The Angel Next to Me


Several years ago, we were decorating our annual tree when I pulled out a box that was stored next to the ornaments. In it were our sons’ baby shoes. Instead of neatly wrapping them back up, I decided that they needed a new life, and hung them on the tree.

Later, I added my own little shoe, along with Ken’s. As it turns out, they make perfect decorations, and looking at them reminds me about babies and families and also about all the steps we each take between the seasons, about how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.

Those shoes, along with the ornaments that we’ve collected over all these years together make our tree feel like our history together. So, we wrote this song to celebrate it, and now we’re passing it along to you, our kith and kin.

Not only do we have shoes, but over the past several years, my beloved friend and artist Joy Fisher Hein, has sent me a new “cat angel” each year. Here is one of my favorites.

Let it be merry, ya’ll!

By |December 20th, 2011|Books|28 Comments

A Visit with Eric Rohmann

This past summer, while participating in the Highlights Foundation Summer Institute at Chautauqua, I had the opportunity to chat with Caldecott-winning author/illustrator Eric Rohmann.

I think that some will say that Eric’s new book, Bone Dog, is perfect for Halloween, and they would be correct. But I think it’s perfect for any time of the year.

Here’s let’s hear about it from Eric himself:

Just a few notes, my homies . . . it’s not out of the realm for a picture book to have at its very heart the death of a beloved pet. But in so many cases, those books can often be heart-crushing. One of the things that sets Mr. Rohmann’s story apart is not only its straightforward nature, but its respect for the way that children cling to the notion of “forever.” I love that most about this book. And I also love the wordplay, the humor (“skeleton crew” anyone?), and the art is just right.

This is a story for all of us. It’s tender, a little scary, and funny, with the perfectest ending ever. Savor it.

Calloo, callay!

The Map of Me, by Tami Lewis Brown

Tami Lewis Brown dazzled the picture book world with her beautiful biography of Elinor Smith, Soar, Elinor!

And now, she has a brand new novel to her name, The Map of Me.

I’ve had the great privilege of working with Tami, both as a student at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and more recently as a colleague.

One thing’s for certain, Tami is a citizen of the world, so when I tried to track her down for a video interview, she was somewhere out there . . . flying, driving, sailing, riding (a horse, a camel, a lawnmower?). Let’s just say, she’s always on the move. The same could be said for her stories. They move in a way that makes them hard to put down.

So without further adieu, here’s a small snippet of The Map of Me.

Calloo, callay, my homies!

By |September 21st, 2011|Author interviews, Books|2 Comments

Writing Young Adult Fiction . . . for Dummy!

Greetings, Sports Fans!

A few years ago, I had the great pleasure of meeting Deborah Halverson at an SCBWI retreat in Indiana. One morning, we got up early and took a leisurely stroll through the beautiful woods of Brown County State Park. I remember being so impressed with her warmth, her humor, and her smarts.

At that time, Deborah was an assistant editor at Harcourt Brace, really just starting out in her bright new career. Since then, she’s gone on to write her own young adult novels…


Not only has Deborah embarked upon a successful career as an author, she’s also continued to work as a freelance editor, including managing and running her wonderful blog, “Dear Editor.”

All this on top of being the mom to triplet sons, Darin, Vance and Kirk!

And now, she’s cooked up something else, something that I guarantee will be of use to anyone who is interested in writing for young adults. Check it out!

This book is seriously good! And that’s not only because she invited yours truly to be a contributor . . . really . . . it’s not! In fact, there are a whole boatload of contributors, including a forward by my homie, M.T. Anderson.

To learn more, be sure to check out the other stops [...]

Liz Garton Scanlon: Noodle and Lou

Have you ever read a book that makes you want to hug it?

That’s how I feel when I pick up Liz Garton Scanlon’s new picture book, Noodle and Lou. Illustrated by Arthur Howard, this is the story of Noodle, an earthworm who is having a very hard time figuring out his place in the world.
Thank goodness for the ineffable Lou, Noodle’s excellent buddy.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Liz to talk about her unlikely friends. Enjoy!

Wasn’t that fun!

And for all you teacher types, Liz has a very groovy curriculum guide on her website. Check it out.

Many thanks to Cyn and Greg for allowing us to use their dining room for our recording studio.

Calloo, callay, worm fans!

P.S. I confess that while I appreciate all those hard-working worms, these are my favorite species:

Uma Krishnaswami: The Grand Plan to Fix Everything

“Dini has heard of hearts sinking. She has always thought that was an odd thing for hearts to do.”

Now that, my homies, is a line worth framing! And it’s only one of many terrific lines in Uma Krishnaswami’s newest novel, The Grand Plan to Fix Everything, with illustrations by Abigail Halpin. In fact, the whole story is a verbal feast of delicious,lively language. Here is storytelling that is food for the ears as well as sustenance for the heart.

It’s at turns funny, heartbreaking, and always jubilant.

When Dini’s mother receives a grant to work in a women’s clinic in Swapnagiri, India, Dini is crushed that she’ll have to leave her best friend Maddie behind in Tacoma, MD.

The only saving grace is that she might, might, might be able to come face to face with the inimitable Dolly Singh, Bollywood superstar.

But Dolly is missing, which has become something of a national crisis. In fact, there is missing in all corners of Dini’s life.

Here is Uma to talk about it all:

I am not the only one who loves this book. It has already received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly.

Don’t miss the downloadable activity kit as well, on Uma’s website.

Just like a Bollywood movie, there is a large cast, including non-human types like these guys:

No novel set in India could be authentic without a cab driver:

And here’s a photo of that red mail box that inspired Uma to include the India Postal Service in her story:

Love Song to Libraries

I confess. I’m addicted to libraries. They’re very high on my obsession list. So, here’s my homage to all you library types, both those of you who work in them and those of you who love them too.

My first library was here, at Pearl Rucker Elementary School, in South Houston:

Then there was the one at James S. Deady Jr. High, near the Houston Ship Channel:

The one I use most now is this one, the Larry Ringer Library, right here in College Station:

And here is the inimitable Prof. Teri Lesesne aka Professor Nana, a true champion. And look! She’s reading the newest book by another wonderful librarian, Jeanette Larson:

Heck, if I were to list all of my librarian pals, I’d have to start now and it would take me weeks to finish. Just know that I love each and every one of you. (Okay, most of you anyways).

The thing is, recently, libraries have become the targets for budget cuts. Here in College Station, our schools will no longer have a certified librarian for each campus. Instead, they’ll share the services of a librarian. This means that on some campuses, there will be students who will go [...]

By |March 11th, 2011|Books|3 Comments

The Real Chris Barton

Chris Barton is not an imposter! He’s on a mission to make non-fiction for kids (and us older kids) fun and exciting. He’s also written one of the funniest picture books ever!

I recently had the good fortune to catch up with him at the Austin SCBWI “Boots and Books” Conference and to corner him for an interview. We were having such a good time that I let the camera run and was able to get enough great stuff for two short videos. (Yes, Flipcam rocks!)

In the first one, Chris talks about The Day Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand New Colors, illustrated by Tony Persiani.

Seriously, my homies, those neon colors make me think it’s time to get all Peter Max on you guys.

Where is my black light? Where is my “White Bird”?

Okay, back to the current century . . . In this clip, Chris also talks about his very funny picture book, Shark Vs. Train, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld.

So here, for your viewing pleasure is Part 1 of “The Real Chris Barton”:

As wonderful as his first two books are, Chris’s new book, is sure to create new fans. Can I See Your I.D.?, illustrated with graphics by Paul Hoppe, is coming out in April 2011 by Dial.

By |March 7th, 2011|Books|Comments Off on The Real Chris Barton

Jim Scott sings "I am Waiting"

Recently my church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Brazos Valley, had the good fortune of hosting gentle troubadour, Jim Scott for an evening of songs and stories.

Jim played for many years with the Paul Winter Consort, and has performed with Holly Near, Peter Yarrow, and a host of other musicians. These days, he travels the world as an advocate for the environment, serving as a key figure in the Green Sanctuary program, for church congregations to become more environmentally conscious.

He also writes and performs for kids!

One of the kindest, smartest, nicest and most talented folks you’ll ever meet. Here he is, singing his beautiful “I Am Waiting.”

You can find out more about Jim at his website:

On any given Sunday, you can bet that at least a handful of UU congregations around the world are singing his song, “Gather the Spirit,” which can be found in the UU hymn book. It’s one of our favorite hymns.


By |February 11th, 2011|Books, Family and Friends, Music, UU church|Comments Off on Jim Scott sings "I am Waiting"

Janet Fox Talks about FAITHFUL


Fellow author Janet Fox recently dropped in and I was able to convince her that a spin in front of my Flipcam would be a great idea. Once you’ve watched her, I think you’ll agree:

Wasn’t that wonderful?

If you haven’t read Faithful yet, get thee to a bookstore. It’s gotten great reviews. Here’s just a taste of the good news surrounding this book:

Booklist: “Fox combines mystery, romance, and a young girl’s coming-of-age in this satisfying historical tale.”
School Library Journal: “The wilderness of Yellowstone…is lovingly and beautifully depicted…the gradual revelation of the truth about Maggie’s mother, the developing relationship between Maggie and Tom, and the thrilling episodes sprinkled throughout will engage readers.”
YALSA 2011 Nominee: Best Fiction for Young Adults
ALAN: Pick for 2010
Social Responsibilities Roundtable, ALA, 2011: Recommended Title, Amelia Bloomer Project

Check out the book trailer that Janet’s son, Kevin, created for her:

Oh boy, I love it when good things happen for good people. And that’s my friend Janet: Good People.

And soon, very soon . . .

Calloo, callay!