of Rabbit & Robot, and the much-anticipated graphic novel, El Deafo.
REBECCA STEAD, author of two of my favorite MG novels, When You Reach Me and Liar & Spy.
JULIE DANIELSON of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (7-imp).

Coming soon:  Sergio Ruzzier and Mac Barnett.