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1. picture book work-along intensive may 25-27

Hello, hello! Over on Facebook a few friends and I have put together an event, a Picture Book Work-Along Intensive, May 25-27 (that's this coming Monday through Wednesday), designed to be a look at current picture books -- what makes them tick? What makes them sell? What makes them work for kids? Or not.


If you're not on FB, no worries. Comment and work-along right here on the blog. I'll be summarizing each day's activity in a blog post, so you'll still be able to participate. Suggest titles, tell us what you think, tell us what works for you and your young readers! We're not interested in bashing books in public; we're interested in WHAT WORKS. That's where we'll focus.

We are inviting everyone -- reader, writer, illustrator, parent, grandparent, teacher, whoever you are, if you are interested in picture books, this is for you. We're encouraging your participation and your thoughts and comments and questions and opinions -- we want to learn. We are not teachers in this Intensive, we are all learners.

Any current (or classic) picture books you want to talk about are fair game. For organizational purposes, we are pulling from the following lists, and we have picked up almost all titles from our local libraries:

The Golden Age of Picture Books, an ABPA Panel, at Publisher's Weekly.

Creative Courage for Young Hearts: 15 Emboldening Picture Books Celebrating the Lives of Great Artists, Writers, and Scientists at Brain Pickings.

29 Ridiculously Wonderful New Books to Read With Kids. At BuzzFeed

25 Ridiculously Wonderful Books to Read With Kids in 2015. Also at BuzzFeed but a different list.

The Ezra Jack Keats Award winners 2015.

Participants are already suggesting books not on this list. Here are a few: SIDEWALK FLOWERS; THE OCTOPUPPY; THE CASE FOR LOVING; CHASING FREEDOM; THE BEAR ATE YOUR SANDWICH; SUPERTRUCK. Check the FB event page for particulars on books as well as details about the Intensive. This Facebook page is open to everyone, even those not on FB.

Hope to see you there. This is a drop-in when you can, stay as you like, contribute your thoughts, let's enlighten one another workshop. We're going to be WRITING as well, when you're not hearing from us online. We want to learn, and we want to write picture books. Moderators are moi, Jane Kurtz, Dian Curtis Regan, and Laurel Snyder. Janie and I will be together in person those three days, and we've got 72 books on my coffee table right now, from the Gwinnett County and the DeKalb County Library systems, ready to go. Join us!

xoxo Debbie

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2. green gables love and exploration

Oh, Anne Shirley. Where have you been all my life? YES, friends have swooned over Anne of Green Gables and have told me I MUST READ THIS BOOK, and I have demurred and thought, meh, it just isn't in my wheelhouse, I'm just not interested, she lived in NOVA SCOTIA (wrong... sorta) and I am from the American South and it's going to be twee and saccharine and not at all interesting to me, and...

Well, I was wrong. Even though I haven't yet met Gilbert (RIP, oh no) and have only gotten as far as the first picnic, I know I'm onto something special that is showing up now, to teach me. I just know it. I don't know what I'm going to learn or how it will be incorporated, but in this year of exploration, this is what has come next.

After a spirited conversation while in Mississippi with my cousin Carol, a retired 2nd-grade teacher and librarian, I downloaded the audio book (thank you, Overdrive, and Gwinnett County Libraries!) and listened to it on my way home from Mississippi, where I had spoken at the Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival, listened to it as I drove to Montgomery (flat tire at 5:30am and all), and listened to it as I drove from Montgomery, where I spoke at the Alabama Book Festival, all the way home.


Evidently, so is Sarah Mesle. She writes, in the Los Angeles Review of Books, "Ten Things I Learned From Loving 'Anne of Green Gables.'"

This is exactly the kind of kismet that happens when you open yourself up to the universe and say, "teach me." Things come into your path. (Sometimes they are weird things, and things that don't seem to fit together. I just trust them.) People who don't even know you help you on your way. Sara Mesle, thank you. I'm not going to worry about the lack of plot... which was beginning to niggle at me. I'm just going to enjoy myself.

Jonathan Crombie, the actor who played Gilbert in the 1985 mini-series production of Anne, has just died. This is something I likely wouldn't have heard about (as I don't follow the news anymore), except that I had that spirited conversation with my cousin, I started listening to the book, and Carol sent me the news yesterday.

Life turns on a dime. So does death, as Comfort Snowberger well knows. And so does how we parse the world. Carol sent me this ending to Anne, so I could see it and hear it and feel it and be part of her sadness at dear Gilbert's death, and so I could be pulled a bit more into the Anne community. I'll append it here so I can remember...

You can see photos from the Book Festival and the Alabama Book Festival at Facebook and on IG. It's Sunday evening as I write this. Got to get ready for Wolf Hall on PBS. I text through the whole thing with Carol. I've learned to trust her literary judgement, and now I've got her trusting mine. I loved the novels by Hillary Mantel -- "you must watch this!" I told Carol, my Anglophile. One day she and I will get to Great Britain together. I want to be prepared. Maybe Wolf Hall is part of the year of exploration.

Happy Monday, friends. xoxoxo

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3. back to school

On Being a Late Bloomer is here.

The Year of Exploration is here.

 It occurred to me yesterday: I am intuitively doing what I did when I was so young and a single mom, uneducated, needy, and wanting a life for my kids, for myself, wanting to understand the world and to find my place in it. I went to school. I got my undergraduate degree from the many libraries I haunted during those years.

I was barely 22, I was broke, I was alone with two small children, but I had a library card. I still have a library card. Now I have two (we made peace). Suddenly, in this year of exploration, I am back to school and in much the same way. Let's call it a graduate degree.

I'm following my intuition, pulling on strings when an idea comes to me or someone mentions something that rings a "year of exploration" bell. I am truly following my nose here, as well as my list of things I want to explore. These notes are the ones I took when listening to Malcolm Gladwell's THE TIPPING POINT from my library system's Overdrive account. I *love* Overdrive.And my library.

I don't know what I'll do with what I learn from THE TIPPING POINT, but that's not the point. I know I will use it. I know it's part of the year of exploration. It will tie in with everything else. I've always been a learner; I rarely have a stretch of time in which to learn in depth, intensely. That"s where I am now.
I finally excavated my office. I've been on the road for the past six months -- I've traveled in six months as much as I usually do in a year. I have bought myself some time off the road. My sabbatical starts June 1. I'll still travel. But that travel landscape is going to look different going forward.

More on that later. For now, I've spent the most lovely, rainy Friday afternoon going through ephemera of the past six months on the road. Letters from students, student writing, receipts, little gifts and remembrances, bills and business stuff... "Oh! There's my parking receipt!"... and photographs to remind me of good work done with new friends.

I got on the road 15 years ago when I became so suddenly single, and I've done a good job of taking care of me and mine, I've done good work on the road -- I've learned so much -- and I've written some good books. Now is the time for stillness and learning to love my new hometown, and writing, and learning, and being. Becoming. Something. I don't know what yet. I am trusting the process.

Have a great weekend, friends. I'm going to be off exploring....

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4. a reply, and my reply to DeKalb County Libraries

{DeKalb Libraries responded to my open letter (which you can read in my last post). Director Weissinger waived my yearly non-resident fee and promised to look into the situation at the Tucker branch. My reply is below. I well know this pushes my buttons for long-ago personal reasons, but I also know it's a vital issue today}

Dear Ms. Weissinger,

Thank you for such a prompt response. Even though you have waived it, I would like to pay my yearly non-resident fee -- I went into the library ready to pay it. My neighbors have had to do this as well, and they are avid library users, most of them with small children. If they live in Tucker and less than a mile from the Tucker library and have to pay the non-resident fee, so do I.

You didn't mention it, but I also want to pay the $10 fine that has sat on my card since 2005. I don't remember this fine and didn't realize I had it, but I am happy to pay it, even though the desk librarian at Tucker sounded punitive when she told me about it. "Okay, I'll pay that, too," I told her. Then I was told I couldn't use a credit card to pay the $55 total, so I said I would go home and get a check.

The entire exchange was unpleasant, unprofessional, and frankly shocking. I have never encountered librarians -- or trained para-professionals, or anyone behind the desks -- with such a blase, bored, who-cares, and "you're bothering me" attitude. The point, for me, is that librarianship is still the most unbiased, staunchest bastion we have with which to fight illiteracy and misinformation. An informed citizenry is vital to our democracy, not to mention individual quality of life and community health.

I am capable of looking up the answers to my questions on my own. Many of your patrons are not. Your services benefit people of all ages and persuasions and demographics and diversities. Many years ago I was a homeless teenaged mother, infant on my hip, standing in front of the information desk asking for help. I had no earthly support. Librarians behind that desk took me in hand and gave me the tools with which I could fashion a life. If they had turned me away, if I had felt unwelcome, I wouldn't have gone back. And I did go back, over and over, library after library, in town after town, ahead of the landlord, ahead of whatever disaster befell me, until I could get on my feet. I well understand the power of libraries and librarians to help shape a life. Lives.

If the fee (and fine) cannot be paid in the traditional way (since it has already been waived), I will make a $55 donation to the library fund of your choice. Please let me know how I can pay this.

Thank you for listening and for reading, and for considering what might be done to ensure all are welcome at the library.


Deborah Wiles

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5. an open letter to DeKalb County Georgia public libraries

{As part of my #yearofexploration I decided to stop protesting the $45 fee I must pay to use the library up the street from me. Having two library systems will be much more convenient for the many expeditions I hope to helm this year. Here is what happened when I tried to renew and asked a question...}

An Open Letter to the DeKalbCounty Public Libraries in DeKalb County, Georgia:

April 3, 2015

Dear Library Board and Director Weissinger:

Yesterday at 3:00pm, I went to the Reid H. Cofer/Tucker branch of the DeKalb County Library with the intention of paying the annual $45 and renewing my non-resident library card. I want to tell you about my reception at the circulation desk.

I live in Tucker, Georgia -- in the same town as this library and less than one mile from this branch -- but in Gwinnett County. I moved here in 2004 from the Washington, D.C. area and immediately got a library card at the old Cofer branch in Tucker.

At the time it stuck in my craw that I had to pay $45 for library privileges because of a county line. The DeKalb County school bus picks up students just four houses up the street from me, on Ginson Drive. In protest, I refused to pay after my first year with DeKalb. I also had a card in the Gwinnett County Library System, and from 2005 on, I used only that system. The closest branch is seven miles from my house.

I love the Gwinnett County Public Library system. But DeKalb is a walk away from my house and much more convenient, and for a working writer, using both branches is ideal. So I broke through my resistance this week, and I walked to the desk at the Tucker library and presented my old card and asked to renew it.

I want you to know that the two librarians behind the circulation desk could have cared less about my request and were entirely unhelpful. There was no line waiting and there were no other patrons nearby. I was told that I needed a check or cash in order to renew -- I had a credit card. That was fine. I would go back home and get a check, I told them.

When I asked who I might write to, to officially protest the fact that I live in Tucker and cannot use the Tucker library, both librarians shrugged. "The tax office?" one of them said. The other nodded, "It's a tax issue."

"Could you help me figure out who it would be?" I asked. They shrugged. "It would be Gwinnett County," they agreed.

"I'm going to go home and get a check -- I live less than a mile away... would you mind helping me look this up or tell me who to ask?" Yes, they would very much mind.

"Isn't this what librarians do?" I asked. They shrugged. "Well, it's what librarians used to do!" I said. And I stalked out the door, frustrated and suddenly angry.

What DO your librarians in DeKalb County do? Is there some reason they no longer help patrons -- former, present and future -- with research questions or requests? Can they not direct them to help? Is morale so low in DeKalb County or training so ineffective, or apathy so rampant that there is no hope?

Throughout my life I have never been far from a library. Libraries have actually saved my life -- another story for another day. They have been an essential part of my life and my work and my play. You have a stunningly beautiful library in Tucker. It's a shame it is filled with librarians who don't understand customer service or the idea of what help really means. It's a shame I cannot use your library without paying a $45 fee every year -- a fee I was willing to pay and walked in ready to pay.

Gwinnett branches are farther away from me, but the librarians at my branch know me and welcome me and research with me and laugh with me and hold books for me and for my four-year-old granddaughter when I bring her (she lives in DeKalb County!), and they help her fill her book basket with stories.

I feel welcomed in Gwinnettand I will continue to be a proud patron. I looked forward to building similar relationships in DeKalb County. I can see, it's not the same kind of inviting, caring, helpful place. Too bad, not only for me and mine, but for the many citizens you serve.

Deborah Wiles
Tucker, GA

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6. something different

I'm taking an art class -- two -- at Creativebug when I return from family, schools, and a conference in Mississippi. Both are on-demand work-alongs -- you choose the time and place to work on each session -- and both are Lisa Congdon classes. Sketchbook Explorations and Basic Line Drawing.

I'm a life-long doodler as well as a notebook devotee and evangelist, as you may know, and in this year of exploration, I've dedicated myself to working more with my hands, going back to my roots. I want to get out of my head -- all those words! -- and use my mind in a different way.

I leave for Mississippi on Easter Sunday and I'll be home on April 11. Wanna work/play together when I'm back? I have no expectations. I'm in this for the discovery, the exploration, totally. You've got a couple of weeks to investigate at Creativebug, and you can take a different class if you like, or no class at all. I've slowly been buying the materials for my two classes and I'm just about ready to go.

I'm off to a local school this morning. Atlanta International School. All day talking about history and stories and personal narrative with grades 4 through 8. And KEEPING A NOTEBOOK.

Gotta put on my face. Happy day, friends. xoxo

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7. the year of exploration

For some time I have been birthing -- in my head and on paper -- a new way of seeing, working, living, connecting, and being in the world. Why? Maybe it's turning 60, with the knowledge that there is less time before me than behind me for sure. Maybe it's recent disappointments and realizations. Maybe it's recent gifts and surprises. Maybe it's the on-going therapy, which is hard work. I'm sure it is.

Whatever it is, this shift in my thinking feels major, so I'm going to do something about it, and I will chronicle it here, March 20, 2015 to March 20, 2016 (start where you are, and I started with Saturday's post).

I want to see where this new energy and commitment take me and my work. I'll also Instagram my explorations, using the hashtag "theyearofexploration."

I'll label it that way here, too. I used the blog to chronicle my 2012 year off the road to finish REVOLUTION and called it "the year of possibility." You can read about it by clicking on the label on the sidebar. (or here. :>)

I'll tag some of these exploration posts "the home economics project." I've had a project in mind for a long, long time, and I want to start making it visible.

I'll chronicle book three of the sixties trilogy as well. I've already starting documenting photographs and research at Pinterest. You'll find a "book three hold file" and a "book three playlist possibilities" board as well as the many boards for COUNTDOWN and REVOLUTION... and I've started resource boards for my other books.. I'll get to them as I can.

I'm going back to the roots of what makes me happy. I'm going to write more. I'm going to use my hands more, which is something that grounds me and centers me and helps me understand my place in the great continuum.

To that end, I have purchased four cacti, three French lavender plants, and a mother fern. I'm going to take a class at Creativebug - line drawing with Lisa Congdon. Also, Lisa's sketchbook explorations work-along at Creativebug. I've got my supplies (which include these plants!) and I'm ready to go.

I have no expectations. I want to do what I ask students to do when I teach writing: pay attention, ask questions, make connections.

I'll be an explorer like Comfort Snowberger in EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS: Explorer, Recipe Tester, and Funeral Reporter. Like Dove, the 9-year-old anthropologist-in-training in LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER. I shall be an anthropologist of my life. I'll try to let go of anxiety about the future, and just stay in the day. I will work hard. I will try to uncover as well as discover. I hope to learn a lot. Wanna come with?

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8. on being a late bloomer

This is the hashtag I used on Instagram -- #teachinghongkong2015 -- to document in photos my trip to Hong Kong this month. You can find photos of the trip there, and even more on Facebook, here, along with a few thoughts about teaching writing to students who are learning to be fluent in both English and Mandarin Chinese.

 We mainly focused on personal narrative and moments we could add color and flavor and texture to, characters we could create from those moments -- and how to make them come alive on the page -- and then we moved into fiction with them.

We used several mentor texts, including FREEDOM SUMMER, LOVE RUBY LAVENDER, and EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS.

I learned to write by reading like a writer, modeling my writing on what I admired, then making it mine, so that's how I teach. I turn my life into stories. I understand how I do it. I have broken it down to the foundations of how it works, and it's always a stretch and a pleasure to share it with young writers and their teachers.

I am a writer who teaches, and to that end, I will always be a writer first. I have developed my teaching over the past twenty years by teaching in classrooms, from K through college, and I know that what I have to offer is substantial, meaningful, useful, and offers a lasting toolbox partner for teachers and their young writers to use for years to come.

And yet.

I am thinking about who I am today, as Jim and I return home to spring in Atlanta -- we left in a February snowstorm. This ruminating always happens after I am thrust for a sustained time into an unfamiliar environment, where I am constantly thinking on my feet, meeting new people in new cultures, learning new customs and traditions (and food!) and discovering how people make meaning in their lives.

Traveling, especially internationally, invites me to rethink everything. Invites me to make meaning. It reminds me of my young life, when, as a teenager, I became a mother, and a wife to a boy I did not know, and moved to a place I did not understand, with no support, with people and customs I could not comprehend, and with fear and isolation so complete it would take me years to assimilate and integrate and create meaning from it.

So I am thinking.

I want to chronicle some of that thinking here on the blog. I'm going to play with short posts about what I'm discovering, and just see where it leads me. I can feel myself entering a time of change. I'm working on a sort of manifesto for my sixties. God. I grew up in the sixties, and now I *am* sixty. 61. Talk about a late bloomer.

I raised a family first. I was homeless first. I was lost, first. I had to find ways to stabilize my life and my children's lives, first. I had to live some, first. Make sense of some things. Find my way into my life. Do a whole lot of different things with my life and teach myself how to do... pretty much everything. It would take me time to learn how to help myself, so I could help someone else.. I taught myself how to write so I could tell my stories and find home, belonging, safety, meaning, love.

My first book was published the year I turned 48. I went back to school that year and got my credentials to teach -- I'd been teaching informally for years without them. I became suddenly single that year. My heart was broken. I wrote EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS in response to that loss.

By the time I turned fifty, I had lost not only the long-years marriage, but my mother and my father and my siblings and my home of 25 years and my hometown. My youngest of four graduated and left home for college. I moved to Atlanta. The dog died. My editor of 12 years was fired. My publishing house was decimated.

The bitter was tempered by the sweet. I had created a support system by that time, and my friends became my family. They held the space for me, held me up until I could stand on my feet again. I met my husband, Jim. We had a three year long-distance relationship, a three year Atlanta relationship, and then we married. My books did well in the world, even though my life was so chaotic for a time, I couldn't always appreciate it or participate in the book community that celebrated all of it. Much of my life was a blur.

Little by little, though, I came back from a devastating time of loss. My children grew up and began to blossom. I began to create a home, here in Atlanta, a family home, a home for friends, a home for my own heart to rest in once again.

It took me a long, long time to do this. I was scared, and once again lost, even in the midst of the sweetness. But I kept writing. I kept teaching. I kept on trying. I have been emerging from that difficult place, once again forging an identity and discovering who I am. Making meaning. It's a process. Life long.

I am happy to be here. I love my life. I know how lucky I am.

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9. winter work

My life as a writer is punctuated by bouts of teaching. Sometimes, when the teaching comes thickly into my life, my life as a teacher is punctuated by bouts of writing. 










I'm a writer who also teaches writing, something of a rarity in the school visit world. I decided fifteen years ago, when I started this gig professionally, to teach when I went into schools, to try and make the day as meaningful and useful to teachers as possible, to have fun with students but also work hard with them, and to offer students a way into their life stories that felt powerful and necessary, and that made bringing an author to school an investment in a school's writing program.

That decision has afforded me a living as well as a way to work with amazing people who are on the front lines with young people every day. It has given me a way to partner with good teachers and have a hand in making change.

I started teaching in my children's classrooms, many moons ago. I was a freelance writer then, and teachers would ask (or I would ask them), "Could you come in a teach us how to write a sentence?" First grade. Or, in second grade, "We're working on paragraphs, could you come in and share writing paragraphs with us?" In 9th grade: "I'd like to work on research skills this year, and on revision." 5th grade: "Would you share that oral history project you do for the county, and teach us those skills?" 4th grade: "We want to create great characters!"

As I did this work, and as I transitioned from freelance work -- essays and features for magazines and newspapers -- to fiction for young people, I developed a sort of writing program I continue to define and tweak and adjust for grade levels and ages and the differing needs and schedules in schools. It is based on how I learned to write. I was mostly self-taught at the time, and I used the literature to teach me. Now I use the literature to teach.

I always begin with personal narrative, since I was an essayist first, and because I believe in and understand how personal narrative is the backbone of all other writing, in all genres. The better you know your own story, the better your writing in all areas will become. So we begin there, and segue into whatever the particular need is.

This winter has been thick with teaching. Every job I take in schools has its unique flavor and challenges and pleasure.

In Pennsylvania I worked with an intrepid 4th-grade teacher who met me at a conference the year before and decided she'd "just write a grant" and bring me to her school. And by golly she did. I did assembly sessions with just fourth grade, in small assembly sessions, and we wrote on the floor, in notebooks, as I worked with well-prepared students who had read my books and were full of questions I could turn into teachable writing moments. The day was such a pleasure.

In Charlotte, I worked for a week in a public school -- this was our third time partnering with a different agenda each time -- where I did professional development with all teachers and also saw all students in grades K-5. I'd done a full day of PD with these teachers and the entire staff -- secretaries to janitors to teaching assistants -- in August, and a full day of just-assemblies with students the previous spring, so we were building on those days together. We turned the library into a classroom so that every student sat at a desk, and we were off.

Each grade was working on differing skills, from biography to opinion writing to fiction to just writing one sentence, and it was my job to be able to touch them all. It was a challenge made more difficult by how sick I had become the weekend before I showed up, but we made it through, and did great work together. I drove from Atlanta to Charlotte in the teeming rain on a Sunday, went to work in the rain all week (including a two-hour delay for ice one morning! We adjusted the schedule), and drove home through the rain, back to Atlanta on Friday late afternoon, and went to bed.

A few days later I drove to Rome, Georgia, where I was a "prize" for students in grades 3-6 who had read their quota of words in their "Read a Million Words" goal. This was a day of four, one-hour assembly programs only. Some students had read RUBY as a class, a smattering had read LITTLE BIRD, and I took it from there. It's always harder to make connections with students when they haven't a frame of reference (which starts with knowing who you are, and knowing you through your books) but we did fine. I had them bring their notebooks with them. We working on making connections, paying attention, asking questions, and they left an hour later with pages filled with notes and words and doodles and drawings -- the raw stuff of story.

Many of their teachers didn't come with them -- a lost opportunity, as I am always teaching teachers at the same time I am working with their students, but this wasn't that kind of day for them. Still, I teach, and students leave assembly psyched to tell their stories, even if their teachers haven't had the same experience and can then extend the lesson, which is what makes a school visit an investment in a school's writing program. Again, not all schools are looking for that type of investment, and I am mindful of that.

I was still hacking in Rome, but better. I had one day home before I flew to Houston, TX for a four-day writing residency in a private school, where I worked with grades 4 through 8, in an opening assembly for each grade in the gym, and then in smaller workshops in classrooms throughout each day. I had detailed advance notice of what each grade was working on so that I could fashion my assemblies and workshops to work in tandem with teachers.

Teachers came to each session, although sometimes it was "just" the writing teacher for the grade and not the classroom teacher, depending on the age and grade I was working with. Still, we did good work, and students left with lots to go forward with. Some were creating characters, some were turning personal narrative into fiction, some were writing historical fiction, some were researching biographies and turning their research into vignettes. I have high expectations, and students worked hard with me. It was all interesting work.

And that's the thing about being a writer who teaches. It is always such interesting work. I learn as much as I teach. I get better, every time I step into the classroom. Even what doesn't work (especially) teaches me. I have minutes to suss out a grade, a workshop group, a room full of teachers, and figure out which way I want to go. I know how to use the literature as my partner. I know how to back up when something isn't working and go another direction. I have many directions I can go in, and I pull from a rich, deep well -- broad, too -- of possibilities that will fit the situation I find myself in.

It's hard work. I don't know the students and they don't know me. Teachers who don't know me are sometimes wary, but we get past that place and end up creating a fabulous, safe writing community. It's my job to meet as many needs as I can. The one who can't sit still, the one who is too quiet, the one who is struggling, the one who is done before everyone else, the one who always wants to share, the one who is too loud, the ones who are chatty, the one who doesn't see well, or hear well, or feel well. It's a gigantic puzzle, all day long, every day, and that keeps me interested and on my toes, and happy. Happy.

And exhausted, when the day is done. In Houston, still feeling the dregs of the cold I'd been battling in Charlotte, I came back to my hotel at 3pm every day, put on my pajamas, crawled under the covers in my bed, and stayed there in the dark until a 6pm pickup for dinner. When I was in Charlotte, we held teacher debriefings every day after school, to assess how we did that day, and to see where we wanted to go the next. I got back to my hotel about 4:30, after picking up some supper at the local ("my beloved") Earth Fare, usually soup, and I was in bed and down for the count by 6:30pm every night, with Nyquil and throat lozenges and a ten-hour sleep. It's the only way I got up the next day.

But it's good. It's a privilege to be given a classroom for the day -- many classrooms -- and to be trusted to take that instructional time and dovetail it with ongoing classroom work, and to hand students back to their teachers ready to run with what they've learned. Ready to use these new tools as they work within their various curriculum, pacing guides, and standards, not to mention testing.

I'll be in Hong Kong for three weeks in Feb/March. Jim is coming with me. I'm working in three schools, in grades 3 through middle school, and am so looking forward to it. They've all read LITTLE BIRD, for one thing. How fabulous is that.

So it's a winter filled with teaching. Funny how that works. I'll be in California next week, as REVOLUTION has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award, and I'll go to that ceremony to support my book, then on to San Francisco to research book three of the sixties trilogy. Then Tampa with teachers only. Then Hong Kong. Then local schools in Atlanta. Then Mississippi for a conference and a school. Then Denver. Then home, mid-May.

Summer will be for writing.

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10. this morning's mail

Story connects us in ways we will never know. This just in: here is a letter passed on to me from a friend who gave REVOLUTION to her 72-year-old aunt in Texas. It now becomes a primary source document for future researchers. Just as important, it serves to show how a heart becomes awake and aware in the world. I was the storyteller for Mary, and now Mary is the storyteller for me. This is how it works. I am grateful. xo Debbie
January 23
Oh, Sally,

Thank you so much for making me aware of Revolution. It has unleashed a torrent of conflicting emotions and memories in me, none of which were completely forgotten, but largely dormant.

On one hand, it reads like a barn burner, and I do not want to put it down. I love the way she worked photographs, gospel and folk song lyrics, and headlines as page dividers creating a sense of the onslaught of information which occurred that summer. (It does remind me of your saying fiction can sometimes convey events better than dry history. But she does include a lot of what to me is not dry history.)

On the other hand, because of the flood of memories and the poignant strength of the emotions they evoke in me, I can only read it in segments, sometimes as much as a chapter, but usually less. Than I have to meditate on what is happening in me, in the story, and in our country now.

Since it was published by Scholastic Press, I guess it is geared to middle schoolers. My only sorrow is that many adults who would benefit from tumbling into its pages will not find out what they are missing....

For myself, I read the book on about five levels. Four come from memories: the first as a middle schooler, one in high school, one the summer after graduation from college (1963), and one in 1964 when I was at the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City. The fifth is that of an aging Democrat who worked the phones for Obama in 2008, delighted in our long-term success.

The student at Gilmer Junior High got in the car with your grandfather, heard the news about Brown vs Topeka on NBC news (and later CBS) and asked Grampy, "Does that mean I will be going to school with colored kids?"

In high school, I heard Larry Pittmon and others threaten to get baseball bats and beat up N----rs who tried to come to Gilmer High. An elderly Black had died, and the relatives who went to California and elsewhere had come to town in their finest to attend the funeral. This was at the same time that the Airborne and the National Guard were confronting each other at Central High School, Little Rock. In our ignorance of how groups like COFO would operate, rumor had it that the fancy dressed black people were members of the NAACP planning to integrate the school.

The summer of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, I had attended a workshop by the National Conference of Christians and Jews and then stayed in Dallas to learn typing at a business school. Having no TV of my own, I went to the apartment complex recreation building to watch the march. That night I joined one of the Black members of my class with her boy friend in the Hall Street Ghetto in Dallas for supper. We talked for hours about what that huge crowd meant for the future of Blacks in America.

The next summer, after my rookie year as a Dallas public school teacher, I had a job with the State Department in July and August, 1964. Mother and Daddy honored my experiences in college in a sit-in on the SMU campus and in that workshop the year before by letting me write the editorial response of The Gilmer Mirror to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (the Public Accomodations Act).

Then I traveled to DC in late June, went to the White House as a guest of Lady Bird and Lyndon the night of my 23rd birthday, and went to work in the Personnel Department of the State Department.
The deputy director of the division I was in was a Black man. A fellow deacon of his church, the assistant superintendent of the DC schools, was shot down that summer as he drove back from his reserve duty at Ft. Bragg. He was a reserve Colonel in the US Army who was chased down after buying gas by hooligans in a pickup and shot. I can still see him that Monday morning when I came to work telling the Personnel Services Division chief, an older (55-60) white woman of the shooting.

Unlike the volunteers at Freedom Summer who sweltered in Mississippi, I got to go to the cool serenity of the Washington National Cathedral and hear a mixed choir of over 250 voices sing in thanksgiving of the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

I read the headlines in the Washington Post about their efforts as I went to Capitol Hill to see the War on Poverty legislation accepted in the US Senate after the House had approved their portion.
Then in August, I joined Nana in New York City, attended Hello Dolly with Carol Channing (my adventuresome summer like Sunny wonders about) and to the New York World's Fair. From there we took the train to Atlantic City.

Selling pennants and buttons to raise funds for the Democratic Party as a Young Person for LBJ, I met youths from Philadelphia, MS who were there with representatives of the Freedom Democratic Party of Mississippi. When they learned my mother was a delegate, they lobbied me to ask her to vote for their group to be seated.

I told Nana about them, but LBJ was trying to court Mississippi votes, and did not want to ruffle more feathers until after the election. She of course did what LBJ wanted.

It would be four years later when I had promised Nana I would take the first job I was offered that I went to work for the Dallas OIC. You know what an impact that had on me. I was tempted by the Peace Corps, but Nana would never have let me go to an undeveloped country. I always think the Lord had a hand in the fact that OIC gave me my first job offer after grad school.

Well, enough meditation for now. I still have half the book to read, and I am mentally compiling a list of people to make aware of it. I definitely will see to it our Intermediate and Junior High Schools as well as the Upshur County Library have copies.

If you with to share these reflections with your friend, the author, you are welcome to do so. I am so proud you made me aware of it. Thank you so very much.
Love, Mary

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11. the characters of fall

From bound manuscripts to the National Book Award dinner, from home to far away, from family to friends to strangers to new friends, from schools to conferences, from high to low, from hard work to a few lazy days...

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12. revolution, everywhere

One week in the life, and what a week. Monday I started out for North Carolina, with REVOLUTION, and Sunday night, last night, I sat in the tutti-fruitti chair at home in Atlanta, with Masterpiece Theater and my phone, watching and texting along with my Mississippi cousin, Carol, a long-standing tradition. Some of the life between those two moments is captured below in phone photos -- I miss my camera! But I did not miss my friends. They were right there, all along, right beside me, as you will see, accompanying me and championing me and coaxing me forward, in person and online, and certainly in my heart. I kept up my travel-marathon training on the road (for a trip I'm taking in Feb/March, which we'll get to). More to say on the other end of this string of photos, including a little about next week in NYC. Thanks for coming along with me!

WHEW. It fills my heart right up. Thanks so much to the fine folks at the Carolina Friends School, Cary Academy, A.B. Combs Elementary School, Quail Ridge Books and Music, McIntyre's Fine Books, the Fearrington House Inn, Scuppernong Books, and the Chatham County Community Library. Y'all were so gracious and generous. Thanks to Charlie Young for accompanying me for a good leg of the tour -- you are the best.

Jandy Nelson: THREE booksellers hand-sold me your book on this tour. I got two photographs. Booksellers loved I'll Give You the Sun. I love you! And your wonderful new book. Busting my buttons over my former student's success!

That's Jennifer E. Smith, David Levithan, and Stephanie Perkins, reading from their new books and signing at my local indie, Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, GA, yesterday. I came home to walk a 5K as part of my travel-marathon training, and to see my editor, David, do his thang at Little Shop. Then Jim and I walked the old Decatur Cemetery, a soothing end to a busy week, and had a little supper at EATS, one of our favorite Atlanta eateries.

This will be a quiet (hahahaha) week of getting ready for the National Book Award events in New York City next week. We leave in six days. I have a fabulous black dress. I bought some bling for my dress. I am returning it. I called the shop and said, "I forgot! I'm going to be wearing a medal!" Because I am. REVOLUTION is a National Book Award Finalist. I am so proud of my book. I love my book. I love my publisher, Scholastic, for publishing the book I wanted to write. I love the NBA judges for recognizing my book. I love the process. I love the books REVOLUTION is keeping company with this season. I love the lofty ideal of writing from the heart the story that is asking to be written. I love having the opportunity to share that story with as wide an audience as possible. Thank you, thank you, thank you... that's what I want to say, over and over again. It has been such a rush, such a trip, such an excitement, such a delight, such a surprise, and such an honor. I am forever grateful. See you all in New York next week.

Love, Debbie

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13. picture stories

              An afternoon drive out of Atlanta, a patriotic rest stop, a Confederate flag flying over the Columbia, South Carolina Statehouse, an arrival at Mama's house on John's Island. O Charleston, O Youth, O History of Long Ago. The marsh, the swamp, the salt, the

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14. birthing a revolution

Friends, I am Mississippi as I write this. I have an essay at the Nerdy Book Club blog today, about birthing Revolution in Mississippi. I wrote it on the eve of my trip. I am still in Mississippi, with family, until tomorrow, when I come home and write about my adventures in schools, in bookstores, and in my own heart.  In the meantime, you can read the Nerdy post and then catch up visually with

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15. debbie's big adventure (the snowy days)

I flew into JFK in February knowing it was cold. I took public transportation from the airport to Great Neck, which took three train changes and about three hours. I saw Brenda Bowen on the train platform in Jamaica and we were both so frozen it took minutes (and boarding the next train) before it registered that that was really her. We wrote to each other later, "I thought I recognized that

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16. it was a long winter

It wasn't the amount of snow. It was the cold. It was how long it was cold, in Hotlanta. It was so cold this past winter. I just wanted to make soup and popcorn and burrow under old quilts and watch old movies; and look out the kitchen window to see the winter birds forage on all the old seed pods in the garden; take selfies of ourselves now, and compare them to old pictures of us on my dresser

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17. my scholastic family, ala midwinter, revolution

And so it begins again, a new book to shepherd into the world. Here are some catch-up shots from ALA Midwinter in January, in Philadelphia, PA. Here are some of the inside pages of REVOLUTION that my editor David L. and I were working with up to the last second, trying to get just-right, sitting at rehearsal the morning of the Scholastic brunch. We'd done this at NCTE, too, the previous November,

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18. this and that to begin a new year: experimenting

I'm sifting through an experiment. I got my first smart-phone in late November, and I put down my Nikon D-40 for four months. I've just learned (maybe this is a new blogger thing) that I can work on my laptop and access my phone photos here... very good! Google has done some silly stuff with animated gifs and an end-of-year doo-dad that's sweet, silly, and confusing, as I don't know a couple of

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19. to be of use

I've been sailing toward the end of the year, riding on the page proofs of the good ship Revolution. We went to Charleston the day after Christmas, as usual. I put most photos of the holidays and the trip to Charleston on Instagram, as I'm experimenting with that platform, so I'll direct you there for photos today. I want to leave you with a poem by Marge Piercy called "To be of use" -- To be

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20. what makes writing good

I've got a Pinterest board called "Good Writing and Storytelling."   My description: "There's great storytelling and/or writing on this board, and there's some that borders on dreadful, but there's a reason to examine each of these. I found them interesting in the way they fulfilled their purpose... or didn't." Here's my latest pin on that board: "'Atlanta's Turner Field is dying --

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21. ncte, stories, and song

I posted this note to my facebook author page -- I just discovered I had a "write a note" function -- who knew? -- so I practiced. I want to put it here on the blog as well. I'm not sure how I will end up using the fb author page along with the blog... I'm experimenting. This is my last week home before the last of the year's travel. 2013 is coming to an end. I'll be in the D.C. area for a

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22. my wacky, beloved SIBA is at it again

Wanda Jewell, Nicky Leone, and the good folks at SIBA -- the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance -- are at it again. Here is "What's a book? Why a book? Three dozen authors read from Lane Smith's popular story 'It's a Book!' (Macmillan Publishers) about the advantages of (print) books. Recorded at the 2013 SIBA Trade Show in New Orleans." Love.

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23. snapshot

I am here. 

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24. the way it was

After two back-to-back weekends of travel for work, it took four days last week for my mind to come back online enough to tackle the copy-edited manuscript, and it was due on Friday last week. I asked for the weekend and promised it first thing Monday morning. I had felt so smug, the week between the travels. I had addressed all of the copy editor's queries and had begun the read-through.

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25. and now, november

Whew. And now, November. Halloween has long been my favorite holiday, way back before it became commercialized, in the days when Franny in Countdown worried over her costume, and that costume was thrown together -- like everyone else's was -- from scavenged bits and pieces and a lot of ingenuity. When I was a kid, a neighbor lady sat outside at a card table, at

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