I’m not certain, but I suspect stories have played significant roles in the lives of most librarians. We are story people, after all — their sacred keepers, and we delight in helping others discover their wonders.
Spring is in the air, and we’re pulled outdoors to wander in our favorite city parks. Ducks are dabbling; frogs are trilling; the apple trees are bursting into bloom. Everywhere, it seems, children frolic and neighbors wave. It’s been a long winter, but our cities are alive.
Today, writing about nature and outdoor play just feels as natural and right to me as breathing. All my happy memories of chasing frogs, climbing trees, and splashing in summer lakes easily inform the stories I write.
“Fantasy and feeling lie deeper than words…
and both demand a more profound, more biological expression,
the primitive expression of music.”
(Maurice Sendak in “The Shape of Music”)
Tied up in knots — nots — er — words? Are sentences slithering past you and paragraphs parachuting from your brain? If so, maybe it’s time to step away from the writing task, or any chore that has you flummoxed, and give yourself a break, isn’t it?… more
Why was I crawling through a frozen sewer pipe on my hands and knees in the middle of winter?
I was geocaching, my latest obsession.
If you haven’t heard of geocaching, it’s a worldwide treasure hunt using GPS to locate hidden containers called geocaches. There are literally millions of geocaches hidden around the globe. When I first started playing, I was delighted to discover that there were several within walking distance of my townhome.… more
A few months ago my daughter, Aliza, came over after an evening out with her work friends. Aliza told us she and her friends had gone to the Minneapolis Bouldering Project or MBP, an indoor climbing gym where people climb “circuits” of up to 17 feet high without ropes or harnesses. She was so excited about it — they’d had a blast!… more
As authors, we send our books out into the world and, if we’re lucky, they connect us to good people whose paths we wouldn’t otherwise cross.
For 28 years, Dinner at the Panda Palace has been my excellent emissary.
Dinner at the Panda Palace started as a simple counting and sorting book with lots of animals and a party atmosphere to make the learning fun. … more
“The woman who read Climbing the Stairs aloud did a great job,” my friend said. She was telling me, with delight, how her children and their friends — two girls and two boys — listened with rapt attention to the audio book version of my debut novel, refusing to get out of the car when the trip ended but the story hadn’t yet.… more
I didn’t even ask why I was turning into Holden Caulfield. I was fifteen, a brochure girl for postwar innocence. And I was a farm kid, three thousand miles away from Holden’s Manhattan; I took violin lessons, rode my bike through orchards, memorized social studies facts, picked strawberries to make money, earned Camp Fire Girl honor beads. I also sought the right bras, the right pimple medicine, the boys most likely to alarm my family.… more
As I write this, Minnesota is in line to get hit with another Major Winter Storm.
I know many of you in the northern latitudes can sympathize as we’ve all been hit, but it’s mid-April, and even by Minnesota standards, this is demoralizing. Proms are being cancelled this weekend, the grocery stores are crazy, everyone’s watching the radar while they make soup, and I … I have averted my eyes from the window so as to better ignore the wet slop coming down and better focus on my garden planning!… more
I loved first grade.
Fifty-one years later, I still have vivid memories of my teacher, Miss Follett. She played the piano every day. She read to us from her giant book of poetry. She showed us photos of her trips to exotic places, like Alaska and Hawaii.
At Halloween we screamed in terror and delight when she hobbled into our classroom dressed as a witch.… more
Thirty years ago, I bought a poster of “Jungle Tales” by J.J. Shannon (1895) at the Met in New York City. I took it to my favorite framer, but when it was ready, I was horrified to see they’d cut off Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Children’s Bookshop at the bottom, framing just the image. No one thought the words were important.… more
A few months ago, my husband and I sold our home of 30 years and decided to live full-time in our cozy cabin in the woods. We left behind greater square footage, a quaint and sometimes bustling village on the waterfront, and a home with lots of family memories.
But it was time for a change.
Time for more simplicity.… more
Why is “older” an acceptable word and “old” almost forbidden?
To answer my own question, I suppose it’s because we’re all growing older, even the four-year-old next door. But old … ah, old smacks of incompetence, of irrelevance. Even worse, old smacks of that truly obscene-to-our-society word … death.
I am approaching my birthday month. It won’t be a “big” dividable-by-five birthday, but still one that feels significant for the number it stands close to.… more
In August 2016, I traveled to Vinalhaven Island off the coast of Maine to participate in a week-long festival honoring former resident Margaret Wise Brown. I gave a talk one evening, and, most fun of all, led a workshop in which attendees penned poetry and even a picture book in Margaret’s lyrical style. Back home again, I wrote about my island experience and my personal connection to Margaret in a Knock Knock essay published last August, “Borrowed Magic.”… more
(originally written in October 2016)
According to the real estate establishment in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, there are, on average, 242 days of sunshine. That is, they claim more shining sun than in Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Diego, and Los Angeles.
That’s the way it is today: An absolutely clear blue sky, with not one cloud. The forest in which we live (Routt National Forest) at 8,800 feet high is a kaleidoscope of green, yellow, orange and reds.… more
[continued from Part 1]
After several months, I realized New York didn’t recognize I was the Next Big Thing. I’d actually have to write my second book and sell it. Timing was on my side. It was the early 80s, when paperbacks filled mall bookstore racks. Series books with new titles each month, priced for kids, were the Next Big Thing.… more
One Sunday morning in May, 1970, I sat on the mustard-colored sofa in our living room with the Spring Children’s Books issue of the Washington Post Book World. I studied the reviews as someone who intended to have her book reviewed in that publication, preferably the Spring 1971 issue. The back page featured an ad for Lothrop, Lee, and Shepard’s new list.… more
There are times when I don’t know my own mind. Worse, there are times when I think I know my mind perfectly well and then find an entirely different mind on a later visit to my opinions.
Which feels almost as though I have no mind at all.
Some time ago one of my favorite writers came out with a new novel. I had been waiting for her next book for years, so, of course, I signed up to have it pop into my electronic reader at the first opportunity.… more
What, really, can be more life-affirming than a beautiful baby or cuddly puppies? On June 26th, both arrived in our lives. One baby — our first grandchild, Olivia — born to our son and Korean daughter-in-law. We received the news via FaceTime from Seoul, South Korea. Though they had Broadway related jobs in NYC, they opted to move to Korea for awhile where they would have more time to work at becoming a family.… more
Listen to Virginia’s poem, “What She Asked,” on Poetry Mosaic, the April 7th entry, and then read her description of the real-life event behind the poem.
In a rural Oregon high school where I taught English more than 20 years ago, we had big teaching areas separated by screen-wall things, but they came nowhere near reaching the high ceiling, because a few years earlier the design of the school had been to have a giant Resource Center and Library, and teachers and groups of students would ideally meet in sections of the massive room, and that would be school.… more
“He was always chasing the next draft of himself.”
American critic Dwight Garner, in the New York Times Book Review on February 16 of this year, was describing the childhood of Henry James.
An expandable list comes to mind, some of our memorable figures moving toward the next draft of themselves: Anne Shirley, Holden Caulfield, Jo March, Jody Baxter, Arnold Spirit, Jr.,… more
The first college I attended was Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. It had a work-study curriculum in which half your year was spent working off-campus on some job relating to your professional aspirations. At that time, being interested in the theatre, I was offered and took a job at a Cleveland television station. A few days before the job began it was canceled.… more
Our park ranger, Earl, which is pronounced in three syllables in south-central Kentucky, asks one last time to reconsider this journey if anyone suffers from a bad heart, high blood pressure, or claustrophobia. He waits at the steel door at the base of a sinkhole.
Thirteen years. The project I began in 2003 has had that many birthdays. It occupies two large crates in my office. It has dominated my life, involving travel, research, reading. It has spawned four versions, each dragging multiple drafts. Rejections span ten years.
Nobody, it seems, wants this book. “Kids won’t be interested.” The subject, Margaret Wise Brown, would find this funny. … more
I had pretty much given up on finding an appropriate gift for my dad’s 82nd birthday; the last thing he needed was more stuff. So I headed off to the family lake cabin for the 4th of July holiday (also his birthday weekend) with the thought that I’d figure out a clever celebratory idea at the last minute. Maybe some kind of game that everyone would enjoy?
Though I’m reluctant to admit it, some of the most rewarding moments of my career have come when I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone and attempted things I didn’t think I could do: write for teenagers, illustrate a book with tricky paper engineering, tackle nonfiction.
“That’s your Great-Grandfather Who Lost His Arm in the Battle of the Wilderness.” That was his name. In a big gold gilt-framed photo: a distinguished-looking, white-haired, mustached gentleman high above the upright piano in my grandmother’s music room.
I finished reading The Road to Little Dribbling over a week ago, and I’m still laughing.
I’m a sucker for a funny story, and Bill Bryson has provided me with a steady stream of them since I first discovered him in Granta magazine back in the ’80s. I couldn’t get enough of his wisecracking tales about growing up in Des Moines, especially the epic family road trips he endured.… more
As another school year winds to a close, I’m feeling encouraged about the state of nonfiction reading and writing in elementary classrooms across the country.
In 2010, when the Common Core State Standards were introduced, educators began asking me for ideas and strategies for implementing the Reading Informational Text standards. And they were hungry for tips and tools that they could use to teach informational writing.… more
It is not often that I get a call such as I just did. The call came Larry McCoy, who holds a doctorate in theology, and teaches philosophy at the Steamboat, Colorado Community College. He also builds log houses and has a dog named “Helen.” That’s the way folks are here in Routt County. He is one of our near neighbors, living about a mile and a half away.… more
This past February, my husband and I traveled to Cuba on an eleven-day tour. Near the end of the trip, we drove from the central city of Camagüey to visit a ranch. After a two-hour drive, our bus bounced down a long dirt road and passed under a wooden sign that resembled a gate in an old western, telling us we had reached “The King Ranch.”… more
I like to think of landscape not as a fixed place but as a path that is unwinding before my eyes, under my feet. ~ Gretel Ehrlich
Book projects get set aside, even those with fast beating hearts that you can’t bear to be away from for a second. Sickness, holidays, other stuff pushes it away. The book’s heartbeat slows and goes quiet.… more
As writers, we learn to expect the unexpected and be ready to capture experiences in words. One such moment stands out from this past winter for me.
My husband and I were sleeping in our cabin loft, on 60 acres where we keep our horses. I woke at 3 am to crunching snow below our window. I sat upright, wondering what sort of late night intruder it could be.… more
Early on, when people would ask my kid self what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d answer “Shoe Salesperson.” But then I discovered that feet sometimes smell, and I moved on to a different dream: Book Writer.
I could invent a great story and tell you that I crafted a long-term plan to realize my dream. But instead, this is a tale of false starts and misdirected wanderings.… more
They say that, if you’re a doctor, it’s not something you want to admit to at an event where you’re going to have to make small talk with a lot of strangers. Because invariably people will want your opinion on their rash, or the funny flutter in their chest, or the odd bump on their knee. I wouldn’t know, not being a doctor, but I understand feeling cautious about admitting what I do for a living.… more
by Virginia Euwer Wolff
Now winter downs the dying of the year,
And night is all a settlement of snow…
—Richard Wilbur, “Year’s End”
We all have our circles of particularly mourned lost ones. As our hemisphere darkens down in this elegiac season of the winter equinox, and death has been so relentlessly in the air during 2015, I wave my own little flags of gratitude to some of my mentors and accidental teachers.… more
by Mary Casanova
Eudora Welty wrote in One-Writer’s Beginnings: “Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories.”
The more I write, the more I find that writing is about listening to stories that need to be told. Listening at a deeply intuitive level, however, demands shutting out a frenetic world in favor of a quieter life — one that supports and nurtures creativity — and writing.… more
by Elizabeth FixmerThe years I spent in private practice as a psychotherapist specializing in work with children propelled me to become a children’s writer. My use of books as a therapy adjunct evolved over time, as did my respect and eventual awe for the power of fiction as a change agent. My young clients introduced me to middle-grade and young-adult novels.… more
by Marion Dane Bauer
Who doesn’t love a puppy? Well, admittedly there are some folks who don’t, especially considering how difficult both ends of such creatures are to keep under control. So let’s rephrase the question: Who doesn’t love a puppy in a children’s story? Or even a frog or a toad, for that matter?
Something happens to a story when it is populated by animals, something easy to feel but difficult to define.… more
by Jen BryantSeveral months ago, I was asked to be on a panel for a new-writers workshop. During the question and answer period, one woman commented: “I keep hearing that writing is a craft that requires time and practice to master. I get that … but as someone who’s eager to be an apprentice but has neither the time nor money to enroll in an MFA program, how — exactly — do I go about finding someone who’s qualified, willing, and available to mentor me?”… more
Serendipity is one of my favorite words. I love its dancelike sound and the way it trips off the tongue. According to my dictionary, serendipity means “the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident.”
I find the etymology of words fascinating. Even as a child, I liked to study the maps that show the relationship and origins of Indo-European languages.… more
For reasons both boring and complex, I currently find myself under obligation to deliver four novels before the next twelve months are out. Two are written, but undergoing revisions. A third has started. The fourth has nothing on paper; only in my mind. Is it an accident that my shoulders have been aching, as if I had been carrying bags of cement up a ladder? … more
Recently, I spent several weeks struggling with a work in progress. Day after day, the words just wouldn’t flow.
Over the years, I’ve learned that there’s no way to force a stubborn manuscript. I just have to focus on something else until my mind somehow sorts things out. Sometimes I begin work on a different book, but in this case, I decided to tackle a long-neglected task — organizing my digital photos.… more
Fifteen years ago my ten year old daughter came home with a story.
“Mom, “ she said, “today I figured out that “miscellaneous” is NOT a person.”
I burst out laughing. “So who did you think it was?” I asked.
“I thought she was that woman on the green spaghetti box…”
I saved her gift-of-a-mistake in my little journal and ended up unwrapping it in a lonely hotel room in southern Wisconsin after a particularly miserable book signing of three people.… more
Every summer I wish I was ten again, the perfect age for the perfect season. At that age I was at the height of my childhood powers. And as a reader, books couldn’t be thrust into my hands fast enough.
Every morning I’d eat a bowl of Rice Krispies, with my book at the table (my mother wouldn’t let me do this at supper, though I often kept my library book open on the seat of the next chair).… more
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