Thursday, February 26, 2009


Where do you work best at home?

I love working in our den/library. I have a set up in our bedroom as well which is also really a lovely place to write. Although I find myself always drawn into the library. I put on the fire, I put on all the lamps. I dim the overheads. I light a candle. It all feels so delicious and warm and inviting. It opens my mind. It allows me to go into a place that is inspired and magical. I keep stacks of books at my feet, all kinds, and a fresh notepad. I think that while I write well anywhere on an airplane, in my studio office, I just love the feeling I get from this room. It is red, which I love. I am surrounded by family paintings and drawings and photos. I look up at a photo of my French grandmother when I am stuck and I find my center again. I lose myself and this is so important to me.

What time of day would we find you there?

Depending on the day, I sometimes write at home during the week as the studio is full of loving interruptions nonstop.( by my own doing I realize) I can write anytime, any day. Once I have a cup of tea next to me and a little plate of cookies, I can fly. Sometimes I write at night, and then I will smell cooking from the kitchen as my husband John is a really fantastic cook. It really gets my creativity flowing to smell good food, then I spot of wine with that! I am as happy to write on a Sunday afternoon. Our son Gus may be napping, and Max, Fin and Sigerson might be on their own computers. I will sneak off to the library and just get down to it!!

What is your favorite comfort food at home?

I am a comfort foodie deep down in my heart and soul. Food is a luscious part of our world. It inspires me in so many ways. So...where to goodness!Well...I adore meatloaf, poached eggs are insanely delicious to me, Italian tomato bread soup, peach cobbler, pork loin roast.....I know, you only needed one food thought from me, but I am helpless, helplessly in love with comfort foods that make our house smell good. I'd be happy throwing some onions in my cast iron pan with some butter and just breathing that in!

How does home feed into your writing?

Our home is our nest. It's where I am inspired to be a great mom, a wonderful partner to my dear husband, an explorer. It's where so much goodness is every day. It is not perfect and I love that. It is scratched, and spilled on. It is dented and stained, but then so are all of us, and it makes each of us better. Our home inspires everything about our life because we have chosen to make it a home. We have allowed it to have a life. It is not treated as a museum, but rather a lovely breathing part of each of us. So, yes... it feeds my writing with its every breath. It is quirky and happy and real and noisy, and it has dog hair and little match box cars nearly everywhere you step,and that is where enchanting sits.

Tracy Porter, nationally known lifestyle, home & fashion designer, operates her multi-faceted design business from the rural college-town of Ripon, Wisconsin. Humble beginnings (1991) started with Tracy’s hand painted luxury furniture line created from her farm’s vintage chicken coop, left retailers on an exclusive waiting list for her one-of-a-kind treasures. Tracy is renowned for her fanciful dinnerware collections. Tracy’s recent foray into fashion has been an exciting addition to her brand. Tracy’s entrepreneurial bliss wouldn’t be complete without the warm life she’s built with husband and business partner, John, and their four young spirited boys. The Porter family resides on a country gentleman’s farm.

Visit Tracy's Website

Did you miss these At Home profiles?

Hope Anita Smith

Kathi Appelt

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


One of Tracy Porter's book dedications reads, For my brother, Danny, who assured me ten years ago that my paper, scissors and glue would never fetch me a career.(KMA) It seems Tracy proved to her brother and the rest of the world that you could indeed make a career out of having fun. Tracy's approach to design and life and love is all mixed together because...well, that's the way she likes it. She is a true optimist and readers can gather inspiration from her books that go well beyond home design. Between the luscious pictures of her home, are words of wisdom that every writer or artist could live by.

Here are just a few:

Follow your heart today. Life will fall into place once you make this a priority.

Walk down a path you have never traveled...You might just find what you are looking for.

Allow yourself the freedom to change your mind.

Curl up with hot chocolate, a warm fire, and a good book.

Tracy is married to John and she's the mother of four boys. They are all important parts of the mix. Recently I told Tracy that I wish I'd witnessed her philosphy when I was a young mom. I would have taken myself a lot less seriously. When you watch Tracy's video blog, it is not unusual to see one of her sons playing in the background. She wouldn't have it any other way.

Tomorrow you'll meet Tracy. I'm honored that she agreed to be our first Artist at Home.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Just for kicks, here's the scene that I've remembered for all these years.


This weekend Jerry and I watched The Apartment. The last time I saw the movie, I was thirteen years old. Although I remember enjoying the chemistry between Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, the only detail I recalled was Lemmon used a tennis racquet to strain spaghetti.

Billy Wilder's romantic comedy proves movies can teach all writers a thing or two. Good writing is good writing. Aside from sharp dialogue and dead-on timing, Wilder uses foreshadowing to provide satisfying moments later.

One example is when Lemmon's character tells MacLaine's about the time he tried to shoot himself over a lost love. He tells her how he purchased the gun, where he drove to do the act, and how after he changed his mind, the gun went off and shot him in the leg. He says, "I got over the girl in three weeks, but it took a year for my leg to heal."

That's that, right? Nope. Many scenes later, he is packing his apartment and we see him put a gun in a box with other items. There doesn't seem to be any emotion attached to that gun, just a matter of clearing away. But we're reminded of his suicide attempt.

Still, we don't think much of it, until MacLaine is heading to his apartment and hears a loud bang. She is panicked, thinking the worst. I didn't think it was a suicide attempt, but I did think he might have accidentally shot himself or the couch or something. I won't give away the ending, because my point has already been made. Billy Wilder gave us a nice payoff because of his use of foreshadowing.

When I'm writing my first draft, plot points pop up that would seem added on if I left them that way. But I rewrite, dedicating some drafts with just those plot points in mind. I look for opportunities to slip in a detail beforehand that will help the reader later when the important moment happens. The payoff is bigger and hopefully the reader isn't scratching their head saying, "What?"

As writers we juggle a lot of balls in the air to make our stories satisfying. Foreshadowing is one those elements that can help accomplish that goal. We can certainly learn this from other novelists, but it doesn't hurt to examine other storytellers' use of this technique. At the very least, we get popcorn.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Where do you work best at home?

I work best in my small office. It is also my craft workspace so I have to really focus on first things first. Writing.

What time of day would we find you there?

I work best at night after everyone is in bed.

What is your favorite comfort food while you work at home?

My favorite comfort food while I work is sunflower seeds. I like them
lightly salted in the shell.

How does home feed into your writing?

I can write just about anywhere, but home seems to invite the muse in with open arms and words flow out of me like water.

Hope Anita Smith's first book, The Way A Door Closes, received several awards including the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award and the Myra Cohn Livingston Award for Distinguished Work of Poetry. Her second book, Keeping the Night Watch received the Coretta Scott King Honor and was chosen as a Notable Book.

She is an avid knitter with a yarn stash that sometimes gives her pause and a wonderful baker. She is inclined to commit random acts of kindness. She lives in Beverly Hills, California. Hope's third book, Mother Poems, which she wrote and illustrated will be available this spring.

Visit Hope's website.

If you missed Kathi Appelt's An Author at Home profile, here's the link:

An Author at Home: Kathi Appelt

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I can't seem to shake my obsession with dream beds. So indulge me one more time. I promise, after this, I'll put the subject away to bed. (Sorry.)

I would never have insomnia if I could listen to the ocean every night.

And a girl is never too old to want to be Cinderella.

Yes, I am partial to trees.

And I'm becoming a huge fan of Shawn Lovell's work.

Sweet dreams, everyone!


Tomorrow A Pen and a Nest visits Hope Anita Smith at home. Hope and I share the same editor and we met several years ago at our publisher's dinner. That night I had not read her book yet and I'm embarrassed to say my questions surrounded her former nanny position to a celebrity's child. The celebrity would be relieved to know that Hope maintained a professional posture and didn't reveal any private details. In fact, she gave no details. However I think I shocked her with how much trivia I knew about her former employer. I have been known to occasionally read People Magazine.

When I returned home, I read Hope's book. After I finished, I wish I could have had a different conversation with her. Hope's spare powerful language provokes a range of emotions. She is an amazing poet and an award winning author. I'm thrilled that she's agreed to be our first Poet at Home. Here's an excerpt from The Way A Door Closes:


Saturday mornings at our house

are full of music.

Grandmomma is singing.

She says she's auditioning

for the heavenly choir.

The music of her voice

gets us up and dressed,

gets us fed

and out the door.

Grandmomma is singing.

Her voice as rich as cream,

sure as tomorrow.

I close my eyes and try

not to let her see how her song

moves me.

Let her keep practicing.

She is music,

and I never want her song

to end.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


The last couple of weeks I've spent a lot of time in bed. My daytime companions join me there--my ink pen, yellow pad, laptop, manuscript, editorial letter and Bronte.

I blame it on the heating blanket. This house is cold in the winter. There is a man who lives here who insists the thermometer stay at a brisk temperature. He claims he is doing his part--being green and saving energy. He doesn't fool me. His environmental responsibilities are connected to his wallet.

So what's a writer to do, but to huddle down under the covers and turn the heating blanket control up to Hi. Regardless how I got there, I've decided writing in bed has a few virtues.

1. I don't have to waste time getting dressed or putting on makeup.

2. It is the largest desk surface I've ever owned which provides plenty of room for my writing tools and my dog.

3. There is a nightstand next to me which is a handy place for a coffee mug, glasses, and a plate of Texas Ruby Red grapefruit slices.

4. The bathroom is close by.

5. Okay. I'll admit it, it's nice work if you can get it.

Apparently I'm not alone in my choice of workspace. Vladimir Navokov worked in bed, too.

And so did Walker Percy.

Mary Heaton Vorse wrote in bed from her summer home in Cape Cod.

Samuel Clemens(Mark Twain) wrote much of his work there, but also stated, "Working in bed can be very dangerous as so many deaths seem to occur there."


I've been thinking about it. If I'm going to work a lot from my bed, it only seems right that my working environment be inspiring. I choose this one.


A couple of weeks ago, I invited you to write from the words offered by librarians from the schools I visited in the Dallas area. There were six words and you were asked to use at least four and write for only ten minutes.

Thank you, Martha F. Moore, for joining in the fun. I love that she included her thought process before she focused on a poem. If anyone would like to participate, go to the FIVE SENSES AND SIX WORDS link in the archives. I'd love to read what you come up with.

Spin Mariner Frappucino Howl Money Serendipity

What if the words were in alphabetical order? Frappucino, howl, mariner, money, serendipity, spin? Take 4 she says. Which four? I could howl, no money for frappucino, but no. Where is the brain going? I like serendipity. If I mention the Serendipity Singers does that age me? ah – maybe . . . but that’s ok.

Serendipity Singers.

In my penniless youth

I’d spin to their songs

Around the living room

Into the couch

Howl with pain as I stubbed my toe.

Now aged with more money

Is there more balance?

NO! I still swirl round the room,

Still whirl swirl spin

Still stubbing toes.

---Martha F. Moore

Monday, February 16, 2009

Woman in Blue Reading a Letter
Johannes Vermeer


Three times a week, I drive to the post office to pick up the mail. After I throw away the retail fliers and tuck the letters into my purse, I head back home or to a coffee shop to work some more. But wherever I land, the letters will be read first. In this day of email and Facebook, a letter is a gift I'm always eager to open.

Before I wrote fiction, I was a letter writer. The passion started when I was ten and received a letter from my great-grandmother. She became my first pen pal. A few months later my only friend on the base where we lived moved away. Cheryl was a couple of years older than me and her letters reflected the life of a girl entering high school. They were fascinating and funny. I guess my letters seemed skimpy next to her juicy accounts of her older sister's dating escapades. I was, after all, a sixth grader who saw the world from the seat of my three speed bicycle. What could I tell her that would compare to her new exciting life in Florida?

One day I received a letter from Cheryl that had about a dozen questions. She closed the letter by stating, "Now if you answer all the questions I've sent you, you'll have written a long interesting letter." Cheryl had taught me an important lesson in letter writing. A letter is a window into someone's world.(As a side note, Cheryl ended up in the first class of women to attend and graduate from the Navy Academy in Annapolis.)

My letter writing continued and since we moved a lot, my list of pen pals grew. In college my dad rationed my long distance phone calls to one every two weeks. This was years before cell phones and the Family and Friends plan. Many mornings I started off my day writing home.

I went through a letter writing dry spell after college and lost track of a few important friends. Years later when we moved to Houston, I picked up the habit again. By then I was a young mom, working as a self-employed(lousy) freelance interior decorator. Each morning I wrote letters for two hours. I reconnected with old friends and stayed in touch with more recent ones.

During this time period, I learned how letter writing can not only keep friendships alive, but the simple act could bring people to a more meaningful level. When I learned one of my friend's mother was dying, I wrote to her. I received a letter from her a week later, expressing how touched she was that I'd taken the time. Our letters continued. We visited each other, becoming closer friends. I'm convinced it was because of pen and paper.

Shortly after that, I began to write stories. The time I'd devoted to letter writing was spent developing characters and dreaming up plots. Eventually I got a computer and Internet service. There's no denying it, email has probably helped us stay in touch with each other more than any other device. We can do something and a moment later someone from around the world can know we just did it. The thought of that is amazing to someone, like me, who remembers using a six-cent postage stamp.

Still, I miss the romance of letter writing. The lingering moments when I'm trying to think of the next word rather than dashing off a quick hello via email. I've tried to keep some of that ritual in my life, but these days folks are more likely to get a short note from me than they are to receive a long letter. And I hate admitting this, but sometimes I've taken months(Okay, even a year, but that's because I misplaced it) to answer some of my reader mail. Believe me, that's no reflection on the letter. I never want answering to seem like a chore. So I wait for that right moment when my head is clear and my thoughts are focused on that person. When that happens, I sit in a comfortable chair with pen in hand and begin by writing that rare lovely word--Dear.


I've always loved biographies, but to me, the most revealing portraits of people are found in their letters. Here are some of my favorites.

Nordstom's personality shines through in her letters to her writers and illustrators. She nurtures, encourages and scolds. I secretly adore her lecture to Russell Hoban about his manuscript which became Bedtime for Francis. Maybe because it teaches so much to anyone who attempts a picture book.

"...I do think it is better but I'm afraid it is going to need a lot more work, Russ. You simply didn't taken any time to set the stage, get characters, think about the situation." She then suggests he create a thirty-two page dummy and rough out the text imagining the pictures. She tells him"...and for heavens sake, take a little time and care. It isn't easy to write a good picture book story."

Flannery O'Connor's letters demonstrate the development of a writer's journey to becoming published. Yes, her love of writing is evident on these pages, but so is her obsessive yearning to be validated.

In a letter to John Updike, E.B. White wrote, "Children, on the whole, have an easier time summing me up then you did. I got a letter from a girl this week saying 'You are a good writer and I was enjoying your book until our dog ate it.'"

White's letters contain charm and make me wish I'd met the man who seemed to keep his boyhood outlook on life.

The book below is not a book of letters, but about the appreciation for them. I own most of Alexandra Stoddard's books, but this is my favorite. And it's her husband, Peter Brown's also. I learned this when I attended her signing and he asked if he, too, could sign it because he loved it so.


The March issue of The Horn Book Magazine includes an article titled "A Friendship of Words" by Susan Fletcher. Assistant editor, Claire Gross states "The article charts her friendship with Iranian translator Hossein "Elvand" Ebrahimi," whom she never met in person. In addition other writers weigh in on the subject of epistolary friendships."

Those writers include Cynthia Leitich Smith, Susan Cooper, Jane Yolen, Susan Patron and myself.

May each of you today find a letter waiting in your mailbox.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I never meant to be a blogger. After all, I write books. Then a couple of years ago my daughter told me I needed to update my website more often. Back then my blog page was set up as a What's New page, a place where I could announce upcoming events or book releases.

Meanwhile writers' blogs popped up everywhere. I remember a conversation with Helen Hemphill about how I didn't see the sense in that.

"Why don't they just write their books?" I said. What happened to the little girls who kept locks on their diaries? It seemed they grew up, threw away their keys and revealed the contents for all to see.

But when my daughter scolded me for my rare updates, I decided to give blogging a try. At first, I tiptoed into blogworld. Was I breaking some writer rule. Maybe writers should stay hidden behind their books and glossy pictures on the flaps. I feared I would say too much, show too much, and maybe even hear too much from people who didn't like my work.

What happened surprised me. I realized I loved blogging. Aside feeding into my work, it gave me a place to examine process. As the number of posts grew, I realized many of the posts tied into the importance of home to my writing. Now, a year and a half later, I've decided to concentrate more on that. The blog won't change drastically, but writing and home will remain the main focus.

The first post following this one is a repeat to some of you who may have read it last summer. But I believe it's an important post because it defines the beginning of my writing journey and my relationship with this home.

I've also posted a new essay on writer's block and laundry. They may not seem to have much in common, but they do.

A Pen and a Nest will also introduce you to other writers and artists and what home means to them while exploring their craft. We'll find out where they like to write. I want to know. Don't you? And lucky us, my pal, Kathi Appelt agreed to be the first.

You will have a chance to post comments. I hope you will because for the last eighteen months I've wondered about you, the readers of this blog. I want to know what you think. I'm looking forward to some good conversations along the way. Will you come along for the journey?

(Note: The banner above was designed by Dale McLain.)


We've lived in this house for fifteen years. Our last two homes had not been mansions, by any means, but they'd been grander and in neighborhoods where housing associations dictated how often we mowed our lawn and the date we were allowed to put up our outdoor Christmas decorations.

Those houses had also caused us to feel strapped the day after payday. It was an uncomfortable existence. When we moved to the Texas Panhandle, Jerry suggested we purchase smarter this time around. "You've always dreamed of being a writer. Let's buy a one income home. Then if you want to pursue that dream, you can."

I agreed, but I started to doubt my decision during the house search. Back then, there wasn't much on the market and every house we entered held disappointments. Then we walked into a modest sixties ranch. Cookies were cooling on a tray in the kitchen, bicycles were stored on the screen porch, numerous flower beds had been carved along the fence. Someone loved living here.

We learned the owners had lived in the house for thirty years. They'd raised four kids within these walls. They'd owned numerous pets that had lived and died here. Months later, Kay, the previous owner told me her kids said they could never sell this house. There were too many dead bodies buried in the backyard.

It was not love at first sight that caused us to say, yes. The decision was more of a surrendering. We'd simply seen everything and though we couldn't quite put our finger on it, this house touched something inside us.

Though the large kitchen and backyard were impressive, the house had many shortcomings. The day we moved in, those deficiencies seemed magnified. I slipped the key in the doorknob at four o'clock in the afternoon. My daughter and I walked into the backyard and heard the nearby sounds of highway traffic. Since we'd originally toured the house in mid-morning, the nearby highway only registered at a faint hum. That first afternoon of ownership, I thought a semi truck might race through our backyard.

Now that the house was empty, I could plainly see the ugly aluminum framed windows. They were narrow rectangles that let in little light. The house seemed dreary.

Our bedroom was so tiny that making the bed was truly a chore. I'm sure dieting would have solved the problem of having to squeeze in the narrow space, between the walls and bed. But it was easier to gripe to my husband. During my first shower, the old plumbing christened me with cold water. Shameful as it is to recall now, I threw a tantrum after that brisk experience.

And I wanted to shoot the stove.

For six months I peeled off wallpaper and painted each room. We removed the heavy drapes and exchanged the old sliding glass door leading to the screen porch with a French one. At that time, we couldn't afford to replace every window, but we enlarged three. A bit more sunshine pouring into the living and family rooms made a difference. (Mainly in my disposition.)

Then June arrived. My decorating budget ran out. I picked up a pen and a yellow pad and headed toward the screen porch. Gradually, words on the page became more important and the flaws of my house concerned me less. So much so, a few years ago I realized in amusement that in ten years, I'd never changed the picture hanging over the fireplace mantle. What happened to the woman who rotated her pictures every season?

As my own books started to fill a shelf in our family room, we made house improvements. A few at a time, every window was replaced. Eventually, we enlarged the bedroom and built a walk-in closet. We bought a new stove. (Well, now it's not so new, but I still love it!)

Except for the fixtures, the plumbing in the shower is the same. But I've learned the trick. Turn all the way to the right, a minute or two, then a quarter turn to the left. There I find the desired temperature.

I don't want you to think this house had no attributes when we bought it. I've always enjoyed the charming courtyard entry, the screen porch, the large sunny kitchen. But something deeper happened along the way. And I would never have predicted it the day my husband and I signed the mortgage contract. I had not meant to fall in love with this house.

Yet with all its flaws, it afforded me a way to pursue my passion. And it offered more. Memories have been made in these rooms. We've had a first-snow-of-the-year picnic in front of the fireplace. The kitchen played host to French onion soup lunches for friends. The living room became our reading room and the place for my daughter's sleepovers. Though small, the family room comfortably held eight people for a private movie premiere. It's even difficult to hear the traffic from the backyard these days. I'm too busy listening to the birds chirping on the feeder and our neighbor's grandkids jumping on the trampoline.

Somehow in these fifteen years, I became a writer, and while I wasn't looking, this house had become my home.


When I was a young single woman, I sometimes bought new underwear to avoid doing the laundry. Even today, I'm able to wait until my dresser drawers are empty before I start a load. (Except for fresh clean sheets and towels which I love.) So I know I'm in trouble if heading to the laundry room seems more appealing than facing my work-in-progress.

For a long time, I avoided the term writer's block. I think it was a result of hearing a well-known writer confess she'd suffered from it for five years. But there really isn't a more fitting reference. The times I've been afflicted with the ailment have usually been because I'm overwhelmed with too many tasks or because something is not working with my story.

When either of those two things happen, I have to fight the urge to head toward the washing machine and push the normal cycle button. Instead of pondering about my characters, I fantasize about empty laundry hampers and clean socks. But over the years, I've come up with my own treatments for writers block that have nothing to do with fluff and dry.

The first thing I try is webbing. It's the brainstorm tool I use almost daily and when I'm blocked on a story, I find setting the timer for ten minutes can offer miracles or, at the least, the next sentence. Once I had a bad case of writer's block. My deadline to turn in a draft had long passed. I was scared. The more time that went by, the more writing seemed an impossible thing to do. Finally I gave myself permission to write anything. I went to a coffee shop and webbed for a few minutes. My heart pumped faster and I rediscovered the joy of putting words on a page. The result was the picture book-Skinny Brown Dog. Sometimes you just have to put a pen in your hand and allow yourself to have fun. I was able to return to my novel the next day. That exercise taught me that when I'm blocked on one project, I can still write.

Some days all I need to do is get in my car and head down Highway 27 to Happy, Texas. The wide open spaces that stretch before me are almost zen-like and quiet a busy mind. It is one of the perks of living in the panhandle.

When webbing and driving don't ease the pain, I put down my pen and do something else creative. Those days you might find ten buttermilk pies cooling on the kitchen counter. If I can't make my word count goal at least I can be a prolific pie maker.

And I guess, if all else fails, there is always laundry to do.


Where do you work best at home?

Even though I carry my laptop all around the house, the place I get the most work done is at my desk. It's almost as though the very word, "desk" connotes "work." I don't even have a door at the entry way of my studio since it's located in a loft in my house. Nevertheless, when I step across the threshold from "home" to "office," my work begins.

What time of the day would we find you there?

I don't have set office hours, but when I'm not traveling I spend most of the daylight hours there, and quite a few nighttime hours, too.

What is your favorite comfort food while you work at home?

That would have to be coffee.

How does home feed into your writing?

Home is where I feel most safe. It's the realm for my flights of fancy. There's something about being in a safe, cozy place that allows me to leap into the twin realms of knowingness and not-knowingness, that place where story thrives.

Kathi Appelt is the author of over thirty books for children and young adults. Her debut novel, The Underneath, illustrated by David Small, won a Newbery Honor Medal and was chosen as a National Book Award finalist. It was also given the Pine Cone and Splinter Awards by the Pulpwood Queens. She lives in College Station, TX with her husband Ken and their four cats. They have two sons, both jazz musicians.

Visit Kathi's website


This weekend I learned from C-Span's Book TV that there are thousands of books published about Abraham Lincoln. That's quite overwhelming when you're an educator or parent who wants to teach the importance of one man's life. Where do you begin?

May I suggest Lincoln Shot, A President's Life Remembered written by Barry Denenberg and illustrated by Christopher Bing? When I received a copy this fall I was visiting the Henry Holt offices in New York. My next stop was my annual writer's retreat at the ranch in La Grange, Texas.

There is a table at the ranch located in the great room. On one end you will find poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich working. We've all claimed our corners at the house and that one belongs to Rebecca. On the other end, we place various books that we think might interest each other. The first morning of the retreat I pulled Lincoln Shot from my suitcase and put it on the table.

I was happy and not surprised to discover my pals shared my enthusiasm for the book. The book is beautifully designed. The cover's patina edges invite you to open it. Inside you will find a newspaper format that begins with Lincoln's assassination, then chronicles his life in clearly divided sections, starting with his boyhood.

The book ends with a chronology and an index for easy reference. If you are interested in learning more about Lincoln and are attempting to climb the mountain of books about him, here's a great place to begin.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


It's hard to believe spring is next month. Soon the daffodils will be breaking through the soil and finding their way to the sunshine.

That means I'll be packing my bags and heading off to some wonderful events. Here's where I'll be:

Saturday, March 21, 2009: Forest Hill Nursery Festival Parade. I'll be serving as this year's Grand Marshall and signing books afterwards.
Forest Hill, Louisiana

Friday, April 3, 2009: Kansas Association of School Librarians/Keynote speaker
Junction City, Kansas

Friday, April 24 and Saturday, April 25, 2009: A(gusta) Baker's Dozen: A Celebration of Stories
Columbia, South Carolina

Tuesday, May 5 and Wednesday, May 6, 2009: International Reading Association
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Tuesday, May 12 and Wednesday, April 13, 2009: San Benito Literary Conference
San Benito, Texas

Saturday, February 7, 2009


This last week I visited schoolS in the Dallas, Texas area. I told the students about how my writing improved greatly after I started adding sensory details to my work.

Here's a recap of my week, using my senses:

Seeing Moseley Elementary School's secretary's tattoo she got in celebration of her daughter being declared cancer-free.

Smelling the school lunches in the cafeteria.

Hearing a kindergarten teacher at Mitchell telling one of her students, "Come this way, friend."

Tasting the sweet pecans in the grilled chicken salads from Oliver's.

Feeling the firm handshakes of dedicated teachers.

Many of you already know that my retreat pals and I do a writing exercise every year called Five Words and a Pie. Want to play? The librarians I visited last week provided the words. Sorry, but you will have to provide the pie.

Here are the rules: Select four of the six words offered by the librarians and write for ten minutes, using them. If you email your results to, I'll post them later in the week. Remember only 10 minutes! So it doesn't have to have an ending. It can be anything--the beginning of a story, an essay, a poem. Anything. One more thing--relax and have fun!

(Elaine Tricoli from Moseley Elementary School in Grand Prairie ISD.)

(Leslie LaMastus from Frankfort Middle School in Plano ISD)

(Kelly Hamilton from Martha Hunt Elementary School in Plano ISD)

(Sarah Thorn from Jackson Elementary in Plano ISD)

(April Grizzle from Rose Mary Haggar Elementary in Plano ISD)

(Kristine Jurik from Mitchell Elementary in Plano ISD)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


If you are an educator in search of a teaching curriculum for Piper Reed Navy Brat, Kids Wings has created one.

You can find it at: Kids Wings

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Monday, February 2, 2009


It's Silent Poetry Reading Day in blogland which gives me a great excuse to talk about River of Words, The Story of William Carlos Williams. I didn't know that Williams was a poet and a doctor until I read this beautiful biography by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet. The spare text and moving collage illustrations made for a winning combination. Last week the book was awarded a Caldecott Honor.

If you're not familiar with Willams' poetry, here's a nibble:

This Is Just To Say
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
They were delicious
so sweet
and so good

And to close out the post, here's a poem from the Poor Poet.

Identity Crisis

By Shannon Holt

I am 1/32nd Cherokee.
My black hair is proof.
But according to some government man in a suit,
it is not enough.
And when I was fourteen and refused to fill
in the ethnicity bubble
because I didn't know which part of me they wanted,
the Form Lady took one glance at my pale skin
And penciled,

-Which I suppose is true,
but a little unfair
to my Cherokee ancestors
who I know so little about
other than that one fell in love
with a German immigrant so much
that he separated
from his tribe to be with her.

It seems a bit wrong to disregard my grandmother's people
who called themselves
"Black Dutch"
meaning they weren't really Dutch at all,
but possible descendants of gypsies,
(Which is hard to picture
because my grandmother was more like
an olive-skinned June Cleaver
than Esmeralda.)

I guess I'm expected to forget the slave-woman
who lived her life on a plantation in Virginia
but gave birth
to a son
who became educated
and fought next to Swamp Fox in the Revolution.

And then, there is that whole debate
about my great-grandmother's origins-
Was she Italian?
Was she Mexican?
If she was Mexican,
How Mexican was she?
How Mexican does that make me?

Which brings me back to my 1/32nd
Cherokee self-
that according to the people in charge
of these sort of things
say that my 1/32nd is not enough
to be considered Native American.

Which is fine.
I suppose there has to be a
cut-off point.
It might as well stop at me.

But I can't help but wonder,
is an orange still an orange
if you have only one slice?
Does a pomegranate stay a pomegranate
with just two seeds?

Caucasian just doesn't describe
a person like me.

I am a Fruit Salad-
a composition
a medley
of this and that
that does not detract from each other,
but blends
to create
the one
and only

Which means,
I can be
A Fruit Salad Cherokee.