Saturday, April 28, 2012



"Hey, I ain't no blade of grass!"said ELI in LITTLE JOE. This greenery really pops out, doesn't it?
Rich and I had a fun weekend in Columbus, Ohio. We spoke to students at Immaculate Conception School and were greeted with such enthusiasm, we’re ready to keep those revisions going on our book projects this week.

The night before we’d caught the 7th and 8th grade musical Little Luncheonette of Terror, and knew we’d be dealing with a poised group of learners creative enough to think about becoming authors themselves! Especially after hearing them chant in the play: BOOKS!BOOKS!WE NEED MORE BOOKS!! (Check out the musical on UTUBE below.)

Whisked to the school first thing in the morning, the younger grades had made some lively welcome posters for us.
Good thing we're kneeling-- the cleaners lengthened Rich's pants, instead of hemming them shorter!

Rich and I are still talking about the the pizza party with 20 enthusiastic contest winners, who'd written essays on why they’d like to have lunch with us. While munching on carrots sticks and gooey pizza slices, the 3rd through 8th graders asked us laser smart questions and listened attentively to our answers all through the chocolate-chip cookie dessert!
Contest winner lunch mates at I.C. School in Columbus, Ohio. Instead of saying, "Cheese!" they all said, "Little Joe!"
 Thanks to I.C.School librarian Jessica Klinker for getting the kids so jazzed about reading— I don’t think I’ve ever been featured in so many individual student book clubs! Not only had most of them read LITTLE JOE, they’d also devoured dozens of Rich’s novels—(PERPETUAL CHECK got plenty of talk with its clever chess/silhouette cover, and so did Rich's series books, THE WINNING SEASON and KICKERS).
Here's Rich and I with I.C. librarian extraordinaire, Jessica Klinker

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Happy 32nd EARTH DAY! Yep, the movement--begun by the Senator Gaylord Nelson--started the year I was born, but became an official day of remembrance and action in 1970.

My favorite children’s book on EARTH DAY is Our Earth: How Kids Are Saving the Planet. In it, fellow Ontarian Janet Wlison profiles 10 young environmentalists doing such doable things as PESTER POWER (constantly reminding parents what’s at stake if we don’t do sustainable things like recycling, or driving less). And I really like the story of a Malawi boy who took out a library book and taught himself how to build a windmill for his village, bringing it electricity.

One of my own traditions of remembering to value the earth, is to treat our land as kindly as you would a friend. That's why I hug a tree every EARTH DAY. They’ve been on the planet so much longer than we have, and there’s every reason for us to ensure that they’ll continue to be.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


I may never look at a Fed Ex box the same way again after learning about 9-year-old Caine Monroy. 

While spending time with his dad at his east L.A. auto parts shop, Caine decided to create his own entertainment—by making an arcade. That’s right. No X Boxing here. Caine took all the different boxes his dad uses to ship parts and cut, pasted, and navigated the shapes into the most unforgettable recyclable cardboard kingdom of fun you’ve ever seen.

Think army men and re-purposed loot from Shakeys pizza as prizes, rolled up duct tape as soccer balls, and Caine himself climbing into the box to hand you your tickets or the FUN PASS—two bucks for 500 chances to win something and have fun trying. Does it get any cooler than that? (And I thought The Paper Bag Princess rocked.) Caine’s even devised a security system to prevent counterfeit FUN PASSES.

Still, business was slow for Caine, but it didn’t matter. He’d sit in his lawn chair making more cool games out of boxes.

But in a curious twist of fate along with good vibes, Caine’s tenacity and innovative genius now inspires tens of thousands around the world, and just might take low tech to new heights.

Here's how it happened. When Caine went to chat with his dad one afternoon in the back of the parts shop, his father noticed on the surveillance camera that someone was actually playing in the arcade. Caine’s first customer! And not just any customer—Nirvan Mullick, a filmmaker who would turn out to be Caine’s biggest booster.

Mullick soon invited a thousand of his closest virtual friends to come to the arcade for a day that Caine won’t soon forget. (Check out the video that has made Caine a welcome sensation and join in the fun.)

Thursday, April 5, 2012



I was just talking about the power of state book awards with Rich, and how once your novel gets on a list, people start seeing the book differently. They take notice. And it feels good to be noticed, doesn't it?

 I mean, I’ve been noticing the nominees on South Carolina’s Children’s Book Award list since Little Joe became a finalist. I want to read them all. 

Many of the titles I’d heard of, but most of them I’d hadn’t. And that’s a shame

So, since it’ll be 11 months until we find out who the winner is (the kids choose), I’ve decided to read as many as I can and let you know about them. First up: Because of Terupt by Rob Buyea. (For a full list of the nominees, read here.)

Mr. Terupt’s the kind of person every teacher aspires to be and any fifth grader would want mentoring them in class. I never had a Mr. Terupt, though I did have teachers enthusiastic enough about their subjects for me to glean insight on work ethic and passion--not to mention my penchant for shoes. (My first grade teacher wore a different pair of patent leather pumps each day to match the color of her dress, and I’ve been wearing shiny shoes ever since.)

But Mr. Terupt is different—he’s concerned with drawing out the most from his students and having them build a community within class walls where it’s safe, nurturing and fun—in other words, an environment that fosters learning.
We find all this all out not from Mr. Terupt, but through 7 very different student narratives. As an author, I admire Rob (who's taught 3rd and 4th graders) for attempting and keeping so many voices going consistently—imagine writing about 7 main characters, and in first person! (Lots of continuity checking and revisions, I’m sure.) Mr. Terupt becomes the catalyst for their words, feelings and changing perceptions, and I really like that idea in a book. Tension builds as each narrator hints about the fateful day when a snowball changes everything and Mr. Terupt becomes the focus, bringing them all even closer.

Rob’s already written the much anticipated sequel to Because of Terupt, so we’ll find out more about the mysterious background behind the inspirational teacher.

Though Sidney Poitier in To Sir, With Love will always be my favorite fictitious teacher of all time, I have a soft spot for Because of Terupt. Rob’s book came out the same year Little Joe did and we were both featured in Random House’s It’s a First spotlight, along with Clare Vanderpool’s Moon Over Manifest. Sound familiar? Clare’s first novel won the Newbery!