Saturday, September 29, 2007

Family is a Circle of Friends who Love You

I returned home to books arriving from my independent bookstores. Look! TurnRow, the little indie that could, nestled deep in the Mississippi Delta, packages books in cotton! Quail Ridge in Raleigh uses brown paper and also includes a BookSense flier -- THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS is a BookSense Fall Pick -- fabulous.

Boxes will continue to arrive and I will set-to with the task of catching up on all that needs attention now that I'm home. ALL-STARS is launched into the world -- I still have a couple of conferences to attend, but overall, the book is sailing forth on its own now, riding off in the hands of librarians, booksellers, and teachers, finding its way to children and adults everywhere. It is making that full circle that I long for as a storyteller, that response after the call. "Music is dialogical," says my musician husband Jim. "It requires a listener in order to be complete." Story is the same way. It requires a listener, a reader.

I'm going to finish a draft of the new book this fall. I'll chronicle some of that process here, and I'll write about fall travels to schools and conferences. I'll write about teaching, too. I've been teaching writing for many years and I Have Opinions. I'd love to hear yours.

I came home to friends and family. Dinner at Mary Mac's, an Atlanta institution, with daughter Hannah and two tall men, Walter Mayes and Jim Pearce. I'm married to one of these men.

Here's Hannah adding some height perspective:

I came home to a mountain of mail. Jim Williams installing lighting in my home. Son Zach telling me about his latest DJ gig, daughter Hannah coming home to do laundry and catch up. All the usual suspects and more. Family is a circle of friends who love you. Michael Hill, Harcourt's southern sales rep is in town. We went to my favorite noodle house for comfort food last night. This morning I'll pick up Carol Moyer (of Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh) and we'll go junking in the hours between the author breakfast and the author lunch at SIBA.

So I'm off to SIBA this morning -- the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance conference. It's in Atlanta this year, right in my backyard. I'll take my camera. I'm going to see my southern bookselling friends and be on a panel with other authors, discussing stories. I haven't let myself do the post-tour crash yet, but I will soon. I have one week at home before I travel to MBA -- Midwest Booksellers Assoc. -- and two schools in Wisconsin. And more.

Time to make the doughnuts. I'll be here if you want to stick around a while. Thanks for going on tour with me. It was so, so wonderful to have your company.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Follow the Yellow Book Road to the Land of Harcourt

I was going to title this post "I am worried about my cleavage," but that just wouldn't be appropriate, would it? I was on television Wednesday morning and... well... I write books for children, I'm representing children's books, I wore red so I wouldn't look like a cadaver. I didn't think about my cleavage. This is what it has come to, on the road. It's all about the cleavage.

I *would* like to point out that I left only one thing behind yesterday, but it was recovered. I want to say that right off the bat. I didn't leave it at the teevee station. I didn't leave it at Yellow Book Road. I left it at... but wait, I'm gettin' ahead of myself, left me back up.

No, I can't back up. I can hardly make a sentence this morning. I've been on the road for most of the month of September and today I'm going home. No bookstores, no libraries, no schools, no nuthin' but a five-hour plane ride in first class. First Class. I was upgraded last night; Delta Airlines must have been alerted: "She has worked so hard! Let's give her a comfy ride home."

Yesterday morning at this time I was getting ready for publicist Tricia Van Dockum to pick me up at my San Diego hotel and drive me to the Fox News station for an interview about ALL-STARS. "I haven't read the book," said morning show host Mark Bailey in the green room as I tried not to check my cleavage, "I just got it yesterday, but here's what I'm thinking from reading the pitch letter. I got to thinking of Ken Burns' PBS documentary about baseball. It was full of women talking about how much baseball had meant to them as kids -- Doris Kearns Goodwin was one -- and I'm wondering if women approach baseball not only as a game, but also on some sort of emotional level..."

And men don't?

I'm quickly trying to decide if this is sexist or not; I wonder if my cleavage is prompting his question, but I decide Mark is sincere and wants to find purchase for this book so we can talk about it to an adult audience, and I agree that that's one way to pitch the interview -- the social fabric of baseball culture.

When we're in the studio a little later (no, that's not me with Mark at the news desk) and I'm asked that question, I say that baseball is the American game, and that girls wanted to play, too (and I'm thinking of Karen Blumenthal's wonderful book LET ME PLAY, The Story of Title IX: The Law the Changed the Future of Girls in America -- I know I was influenced by this book when I wrote ALL-STARS).

I say that yes, there was an emotional element to baseball when I was a kid -- I wanted to play! In THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS, Ruby Lavender just wants to play baseball. So did an old man who chose not to play, and another old man who wasn't allowed to play.

I also say that I was in love Sandy Koufax. I think I called him gorgeous. There are all kinds of emotions in baseball.
Tricia hands me off to Kia Neri at breakfast. At Yellow Book Road we encounter another sea of students -- 4th graders, all. And I run smack into my team! Here they are, lurking in the aisles, and then gathered together for a photo. This is the children's marketing/publicity team at Harcourt that put together this amazing tour and took me on the road, that shepherds each season of Harcourt books for children. I am indebted to them in ways I well know, and in ways I can't imagine. Barb Fisch says, "We saw you on television!"

How was my cleavage? Let it go, Deb.

During a Q&A after my presentation, a student asks me how I make the finished story into a book and get it into the store. I refer him to the people in the baseball shirts and tell him that it takes a village to make a book, and that these folks -- along with readers -- are the real stars. I mean it most sincerely.

I meet readers and sign books and stock while owner Mary Hayward sells me Marla Frazee's WALK ON for my toddler grandgirl and TOYS GO OUT by Emily Jenkins and Paul Zelinsky for the 7-year-old.
I say goodbye to Mary and Bud and Yellow Book Road and dash to Harcourt's downtown offices with Kia -- we are expected for lunch. After a quick hello to publisher Dan Farley -- is it live or is it Memorex? --
we take ourselves to Dakota, where I get to meet Steve Hamilton and Roseleigh Navarre, the IT folks who set up this blogging tour with me. I am ever-so-grateful -- look at the memories I've been able to capture, thanks to Steve and Roseleigh... I would never have figured this out on my own.

And here we are, the whole gang, telling tour stories and laughing ourselves through lunch -- "I come from a family with a lot of fabulous people," to misquote Comfort Snowberger. Here are some of them. It is so, so good to see them again. Thank you, thank you, thank you, every one of you, for... everything.

I almost leave my camera on the bread plate but remember it. I do leave my shawl under the table, and we have to go back and grab it before the Warwick's signing after lunch. But we do, we get to Warwicks in La Jolla, we sign stock (okay, I sign it), and I meet Janet and Adrian, pictured below.

What a fantastic store. Janet and Barbara (not pictured) worked at The White Rabbit, a beloved children's book store in La Jolla that everyone still misses keenly. I'm so glad they've brought their expertise to 111-year-old Warwicks -- I could have listened to the book conversation for hours.

Purchased at Warwicks: A CD by Pink Martini called "Hang on Little Tomato" -- this was my impulse buy at the register. Also, BEAR SNORES ON by Karma Wilson for the toddler, AIRBORN by Kenneth Oppal and THE ALCHEMYST (Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel) by Michael Scott for the 12-year-old, TALENTED CLEMENTINE by Sara Pennypacker for the 7-year-old, and LEAVES by David Ezra Stein, for me because I am enchanted by it -- you must check it out.

Another handoff and I'm with my agent, Steven Malk, whom I haven't seen in five years, but with whom I've worked since 1999. I've had more reunions on this west-coast tour, and it has been a good thing. A drive to look at the water and a low-key dinner with the shortstop and his team (Hey, Lindsey!) is the perfect way to end the day and this tour.

Now I gaze around this hotel room -- I must pack yet again. But this time I pack for home. I'm taking back much more than I brought with me, of course, as always happens when people travel. I have some books for the plane, a rad soap, a box of zinnia cards (Thank you, Kathy S.), a tin of terrific chocolates with Sandy Koufax's image on the front (Thanks, Jandy), a sunflower from a fan (Hmm.... logistics....), coffee beans and some CDs Cousin Marcia sneaked into my bag (Patty Griffin), and more memories than I can pack into a suitcase.

I won't wrap up here. I still have SIBA, a regional booksellers conference, to attend in Atlanta this weekend. I'll have dinner tonight with my family and with Walter Mayes, as he's working in Atlanta today as I fly home. So I'll see you on the other side of the country. I loved the left coast. I love home. I love stories... I can't make much more sense than that!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Geezing through Southern California

Here is my Geezer -- I mean, escort -- for the Southern California leg of this tour: Allyn Johnston, Editor and Chief of Harcourt Children's Books. Before Tuesday is out, I'll only be able to see out of one eye and Allyn and I will both be Geezers, punchy and laughing at everything that's not funny.

The subtitle for this entry could be "Allyn and Deborah's Excellent Adventure." I wish I could tell you everything, but if I told you, I'd have to kill you. (My, we ARE getting to the end of the book tour, aren't we??)

I arrived at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana on Monday evening and Allyn met me for dinner -- Marla Frazee stopped by, and that was such a treat I forgot to take photographs. Marla is the artist who made the Aurora County novels come alive with her beautiful cover art. I am forever indebted to her for those transcendent covers.

Allyn and I spent all day together yesterday and we are still speaking. Being a media escort is hard work. Riding with a competent media escort is heaven. I've been lucky this entire trip, but this ride was a real treat.

Whale of a Tale in Irvine is our first stop, where I sign stock and get to know owner Alex Uhl, whom I first met at BEA when LITTLE BIRD won the E.B. White Read Aloud Award for older readers. Whale of a Tale is 20-years-old. It's tucked into a charming courtyard in a shopping center across from UC Irvine.

Alex whips me through the stock, and we take ourselves to Bonita Canyon Elementary School where Alex has set up a school visit with 4th, 5th and 6th graders.

Whoa! 300 kids! I've got my PowerPoint ready, and my singing voice tuned up, and off we go. What good energy was flowing around this room... and you know, I didn't read one word of ALL-STARS. I read from RUBY and LITTLE BIRD, but saw I was running out of time. Somehow, in schools, it's not about the newest book for me, it's about a body of work and personal stories -- kids' stories as much as mine. I figure they'll find the books -- they'll find lots of books.

Here's the fabulous Alex with Ms.N (4th grade teacher), Allyn, and Clyde, who handles the technology (among other things) at Bonita Canyon. Thanks, all, for setting up a terrific school visit.

As we get on our way, Alex gifts me with... a writer's notebook. "To replace the one you left behind," she says. Thank you, Alex. It's beautiful.
At The First Page in Costa Mesa, I'm scheduled for a stock signing only, but I find fans! A scattering of die hard Deborah Wiles readers gladdens my heart. I know I look ragged around the edges (perhaps even "cadaver-like" as he-who-shall-remain-nameless and who is tall called me in San Francisco), but I really am glad to be here. I've just been on the road for a really long time.

Soon I must get busy with stock -- LOTS of stock. "All of these?" I ask manager Kim Newett. "All the hardcovers," she says. "We'll sell them." Wow. It's Kim's wedding anniversary. Flowers arrive. So does her 8-year-old daughter Amelia.

"What a good book for a 7-year-old?" I ask her. She brings me JUDY MOODY GETS FAMOUS by Megan McDonald. Sold. Kim hand sells me THE LOOKING GLASS WARS by Frank Beddor for my 12-year-old Logan.

[Note: As I reread this entry (and most of the time I don't get a chance to reread -- I'm dashing out the door), I was going to edit the sentence below, and decided to leave it in as an example of writing-by-the-seat-of-the-pants weariness -- Kim is not four years old, The First Page is four years old. Sheesh... I'm sure I've got more of this stuff sprinkled through this tour journal -- I don't want to look.]

Only four-years-old, Kim says The First Page is dedicated to giving back. "We give 5 percent of each sale to the school of the customer's choice."

My choice right now is supper. Allyn and I drive north to Santa Fe Springs. Joyce Ryan, who coordinates events for the Santa Fe Springs Library, recommends Geezers for an early supper before our 7pm library event. By now we are hot, wrinkled, hungry, and tired, and glad for a break in the day. We sit by ourselves outside in the shade, away from the televisions and near the fountain, where we get silly. We check email, we call families, we call the office, we call all over the place while picking at the fried zucchini and Caesar salad. Everything is funny in that shimmery, exhausting way that everything gets to be funny. "Welcome to the book tour!" I tell Allyn.

But we pull it together for the library event, which is.... quiet. "We've never done this on a Tuesday night before," says Joyce, as we arrive. And indeed, there are many white chairs set up and maybe 25 people in attendance. I forego slides; we've got an intimate group here, and half of them are children of varying ages. Sweet, sweet children, too.

So I punt. I sing. I read. I talk about stories. I ask questions. Kids answer me. Angels fans boo me when I talk about my beloved Dodgers. It's all affectionate.

As we take our leave, I want to put on my glasses. I sit in Allyn's car and take out my contacts in the sifty dark -- there's an almost full moon in the sky. We have a long drive to San Diego yet ahead of us. I lose my left contact somewhere in the bowels of Allyn's Honda. I knew better -- I knew better! But I am tired, and we are not going to look in the dark for something we can't see, so we begin our trip to San Diego with Allyn yawning and talking and me patting on myself in unmentionable places to see if I can locate that contact as we hurtle down the freeway. We are still laughing. Life is good. Thank you, thank you, Allyn, for taking good care of me on the road yesterday.

And today -- I am home! Home to San Diego, Harcourt's west-coast offices. I'm about to be on local television -- see how calm I am? I sit here with my hair still wet and my clothes still packed, cadaver-like but calm. Can I get away with wearing one contact? Probably not. I'd squint like Long-John Silver. I feel like Long John Silver. TREASURE ISLAND is one of the books House reads to Norwood Boyd in ALL-STARS. It was one of my favorites growing up.

Today: TEEVEE! Then Yellow Book Road in La Mesa, CA at 10am and stock signing at Warwick's in La Jolla at 3pm. School groups at Yellow Book Road, my last school group of the tour.

And a couple of big fat presents: lunch with the marketing folks at Harcourt who put together this fantastic tour, and dinner with my agent. Then home again home again to Atlanta on Thursday, where I'll attend SIBA over the weekend. Let's hang in together a few more days -- I'll try not to lose anything else.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

In the Land of Beverly Cleary

I am moving to Oregon. I love the trees, I love the river, the bridges, the city, the neighborhoods, the bookstores, the valley, the people... it's my kind of place.

Here is A Children's Place. It's where we're headed on Monday morning. I nearly give Dependable Cousin Marcia a heart attack as we ride through a bungalowed neighborhood on the way to A Children's Place Books... "Stop!" I shrieked. "Stopppppppp!"

I leap out of the car (yes, I do), and run to the street sign and snap this picture. Which house? I wonder. In which house did Beverly Cleary set her stories? At dinner the night before Eric Kimmel had offered to take me to the park so I could pay homage to Ramona, my hero, but I knew time was too tight for a pilgrimage today.

Marcia, in the meantime, stares at me as if I've lost my mind. "What are you doing?"

"Ramona Quimby!" I say, waving my arms wildly. "Beverly Cleary!" I patterned Ruby Lavender after Ramona -- I wanted to create a timeless story of family and community. I read the Ramona books to death, studied them, took them apart, admired them so -- still do.

A Children's Place smells like the school libraries of my childhood -- full of good books and possibilities, cozy, warm, and inviting. I am wrapped in nostalgia and children, as the fourth and fifth graders from St. Ignacious School and Archibishop Howard School arrive and we set-to for almost an hour of gab, sharing stories.

And here's how I introduce THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS. I talk about trying to connect the things I loved: baseball, Sandy Koufax, Walt Whitman, old people, dogs, dance, tutus, Eudora Welty, secret notes, mysteries, friendship, the Fourth of July, and an old town.

Then I read from the baseball rules, I read a bit of Phoebe Tolbert's column about the pageant, and then, when I've got the stage set, a good half-hour into the program (I've talked about RUBY and LITTLE BIRD, too), I read the first chapter of ALL-STARS. I love those eyes on me. I love the stillness in the room. "Mr. Norwood Rhinehart Beauregard Boyd, age 88, philanthropist, philosopher, and maker of mystery, died on a June morning in Mable, Mississippi at home in his bed."
Then, when we're all laughing at Finesse and her overly-dramatic moves to entice the baseball team to be in her pageant, I read rule number one of "How to Hit the Ball" -- "Remove all tiaras."

In the picture below, you can see Cousin Marcia knitting -- she's in the red. I hadn't seen Marcia Hindman in 30 years. She moved from Mississippi to Portland and began painting. I moved from Mississippi to Maryland and began writing. And now our paths cross again -- we have picked up right where we left off... as if there had been no years between us. Stories, stories, stories. We've talked each other's ears off. And we share something else in common, it must be a family trait: I don't leave anything behind on this day, but Marcia leaves her knitting at A Children's Place. Hahahaha. Oops.

I hope these pictures give you a sense of A Children's Place. Look at how the paintings on the walls bring the outdoors in and surround you with a sense of place. Portland has a definite sense of place that I resonate to, as does A Children's Place. Lynn Kelley started A Children's Place 32 years ago in Portland. "She sewed good seeds," says Gina Greenlaw, "and Pam took over four years ago. She's wonderful." She is.

Here are Pam Erlandson (left) and Gina Greenlaw. Kira was absent today; she's on vacation with her family in Bellingham, where I appeared at Village Books in Saturday -- and so did Kira! "I wanted to see you," she said. I am so touched. Val had to scoot out before I could get her photo, but know that the staff at A Children's Place is dedicated and knowledgeable and sold me good books: CLEMENTINE by Sarah Pennypacker (fabulous artwork by Marla Frazee) and THE SISTERS GRIMM, Book One, The Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley and Peter Ferguson for my 7-year-old, VAMPIRATES, Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper for the 12-year-old, and DOG by Matthew Van Fleet for the toddler. Just right.

Yes, I want to move to Portland and hang out near Klickitat Street and visit A Children's Place every day. We sold out of ALL-STARS, I signed the backlist, and then tootled with Dependable Cousin Marcia to Powell's, where I signed stock, then headed for the airport. Next stop will be southern California.

I've been a true-blue Powell's web-customer for years. It was a delight to walk into the store I'm doing business with and to see all those books. "Our stock is 70-percent used books," said Chris Faatz as he led me to the Deborah Wiles shelf. Here are Chris and Karen Schnieder, who works in children's.

Cousin Marcia is quite an artist. We stopped at her studio and at the School of Nursing to see some of her paintings before we scooted to the airport. Marcia's work is stunning. And now she knows Ramona Quimby, another stunning work of art.

I'm south of Los Angeles today. Whale of a Tale at 9am, then a school visit, a stock signing at First Page, and then a library event at the Santa Fe Springs library at 7pm -- do come if you're in the area. We're heading into World Series days and I'm gonna talk about baseball and that symphony true.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sleep Deprived in Seattle

Sunday morning breakfast at Pike Place Market: Fish throwers, fresh doughnuts, piano player on the corner, cut flowers and tourists at every turn, cheese making, incense burning, and wind-up toy heaven.

Here's my breakfast partner, Logan, my grandson, that 12-year-old boy I've been on a book search for. Haven't seen Logan... in six years. There's a story here I'll tell one day, but not today. Today is for celebrating!

I am struck by Logan's uncanny resemblance to my son, Jason, and I am grateful to Logan's mother, Shawna, for making this morning possible for us. It felt so good to be in one another's company!

I'm also struck by how Logan reads labels on the back of his Pom, talks vegetables (because we are ordering grilled cheese sandwiches from Beechers and no salad because we are going to eat in the car), and oh, how voraciously he reads. He has already read the Captain Hook book I bought at Hicklebees. "Now you can read it!" he says. Okay! I will.
It feels good to be in Seattle, a place I have worked in before but have never visited. I remember when this space needle was constructed for the World's Fair in 1961 and how much I wanted to go see it. My father, the Air Force pilot, got to go to Seattle that year and reported back on how tall the needle was -- 605 feet. Was it the tallest structure in the world at that point? Or the U.S.?

I am missing home today, and Jim, my new husband. Jim's dad was in the Navy and Jim lived near water most of his growing-up life -- here's some water for Jim, right behind Pike Place Market. Is this the Port of Seattle? The shipyard? A bridge being built? Please advise, those of you who know.

I know what THIS is: GIG! No matter where we are, when Jim hears outdoor music, he says, "Gig!" and rushes to find it. Jim gigs for a living -- he's a piano player, a great jazz man. And when I see this piano player, I think of Jim, gigging all over Atlanta, in restaurants, at corporate events, in nursing homes, at weddings, both solo and with his band. Jim looks great in a tux. Jim looks great in the garden. Jim looks great.... nevermind.

We are having too much Sunday morning fun.

After a call to Driver Jan to ask her to meet us at Third Place Books, we careen (good driving, Shawna) to Third Place together, our lunches on our laps (Logan reads a Pendragon book through the traffic) and puff ourselves through the front door to hang out and read from ALL-STARS, sign books, peruse the children's department with Logan -- can't wait for this.

I've got a dedicated group waiting for me at Third Place Books, including Kirby Larson, who pops in for a hug - thanks so much, Kirby. Other authors know how much it means to see a familiar face and what comfort a hug from a friend can be.

Here are Cheryl (left), events planner at Third Place, and Judy, children's buyer and manager. They make me feel immediately at home -- Judy even made cupcakes for the event. Good cupcakes. I love Third Place: "the deliberate and intentional creation of a community of book lovers." Yes, it is.

I read from all three novels. I tell the story of how I came to write these stories about Mississippi, about how much I wanted to be a writer and how long it took for me to write something that an editor would reply to with, "I really like this; are you willing to work on it?" Well, yes, I am.

I choose a mish-mash with ALL-STARS: first chapter, abridged, and the rules for "How to Hit the Ball." Should I just stick with ALL-STARS and briefly mention RUBY and LITTLE BIRD? I'm still trying to figure it out. Would love some feedback from those of you with opinions, especially those of you who have heard me read already on this tour. What works best for the audience? What do you come to hear?
Here is Judy, hand-selling Logan a new book. He settles on THE SEEMS: The Glitch in Sleep by John Hulme and Michael Wexler. I love watching Judy work; love watching Logan deciding. Judy also sells me books for my 7-year-old and toddler grandgirls in Maryland: The SPIDERWICK Field Guide, WHERE'S SPOT in board book, BARNYARD DANCE in oversized board book, and FAIRY DUST AND THE QUEST FOR THE EGG (Remember, I picked up FAIRY HAVEN at Hicklebees, on Valerie's recommendation; here is the first book in this series). Cheryl says, "Would you like to have it autographed? Gail Carson Levine is here later this week..." Oh, yes, please! "For Olivia," I say.

"We've got to go," says Driver Jan. "My plane leaves at five!" I protest. "No, your plane leaves at four!" says Jan. Oh. Sob! Just as I'm getting started, I have to leave. I promise to return -- to see Logan and Shawna and Seattle and Third Place. Logan and Shawna will come to Atlanta next spring, for Jim's and my family wedding ceremony and to celebrate Hannah's college graduation. Hugs all around, and cheerful goodbyes, but as soon as I'm in the car with Jan, I'm overwhelmed and burst into tears. It has been such an emotional morning. A good morning filled with stories. And I love Third Place Books.

Jan gets me to the airport in good time -- she has kept me on task, and she has done it with great humor and peacefulness (an essential for a good media escort, especially as she's driving through traffic and her author is sobbing). All's well, though, all's well...
As I settle into the short ride on the little Horizon Air prop that's hopping me from Seattle to Portland, I gaze out the window and gape in wonder. I turn to my seatmate. "May I be obnoxious and get my camera from under the seat? There's a mountain out there."

I am in love with the Pacific Northwest.

And with Portland! I arrive at suppertime. My escort you will meet tomorrow. On my itinerary, under "media escort" for Portland, Harcourt has written: "Dependable Cousin Marcia."

Marcia drops me at Bread and Ink, where I have supper with some of my best beloveds: I am "in country." Here are writer friends Eric Kimmel, moi, Ellen Howard, Susan Fletcher, Eric's wife Doris, and David Gifaldi. We all teach or have taught in the Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children Program. But tonight we are not teachers. We are friends. And we have us a little love fest, yes we do.

Lovefest today: Children's Place Books at 10am, stock signing at Powell's at 1pm. Then I hop a plane for Orange County, California. Out into the day I go, grateful and a bit (honestly, a lot) disheveled. When you see me, just pretend I have everything on right-side out.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

All for Kids and Village Books

Here's the drive along the Chuckanut Road that Deborah Hopkinson and I took from Seattle to Bellingham yesterday...

...after I met these three happening hair dudes who sold me a new charger for my cell phone in downtown Seattle.

This is what I told them:
This sign graces a wall at ALL FOR KIDS, Chauni Haslet's children's bookstore in Seattle. I've been wanting to come here for years. I've been wanting to sign the wall in this event room for years!

I'm experimenting with how to present ALL-STARS. It started its life as a serial story in The Boston Globe, and it is chock full of so many elements: baseball, Walt Whitman, a pageant, the 4th of July, mystery, intrigue, old guys (one dead), hahaha -
I've tried reading character introductions, the rules for playing baseball (Rule #1: No Girls), and the rules much later in the book for "How to Hit the Ball" (Rule #1: Remove all tiaras.) This works, but it doesn't feel as good as just reading chapter one, which is what I've done with the previous novels. I'll keep trying -- when I've read chapter one alone, I create a mood and tone -- I love chapter one -- and set up the mystery ahead.

But there is also so much humor in the story that I want to capture for listeners, so I try to gauge -- who are my listeners and where to begin? When I have lots of kids, I stick with trying to hook them with the humor. Maybe this isn't so smart.

At any rate, we had a wonderful signing time -- tons of stock to sign for Chauni -- and waved goodbye as we drove up the coast to Bellingham for a 4pm signing at Village Books. Here's Chauni, smiling us out the door. She sold me a music CD for my toddler granddaughter and a Graham Salisbury book for Logan: EYES OF THE EMPEROR. "Everyone should read this book," she says. So I will.

And here's Bellingham: "The City of Subdued Excitement! " Really! It's such a beautiful city, right on the water... you can watch the ferry to Alaska move slowly across the bay.

This is "A Lot of Flowers," which is almost next-door to Village Books.

And here is the lovely Village Books, where I borrow a pair of red reading glasses because I left mine in the hotel room, and because, when I see that the reading area is in the basement in a darkish back corner, I know I'm in trouble with these 54-year-old eyes. "I'll bring them back," I tell the cashier with a smile. She stares at me.

Village Books has just lost their children's buyer, who set up my visit. I feel a little lost because I never meet the new buyer, Sarah, even though I go looking for her, and I'm at a bit of a loss without a welcome or ballast. But Jonica comes out from behind the register and gets me situated and introduces me to a small but dedicated group of listeners. The lights come up in this darkish corner, and I see that it's meant to be a cozy place, and I warm to it. I put on my borrowed glasses, forgetting to remove the green triangle sticker on one lens and the "UV Ray" sticker on the other.

But it doesn't matter. I take a chance. I remember how pin-drop quiet my readers were at Thacker Mountain Radio in Oxford, Mississippi, and I read chapters one and two of THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS. I love these two chapters. I love the mood, the tone, the feel, the dead guy, the 12-year-old boy who wants to play baseball, the mystery of it all... and that dog named Eudora Welty. I hope I won't lose my RUBY and LITTLE BIRD readers who I see sitting on the front two rows, clutching their books. And I don't -- how gratifying.

Nancy Johnson, friend and professor at Western Washington University, asks me to read some of Finesse's voice, so I read from Chapter 5: "Darlings! Mes Amours! Biquettes!" and we all laugh.

I love that, at this signing on a Saturday afternoon, parents and kids have come together to see me... I am so happy to meet them.
These young readers below have presents for me.

I love them! They are both reading Deborah Wiles' books. Thanks so much, girls.

And here is a coda: Dinner at the Big Fat Fish Company with Nancy Johnson (in blue) and friends. Nancy is the author (along with Cyndi Giorgis) of a brand-new Heinemann book: THE WONDER OF IT ALL: When Literature and Literacy Intersect. I love this book.

At dinner we have (as always) intense conversations about teaching, reading, and writing. I want to tell you more (and I want to give you some exciting news about the Bond Conference at WWU and the new CLIC), but it will have to wait for another post. In the meantime, if you have opinions, I'd love to start the conversation -- we talked about this at Chauni's as well: do your teachers read out loud in their classrooms daily? Do your teachers use children's literature to teach writing skills? Do your teachers READ children's literature? How well-read are they? And how do they (you) circumnavigate the many strictures on your/their teaching time so that they can be creative, inventive, and teach to the student instead of to the test?

Up next: Third Place Books in Seattle at 1pm, then to Portland, where I'll be at Children's Place at 10am on Monday, and at Powell's, signing stock at 1pm, then off to Orange County, California -- whew!