Friday, March 27, 2015

A Way with Words

I adored my editor Frances Foster for many reasons. Her humor, her smarts, her genteel manner. She also had a lovely way with words...always eloquent, tactful, and respectful.

In my ongoing quest to purge my office of STUFF, I came across some correspondence that showcased her way with words perfectly.

Back in 2000 (FIFTEEN YEARS AGO!!! How can that be?),
Frances received a letter from an elementary school media specialist about the use of the word "hell" in my book Me and Rupert Goody.

It reads, in part:

I am faced with a real problem. Several times in the book, the character of Uncle Beau uses language that parents of elementary age children would find offensive. More and more, I am finding that this is an issue with well-written books for children this age. If the inclusion of such language were an integral part of the story, that would be at least justifiable. In this book, it is gratuitous and could easily have been deleted.

What will I do with the book? I cannot recommend it to students at my schools. The language is unacceptable - and it occurs only a few times! I am passing the book on to the middle school where students - and their parents - might not be offended. I regret having to do this as the story is appropriate for fourth and fifth graders.

What can you do? I would suggest that, when you edit books in the future, you become aware of such gratuitous language and suggest to authors that they, too, become sensitive to the inclusion of such language. No one is opposed to freedom of expression but let us be more sensitive to what language is necessary and what is not.

Frances responded in the most perfect way. Her letter reads, in part:

I can certainly appreciate the sensitivity of your position as a media specialist. We may, however, disagree on whether or not certain language is integral to a story. I don't think it's so easy to separate language from characterization, and in my opinion, there is nothing gratuitous in O'Connor's depiction of Uncle Beau. His every word and gesture make him totally believable. I suppose the occasional "hell" could have been edited out, but it seemed so utterly true to Uncle Beau's voice and character.

Are you aware that School Library Journal gave Me and Rupert Goody a starred review and a Best Book of the Year ranking? It was also named an ALA Notable Children's Book. Those recommendations, of course may not carry any weight with parents, but they do suggest that not everyone has found the language unacceptable to fourth and fifth grade audiences. 

I couldn't have said it better myself.

P.S. If it had been an e-book, the librarian could have used this Clean Reader App (eye-yi-yi) .

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Just Stop It, Jo Knowles

Come on, Jo Knowles.

Stop pretending to be a grown-up.

Because I know better.

You are a teenager.

You MUST be. 

Because you just NAIL the teen voice in your amazing new book.

Read Between the Lines

I mean, no grown-up I know writes:

"Simon!" I yell, just to harsh his mellow.

 or can create such achingly realitic teen characters... Sapphie...

She said it loud and tough. Fast. Like the four words were one.


 Jo Knowles and I go way back.

We knew each other online and then at a conference somewhere (they all moosh together for me)....
she was going down the escalator...
...and I was going up the escalator.

We recognized each other and smiled and waved and that was the best we could do.

But then at an NCTE conference in 2009 we finally got to meet properly. (Or maybe it was the same conference. They all moosh together.)

Jo Knowles (right) and me

THEN in 2011, we were on a panel together at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, MA.
We corresponded by email about our presentations and we each confessed that we were freaking out a little bit.

Ever since then, we have affectionately referred to ourselves as the Freak Sisters.

And, by the way, we survived that presentation.
 No freak-out necessary.

[Note: I blurred her signature because I don't like to post signatures online.]

Read Between the Lines is AMAZING.

I loved it SO much.

From the flap copy:

The voices of seemingly ordinary teenagers speak loud and clear of the complex dance that is life in a small town. Over the course of a single day, these characters orbit one another in their innocent attempts to understand and be understood.

So run, don't walk, and get this book.

And, yo, Jo....high five, Freaky!!!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Cleaning Up My Act

I've been cleaning out my office, purging old, useless STUFF.

Every now and then, I come across a long-forgotten nugget.

For instance, yesterday I found a letter I received from the Italian
publisher of How to Steal a Dog, outlining the changes they were making when translating the text from English to Italian.

Here are some of the more interesting ones:

We changed the following Mama's action because in our opinion it's not a good example for young readers:

p. 63: "The bread we had in the milk crate in the trunk of the car had turned green with mold and Mama tossed it out the window." We changed to "...Mama threw it in the bin."

We think it's better to eliminate all references to religion:

p. 138: We eliminated "My other car's a broom. Honk if you love Jesus." [note: That was a bumper sticker.]

In our books, we normally try to not refer to smoking and beer. [editorial comment from me: Um, I've BEEN to Italy. No smoking or beer? Maybe I went to the wrong Italy.]

p. 31: "The man who had been working on his car was sitting in a lawn chair smoking a cigarette." We changed to "...was sitting in a lawn chair drinking a soda."

p. 31: We eliminated the following line: "I didn't look at the man when I passed him, but I caught a whiff of cigarette smoke."

p. 45: We eliminated the following line: "Cigarette butts were scattered on the floor beneath it."

p. 45: We substituted "beer bottles" with "bottles."

We would like to change some words because for us they are too hard:

p. 37 and 88: We eliminated the word "idiot."

p. 58: We changed "dern world" to "stupid world."

p. 119: "Mama would kill us," we changed to "Mama would punish us."

p. 138: "I like to died when I saw" was changed to "I like to sink." [editorial comment from me: Huh?]

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Things I Love Thursday

I love this school display from a small town in Georgia.

Vocabulary Words We Know. Thank you, Barbara O'Connor.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Best School Visit Ever

Want to know how to host the perfect author visit?
Call 1-800-Melanie Roy
She's the amazing librarian at Hampden Meadows Elementary School in Barrington, Rhode Island.
Mrs. Roy and the awesome 4th grade teachers did the most amazing job of preparing the students for my visit.
By the time I arrived, the students had read almost all of my books, worked on some very cool projects, and were super excited about the day.
Here are some of the highlights of my visit there: 

They reserved a parking spot for me! Now, that might not sound like such a big deal to you folks in Florida. But, trust me, when there are mounds of snow everywhere, this is a wonderful gift.

I was greeted with this thoughtful sign.

Students interviewing me for the local newspaper.

They have all of my books displayed throughout the library.

Abby showing me her poster.

Kaleigh dressed as Viola from The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester.

Grey, Robby, Katherine and Julia interviewed me.

The amazing Mrs. Roy

Mrs. Clegg's class showing me their great posters.
The posters


Adeline showing me her poster.

Mrs. Mitchell's class showing me their books.

Ms. Myszak's class made these cool character trait projects.

The students discussed my presentation afterwards.

Rayna showing me her poster.

Lindsay showing me her poster.

Mrs. Bailey's class made this great chart about my books.

Colin dressed as Elvis from The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis.

Some more thoughts from students about my presentation.

Thank you to students and staff of Hampden Meadows Elementary School.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Things I Love Thursday

I love getting letters and drawing from students.

Here are a few I recently received.

Notice Owen on top of the motorhome saying, "Swear swear." This one came with a letter that said, "My favorite part was when Popeye and Elvis were spitting and swearing into the ditch because when Mrs. M read that part, I burst out into laughter because I did not expect it to happen."

This one was signed by Hudson, Jack and Luke and included, "P.S. Hudson is one of seven rowdy kids."

And of course I love this one because she says, "It is the best book in the world!"

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Things I Love Thursday

I love this video of students at Pomperaug Elementary School in Southbury, CT. 

They discuss what they learned from their Skype session with me. Also included are some snippets of the Skype (starting at minute mark 2:51).

Special thanks to Ms. Martellino for sending me this.