Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Writers on the River 2013

The Monroe County Library System hosted its annual Writers on the River book sale on November 10. I enjoyed meeting area writers, and talked to several writer friends about their new works.

Jean Alicia Elster said, "My recently released book, The Colored Car, is based on real events in my maternal family’s history. My grandparents came to Detroit in 1922 and my grandfather started a wood business, the Douglas Ford Wood Company. My grandmother was an integral part of that business—taking orders, keeping the books—but she also managed the household with canning food, sewing and caring for their five children. 

"My grandparents were also central to the stability of their neighborhood. This story explores their relationship within the community during the summer of 1937 while we witness their oldest daughter, twelve-year-old Patsy, as she experiences events foreign to the world as she knows it.

"I enjoy transporting readers to another era and helping them connect with a way of life that may seem foreign to them now. This form of 'time travel' offers an important historical backdrop to many of the social issues we face today."

Shanda Trent was there with Farmer's Market Day. She told me, "Because I worked on this piece for the SCBWI mentorship contest, I worked relentlessly. I liked working with a deadline because it forced me to sit down and polish...Having a critique group makes the book so much better. The story was just a leisurely trip through the farmers' market. The group said, 'Where's the tension? Where's the story arc?' I could have self-published it, but it wouldn't have been nearly as good. The illustrator brought so much to the story that it makes the book."

Cynthia Furlong Reynolds brought a wide variety of books--alphabet books and other stories for young people; a history of Chelsea, Michigan and the Jiffy Company; and her latest offerings, a manual and workbook on writing. Several people stopped to talk about their writing aspirations. "I have always felt that my role was to help people tell their stories," said Cindy. "I write life stories. I write oral histories. My children's books reflect stories from my family as well as my friends. For my MFA in creative writing, I produced a manual called Writing S'mores, because I get so many questions from would-be writers about how to choose a topic and structure a story.

"I took two and a half years to do the MFA and I dropped out of everything but writing. Now I'm  back to the action--signings, school visits, and helping others write. The world of publishing children's books is a very different place than when I started in 2001. I think it's ever more important to have a group these days to help you critique and study the craft, telling a story the most effective way."

Jean Alicia Elster and her new novel for young people

Shanda Trent's debut picture book celebrates the farmers' market.

Cynthia Furlong Reynolds with her books for all ages

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Bridges to Somewhere

Wind warnings were in effect at the Mackinac Bridge when we started north on Friday morning--20 m.p.h. and escorts for certain vehicles--but by the time we crossed the straits, it was a breeze. We made for Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, just short of another important bridge, to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. We were able to see that international crossing from Lake Superior State University Saturday, home to the Superior Children's Book Festival.

The Bayliss Public Library and numerous other community groups brought activities for the families, including a book giveaway and a tall tales contest. (I got to sample the food groups that The Very Hungry Caterpillar ate as he got ready to become a butterfly.) Chillers author Johnathan Rand told the audience about getting a radio job, and writing. I told stories of sheep, raccoons, and humans. Festival coordinator Janice Repka, Carrie Pearson, and Gretchen Preston shared their experiences as authors in a panel on children's-book publishing. Michigan writers--with an emphasis on Upper Peninsula writers--displayed their books. The festival was a bridge to somewhere--to connections with stories, and with the place we call Up North.

Carrie Pearson, author of A Warm Winter Tail

Chillers author Johnathan Rand

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Festival and Book Fair Coming Up

I'm heading over the mighty Mackinac Bridge to Michigan's storied Upper Peninsula for the Superior Children's Book Festival at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie. It's this Saturday, with kids' activities, a panel discussion on publishing, Michigan Chillers, my stories, and more.

In southeastern Michigan, on Sunday, November 10, the Monroe County Library System will put on its 15th annual festive pre-holiday book sale, Writers on the River, at the Ellis CenterShanda Trent, author of Farmer's Market Day, and Jean Alicia Elster, with The Colored Car, will be signing these new releases, along with quite a variety of other area authors. I'll be there with Elena's Story and sheep books.

You're invited.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"I have traveled a good deal in Concord..."

My high school English teacher loved Walden, and her admiration for the phrase, "I have traveled a good deal in Concord..." has stayed with me. Thoreau went on to say, "and everywhere, in shops, and offices, and fields, the inhabitants have appeared to me to be doing penance in a thousand remarkable ways." Since Concord, MA was home to the Alcott Family, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, as well as Thoreau, traveling in Concord is the opposite of penance, and our recent visit took us to places where that literary richness lives on: the Concord Free Public Library with its marble statue of Emerson and its Thoreau Room, and the Concord Bookshop, an independent store where I loved shopping, meeting booksellers, and signing a few books

We had seen Walden Pond; the Concord Museum; the Old Manse, with Mrs. Hawthorne's enchanting windowpane inscriptions ("Una Hawthorne stood on this window sill January 22d 1845 while the trees were all glass chandeliers -- a goodly show which she liked much tho’ only ten months old"); and the 1775 battlefield site on an earlier trip. (That was fortunate, because this time the Congressional snit had closed the National Parks). It was time for a pilgrimage to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where the writers are neighbors on Authors Ridge. Readers bring pine cones and stones to honor their favorites. Louisa May Alcott had pennies on her grave as well--but Henry David Thoreau also received written messages, and a Thank-You mint.
View from the top of Authors Ridge

The author of Little Women received stones, cones, and pennies.

Henry David Thoreau's grave had a personal Thank-You.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Woolly Weekend

Knitters, spinners, sheep owners, and book people all got together for the really, really large New York State Sheep & Wool Festival last weekend. What a pleasure to meet fellow authors! And a shout-out to the Meyer family and staff from the Merritt Bookstore, who all worked together to make the book sale happen.

I met Susanna Leonard Hill and her daughter Katie, there with Can't Sleep Without Sheep (and a puppet friend). Her blog for October 21 gives the flavor of the festival and shows her at storytime--a new festival feature.

Iza Trapani, who wrote and illustrated Baa Baa Black Sheep and numerous other tales, was fun to talk to--and check out her blog for her descriptions of sheep voices, talking to Susanna and me, and her  drawing contest, won by Caty.

Celeste Young showed her special knits and talked books with me as well.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What's Cooking?

Some of my favorite writings are recipes, and there are some great ones by children's-book creators, like those in Writers in the Kitchen, or the Michigan Reading Association's Recipes for Readers.

Since my books have a lot of ingredients, I've included recipes on a new Web page, put together by author-illustrator Deb Pilutti--and she's made printable recipe cards.

If you feel like cooking along with a story, there are four recipes--Elena's staple food, tortillas; oatmeal cookies the sheep could make with their Halloween treats; a savory custard on the menu at the Tiddley Wink Teashop; and maple porridge sought by marauding raccoons. Of course, if you're an oatmeal aficionado,  you can use the tastier and slower-cooking rolled or steel-cut oats. I like to tinker in the kitchen--please tinker along.

The sheep get apples, oats, sugar, and eggs as Halloween treats--they go into trick-or-treat cookies.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Telling Yarns at the New York State Sheep & Wool Festival

Follow us to the festival.
I'll be at the New York State Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck on October 19 and 20, to sign books at the sale set up by Merritt Books of Millbrook. I'll be reading my work both Saturday and Sunday at 12:30 in the Tales of Yarn presentation room.

And this year, we're going to have a prize drawing, with a couple of special-edition sheep books. Stop by!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Upcoming Appearances

Jacob sheep at the NYS Sheep & Wool Festival
I look forward to the New York State Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck on October 19 and 20, where I'll sign books, thanks to Merritt Books of Millbrook. Handsome sheep, gorgeous knitting, multitudinous wools and yarns; along with authors of kids' books, books about wool, and books about country living. I also look forward to the scrumptious Cortland apples.

On November 2, I'll be at the Superior Book Festival in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. It will be a day for all ages of young readers, with authors  Carrie Pearson, Johnathan Rand, Janice Repka, Gretchen Preston, and Lizbeth Jenkins-Dale appearing.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Kerrytown BookFest 2013

The sun came out, crowds came out, and some post-Notre Dame/U-M game fans were hoarse from the night before as the 11th annual Kerrytown BookFest got underway last Sunday. Ruth McNally Barshaw, Shutta Crum, David Catrow, and I gathered in the Kerrytown Concert House for a session called  "Picture Books from Inception to Publication."

Ruth, the moderator, handles both art and text in her Ellie McDoodle series, while David handled the art for Shutta's accolade-winning new book, Dozens of Cousins. So the speakers had a variety of relationships with putting words and pictures together.

Often people assume that a writer picks an illustrator, or tells the illustrator what to do. But in traditional publishing, the publisher typically chooses the illustrator and works separately with that person. There are notable exceptions, and family writer/artist teams. But as the panel said, there is a kind of editor's alchemy in bringing the two separate parts together. One thrill of getting a picture book published is in seeing how the artist has expanded on what you wrote. Growing up with a visual-arts background, I have always been able to see what could be on the page--but then the artist brings a new dimension.

Another thrill is having your work mean something to a reader. An audience member explained that her young foster son had never responded to books until my sheep couldn't get their jeep to go. He got it! What a privilege to learn something like that in a festival program!
Me, David Catrow, Shutta Crum, and moderator Ruth McNally Barshaw

Shutta and David had the privilege of meeting for the first time at a BookFest gathering. Here they are after the panel discussion, with Dozens of Cousins. Ruth went on to give her annual drawing demonstration for kids. I sewed a cover onto a copy of poems by the festival's children's authors, and listened to discussions of "A Mysterious Sense of Place" and "Cherchez la Femme," on a woman's point of view.

Thanks for a great community effort!

Kerrytown BookFest Organizer Robin Agnew of Aunt Agatha's Books, volunteer Lauren Houser, and mystery author Cara Black enjoy the sunshine at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Craft of Printing

It's not often that I get to be part of a hand-made book--if you don't count the comic books I drew when I was a tween. I'm pleased to be one of the poets featured in a small book that visitors can put together at the Kerrytown BookFest--check out the August 21st entry on their Facebook page to see the cover you can print. The festival emphasizes the craft of the book, and the poetry project is a hands-on way to become part of that craft.

My grandfather was art director of a color printing firm, as well as a watercolorist and printmaker, with a Ben Franklin press in his basement. He helped his grandchildren produce their own prints on it. I printed a portrait etching, and a woodcut of Aesop's fox and grapes. I have some of Grandpa's woodcuts, and I think his "B. Franklin, Printer" proof would be right at home at the festival.

For an overview of the Kerrytown BookFest, here's an article from

Thursday, September 5, 2013

So Many Books...

Each year I'm one of many helpers setting out the wares at Ann Arbor's AAUW Used Book Sale, in a vast roomful of tables at Washtenaw Community College. Carton after carton comes out, and we have to practically wedge the books into place, held in by a bookend here, a cut-down cartonful there--well-thumbed paperbacks, pristine hardcovers, specially-priced rare volumes, and books that are not rare at all. Volunteers have been working all summer to sort the thousands of donations. I usually work on the children's-book table, as I did today.

The sight of so many titles, now divorced from their owners, makes me a little melancholy. Not every book stays beloved. And with all these titles clamoring for attention, why try to publish one more? But I believe in recycling, and here's a way to get books into new hands, raising scholarship money on the way. One year, the organizers let me fill a grocery bag with gently-used books to send to SCBWI's efforts for kids who had been displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Besides, I keep finding things I want, like Janet Schulman's 20th Century Children's Book Treasury. Travel books. A classic story in Spanish translation that I could imagine my character Elena reading. I bought a book of cut-out animal masks one year on impulse, and later used it to play a raccoon in a Raccoon Tune skit.

If that odd title calls out to you, reach for it. You could be its new soulmate.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Book Events Coming Up in Southeast Michigan

The Ann Arbor branch of the American Association of University Women will hold its annual used book sale September 6-8 at Washtenaw Community College. I help set out the books each year, and I'm always amazed at the variety. Used books galore, and the profits go to scholarships.


You're invited to Ann Arbor's Kerrytown BookFest on September 8. I'll be part of the noon panel "Michigan Narratives: Picture Books from Inception to Publication. Writer & illustrator Ruth McNally Barshaw leads a discussion with writers Shutta Crum and Nancy Shaw as well as illustrator David Catrow."

Ruth's Drawing Session
Ruth Barshaw will return with her drawing workshop for kids as well. Debbie Diesen will read her picture books. Shanda Trent will present her new book Farmers' Market Day right there in Ann Arbor's Farmers Market, which inspired the tale. The Ann Arbor District Library's Laura Pershin Raynor will be telling animal tales. Bring the kids!

Speakers ranging from auto-industry leader Bob Lutz to mystery writer Erin Hart to novelist Natalie Bakopoulos will appear. Besides bringing authors and illustrators to Kerrytown, the BookFest features the craft of publishing.

And it's Sunday--so you can park with ease!


Jean Alicia Elster
Another event I'll be sorry to miss is at the same time: Michigan Notable author Jean Alicia Elster will celebrate her new chapter book The Colored Car at Detroit's Scarab Club at 2 p.m.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Wild Ride, Supersized

Sheep in a Jeep has been popping up in newspapers--in an Arizona Republic column about a shower gift, and in a column about its reissue as a big book, in the Washington Post Style Blog. It's heartening to read about people with fond memories of my first book, which turns 27 this year and is coming out in a new edition that makes the artwork really stand out. Here's to Margot Apple, who has given the sheep so much personality that they have lasted a generation.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Eaton Great Start Family Program This Saturday

On Saturday, April 20, Eaton Great Start will have lots of activities for families with young children from 10:30-noon at the Eaton Intermediate School District, 1790 Packard, Charlotte, MI, and it's a day to celebrate our wooly friends. There'll be a sheep "shearing" station with a sheep they've made, sheep puppets, painting sheep with bubble wrap, live sheep on site, and more. I'll tell sheep stories, sign books, and look forward to meeting families. More details here.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Meet and Greet at the Library

Please celebrate the beginning of National Library Week by meeting Michigan children's-book creators at the Author Meet and Greet, to be held Sunday, April 14 at the Frenchtown-Dixie Branch of the Monroe County Library System from noon to 3 p.m. These authors and illustrators will be there:
Debbie Diesen
Matt Faulkner
John Perry
Nancy Shaw
Kelly DiPucchio
Ruth McNally Barshaw
Kalli K. Reid
Colleen Murray Fisher
The library will have their books for sale at a discount, so it's a good way to add to your book collection with a personal touch, or just come and talk books.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Looking Back at Reading Month

Photo by Allison Shaw
The sweet sheep treats pictured here are just part of the wonderful things I experienced during March, known as Reading Month to schools and libraries. They're from elementary schools in Bowling Green, Ohio, where I met staff and students who had decked the halls with sheep, decorated T-shirts, read a lot, and written a lot.
Jeep at Kenwood Elementary School

I heard great questions in Potterville, Spring Lake, Ypsilanti, Webberville, Marion (Ohio), and Ravenna, where Beechnau Elementary School had activities for family night on the theme of "Shoot for the stars--read!" The sheep were happy to Blast Off! at family night, and I checked out the Planet Walk and art projects, and got my picture taken as an astronaut.

The Wood County District Public Library in Bowling Green, also full of wonderful art projects, welcomed me for a family program, which they previewed in Connect Magazine. Thanks to the Youth Services staff, shown here:

Photo courtesy of WCDPL

We'll keep reading in April...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Your Area's Got Talent

Debbie, Natalie, Angie, Debbie, Lynn, Dawn, and Mary Ann (left to right)

The Michigan chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators fights the mid-winter blahs by arranging meet-ups of people interested in writing and/or illustrating for young people. Thanks to Charlie Barshaw for organizing Your Area's Got Talent groups throughout the state, and thanks to Angie Verges for putting together the Ann Arbor one, held February 17--the same day as Three Rivers and Traverse City.

Yet to come are Holland, Lansing, Marquette, Muskegon, Pinckney, Royal Oak, and Troy. If you'd like to get together with other children's-book people, R.S.V.P. to a host.

Besides Angie's site, the Ann Arbor group heard about book projects and blogging: Natalie Aguirre's, Lynn Baldwin's, Debbie Taylor's, and Debbie Gonzales's books and educational guides: