Written by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by David Wisniewski
Clarion, 1997

Last week I visited a first grade classroom at a local elementary school to talk about my “job” as a children’s book writer. I found myself in the awkward situation of presenting myself as an author and having no book to show the kids. And so I brought along other proofs of my job:

I prepared a storyboard that showed photographs of me at work on my first book. There were images of me in my office, at my computer, in the library, interviewing scientists, transcribing notes, interviewing more scientists, and beachcombing.

I also brought an eighteen-inch stack of manuscripts which represented three revisions of my manuscript. They loved this part. The markings of my editor’s red pen were a huge hit, and the kids suggested that an editor is “just like a teacher”.

With stunning lack of foresight, I passed out some of the bathtub toys that feature so prominently in my book. These caused all sorts of problems and had to be collected straightaway. (They were thrown and squeezed and tossed and bitten and fought over …)

Finally, I talked with the kids about storytelling. They agreed it was fun, and that different people can tell the same story in quite different—yet equally enjoyable—ways. I showed them some books written by other authors about the same tub toy spill my book explores, and they chose one of them for me to read out loud.

Eve Bunting’s DUCKY is a fictional account of the tub toy spill. The story is told from the point of view of a rubber duck, and Mr. Wisniewski uses colorful cut-paper art to illustrate it. This treatment definitely struck a chord with these kids … they grew very quiet when the duck found itself alone at sea and there were a few gasps when a shark showed up. I was struck (once again) at how quickly children of this age are swept up in a good story. They were completely mesmerized.

I finished the morning by giving each child a notebook in which to record their own stories and observations. In return, they promised to read my book when it comes out and to let me know if they find some rubber tub toys at the beach this summer.

Cool kids, every one of them!


Tracking Trash

I’m okay… I think. But it has been quite a week.

My editor sent me a note last Friday to tell me that the first pages of my book would be arriving on Monday or Tuesday. I was thrilled. After two years of research and writing, I was finally going to see text and photographs laid out in book format. The pages would not be bound, but they would give me a good sense of how TRACKING TRASH was going to look. Perhaps it goes without saying that I spent most of Monday and Tuesday looking out the window. Do you know how many delivery-truck-sounding vehicles pass my house in a given day? A lot. By six o’clock on Tuesday evening I was a mess. Where were they? Had they gotten lost? I resolved to call my editor first thing on Wednesday to have her track the package. Tuesday night was long and rainy, which I know because I did not sleep at all.

On Wednesday morning, before I’d even had a cup of tea, much less attempted to reach my editor, my husband came into the house with a worried look on his face.

“Um, hon? There is a package here for you,” he called from downstairs.

“Finally!” I shouted from upstairs. “At least they brought it nice and early.”

“Um, hon? I think it has been out here all night.”

I hurried downstairs to see my masterpiece. I remember thinking, ‘what was I so worried about? The darn thing was lying on the stoop, fifty yards from my bed, the whole night!’ And then I saw my husband, who was holding the package with two hands and trying desperately to prevent it from ripping. It was soaking wet. The package had indeed arrived the night before. But remember that rain? Although the delivery man had kindly put my package in a plastic bag (it would have been far kinder to ring my doorbell and tell me the package was here!), he never tied the bag closed. When my husband found it, my pages were floating in water.


The bad news is that the pages were ruined.

The good news is that my editor has already put a new copy in the mail.

The really, really good news is that the design (from what I can see in the sixty-four wrinkled and drying pages spread around the dining room) is GOREGOUS. I am so excited I can almost laugh about the fact that my TRACKING TRASH: FLOTSAM, JETSAM, AND THE SCIENCE OF OCEAN MOTION manuscript arrived in a trash bag full of water. Almost.


Mr. and Mrs. God in the Creation Kitchen

By Nancy Wood
Illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering
Candlewick, 2006

This is one of FOUR books I bought during the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Spring Conference over the weekend. You will hear about all of them, eventually, but this is the one I’ve chosen to start with.

In Nancy Wood’s take on the creation story, God is a couple and creation is a molding, mixing, whipping, and baking extravaganza. Mr. God makes the sun, the dinosaurs (who he soon regrets), pelicans and a giant blue whale. Mrs. God, not to be outdone, throws together the Earth, its atmosphere, and all the fish in the sea. Their masterpiece, however, is a joint effort: humankind. The art of Timothy Basil Ering adds colors and feelings that are at once zany (Mr.’s pelican eats up Mrs.’ Fish) and profound (Mr.’s whale is breath-catching). My favorite part of this book, however, will forever be the title page, which now reads:

For the Burns Family-
May you always know what to create next!
Magical wishes,
Your friend,
Timothy Basil Ering

I cannot recall ever being in the presence of a person so wholly devoted to sharing his passion. The presentation Timothy gave at the conference was nothing short of inspirational and his standing ovation (the first truly spontaneous standing ovation I have ever seen) was well-deserved.

So, if you have never been to the New England SCBWI Spring Conference, I highly recommend you consider it next year. And if you have never seen Timothy Basil Ering speak, you should put that on your to-do list as well. And while you are waiting for the opportunity to do both, read MR. AND MRS. GOD IN THE CREATION KITCHEN. It is a truly beautiful book.


Quabbin, A History and Explorer’s Guide

By Michael Tougias
On Cape Publications, 2002

Writers write for different reasons. For some writers, like Elizabeth George, it is “all about the beauty of our language.” For other writers, like me, it tends to be about the research. I just can’t get enough of it. I enjoy getting into a topic, uncovering primary sources, rooting around in musty library basements, meeting people who can tell me a little bit about the world that I didn’t know before. For me, writing is simply the best way to share all the incredible information I find while researching.

A good example is my current work-in-progress, a middle-grade historical novel set in Prescott, Massachusetts. Prescott no longer exists; it was dis-incorporated in 1938 to make way for the Quabbin Reservoir, one of the world’s largest manmade reservoirs of drinking water. Prescott’s unique history, however, and the dynamics of its demise make wonderful fodder for a novel. And so I have spent a great deal of time getting back to Prescott, through books and photographs and historical societies and museums and field trips and interviews with folks who once lived there. It has been a compelling journey, and today’s book is the one that set me on course.

QUABBIN contains a thorough introduction to the history of the Swift River Valley and the events leading up to its flooding. Readers get an overview, albeit a brief one, of the Quabbin towns, their taking by eminent domain, and the people who were displaced in the process. It is a fascinating history, even if you don’t live in Massachusetts. Mr. Tougias juxtaposes historical narrative with an explorer’s guide, strange as that may seem. The second half of the book contains maps, descriptions and hiking instructions for the greater Quabbin area.

All of this is meant to explain, I guess, how hard I am working on my new novel … and why my day-long hiking trips are NOT procrastination. It’s research!


Leonardo the Terrible Monster

By Mo Willems
Hyperion Books for Children, 2005

I gave a talk last month to the Society of Professional Communicators in Worcester, Massachusetts. It was my first experience addressing an audience as a writer of children’s books, and I was quite nervous about it. I over-prepared, which is to say I agonized for weeks over what to say and how to say it. Two days before the event I practiced my talk several times: first to my seven-year-old son (who was home sick from school … poor, poor boy!), and then to my good friend Dawn, and then, for lack of other handy victims, to the bedroom mirror. The day before the event I was feeling quite comfortable. I was ready. And because there were still twelve hours before the talk, my mind began to wander. It occurred to me as I dropped off to sleep that night that my opening was a little weak. Perhaps I could start my presentation differently? Perhaps there was a way to draw my audience in more fully from the start? By morning I was incorporating a whole new beginning into my presentation. (Alas, this is my very strange modus operandi. I over-prepare for presentations because I cannot bear last-minute tension and frenzy. And when I am prepared I create last-minute tension and frenzy anyway. It is crazy.)

Anyway, the main point of my presentation was that children’s books have a lot to offer adults. My big last-minute idea was to start the talk with a children’s book. I wanted to draw this roomful of adults into my world, to get them excited about books for children. And so I read them one of my favorite new picture books: LEONARDO THE TERRIBLE MONSTER, by Mo Willems.

Like all Mr Willems’ picture books, LEONARDO THE TERRIBLE MONSTER grabs the reader from the title page. Leonardo the terrible monster? Why is Leonardo so terrible? Is he terrible BAD, as in he is a scary, scary monster? Or is he terrible GOOD, as in he is terrible at being scary and so is actually good? And where did he get that name, anyway? As I had hoped they would be, my audience was enthralled. They stayed with me page-to-page, laughed in the appropriate places, and since displaying the art spread-by-spread gave me ample time to assess the audience, I could see they were not fidgety or bored. When I let loose the final “BOO!”, that room full of professional communicators actually cheered.

It was a dream opening and worth all the tension and frenzy. (Thank you, Mr. Willems!) My presentation was well-received and, more importantly, I am more convinced than ever that children’s books really do have a lot to offer adults. So, find yourself a copy of LEONARDO THE TERRIBLE MONSTER and read it to the children in your life. Heck, pick it up and read it to the adults in your office. It’s a great book.



Oh, dear.

There is a major typo in my first blog entry. I could just go back and fix it, but that would be too easy. Instead I have decided to confess “live” that I am not twenty-six, as I implied in that first entry. (The diary incident happened when I was ten, and I told you that was sixteen years ago.) Actually, I haven’t been twenty-six for about ten years!


Where does the time go?


Write Away

HarperCollins, 2004

One of the works-in-progress that thrills me the most these days is a middle-grade historical novel. I carried the idea for this novel around with me for a year or more before I felt bold enough to put any of it on paper. Then I took one month of early mornings (5 to 7am for the month of November … otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month) and wrote the entire novel. Okay, not quite the entire thing. But I wrote a solid draft and when it was finished I liked it enough to begin worrying. Could I pull this off? Me? A novel? Sure, I can write. Sure, I have read a lot of novels. But could I pull together these parts of myself and create a work of long fiction worthy of publication?

The worrying vexed me, so I put the novel away and worked on other things. And then at Christmastime I stumbled across Elizabeth George’s WRITE AWAY at the bookstore. I bought a copy for a friend. In a moment of optimism, I bought a copy for myself. My fried says she liked it. I loved it.

Elizabeth George’s book is an easy-to-read overview of the elements of fiction: character, setting, and plot. Throughout the text are examples, taken from contemporary and classic works, demonstrating viewpoint, voice, and dialogue. This was all useful, but it was the second half of the book that gave me the courage to take my first draft and fashion an actual novel out of it. In this half of the book, Ms. George outlines her personal approach to novel writing. Her process is involved, intense, anal, and absolutely my cup of tea.

And so I am back to waking before dawn and creeping into my office to work on my first novel. I began by working on character sketches and I have been blown away at the insights this simple exercise has given me. The plot has evolved, the characters have gained dimension, and the story has taken a new and firmer shape. I am ready to, ahem, write away.

Wish me luck!


Shiloh Season

By Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1996

Happy Patriot’s Day!

Today was the first day of April Vacation Week. The kids were home, the sun was out, and very little writing was done. On the upside, a good deal of gardening was accomplished and everyone is tired in that give-me-some-dinner-and-put-me-to-bed sort of way. Don’t you just love spring?

Vacation Week days in this house often begin with a book, and today was no exception. The kids and I finished SHILOH SEASON, the sequel to Naylor’s Newbery award-winning novel SHILOH. As with the first book, this one got us talking about some truly important stuff … right and wrong, big lies and little lies, people who are mean, and the sometimes difficult things that make them mean. These are big topics for little kids, and I loved how Naylor hid them in this enjoyable–and sometimes intense–story. We talked for a good while after the book was done, and although we didn’t agree on everything (my sons thought it was okay for Marty Preston, the eleven-year-old protagonist, to keep things from his parents and my daughter thinks it would be a good idea for us to get a dog), it was good to sit and hear each other for a while.

My favorite exchange in the book was one between Marty and Doc Murphy, the town doctor. Marty confesses to Doc that he has done something he knows is wrong. The problem is that Marty believes it was the right thing to do. Doc tells him, “If folks know what’s right and wrong for themselves, I’ve no quarrel with that. And we’ve all got to obey the law. But beyond that, what’s right in one situation may be wrong in another. YOU have to decide. That’s the hard part.”


SAVING SHILOH is the third and final book in the Shiloh trilogy; we’ll start it in the morning. For now my little monkeys need some sleep…


Big Slick

BIG SLICK, by Eric Luper
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Coming Fall 2007

Next to my own publication journey, the most exciting part of my writing life over the past year has been watching this novel grow from a 1500 word short story idea into a gritty and compelling novel about a teenager flirting with the addictive world of high stakes poker. BIG SLICK is the debut young adult novel of my friend and critique partner, Eric Luper and you should all buy it the moment it becomes available. I am serious … it is a great read.

Eric and I met in the “Manuscript Exchange” area of the SCBWI discussion boards. This was several years ago, long before folks over there started posting entire manuscripts online. (Do they realize that anyone willing to fork over $60.00 can visit that board? Critiques from the mouths of trusted colleagues can hurt … those from the fingers of anonymous strangers can kill. At least that is my humble opinion.) In any event, Eric posted a rather snotty advertisement for a manuscript exchange … I seem to recall it included the words: “no fluff please.” I’m not the fluffy type, so I offered to critique his work in exchange for honest feedback on my own manuscript. We swapped manuscripts, traded critiques, and parted ways. Several months later, however, when another writer friend and I decided to start our own online critique group, we asked Eric to join us. We three have been working together for two and one-half years now, and it has been a most productive union.

So, if you are interested in writing books for children and young adults, check out the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. If you visit their online manuscript exchange, beware of open critiques, demand “no fluff”, and hand-pick some compatible folks to work with. If you are lucky, you will find the perfect critique partner. If you are very, very lucky, s/he will teach you a thing or two about craft. If you are truly blessed, you will witness the emergence of a new star.


Tracking Trash

Good moring, and welcome to day two of my blog. I think it is high time we got down to business. The business, of course, is books.

I am a book person. I am fascinated by them. I am in love with the idea of them. I read books constantly and across genres (although I certainly have my favorites). I write books constantly and across genres (although I have my specialties). I buy them, I borrow them, I loan them, I praise them and I criticize them. Books are an essential part of my life and it is only fitting, therefore, that I build this blog around the books in my life.

The book I would like to talk about first is called TRACKING TRASH: FLOTSAM, JETSAM, AND THE SCIENCE OF OCEAN MOTION. Haven’t heard of it? Don’t worry … that is because it will not be published until Spring 2007, and because the the marketing machine behind its debut has not yet launched. How do I know about it and, perhaps more importantly, why do I want to talk about it? Well, because I wrote it, of course!

TRACKING TRASH is my first book for children and it will be published by Houghton Mifflin Company as part of their “Scientists in the Field” series. Writing this book has been an amazing experience, from the beachcombing trips to Washington, to the research cruise on the Pacific Ocean, to the editing process, to my first-ever struggle with writer’s block, to the photo research, to the design. That is as far as the experience has gone so far; the book is currently in the hands of a book designer who is incorporating my text and the photographs into an irresistible non-fiction book for middle graders. I can hardly wait for a glimpse of the final layout.

You can learn more about TRACKING TRASH and my research trips at my website ( And I suspect this particular book will appear in this blog fairly frequently. It is, after all, one of my favorites!