February 3, 2012

Bluebirds, again!

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.

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.

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.