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The daily blog of Laurel Snyder, children's author, poet, mother, and occasional loose cannon. Posts range from rants about publishing to book reviews to pictures of Laurel's adorable rascals (awwwwww!!!). Not to mention periodic raves about new products from Trader Joe's and once in awhile, a cuss word or three (!!!)
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Today, Lew and I had an hour to kill, before we needed to pick Mose up from school. I decided to run some errands, and stopped home to pick up a big bag of clothes for the thrift shop, as well as a laundry basket full of books…
Lew did NOT like my idea of donating the basket of books.
But then we drove by a Little Free Library, situated right at Lew’s old preschool, and he said he thought it might be okay to donate a few books to the Ormewood School. So we did that.
Then we drove a little further down Woodland, and found…. THIS!
Wow, Lew was really impressed with the metalworking! He rewarded the library with a few books.
We continued to head to the thrift shop, but guess what we ran into, right on that same street?
After that we dropped off the big bag of clothes, and it was time to head back to the school to get Mose. But on our way we got a little sidetracked…
And then, at the elementary school itself, we simply couldn’t resist…
By now we only had about half the books left! And when Mose heard what we’d be doing, he wanted in on the fun. So we drive the 2 miles home verrrry slowly home, and we found…
All on our drive home from school!
Now we were down to four books (which someone insisted we could NOT give away). So we decided to go home for a snack.
But not without doubling back to one of our previous stops first. Because, as Lew explained, “Mose, you have GOT to see the faucet.”
Faucet? What faucet?
Man, I love my neighborhood.
Every year, about this time, we start to see lots of posts and comments online about the upcoming ALA awards. It’s one of my favorite seasons for this very reason. I love following the blogs, engaging in discussions about the frontrunners, learning from what other people have to say. I like to read prediction posts, and to hear about the mock Caldecott clubs around the country. I like to discover new books.
But every year I’m a little dismayed by how overwhelmingly women illustrators seem to get overlooked in early Caldecott conversations.
To be clear– I LOVE the books that win. I love the men who (mostly) make the books that win. Many of these men are my friends, and I believe that they are talented and creative and brilliant and worthy of awards. ABSOLUTELY. Last year, despite all my ranting about gender-bias, my own top pick for the medal was illustrated by a man.
I also believe women are worthy. Yet, somehow, when we start to generate buzz within our own little community, we PREDICT success for men. Which creates a certain sense of inevitability.
How does it begin? I don’t know. Maybe there are more marketing dollars for dudes. Maybe men are more inclined to illustrate. Maybe we, the women who buy most of the books, simply adore dudes. Maybe men are more inclined to make “Caldecott-style” illustrations. Or maybe MEN ARE SIMPLY BETTER AT ART THAN WOMEN AND I AM WRONG ABOUT EVERYTHING I HAVE EVER SAID ON THE MATTER.
In any case, it happens. Statistically.
Last year I made this list of AMAZING PICTURE BOOKS CREATED BY WOMEN. It was great fun, and I heard from a lot of folks that they were introduced to books they hadn’t seen before. I know some folks even sold a few books via the list.
So I invite you to help me make a 2014 edition, by leaving a comment below, with your very favorite woman-illustrated picture book of the year. Please don’t self-nominate or self-promote in this space. If you’ve truly created something awesome, no doubt someone else will mention it for you! Just link to your favorite book in a comment, and I’ll pull an image of the cover, and add it below.
And if you’re a list-maker yourself, a blogger or journalist or librarian who runs a mock Caldecott… and you find yourself with a dude-heavy list, consider adding a few women to the mix. If women-illustrated titles don’t jump immediately to mind, you might want to ask yourself why that is…
I’ll kick things off myself, with a few favorites of my own:
A BOY AND A JAGUAR, by Alan Rabinowitz, illustrations by Catia Chien
LIFE, LIBERTY, and the PURSUIT of EVERYTHING, by Maira Kalman
TELEPHONE, by Mac Barnett, illustrations by Jen Corace
NANA IN THE CITY, by Lauren Castillo
FIREFLY JULY, by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrations by Melissa Sweet
EXTRAORDINARY JANE, by Hannah E Harrison
AVIARY WONDERS, INC, by Kate Samworth
FLIGHT SCHOOL, by Lita Judge
VIVA FRIDAY, by Yuyi MOrales
FLASHLIGHT, by Lizi Boyd
A PIECE OF CAKE, by LeUyen Pham
I finished my novel. And author visits for the year.
Also, school ended for Mose and Lew.
So… now… VACATION IS HERE.
We’re hanging around, eating noodles and stuff.
See you in the fall!
The lovely and brilliant Melissa Wiley recently tagged me for this
, and though I almost never blog, it seemed like a fun thing to do, in part because I’ve just finished a manuscript, and am thinking a lot about process, in retrospect.
But before I answer the tour questions, you should know that Melissa’s book, The Prairie Thief, would make a wonderful summer read for anyone who likes my books. (Melissa and I share a lot of the same literary loves). SLJ called it : “A charming, inventive tale that reads like a delightful mash-up of Little House on the Prairie and The Spiderwick Chronicles…Mystery and suspense keep the pages turning. [A] top-notch story.” Also, look how cute it is!
Okay, so, here are the questions, and my answers…
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?
I always have a slew of open files on my laptop. So much so that it’s a little embarrassing. I also work on certain picture book manuscripts in hard copy, longhand– things I need to see laid out across the page. Currently I’m fiddling with a Choose-your-own-adventure book called Oh, Snap! as well as a followup book for Charlie and Mouse (2016, Chronicle), a little chapter book attempt called Tula Bloom Runs Away, (about a snarky fairy and an elderly unicorn named Bob), a collection of songs for neglected holidays, and some poems.
That said, I generally have one main project I’m focused on. This year it’s been a novel called The Orphan Island, which I just finished up a draft of. It’s a weird one. A story about 9 kids who live alone on a well-stocked (and slightly magical) island. Every year a boat arrives at the island, and carries away the oldest child, leaving a new toddler in his/her place…
HOW DOES YOUR WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS IN ITS GENRE?
Oh, wow. I don’t know. My books are all in dialogue with classics, I think. My books are all stand-alones. My books are all just a little bit magical. My books rarely have villains in them. I don’t believe in villains, I don’t think.
WHY DO YOU WRITE WHAT YOU DO?
I don’t know how to answer that question.
I write what interests me. I write until I make myself cry, or laugh, or until I get stuck and confused.
Maybe I try write the books my child-self would have wanted to read? I write books that help me learn things about human nature, that teach me something about the world, that let me think about and wrestle with questions I find worthwhile.
I write a lot of books that can never be published. I also write a lot of adult poems nobody will ever see.
In a lot of ways, I’m very selfish. I don’t want to please the largest number of kids possible. I don’t think about reluctant readers. I don’t think about sales or the market, really. At least not when I’m drafting. I think about language and ideas. Writing is a puzzle for me. When the result is a book, that’s great! When it isn’t, that’s also pretty great.
HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK?
I scribble. I write down ideas in a little notebook I carry with me, or a box of post-its I keep beside my bed. I often open up a blank document, type one sentence in it, and then forget I did that.
Eventually, if that scribble sticks in my brain enough that I remember it exists, I go back to it. I stare at it. I try to figure out if it might be worth keeping. Sometimes the scribble gets fit into a WIP, and sometimes the scribble becomes a first line or a title. Often with picture books, I sit down with the scribble, and the words tumble out, and in an hour I have a book. Usually, that book isn’t worth showing to anyone or revising. I have hundreds of “failed” projects like that.
With novels, I usually begin with a question. For Bread Box the question was, “What if a kid could wish for anything they wanted, but then they discovered they were stealing?” For Seven Stories Up, the question was, “Can one person ever really change another person?”
The hardest part with the novels, for me, is sitting down to start. Believing that the question I’m asking is worth spending a year on. I think about the question, develop the characters, sketch out an outline. And eventually there’s a day when I take a deep breath, and start typing. That’s the hardest part for me. The first paragraph can take weeks. And then, ALWAYS, I end up slicing the first page off the manuscript. After all that, it never sticks.
But I write. And I write. And eventually, I have a draft. I use an outline, but it always shifts and changes, as the book grows. As I write, I get to know the characters better, and I come to realize my outline was wrong. The characters are NOT people who can make the choices I wanted them to. The end is almost always entirely different from the end I had planned.
And then I rewrite the book 2 or 5 or 7 times. And then, maybe, if I’m lucky, it’s a book.
With my current manuscript, THE ORPHAN ISLAND, I actually did something new. I painted the island, and the characters. I found I was having trouble seeing the people and the place, and an artist friend suggested I try accessing the story in a visual way. It was amazing.
For this one I also began in longhand, on legal pads. I gave up after about 50 pages, because it hurt my hands (I have arthritis). But that was really important for me, I think. I felt like I was a kid again, scribbling, generating ideas, having fun thoughts. I needed to get away from the seriousness of writing as a job. I needed not to think about publishing.
I think that may be the most important part of my process. Remembering what it feels like to play. To be a kid alone with new ideas. To be excited by invention, engaged fully with my own imagination. To let the book be MINE.
Like I said, I’m selfish…
I feel totally uncomfortable tagging people for something like this. So I tag YOU! If you want to share your process, let me know, and I’ll post a bit about you and your books in the space below. How’s that?
It’s that time of year, when an author’s thoughts turn to…
ANd while I’ve tried to keep my travel down the last few years, this fall I don’t have a new book out, that I have to do promotional events for, which frees me up to visit more schools.
If you’ve never seen an author visit in action, I’m here to say that (whether or not the author is me) it’s something kids never forget.
My author visits fall into three basic types:
1. TRADITIONAL AUTHOR TALK(which to be honest, remains my favorite): DUring which I tell kids about how I started writing when I was 8 years old. I focus on how THOSE books were my true first books, even if they were made of wallpaper scraps. I show them artifacts from my writing life, and explain how I made my own childhood dreams come true. I stress things like THE IMPORTANCE OF BOREDOM AND FAILURE. I give them explicit instructions on HOW TO GET BORED. Seriously! And I promise, they love it!
2. WRITING WORKSHOP: usually for older kids, and smaller groups, I offer a workshop in how character and plot are interwoven. We create our own character, set them loose in a story, and see what paths they choose. We talk about precision of language, narrative structure, “going deep,” and all sorts of other awesome things. This is a ton of fun, and I always suggest that the class pick up where we leave off, and turn the story into a longer illustrated class project.
3. HISTORY ISN’T BORING: my most recent book, Seven Stories Up, is set in 1937 Baltimore, and it’s a lot of fun to walk the kids through the process of learning how to do historical research. I show them slides of images (from gross old fashioned candy to vintage underpants), and snippets of songs and films. I explain how we need to submerge ourselves not just in the facts, but in the feelings. We discuss the things THEY might like to research (ninjas, princesses, video games) if they were writing a book.
I’m also always willing to put together special events to meet the needs of any given school, and have developed programs about everything from Jewish picture books to poetry, both in-class and via skype. Let me know what you need!
SCHOOL VISITS ARE GREAT! But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here are a few of the teachers I’ve worked with!
“Ask your kids about Laurel Snyder!! This children’s book author visited SSA this week to speak to our grades 2-6 students about growing up with an imagination and a strong love for writing. Her unexpected tales and exceptional story telling skills captivated her audience and captured their hearts. The grade 6 students even broke out into a spontaneous standing ovation!” (Solomon Schechter Academy, Montreal)
“Today was an incredible day, and the energy that the kids had about Laurel’s books and writing was electric. They had so many ideas stirring in their minds. I can’t wait to see the stories that students create after this inspiring day. Thank you, Laurel!” (David C Barrow Elementary, Athens, GA)
“Intimacy, humor, tenderness and inspiration: you can’t do better than that with a visiting author.” (Paideia Elementary, Atlanta, GA)
If you’re interested in booking a school visit, drop me a line, and we can discuss the arrangements!
Almost exactly a year ago, after finishing four books I’d sold on proposal, I decided I needed to go back to writing alone. I needed to work at my own pace, however slow that was. I needed to write weird, if that was what came. I needed to get back to feeling like I felt as a kid, and a poet– just a girl playing with words. Flying blind.
I promised myself I wouldn’t even show my agent.
And then I spent 6 months outlining, and staring at the ceiling. I watercolored characters and setting. I wrote the first few chapters with a mechanical pencil, on a yellow legal pad. I played. And eventually, I hit my stride.
Well… last week I typed the words THE END, and took a week away. Then, today I read my rough draft of The Orphan Island, and I LIKE IT. A LOT!
Weird it is! It’s too short, and it straddles the MG/YA line in a funny way. It’s got a kind of slight magic that people may be bored by. It’s full of fish guts and fig-drying and bee hives and sand. It ends with a kind of cliffhanger, to an equally weird sequel, a book that may or may not be called The Wordless World.
But I’m proud of the work I’ve done. And I’m proud that I did it without a net. It’s good to know I can still write just for me, alone.
So there’s that.
When I was a kid, I lived at the library. Both our school library at Roland Park Public Elementary/Middle School and also the Enoch Pratt Library– Govans, Hampden, and especially Roland Park branches.
I really can’t imagine who I’d be without those places– calm and happy and full of ideas and readers, when my life was not always so calm.
My own kids have an amazing school library, for which I’m beyond grateful. But I see budget cuts happening in the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library Systemand my heart sinks.
What can you say about a culture that doesn’t value its libraries? Some things MUST be valued in non-monetary terms. There HAVE to be entities that survive beyond the ruthless nature of the “free market.”
Libraries are islands of culture and intellect, in a world that often moves too fast to ponder, investigate, or dream. I wish some billionaire would step up and endow the libraries.
They may not generate their own revenue in the short-term, but I truly believe our country will suffer greatly for the loss of them.
In 2010 I published a middle grade novel called Penny Dreadful. It was a fun book. Some people liked it. It went on to become an EB White Readaloud HONOR book. Huzzah!
But I get a lot of emails about it. Because in the book there is a very minor character, a boy named Twent, who happens to have two mommies.
Last night I received one such email, and because I was having a very hard week, I ignored the email. Typically I respond to these emails. I try to explain. Because maybe (just maybe) the author of the letter is not only writing me a mean letter. MAYBE they are open to a response. I don’t want to miss that chance, if it’s real. But last night I didn’t.
S0 I thought I could respond here, today. ANd then, in the future, when I get these emails, I can direct readers here…
Anastasia writes of Twent (among other things):
“How do you explain that? OUR FAMILY IS VERY AGAINST THAT.”
And I will answer her:
Ahhh, Anastasia, good question! How do I explain it? It’s really very simple.
The world is very full of people. No two people are alike. They live many different kinds of lives. Some of them are nuns. Some of them are corporate lawyers. Some of them are the owners of magical chocolate factories. But we cannot all be nuns, or magical chocolatiers. For this reason, we have many different kinds of books. To reflect the many kinds of lives people live. In some cases, we expect people to SEE THEMSELVES in the pages of books. In other cases, we expect books to expand the way people see the world. Maybe YOU have never met a magical chocolatier, but thanks to Roald Dahl, you can!
When someone writes a book, they cannot ask, “Who will I offend with this particular book?” Because every book will offend someone. A writer can only tell a story, and if they are fortunate enough to find a publisher, hope some people want to read it.
It makes me sad to hear you were offended by my book. I didn’t mean to do that. I wasn’t writing it for YOU. But I’m not sorry for Twent’s moms either. I won’t apologize for them.
I wrote Penny Dreadful to reflect the world I live in. A world populated by many kinds of people, not just nuns and corporate lawyers and magical chocolatiers. My neighborhood has many gay families in it, in addition to people who aren’t white, and Jews like me. There are also some folks who have hearing loss, or are blind. My neighborhood has musicians in it, and artists, and world travelers, and gardeners, and women with very long hair, and people who like to make their own jam. All of these people climbed into my book when I wrote it, because I wanted the book to reflect the world I inhabit.
Honestly the book has received criticism for being “unbelievably diverse.” People find this difficult to accept, especially since the book is set in the south. I would argue that the people who make these complaints are not comparing my book to the actual world of humans, but to the very whitewashed landscape of traditional nuclear families in which most children’s books have been set. I would further argue that the people who argue that THE SOUTH is not diverse in this way should try visiting the actual south. That is just another stereotype.
In any case, this is how I “EXPLAIN” Twent’s two moms. Twent has two moms because many kids I know have two moms. Twent is a minor character, a friend Penny meets along the way. The same way that I, a girl with a mom and a dad, have friends with two moms or two dads. Should I not have written the world I love and inhabit?
I’m guessing what upset you most about the book was that you got no WARNING. There is no backmatter to inform readers that they might encounter diversity in this book. You may feel that your daughter should have had a chance to choose for herself that she was about to encounter a few lines of text in which there were gay people. I don’t know how this would work. Should I have also included a warning label: WARNING: THIS BOOK HAS SOME JEWS IN IT?
Books are the best way I know for kids to encounter the world beyond their own experience. Books build empathy and understanding. They get kids ready for what they’re going to stumble into when they take their first job, or open a copy of the New York Times (yeah, I know that’s unlikely, but I still get the paper myself, so play along).
I don’t expect your kid to turn gay. I don’t actually want your kid to turn gay, or Jewish, or into a magical chocolatier. I’d just like to think that when she encounters magical chocolatiers in books, you won’t scare her away from them. I’d like to think that you, as her mother, will engage with her question. That you’ll explain that you understand her surprise, since she’s never met a chocolatier before. You can explain that YOUR family doesn’t make chocolate, personally. But yes, the world has chocolate in it, made by magical chocolatiers, and isn’t it nice that the world is such an amazing place, full of surprises and mysteries…
Okay, I’ll admit, so when I signed up for World Read Aloud Day again this year, it was with a sense of “doing something nice for the kids” and “giving back a little.” I was patting myself on the back. Taking time from my busy week to read to children (besides Mose and Lew).
But here’s the thing… WRAD isn’t just for them. It’s for us too.
I remember, a few years back at AWP, my amazing sister was on a panel with Richard Ford, about writers in the schools, and how wonderful it is to work with kids. And my sister made a point I’d never heard someone make. She said. ”People see it as service. But they should be begging to volunteer their time in a school. If they knew how wonderful it was, they would.” (or something like that. I didn’t write down exactly what she said.)
Her point was that writers work alone, and they use up a lot of their energy writing. They get drained. They tap out. They forget why they began writing in the first place. They focus on the work of it. They lose their joy.
But kids? Kids are FULL of joy and eagerness and energy. They fill you back up! They might tire you in other ways, but you can’t spend an hour with a bunch of excited kids, full of awesome questions, and awe and admiration for the fact that you MAKE BOOKS, and not come away reinvigorated. You can’t work with kids and writing, and not remember why you started writing.
So today I skyped with eleven schools. Eleven! Oh, the wonders of technology. Schools from all over the country. I read the kids picture books (my next book, Charlie & Mouse, as well as my old favorite, Rain Makes Applesauce, by Julian Scheer) and novels (both Seven Stories Up and my WIP, The Orphan Island). I answered questions, and I told them about my day. I introduced them to Lucy (my assistant, who works for carrot-bits and chew toys).
And now? I feel so ready to write. I feel so IN LOVE with The Orphan Island. I feel so… connected. Re-dedicated.
So now, while I have that boost, I need to take a little time away, to crank out a draft. (I’m shooting for April). I’m putting a moratorium on new skypes for the spring. But I’ll be back in the fall. I promise.
And I will always always always do WRAD.
You should too.
When we assume that boys won’t read books with girls on the cover, and then institutionalize that assumption by leaving the “girlie” books out of award nominations (as well as school wide reads, story times, etc.), we insult them. By suggesting that on the whole our boys have a limited capacity for empathy, an inability to imagine a world beyond their own most obvious understanding, and an unwillingness to stretch.
In the same stroke, we neglect our girls. Not because they can’t read “boy books” (they do and will). But because when they see those awards, they also learn something —to accept a world in which they are rarely the central players. They learn, at a formative age, that the “best” books are the ones about boys. (Or dogs, as previously mentioned. Dogs are good.)
It’s a problem. And when we play into it, when we accept it as THE TRUTH, we’re reaching for the simplest solution, not the best one. Because the best solution would require us to push against the gender bias in the world, and in ourselves. It’s easier to say, “Boys naturally gravitate to these things, and we want them to read, don’t we?”
But when a kid likes candy and French fries, we do not feed them candy and French fries…
(Follow my collection, over at Medium, for more kidlit-related rants)
Today is the day. It’s PUB DAY!
After three years of researching and writing and revising and tweaking and starting over, and beginning again, and tearing my hair out…
SEVEN STORIES UP IS A BOOK!
If you want to know more about how I wrote the book, and what inspired it, you can read here. (warning, it’s a bit sad)
If you’d like to read the first chapter of the book, and see a picture of my grandmother, you can do that here.
If you want to listen to a podcast in which I talk about how this book taught me (finally!) how to enjoy research, you can tune in here!
And if you want to see some old pictures that I used to keep my in the world of 1937, you can take a peek at my Pinterest page for the book!
I’d love to think that you might also go and purchase a copy of the book, or maybe request it from your local library! You can add it to your Goodreads list or tell your kid’s teacher about it too!
People have said very very nice things about Seven Stories Up already, which makes this day much nicer. It was selected as #4 on the Indienext List for winter! And look:
“Time travel is the least of the magic in the sublime Seven Stories Up, which gently and lovingly demonstrates how the right friend at the right time can heal a heart and even change a life. Like Judy Blume before her, Laurel Snyder writes characters that feel like your best friend. I wish I’d had this book when I was a kid; I would have read it a hundred times and slept with it under my pillow.” –Anne Ursu, author of The Real Boy
“Friendship, connection, and understanding are at the heart of this warm, introspective story about the events that shape a person.” –Publishers Weekly
“The perfectly paced time-travel conundrum is well balanced within the larger plot, and the entire book is imbued with the same sort of forward-driving adventure as Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me (2009) or Laurel Snyder’s Bigger Than a Bread Box (2011, both Random). A wide variety of readers will find this book wonderfully satisfying and hard to put down.” –SLJ
“Snyder infuses her novel with a touch of magical realism (and, of course, time travel), and many readers will wonder what the grown-ups in their lives were like as kids. Filled with historical facts that weave seamlessly with the narrative, this is a heartwarming story about knowing, and truly understanding, your family.” –Booklist
This week we celebrated Tu B’Shevat.
So here in Atlanta, we got dirty…
Here’s a snapshot, and a silly little ditty to go with it.
Trees, trees, glorious trees,
Full of raccoons and beetles and bees,
Full of red robins and woodpeckers too,
And if you’ve a tree house, perhaps full of YOU!
It isn’t just meant for the bark and the leaves,
The roots and the branches that wave in the breeze.
Tu B’shevat means you should stop for a minute,
In front of a tree, and think of what’s IN IT!
There are good reviews and bad reviews. Not every book can be a bestseller or award winner.
But we don’t write for reviews. We write for kids, readers…
And when you see a picture like this, how can you help but feel gloriously happy?
So… I just realized I have exactly one week left in my thirties. One last little week.
This means, of course, that I’ve actually just finished living my fortieth year. Wow. Forty years seems like a lot. But the last decade has flown, and it has been, without a doubt, my favorite.
On January 12, it will have been exactly ten years since the day I got hitched. Shortly after that, we moved to Atlanta. A year later, Mose was born, and then Lew. Somewhere in there I published my first book, and then another 13. It’s more than I would have dared ask for or expect.
There have been some hard, sad moments. I’m older. I can feel it in my bones, and see it in the mirror. I have RA and crowns on a few teeth. A few gray hairs. I don’t take exotic trips abroad anymore or close down the bars. But I’m glad to be forty. No part of me is scared of the number.
At the same time, I think back to what I thought of FORTY as a kid, and I’m pretty sure I thought that forty was boring and wrinkly. I don’t feel boring and wrinkly. Though I wouldn’t object to an exotic trip abroad.
But tonight, for the first time, Mose asked me to help him pick a book to read to himself, and it felt truly momentous. Like a gift he was giving me. I’ve spent this decade building books and people, and now the two are coming together, and I don’t know why, but… it’s a big deal to me. Magical, in fact. Like I could see the last decade of my life right there in front of my face.
All this to say… whatever happens in this next decade, I feel very very very very lucky to be living my particular life. It’s good.
Thank you, everyone, for being part of it. Nobody constructs their own world. It’s made up of tiny bricks from other people. I’m grateful.
So… I’m up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep. Thinking about how 2013 is somehow already ending. How did that happen?
One weird thing about being a blogger is that I have archives of my thoughts, so I get to leapfrog back to past resolutions each year, to see if I’ve accomplished my goals. It’s a funny kind of time travel. Tonight I’m looking back at where I was a year ago.
I’ve been a little worried about this moment. I haven’t been feeling terribly focused lately. But it’s okay! Last year I said I had only two goals.
#1 was “I want this to be the year I start taking better care of myself physically.”
And #2 was “I want to try very very hard not to think about selling the books I write.”
Honestly, I only half tackled the first goal. I did NOT go back to dance class. I did NOT start running. So I’ll roll all that exercise over to next year. AND I MEAN THAT, REALLY, THIS TIME I WILL. THIS TIME NEXT YEAR I’LL BE IN AMAZING SHAPE. (Ahem) But I DID do a much better job with other kinds of health stuff. I’ve been taking my vitamins, and my teeth are in much better shape! Ta da! So that’s fine. We’ll round up.
But I’d forgotten about the second goal, and I did tackle that one. It’s been a really good thing for me. Important.
Last spring I finished and turned in the book I was working on, SEVEN STORIES UP, which will be out next month. (Yay!!) But the revision process for that book was a tough one, and so when I was done, instead of trying to crank out a proposal for the next book, I just let myself scribble all kinds of different things. All spring I scribbled poems and picture books, and into the summer. I wrote a lot of manuscripts nobody will ever see in that time, and I didn’t finish THE MAGICAL THAT (mentioned in the post from a year ago), but I published some little essays, and in the end a few of the not-thinking-about-selling scribbles resulted in actual sales, namely CHARLIE & MOUSE, and CHARLIE & MOUSE & GRUMPY. Books I am deeply connected to. They’re so personal for me. I’m very happy about them.
But also– now I have a PILE of new picture books to revise, and I have drafts of 2 totally different chapter books, (as well as several false starts I never finished, but might someday). Also I have a very very clear outline, and the first chapters of a new novel, THE ORPHAN ISLAND. Which I’m insanely excited about.
It was good, this letting-go-of-thinking-about-selling. I didn’t stop making work. Rather, I was hugely productive. I only let go of my focus, my worry. I let myself fiddle and poke at my novel slowly, taking my time and not thinking about what exactly I was producing. Just letting the words come, in bits and snippets. Sitting on the couch, lazily. The way I used to journal, as a kid. Or the way I wrote poems in college. It felt different… and I feel much better.
Now, here’s what I find fascinating…
When I made my resolution last year, I felt like I needed a new model. A better way to work. I wasn’t in love with my ideas at that moment, and I was at the end of writing a novel, needing a break. I felt a little uninspired. Burned out. So I took some time.
But you know what’s funny? I just realized that was my SHMITA.
You know shmita?
In Jewish tradition, farmers leave their fields to lie fallow every seven years, so that the earth has a chance to replenish. It’s a sabbatical year. They can water and nurture the land. But they aren’t supposed to farm it, to work it. They call that shmita.
2007 was the year I really began my career as a children’s author. That was the year I revised UP AND DOWN THE SCRATCHY MOUNTAINS for Random House. The year I learned about “marketing a book.” I was getting ready to become an author in 2007. I saw my first galleys and my first line edits. I had my first meetings in New York. A door opened, and I walked through it. My life got INTENSE in a whole new way It was thrilling. And for six years, I put my head down and WORKED.
For SIX YEARS. Then I took a break, without exactly meaning to.
Now, obviously I haven’t been on vacation for a year. I’ve been watering and fertilizing. But I really did let up on myself in a lot of ways. I didn’t have a novel come out , so I traveled a lot less. But the main thing was this shift in how I thought about my work. I worked slow and sloppy. I let myself wander. in 2013 I let the fields lie fallow. I let my earth renew itself. I took a sabbatical. And it was good.
It never fails to amaze me how much wisdom there is in the Jewish tradition. So often I find a metaphor there, an analogy to my own life, though I’m not terribly observant. I’d been thinking until today that this slow and sloppy way of working was just my new method. That it was time to step away from the head-down word-count-a-day mode.
But maybe not. Now, thinking about shmita, I’m feeling the opposite. Maybe it’s exactly the time to get back out there in the fields with my plough, reap the bountiful harvest this renewed earth is supposed to yield.
I’m not ready to make resolutions yet, but I’m thinking about them.
What about you?
This is the basic math of health care…
Let’s say you have a family of four, and you need to decide whether to pay for a dental plan, and the plan will cost an extra $150 a month. Does that sound like a lot to you?
The plan will cover basic checkups twice a year, or about 85 percent of the cost for them. It will cover 50 percent of major dental work. So… $150 a month is $1800 a year. That’s a lot, yeah. And you still have to pay for some stuff. Ugh.
But as a parent I assume you plan to go for visits twice a year, right? Because you know that good dental care is something kids need to develop, right? And modeling that care yourself is the best way to teach them? And you also know that preventative care of your teeth can help with things like heart disease?
So now let’s figure 8 visits (4 people twice a year) for basic exams and teeth cleaning. And figure the exams and cleanings, even without X-rays and scaling and stuff, are $150 each. So that’s roughly $1200 you’re “saving.” (and I’m doing this rough and dirty, not calculating the co-pays, but that’s cheap for dental work, and you WILL need X-rays and so on, so this is conservative, trust me)
Now– all you have to do is have one procedure a year among the four of you that costs $600, and your dental coverage has paid for itself. Right? One kid with a cracked tooth. One root canal. Maybe two and a half small fillings on regular teeth. Or an irrigation for gum issues.
But these numbers are actually looking pretty close. So maybe I’m wrong, and you’d do just as well to pay out of pocket, right? Especially in years when you don’t need any fillings? Maybe you’re better off skipping the dental insurance, after all…
Because the kicker is that you WOULD NOT. You would NOT go to the dentist twice a year if you had to pay $150 bucks just for the visit. You would NOT opt for the X-rays, if you had to pay extra for them. Maybe you’d take the kids in on schedule, because you feel bad not doing it, and the pediatrician might ask, but you’d TOTALLY skip your own visits. You’d save the $150 and spend it on something else. You would suffer a tooth ache, and hope it goes away. You would wait… and wait… and wait. You’d wait years.
And then, one day, you would find yourself at the ER in the night, because of sudden intolerable pain. And the doc at the ER would say, “Wow, this is serious. You’ve got a major infection in there. We need to take out these two teeth and you might have a malignancy in the bone. I SURE HOPE YOU HAVE INSURANCE!”
And in that moment you will cringe. Because what you’re about to have done to your teeth–the surgery that could have been prevented with a $150 visit twice a year–it will cost thousands and thousands of dollars. (and be painful, and mean you’ll miss work too, which is another cost, actually, that we aren’t averaging in)
And once you’ve taken out a special medical credit card to pay for the abscess and the extraction, you’ll have to decide whether you want to get a tooth implant too, which will be another couple thousand. Ouch.
So you’ll look back, at that moment, and think, “Why does stuff like this always happen to ME?” And the answer will be, “Because you didn’t have health insurance.”
I know how obnoxious this sounds. I know I seem priggish. But this is so so so so important. It really is. And trust me, I’VE BEEN THERE.
And you know what else? The other stuff, the non-teeth stuff? It’s all exactly like the teeth-stuff. Only way scarier. I’ve been there too.
ANd unfortunately, you’ll be there one day yourself. You will. Because you are a human being. A soft machine, made of bone and tissue, and you WILL break down. It’s only a matter of time. And when that happens, it will seem unfair, and unpredictable. WHO COULD HAVE EXPECTED SUCH A THING???
You could have.
When we avoid the actual math, or we try not to think about the long game, I think it has to do with our basic fear of mortality. We want to believe we WON’T get sick. We want to believe our kids won’t break bones, or (God forbid) anything worse. We prefer to be shocked and horrified when someone gets really sick or hurt. ”How could this happen to such a nice young man?”
But it’s not shocking at all. It’s inevitable. Every human being alive WILL GET SICK. Every human being alive WILL LOSE TEETH. Every human being alive WILL NEED TO SEE A DOCTOR. ANd then we’ll ALL DIE. In fact, about 40% of us will get cancer. Probably more, as we live longer and longer. Nobody wants to think about these things, but they are FACTS.
And the only thing you can do is floss your teeth and eat your kale and go see the doctor regularly. Get tests run periodically. Do your best. Preventative care makes life cheaper in the long run, and gives us the best chance of living a longer, less painful life. Preventative care.
Which you are (statistically) far more likely to bother with… if you have reliable comprehensive insurance.
(and for the record… I am NOT AN EXPERT. Unless you regularly turn to children’s book authors for help with your finances and heath issues. I have no reason to be ranting about this, and you have no reason to listen to me. But sometimes, a girl’s just got to yell)
Today, if you’re curious, you can read the first chapter of Seven Stories Up!
Now, before it’s even published…
Over at Medium.
HERE, RIGHT HERE!!!
I finished reading Ghost Hawk this fall, and now I’m seeing a fair amount of conversation about the historical accuracy issues surrounding the book, as we head into Newbery season. (I’ll admit, I thought it was wonderful until the very end, though I’m woefully incapable of determining how true to history it is).
At the same time, I’m wandering around the stores, and seeing that there are beginning to be “Indian” items around, in advance of Thanksgiving. Feathers and teepees. I find myself assuming, based on the comments surrounding Ghost Hawk, that the way schools approach Thanksgiving has changed a lot since I was a kid. That they no longer dress up in loosely arranged feathers and play out the story of “Pilgrims and Indians.” I’m wondering what they offer instead. How much of the story?
So as we head into the Thanksgiving season, I’m thinking about how we educate our kids (or don’t), how we give them (or don’t) actual information, as opposed to myth. I’m thinking I have some work to do myself.
All my life, I’ve known versions of the Pilgrim/Indian story, of course. I’ve watched the Peanuts and Pocahantas. I’ve argued the merits of telling that story in a benign way with kids, and I’ve argued the age at which kids can learn the real story. But shamefully, in all those years, I’ve never learned about the TRIBE. The actual tribe. How is that possible? At the very least, Ghost Hawk pushed me out of that complacency. And the conversation surrounding the book is having an even stronger impact on me in that way.
They weren’t “Indians.” And “Native Americans” doesn’t cut it either in this day and age. They were The Wampanoag. And while I’m aware that they didn’t actually share a turkey with “us” (says this Irishy/Jewishy girl with no Mayflower blood in her at all, but who was still somehow taught the language of us/them), I know absolutely nothing about The Wampanoag.
I think, this year, Mose and Lew will try to learn about the tribe. Which is not to say “Indians.” We’ll read about their culture and language, about Massoit and Squanto/Somoset, and about King Philip’s War. I hope this will help the boys navigate the myth/truth of this season (and me too!). So often, specificity helps us see people as people. Because the more general we get, the easier it is to slip into stereotypes.
What does your school teach in this season? How much do you know about the Wampanoag?
(For the record, we’ll still be eating turkey. Because… you know, turkey.)
Okay, so I generally try to avoid the hard sell. But this seems to be the time of year when people actually really want Jewish book recommendations, for Hanukkah gifts…
SO at the risk of offending absolutely everyone, may I suggest that your kids might appreciate one of my own titles?
While waiting for the bus, a man tells Baxter the pig about the joys of Shabbat dinner. But before Baxter can find out how he, too, can join in the fun, the man has boarded the bus. Soon after, Baxter learns that he certainly cannot be a part of Shabbat dinner because he’s not Kosher. So begins one pig’s misguided quest to become Kosher. Will Baxter succeed or will his dreams of taking part in Shabbat dinner remain unfulfilled? Readers will cheer as a series of misunderstandings leads to a warm message of welcome and community.
Learning—and using—Yiddish is fun for the whole family, from the youngest mamaleh to the oldest bubbe and zaideh. Introduced to America as the mother tongue of millions of Jewish immigrants, Yiddish has made its way into everyday English. The sprightly, rhyming text follows a toddler through a busy day and is peppered from beginning to end with Yiddish words. Oy!—will everybody kvell when they hear their little ones spouting words from this most expressive of languages. Here are just a few that are included in this sturdy board book: bissel—little bit; ess—eat; kibitz—joke around, chat; klutz—clumsy one; kvell—burst with pride, gush; kvetchy—dissatisfied, whiny.
A family trip turns into an adventure of discovery for a curious and carefree sister and brother. While the two explore the natural wonders of the seashore, woods, and fields, their parents plant trees as an offering of thanks for all they have received. In Jewish tradition, this is called tikkun olam, or repairing the world. As the children settle down to sleep, they are lulled by the soothing sounds around them that become the refrain: “good night, laila tov”—the same comforting words in English and Hebrew that their parents recite to them every night at bedtime.
Of course, there are lots of amazing Jewish picture books I didn’t write. And for those of you who really want a Hanukkah title, the very best one is, in my opinion, this gem:
Latkes are potato pancakes served at Hanukkah, and Lemony Snicket is an alleged children’s author. For the first time in literary history, these two elements are combined in one book. A particularly irate latke is the star of The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming, but many other holiday icons appear and even speak: flashing colored lights, cane-shaped candy, a pine tree. Santa Claus is briefly discussed as well. The ending is happy, at least for some. People who are interested in any or all of these things will find this book so enjoyable it will feel as though Hanukkah were being celebrated for several years, rather than eight nights.
And for those of you looking for something less Jewishly direct, may I direct you over here… to my own list of books about books for people of the book…
Just so you read!!!
Thanks, Publisher’s Weekly!
“Snyder returns with a story that, like her Bigger Than a Breadbox (2011), offers a relatable heroine and a touch of magic. When 12-year-old Annie Jaffin and her mother visit Annie’s estranged, dying grandmother in the shuttered Baltimore hotel she grew up in, the woman Annie encounters is angry and aggressive. After a strange storm, however, Annie wakes up 50 years earlier, in 1937, where she meets her grandmother as a curious, kind, and deeply isolated child. Molly spends her days cloistered away in her “Lonely Room” because of her asthma; she wished for a friend and has no clue that Annie is actually her granddaughter. Because Annie knows that Molly will live to old age, they escape Molly’s locked room via the fire escape and seize the day. Through their adventures, Molly’s eyes gradually open to the realities outside the hotel walls, while Annie worries about getting home and whether she’s changing the future for better or worse. Friendship, connection, and understanding are at the heart of this warm, introspective story about the events that shape a person. Ages 8–12. Agent: Tina Wexler, ICM. (Jan.)”
“Everything is the same color–one enormous listless gray world where not a breath stirs and the birds don’t sing.”
(the Storm Book)
I’m sad tonight. Charlotte Zolotow has died.
I’ll leave it to someone else to talk about Zolotow’s contribution to children’s literature. I can only speak to how much she contributed to me, personally.
My grandmother loved her books, and I have a handful of signed first editions that she got for me. They entered my life when I was just the right age for them.
Zolotow’s books were special to me. Different from other books. Calm. Complex,
I loved The Storm Book.
I loved Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present. Deeply.
“She likes birds in trees.”
But wow. I loved My Grandson Lew best of all.
I had a grandpa who died when I was little myself. And I think Zolotow captured something in that book… the memory, the sense of loss, the vague memory. But the presence of a death, as well as the absence.
Somehow, I got that, as a kid…
Though as an adult… I see it differently.
(My Lew with Zolotow’s Lew)
So I am going to sit down tonight, and read CZ’s books to my kids, and think about the power of a good book at the right time.
Not a joke. Not a “hook.” Not a product. But a book.
The right book. Speaking in a calm ture voice to the people who need to hear it…
Just the way a grandfather might speak. With a crinkled eye, and a quiet laugh, or a wistful smile.
So that he can’t possibly be forgotten.
Not even when he’s gone.
we will remember him together
and neither of us
will be so lonely
as we would be
if we had to remember him
(My Grandson Lew)
Ready to have your mind blown?
So… I have this friend named Aaron. We’ve known each other a long long looooong time. Since before I could write a full sentence or he knew not to stick his paintbrush in his ear.
Nowadays, he’s busy making the most beautiful wordless picture books you’ve ever seen. But years ago, before either of us had published a book, he and I tried to collaborate.
First, on a picture book that will never exist, called Lily and the Wily Corn Bears…
And then on Inside the Slidy Diner, which would become my first picture book, though with other art.
I guess the world just wasn’t ready for us *yet…
But Aaron found these old images on a CDRom today. Isn’t that cool?
*in fact, Aaron DID do the cover of my adult anthology, Half/Life, but adult books don’t count. Everyone knows that.
Last night I noticed that Geek Dad had posted his favorite picture books, and so I popped over to check out the list. And was shocked to find that they were almost all by men. This made me cranky. But I figured, “Eh, he’s just one guy.”
Then, this morning, I noticed that the Goodreads ”Best of” is also virtually all men. And that… is more complicated. Because WE made that list. We, the readers of the world.
Now, if there weren’t a ton of amazing 2013 picture books by women, I could maybe accept this. But there TOTALLY are. Which begs the question… WHAT’S GOING ON?
Do men actually just make better picture books than women? Do men get better marketing and publicity budgets than women for picture books? Or… as I’m beginning to fear… do we, the (largely) women who buy and blog about picture books have a tendency to elevate books by men?
I want to make a list to post today, of the 2013 BEST PICTURE BOOKS BY WOMEN. Help me out? What’s your favorite? I’ll add them later.
A few of mine, for starters:
City Cat, by Lauren Castillo
Jane, the Fox, and Me, by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault
If You Want to See a Whale, by Julie Fogliano and Erin Stead
Seriously, add them up! We’ll make a Goodreads list later, and I’ll add the covers here too…
And I’d like to add that I’m a HUGE FAN of the books on Geek Dad’s list. These are some of my favorite authors and illustrators too. But the list is incomplete.
Let’s fix that.
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Okay, neither do I… not really. This was published long before I was born.
But I had a lot of books as a kid that had been my mom’s, and my dad’s, and belonged to their parents before them, or come to them from used book stores. So I remember what it felt like to read and read, and wait for the next amazing color plate. Or skip to it, because I couldn’t wait for the pretty shiny picture.
Like the one above.
Or like this one.
Little Women! Treasure Island! The Happy Prince! East O the Sun and West O the Moon! The Cuckoo Clock! These books all had amazing color plates in them, and I carry those pictures with me to this day.
I wonder if some evil wizard or conjurer has stolen all the art away? WHAT OTHER EXPLANATION CAN THERE POSSIBLY BE?
This morning I’m thinking about how graphic novels are hugely HUGELY popular.
And I’m thinking about how big visual glowing movies like Hugo or Hunger Games or Narnia are being made from middle grade books.
And I’m thinking about how often I hear people lament about “What can we do to get the kids reading?”
And I’m thinking about how, last night, Mose and Lew asked me to read picture books instead of starting a new readaloud novel. ”Because we like the pictures.”
And I’m wondering… WHY ARE WE REMOVING ALL THE INTERIOR ART FROM THE MIDDLE GRADE BOOKS?
I mean, I know full color plates are too expensive to consider, but I so so so so love books with art in them. Who decided that only baby books should have pictures?
WAS IT YOU?