Monday, November 29, 2010

The Ultimate Holiday Party Guest List

The holiday season has arrived. And you know what that means—parties and gatherings of all sorts. Lots of fun, lots of opportunities to meet and greet people. So, this started me thinking: Who would you most like to meet at a holiday party if your options were limitless? Keep in mind, though, that some guests (I'm thinking George Washington, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, to name a few examples) would probably attract crowds that might make any kind of conversation difficult. With that in mind, here are a couple of my picks for the ultimate holiday party guest list:

The legendary Ursula Nordstrom--a famous editor. Known for her wicked sense of humor, which would probably make her big fun at any party, she is also famous for her ability to recognize and foster talent. Wouldn't that be interesting to chat about? Also, she was devoted to children’s literature. She edited E.B. White’s Stuart Little (love that book), Charlotte’s Web, Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon, and Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, just to name a few phenomenal works. Wow, right? If you’ve read Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom ( or you have any interest at all in children’s literature, chances are you’d like to meet the amazing Ursula Nordstrom at a party, too.

Mark Twain is another guy that would probably be pretty fun and interesting at a holiday party. He popped into my head because I recently read, in the December issue of The Writer, that after trying to read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, he wrote of the author: “I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shinbone.” I honestly believe that if someone wrote that about one of my books, I would be laughing as well as crying. So, although Mr. Twain would probably be one of those guests with masses of people around him, it might be rip roaring fun just to be at the same party with him. Something tells me he'd probably have a booming voice, too.

How about you? Who would you like to meet at a holiday party?

And speaking of parties, check out all the winners of Kidlit Critterpalooza:

Congrats to all!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

All in a Word

by Aileen Fisher


for time to be together,

turkey, talk, and tangy weather.


for harvest stored away,

home, and hearth, and holiday.


for autumn's frosty art,

and abundance in the heart.


for neighbors, and November,

nice things, new things to remember.


for kitchen, kettles' croon,

kith and kin expected soon.


for sizzles, sights, and sounds,

and something special that abounds.

that spells THANKS--for joy in living

and a jolly good Thanksgiving.

- Aileen Fisher

Wishing you all a wonderful and cozy and very happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kidlit Critterpalooza!

Who remembers our friend CRITTER? I introduced you to CRITTER way back in August. He came to visit me about a month later. Well, for over a year now, CRITTER, the creation of artist Ian Sands, has been travelling the world, meeting many talented writers and authors and exploring where they live. At each stop he learns more and more about KIDLIT and the importance of literacy and creativity. This journey was the brainchild of Christy Evers, who got her hands on Critter after an interactive art project of Ian’s, where 500 Critters were hidden all over her city for people to find.

Critter has visited PJ Hoover (and the Texas Sweethearts!) in Texas, Beth Revis in North Carolina, Christina Farley in Korea, New England with Nandini Bajpai, Illinois with Kelly Polark, MG Higgins in California, Rena Jones in Montana, Cynthia Leitich Smith in Texas, Bish Denham in the Virgin Islands, Jacqui Robbins in Michigan, Tina Ferraro in California, me in New Jersey, Jill S. Alexander in Texas, Ellen Oh in Virginia and finally, Alberta Canada with Angela Ackerman.

Critter has been to college, rock concerts, national landmarks, a palace, attended his first SCBWI conference, walked among giant redwoods, and met the world famous artist, Robert Bateman. Now that his journey is coming to a close, it’s CRITTER’S hope that you will help him celebrate over at The Bookshelf Muse. His new hosts, together with old hosts, have teamed up to create the Kidlit-inspired event, Critterpalooza! and you’re invited!

There are many AMAZING prizes to be won, all in the spirit of helping Critter celebrate the wonderful creativity & support within out KIDLIT community, and to also raise awareness for his charity, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

If you would like to donate a few dollars to Critter’s charity, just click on the I Love St. Jude button. Children’s lives are saved every day thanks to the support of people like you!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Happiness Is a Great Picture Book (Or Books)

I’m not sure what came over me, but the other day, when I paused from the grueling job of writing a first draft, a young adult story, I glanced over at the bookshelves in my office. Not only did I glance, but I reached--for the picture books. I love picture books. Some of my favorites are shelved in my office. So, before my inner disciplinarian could stop me, I grabbed a few of these books.

I wrapped my fingers around Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. In this hilarious story, as a bus driver goes on break, he asks the audience to keep an eye on his vehicle. As soon as he leaves, though, a wacky pigeon starts begging the audience to let him drive the bus. The pigeon is relentless and this is really funny. I love that pigeon. In fact, I worry that I relate to the cheeky bird a bit too much.

I picked up Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, pictures by Betsy Lewin. Another hilarious picture book. Cows start leaving Farmer Brown typed notes with their demands for better working conditions. Fabulous. Clearly the message here is that one should never leave a typewriter in a barn.

Of course my hands reached for Go, Dog. Go! By P.D. Eastman This is one of those classic books that I adored as a wee one and still cherish. Dogs in all shapes, sizes, and colors are all over the place in this silly, but adorable book. My favorite part is the ongoing disagreement about hats, but I also love the dog party at the top of a tree. Who doesn’t love a good dog party at the top of a tree?

And then I re-read The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper (a great book to read when one is trying to finish a first draft), Fox In Sox by Dr. Seuss (to be honest, I love all the Dr. Seuss books), The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams (the version illustrated by Michael Hague is my favorite), and The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (I have always loved all of the Beatrix Potter tales).

Last but not least, I grabbed an obscure and out of print book that I cherish: Heaven by Nicholas Allan. This is a touching story about a young girl, Lily, who finds her beloved dog packing. She grills him about where he is going until a couple dog angels show up to make his destination clear. He takes a moment to explain that she shouldn’t be sad because Heaven will be wonderful—full of bones and lampposts and “whiffy things to smell on the ground.” Fantastic. Eventually, though, Lily’s dog must go. The dog angels have a schedule (but of course they do). Lily is very sad, as we all are when we must let go of a pet, but eventually she comes upon a stray puppy that needs a home. Awww.

Do you have a favorite picture book or picture books? I hope so. They are special, even if you are all grown up.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Lost and Found Dogs

I recently read an amazing book. The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption by Jim Gorant is not my usual read--not fiction, not a middle-grade novel, and not a young adult novel. However, The Lost Dogs is an important book that I found very hard to put down once I started reading it. Anyone not familiar with Michael Vick, the National Football League quarter back currently playing for the Philadelphia Eagles--a man who abused and murdered animals in the most horrific of ways--should read The Lost Dogs. Yes, some of the facts and details are brutal. In particular, some of Vick’s actions and the descriptions of what goes on when dogs are forced to fight. However, the author handles these parts well and only as necessary to tell the story of the dogs. The heart and soul of this book is about the dogs—the victims. The Lost Dogs chronicles the journeys of many of these dogs. The reader gets to know them by their names and their personalities, which are endearing and often hilarious. The horrors that Michael Vick inflicted upon these animals are outweighed by their abilities to love and trust again. The rehabilitation of them is amazing and heart-warming and inspiring.

Also heart-warming is the tenderness, the nurturing, and the patience that many wonderful people devoted to the rescue and redemption of these dogs. Very special people guided the transformation of the pups from terrified, abused animals into loving pets, therapy dogs, and companions. Of course, some of the dogs still have fear-based issues, but the love and patience and nurturing continues. This is what makes The Lost Dogs a fulfilling read—the hope and the love. There is evil in the world and it takes many shapes and sizes. Sometimes it, apparently, wears an NFL jersey, but The Lost Dogs is a story of triumph. What could be better?

For more information about the Michael Vick dogs, where they are and how well they are faring, check out these links to the organizations that helped are still helping lost and found dogs:

Best Friends:


Monday, November 1, 2010

Writing Creepy

I’m still in Halloween mode. This may be a direct result of stuffing too many caramels and Starbursts into my face.

Anyway, with Halloween still flowing through my veins, I’ve been considering the art of writing creepy. By creepy, I mean that down-to-the-bone chill that sometimes comes from an eerie basement, a spooky house, or (once in a while) a person. A repulsion that has no rational basis, but can’t be denied. Sure, it’s easy when a basement is dark and dank, strewn with cobwebs and corpses of rats, or if a house is falling apart and abandoned with winds whistling through the decomposing walls, or if someone resembles a zombie and drools bile colored goo on you while trying to chew on your elbow. But what if the crawl of that warning inside you is subtle? What if the basement is a cheery playroom but something feels beyond wrong about it? What if the house has a picket fence and rose gardens, but an inner fear blares within your gut every time you stroll past the house? How about if the person is clean and well dressed, but when he or she stares at you, you turn to ice?

When there is something unsettling about a place or a person, something that triggers a gut reaction that is not quite fight or flight, but amps up awareness and turns nerve endings electric, how does a writer translate this into type? Making use of rich details, back-story and character development are useful techniques, but I find that trying to explain the unexplainable can come across as awkward or clumsy. And simply describing someone as creepy isn’t very fair to that place or character, nor does it give the reader anything to work with or understand. The character with the intuitive warning who stamps another place or character as odd or creepy may risk being labeled as unreliable. Tricky business, I think.

If you are a writer, do you find writing creepy to be a bit challenging?

If you are a reader, do you have a favorite depiction of characters going through the heebie-jeebies for no rational reason? Can you think of a scene or scenes that gave you goose bumps as you read?

Now, excuse me while I go for another caramel.