Wednesday, May 30, 2012

You Are Invited

Have you ever seen something that made you want to sit down and write? In my case, I saw a place: Ellis Island. 

The Registry Room at Ellis Island

It seemed so full of stories I could almost hear them, whispered in corners or half-heard behind closed doors.

On Friday, I'll be sharing some of those stories. They've made their way into my latest book Hope and Tears: Ellis Island Voices (Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills Press). It's a collection of fictional vignettes and photographs covering the long history of Ellis Island.

To celebrate the book's publication, we're throwing a party at Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul. 

The party starts at seven o'clock in the evening with a brief reading, time for questions, and then cake.

Please join me if you can. I'm looking forward to slinging stories and handing out a few door prizes. Bring your own stories of Ellis Island to share. My kids are coming too, not so much for the stories but for the cake.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Endings & Beginnings

The end of the school year is always a tough time. For one thing, it’s always too jam-packed with events. For another, it’s so busy that I struggle to take in the importance of different milestones as they whip past.

This past Thursday was my last day as a middle school and high school library aide—at least while the students are in the building. The last day of classes at Twin Cities Academy where I work is June 1, and I’ll be busy at another job during the entire last week of school. So Thursday was my last day of “student contact.” It was a bittersweet experience seeing the middle schoolers, in particular, so full of end-of-the-year energy. (High schoolers are always working overtime to look a little blasé, even when they’re excited.)

I’ve been at TCA for about five years, but in a few weeks I’m moving across country. This time, the end of the school year also marks the end of a phase of my career.

At the same time, tomorrow marks both a beginning and an end. For several years I’ve had the privilege to teach fourth through seventh graders at Young Author Conferences in Minnesota. My hands-down favorite "YAC" is the multi-day event for Twin Cities Metro students organized by Success Beyond the Classroom and held at Bethel University.

See: here's what I love about the Young Author Conference at Bethel. The folks at Success Beyond the Classroom are so, so organized! They've already got everything ready for a great week.
I get to teach writing to kids who are super-talented and highly motivated. They get to sample what life in middle school (changing classes and wandering lost down hallways) will be like. Plus, they get to sample all kinds of forms of expression, from screenplay writing to hip-hop. It’s tons of fun.

I can’t quite see myself commuting from Massachusetts to teach again next spring at the Young Author Conference, so I’ll just have to savor this ending—and listen extra close to the stories my students have to share.

PS to folks in the Twin Cities. I’ll be sharing stories from my newest book, Hope and Tears: Ellis Island Voices at the Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul on Friday, June 1, at 7PM. Cake will be served and books will be signed! Please join me.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

We Need Editors, Because by Changing a Few Words, You Can Make Big Changes in Meaning

Another part in the continuing series: Why the World Still Needs Editors

I’m in the process of moving, so I’ve had many encounters lately with hyperbole, or at least with the kind of non-understatement found in the little blurb that sits beneath the photo of a house in a real estate listing: “Truly delightful…brimming with charm & appeal!” “Pampered classic!” You get the idea.

Pretty cute, right?

When my house first went on the market, that little blurb said: “Enjoy living in the cutest home in Mac-Groveland!” It was hard for me to argue with that, although there might be one or two other homeowners in my neighborhood—between Macalester College and Groveland Park in St. Paul, MN—who might claim their houses rank just as high or higher on the cute scale.

Just this week, however, we re-listed after we put in some major improvements. Somehow, in the rush to squeeze in more blurb copy about the new carpet, dishwasher, and electrical service, the realtor left out the qualifier “in Mac-Groveland.”

Now, the copy says, “Enjoy living in the cutest home!” Not just in Mac-Groveland, not just in St. Paul, not just in Minnesota, not just on planet Earth. Change a few words, and without an editor on board, you’ve suddenly got the cutest house in the known universe…

Even though it bothers my editorial side, my heart almost wants to believe it’s true. And I’m only going to demand a revision if this doesn’t sell the place.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sixth Grade says, “Read this, or else!” Part Two

Circulation has closed at the middle school library where I work, but recently the sixth grade students were in to visit. Their assignment was to tell us all what they plan to read over summer break and/or give mini reviews and recommendations of books we all need to read—or else.

Most of their book picks are in a previous post. But, at the risk of tooting my own horn, I’ve got to mention one last student recommendation.

At the end of the class hour, one student walked up to me and said, “Would you mind signing this? It was my favorite book when I was young.”

The really super cool thing about this? She was holding out her own copy of Chig and the Second Spread (Delacorte Press), my novel for young readers.

The really fun thing about this? She even looks a tiny bit like Chig!

The very humbling thing about this? She liked the book enough to get over any shyness and actually ask me for a personal signature.

The second very humbling  (but fun) thing? She made me feel even more ancient than usual when she said Chig was her favorite book when she was young.

I signed “from your sixth grade librarian…with warm wishes.”


Postscript: This sixth grade library lady is trying to clean out her closet. If you would like a signed copy of Chig and the Second Spread, I am sending out free ones to the first six blog readers to email me. To do this, you will need to go to my website (the link is to your right) and then click on "email"at the bottom of the page. Sorry to make it complicated, but this way I avoid spammers.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sixth Grade says, “Read This, or Else!” Part One

The school year is coming to an end, and yesterday was the last official student visit to the middle school library where I work. Sure, they’ll be in borrowing books for the rest of the week and until circulation closes. But yesterday was the last time I pulled out a loaded cart and got to talk about books.

This time around students did most of the talking. The question was: “What are you going to read this summer?” or “What should the rest of us read this summer because you think it’s really, really good?”

Under the heading “Sixth Grade Says, ‘Read This, or Else!,’” folks recommended everything from Holes (Louis Sachar) to Eragon (Christopher Paolini) to The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Brian Selznick) to The Hunger Games (do I need to say Suzanne Collins?). But they also said, “Read the newspaper!” (a surprise) and “Read the Onion!” (another surprise).

There were more classics on their list than I would have expected from sixth graders. Anne of Green Gables and To Kill a Mockingbird to name a few. And though they recommended loads of fantasy for the summer months, they also mentioned Fever 1793, historical fiction by Laurie Halse Anderson, and the Depression-era story Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. Of course, they also plan to read Calvin and Hobbes, Dear Dumb Diary, and Stephen King.

Hearing the enthusiasm in their voices made me want to sit right down with a good book…or at the very least read a newspaper.

Stay tuned for the final part in this two-parter.