Wednesday, March 24, 2010

School Visits

School visits can be many things – exhilarating and inspiring come to mind.  But they are, above all, just plain fun.  It's not only that you, the author, get the opportunity to share so much of your life and creative process with your readers, but that they share so much with you – their projects, dreams, plans, hopes and disappointments.  Even, as in the case of a recent visit to Don Gill Elementary School in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania – a cake for one of your characters, Winky Blue, the lovable but mischievous parakeet in my six-book series published by Mondo Publishing.

I hope to write many more books about the adventures of Rosie and her parakeet, Winky Blue.  And I hope to have many more school visits to share with the students my books and stories (but not too much more cake.)

To read all about my Winky Blue books, visit my website.

A Vampire is Coming to Dinner – Uninvited!

A VAMPIRE IS COMING TO DINNER! 10 RULES TO FOLLOW (ages 3-7) is now available for pre-ordering at so if you're expecting a vampire (invited or not) this is your chance to get ready for a night of pranks and surprises. It is best to be prepared!

The book was inspired by a game I used to play with my daughter when she was little; I would try to tickle her neck and tell her a vampire was coming for dinner. The first rule in the book is one I'd be wise to employ myself: STAY CALM!

It's amazing how much editing a little book that only has a few hundred words requires. My smart and very patient editor, Brooke Dworkin, was a tremendous help with this.

For my other children's books and school visits, please visit my website

I Can Get There from Here: The Power of Children's Books

Every Christmas my father bought me a first edition Oz book for a dollar, from the Silver Shack, a used bookstore in downtown Detroit. The Oz books were the highlight of my Christmas, the key to a land of unimaginable excitement. I can close my eyes now and breathe the yellowed, slightly musty smell of those books, with their promise of magic and adventure.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was the first in the series by L. Frank Baum, but Dorothy wasn’t the only child to find her way to Oz. In later books, children arrived from all over the U.S. I fully intended to make it there myself before I became an adult. I wasn’t sure exactly how it would happen, but I had faith that it would.

One Christmas vacation, I was curled on the floor of my bedroom in my new red pajamas eating an apple and reading The Emerald City of Oz, the sixth book in the series, when I came to the last chapter, “ How the Story of Oz came to an End”. It described how the author, Baum, had received a personal note from Dorothy:

"You will never hear anything more about Oz, because we are now cut off forever from all the rest of the world. But Toto and I will always love you and all the other children who love us. Dorothy Gale."

I stopped chewing mid-bite. I didn’t move or even breathe as the enormity of what I had just read sunk in. The whole universe seemed to stand still with those terrible final words – "we are now cut off forever from all the rest of the world." I was locked out of fairyland forever, stuck in the real world trying to coerce ordinary life into a story.

The Emerald City of Oz was published in 1910, so by the time I read Dorothy’s letter, Oz had been cut off from the rest of the world for forty-five years. But to me Oz was breathlessly immediate, and everything that happened was happening right now. (Later, Baum decided to continue the series after one of his readers suggested Dorothy send him more Oz adventures by wireless telegraph.)

I must have known Oz was fiction. I was nine years old, after all. But a part of me believed that the fairyland existed on some plane, and that I would get there before I reached adulthood. Other kids had made it – Betsy from Oklahoma, Button Bright from Philadelphia, Trot from California. Surely there was room for one more kid to squeeze in before the door to Oz was slammed shut forever.

The way Oz was cut off, Baum explained in The Emerald City of Oz, was by making it invisible to outsiders.

“But how can you do it?” asked Dorothy. “How can you keep every one from ever finding Oz?”

“By making our country invisible to all eyes but our own,” replied [Glinda] the Sorceress, smiling… “We will be able to see each other and everything in the Land of Oz…but those who fly through the air over our country will look down and see nothing at all.”

That was the chink in the wall, the crack in the door left ever so slightly ajar. Oz might be invisible to most people, but if you looked really really closely, you could glimpse it shimmering through the fabric of reality, a parallel universe to the ordinary world we lived in. You might not be able to live there, but by watching closely and paying attention, you could at least catch sight of it now and then.

Searching for Clues: Classics of Our Time

Our imaginations were shaped by the great classics of our time, such as The Clue of the Broken Locket, in which Nancy Drew, detective, won the respect of her distinguished father and the admiration of the local police with her quick wittedness and courage. My friends and I combed the neighborhood in search of a clue that would lead to a hair-raising mystery – a scrap of paper, a footprint, a rusty key. But nothing panned out. Then one night, a car slowed down on our street (there had recently been a kidnapping in a neighboring town). Quickly and resourcefully, I jotted down the license number. Then the mysterious automobile sped away!

We waited for the next episode to unfold, but nothing happened. There was no second chapter, no subsequent clue. The entire story line collapsed.

Stories in books were more satisfying than life with its disappointments and dead ends. Nancy Drew never discovered a clue that led nowhere and she never had to face having the entire plotline collapse around her. I wonder how resourceful and quick-witted she’d have been then?

Coming Home to Children's Books

In 1980, when I moved to New York, I enrolled at Fashion Institute of Technology to become a fashion designer. My new artist’s portfolio bulged with shiny pinking shears, pins, and colored chalk. But the work was grueling and the stiff mannequins draped in muslin had little connection to the dazzling creations floating in my head. Late one night, after a long day at work, my German draping teacher eyed the mannequin I was draping for the fourth time.

“Zat pin has no meaning!” she cried, pointing accusingly to a pin I had just stuck in the mannequin.

I took that as a deeply existential statement about my future as a fashion designer, and quit. Now what was I going to do?

During my lunch hours at the law firm I worked at, I browsed through Scribner’s Bookstore on Fifth Avenue, climbing the winding stairway to the second floor to read in the comfortable armchairs. I found myself drawn to the children’s section and the books I’d grown up with –– the OZ books, the magic books by Edward Eager, the 
Betsy-Tacy stories. Finding them was like rediscovering old friends. I remembered the first time I opened a Betsy-Tacy book, I was nine going on ten). 
“Going on ten seemed to be exactly the right age for having fun,” I read. Those were the most exciting, the truest words I ever read. And they were in a book!

For some reason I had never read the Betsy-Tacy high school stories. But now, twenty-four years later, I submerged myself in Betsy's high school world, the one I wish had been mine. Family, friends, heartaches and crushes – it was all so innocent and fun, the perfect escape from the loneliness of New York. But I couldn't locate the last book in the series, 
Betsy's Wedding. Betsy’s life, so vividly evoked, was incomplete and unfinished without the last book. I had to have it. The bookstore said the book was out of stock. The publisher said it was out of print.

 Finally I found it in the Staten Island branch New York Public Library. I immediately called and reserved it. But I couldn't bear to wait for the machinery of the New York Public Library system to grind into motion. I would take the ferry to Staten Island and get the book myself.

On a gray, misty Saturday in early March, I made the trip, watching impatiently as the ferry plowed through the cold, choppy waters. Couldn't the engines go any faster? What if someone else took out my Betsy book first? What if the Staten Island branch burned down before I got there? When we finally docked, I ran all the way to the library. I didn't open the book until I was on the ferry again, headed back across the bay. Even then I hesitated, holding the book tightly in my lap. 
Betsy's Wedding was the last in the series. When I finished it, there would be no more new Betsy-Tacy adventures to discover. But at last, sitting on the hard ferry bench, my face wet with foam, I began reading.

“Almost choked with excitement and joy, Betsy Ray leaned against the railing as the S.S. Richmond sailed serenely into New York City's inner harbor,” I read. “The morning was misty, and since they had passed through the Narrows, she had seen only sky and water—and a gull, now and then…”

I looked up at a gull swooping over the gray water. New York of 1980 had vanished. It was 1919, and I was a young woman returning from a long voyage, and anxious for her first glimpse of New York. I smiled to myself and went on reading.

“My heart is turning home again, and there I long to be…”