Monday, April 30, 2012

A Pep Talk in Richmond

I love SCBWI events, so when my friend Julie Phend asked if I wanted to go to Richmond with her for Everything I Needed to Know: Paths to Success in Writing for Children, it didn't take too much arm twisting to get me to agree to make the two-hour drive. Mostly I wanted to have some time to spend with Julie as she lives about an hour and a half away, and seeing a good friend twice a month just isn't enough.

Castle in the Swamp

The first panel was specifically geared towards picture book authors/illustrators. While I love picture books, I don't have any interest in writing them myself—at least not at this point. But if there's one thing I've learned from SCBWI, it's that you can't discount advice just because you don't think it was meant for you. Hazel Buys, Brian Rock, Carol Cole and Kim Norman all spoke of the importance of perseverances and looking outside of traditional means to accomplish your goals. But Brian's use of Monty Python to illustrate his point was what really resonated with me. (Only the first minute of this clip is what Brian referred to.)

"If insanity is doing something over and over again expecting different results, than success is insanity squared... You have to assume that someone out there is going to say 'Yes!'"
—Brian Rock
author of Don't Play With Your Food and Piggies
Backyard Chat

The lovely Lana Krumwiede spoke with her agent Molly Jaffa about the process from manuscript to publication. I was excited to see Lana and Molly on the agenda as I first met them at an SCBWI event back in 2010, right after Lana got her book deal. It was wonderful to catch up with both of them and see how their careers have really taken off over the past two years. And that success is mostly due to their amazing writer–agent relationship.
"Decide what you're looking for and what you have, and then hit the internet hard searching for what you need [in an agent]."
—Lana Krumwiede
author of Freakling
"I think it's important to do what's best for your career, not necessarily what's most convenient for the agent... There's a lot of crying in children's literature—it's not at all like baseball."
—Molly Jaffa
agent at Folio Literary Management
If only Molly had watched the Chicago White Sox game quickly followed by the Washington Nationals game that evening, she would have realized there's plenty of crying in baseball, too.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Place for Every Book

I've been collecting pictures of interesting bookshelves for a few years now, and I thought it might be about time to share some of my favorites. I do not own any of these book storage devices, but I have tried to attribute them as clearly as possible. These designers, architects and innovators deserve major kudos.

Home Library Balcony
(This one's driving me a little nuts because I can't track down the original designer or even where to purchase this amazing litecture feat.)

If you have some favorites of your own, please share a link to them in comments!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A librarian, a writer and a program director walk into a tiny house...

...and the writer falls down a ladder.

No really, that's what happened. My roommate, a friend and I went to see a really cool Tumbleweed house that was on display in DC this past weekend, and while climbing down from the loft, I lost my footing on the tiny ladder and slipped. After falling three rungs, I managed to catch myself before hitting the floor, but thanks to an old shoulder injury, I probably should have chosen the floor.

Of course I didn't notice the stiffness and bruising until the next day, so I got to enjoy the house pain free. I loved all the clever uses of space and minimalism, but I don't think all of my books would fit. Plus, there is that tiny ladder.

It was great fun to have Steph come for a visit, and I'm glad she got to see her tiny house.

In honor of tiny houses, here are some books:
The Napping House by Audrey Wood
Llama Llama Home with Mama by Anna Dewdney
The House Baba Built by Ed Young
Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt
A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee
The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
Anne's House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery
House of Night Series by P. C. Cast and Kristin Cast

Monday, April 16, 2012

Giving History Color

Near the beginning of The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon, narrator Sam Childs reflects on a series of marchs led by Martin Luther King, Jr., in Chicago during the summer of 1966. Though this is a work of fiction, it was rather surreal reading about this event as I had heard the story once before—from a very different perspective.

When I was in middle school, my teacher gave us an assignment to ask our parents what life was like when they were in 8th grade. My mom talked about her fear for her older brothers who were in the military at the onset of the Vietnam War and that she loved a relatively new music group called The Mamas and The Papas. My father spoke of how his father was under investigation for being a communist supporter because of his ties to Chicago union groups and his excitement for all the new developments in the U.S. space program. Dad watched Star Trek and Mom liked Dark Shadows. And then we started talking about the civil rights movement.

The summer before 8th grade, my dad remembers his parents taking him to go "window shopping" in downtown Warrenville, an affluent suburb of Chicago. What my father didn't know was they were actually going to watch a march against public housing segregation. "I watched as King walked down the street," my father told me, "and then I watched as my parents turned their backs as if they weren't interested in what was going on." As a 12 year old, my father watched his parents pretend like black people didn't matter, that the challenges the black community faced didn't affect them and their white friends. Looking me right in the eyes, his blue eyes bright and serious, my father told me, "In that moment, I knew my parents were wrong."

Martin Luther King, Jr., leads march down State Street in Chicago during summer of 1966.
(Chicago Defender Archives)

Up until that point, I had always believe segregation was a "Southern issue" and that bigotry was a thing of the past. But in that moment, I knew my father was teaching me one of the greatest lessons I could ever learn: All people are equal.

This conversation happened 15 years ago about an event that had happened 30 years before that, but I will never forget what my father said. It very much affected my views on racial divides. It affected the way I built relationships. It affected the way I viewed media. It affected my beliefs on women's issues, gay rights and religious freedoms. It affected the kind of newspaper stories I wrote in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and it affected the work I do on healthcare reform. In fact, it still affects all of these things.

How grateful I am for parents who taught me to look past the one-dimensional labels we give people. I'm grateful that I had the chance to grow up in a divers community and that I still live in a diverse community. I'm grateful for my many wonderful teachers who taught me that history isn't colorblind—that the histories of Africa and Asia and America are just as important as the history of Europe. And I'm especially grateful for books that reenforce these same lessons for children of a new generation.

Here are some contemporary YA novels that address race issues in America:
Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña

Friday, April 13, 2012

Celebrating National Library Week

My librarian friend is coming to visit this weekend, and she reminded me that it's National Library Week. So in honor of Steph, I wanted to give thanks for my ever-changing relationship with local libraries. I will always be grateful for the books they give me access to, the information they make available and the many librarians who have helped me along the way.

Nichols Library (Naperville, IL)
My very first library card came from this library, and I remember being ecstatic to hold the new plastic card with my signature on it. It was also at this library that I transitioned from a card catalogued to a digital database. Before the days of easily navigated internet sites, my dad taught me how to dial directly into the library catalog so I could place books on hold before riding my bike the mile to the library. And of course, a visit to the library meant I could play computer games like Oregon Trail and Carmen Sandiego.

Aurora Public Library (Aurora, IL)
I went to this library so often every librarian knew my name. They helped me with research papers, made recommendations to help me transition to YA books (called JV books at the time) and then moved me on to the general collection when the time was right. In these stacks, I used microfiche for the first time, checked out my first CD, explored maps and sheet music, and made my first inter-library loan.

Madison Library (Rexburg, ID)
This library brought me into the digital world by introducing me to ebooks. It was also here that I was able to explore my passion for children's literature, and while working for the local newspaper, I even got to write a series of features on the resources the library provided.

Salt Lake City Public Library
I have never felt more at home than at the Salt Lake City Public Library. As a library volunteer, I had the opportunity to work in the library store, plan library events and participate in the Utah Art Festival. I even made a video on how awesome it was to volunteer at this library. Even four years after leaving Utah, I still like to go back and visit my favorite library.

Library of Congress (Washington)
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love that I can access primary source historical documents, like George Washington's letters, online. Your digital photo archives are more than just impressive, and you host exhibits on more diverse topics than any other library in the world. Where else can I see a book made from human skin and a Gutenberg Bible in the same collection? I shall but love thee better after death.

Sherlington Library (Arlington, VA)
There is nothing better than a library that keeps you plugged in through social media. Half my twitter feed is Arlington Public Library librarians, and the first site I check every morning is the TATAL blog to get reading recommendations and see what's happening in the local YA book world. They also listen to my purchase requests, and I swear they have a special hold shelf just for me.

Honorary Mentions: Martin Luther King Jr. Library (Washington), James M. Duncan Library (Alexandria, VA), Harold Washington Library (Chicago) and all of my school libraries that have kept me supplied with plenty of books for a lifetime.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A House Full of Bibliophiles

Easter Bunny Gets an Assist from Knuffle Bunny

Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems

I love when my roommate's nieces and nephews come to visit because they love books just as much as I do. The first thing they wanted to do when I got home from work was have me read Knuffle Bunny (1, 2 and 3) to them. It doesn't matter that the oldest is 12 and the youngest is three, they all want to laugh and shout out lines and beg for me to read "just one more" ever time we see them. And though their 21-month-old cousin is a little young for the interactive reading, she carried around my stuffed bunny all weekend.


The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The boys (12 and 10) thought I'd be able to convince their dad to let them see The Hunger Games movie, but alas, I took their dad's side mostly because it's a parent's job to set boundaries and rules for their children but also because violence enacted on the big screen is much different then violence theorized in print. But I'm not heartless. I took the boys in my car for the two-hour drive to Gettysburg and listened to the soundtrack and answered all their questions about the movie. Even I got my fill of The Hunger Games by the time we got to Pennsylvania.

Three Score and Twelve Hours Ago

I swear I learned about U.S. history in school and I live in the middle of the most history-saturated area in America, but I needed a reminder of the significance of Gettysburg. So I pulled out my favorite kids' reference on the Civil War, and we read about the battle, the cemetery and President Lincoln's speech, which helped give us context for our walk through history. More than 50,000 Americans died in that three-day battle, and the fields still resonate with these words:
"From these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
—Abraham Lincoln
16th president of the United States

He Is Risen

It wasn't until rereading Lincoln's words after our visit I realized how befitting they are for the Easter season. I once heard that for a Christian to truly understand the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we must each walk through our own Gethsemane. In more secular terms, we need to remember the suffering and sacrifice of others to be able to give hope to future generations.

Saying Goodbye to the Chaos

A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na

I might be happy to have my bathroom to myself and not be woken up far earlier than usual by the pitter-patter of little feet, but I'll really miss having everyone around. I'll miss being able to snuggle up with the girls and some books before bedtime and talking about upcoming fantasy novels with the boys. I'll miss playing games with the adults and forgetting I'm lactose intolerant for long enough to eat ice cream on the porch. I'll miss seeing the city through new eyes and going on adventures surrounded by some of my favorite people. But I especially look forward to doing it all again when we see each other in the fall.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Rain vs. Rang vs. Reign vs. Rein: A Battle of Four Verbs

Rain (v) to send down in great quantities, as small pieces or objects. From Middle English reinen,, also related to Gothic rign.

I was very much looking forward to the Kite Festival this year, unfortunately, one of the most common signs of spring is rain. And rain it did on Saturday morning. So instead, I did laundry and mending and cleaning and shopping and reading. My life is so tough.

Rang (v) simple past tense of ring; to resonate, echo or sound. From Old Norse hringja and German ringen, meaning to wrestle or struggle.

After a lazy weekend, it's been rather difficult to respond to my alarm clock this morning. The funny thing is, I was awake long before it went off, but there's just something about a warm bed and a good book first thing in the morning that makes me not want to move. I think it's just the calm before the storm.

Reign (v) to have control, rule or influence. From Latin noun rēgnum, meaning kingship or royalty.

It's spring break for most of the country, and DC is flooded with tourists. My usually calm Metro stop is now overrun with school groups and families hailing from such exotic places as Milwaukee and Portland. But despite the newcomers not following the etiquette of walk left/stand right on the escalators and forming long lines at the ticket kiosks because they don't understand how the pricing works, I actually enjoy when the tourists take over the city. Mostly because that's when old friends come to visit.

Rein (v) to curb, restrain or control. From Latin retinēre, meaning to hold back.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to corral four children hopped up on Easter candy who have spent four days in a van? Yeah, I'm sure you do. My house is usually such a quiet, peaceful place, but every once in awhile, chaos can be a lot of fun. For the holiday, my roommate's brother brought his four kids on a road trip to visit us from Michigan. Her other brother and his wife are also on their way from North Carolina with their 2-year-old daughter, my friend flies in from California by way of Greece, and my other friend's family took a last-minute trip to Massachusetts so she's driving down from Maryland to spend the weekend. We have a rather full house this Easter, but I wouldn't want it any other way.