Archive for February, 2012

Monday Afternoon

February 27, 2012 @ 4:50 pm | Filed under: ,

All weekend I couldn’t drag myself out of the garden, but today is cold and rainy. That’s all right; this is much better writing weather. This blog is going to be low-key for a while. I’m in the cave.

Outside my door, I hear the pleasant clatter of dice against a table, over and over, and murmuring girl-voices. Rose and Beanie are playing D&D. Rose is the game master, the story-crafter. Beanie was delighted, this morning, when she rolled a charisma check and came up high enough to converse with the black dragon she’d encountered. Apparently Rose does an excellent extemporaneous dragon.

Rilla has all the Draw Write Now books spread out across the bedroom floor. There are horses and dolphins to be drawn. I will emerge to a menagerie in crayon, later this evening. The boys are playing Wii Party. Jane is getting ready for her web design class. Scott’s got music playing, something with lots of inquisitive trumpet, while he tackles the lunch dishes. Crows are calling through the rain. Yesterday we planted seeds: radish, butterhead lettuce, carrots, field peas. And in the flowerbeds: cosmos, sweet alyssum, California poppy. I found a few stray sunflower seeds that had spilled out of last year’s packet into my gardening basket; we tucked those at the corners of the veggie patch. I’ll have to remember to plant those blue morning glories again at the base of the stalks when the sunflowers come up.

Perfect timing, this rain.

Garden Notes: Late February

February 25, 2012 @ 9:12 pm | Filed under: ,

I spent most of the day in the garden, most of yesterday too. I found some old bricks and used them to lay out one end of a small raised bed for our veggie patch this year. We’ve planted banana peppers, onions, and cilantro from starts, and there are seeds to go in tomorrow: carrot, butterhead lettuce, and radish. I’m not sure anyone in the family cares much for radishes, but they grow so quickly and are fun to harvest. Oh, and we’ll plant a few beans. We buried a couple of seed potatoes this afternoon. Will I ever cease to marvel at this climate? February was always the longest, hardest month back east. My children love snow (those who remember it), but not I.

Saw our first monarch of the season today! Alas, it made two passes around our yard and fluttered on by. My milkweed has buds but isn’t open yet, and may not bloom at all—it’s horribly infested with little yellow bugs I thought were a particularly squicky kind of aphid, but now I’m doubting. We recruited an army of ladybugs, who munched dutifully for a while but have now flown home to check for fires or something.

Bees: a respectable number, but not the legions we hope to see when the salvia blooms.

I took a million pictures today but none of them came out. Ever since I dropped it on the street during Comic-Con, my camera is reluctant to focus.

Bloom notes, mostly for my own reference. I like to poke through my archives and compare…

geranium (three kinds)
tree mallow
Cape honeysuckle
lavender (two kinds)
jasmine (the one with the pink buds, not the white)
the yellow marguerites
African daisies
sweet broom
sweet alyssum (white and purple)
ice plant, in magenta profusion
bougainvillea (trying—I think I need to move it to a better spot)
red salvia (barely)

Probably more things I can’t remember right now.

This list staggers me. I say that every year but staggered I am again.


We do penance for this in October, when the very air crisps your skin and the only color in the garden is brown.

Picture Book Spotlight: My Name Is Elizabeth

February 22, 2012 @ 5:18 pm | Filed under: ,

My Name Is Elizabeth by Annika Dunklee, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe.

A frequent request from Miss Rilla these days. The young heroine’s righteous indignation—her friends and neighbors will keep calling her nicknames—speaks to my five-year-old’s little-sister heart. There’s a hint of imperious Eloise in Elizabeth’s not-entirely-polite exasperation with the folks who insist on greeting her as Liz, Lizzy, Betsy, or Beth—and we all know how much small girls adore Eloise. 🙂

At last Elizabeth can bear it no longer: her full name bursts out, a bellowed plea to the neighborhood. The message gets through. No more Lizzy, no more Beth. Elizabeth she is, and Elizabeth she shall be. Well—except to a certain baby brother who can’t quite wrap his mouth around that grand name. But that’s all right. Like my Rilla, who belly-chuckles at this part of the book every time, Elizabeth makes allowances for little brothers. That’s my favorite part of the book, too, an affectionate twist that leaves you with a grin.

I haven’t road-tested this one on my boys yet. Wonderboy’s an Elephant-and-Piggie man all the way, and Huck, well, he’s still busy counting the trucks and trains in The Little House.

Dishing Downton

February 21, 2012 @ 7:02 pm | Filed under: ,

At GeekMom again. Going to be a looooonnnng wait until Season 3…

At least there’s always Mad Men.

An aside: Last night on Twitter, Amy Kraft joked that she’d like to see early readers based on Downton. I spent the rest of the night entertaining myself (if no one else) with Downton Abbey: The Nursery Years.

We hid in the garden from the nasty governess.
Carson found us in the shrubbery.
Granny was quite put out.


What’s funny is that in its first incarnation, way back in 2006, my book that is now called The Prairie Thief was going to be set in an Upstairs/Downstairs-esque Edwardian household. We’d been watching U/D and I was captivated by the dynamics, especially the downstairs crowd; the main character was going to be the daughter of a servant. But about two chapters in, the whole story up and transplanted itself to a landscape I knew inside and out: the Colorado prairie. Eventually the story itself transformed into an entirely different tale. So I guess that original story is still lurking in my brain somewhere, awaiting its turn. 🙂

Won’t be soon, though; I’m neck-deep in a Whole Nother Book.

Comments are off


Now Comes the Fun Part

February 20, 2012 @ 4:03 pm | Filed under: , , , ,

As I’ve mentioned, I have three new books coming out this August. Whee!

Middle-grade novel. Margaret K. McElderry Books. Art by Erwin Madrid. He has posted the full wraparound cover on his blog. Gorgeous, isn’t it? What he does with light just blows me away.

A Step into Reading Level 3. Random House. Illustrations by Sebastien Braun. I am crazy about his depiction of my characters—so much humor and personality in their expressions and body language.

A Simon Spotlight Ready-to-Read Level 1. Simon & Schuster. Illustrations by Ag Jatkowska. When Rilla, who had been hearing my Inch and Roly stories for months, saw Ag’s cover sketch she squealed. “Mommy! They’re DORABLE.” 🙂

Yes, we are a little bit excited. 🙂

“The hours he spent at his desk agitated him tremendously”

February 19, 2012 @ 8:20 am | Filed under:

Love that guy:

Dickens was from childhood an avid, even compulsive, walker. He once wrote. “I think I must be the descendant, at no great distance, of some irreclaimable tramp.” Scarcely a day went by that Dickens didn’t flee his desk and take to the streets of London and its suburbs. He routinely walked as many as 20 miles a day, and once set out at 2 a.m. to walk from his house in London to his country residence in Gad’s Hill, Kent, 30 miles away. As several of his walking companions described it, he had a distinctive “swinging” gait. And, like many a serious runner of today, he “made a practice of increasing his speed when ascending a hill,” according to his friend Marcus Stone.

Dickens’s walks served him in two ways. On one level, they were fact-finding missions during which he recorded with his keen eye the teeming urban landscapes whose descriptions were his stock-in-trade. A letter from Paris to a family friend, the Reverend Edward Tagart, begins innocently enough, “I have been seeing Paris.” But what follows is a foot tour of the city that is characteristically Dickensian: “Wandering into Hospitals, Prisons, Dead-houses, Operas, Theatres, Concert-rooms, Burial-grounds, Palaces and Wine Shops. In my unoccupied fortnight of each month, every description of gaudy and ghastly sight has been passing before me in rapid Panorama.”

But Dickens’s walks played another, more important role in his life. They were, in a sense, acts of self-preservation. “If I could not walk far and fast,” he once confessed, “I think I should just explode and perish.” Unlike his contemporary, Anthony Trollope, who claimed he reeled off 3,000 words each morning before breakfast, Dickens found composition to be hard, painful work. The hours he spent at his desk agitated him tremendously, and walking served as a kind of safety valve.

From Merrell Noden’s article at Sport Illustrated, via

Park Day

February 17, 2012 @ 8:12 pm | Filed under: ,

Things we read today:
The Little House (Again. Twice.)
Charlotte’s Web (chapter five)

Speaking of E. B. White, Algonquin kindly sent me a review copy of a book coming out next June: The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker by Janet Groth. Talk about a title that has me at hello, and my interest was further piqued by the introduction, which describes Groth’s first meeting with Mr. White, who suffered “shyness…of mythic proportions.” There’s a great moment when he asks her if she can type, and she admits that she deliberately avoided developing skill at the typewriter because she was afraid proficiency would land her in the typing pool.

For the first time Mr. White looked directly at me. “And you don’t want to wind up there?” he asked.

I suspected that he had some sympathy for the course I had taken.

I’ll report back after I’ve read more.

I’ve almost finished Miss Read’s Village School—that’s our group read over at Wisteria and Sunshine right now. It reminds me of the James Herriot books, a little. Peaceful, cozy, amusing, full of charm.

One last tidbit: Kristen Rutherford and I are curating the GeekMom Pinterest board. Lots of fun stuff there if you’ve a mind to take a peek.

Maybe a Little Bit Intresting After All

February 16, 2012 @ 8:38 pm | Filed under: ,

Rilla isn’t sure she likes the look of Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House. “Hmm.” She eyes it skeptically. “It doesn’t really look Intresting.”

“I think you’ll like it,” I say. “It’s about a big city growing up around this little pink house.”

Pink is the key word in that sentence. She’ll give almost anything a chance, if there’s pink involved.

“Hot pink,” she murmurs approvingly, studying the cover. There is no higher praise.

“Let’s give it a try,” I suggest. “We can read something else afterward.”



She has a laugh her sisters call the Evil Chipmunk. “Of course! It’s my favorite book.”

Huck climbs half on top of me and begins to count the trees around the little pink house. He’s very into counting, these days.

I love quiet books like The Little House, the kind that tiptoe their way into a child’s heart. The house is built, the countryside blooms, the seasons change. The sun arcs across the page and this must be pored over, wait, Mommy, don’t turn the page yet. And then the next spread, the calendar of moons. We must pause while Rilla touches each crescent and disk, naming the days. The road comes rolling out from the distant city; that’s Huck’s page to study. Steam shovel, big rocks, little rocks, tar, steamroller. He could stay there all day. But the city is encroaching, surrounding, swallowing the little pink house, and Rilla has picked up the urgency. We have to read quickly now; she needs to know. Trolley line, elevated train, subway, skyscrapers, you can hardly see the poor house.

It’s magical, you know, when the movers come to carry it away. A house on the back of a truck! Both children are astounded at this marvel. They’d have taken unicorns and dragons in stride, but a house riding along the road to a new hill in the countryside: clearly this is a wonder of the world.

Later, when Huck is napping, Rilla pounces on me, brandishing the book. The pink house winks from the cover.


“Yes. It’s my favorite book.”

The 2011 Cybils Winners Have Been Announced

February 15, 2012 @ 7:57 pm | Filed under:

Hop over to the Cybils site for a list of wonderful books. The Cybils criteria include both kid appeal and literary merit. Most other awards focus on one or the other. Cybils are unique in lots of ways, and each year’s shortlists are a resource you should take advantage of. The categories include poetry, nonfiction, early readers, picture books, fiction at various age levels, poetry, even book apps (new this year).

This year’s winners.

This year’s shortlists.

As you know, this year I served on the first-round panel for graphic novels. Our task was to create two shortlists: middle-grade and young adult. They are strong lists: some incredible books there. Do check them out. The second-round judges selected one winner from each list: for middle-grade, the delightful Zita the Spacegirl (an enormous hit with my middle bunch, especially Beanie), and for young adult, the smart, absorbing, highly original Anya’s Ghost. Congrats to Ben Hatke (Zita) and Vera Brosgol (Anya)—and congrats to all our finalists for making such splendid books.

Among the other winners, my bunch has read and LOVED, in the read-it-again-again-again kind of love (or wead-it-adain, if you’re Huck), the early reader champ, I Broke My Trunk—another Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie gem. And the winning book app, the 21st-century incarnation of that enduring classic, The Monster at the End of This Book (starring lovable, furry old Grover), is, I can attest, an excellent way to experience a perfectly marvelous book. As for the fiction picture book winner, Me…Jane, oh what a lovely book! The young life of Jane Goodall and her stuffed chimpanzee. Hats off to Patrick McDonnell.

Can’t wait to check out the rest of the winners.