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.

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.

December 30, 2016

December has been a month I will remember forever.

I was invited to Freiburg, Germany, to be present as a stage version of CROSSING STONES was performed at the Pädagogische Hochschule (a teachers college). It was a small cast, with most cast members performing two or more parts, as well as playing instruments in the musical interludes and scene-transitions, a beautiful production. The play was in English (part of the English department there) and I loved hearing the soft German accents of the actors as they spoke the lines I had written.

It was especially moving to me because the book raises so many questions about war, and the necessity for soldiers to think of the people they are fighting as “Enemy.” In World War I, of course, the enemy was Germany, and through the thoughtful and skillful portrayals of 1917 Americans by German actors, these same questions were raised to German audiences, both adult and school-age. I wondered how the teenage audiences would respond, and was pleased to participate in the good conversations that followed each performance.

I also had many good conversations with new German friends about literature and politics in the United States and Europe. 2016 has been an intense year, politically, and we are all keeping our eyes on the currents that affect the world–people and planet.

Chad (my husband) came to Germany for part of the time I was there, and together we enjoyed hiking in the Black Forest (a light-filled place we could get to in a short train ride from Freiburg); visiting museums in Germany and Colmar, France; shopping at the Weihnachtsmarkts (Christmas Markets) in many towns and cities; and practicing our German with people who nearly always spoke better English than we did German. Towards the end of the trip, I swam in warm water through cold air in a spa in Bad Homburg (the word “Bad” means “Bath” and in cities with that as part of their name, you are likely to find these wonderful, relaxing spas.

There’s more to say, and pictures to post, but this is enough for now.

May 17, 2016

I haven’t yet written about my trip to Myanmar (Burma) in February. We (my husband and I) went with a delegation from our city, Fort Wayne, Indiana, for the purpose of formalizing a “Friendship City” agreement with the city of Mawlamyine, in Mon State, Myanmar. This is the first step towards a Sister Cities designation.

The formalities were impressive–we met with the U.S. ambassador, the governor of Mon State, and many other dignitaries as well as representatives of NGO’s, and artists, writers, academics, and monks. We considered ways of establishing connections between people in different parts of our communities.

We visited Mawlamyine University, a high school, a hospital, a marketplace, a home, a factory. We travelled along a busy highway between Yangon and Mawlamyine, and drove on a small city street to an artist’s studio. We learned a little bit of history, a little bit of language and culture–just enough to make us want to return to see and learn more.

We didn’t have time to visit the beautiful places we heard and read about in other parts of the country, but others in our group were able to do that after we left, and they shared their pictures and stories with us.

What an interesting, exciting, and beautiful country.

November 16, 2015

Wow–it’s been a long time since I added anything to this part of my website. Not because nothing has been happening, but because I’m working hard on a novel. The novel will be finished in a few weeks, and I’m hoping to re-vamp my website, and perhaps start a blog or in some other way, do more to support our community of readers and writers.

But for now, a quick update on my forthcoming books:

Coming soon:

Spring, 2016: Among a Thousand Fireflies, a collaboration with Rick Lieder.

Fall, 2016: Applesauce Weather, a novel-in-poems for young (ages 7-10 or so) readers, with illustrations by Amy June Bates. I’ve seen the sketches and love them, and the cover.

Spring, 2017:

WAKE UP: Another collaboration with Rick Lieder about new life appearing each spring.

And also Spring, 2017, this book I’m working on now:

WHEN ABI STARTED KISSING, a novel-in-poems for middle grades (ages 10-14 or so).

Back to work!