Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Bookstore Party

Thanks to Nicola's Books for hosting a celebration of two new books on December 5:
My Bookstore, an anthology of writers telling where they like to shop, and why; and Elena's Story, my new picture book about a girl of the Guatemalan highlands. It was great seeing readers, neighbors, and friends, including  writers/bloggers/illustrators and book-group members. I was honored that Nicola introduced me, and that my editor, Barb McNally, explained the process of bringing story and art together in Elena's Story.
      I brought tostadas, sheep's-milk cheese, and sheep-themed cookies, because my Sheep in a Jeep characters made an appearance in My Bookstore. They try cybershopping in "Sheep Phone It In," part of my essay about Nicola's. Coming across a smartphone, they test its capabilities:
Nicola Rooney, Owner of Nicola's

   Sheep tap screen and go online.
   Cyber-shopping--how divine!
   Items land in shopping cart.
   Wow! This phone is really smart!

   Alas! The books they order aren't what they want.
   They have to visit Westgate Shopping Center to ship
    their purchases back:

   Returning from their shipping chore,
   Sheep espy a special store.
   At Nicola's, their spirits soar!

   So the shopping adventure turns out well.

Syndicated columnist Katherine Salant, author-illustrator Tracy Gallup, and author-illustrator Deb Pilutti were three of the writers who came to the book party.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Celebrate My Bookstore

My Bookstore, the anthology published by Black Dog & Leventhal in support of booksellers across the country, came out November 13, and I'm making my way through it. So far, I've especially liked Richard Russo's introduction. His first bookstore, like mine, was a stationery store. "Alvord and Smith was a store for people who--though I couldn't have articulated it at the time--had aspirations beyond life in a grungy mill me, bookstores, like my first one, remain places of genuine wonder...Bookstores, like libraries, are the physical manifestation of the wide world's longest, best, most thrilling conversation. The people who work in them will tell you who's saying what. If you ask,...they'll put in your hand something you just have to read, by someone you've never heard of, someone just now entering the conversation, who wants to talk to you about things that matter."

I'm also taken with Louise Erdrich's tale of a coffee date that led to browsing in Magers & Quinn Booksellers. Her date chose a Roethke collection for her. "Bookstore Lovers, I married him."

My sheep characters invaded my essay, pages 302-304, about Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor. We'll celebrate my bookstore, My Bookstore, and my book Elena's Story, at 7 p.m. on December 5. "Sheep Phone It In" concerns the limits of e-commerce, and comes to a happy end in the Westgate Shopping Center. You're invited.

Monday, November 26, 2012

More on Earthquake Relief in Quetzaltenango

The Riecken Foundation has posted these pictures of efforts made through the Huitán library to get supplies to families who lost their homes in the Guatemalan earthquake of November 7.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Earthquake Relief in Quetzaltenango

Guatemala has experienced two earthquakes in the past two weeks, and the area around Huitán, Quetzaltenango was hit hard. Biblioteca Comunitaria Mi Nuevo Mundo Huitán has been helping out in the relief efforts. Donations of food, clothing, and bedding have come to families whose homes were destroyed. We loved visiting the Huitán area, which inspired Elena's Story. Donations may be made to the Riecken Foundation, indicating Huitán relief. Here's more about the situation.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Writers on the River

The River Raisin flows next to Ellis Library & Reference Center, home of Writers on the River
The 14th annual Writers on the River book fair brought authors and book-buyers to the Monroe County Library System's Ellis branch yesterday. I loved being able to meet book enthusiasts. Kudos to MCLS for this event! Here are pictures of me and some of the young people's authors who came:
Sheep for sale--and Elena's Story, too
Debbie Taylor with the photo that inspired her picture book, Sweet Music in Harlem
Tracy Bilen with her new novel, What She Left Behind
Michael Monroe and Kalli Reid

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


If you're participating in National Novel Writing Month, here's some scenery to put you in the mood for communing with your inner self: a statue of Henry David Thoreau, by a reconstruction of his cabin near Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Raccoon Tune Concert

Here's Josh Penman, composer and performer of the symphony piece Raccoon Tune, with the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra in yesterday's family concert.  Josh and two raccoon-masked percussionists marched down the aisle playing trash-can lids to start the tale of intrepid foraging, which leads to a frantic chase and ends with a triumphant feast of fish.

Josh writes that he was inspired by Howard Fine's artwork for my story: "This comes right from the cover of the book, where you can see three raccoons singing and banging on trash cans. How could I possibly resist that?"

The A2SO also played selections from The Lion King; and Saint-Saens's  Carnival of the Animals, featuring pianists Elizabeth and Sonya Schumann. Poets from Ann Arbor's Neutral Zone VOLUME Poetry Project recited verses they had written to accompany the Carnival music.

Thanks to the A2SO for bringing fresh creations from our community to the Michigan Theater and for playing so well!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Raccoon Tune Encore

       Amir Levi in the debut performance
The Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra commissioned Joshua Penman to write a concert piece based on my book Raccoon Tune. The piece premiered in 2007, with rousing trash-can percussion. It will be performed again in a family concert November 4, with Josh as the narrator. Raccoon Tune has also been a Library of Michigan Michigan Reads! book, with school and library visits around the state.

The concert will also feature Carnival of the Animals and selections from The Lion King. Kids can visit the Instrument & Doggy Petting Zoo in the lobby.

Raccoon Tune books will be for sale. Stop by and say hi if you're coming to the concert.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sheep in a Festival

Knitters, weavers, farmers, and sheep gathered at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds for the New York State Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, New York October 20 & 21. Brought there by Scott and Alison Meyer and their staff at Merritt Books, I enjoyed meeting fairgoers and autographing sheep books (as well as Elena's Story). The literary landscape was rich, too. Author Bobbi Katz, especially known for her poetry for young people, stopped by; and I had memoirist and novelist Da Chen as my booksigning neighbor--he treated fairgoers to calligraphic paintings and flute interludes. It was a wooly good time!
Da Chen
Scott Meyer

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Warm Winter Tail

The sugar maples are flaming here in southern Michigan, so we can get ready to bundle up for winter--even in books. Marquette author Carrie Pearson's new picture book, A Warm Winter Tail, wraps nature observation in human and animal points of view, carried along in verse. 

 Here's a sample: 
    Baby Fox: "Do they wrap their tails tight
    ‘round their bodies just right
    as heaters to chase out the chill?"

    Mama Fox: "No tail to drape them,
    to cover and cape them.
    Their blankets are cotton and wool."

Carrie's book is on tour in Blogland, and this is the October 8 stop. 
I had the chance to ask Carrie some questions:
You've said the idea for your new book came when you were snowshoeing, all bundled up, and encountered a deer. You're a Michigan native, and now live by Lake Superior. How has living in Michigan, and especially in the Upper Peninsula, influenced your sense of the natural world, and your writing? 

I'm blessed to have lived in a variety of natural surroundings but the water of the Great Lakes State has provided the most opportunity for me to understand and interact with the natural world. When I was a child, we lived on a small inland lake with mallards,  muskrats, and bluegills. Now my front yard is the largest fresh water lake in the world by volume and although the species it draws might be different, the thrill of living among wildlife continues. Fresh water sustains so many plants and animals that I am always surprised and delighted by what is out there. 

Just today, the particular red on a leaf reminded me of a campfire and that image helped me describe the feeling of being warmed by a fire for a MG novel I am writing. Yes, "life imitates art," but I think natural life contributes to art.
Lynne Rae Perkins was your mentor for a year, an experience you earned through an SCBWI-Michigan competition. How did that experience affect A Warm Winter Tail? How did it affect your writing in general?

My experience with winning the competition was a defining moment in my writing career and my life in general. Knowing that a Newbery Award author read my manuscript and saw something meaningful in it was the gift I needed at that time to continue. The award validated my writing and immediately after the announcement, I gave myself permission to be a writer. I stopped feeling like I was pretending or that I shouldn't spend so much time on something that hadn't been fruitful (published). Since I didn't belong to a critique group then, I thoroughly enjoyed the consistent feedback Lynne provided. 

What's the Michigan writers' community been like for you?

Carrie A. Pearson
In a word, "supportive." I've learned so much from writers (and illustrators) ahead of me on the experience curve because they share! We encourage pre-pubbed and published equally and provide many opportunities for growth (conferences, newsletters, listserv, networking/critiquing days, etc.). Writing can be solitary but it never has to feel lonely -- if you live in Michigan!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

"Back to School We Go!"

The Children's Book Council features Elena's Story in its new Seasonal Showcase. This season it's a list of books about education and going to school. It's great to be represented there. The CBC also sponsors Children's Book Week, and works with the International Reading Association to bring us Children's Choices.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Interview by Shutta Crum

Shutta Crum is the author of a dozen books that range from realistic and fantasy novels for kids, to intricately rhymed picture books, to the nearly-wordless Mine! She's a storyteller with years of experience as a librarian, a popular presenter of programs for kids, and a generous provider of advice to other writers. I'm honored that she has asked me about writing Elena's Story, and that conversation appears on her blog. You'll find lots of other useful stuff on her website and blog--explore!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Kerrytown BookFest Young People's Authors

The Kerrytown BookFest showed off Michigan authors on September 9th.

Jennifer Allison (below, left) author of the Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator series; Amy Huntley (below, center), author of the YA novel The Everafter; Deborah Diesen (below, right), author of picture books including Michigan Reads! selection The Pout-Pout Fish; and Ruth McNally Barshaw, author and artist of the Ellie McDoodle middle-grade illustrated novel series (shown above, in the drawing workshop she also put on for kids) spoke on the topic of writing for young people.

The panel discussed their path to publication and encouraged audience members to study the market, find critique groups to hone their craft, and join the Society for Children's Book Writers & Illustrators. The authors talked about how long it takes to reach publication, and the encouragement and discouragement they found along the way.

The festival, held annually at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, also featured panel discussions on mysteries, baseball, poetry, new voices in women's fiction, and more. There were a storybook corner and activity tent for children; and demonstrations of printing, as well as bookseller and craft booths.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

International Literacy Day

September 8 is International Literacy Day, and this year's theme is Literacy and Peace. The International Reading Association promotes reading worldwide. I am honored to be interviewed in conjunction with International Literacy Day on IRA's Teacher to Teacher blog, about my new book Elena's Story, which was inspired by first-generation readers in Guatemala.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Elena's Story Interview

Award-winning author and blogger Nancy I. Sanders interviewed me about the way my new book Elena's Story came together. Her post is here--and find out about her own books, tips for writers, and lots more here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Book Beat Celebrates

The Book Beat, in Oak Park, Michigan, celebrated 30 years in business on August 19, with live music, cake, tacos, and lots of visitors. Congratulations to owners Cary Loren (above) and Colleen Kammer for reaching this milestone! Some of the authors and illustrators who signed books:

Shutta Crum and Newbery medalist Christopher Paul Curtis show off Shutta's hit book Mine!

Denise Crittendon, Denise Brennan-Nelson, and Cyd Moore (from left to right) are happy to display their books.

Here's Kathryn Madeline Allen with her brand-new book, A Kiss Means I Love You.

Jean Alicia Elster, shown below, is ready to sign her Library of Michigan Michigan Notable Book, Who's Jim Hines? and other books.

I was there with Sheep in a Jeep books and my new Elena's Story. It was great to see old friends. And if you look closely at Cary's picture, you'll see he's holding a catalog from the recent Bordeaux art show by his Destroy All Monsters bandmate (and my brother) Jim Shaw. The Book Beat has specialties in art and children's books, and in a sense of community.
Happy Birthday, Book Beat!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Reading Aloud

Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook has long been a staple for families who want practical advice about why and how to read together, and it has  terrific lists of books for kids of all ages.

For detailed practical pointers on reading with young children, Susan Marx and Barbara Kasok have written Help Me Get Ready to Read. They describe about 275 titles that work particularly well with kids in their first five years. They also highlight six books with activities that model getting into stories: Blue Goose, Hooray for Fish!, One Duck Stuck, The Snowy Day, Sheep in a Jeep, and Puffins Climb, Penguins Rhyme.

For Sheep in a Jeep, they suggest you first talk about the title, then read the book aloud, pausing to talk about action words. You can ask kids to make predictions about the story, and listen for rhyming words. "Say and clap the rhyming words with me--leap, jeep. (2 claps)." You can point to where the words are on the page, and pause to have them point to where sentences begin and end. You can have kids chant, "J is for Jeep /j//j//j/."

For "Follow-Up Fun," kids can pretend to ride in a jeep, sing "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep," make a sign, and read more books about animals--including Sheep Take a Hike. And for the kids' responses, Kasok and Marx offer "Positive Parenting Praise!": "Good job telling about the jeep." See for information on the book and the workshops they offer.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Happy Birthday, Book Beat!

The Book Beat, in Oak Park, Michigan, will be 30 years old this month. Its expertise in art books and books for young people have helped it stand out, and this year it received the Pannell Award at Book Expo America. The independent store will have a party on Sunday, August 19, and you're invited. I'll be signing my new book, Elena's Story, as well as sheep stories. Michigan authors Jean Alicia Elster, Shutta Crum, Tracy GallupDavid Small, and many more will be there signing books. There'll be food and music, too. Look here for details.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Elena's Page

Elena's Story has just been released. My husband, our patient friend Janet, and I put our heads together to compose a page of information about life in Guatemala, especially the highlands of Quetzaltenango (ket-sahl-tuh-NAHNG-goh), where the story takes place. Kristina Rodanas's picture of Elena gives a sample of the book's art. The background was made from a piece of weaving from the area, decorated by a colorful strip of embroidery, as it would be for a huipil (wee-PEEL), the traditional blouse worn by Maya girls and women. 
Thanks to Scott and Janet, and to author-illustrators Ruth McNally Barshaw and Deb Pilutti, for their much-appreciated consulting on web matters. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sheep in a Shop, Part II

The sheep who went to a country store in Sheep in a Shop are going to have a new adventure, though this time they will do it without benefit of illustrations. It's part of an essay in an upcoming anthology. My Bookstore features over 75 writers telling about where they shop, and why. Among the authors are Ann Patchett, Ian Frazier, Abraham Verghese, and Henry Louis Gates.

The book will debut on November 13, and I've just proofed my pages. The sheep will have some misadventures with a smartphone before stumbling upon Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where they get personal service. For more about the book, see

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hop on board to Quetzaltenango!

Several years ago we traveled to the highlands of western Guatemala, the setting of my new picture book Elena's Story. The book, illustrated by Kristina Rodanas, is from Sleeping Bear Press. When we visited, our guide was our daughter Allison. 
In the book, Elena, who speaks the Mayan language Mam at home, struggles to practice reading and Spanish for school, while helping with the family chores. When she shares a picture book with her little brother, her mother gives Elena the job of being the reader.
I hope you will check out my new story!