What’s New?

In this corner of my website I post news about books, travel, backyard birds and flowers, maybe a few recipes and photos. It’s interesting to look back through the archived posts from the first ten years on my previous website and see when birds arrive, when I traveled to different places, and how books occasionally change titles.

May 26, 2020

What a strange spring this has been, and now it’s summer.

Thank you, teachers, parents, students, friends–everyone who has shifted gears so suddenly and made learning possible these past weeks. I’ve received quite a few letters from children who are reading my books and I’m so glad to see what they notice and tell me about. I’ll share a few excerpts:

Carter writes about SALT, “I love your book! Before we read it, I picked Little Turtle as my famous Hoosier. When I opened up the book I was so excited it took place in Kekionga and with the Miami tribe.”

Marin, also writing about SALT, especially loves the “..small poems included after every section. The poem I love the most is Salt Streaks. I don’t know how to even describe it. It is just amazing. Another small poem I love is The Deer’s Heart because you put the words in a sideways heart. It is sort of sad for the deer though.”

Amalya, writing about HIDDEN, says, “The book you wrote, Hidden, is by far the best book I have ever read. I read this book 5 times. It is written fantastically. I like this book because of how things like this could happen maybe not exactly like this but quite similar. I felt bad for Wren because of the anxiety it put me through. I can’t imagine what she went through; I know it is just a book, but it felt so real. … In the end, I liked how Darra and Wren met again at camp, I think that is what makes this so much better than the other books.”

And Renee, a mom reading HIDDEN with her daughter at home, writes, “I bought the book Hidden for my oldest daughter when she was 11.  She and I both loved it.  Now my littlest daughter is 11.  I love to read books with or before my girls do so I can discuss them.” She had a question about the book and took the time to write to me. I thought that was amazing. What a great example of parent-turned-teacher.

Thank you and congratulations to all the teachers, parents, and students who have made this school year work as well as possible. It’s been hard, I know, and you’ve done it.

As for me, I have enjoyed the time at home, reading, writing, cleaning, gardening, though I miss going out in the wider world as much as I used to. Now that summer is here, I’m seeing flowers and insects and other creatures return as they do every summer. A milkweed plant that popped up near a small rosebush last summer has come back bigger than ever, and I am happy to think of the monarchs on their way to meet it.

My hope for the milkweed and the rosebush is that, like all of us, they will be able to live side-by-side, neither of them overwhelming the other as they bring their gifts to the beautiful world.

I hope you all remain in good health, and that you will have time for leisurely summer reading.

Are You Home?

March 26, 2020

Many of you (teachers, students, librarians, parents, others) are having school at home for a few weeks. It’s not what any of us have planned on, and we are all missing things we were looking forward to. Here are a few ideas of things you might do to keep learning while you are out of school.

Is your library closed? Ours is, and I miss it–I will appreciate it more when it opens again. You can find a lot of stories and information online, and if you have books at home that you have already read,  you may be able to trade books with friends so you all have books that are new to you.

And this may be a great time to write stories and poems of your own and share them with others (or keep them in a private journal). Here are a few ideas of things to write about:

*What is happening outdoors?

If you live in a city, is it quieter than usual? What do you hear that you’re not used to hearing?

If you have a place to observe nature, keep a journal of one tree or smaller plant–on what date do you see buds of leaves or flowers? On what date do the leaves fully open? How about the flowers? What insects live on or near the plant? Do they crawl, or fly, or both? Do you ever see birds or animals near the plant? What is their relationship with it?

*What is happening indoors?

Do you have parents at home? Sisters and brothers? Pets? Write down conversations or other interactions you may have with them. Do you have grandparents you can talk to? Ask them to tell you about something that happened in the news before you were born. What questions do you have about it? Someday your children or grandchildren may ask you what this pandemic was like–imagine what questions they might ask, and write down your answers. Save them–they’ll be interesting to read in a few years.

A friend recently sent me some letters I wrote to her about 30 years ago, and it was fun to “meet” my younger self. She (younger me) made me laugh and think about things I hadn’t thought about for a long time. And “she” shared a joke that my son told when he was in elementary school. Maybe it will be new to you and you can share it with people in your house (or save it for when you go back to school and everyone is excited about being together again):

What do you call something that sits on the ocean floor and shakes?

Think about it for a minute, and then if you give up, scroll down for the answer.

 

 

 

a nervous wreck

Trip to Myanmar

friends in Mawlamyine

with friends in Myanmar

January 22, 2020

 

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Myanmar (Burma), and have recovered from jet lag. It is a long trip, but so well worth the time and effort.

My city, Fort Wayne, Indiana, is a Friendship City with Mawlamyine, and this is the third time I have been there. The friendships we have established are substantial, especially among the students and university faculty who have spent time in the two cities.

On this trip, after one week in Mawlamyine, we stayed for another week to learn more about other places in the country we had heard so much about (Bagan, Pindaya, Inle Lake, Yangon).

Bagan is a place of beauty–old pagodas in a landscape that glows in the evening light, a newly built monastery made of petrified wood, a laquerware workshop–I’ll try to update this entry with more details and photographs soon. I want to write more about all the places we visited and people we met.

For now, I am preparing for the launch of Blue Daisy in just a few weeks, and reading through galleys of All He Knew. This will be an exciting year!

 

Walking to School

August 25, 2019

I love this time of year, as summer days grow cooler, and monarch butterflies emerge from their chrysalises and head south. I think back to my childhood in Brookings, South Dakota, where this turn of the seasons meant “back to school.” And that meant walking to school with sisters and friends. We walked through an alley where, for some reason, a huge bell had been abandoned. We named the bell “Old Nellie” and we’d ring it and run away before anyone could come out and yell at us. We also kept an eye out for “the chasers” a group of boys about our age who liked to chase us, but rarely caught up with us. There was a  lot of teasing banter between the boys and the girls, and I wasn’t very good at it.

“Hey, look, Frost is wearing her big brother’s raincoat,” taunted one of the boys.

“I don’t have a big brother,” I shot back.

“Oh, your father had it when he was a little boy?”

I definitely lost that one–I hated the raincoat to begin with, and that just confirmed how awful it was.

These memories of the streets and alleys on our way to school came to mind as I imagined the landscape of Blue Daisy. I now have Advance Readers’ Copies, and I love how Rob Shepperson has depicted the community and the place so that it feels both contemporary and nostalgic.

Blue Daisy will come out as an audiobook, published by Recorded Books, and maybe some readers will listen to it as they follow along with a print copy so they can enjoy the delightful illustrations.

May 15, 2019

It’s been a busy few months since I’ve added anything here.
To catch up with things a bit—

I’ve been putting the finishing touches on two new novels, and they are both ready for cover reveals—see the pages for Blue Daisy (March, 2020) and All He Knew (August, 2020).

In March, my husband and I traveled to Macheros, Mexico to see the overwintering places of monarch butterflies—millions of them, as they lifted off from the trees in the butterfly sanctuaries and headed north. In Cerro Pelón, we rode horses up into the mountains, then hiked in a little further to the butterfly trees. About 20 of us were so quiet, we could hear the flight of the monarchs all around us. Then we rode back down to the lovely “JM’s Butterfly B&B” (check out the website for videos and more: https://jmbutterflybnb.com ). Truly an experience of a lifetime.

And this past few weeks, I’ve worked with Jenny Medford, at “Websy Daisy” to create this new website. She’s great (there’s a link at the bottom of the pages if you want to learn more about her).

As this website goes live, I send huge thanks to Lloyd Thompson who (anonymously) designed my first website in 2005, and taught me how to keep it updated. I hate to see it go, but 14 years is an eternity in website-design-years, so it is time!

November 11, 2018

100 years since the original armistice day.

My new novel has a title: ALL HE KNEW. I was thinking the other day as I was writing an emotional part of the story, “I’m the first person to read this.” There will most likely be thousands of others, children and adults, who will journey through this territory I am mapping out. Janine O’Malley is my editor on this book–she was Frances Foster’s assistant when my first book (KEESHA’S HOUSE) was accepted at FSG, so Janine was a first reader of my first few novels-in-poems, before she became an editor of her own books. I marvel at my good fortune to be allowed to work with some of the very best editors in children’s books.

In other news, I tagged and released 37 monarch butterflies this year, more than the past few years. They are like beautiful old friends, flying in and bringing me great joy. Early in the “monarch season” I was standing beside a big milkweed plant, and a monarch flew by and laid an egg on one leaf, then circled around me and the milkweed for about five minutes, eventually laying eight eggs. I’m planting more milkweed this year, and encouraging others to do the same.

HELLO, I’M HERE, the picture book about Sandhill Cranes, illustrated with amazing photographs by Rick Lieder, will be out from Candlewick Press next April. Can’t wait!

May 21, 2018

I just scrolled through all my posts here, more than ten years of life and writing updates. And now a whole “school-year” has gone by since I last wrote. How did that happen?

It’s been a full year with a mix of personal and writing news. Lloyd (my stepson) and Anastacia got married in Texas and we traveled there last November to celebrate that, a wonderful family time.

I’ve been working on several projects simultaneously, and two of them are “ready to talk about.”

*a new picture book with Rick Lieder called HELLO, I’M HERE! about a baby Sandhill Crane coming into the world, learning to take those precarious first steps, and exploring the world. This will be published by Candlewick in Spring, 2019.

*a novel in poems and prose (alternating voices) that will be perfect for beginning readers: BLUE DAISY, about two friends who feel remorse after painting a blue flower on a stray dog, and learn more about their community as they try to make things right. To be illustrated by Rob Shepperson and published by Margaret Ferguson Books, Holiday House, Spring, 2020.

And now it’s May again, with lilacs and bluebirds, and this year, a pair of Baltimore Orioles. As we turn to summer and look for the return of the monarch butterflies, I am hard at work on a new YA novel, and thinking about new possibilities for picture books!

September 6, 2017

Two of my books are much on my mind these days. It is “Applesauce Weather” here, with our apple tree offering its bounty. We try to keep up with drying and freezing the apples, and making applesauce and apple butter. These apples aren’t beautiful to look at–we need to peel them and cut around the worms–but I remember a neighbor once saying, “If the worms won’t eat ’em, they ain’t worth eatin’.” My favorite apple dish this year has been apple crisp with coconut and black walnuts added to the topping. Here’s Betty Crocker’s recipe.

The other story I think about as the days grow cooler and the leaves begin to turn is SALT: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War. The story takes place at this time of year, and it still breaks my heart to think of the people who had preserved and put up food for their winter, only to have it destroyed by invading armies.

I pick apples and hope for peace.

July 28, 2017

I’ve been glad to see that reviews of WHEN MY SISTER STARTED KISSING have been positive and appreciative. As I wrote this book, I thought about the young people I know and it struck me that most of them are really nice people. I know, of course, that “mean girls” exist, and that boys can be aggressive to girls and to each other, but I wondered if I could write a book without that kind of people.

I wrote an entire draft where there was a lot of drama having to do with people mis-treating each other, and I asked myself how much of it was necessary. In re-writing the story, whenever I came to a decision about how the characters would behave in a conflict, if I found myself tempted to include meanness or aggression, I asked, “what if this didn’t happen?” Could there be drama and a compelling story without it?

It was interesting to see how the book evolved–I think the characters are realistic, not too good to be true, but still thoughtful and considerate–just like most of the readers who meet them, now that the book is out in the world.

March 28, 2017

It’s going to look like all I do is travel around the world. Not true, but this year, I have been on two big trips. The one to Germany in December, and then, a few weeks ago, to Myanmar for our second trip with a Sister Cities group. This time was a student exchange between IPFW, a University in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where I live, and Mawlamyine University in Mon State, Myanmar. There is a large community of people from Myanmar (Burma) in Fort Wayne, and it is wonderful to learn more about the country they came from.

We were able to visit schools, monasteries, homes, pagodas, and markets, in addition to some of the spectacular sites that Myanmar is famous for.

Our hosts at Mawlamyine University gave us a beautiful house to live in for the two weeks we were there, and they, along with others in the community, fed us, drove us, and introduced us to many wonderful new friends. Altogether unforgettable.

As we did last year, we exchanged books, filling suitcases with books donated by our library to children there, and returning with books donated to us by a high school we visited, as well as some we bought, so that parents from Burma who use the library in Fort Wayne wil have access to books in their language, or bilingual books, to share with their children.

I know my knowledge of the country and culture are still very superficial, but this small taste has made me want to return again.