Thursday, November 29, 2007


November's Giveaway is a signed hardback copy of My Louisiana Sky. There will be three winners. The rules have changed a bit. So that late-risers can have as fair a chance to win as early morning people, this month's giveaway will be a drawing. To enter email your name and snail mail address to You can enter until Friday, November 30th at noon. Good luck!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I have a book signing this Saturday for Piper Reed Navy Brat. My other books will be available there too. Here's the scoop:

Saturday, December 1
1 PM
Barnes and Noble
Amarillo, TX

Hope to see you there!

***November Book Give-Away Details coming on Thursday!***

Monday, November 26, 2007


Today the Through the Tollbooth blog posted an interview with me. Susan Sullivan, the interviewer, is the author of the picture books, Dear Baby and Rootbeer and Banana. She is one of nine authors who blog together, mostly about the writing process. If you would like to read the interview, here's the link:

Sunday, November 25, 2007


I don't know about you, but when I think of Christmas, crows do not come to mind. That's one reason I love Kathie Appelt's beautiful picture book, Merry Christmas Merry Crow. Her book reminds me, once again, how writers notice the things that others don't. Jon Goodell's soft illustrations are a perfect compliment to Kathi's words.

Today Kathi shares her inspiration for the story and a bit about her process of writing with rhyme. Here's what she had to say:

I've always been one of those people who love the ways that towns and cities get all dressed up for the holidays. When I was growing up in Houston, my grandmother used to take my sisters and me downtown to see the lights and especially to see how the large department stores decorated their windows. Foleys and Joskes always had the best displays. But the streets themselves were wonderful too, with the lampposts wrapped in ribbon and giant candy canes hanging from the street signs.

Several years ago, my husband Ken and I took a trip to New York City right after Thanksgiving, and it was just like going to Santa's Wonderland. We saw the enormous tree in Rockefeller Center, we saw the window at Macy's, and it seemed as if every building was wrapped up like a package.

There's just something so magical about the whole thing. So, one day I was sitting in my living room admiring our freshly decorated Christmas tree. There was paper and ribbon all over the floor from a recent flurry of wrapping. In short, the trappings of Christmas were all around me. I cleaned it all up and went to my desk.

Later that day, I happened to look out of my studio window and saw a crow in the large oak tree. It was clear she was building a nest. I just sat back and watched her as she flew back and forth. On one trip home, she had a scrap of paper in her beak, which she wove into her nest. It was shiny, possibly a gum wrapper, or a piece of tin foil. I wondered if she was decorating her new home. Surely, she didn't need that piece of shiny paper.

As I watched her, it occurred to me that an enterprising crow could decorate his own holiday tree if the circumstances were right, if there was a sturdy evergreen, say, with its branches blanketed in snow.

I got out my pen and starting drafting. In those early drafts, I imagined that there was a girl living in a rather bleak apartment building, facing a rather bleak Christmas. But just outside her window, there was a tree, and as she watched, the crow began to bring objects and placed them on the tree, until at last the tree was decorated. It was his gift to the little bereft girl. Does this sound familiar? A girl looking out the window as the crow brings objects back to the tree? When I realized what I had done, I decided to take myself out of the story and turn it over to the enterprising crow. Besides, I didn't think we needed another Little Match Girl type of story. Andersen did the first one just fine, thank you very much.

When I wrote this story several years ago, I was doing a lot of rhyming. I rather love rhyme. At one time in my early writing career I actually wanted to be a songwriter. I grew up with a father who loved to read rhyming poetry to me--Kipling, Poe, Longfellow, the great rhymesters of yore. But besides that, I also wanted this story to feel somewhat like a song. To me Christmas is always about music. As soon as Thanksgiving is done, I get out all of our Christmas c.d.'s and play them pretty much continuously until New Years. So, the rhyme seemed appropriate for the season and the book too.

Almost as soon as I saw the art for Alley Cat's Meow by Jon Goodell, I knew that he would do a great job with the art for Crow. It's hard to believe that he managed to make that crow look so charming. Crows aren't known for their cuteness, but I think Jon did a terrific job of making this happen.

On both of those books, working with Jon was a true pleasure. I don't usually get to interact much with the artists of my picture books, but in both of these instances, Jon took the liberty of actually calling me whenever he had a question or needed clarification. I changed the text a couple of times to accommodate his art, but when I did, the changes made the book much stronger.

It's not at all unusual for an author to change the text of a picture book in order to accommodate the art, and in my experience it's usually for the better. I've only had one or two instances when I felt that the change wasn't appropriate or that it was such an important change that it actually set the book off course. That's rare.

All in all, I love my crow book. I see it as a tour of a town all dressed up for Christmas, as well as a tip of the hat to ingenuity and creativity.

At the end of the day, I think that most authors are like that crow, looking for and finding shiny objects, bringing them back to our nests, and then weaving them into something special, a story, a song, a play, something to return to time and again.

Two more holiday books to enjoy!

Friday, November 23, 2007


Last week I visited the Gordon School in Providence, Rhode Island. I was there on behalf of the first event supported by the Karla Harry Visiting Author Fund. From the moment I stepped on the campus, I knew Gordon was a special place, and I was deeply touched to be asked to visit in Karla's honor.

After spending the day there, I can tell you one thing for sure. Karla Harry mattered. Her co-workers spoke warmly of her and told me stories of her tireless vision and love for the students there. She was the kind of librarian who left footprints.

In her soft voice, Frances, her co-librarian and friend, shared a lot about her throughout day. "When she came to the school, she wanted to create more choices and build up the middle grade titles."

She co-created the Rooster Games, a day-long event that helps promote the books on the Rhode Island Children's Book Award List. She started book clubs that brought kids and adults together.

Later Frances said, "Karla loved Gordon so much, that when the middle school needed a director, she stepped in and served as Interim Director of the Middle School." That was what she was doing when she learned she was sick.

"She was a positive person," Clare, assistant to the headmaster told me. "She always thought she would be back." After spending a day at Gordon, I believe she never left.

Before my visit ended, I'd learned that Karla loved her family, the Gordon School, and windmills. And so the windmill above is a tribute to a great woman that I never met, but got to know.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


How did the little girl, watching turkeys scatter in my grandparents' pasture, become the grown woman sleeping in the bedroom down the hall?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Last night I returned from Rhode Island, the last stop on my autumn tour. I'll write about my visit there soon. For now, I just want to reconnect with this place I love.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Monday and Tuesday I presented at several public libraries in the Chicago area. While I signed books at the Skoakie Public Library, one industrious teacher decided to occupy her students by reading a chapter of When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. It reminded me of the times I've waited on the runway before the plane took off. Sometimes I've had to do that for a couple of hours. But it usually doesn't bother me because I always have a good book. I've also read while waiting for the doctor, standing in line or while I killed a few minutes waiting for a phone appointment. Perhaps readers are more patient waiters. They look at the time as another opportunity to escape into a story.

After visiting the Skoakie Public Library, Lee Cho took me to a lovely dinner at Olivetis's before visited her library. A couple of nice surprises happened before my talk at the Des Plaines Public Library. First, Linda Sawyer from the Skoakie Public Library walked in the room with her darling little girl, Hannah.

"We forgot to get a picture together," she said. A few minutes later when Lee aimed the camera at the two of us, Hannah rushed over into the shot, flashing a big grin. It was a great moment.

The other surprise was meeting a reader from the Texas Panhandle. Her mother had bought My Louisiana Sky in Amarillo and given it to her granddaughter. After the mother read it she did a little research and found out that I lived in the Panhandle. She and her daughter drove forty-five minutes to meet me. That sort of effort makes my heart soar.

Then Vernon Public Library hosted my last evening in the area. Some of the kids and parents that attended belong to a book club led by librarian, Carol Kaner. They had read My Louisiana Sky and wanted to know more. I have a feeling that those parents and kids don't just talk about books. I'll bet they talk about everything. That's what books can do for families. Sharing stories can break down fences and open doors to all kinds of topics.

Thank you Skoakie, Des Plaines, and Vernon Public Libraries. You made me feel special.

Now that's a home library! Carol and Shel Kaner turned their basement into a place to store their passion for books. All their signed posters and books made my head spin. What a fun way to wait out a tornado!

Sunday, November 11, 2007


I'm reminded of the beauty of the Texas Panhandle.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Usually visiting a school means I pack, board a plane, rent a car, and check in a hotel the day before my visit. Not this week. This week I got out of my own bed, fed my dog, drank coffee from my own coffeemaker. After dressing, I drove my car to the schools. One of those schools was only three miles away. What a treat!

Monday I visited Borger Middle and Elementary Schools. To prepare for my visit, the students read at least one of my books and some of the teachers had dressed as characters from When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. I appreciate all the hard work. But the real winners were the students. Their teachers brought my book to life.

When I speak to students, I don't use puppets or sing or pull a rabbit out of a hat. I talk about my journey to become a writer. I show some of my process--from inspiration to rewriting. They learn that childhood can be a very important time for a writer. That's where most of my inspirations come from. So it means a lot to me when the schools make the most from my visit. Thank you, Borger!

Yesterday I visited Sundown Lane Elementary School where I had the privilege of leading two writing workshops. Most of the participants were second to fourth graders, but the librarian, the literacy coach and the principal also joined in the fun. I was impressed! Those students have great role models. Thank you, Patti Garner and David Faver for inviting me to your school!

The pictures above are of Borger Middle School teachers dressed in the When Zachary Beaver Came to Town costumes. Some of them even went trick-or-treating that way!
And the young writer, whose pencil flew across the page, is second grader, Jayna, from Sundown Elementary School.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


If you live in the Chicago area, I'm heading your way. I hope you'll head my way, too.

Here's the scoop:

Monday, November 12, 7 PM
1501 Ellinwood Street
Des Plaines, Illinois


Tuesday, November 13, 7 PM
300 Olde Half Day Road
Lincolnshire, Illinois

Both events are open to the public. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Friday night I spoke at University of Texas with Deborah Wiles and Linda Sue Park. Because I'm fascinated with how other writers come to the page, it was interesting to learn that while Deborah uses a notebook, Linda Sue chooses not to.

"I'd lose a notebook," Linda Sue explained. "Sometimes I write on scraps of paper. But I usually lose them, too."

When I said that I kept a notebook like Deborah, Linda Sue said, "Maybe I should I keep a notebook."

Goodness Linda Sue, whatever you're doing is working. Don't change a thing!

Thank you, Nancy Roser, for inviting me to speak with these smart women.

Saturday at the Texas Book Festival proved equally as satisfying. I spoke on a morning panel with Deborah, again. But this time, Adam Rex and Michael Hoeye joined us. Jennifer Brown moderated by asking us questions about how our work reflected place.

Later at my signing I met up, again, with some nice folks from Kingsville. Thanks, Roseanne for introducing my work to your students.

That afternoon, I participated in a panel with the authors of THE KIDS BOOK CLUB BOOK, Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp. My cousin Randy surprised me by attending. Randy's dad and my grandfather were brothers. I hadn't seen Randy since I was a senior at L.S.U. He's been busy as a music promoter and being a grandfather.

Other highlights from the festival--meeting up again with Gail Carson Levine, listening to Young Adult authors read at the Alamo Draft House, hearing my husband say, "Lets buy Sherman Alexie's book. It sounds great."

And the nicest sweetest highlight from last weekend--Shannon got a ride with one of her college friends and surprised her dad and me by joining us in Austin. She's the pretty brunette in the pic with my cousin Randy and me.

It was a weekend of books, family and friends.

Cupcake lovers rejoice! You never know what you'll find on Congress Street in Austin.
See the man, standing at the trailer window, ordering his wife a Vanilla Dream cupcake? That's a very good husband.

Friday, November 2, 2007


Perhaps the best award a writer receives is observing a child reading their book. That happened to me yesterday at Amy Parks-Heath Elementary School. At the end of day I settled at a table, to sign some remaining books. That's when I heard, "One afternoon a skinny brown dog wandered into Benny's Bakery."

At first, it startled me, because I wasn't used to hearing another voice read those words. Imagine my delight when I discovered the reader was six-year-old Rebecca, who sat on the library floor with SKINNY BROWN DOG covering her lap. It was the kind of moment that gives meaning to what children's writers do. We may write alone, but if we're lucky, our stories will never be alone.

(Amy Parks-Heath Elementary School of Rockwall ISD in Texas won their author school visit by having the most students from their school show up at StarLit. Some of the kids that attended are in the picture above.)

Thursday, November 1, 2007


I knew it was going to be a fun day when I noticed the neon sign over the library's entrance.

"I wanted the library to be comfortable and fun," said Kim Dunlap, the librarian from Slidell ISD.

Yesterday I spent the day there and I can confirm that she accomplished her goal. Slidell is a small community with a big heart near Denton, Texas. The students prepared for my visit by reading some of my books. I answered their questions about Tiger, Jolene and Toby while they told me about raising goats, coming across a copperhead snake, doing flips off storm cellars. All and all, it was good day.