Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Making Strides Against Breast Cancer

I'm going to be walking (or possibly limping - same difference) 5k on October 23rd as part of my tai chi club's team in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk run by the American Cancer Society.

See, I started taking tai chi class, and folks who take tai chi at my gym are automatically part of the tai chi club - it's kinda like Facebook, where someone just puts you in a group, only without all the annoying Facebook stuff that sometimes follows. Anyhoo, my friend Tess is the team leader for the club's team, "C Steps for a Cure". (A C-step is pretty much what it sounds like - your right foot makes a forward C, and your left a backwards one, as you swing your leg in and out while taking a step. Look, I don't know, okay?)

Only then Tess had to be in Florida for a month this summer as we were trying to get folks to join the team, and she's going to be back there for the month of October as well, so I became de facto team leader, which is why I make all the announcements and am in charge of the shirt orders and stuff.

Our team is, at present, on the small side - there are only 6 of us so far - and our donations are rather commensurate with that. I'm hoping that will change, of course - and I do have a few checks to enter online, so I've raised a bit more than my own $75 contribution. I'm hoping you guys will cheer me on - especially since this damned RA flare hasn't abated yet and I'm fixing to walk over 3 miles in about 3-1/2 weeks' time.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


I am very much looking forward to getting the mail tomorrow. My amazingly wonderful editor, Jamie Michalak at tiger tales books, has put her two advance copies of my picture book, At the Boardwalk, in the mail to me. Yes - two copies, one in hardcover and one in paperback, since my publisher is going to release the book in both formats when it releases next March.

This is months ahead of my author copies, which won't reach U.S. soil until at least January. I am very, very lucky to have such a sweetheart of an editor, who is willing to share what are essentially proofs/production copies with me so that I can see (and hug) my realio trulio book sooner, rather than later. *hugs Jamie*

Kiva - loans that change lives

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hound Dog True by Linda Urban

Last Tuesday was the official release date of Hound Dog True by Linda Urban. It was not an especially noisy book release, but then again, it's not a terribly noisy sort of book. Fans of Linda's first middle-grade novel, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, will not be surprised by that. Come to think of it, fans of her picture book, Mouse Was Mad, won't be that surprised, either, since Mouse's display of anger is so very, very silent and still.

I must say up front that Linda is a friend of mine. And that I've been in love with this story for a very long time. As in, before it was officially a book, since I had the extreme good fortune to be one of the people who read it when it was still a manuscript. In fact, I still love parts of the book that aren't actually there anymore. So, you know, I'm not entirely unbiased.

However, I should add that part of why I love this book so much is that Linda nails how it feels to be a new kid at a new school - and as a kid who attended eight schools from kindergarten through high school (actually, it was eight between kindergarten and eighth grade), I know what I'm talking about here. My inner twelve-year old felt validated by reading the descriptions of how Mattie felt about getting ready to start at (another) new school.

So, even with my particular biases out in the open, I have to ask: What's not to love about a character-driven story that touches on important issues such as identity - who am I, and what is my place in this world? do I fit in? (I promise I'm not quoting lyrics from "Out Here on My Own" from Fame, though it sorta seems that way at the moment.) And family - how does family fit together? How do family members interact with one another? Is it possible to change established roles and act in a way that's different from an established pattern? And creativity: what is it? how does it manifest itself? and isn't it scary to put yourself and your work product out there where others can see it (and comment on it)? And, at its heart, it's about courage.

The kind of courage that's needed when you move to a new place. The kind of courage it takes to speak up for yourself when things aren't going the way you'd like. The kind of courage it takes just to show up or speak up when you're a shy person. The kind of courage it takes to make art, and to share it with the world. The kind of courage it takes, sometimes, to risk making a new friend.

All of these are things that kids face every day - even non-shy kids have trouble sometimes speaking up when they've got an issue with something going on at home. Or adjusting to a new house and/or school. Or dealing with new friends. Or sharing their music/art/writing/dance or whatever talent it is they have. The world can be a risky place, and this story about Mattie Mae Breen conveys that well, from the beginning of Chapter One, where Mattie notices the warnings on a ladder:

  The stick man has bolts of cartoon electricity shooting out of him. Attention! Avertissement! it says over his head. Atención! Achtung! Do not use ladder in electrical storms. May cause severe injury or death.

  Mattie is glad she is not in an electrical storm. She does not want little bolts of lightning to shoot out of her. Of course, she's just standing at the bottom of the ladder, holding it two-hand steady, eyes level with the warning labels pasted to its metal sides. It's Uncle Potluck up top, like the stick man, so probably Uncle Potluck would get the death. Mattie'd only get severe injury, she figures, and for a minute she thinks about what kind of injury that might be. Lightning could split a tree, she knew. Maybe it would split her. Take a leg off or something. Or maybe she'd singe all over, like a shirt ironed too hot. Either way, it is good they are inside, she tells herself.

  It is good that they are here, inside Mitchell P. Anderson Elementary School, inside Ms. Morgan's fifth grade classroom, inside the room that Uncle Potluck says will be hers once school starts.

  And she keeps it good by focusing on the stick man, not wandering her eyes to the rows of desks or the coat closet doors or the blackboard up front. She reminds herself there is a whole week before this new school starts and she doesn't have to think about any of that yet.

  She can just help Uncle Potluck fulfill his Janitorial Oath.

  She can steady the ladder.

  She can think about severe injury and death.
As you can see, despite the themes I've mentioned, there's a healthy dose of humor in the book - and not just here at the start, but throughout. I love how Mattie works to unbend and allow herself to at least consider the idea of making a new friend, and how she thinks up ways to avoid mixing with the student population at her new school, and how her relationship with her family (her mother and Uncle Potluck) plays out.

And oh, do I love the writing. And the voice. And if you or someone you know is a fan of middle-grade fiction, I am pretty sure they'll like this one, too.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Good news!

Poking my head up from my RA-induced haze to share a bit of good news with you.

My poem, "A Place to Share", is going to be published in Dare To Dream . . . Change the World (working title), a forthcoming anthology from publisher Kane Miller edited by Jill Corcoran. The anthology is going to contain a mix of biographical and inspirational poems. My poem is biographical, and related to the founders of YouTube. My friend Laura Purdie Salas wrote an inspirational poem on the same topic, and the pair of poems will be included in the anthology along with the work of 28 other poets - and just wait until you see the final line-up of people in this anthology. (List not yet public, I'm afraid, but trust me when I say that it's AWESOME, as is the potential illustrator!)

I am extremely excited and more than a little humbled to be included with so many rock stars from the world of children's poetry.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Guys Lit Wire news

As many of you know, I also post monthly over at Guys Lit Wire. In fact, I posted my review of Baseball Haiku over there the other day before putting it up here, too.

But today, I'm sending you over there to read Justin Colussy-Estes's awesome post What We Talk About When We Talk About Comics. Justin has drawn a comic as part of his ongoing book review. And dudes, it's awesome.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


It's almost playoff season, so today, I'm talking about baseball - specifically, I'm talking about a book that's a few years old now, Baseball Haiku: The Best Haiku Ever Written About the Game, edited by Cor van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura.

This book of poetry is one that I found in the "sports" section of the book store when it came out, which gives you some idea exactly how sports-oriented it is. The book is intended for adults, but there’s no reason that baseball-lovers of all ages wouldn’t enjoy it (apart from a lack of pictures for the very young, that is).

The book contains a complete history of baseball haiku in both Japan and America, followed by sections of baseball haiku. Since we learn that the Japanese wrote baseball haiku first, I’m starting with them. Within the sections, the poets are listed chronologically by birth year, and are each given a full-page bio including both their poetic and baseball experiences. For the Japanese poems, the poems are presented in English, Japanese and transliterated Japanese (which allows us wacky Westerners who don't actually read or speak Japanese to try to pronounce the poems in their native tongue). I have to say, I thought that presenting the Japanese poems both (all three?) ways was pretty awesome.

The very first baseball haikus were written in 1890 by one of the four great haiku masters, Shiki. He’d learned baseball while at school, and was already writing haiku on other topics. Shiki wrote four baseball haiku in 1890, and wrote still more in later years. Here’s one from a later date:

the baseball rolled
through them

In the original Japanese, this followed the 5-7-5 syllable count typically associated with haiku, although the translation does not.

Same goes for this one by Mizuhara Shuoshi, from a set of poems called "Scenes at Jingu Baseball Stadium":

the player takes
his position in the outfield
a cricket’s cry

Here’s a bit of shocking news for you – the first known American baseball haiku was written by noted beat poet Jack Kerouac. The editors of the book explaint that one of Kerouac’s earliest baseball haikus was not printed, but was recited by Kerouac on an album called Blues and Haikus, with intermittent jazz riffs by Zoot Sims and Al Cohn:

Empty baseball field
— A robin,
Hops along the bench

As it turns out, Cor van den Heuvel not only edited the collection, but also has written quite a number of baseball haiku. Although his name is Dutch, Cor is a New England poet who originally hails from Maine. Here’s one that’s seasonally appropriate, but does not follow the 5-7-5 format:

autumn leaves
scatter across the infield
the pitcher blows on his fingers.

Baseball poems aren’t just the province of men. There are three American female poets included as well (but no Japanese women). Some of the sauciest entries in the book are by Brenda Gannam. I confess to liking all of hers, many of which adhere to the short-long-short format, but eschew the strictness of 5-7-5. Here’s one of Ms. Gannam’s poems:

the pitcher slyly adjusts
his equipment

Again, as it’s almost the end of the season – and the start of the playoffs draws nigh – here’s one last selection from the book, a haiku by Jim Kacian:

October revival
all hands lift
to the foul ball

After the selected haiku comes "Extra Innings", which provides the history of "American and Japanese Baseball," adds a "Baseball & Haiku Book List," and includes an "Index of Poets" as well.

Well, don’t just sit there on the bench – PLAY BALL!