Archive for April 21, 2009

Times Article, Columbine, Picture Book Countdown, and Some Vacation Photos

It’s Tuesday the 21st, and I’m back at the desk, working under a deadline. I have to admit that I’m not in Full-On Blogger Mode — it’s like I’ve forgotten how — but here’s what’s up exactly now.

I’m still stunned by yesterday’s cover article in The New York Times, written by C.J. Chivers.

Photo: Tyler Hicks.

A tense, dramatic, tautly-written account of an ambush in Afghanistan, it struck me as such a different kind of article than I remember seeing before. Maybe I’m wrong, but my sense is that after years of regulations that attempt to control war coverage, perhaps now there’s a new openness about war reporting. Could that be true? Regardless, this article signaled to me that there was a shift of some kind. I applaud this article, the courage of the reporter, and the Times by putting this story front and center, above the fold on page one. It’s too easy to forget that we’re at war, that young men are killing and dying, that there’s a cause and a cost. By all means, read the story.

I did a school visit recently, where I spoke with approximately 400 6th-grade students. In part, I focused on my upcoming book, Bystander, which centers on bullying and its effect on five main characters: Dylan, Griffin, Mary, David, and Cody. The idea for the opening scene was inspired by a piece of information I picked up on Columbine and ketchup packets. If only for myself, I needed that allusion echoing through my book. When I asked the students if they’d ever heard of Columbine, only two hands were raised. I guess that surprised me. After all, that event changed our schools forever. Just the other day I was in an elementary school when they had a “lock-down drill,” you know, because there’s “a wild animal loose in the school.” I imagine my second-grade daughter, Maggie, picturing a deer skidding through the halls, like a clown in socks.

Anyway, this new book, Columbine by Dave Cullin, is at the top of my reading list. The cover designer for the book, Henry Sene Yee, recently posted a detailed account of how he arrived at that remarkable, understated, haunting cover. Fascinating.

On a different note, Elizabeth Bird at Fuse 8 continues to deliver great content at a reasonable price (free). She’s been counting down the top 100 picture books of all-time (based on a readers’ poll), and if you haven’t gotten over there, it’s a real treat.

Art from Virginia Lee Burton’s, The Little House.

Elizabeth isn’t just providing another tired list, she’s doing research, showing artwork and videos, clips from reviews, and personal commentary. It makes you want to go back and read those books all over again; and in some cases, discover the few that somehow fell through the cracks.

Lastly, a few shots of Canyon de Chelley, Navajo land, in Arizona near the New Mexico border, another one from Taos Pueblo, one from Mesa Verda, and a couple of shots of people who came along for the ride. It was a great vacation/adventure.

. . . and Friends?

I got a fat package in the mail yesterday, sent by my editor at Feiwel & Friends, Liz Szabla. It contained their Fall 2009 catalog, along with ARCs for eight upcoming novels:

Everything for a Dog by Ann M. Martin

In the Path of Falling Objects by Andrew Smith

Spellbinder by Helen Stringer

The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander

Buck Fever by Cynthia Chapman Willis

The Eyeball Collector by F.E. Higgins

Bystander by . . . that would be me (and for the record, I can’t wait to talk about this book, and the topic of bullying in general)

One of Jean Feiwel’s stated missions for her new publishing venture, after something like 20 years at Scholastic, was to Keep It Small. And so far, she’s stuck to that goal, despite the temptations to grow, and Grow, and GROW. But still: Feiwel AND Friends. If you are like me (read: hopelessly cynical), then you probably think, “AND Friends,” yeah, right.

But I do feel a difference. Part of that is based on my association with the merry crew that makes things happen at F & F. It’s a small staff and I think I’ve met them all, even the person who gives Liz and Jean their weekly pedicures, and I’ve even Facebooked a few. (Yes, it’s a verb now.) But there’s also, for me, a sense of community with the other authors and illustrators. We’re all on the same team, so to speak, and like a fan in the stands, suds in hand, I’m rooting for them.

Will I read all these galleys? Nope. I mostly read adult books. But I’m eyeballing that new Andrew Smith book, curious about what he’s done with it. And Julie Halpern is a fresh, original voice — so uncool that somehow she’s totally the coolest one of all. Then there’s Spellbinder, a debut novel, which on the surface seems familiar and yet strange at the same time. Who is Helen Stringer, anyway?

A confession: I’ve never had much interest in cultivating friendships with other authors. I know a few on Facebook and whenever I read their status updates on new galleys or their writer’s block or revision process or whatever — well, it just turns me away. I’m just not interested (as I sit here, blogging, semi-ironically, at this Shrine to Myself). The idea of going on, say, an “artistic retreat” with a bunch of other writers makes my skin crawl. I’m not sure why that is, exactly, but it’s real for me. Maybe I like regular people better. Or maybe I’m too competitive, or too insecure. Maybe it’s like ordering a Bud in a can when there’s some snazzy cherry-flavored micro brew available. I don’t know.

But this crowd at Feiwel and Friends? It’s hard to explain. Just a sense I guess, a feeling that’s kind of sloppy and formless, like a first wet kiss. A little creepy, but kind of nice, too. A little like . . . friendship. With benefits. Like free ARCs!

And by the way: I’m back from vacation. Hear me roar.

Away on Vacation

Squander your free time somewhere else — because we’re away on vacation! Back in business by the 20th.

These are some of the places where we’re going, and we’re very excited:

Worst Book Cover Ever: Passover Edition

A few faithful readers might recall this October post, which nominated a title for worst book cover ever.

Well, my friend Alan recently emailed with another strong contender — and just in time for Passover.

Um, gee, no thanks. I’m not really thirsty. But it sure looks good!

Happy holidays, everybody.

School Visits: Some Photos

Here’s some photos from a recent school visit to Jefferson Elementary, in Schenectady, New York (but it sure looked like Rotterdam to me). We had a great day, thanks largely to the efforts of the tireless Beth Bini and the whole Jefferson Elementary Wrecking Crew.

I believe that 80% of the success or relative failure of a school visit comes down to the school. The advance work of teachers, the PTA, the support of the administration, etc. They lay the groundwork for a positive visit. Or not. Then the author comes in and basically does a job, which is the final ingredient. Essential, for sure. But without that preparatory effort by the school leaders, reading books, talking about writing, building a sense of anticipation — excitement about books! — then the author is running uphill all day long and the whole day just isn’t what it could be for the students.

Which is why I’m so grateful to Beth, and everyone else at Jefferson.

Anyway, here’s a bunch of photos of me, me, ME, mememe. A little gross, but I don’t do this too often and the shots are kind of cool.

Somebody at one of the presentations took these pictures. This would be from my talk to K-1 students. I do entirely different talks for grades 2-3, 4-5, and middle schools. Here I’m reading my new book, Mighty Casey: “Still, the hounds took the field/ with bounding, bursting pride/ win or lose, they did their best;/ they could always say, “We tried.”

It’s hard to make out here, but I love the Elmo, a camera-projection-thingy-tool-gizmo that makes it easy to show images up on a big screen, even for semi-Luddites like me. Two outs, bases loaded. Uh-oh. It’s Casey at the bat.

I like to show kids the books that I made, and sold to friends and neighbors, when I was a kid. This shot is from Tarzan’s Adventures, available for only twelve cents, with the numbers written backwards. Fortunately my mom bought and saved the lone copy. My other books from that time, such as Hercules Kills Danger, are gone forever.

This is right before I nearly killed myself by standing on a folding chair (bad idea).  I’m explaining that if it was me up in a tree, and not Tarzan, that I’d definitely stay up there until the lion went away. Which is why he’s a better character for a story than I’d ever be. You see,  I was a boy, and I wanted things to HAPPEN in my stories. Otherwise, why write about it?

Wake Me In Spring — no idea what I’m doing here. The truth is, I don’t have a license to do this stuff. I half expect to get hauled away any minute.