Chasing Peace: Refugee Stories

This sum­mer, deeply trou­bling sto­ries about migrants and refugees at the US-Mex­i­can bor­der have come to us in news­pa­per sto­ries, record­ings, pho­tographs, and videos. In choos­ing to sep­a­rate chil­dren from their par­ents, our gov­ern­ment has shown a dis­turb­ing lack of empa­thy for peo­ple flee­ing vio­lence and tur­moil in their home coun­tries. It is our hope that these pic­ture books will help fos­ter empa­thy and shed light on the com­plex issues of migra­tion for young read­ers, while giv­ing a sense of the courage, resilience, and human­i­ty behind each jour­ney.


The Jour­ney
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Francesca San­na 
Fly­ing Eye Books, 2016

This remark­able book had its begin­nings when author/illustrator Francesca San­na met two girls in a refugee camp in Italy and lis­tened to their sto­ry. Soon, she began col­lect­ing many more sto­ries of peo­ple forced to flee their home­lands and decid­ed to cre­ate a col­lage of these expe­ri­ences in this stun­ning pic­ture book. The Jour­ney feels at once uni­ver­sal and spe­cif­ic as it fol­lows one fam­i­ly on their long, dan­ger­ous voy­age from their beloved home­town, which has become a war­zone, toward an uncer­tain future in “a coun­try far away with high moun­tains”, where they can be safe. We don’t know the details, but evoca­tive illus­tra­tions use dark, abstract­ed shapes to great psy­cho­log­i­cal effect through­out the book to depict the fear the chil­dren feel as they flee the war that “took” their father.

from The Jour­ney, illus­tra­tion copy­right Francesca San­na

The jour­ney is a pre­car­i­ous one as the fam­i­ly trav­els first by car, then hides in trucks, trav­els at night by bicy­cle and then on foot, only to arrive at a bor­der, where they must hide and lat­er be smug­gled across. An illus­tra­tion depict­ing the crowd­ed boat pas­sage feels aching­ly famil­iar from images in the news. After cross­ing many bor­ders, the sight of migrat­ing birds fly­ing sug­gest the hope of a secure future for this brave and resource­ful fam­i­ly.

Susan Marie: 

A Dif­fer­ent Pond
writ­ten by Bao Phi
illus­trat­ed by Thi Bui
Cap­stone Press, 2017

A Dif­fer­ent Pond is a sto­ry from a Viet­namese refugee fam­i­ly liv­ing in Min­neapo­lis, Min­neso­ta. A boy and his father go fish­ing at a city lake in the chilly, ear­ly morn­ing dark: “We stop at the bait store on Lake Street. It always seems to be open.” When the two return home with their catch at sun­rise, the boy’s par­ents will head off to their Sat­ur­day jobs. Author Bao Phi and illus­tra­tor Thi Bui have received major awards for this pic­ture book, a Char­lotte Zolo­tow Award and a Calde­cott Hon­or, respec­tive­ly.

Both the text and the art weave togeth­er three strands: the grit­ti­ness of life in the city, the trau­ma of refugee strug­gle, and the sim­ple beau­ty of human expe­ri­ence. Take, for exam­ple, the moment when the boy and his father sit and eat togeth­er. Their break­fast is two sand­wich­es, plain cold bologna on white bread. The two talk for a moment about how the father used to fish by a pond with his broth­er who died in the war. And yet the moment is also beau­ti­ful. Bui’s illus­tra­tion recre­ates the glow of a small fire and the play of light on their faces, while Phi’s text cap­tures a bit of mag­ic: “There’s half a pep­per­corn, like a moon split in two, stud­ded into the meat.”

from the book A Dif­fer­ent Pond, illus­tra­tion copy­right Thi Bui.

A reward­ing read­ing project for adults inter­est­ed in this book is to read it along­side adult titles also pub­lished in 2017. Bao Phi’s most recent book of poems, Thou­sand Star Hotel, pub­lished by Cof­fee House Press, and Thi Bui’s graph­ic nov­el mem­oir, The Best We Could Do, pub­lished by Abrams, are pierc­ing and beau­ti­ful accounts of the expe­ri­ence of their refugee fam­i­lies.


Stepping Stones: a Refugee Family's JourneyStep­ping Stones: A Refugee Fam­i­ly’s Jour­ney
writ­ten by Mar­gri­et Ruurs
art­work by Nizar Ali Badr
Orca Book Pub­lish­ers, 2016

This sto­ry of a fam­i­ly leav­ing war-torn Syr­ia is anchored by unusu­al and evoca­tive stone col­lages cre­at­ed by Syr­i­an artist Nizar Ali Badr. A young girl, Rama, nar­rates the chang­ing land­scape of her dai­ly life with her fam­i­ly, where she goes from the peace of lis­ten­ing to Mama prepar­ing break­fast (“bread, yogurt, juicy red toma­toes from our gar­den”) to the vio­lence of flee­ing Syr­ia “when bombs fell too close to our home.” As the fam­i­ly under­takes this per­ilous jour­ney, the weight of stone in the illus­tra­tions con­veys a sense of grav­i­ty and resilience as the fam­i­ly forges ahead and makes new mem­o­ries “not of war, but of peace.” The text is bilin­gual in Eng­lish and Ara­bic and a por­tion of the pro­ceeds of this book goes to sup­port Syr­i­an refugees.

from The Step­ping Stones: A Refugee Fam­i­ly’s Jour­ney, illus­tra­tion copy­right Nizar Ali Badr

Susan Marie: 

Two White RabbitsTwo White Rab­bits
writ­ten by Jairo Buitra­go
illus­trat­ed by Rafael Yock­teng
trans­lat­ed by Elisa Ama­do
Ground­wood Books, 2015

This pic­ture book, Two White Rab­bits, is a work of art for all ages, told from the point of view of a young girl who is mak­ing her way north through Mex­i­co with her father. The dif­fi­cult world of the sto­ry is depict­ed with remark­able ten­der­ness. Del­i­cate shad­ing in the draw­ings details every­thing from the feath­ers on hens, to the rolled sleeves of men rid­ing atop freight cars, to the bushy tail of the chu­cho (mutt) that trav­els along on the har­row­ing jour­ney. At the open­ing of the sto­ry, the lit­tle girl explains, “When we trav­el I count what I see,” and she counts cows, birds, clouds, peo­ple by the rail­road tracks, while her ever-atten­tive father nav­i­gates their com­pli­cat­ed route. She rides with her father through the night in the back of a pick­up truck: “Some­times, when I’m not sleep­ing, I count the stars. There are thou­sands, like peo­ple. And I count the moon. It is alone. Some­times I see sol­diers, but I don’t count them any­more.”

illus­tra­tion from Two White Rab­bits, illus­tra­tion copy­right Rafael Yock­teng

Author Jairo Buitra­go, who lives in Mex­i­co, and artist Rafael Yock­teng, who lives in Colom­bia, have worked togeth­er on a num­ber of acclaimed books trans­lat­ed from the Span­ish, includ­ing Jim­my the Great­est! (2010), Walk with Me (2017), and On the Oth­er Side of the Gar­den (2018), all pub­lished by Ground­wood Books.


The Arrival
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Shaun Tan
Loth­i­an Books, 2006

I think of The Arrival as an unusu­al and fas­ci­nat­ing pic­ture book/graphic nov­el hybrid. It is 128 pages, word­less, and makes use of both pan­els and full page spreads to tell the sto­ry of a man jour­ney­ing ahead of his fam­i­ly to forge a life for them in a new coun­try. This sur­re­al tale begins in the man’s home­land, which has been over­run by the loom­ing shapes of omi­nous mon­sters. The sto­ry unfolds after he arrives in an over­whelm­ing­ly for­eign city full of strange ani­mals, cus­toms, and an unfa­mil­iar lan­guage (cre­ator Shaun Tan made up a visu­al lan­guage to sim­u­late the expe­ri­ence of dis­ori­en­ta­tion for the read­er). The com­mon strug­gles many refugees face of find­ing work, hous­ing, and com­mu­ni­cat­ing are all present in the rich­ly detailed pen­cil illus­tra­tions.

from The Arrival, illus­tra­tion copy­right Shaun Tan

Through inno­v­a­tive use of fan­ta­sy ele­ments and emo­tion­al speci­fici­ty, Shaun Tan has cre­at­ed a sophis­ti­cat­ed nar­ra­tive that feels whol­ly orig­i­nal and is itself a visu­al jour­ney.


Revisions Part 5


Curiouser and Curiouser with Melissa Stewart

Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and StinkersThis month we’re fea­tur­ing Melis­sa Stew­art, author of sci­ence books for young read­ers and a seem­ing­ly tire­less advo­cate for read­ing non­fic­tion books, par­tic­u­lar­ly expos­i­to­ry non­fic­tion (“5 Kinds of Non­fic­tion”). Melis­sa has writ­ten more than 180 books in her career, the first of which was pub­lished in 1998 and the most recent of which is Pipsqueaks, Slow­pokes, and Stinkers: Cel­e­brat­ing Ani­mal Under­dogs (illus­trat­ed by Stephanie Laberis, pub­lished by Peachtree Pub­lish­ers). We recent­ly put our heads togeth­er for an inter­view address­ing our curios­i­ty about Melissa’s books and her work. Pull up a chair to the table and join us!

Do you work on more than one book at a time?

Yes, I usu­al­ly work on at least a half dozen books at a time. I might be writ­ing the rough draft of one and revis­ing one or two oth­ers. I might be research­ing one, and wait­ing for research mate­ri­als for anoth­er. I could be review­ing illus­tra­tor sketch­es or check­ing lay­outs or review­ing notes from an edi­tor or copy edi­tor. There’s a lot of jug­gling. Each day, before I stop work­ing, I make a list of what I plan to work on the next day. This helps to keep me orga­nized.

Melissa Stewart

Melis­sa Stew­art

You work on many dif­fer­ent types of books with­in the pletho­ra of knowl­edge about our nat­ur­al world. How do you clear your head to work on a joke book after you’ve writ­ten about the droughts in our world?

Some­times it’s a strug­gle, espe­cial­ly when I need to shift gears between writ­ing with a live­ly, humor­ous voice and a more lyri­cal voice. If my voice is off, I stop writ­ing and start read­ing to get in the right mind­set. It’s sort of like cleans­ing my palate with sor­bet or pick­led gin­ger between dif­fer­ent cours­es of a meal.

You write for a vari­ety of pub­lish­ers includ­ing Peachtree Pub­lish­ers, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Kids, Beach Lane Books, and Harper­Collins. Do you pitch your ideas to these com­pa­nies or do they come to you with ideas for the books they’d like?

A lit­tle bit of both. When pub­lish­ers have a large mass mar­ket series, such as Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Read­ers or HarperCollins’s Let’s‑Read-and-Find-Out-Science®, they usu­al­ly decide what top­ics they would like to add and then search for a writer. But for pic­ture books and oth­er trade books, I devel­op the idea. For pic­ture books, I need to sub­mit the com­plete man­u­script, and then the pub­lish­er may accept it or they may reject it. For longer books, I sub­mit a pro­pos­al with an out­line and writ­ing sam­ple.

author Melissa Stewart reading When Rain Falls with a kindergarten class

Author Melis­sa Stew­art read­ing When Rain Falls with a kinder­garten class

When you’re writ­ing a book that a pub­lish­er hired you to write, do you have para­me­ters with­in which you need to stay?

Yes. They give me a word count and usu­al­ly tell me what text fea­tures to include. I use exist­ing books in the series as mod­els.

Do you find that dif­fi­cult to do?

No. I find it com­fort­ing to have guide­lines. It’s sort of like putting togeth­er a jig­saw puz­zle. All the pieces are there. I just have to fig­ure out the right way to put them togeth­er.

With pic­ture books, I’m invent­ing the puz­zle. I find that chal­leng­ing, but I enjoy being able to exper­i­ment and play. It’s a more cre­ative expe­ri­ence.  

How do you keep your research orga­nized?

I don’t real­ly have a good sys­tem. I type all my notes into a Word file. Over time, it becomes unwieldy.

Before I start writ­ing, I think about the major cat­e­gories of infor­ma­tion I’ll need. Then I cut and paste, cut and paste to cre­ate major chunks of relat­ed infor­ma­tion. Depend­ing on the book, even these chunks can still be unwieldy. Thank good­ness Word allows me to do search­es to find exact­ly the infor­ma­tion I need.

Some­times I use index cards or sticky notes to help me decide the order in which these chunks will be pre­sent­ed in the book. I like that I can phys­i­cal­ly move them around.

Do you return to that research when you’re writ­ing a new book?

Some­times I try. After all, it would be more effi­cient, but there are two rea­sons that it usu­al­ly doesn’t work out.

  1. Because our knowl­edge of the world is chang­ing so quick­ly, notes I took 5 or even 3 years ago may be out of date.
  2. Even when I include the same ani­mal in two books, my hook is inevitably dif­fer­ent, so my notes may not have the spe­cif­ic details I need.

Who finds the pho­tos that are includ­ed in your books?

Some­times me. Some­times a pho­to researcher who works for the pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny. And some­times we work togeth­er. It depends on the pub­lish­er and the project.

Can an Aardvark Bark, Under the Snow, A Place for Birds

Do you have any input for the illus­tra­tors who have worked on books such as Can an Aard­vark Bark? and Under the Snow and A Place for Birds?

Some­times I play a role in select­ing the illus­tra­tor, and some­times I don’t. It depends on the pub­lish­er and the project. Some­times I pro­vide a pack­age of ref­er­ence mate­ri­als for the illus­tra­tor.

Because I’m the con­tent expert, I always have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to review the illustrator’s sketch­es and com­ment on any­thing that isn’t sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly sound. It isn’t unusu­al for the illus­tra­tor to do sev­er­al sets of sketch­es. S/he keeps work­ing until all the details in the art are accu­rate.

Melissa Stewart's office

a look at Melis­sa Stew­art’s office

If you could break your week down into the per­cent­ages of what you do, how much time do you spend on the dif­fer­ent tasks required of a suc­cess­ful writer?

This has shift­ed a lot over the years. When my first book was pub­lished 20 years ago, authors weren’t expect­ed to play a role in mar­ket­ing. Most children’s books were sold to schools and libraries. But in the ear­ly 2000s, school book bud­gets were slashed and many school librar­i­ans lost their jobs. For a while, there were sev­er­al large brick-and-mor­tar book­store chains, and they were major play­ers in the mar­ket. But now, most of them are gone.

Today social media is explod­ing and authors are expect­ed to be active­ly involved in sell­ing their books. And so I spend a lot of time blog­ging and tweet­ing and devel­op­ing mate­ri­als for my web­site. That means I have less time to actu­al­ly work on books.

While there real­ly is no typ­i­cal day or week, I can say that I now spend only about 50 per­cent of my time work­ing on books. The rest of the time is devot­ed to mar­ket­ing, speak­ing at schools, attend­ing con­fer­ences, and read­ing recent­ly pub­lished children’s books.

Of the time I do spend work­ing on books, prob­a­bly about 50 per­cent of the time is spent phys­i­cal­ly writ­ing. The rest of the time, I’m doing research, devel­op­ing ideas for new projects, or read­ing adult books and arti­cles about sci­ence.

What’s your favorite aspect of your career?

The phys­i­cal act of writ­ing, espe­cial­ly those mag­i­cal hours “spent in the flow.” But a close sec­ond is spend­ing time in schools speak­ing with and lis­ten­ing to kids.

What do you wish were dif­fer­ent about your career?

I don’t think any­one likes rejec­tions, but it’s an inevitable part of the writ­ing process.

If you could select one of your back­list titles, which book would you like to see peo­ple read­ing with more fre­quen­cy? Can you tell us why?

Because sci­ence is always chang­ing, some of my old­er books con­tain infor­ma­tion that is out of date. In fact, I some­times cheer when I find out a title is going out of print. I’m more than hap­py to have young read­ers focus on titles I’ve pub­lished in the last 5 or 6 years.

Curi­ous about Melissa’s books? Vis­it her web­site.

Edu­ca­tors, don’t miss the many, many resources Melis­sa has made avail­able for you. Her site is a ver­i­ta­ble trea­sure lode!

Melissa Stewart's Educators' Resources


That Time I Drove the Karma Bus

All fresh­men at my col­lege had to wear bean­ies at the start of school. Besides the obvi­ous fash­ion quandary, the prob­lem was that stu­dents from the town’s rival col­lege glo­ried in steal­ing bean­ies.

And I knew if any of my upper class­mates caught me sans beanie, they had the pow­er to make me stand on a table in the cafe­te­ria and sing my high school fight song. It was a time of great per­son­al trep­i­da­tion.

Then one day a nice young man stopped and talked to me on cam­pus. Look at this, I thought to myself. I am in col­lege talk­ing to a nice col­lege boy. Col­lege is great! And then that nice col­lege boy grabbed my beanie and ran. Turns out he was a Mon­tague. I was a Capulet. Our romance was trag­i­cal­ly short-lived, but unlike Juli­et, I some­how sur­vived.

Many years after that, while putting my col­lege edu­ca­tion to good use as a pub­lish­ing employ­ee, I wan­dered down to the company’s sec­ond floor. A guy I didn’t know was vis­it­ing; we made polite intro­duc­tions, he got a fun­ny look on his face when I said my name — and he then con­fessed that he was the beanie-steal­ing Mon­tague (my name was help­ful­ly print­ed on my beanie’s name tag and he’d clear­ly nev­er for­got­ten it). He left, I moved on. The beanie did not haunt me. I nev­er thought about the beanie at all.

But sev­er­al years again after that, once I was pub­lished and had become eas­i­ly “google-able,” I got an email out of the blue. From the Mon­tague. He remind­ed me of our pre­vi­ous encoun­ters and told me he still had the beanie, but would like to send it back to me. And despite my protes­ta­tions that the beanie no longer played any part in my emo­tion­al health, it arrived in my mail­box a few days lat­er.

In a fol­low-up email, the Mon­tague also told me that his old­est daugh­ter was now a fresh­man in col­lege. I made an intu­itive leap: Was his move to make amends par­tial­ly moti­vat­ed by fear that he or his daugh­ter might be run over by the kar­ma bus? My beanie was no more than a bump in the road for me, but I spec­u­lat­ed that return­ing it to me twen­ty-six years lat­er was the out­ward sig­nal of a self-trans­for­ma­tion for the Mon­tague.

The char­ac­ters who move us as read­ers are those who have gone through some kind of relat­able trans­for­ma­tion. Expe­ri­enc­ing that trans­for­ma­tion is the thing that sticks to read­ers like emo­tion­al super­glue; it keeps them mulling over cer­tain sto­ries for weeks. But new writ­ers some­times for­get this crit­i­cal ele­ment. Chal­lenge your writ­ing stu­dents to track exact­ly how their main char­ac­ters have changed from the begin­nings to the end­ings of their sto­ries. If it’s not obvi­ous, they need to spend some time revis­ing.

Get them to focus on their char­ac­ter emo­tion­al arcs and you just might make Shake­spear­es out of them yet!


Skinny Dip with Kara LaReau

Kara LaReau

Kara LaReau

We’re pleased to con­nect you with author (and edi­tor) Kara LaReau, whose two book series, The Infa­mous Rat­sos and The Unin­ten­tion­al Adven­tures of the Bland Sis­ters, are tick­ling read­ers’ fun­ny­bones and stir­ring their sense of adven­ture. She was an edi­tor for ten years, edit­ing some of our most-loved books such as Because of Winn-Dix­ie and the Mer­cy Wat­son series. You’ll want to fol­low her career as her inven­tive mind beck­ons to us with more sto­ries!

Do you keep your book­shelves in a par­tic­u­lar order?

 I have the books in our liv­ing room orga­nized by col­or. Then there’s a pile next to my bed in no par­tic­u­lar order, but no one sees that but me!

What’s the pre­dom­i­nant col­or in your wardrobe?

I don’t have one pre­dom­i­nant col­or. Prob­a­bly black, blue, and gray.

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett JohnsonWhich book you read as a child has most influ­enced your life?

Harold and the Pur­ple Cray­on by Crock­ett John­son.

What’s your food weak­ness?

Oh, I have so many. Right now it’s salt and vine­gar pota­to chips, which taste best at the beach, imho.

What do you con­sid­er to be your best accom­plish­ment?

My son.

Have you trav­eled out­side of your state? Which state draws you back?

I’ve vis­it­ed sev­er­al states, but my favorites (so far) are Maine and Cal­i­for­nia.

The Infamous Ratsos: Project Fluffy

Kara LaReau’s forth­com­ing book

Have you trav­eled out­side of the Unit­ed States? Which coun­try is your favorite to vis­it? 

Yes. My favorite (so far) is Italy — I hope I can go back there soon!

What’s the last per­for­mance you saw at a the­ater?

I saw the come­di­an Tig Notaro.

What’s your favorite word because you like the way it sounds?

Come on, I can’t pick just one!

What would you wear to a cos­tume par­ty?

Edna Mode from The Incred­i­bles.

Chocolate almond croissant and coffeeWhen you walk into a bak­ery, what are you most like­ly to choose from the bak­ery cas­es?

A choco­late-almond crois­sant. And a very large cof­fee.

Do you remem­ber your dreams?

Yes, vivid­ly! Some­times that’s where I get my ideas for sto­ries.

If you could have din­ner with any­one from his­to­ry, who would you choose (don’t wor­ry about lan­guage dif­fer­ences.)

Julia Child

What for­eign lan­guage would you like to learn?



Anna and Johanna

Anna and JohannaAnna and Johan­na: a Chil­dren’s Book Inspired by Ver­meer
Geral­dine Elschn­er
illus­trat­ed by Flo­rence Koenig
Pres­tel Pub­lish­ing, 2018
pub­lished in French in 2016
ISBN 978−3−7913−7345−4

Delft. Delft blue. The book begins
with blue and yel­low. 1666.

Two friends born on the same day.
This day, their birth­day.
They are each mak­ing gifts for the oth­er.
Lace and choco­late.
One the daugh­ter of the house,
the oth­er the daugh­ter of the maid.

This is how the sto­ry begins. It unfolds with a sur­prise. A very dra­mat­ic sur­prise. It makes for a mem­o­rable sto­ry.

And yet, this book is more than that. It unwraps itself in lay­ers, invit­ing us to dig deep­er, turn pages back and forth and then again, exam­in­ing close­ly, uncov­er­ing those reward­ing lay­ers.

You prob­a­bly noticed the sub­ti­tle. This is a sto­ry devel­oped by the author from two of Jan Ver­meer’s paint­ings, The Lace­mak­er (1665) and The Milk­maid (1658÷60).

Imag­in­ing a sto­ry about what’s depict­ed in a paint­ing is a sat­is­fy­ing way to under­stand the work when the artist leaves no notes, no mem­oir.

The author points out in the book’s back mat­ter, which is crit­i­cal for this book, that almost noth­ing is known about Jan Ver­meer. He did not leave notes.

Ver­meer paint­ed every­day peo­ple doing ordi­nary things with extra­or­di­nary results. He saw, and con­veyed, light in a way which illu­mi­nates life, no mat­ter how mun­dane the task he depicts.

Anna and Johanna, illustration by Florence Koenig, Prestel Publishing, 2018

Anna and Johan­na, illus­tra­tion copy­right © by Flo­rence Koenig, Pres­tel Pub­lish­ing, 2018

Shar­ing this book at home or in the class­room will inspire young lis­ten­ers, young read­ers to write their own sto­ries about art­work. The back mat­ter will inspire teach­ers. A trip to the muse­um to see the art in the prop­er light, the depth of the paint, the tex­ture of the brush strokes? While it may not be pos­si­ble to see a Ver­meer paint­ing in per­son, going to an art gallery or muse­um to see paint­ings in per­son will add to the inspi­ra­tion and the under­stand­ing.

This is a beau­ti­ful book. The art­work tells the sto­ry as much as the words do, all the while evok­ing Ver­meer while true to Koenig’s style. The col­or palette con­veys the city of Delft, a time long ago, draw­ing our eyes to the water, to the sky … there is much to admire.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.


Skinny Dip with C.M. Surrisi

C.M. Surrisi

C.M. Sur­risi

Have you read the Quin­nie Boyd mid­dle-grade mys­ter­ies? The May­pop Kid­nap­ping, Vam­pires on the Run, and A Side of Sab­o­tage? I dis­cov­ered them this spring and I stayed up sev­er­al nights to read them. The author of those books, C.M. Sur­risi, is just as inter­est­ing as you’d think the writer who dreamed up Quin­nie, her friends, and her vil­lage in Maine would be. When I real­ized she had a pic­ture book out, The Best Moth­er, I won­dered if she could car­ry that sense of humor over to a short­er sto­ry­telling form. Yes, indeed. That book’s delight­ful, too. We know you’ll want to learn more about this intrigu­ing author.

What’s the weird­est place you’ve ever read a book?

In a tent in the Rantham­bore Tiger Pre­serve in Sawai Mad­hop­ur Rajasthan, India

Do you keep your book­shelves in a par­tic­u­lar order?

By sub­ject mat­ter. Not quite Dewey Dec­i­mal Clas­si­fi­ca­tion.

How many book­cas­es do you have in your house?

An embar­rass­ing­ly large num­ber.

pho­to: tarzhano­va | 123rf.com

What’s the pre­dom­i­nant col­or in your wardrobe?

Jeans. Is that a col­or? So, blue, I guess. I spent so many years in a world where jeans were not accept­able dress that when I left that world, I embraced jeans again in a big way. I have sev­er­al forms of den­im again now. Light, dark, patched, ripped, cropped, boyfriend, skin­ny, jack­et, cut­off. Sor­ry. I’m all about com­fort now.

Which library springs to your mind when some­one says that word? What do you remem­ber most about it?

When I think library I think of the mid­dle grade fic­tion shelves, with their chunky nov­els, in plas­tic cov­ers, with col­or­ful jack­ets, swollen pages from wear, the deli­cious smell of paper, and scent of glue and ink. That’s where I go first in every library I vis­it.

Which book you read as a child has most influ­enced your life?

The Children of Primrose Lane by Noel StreatfieldThe Chil­dren of Prim­rose Lane by Noël Streat­field.

When I was in fourth grade, I picked this book off the shelf for its size, weight, jack­et image, and all around library book smell.  I didn’t know who Noël Streat­field was, and I hadn’t read any of the bal­let books. I fell into this sto­ry about a group of kids liv­ing in Eng­land dur­ing WWII who took over an aban­doned house on their dead end street as a club­house. Soon they real­ize they were shar­ing the house with a man they sus­pect­ed was a shot-down Ger­man pilot pre­tend­ing to be British. They played along with him until he acci­den­tal­ly over­heard one of the chil­dren say some­thing about the war effort that the child should not have shared. Their mis­sion became keep­ing the pilot from trans­mit­ting the infor­ma­tion to his base.

This was my first expe­ri­ence with chil­dren being involved with high stakes. The kids were all dif­fer­ent, the cir­cum­stances were sear­ing, the dra­ma intense. I have nev­er for­got­ten it. I found a copy of the book as an adult and reread it, only to find some cul­tur­al­ly inap­pro­pri­ate aspects that were asso­ci­at­ed with war pro­pa­gan­da. I real­ized  those aspects of the book didn’t go over my head. I had been indoc­tri­nat­ed by them. The book would have been just as pow­er­ful from a sto­ry per­spec­tive with­out them. I con­tin­ue to hold it in high regard because it opened my world and trans­port­ed me to a place where chil­dren did some­thing noble.

What’s your food weak­ness?

If the item is edi­ble, and attrac­tive­ly pre­pared, I will gen­er­al­ly give it a go.

What’s your favorite form of exer­cise?

Danc­ing. I wish that ball­room danc­ing could be eas­i­ly accom­plished alone. Drat, it’s so pairs ori­ent­ed. Yes, Fred Astaire pulled it off much of the time, but I’m no Fred. I love the feel­ing of pairs danc­ing, but I don’t have a dance part­ner and don’t real­ly want one. So I dance around the house by myself and make do.

Blue Hyacinth

pho­to: Melanie Faul­stick | 123rf.com

What’s your favorite flower?

Blue Hyacinth. The col­or is impor­tant. It adds to the already spec­tac­u­lar­ly cloy­ing smell. I love the spikes with their crowds of bells and the fleshy, glossy, green leaves. When I was a child, my moth­er had a ceram­ic flower pot that was an eight-inch cube that looked like a white woven bas­ket. She filled it with blue hyacinths every spring. They sat in the cen­ter of the kitchen table. A close sec­ond would be old-fash­ioned ros­es. We had a big, unruly old-fash­ioned rose bush next to the back door, and every time we banged the screen door open when we ran out to play, it shook the bush and released the fra­grance.

Who’s at the top of your list of Most Admired Peo­ple?

My hus­band, Chuck. He had a stroke nine years ago, and the full range of emo­tion, ener­gy, deter­mi­na­tion, and humor he’s sum­moned to cope with it has made him my hero.

What for­eign lan­guage would you like to learn?

All of them.

Do you read the end of a book first?

Oh, no. Nev­er.

If you had a choice, would you live under the ocean or in out­er space, and why?

The very thought of either of these makes my head explode. I’m claus­tro­pho­bic.

If you could write any book and know that it would be pub­lished and tens of thou­sands of peo­ple would read it, which book would you write?

If I knew this, I would have already writ­ten it, but then again know­ing it and being able to write it are two dif­fer­ent things, aren’t they? So the answer I guess would have to be “the biggest-heart­ed book.”

If you could be grant­ed one wish, what would you wish for?

That chil­dren would be safe. Safe from adults and safe from each oth­er.