A mix of titles currently on my shelves.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmases Past: The Best and Worst

I’ve often wondered why two of my nine books are about Christmas, a high percentage considering the number of topics to write about or even the number of holidays in a year. Just the other day it hit me: one was inspired by my best Christmas ever and the other, by my worst!

The ideas for both came directly out of life events. My best Christmas ever was in 1987, just a week after my second daughter was born. Presents and much of the usual Christmas folderol (which I dearly love) fell by the wayside as I basked (groggily – she wasn’t a sleeper) in the glow of tending my new baby. Waiting for Noël started with those emotions, a mix of joy and gratitude and contentment that gradually took on larger meaning.

When Posey Peeked at Christmas, published many years later, is about my worst Christmas ever. That was the year I peeked, not just at one or two presents, but at every single gift under the tree with my name on it. I don’t know which year it was. Ironically, I don’t even remember the presents. What stuck with me is an awful feeling of overwhelming dismay, as it dawned on me that surprises are half the fun – and sharing, the other. That Christmas I learned the hard way that relationships and process are more important than things.

In both cases, it was the emotions that not only lasted, but motivated me to write. As writers, we often fuss over plot and characterization, voice and metaphor, details of word choice and syntax and even grammar. But isn’t it the emotions that truly drive us onward, propelling us into and through a story?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you light in the darkness...

Warmth in the cold... 

Peace and love in every season!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winter Solstice, the Longest Night

Those of us who live in the North don’t take light for granted. We appreciate its nuances. We study it for both quality and quantity. In the North, summer and winter solstices aren’t abstract events; they are marking points that give us pause for contemplation in summer and cheer us on in winter.

The Longest Night, by well-known author Marion Dane Bauer, is a beautiful winter solstice story about forest animals trying to call back the sun. Just listen to the beginning:

The snow lies deep.

The night is long and long.

The stars are ice, the moon is frost,

and all the world is still.

That sounds like my world right about now! As I write this at nine o’clock in the morning, it is still pitch dark outside. Fresh snow fell during the night, muffling the sounds of the day, which is evidenced only by such human constructs as the ticking clock and the morning news. It’s the time of year when I cheer myself up with Christmas lights and candles. As each day brings fewer minutes of light, I cling to the knowledge that soon -- at solstice -- the process will start to reverse. It will seem slow at first but that’s okay – because I know the light is returning.

The Longest Night by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ted Lewin

Bauer’s simply elegant text and Ted Lewin’s marvelous illustrations capture the essence of this annual phenomenon. Lewin used just three colors, to stunning effect, in depicting the outdoor, nighttime snow scenes. Encountering his animals on the page is nearly as riveting as meeting them in real life on a dark night in the forest.

The combination of Lewin’s art with Bauer’s poetically expressed story makes this a new favorite picture book for me, one I will continue to enjoy sharing with children and use as an inspiration in my own writing.

For ages 4-8.
Golden Kite Award 2010

"A Conversation with...Marion Dane Bauer and Ted Lewin"
Publisher Holiday House's Website

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Twenty-three years ago today my youngest daughter was born. She inspired my writing from the start.

It was she who lost the shoe that began the story in Blueberry Shoe. Without her incessant desire for liberated toes, Blueberry Shoe would not exist.

Later, as planning a child’s birthday party a week before Christmas became routine, memories of her birth and her very first Christmas, when she was just one week old, got me started on Waiting for Noel: An Advent Story.

What’s next? At the moment, I don’t know. Maybe a story about left-handedness, or playing the piano with your toes, or bloody trips to the emergency room. In the meantime, she is busy creating the chapters in her adult life.

Happy birthday, daughter. May your story be rich with living and loving.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Lot of Books

Yesterday a kindergartener asked me to help her find “a book with horses.” While we were looking she commented, “You sure have a lot of books here.”

Now to my mind, this is only partially true. It’s a school library of about 8,000 volumes, which is quite modest as libraries go. Still, to her young eyes, there are indeed “a lot of books.”

Then she asked, “Why do you have so many books?” The question caught me unaware and I was slow to respond – not because I couldn’t but because I was trying to think how best to formulate my answer in terms she would understand. While I was thinking, she asked again, more insistently. “Why do you have so many books?”

To a reader, to a user of libraries, to anyone who has been a serious student, the answer is obvious: so you can find the information you need or something interesting to read. Add to that the fact that people of all ages and backgrounds have wildly different interests and preferences in reading and it’s easy to see why the variety in numbers is good.

But this little girl is just starting out on that journey of discovery. “So everyone can find something they want to read” is what I finally said.

And then we found “a book with horses.”

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Globalization of Children’s Picture Books (Or Not)

Leonard Marcus, in the November/December 2010 issue of Horn Book (my favorite magazine about children’s books) writes an interesting piece about foreign picture books – and why in the United States we see so few of them.

Everything else is going global, so why not children’s books? In the U.S. we have ready access to foreign culture through world music, foreign films, and a growing number of books for adults in translation – not to mention, the Internet. But children’s books? Not so much, despite the obvious need for American children to learn about other countries and cultures.

Marcus cites a number of factors. One is the economy. Drastically fewer picture books are being published in the United States; those that are tend to be safe bets. Books for all age levels that are most likely to turn a profit are series with proven track records and those by well-known authors and celebrities. Few foreign books fit into those categories.

Another issue, believe it or not, is sexuality. Frankness about the human body – at least for book-reading children -- is much more accepted in many other countries than in the U.S. When was the last time you saw a U.S. children’s book that depicts a breast-feeding mother? This common experience for young children and their siblings is reflected in European children’s books, but almost never in the U.S. (Passing gas, however, is wildly popular. Go figure! The Captain Underpants series, Walter the Farting Dog, and Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger, to name just a few.)

Finally, there are differences in cultural style and imagery. Americans are said to prefer more character-based illustrations, while Europeans are keen on design. Marcus also gives an example of differing cultural perceptions from Mitsumasa Anno’s well-known book from the 1970s, Anno’s Alphabet. Anno’s first “A” illustration of an angel was changed to an anvil because his Japanese angel wasn’t recognizable to Westerners.

The challenge of communicating across cultures is something for writers and illustrators to keep in mind. Cultural authenticity is prized these days; yet too much cultural specificity may render a book too “foreign” for general readership outside that culture. At the same time, children around the globe have similar basic wants and needs. Some stories have enough life of their own to reach all children.

Children want and need to learn about other cultures in this increasingly interconnected world. That’s one more reason why funding for public and school libraries is important. Librarians and teachers provide the context for children to understand more culturally specific stories. Library and school purchases help support the publication of valuable books that don’t necessarily meet the mass-sales criteria at chain stores.

Though retail rules the roost at present, I’m willing to bet that some of your most beloved children’s books got their start in schools and libraries.

Friday, December 3, 2010


The other day I received an e-mail asking permission to use a poem from my website on the blog Advent Quietness. Since then the blog writer, Twylla Alexander, and I have been e-mailing back and forth about our mutual interest in children's books, writing, and apparently, Advent. Joys and wonders of the Internet!

So it occurred to me this morning, after the second cup of coffee, that I might post my Advent poem here. Peace and blessings to you, readers, whoever and wherever you are.