May 17, 2013
These past three months have been very full--new friends and old, and new book ideas simmering as I talk with readers about earlier books.
SALT is almost ready--I've seen the jacket and will have a "hold-in-my-hands" copy in about two weeks. Then, the best part, when it finds its way into the hands of readers.
My travels have taken me to quite a variety of places:
After my trip to China, I went to Sault Ste. Marie, where I spoke to college students and adult writers, as well as children. It was cold and snowy, as were Boston and Alaska, my next two trips!
Alaska was as I remember it from when I lived there in the 80's, only, if anything, moreso. I spoke at the Alaska Library Association Conference in Valdez, and it snowed heavily the entire time we were there. Moving so many people, into, out of, and around a small town as so much snow accumulated was both exciting and a little overwhelming.
While in Alaska, I saw many of my friends from the years I taught in Telida, and the warmth and friendship was still there, immediate, even after so many years. Wonderful to meet the children and babies of the children I taught back then, and wonderful to see those former students grown into adults I love.
I had a good trip to Minnesota, visiting my sister, seeing other relatives, and speaking at an elementary school in Chanhassen about DIAMOND WILLOW. I also met with the book group of an old friend, who had figured out that another member of the book group knew my family and grew up playing with my sisters and cousins. So many connections.
Then:a few days in New York City, meeting with editors and others who support me in my writing, followed by a long weekend at the Highlights Foundation,, where I co-taught a workshop on novels-in-poems with Kelly Bingham.
Winding up this year's travel, I had a lovely week in Texas, where I saw my son and sister and niece, and spoke at six middle schools, mostly about HIDDEN. Happily, I was home in time to enjoy our flowering crabapple, in all it's Maytime glory. I love the smell of apple blossoms, and they bloom at the same time as lilacs, which I also love.
What I learned from making 8 out-of-town trips in five months is--not to do this again. Wonderful as each trip was, altogether, it was too much travel. I'm enjoying being home now, with the summer stretching ahead of me, and the luxury of deciding which of several writing projects I will bring from the back burner(s) to the front.
One last note: we have wrens nesting in one birdhouse and bluebirds exploring another (though the house sparrows are not as welcoming of the bluebirds as we are. We'll see.)
February 7, 2013
In January, I spent two weeks visiting my son, Glen, who is teaching English in Huzhou, China, this year. What an amazing experience.
The first week, we stayed in Huzhou, and Glen showed me the places he loves there. We walked a lot: climbed Ren Huang Shan (Humane Emporor Mountain), strolled in several beautiful parks, dodged traffic in the city center, and went up the steep stairs of Feiying Pagoda. We ate in little street-side cafes, in lovely restaurants, and at a Chinese Pizza Hut.
I learned to count to 100 in Chinese, though I never quite mastered the tones, which are important, so I'm not really sure what words I was saying when I thought I was saying numbers! Glen, having been there for five months, was able to understand quite a lot, and make himself understood in many situations. (I learned that gestures are not necessarily the same in all languages, so you have to be a little careful with that.)
And I learned that when you are in a country where you don't speak the language, it's important to have written directions, in the local language, not in English, to give to a taxi driver (wouldn't you think I would have figured that out long ago, and not needed to learn it now?). Though knowing how to say numbers was very helpful in such situations. And, as I find everywhere I've ever been, people are willing to help, and interested in communicating, and it can be fun to converse across languages.
A few things I loved right away:
People in many different public places, drawing, singing, dancing, teaching and learning different kinds of movement. All ages and body shapes. Dance seemed to be for good health and pleasure, not for performance, a sense of community about it. (We also saw several dance performances, but I loved the feeling of joy and dailiness of this.)
Tea--the way it is served in glass glasses sometimes, the green tea leaves floating on the top at first, then slowly sinking. Like drinking a garden. And it comes with a thermos of hot water that seems to say, "You can stay here and enjoy your tea in this beautiful place for as long as you like. Just keep pouring hot water over the tea leaves and your tea will last forever." Not quite forever, of course, but a good long while.
Chinese breakfasts--rice porridge with pickles; hard boiled eggs with soy sauce in the water (shells cracked just enough to let the soy sauce flavor the egg); dumplings with a variety of fillings.
Noodle shops--quick, delicious, inexpensive, meals.
After a few days in Huzhou, we were in Hangzhou for one day, most of which we spent walking around West Lake, famous for Longjing "Dragon Well" tea. Beautiful lake, and as Glen remarked, "Everyone here seems happy." Sort of a vacation place--that might have been part of it, but also a certain joy in the landscape that people were part of, or became part of as they (we) walked there.
Then we went to Guilin for four days. An elegant city, surrounded by beautiful karst mountains. The city planning has been such that no tall buildings obstruct the view of the mountains, so everywhere you look, there is beauty. We went on a river boat ride at night, through the city, and another, longer one during the day, out into the countryside. Each time, we saw cormorant fishermen, reminding me of "The Story of Ping."
We also went on a road trip out into the mountains, up into a village surrounded by terraced rice fields. It was not growing season, or harvest season, so the fields were brown, but still, I found them beautiful. We had lunch in the village, delicious and plentiful, again accompanied by green tea.
I've only touched on this whole experience. I did not experience any jet lag at all when I arrived in China (a 13 hour time difference), but since I've been home, I've found that I get sleepy at odd times, intense and sudden. And now I'm having trouble keeping my eyes open...
oh one other thing--the day I returned home, the bluebirds were here, as if to welcome me. Travel is good, and home is wonderful.
December 27, 2012
Today I'm looking out at a beautiful new snowfall, and at the birds that find their way to the feeders in such weather--this morning there were finches, sparrows, starlings, a woodpecker, a nuthatch, a pair of cardinals and a tufted titmouse, all within ten or fifteen minutes of each other.
And just a week ago, we were walking through the ruins of ancient Mayan communities, admiring the craftsmanship of walls, temples, and large (ten-foot tall) masks, as well as that of contemporary artists (woodwork, embroidery, painting, and musical instruments).
We were in Mexico and Belize around the time that the end of the Mayan calendar had been predicted, though when we learned more about it, we realized the 5,125-year calendar would have turned to a new cycle on August 11, last summer, rather than the December 21 date so many people were talking about.
The possibilities of such travel in the world we share are amazing and wonderful, though I am increasingly aware that my enjoyment of such travel is a big part of my contribution to climate change, and I am thinking about what adjustments I need to make.
In book news: STEP GENTLY OUT is stepping beautifully into the world, with many people of all ages expressing appreciation for it. Rick and I have recently learned that our next collaboration, SWEEP UP THE SUN (a book about birds), will be published by Candlewick in 2014. It is exciting to see it take shape.
The new paperback edition of KEESHA'S HOUSE is now on the shelves, and response to the new cover appears to be enthusiastic.
And I now have Advance Readers' Copies of SALT. I love this moment when I first see a book "on the page" and can imagine the finished book. It will be here before we know it!
Thank you for finding your way to my website. I wish you all the best for 2013!
October 4, 2012
It is a beautiful time of year. As I write this, the late afternoon light is filtering through just-turning leaves onto a palette of reds, oranges, and yellows (butterfly bush, zinnias, tomatoes, and a bright red miniature eggplant that looks more enticing than it tastes). I'm treasuring these last few days before the temperature falls below 32 degrees--the colors will fade, the tomatoes will freeze, and the goldfinches will lose their remaining gold feathers. Already, the monarchs have all begun their journey to Mexico, and I believe we have seen the last of the hummingbirds this year. I wonder if the sandhill cranes have started coming back yet--I'm listening for their distinctive call.
Twice, in recent weeks, I've received letters from young readers who have almost finished HIDDEN and want me to write a sequel. I remember that feeling, when I was a child, caught up in a story, wanting to know how it ended and wanting it to go on forever, all at the same time. I'm touched at the thought that a child would stop reading and take the time to write to me, to let me know about that feeling.
Wherever you are, whatever the season, I hope you are taking time to see and hear whatever is around you.
August 9, 2011
This week I've been watching the olympics in the evenings, and going over the copyedited manuscript of SALT during the daytime hours. I'm glad to be a writer, rather than an athlete. We can take our time, and make our mistakes, without crowds of people watching us; there is teamwork involved (editors, book designers, and all the people who get our books into the hands of readers), and there are deadlines to meet; there is sometimes competition, but it's different from athletic competition. I like the fact that the success of our work never comes down to how well we do in one specific moment. We can take weeks, months, even years, to think about something until it seems right.
This new book, SALT, is like that. I've been thinking about the story for over twenty years, trying to find a way to tell it in a way that children can understand and appreciate. Set in 1812, it explores a friendship between two 12-year-olds, a Miami (Native American) boy named Anikwa, and James, the son of a trader.
SALT: A story of Friendship in a Time of War, will be published next summer by Frances Foster Books/FSG/MacMillan. I'll post the cover soon.
June 5, 2012
Garden planted, space for vegetables and flowers.
Time for reading AND writing this summer.
May 31, 2012
As news of Peter Sieruta's sudden passing has spread across the internet, I have been struck by how much pure love is being shared--love for Peter, love for children's books, and, in a way that Peter would have found delightful and perhaps surprising, love for one another.
Several people who never met Peter in person, upon learning that I had the privilege of meeting him at a recent book event, have asked me what he looked like. Others have commented on the fact that there are no photographs of him online (or maybe there is one from his early childhood), and asked his brother if he might post a picture. It's an interesting question for his family to answer. I can see good arguments on either side.
As for what Peter might have wanted, I'll share a brief moment: As he was leaving the bookstore that evening, I asked if he'd like to be in a picture (with me and several other authors). His response was an emphatic NO!!! (I heard it as, "I got myself here. I had a good time. Don't push your luck.") We laughed a bit about the intensity of his reply, and I teased him just a little, and wondered later if I shouldn't have--it was clearly personal to him.
He described himself as very shy, but there's something about that word that isn't quite right. There was a deep and conscious choice, partly based on the difficulty (pain) he experienced in social interactions, but more to it than that--a positive side of keeping a social distance, protecting something of great value, and knowing you are doing that.
It's clear that his qualities of intelligence, kindness, humor, caring, and thoughtfulness came through loud and clear in all his online interactions. We all have a lot to learn from him about expressing questions about a book, or anything else, with a dose of humility so genuine that the questions generate further conversation, and are not hurtful.
I will say a bit about what he looks like: someone you might pass in the aisles of a bookstore or sit beside on an airplane and never know how enriching a conversation with him might be. Brown hair, average height, above average weight, and--I think but I'm not sure--brown eyes. I'm not sure because it's not the color I recall. It's the dazzle of knowledge behind them, the quick decisions about how much of that knowledge to share, the delight in learning something new.
I wonder if he knew how beloved he was (and is). I think he probably did, but maybe he didn't want us to know he knew.
Because then we might have been scared of him, and that would not have served him, or us, well.
May 30, 2012
It has been a long time since I've written anything here--busy spring with lots of travel, launching STEP GENTLY OUT, and finishing a novel, SALT: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War--to be published by Frances Foster Books/ FSG next spring, probably May, maybe a little earlier. I love this feeling of anticipation when my part in the book is mostly finished, and now I get to wait to see what the jacket artist and book designer will do to bring it to life.
Time to plant vegetables and flowers and slow down a bit for a month or so.
February 3, 2012
On January 1, a cold snowy day, we had three bluebirds at our feeders, the first time I'd seen bluebirds since last spring when a pair of them apparently lost their argument over nesting sites to the house sparrows.
Since then, we've seen them three more times (two one time, three another, and yesterday, four of them!). It makes me so happy, whenever I see them. I'll put the nest boxes out again, hoping they may prevail this year.
December 24, 2011
When I was a child, this was the day that my dad would take each of us (ten kids in all) to the "five and ten cent store" so that we could buy gifts for one another. The gifts would be small and, as I look back on them, maybe a little amusing: a box of bandaids, a set of barrettes, a box of paperclips... We loved receiving these things; when you live in a house with so many other people, there's something very cool about having a hundred paperclips of your very own.
What impresses me now, is that my father was able to keep track of all the gifts--he remembered who had purchased what for whom, so that we didn't receive ten barrettes and no crayons, for example.
Wrapping the gifts was highly secretive and fun, and opening them took hours. We opened gifts on Christmas Eve, one at at time. Our parents usually bought us clothes, our grandmother made pajamas for each of us, one of our aunts gave us a box of Fanny Farmer French Mints (to this day, that is the taste of Christmas Eve for me).
Whoever you are, reading this, I thank you for visiting my website, and hope you have good memories of your own childhood. I love the connections we make through our reading and writing.
November 5, 2011
A week ago I received an award. This is what I wrote to try to share the special flavor of that evening:
At my table at the awards banquet, I’m surrounded by friends and family, and we relax in the light of the white floating candle on our table. The conversation is gentle, easy, quietly celebratory.
When my name is called, I step up onto the stage to receive the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award, one of three that will be given on this elegant evening. I look out at the banquet hall, holding in my hand a small paper with my notes of people to thank, a few remarks on what this means to me, maybe a small joke.
But the podium is dark. I can’t read my notes, and I am dazzled, as the lights of all the candles shine up at me from the round white tables in this room which is not usually a banquet hall, it is a library--the old, beautifully modernized, Central Indianapolis Library. The moment has such deep presence: the presence of these three hundred people who have come together out of a shared love of books, who write books and read them and care deeply about them. And there’s the surrounding presence of the books on the library shelves, and all the people who have written and read them, all the librarians who have helped make connections between writers and readers.
I am surprised to discover that I am completely at ease among all these friends, known and unknown. I have no anxiety about saying the wrong thing, or forgetting to say the right thing. I find words to accept the recognition this award represents, and my words are in turn accepted: I belong in this world. And I am aware that this feeling, unusual though it may be, fully belongs to each of us, in every moment.
Later, as if in confirmation of this glimpse of truth, a young woman approaches me and asks me to sign one of my children’s books. She tells me that she was on the selection committee for this award, and that she’s from Winamac, a small rural town that I remember from a long-ago poets-in-the-schools residency. Might this woman, I wonder, have been a teacher or a librarian and have met me at that time?
No, she tells me, “I was in elementary school, and you came to my classroom. I have a signed copy of your first book of poetry.”
So many circles and spirals. Such deep and ongoing connection.
September 18, 2011
I haven't seen very many monarchs this summer--no eggs or caterpillars or chrysalises. I'm not sure why--others have noticed the same thing.
I had a funny idea this week--funny only because it's so obvious and took me so long to see it. Whenever I do a school or library visit that focusses on MONARCH AND MILKWEED, I take milkweed seeds and encourage the children (and adults) to plant milkweed for monarchs. It's been a somewhat laborious and messy process: 1. let the milkweed pods dry and split open
2. take the seeds out
3. shake out as much of the fluff as possible (but there's always some left)
4. put the seeds in little plastic bags, trying to guess the right number of seeds for individual children or for a classroom.
So--the other day I was picking milkweed pods, intending to gather the seeds for school children, and I LOOKED at what I held in my hand: a perfect container for milkweed seeds, nicely zipped up and probably just about the right number for a class of 25-30 kids to have ten or so seeds each. The pod itself is the perfect container!
So now, before they burst and send their seeds flying all around my neighborhood (I suspect my neighbors think I've sent enough milkweed seeds their way over the past ten or fifteen years)--I will put each pod in a plastic bag, left open so the pod can dry, but not exposed to wind, so the seeds will stay contained until I give it to a teacher or child.
And school custodians everywhere will thank me when they don't have to vacuum up milkweed fluff in the wake of my visit.
Though I know I won't be able to resist blowing just a few seeds out into the audience, always such a fun moment, when the kids scramble for the flying seeds as they parachute down.
July 20, 2011
What a good month this is turning out to be.
I've just learned that I'll be awarded the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award, in the regional category, at an awards dinner and ceremony on October 29th. In addition to the award I'll receive, there is an award to the library of my choice--what a wonderful way to celebrate libraries, books, authors, and readers!
We've just had another wonderful week of Miami daycamp. I learned some of the Myaamia language along with the children, who are delightful. This year, a highlight of the week was a bus trip to important Miami sites such as the Forks of the Wabash and Seven Pillars.
Not too many monarchs so far this summer. I've seen a few, but haven't found any eggs on the milkweed.
June 14, 2011
The highlight of May was a two-week trip to Denmark! My grandfather came to America from Denmark in 1889, and I was able to meet his brother's grandchildren, and see the places I have heard about for so many years.
I loved the light, and the colors of many of the buildings--warm yellows and oranges.
We saw the place where Danish fishermen smuggled Jewish Danes to Sweden during World War II, as Lois Lowry depicts in Number the Stars.
I met Bodil Bredsdorff, a Danish children's author I love.
We visited the Hans Christian Andersen birthplace and museum.
We saw ancient stone circles and burial mounds, beautiful churches, wild and beautiful seacoasts, and carefully tended gardens.
Denmark is a beautiful country!
June 13, 2011
A baltimore oriole came to our backyard today. They seem to show up about once a year, often during the time the cherries are ripe. I suppose the birds can be forgiven for thinking the two cherry trees are giant birdfeeders. They always save a few for us.
May 10, 2011
First shoots of milkweed ready to welcome the monarchs.
Crabapple tree in full, beautiful, bloom.
A single purple flower I planted and forgot about popping out to surprise me.
Lilacs offering their "almost out" fragrance.
White Crown Sparrows at the feeders--probably migrating through, they've been here for about ten days.
DIAMOND WILLOW out in paperback today (published by Square Fish).
And: HIDDEN here at last, finding its readers.
Happy May 10th!
March 10, 2011
Allen County Public Library has done a very nice
10-minute interview about my writing process, how I work with editors, etc. At the end, I read the first few pages of HIDDEN.
They hope this will be the first in a series of author interviews that they can have in the library and put online.
March 1, 2011
A bluebird--a pair of them, in fact--has been visiting our back yard this past week or so. I've been putting out food they like, and a birdbath, and a bluebird house. Unfortunately the sparrows think the bluebird house is a sparrow house, and they are territorial, so I don't have high hopes for the bluebirds to nest in our birdhouse. But maybe they'll keep coming here for food.
I saw a downy woodpecker yesterday too--a female, no red on her head. Such a sweet little bird, very bright black and white.
January 19, 2011
Very exciting news! Ivy Tech Community College is sponsoring a Community Reads event based on Keesha's House which includes scholarships up to $1000 for creative responses to Keesha's House.
On March 31, Lisa Tsetse and Ketu Oladuwa will join me in presenting an arts workshop at Ivy Tech from 2-4 pm, followed by a reading and discussion from 7-9 that evening.
For more information, go to the Ivy Tech website: Community Read--Keesha's House
December 20, 2010
A poem I wrote recently--
Where Grass is Pressed
When you’ve heard a door
and the wind is dying down
and the road is longer
than it should be, longer
than you thought it would be
and no one can tell you
how much farther on
the window in the welcome place
look for a circle
where grass is pressed
into the ground, where it hasn’t
sprung back up yet--look
for the places where the animals
have slept. Rest is recent,
rest is possible again.
Close your eyes and nestle
into sleep, into love.
December 1, 2010
Melvin John NIkolai, 1974-2010
I will never forget Johnny Nikolai. He was seven years old when I first moved to Telida, Alaska. I was his teacher from 1981-1984, and he taught me more than I taught him.
Johnny’s ears were sharp and he always knew exactly what he was hearing; he could tell how far away an airplane was, and interpret the sound of sticks breaking in the woods. He could read the movement of the river and the stories told by animal tracks, which meant he could catch more fish and snare more rabbits than most people three times his age.
Reading words on a page didn’t come quite so easily to him, and after I tried all the things I had learned in my education courses, I finally thought to ask Johnny if he knew why reading was hard for him. He looked at me with a surprised expression and said, “When I need to know how to read, I’ll learn.” (I talked this over with his mother and she said, “I’ll stop telling him what’s in the soup cans.”)
Likewise in math, Johnny was often two or three steps ahead of me. Once we were doing a math exercise to learn patterns. Using stamp pads and rolls of adding machine tape, the idea was to stamp repeating patterns such as: dinosaur, dinosaur, fox; dinosaur, dinosaur, fox; dinosaur, dinosaur, fox. I looked at Johnny’s tape and thought he was just having fun stamping randomly--his tape was about fifteen feet long, and I could see no pattern. Until he pointed it out to me--something like: dinosaur, fox, daisy, shoe, sun, moon, star; dinosaur, dinosaur, fox, fox, daisy, daisy, shoe, shoe, sun, sun, moon, moon, star, star; dinosaur, dinosaur, dinosaur, fox, fox, fox...etc. See if you can figure it out faster than I did.
Johnny could be full of mischief, but he could also be kind-hearted and thoughtful, patient and attentive. I feel lucky to have known him.
September 30, 2010
I've raised a black swallowtail butterfly from an egg I saw a butterfly lay on queen anne's lace in my backyard on September 20, and today it made its first flight!
September 27th, 2010
Candlewick will publish Step Gently Out, a picture book collaboration with Rick Lieder. His nature photographs are as magnificent as his other artwork. The book will come out Spring, 2012.
August 13, 2010
Hidden will be a spring 2011 title on Frances Foster's list (FSG/MacMillan). I can't wait to see what the cover will be.
Monarchs are emerging from chrysalises every day. That first flight is always so beautiful.
Pears are ripening. Lots of them.
July 23, 2010
(Celebrating 27 years of a joyful marriage to Chad.)
The past two weeks, I've participated in two camps for Miami children:
--an overnight camp at the Indiana Dunes, and
--a day camp on the IPFW campus (here in Fort Wayne, Indiana). The children were learning the myaamia language and culture from enthusiastic and knowledgeable teachers.
You can see photos of the day camp here.
Neewe (thank you) to everyone involved.
And this week, I'm enjoying the monarchs as they rest on the flowers and milkweed I've planted for them. At the moment, I'm caring for 4 monarch eggs, two small caterpillars, and seven chrysalises. In about a week, the monarchs will emerge.
June 2, 2010
My book has changed shape several times, and is now finished, except for final polishing. It will come out next spring, in time for summer reading (part of it is set in a summer camp).
I'm taking a few deep breaths before embarking on the journey to discover my next book.
Off for a family reunion on the Oregon coast tomorrow!
March 2, 2010
Yesterday a Carolina Wren and an Eastern Bluebird visited our backyard, and today a small white bird I don't recognize. It was turning its head almost like an owl would, but it's way too small to be an owl.
Other visitors are: cardinals, grackles, blue jays, finches, woodpeckers, nuthatches, sparrows, and then the chipmunks and squirrels scampering everywhere. A squirrel must have run off with one of the feeders--a metal stick that goes through a cylinder of suet and seeds, and hooks onto the feeder. I can't find it anywhere.
February 8, 2010
Friday afternoon, I received a wonderful phone call letting me know that Crossing Stones is an honor book for the 2010 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award.
Congratulations to Alice Schertle, who won the award, and Betsy Franco and Mary Ann Hoberman, whose books are also honored. Such wonderful company!
Sylvia Vardell writes about it on her blog: Poetry for Children.
Huge thanks to:
* Lee Bennett Hopkins
* this year's committee
* the Pennsylvania Center for the Book.
Here's a Christmas recipe I make almost every December. It comes to me from my father's mother, and probably came with her and her family from Norway in the mid-1800's. I have an electric Krumkake iron, which makes two cookies at a time, in about 40 seconds (once the iron is hot).
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
2 eggs, well-beaten
1 cup milk
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
Cream sugar and shortening.
Add flour/baking powder and milk a little at a time, alternating wet and dry ingredients.
Put about a tablespoon of batter in the center of the iron and bake until golden brown (less than a minute for each pair).
Roll quickly over a dowel or wooden cone-shape.
October 8, 2009
I've been working hard to finish a book, and now that it's almost finished, I'm finding it hard to let go of the story and characters. There will be lots more interaction with these two girls as the book goes through the editing process, and the process of book design--but for a few more days here, the story is "mine" in a way it won't be once I send it off to my editor next week.
It's wonderful to see Crossing Stones coming through the doorway, entering the world--a full-fledged book now, finding its readers, its place in our conversation, our community of readers and writers.
September 4, 2009
We had a wonderful conference in Fort Wayne last weekend about "Community-Based Language Revival." So many of the languages that were once spoken on the land we now call America are no longer spoken by very many people. The speakers at the conference acknowledged the deep sadness of this, while challenging the notion that the death of such languages is inevitable.
We had speakers from Canada, Ohio, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Indiana.
A few notes:
Daryl Baldwin told us about the Myaamia Project at Miami University, and about "family immersion" as a way of bringing back a language that has been called extinct. He and his family speak Miami in their home, and his children have grown up knowing how to converse in Miami.
"Language" is not a noun in all languages.
"I want to demonstrate a strength of purpose when I use this language I was given."
Donald Perrot, one of 6 fluent speakers of Potawatomi, out of 34,000 tribal members--he spoke the language exclusively until he was 6 years old; he's 70 now.
Other speakers: Chad Thompson, Gretta Yoder Owen, Scott Shoemaker, and Paul Stone. (I wish I'd taken more and better notes, as I don't want to mis-quote anyone, so I'm not being specific about what each speaker said. (I also spoke about the use of English and Dinak'i in Telida, Alaska, 1981-1884.)
July 28, 2009
I was asked to write a short piece of advice for someone who is writing, or wants to try writing, a verse-novel. I thought I'd share my response here:
I usually call my books novels-in-poems rather than verse-novels.
It's important to learn the craft of poetry, and become adept at using all the tools in the poetry toolbox.
I love the music of language, the intricacies of the way sound patterns and patterns of meaning intersect and weave together, the way language brings it's own history into a story so that the story becomes multi-layered--the story of the narrative and the story of how the narrative takes shape within language.
It's not easy, but if it's done well, the effort can--in the most glorious moments of writing and reading--become unfelt and invisible. That happens when you go so deeply into the story-poem that language is doing all the heavy lifting. Language can do that for you because it has evolved through eons of specificity. Our job is to trust it.
May 12, 2009
A swan has made a nest between a restaurant and a pond in Fort Wayne, and doesn't seem to mind if I go close enough to take pictures. She's beautiful, and I'm not alone in eagerly anticipating her babies--any day now!
February 21, 2008
Something that made me really happy this month:
the announcement of the 2009 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award for Diamond Willow. There were so many great books of poetry for children published in 2008; the knowledge that this particular committee read all of them and selected my book fills me with gratitude. And I always find that deep gratitude is a firm standing place from which to launch new work. So, thank you, to:
* Lee Bennett Hopkins
* this year's committee
* the Pennsylvania Center for the Book.
Congratulations to Margarita Engle and Patricia McKissack whose books are also honored.
January 18, 2009
We're having an unusually cold winter in northeast Indiana this year. Just before Christmas, we had an ice-storm that left about 80,000 homes without power for 4 or 5 days, and now we're having sub-zero temperatures, so everyone is scrambling to keep pipes from freezing, or to thaw them out once they have frozen.
It makes me remember my years in Alaska, when this kind of weather was the norm for five or six months each winter. In Fairbanks, the schools had indoor recess if the temperature was colder than 20 below zero, but when it was warmer than that, everyone just bundled up in snow-suits and Sorel boots and fur hats and went outside to play.
In Telida, the small community where I lived and taught school for three years, we didn't worry about freezing pipes because we didn't have running water in our homes. We didn't have electricity, so power outages were not a problem. But we did have to be sure to keep a good woodpile, a mix of spruce to get a fire going, and birch to keep it burning hot. When the temperature was 40-60 below, I'd get up several times each night to stoke the fire, and still my water bucket would be frozen in the morning.
I'm a little nostalgic for the coziness of those winter nights, the northern lights sweeping the sky, moose tracks in the deep snow, and everyone helping each other get through the winter.
November 25, 2008
I'm remembering my mother, Jean Timmons Frost, who lived from March 30, 1917 to November 16, 2008. She raised ten children and had 24 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren, most of whom gathered in Los Alamos, New Mexico last weekend to honor and appreciate her.
Think of the time-span of her life. She recalled the first time she saw an airplane--at a demonstration by the Wright brothers in Minneapolis when she was a child. She was born before women could vote, and lived through WWI, the depression, and most of WWII before she began the 40 years of her life that would be primarily, but never exclusively, devoted to her children.
She and my father had a loving, fun, supportive marriage, and I feel exceptionally lucky to be a part of the family they brought into the world.
October 29, 2008
And now I can show you the final jacket art for Crossing Stones. Isn't it beautiful? The story takes place in 1917, in rural Michigan. The book will be out next fall, Frances Foster Books, FSG.
October 3, 2008
My next book, Crossing Stones, is beginning to seem real. The initial sketch of a possible jacket design gives a sense of the time (1917) and the form (water flowing over stones).
September 28, 2008
Crock Pot Apple Butter
“Marlene’s recipe” from Diane Schmucker
Core and slice apples.
Heap in crock pot.
2-2 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
Put lid on crock pot.
Cook on low for 12 hours.
Take lid off crock pot.
Cook on high for 2 hours.
Remove from crock pot and put in blender.
Store in freezer.
September 17, 2008
Where did summer go?
The bluejay family entertained us for weeks, and is not so much in evidence now.
Our pear tree had it's most prolific year yet.
Crossing Stones has been copyedited, and I've seen the sketches for the cover design, by Richard Tuschman--just beautiful! It makes the book seem so real. It will be out in about a year.
And this weekend is the Johnny Appleseed Festival here in Fort Wayne, one of my favorite weekends of the year--old-time music, food cooked over wood fires, great craft booths, fresh apple cider, warm caramel corn, and a crowd that always seems both large and intimate.
June 22, 2008
We were in Scotland for two weeks, mostly on the Isle of Barra. I was able to renew old friendships and share the places I love with Chad, as well as discovering new places and meeting new people. Especially delightful were the young people we met in Castlebay School.
I noticed much more Gaelic being spoken than I remember from my last visit, four years ago. I didn't learn much myself, but I think if I spent a year or so there, I could learn it.
Since we've been home, we've been picking cherries from our two trees. The birds got more than we did--it was fun to see the birds, and this evening I saw a family of fledgling blue jays on the branches of one of the trees (now empty of cherries). I wonder where the nest is.
May 18, 2008
Sometimes I see ducks wandering around the streets in our neighborhood, but I've never seen one in our yard. We aren't close enough to water, and there aren't any of the hidden places that ducks like. The other day, I found an egg nestled into the mulch around the lamppost in our front yard. I think it's a gift left by a duck who knows it can't nest here, but would if it could.
March 28, 2008
I'm enjoying the response to both my new books.
Crocuses are appearing, woodpeckers are back, robins are everywhere, goldfinches are turning gold again--I'm pretty sure all this is a good indication that spring is close!
I heard Marianne Boruch read from her new book, Grace, Fallen From, on Monday evening--a beautiful reading, and, as always with Marianne's work, a gorgeous book inside and out. If you're looking for a way to celebrate National Poetry Month this April, this book would be a great place to start.
November 29, 2007
Each year at this time, the sandhill cranes gather at Jasper Pulaski Wildlife Reserve, about 2 1/2 hours from Fort Wayne, and we meet friends there to watch the birds. Last Saturday, at dusk, we watched about 14,000 sandhill cranes fly in and land in the field. Some of them circled very close to us on their way in--the sound they make is beautiful, haunting. One of our friends saw a whooping crane. As we were leaving, a full orange moon rose over the horizon.
November 20, 2007
I've been in New York and Philadelphia for ten days. A few highlights:
The Leo House, on 23rd Street in NYC--a quiet place to stay, with a great breakfast buffet every morning. Started over 100 years ago as a safe, welcoming place for German immigrants, and still offering that welcome to travelers.
Poets House workshop at Mulberry Street library with a great group of teens who wrote and shared some really good poems.
Learning my way around the trains and busses in NYC, and getting a sense of what's "walking distance" there.
One last visit to FSG at their iconic adddress of 19 Union Square West, before their move to 18th street. Lunch with my wonderful editor/publisher, Frances Foster.
A first visit to Simon and Schuster to meet the people behind Monarch and Milkweed.
NCTE / ALAN -- four days of meeting old friends and making new friends.
Poetry teaching panel with Ingrid Wendt and Terry Hermsen.
Poetry Blast with 12 children's poets
Notable books roundtable
ALAN panel about novels-in-poems with Allan Wolf, moderated by Lynne Alvine.
So many great books for young people, and so many intelligent people reading them, somehow keeping up with it all.
And now, I'm home for Thanksgiving.
October 17, 2007
I had a great time in Michigan last weekend at a booksigning sponsored by a delightful bookstore, Book Beat, in Oak Park, Michigan.
Kathe pointed out that "Sarah's book, Miss Spitfire, has a character named Helen (Helen Keller--the book is told in the voice of Annie Sullivan), and Helen's book, The Braid, has a character named Sarah."
Kathe's book, Kissing the Bee, has an excepeionally well-drawn portrayal of a healthy mother-daughter relationship. Teen readers will find that supportive and interesting, and will be immediately caught up in the just-complicated-enough love relationship at the story's center.
September 23, 2007
I've tagged 50 monarchs, which are now on their way to Mexico. Eight more are still in their chrysalis form. No more caterpillars. The milkweed is beginning to burst open and send its seeds flying.
September 1, 2007
I've been busy with butterflies!
This summer I've found over 200 monarch eggs, too many for the small tent I've been using the past few summers.
I set up a larger tent in our backyard, and put the caterpillars there, fed them milkweed, and watched them grow and make their chrysalises, then become butterflies. About 50 have flown so far; I'm now tagging them and hoping they will make it to Mexico. There are about 50 left in various stages. No more eggs on the milkweed. The asters are in full bloom, which is a sign that the monarchs are heading south.
July 31, 2007
I've just received the cover design for my next novel, Diamond Willow, set in interior Alaska. This always makes a book seem more real. I love a cover that leads me deeper into my own book, as this one does. The artwork is by Max Grafe.
July 4, 2007
Our friends, Mervin and Keturah Schmucker, are facing huge expenses for their baby, Uriah, who was hospitalized with spinal meningitis for several weeks last winter. Uriah has a beautiful smile and is making good progress, with much love and support from friends and family. I would like to extend that sense of community to my own circle of friends, family, and readers.
If you are in a position to help this lovely family, you may make checks out to:
Mervin Schmucker Fund
and send them to:
c/o Mervin Schmucker Fund
P.O. Box 99
Grabill, IN 46741
Thank you, from me, and from the Schmucker family.
Here's a great summer recipe:
from Colleen Benninghoff
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
4 tsp. lavender (flowers, dried or fresh picked)
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
Cream butter and sugar 'til light and fluffy.
Add eggs, vanilla and lavender and bear well.
Add dry ingredients and mix well.
Drop by teaspoons on a greased cookie sheet.
Bake 12-15 minutes at 375.
May 5, 2007
I put some Angelique Tulip bulbs in the ground last fall, with a spoonful of cayenne pepper to keep the squirrels from digging them up, and it seems to have worked. They're beautiful!
TLA (Texas Library Association meeting) in San Antonio was great. I met several people whose blogs I've read--always so interesting to see the physical smiles and gestures of a person you've met only in words--and was on a panel on "YA Voices" with Sharon Draper, Paul Volponi and John Green, moderated by Tina Sanders (YALSA). The poets, a panel moderated by Sylvia Vardell, were next door at the same time; I wish I could have been in both rooms at once!
I'm missing Janet McDonald. We became friends during the past year, and her passing leaves a big empty place. Her voice was so deeply textured, her Condi Rice impersonations hilarious.
Here's what she wrote when I asked her to tell me something beautiful about Paris:
"when warm weather opens my windows on the courtyard whispers of conversation float in, faint enough for words to sound like a hum but clear enough to let me know someone is there if i need them."
March 28, 2007
I've just returned from Los Alamos, New Mexico, where my family gathered to celebrate my mother's 90th birthday. My father would have been 100 on April 26 this year.
February 15, 2007
Fort Wayne is buried in snow this week, quiet and beautiful.
The children of the neighborhood spent most of yesterday making a ferocious-looking fort, with sharp spikes of hard snow sticking out all over it, and a hole in the side so they can roll their ammo into it. Very impressive.
In book news:
Diamond Willow has been copy-edited and is on its way in the journey from manuscript to book. Max Grafe has agreed to do the jacket art.
January 8, 2007
I received the illustrations for Monarch and Milkweed, and they are beautiful! I'm very excited about the book.
I always do a lot of baking around the holidays. I love knowing that I am making the same cookies and breads as my ancestors in Scotland, Denmark, and Norway, and that others in my family are making the same things in other places around the world.
Here is one of my favorite recipes:
Sift together and set aside:
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp. soda
1 cup sugar
To the juice and grated rind of one orange, add:
2 Tablespoons butter or margarine and
enough boiling water to make 3/4 cup
Add this to one well-beaten egg
Add dry ingredients and mix well
Add 1 cup chopped walnuts
Add 1 cup cranberries, cut in half
Pour into greased loaf pan(s) (1 large, 2 small, or 4 mini)
Bake at 325 degrees F. about 1 1/2 hours for large, 1 hour for small, 45 minutes for mini
Test -- cake tester should come out clean
Best if stored 24 hours before serving
Will keep weeks in refrigerator, months in freezer
November 29, 2006
I travelled to Austin, Texas and delivered the quilt I've been working on, a wedding quilt for Lloyd and Penny based on an old family quilt pattern.
There are still monarchs in Austin, but we didn't see the one we mailed there last month--here's hoping it's made it to Mexico, or is well on its way by now.
In other news:
Diamond Willow, set in Alaska, scheduled for publication in 2008, is now finished, and in the hands of the talented FSG copyeditors and book designers.
Monarch and Milkweed, Atheneum, also scheduled for publication in 2008, is with Leonid Gore, who is doing beautiful illustrations.
October 16-19, 2006
The last 2 monarchs were still in their chrysalises when the temperature dropped below 55 degrees farenheit, the lowest temperature at which they can fly. I knew they wouldn't make it to Mexico if I released them here (Fort Wayne, Indiana), so I decided to try mailing one to my son Lloyd in Austin, Texas, where it is much warmer. I put it in a glasine envelope (the kind they put stamps in at the post office), put a sprig of a nectaring flower within reach of its proboscis, then put the envelope in a padded box, and didn't tape over all the edges, hoping some air would get in.
I mailed it on Saturday morning, and this afternoon (Monday) it arrived in Austin, alive! As soon as Lloyd opened the envelope, it flew straight out and up into a tree.
He called me and told me to turn on my iChat, and we opened a video chat, with him pointing the camera at the monarch in the tree. I could see it spreading its wings in preparation for it's long flight (but not as long as it would have been without the lift from the USPS)! I put a MonarchWatch tag on it before mailing it, so if someone finds it in Mexico, we will know it made it!
Here's Lloyd's response when asked to describe the butterfly's arrival:
I'm afraid there isn't much to account, as it unfolded rather quickly (making a narrative of it somewhat lacking in important details). While I'm certainly not above making up details, the account is still too recent to warrant such embellishment. I will, however, give an outline.
+ When the package arrived, Cameron asked me not to tell Jordan, as he feared the butterfly would be dead, and this would upset his sister. The reality is that it would have probably upset him more, but three cheers for a kind older brother anyways. Hurrah! x3.
+ Helen's packing job was up to her usual standards.
+ The monarch, upon release, was quite feisty. It couldn't fly too well and kept sort of sputtering around and landing. I was about to ask the kids to distract the cat (her name is No. 6 and she likes feisty things that sputter around), when the monarch flew out the window on to a tree outside the front window.
+ The monarch slowly opened and closed its wings for several minutes on that tree. This is where the picture was taken.
+ The monarch flew to a higher tree, slightly south of the first tree, and then eventually to a higher tree, and then eventually it disappeared over the house and disappeared - flying south. Viva la Mexico! Viva Zapata! It promised to bring me back some stuff from the pharmacia. Nothing hard core - just some antibiotics as at least one person in my house has been sick for the past month.
Helen has pledged to send a new monarch, arriving on Thursday. I'll try and draw that one out a little more so I can give you an account full of flowery language, philosophical reflections and a grand conclusion that makes us reflect on our own humanity.
Maybe Helen can write a poem.
October 20--the second butterfly also made the journey and is now on its way to Mexico from Austin. So far, no philosophy from Lloyd nor poetry from me, but great rejoicing all around!
September 2, 2006
Too long since I've added anything--so what IS new? I have my author copies of The Braid, and I've given a copy to my mother. The official release date is October 13.
There were lots of monarchs this year; I'm waiting for the last 6 chrysalises to make their transformation into butterflies.
And the winner is...
June 17, 2006
The Atlanta Film Festival's Southeastern Media Award, an award that gives $100,000 of in-kind services to the winning screenplay has been awarded to Steve Coulter and Dee Wagner for : KEESHA'S HOUSE!
The Monarchs are back!
June 15, 2006
I've seen several monarchs and put protective sleeves around two caterpillars and two eggs.
The returning monarchs look a little travel-worn as they look for milkweed and nectaring plants. I'm glad I've planted those things in my garden to welcome the monarchs back!
Keesha's House Screenplay
The screenplay for Keesha's House (see original entry below) is one of five finalists in the Atlanta Film Festival's Southeastern Media Award. The award gives $100,000 of in-kind services to the winning script. The winner will be announced on June 17th, the last day of the festival. Good luck, Steve and Dee!
May 26, 2006
The robins hatched and grew and flew.
When the first one flew, I was in the back yard, about 20 feet away lifting my camera to point it at the nest. Within about 3 seconds, the baby launched itself from the nest and the mother robin launched itself straight at me. I ran screaming in the opposite direction, and the robin chased me all the way around my house until I ran inside and closed the door behind me. When I looked out into the back yard, the mother robin, a cardinal, and a sparrow, were all positioned in the branches of a maple tree above the fledgling: they were either cheering it on or protecting it from me. I saw the second baby make its first flight a few hours later. The next morning, the last baby was still in the nest, along with the fourth egg, which had never hatched. This last baby fledged later that morning.
April 26, 2006
Today would have been my father's 99th birthday.
A robin is nesting outside our back door. We have watched her make the nest and lay four eggs.
Keesha's House Movie
Steve Coulter and Dee Wagner have bought the movie rights to Keesha's House, and have written a beautiful screenplay.
I met Steve and Dee through their movie, The Etiquette Man, when I read an article about the movie and recognized the pseudonym that my friend Ruth Langhinrichs used when she wrote an advice column for teens in the 50's. Steve and Dee found a copy of Ruth's book, Boy Dates Girl, in a used bookstore and used it in the creation of their delightful short film. The Cinema Center, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, brought Steve and Dee to Fort Wayne to help celebrate Ruth's 80th birthday. That was where this all began!
Stay tuned for further details as work on the movie goes forward.
Sometime in June, the first Monarch butterfly shows up in my backyard, drawn to the milkweed I have planted. I watch for the butterflies to lay their eggs on the milkweed leaves, and when I find a butterfly egg, I protect it and observe it as it hatches into a tiny caterpillar, grows and transforms into a chrysalis, and emerges into a butterfly.
I tag the butterflies for Monarch Watch and release them. They leave Indiana and migrate to Mexico.
Below--reconstructed traditional village in Denmark