Archive for Current Events

Blackboard: A Personal History of the Classroom

I am proud of my friend, Lewis Buzbee, who has written this much-acclaimed book — and it just came out this week. He is a great writer and friend and I can’t wait to read this new one. A book for anyone who has gone to school, or cares about education.

A classic back-to-school book.

 

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“Buzbee’s affectionate account [is] a subtle, sharply etched critique of contemporary public education. . . . Deeply affectionate toward teachers, harshly critical of budget cuts, the book offers an eloquent, important reminder (which in a perfect world would inform policy) about the nature of school.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A bracing rejoinder to the didactic, data-driven books from policy gurus and social scientists. . . . From the layout of schools to the distinction between ‘middle school’ and ‘junior high school,’ Buzbee spreads engaging prose across the pages, providing both a reminiscence of better days and a considered examination of the assumptions we all make about what does—and does not—constitute a quality education. . . . A welcome book on the importance of education for all.”—Kirkus Book Vault Reviews

2 Snaps from the Hudson Children’s Book Festival

Okay, this would be me, at a table, in front of a dark blue brick wall.

And yes, my eyes are shrinking into my skull.

I’m saying: That’s not me squinting. It’s me . . . eyes wide shut.

That’s how we roll these days.

Next, these four beauties were the first girls to visit my table, right when the doors opened. They had read all three books from my “Scary Tales” series. I had the fourth one on hand — my only copy — and that kind of bummed them out a little bit. The next book, Nightmareland, comes out in early June.

Again, to be filed under: How Lucky Am I.

Hudson Children’s Book Festival: May 3, 2014

Like the song goes . . .

“It’s the most, happiest time of the year!”

Truly a wonderful event, with just a staggering list of talented authors and illustrators, new faces and old faces and — best of all — young faces.

Eager faces. Kids who are excited about books, stoked to meet “real, live” authors, to have a book signed, to have that great literary moment.

If you’ve never gone, it’s time to straighten that out. Come to Hudson. Bring the children, from picture book readers to your outwardly cynical, eye-rolling YA book-lovers.

Celebrate what you value. Reading, books, education, fun.

Then go hang around in Hudson a little bit, eat dinner, chill. You’ll have a great day, promise.

Here’s the link, go experience the awe.

And then come. Stop with the excuses. Everybody is busy. There’s a million reasons why not to go. But this is “make a statement” day. This is “put your house in order” day. This is” show ‘em what you think is important” day. This is “go have a great time, together, as a family” day, centered around books and a lifelong passion for reading.

It’s a beautiful thing. I’m blessed to be a small part of it. You can be, too. Come.

Okay, here’s a partial list: Ellen Jensen Abbott, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Jennifer Berne, Ann E. Burg, Bryan Collier, Bruce Coville, Debbie Dadey, Bruce Degan, Diane deGroat, Chris Grabenstein, Ellen Hopkins, Ty Allan Jackson, Sylvie Kantorovitz, David A. Kelly, David Kirk, Ann Haywood Leal, Jeff Mack, Wendell & Florence Minor, Jane O’Connor, JAMES PRELLER (!), April Jones Prince, Hudson Talbott, Mark Teague, Jane Yolen, Michelle Zink, and many more! And by that I mean, lots more. Seriously, lots.

Pete Seeger: Beacon of Light

Living in New York for almost the entirety of my life — first Long Island, then Brooklyn, then upstate (Albany, then Delmar, near the Hudson River) — I’ve seen Pete Seeger on many occasions.  I’ve even stepped on his boat, the famous Clearwater. Stood and applauded the man. Taken some money out of my pocket to contribute to his latest good cause.

It’s funny, I thought he was an old guy the first time I saw him, at a folk festival 30 years ago. And after that, all he did was persist. He kept keeping on, believing in good things, fighting the fight. Pete Seeger had great integrity of purpose. And soulfulness.

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes when you meet a person, you feel it: “Wow, this is a great man.” An awareness that you are in the presence of a truly evolved individual. He (or she) is elevated somehow. I can name a few dozen folks over the years, men and women, celebrities and neighbors, authors and near-strangers. You recognize something deep and good in that person. A spirit, a kindness, a wisdom. For me, Pete Seeger had that. And each time I’ve experienced the contradictory sensation of feeling both small and strangely ennobled. Small, because I was not there yet, probably never would get there. Too petty, too selfish, too unkind, too Jimmy. And yet lifted up somehow just by the proximity, because here I could see it, sense the possibility: What it means to be a really good person in this world.

We need those beacons, shining that good pure light.

And that’s all I’ve got to say.

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EDUCATION IS . . .

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

– Nelson Mandela.

Today I came across this remarkable 1994 photograph by Michael S. Williamson, and this powerful quote, and thought I’d bring them together here.

For my own self. And for you to stumble upon.

That is all.

Carry on.

Barbara Park: A Conversation Remembered

“I happen to think that a book is of extraordinary value

if it gives the reader nothing more than a smile or two.

It’s perfectly okay to take a book, read it, have a good time,

giggle and laugh — and turn off the TV. I love that.”

Barbara Park (1947-2013)

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I was surprised and saddened to read that Barbara Park passed away on November 15th at the young age of 66. I never met Barbara in person, but I certainly got a strong sense of Barbara through her books. Every reader knows and feels this experience. When we read the best books, when we feel that electric connection, there is a communion that endures beyond time and space and even death.

In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to interview more than a hundred authors and illustrators. One of them was Barbara Park, who was genuine in every way. We spoke sometime in the late ’90s,  and a bunch of those interviews were later compiled in a Scholastic Professional Book called, rather klunkily: The Big Book of Picture-Book Authors & Illustrators.

Good luck finding it. The book is long out of print (big sigh), but there are treasures within. It’s worth seeking out on eBay or wherever. I seriously wish I could write another someday.

I enjoyed memorable, lively conversations with so many great artists. A few of my favorites were Molly Bang, Aliki Brandenberg, Ashley Bryan, Barbara Cooney, Mem Fox, Kevin Henkes, Karla Kuskin, James Marshall, Bill Martin, Patricia Polacco, Jack Prelutsky, Faith Ringgold, Lane Smith, Peter Spier, Bernard Waber, Vera B. Williams, Charlotte Zolotow . . . and, of course, Barbara Park.

Barbara was warm, and kind, and modest, and funny, and absolutely genuine, just as you’d expect.

Here’s what ended up in the book, which was intended to be shared with students:

Best-selling author Barbara Park did not take the usual path to becoming a writer. “As a kid, I didn’t even read much,” Barbara confesses. “I bought books from the school book club because I liked the smell of them. It was nice to have this pile of new books. But I really had no great desire to read them!”

Barbara was a lively, active child with a motormouth and a sharp sense of humor. She had a great many interests, but writing was not one of them. “To me, writing was an assignment, period. I was no particularly imaginative. I didn’t sit around and make up stories to entertain my friends. But I was always the class clown. In high school I was voted ‘Wittiest,’ which, let’s be honest, is just a nice way of saying ‘Goofy!’”

It wasn’t until after college, marriage, and the birth of two children, that Barbara began to think seriously about writing. “I wanted to see if I could put my sense of humor to work. Because, sad to say, it was the only thing for which I’d ever got any recognition. I thought, Maybe I can write funny.”

Working at home while her two boys were in school, Barbara concentrated on books for middle-grade readers. Barbara lists The Kid in the Red Jacket, My Mother Got Married (and Other Disasters), and Mike Harte Was Here as personal favorites. She considers her best work to be Mike Harte Was Here. Many readers agree. In a stunning achievement, Barbara addresses a boy’s tragic, accidental death with writing that is at once deeply heartfelt and — amazingly — joyously funny.

In all of her books, no matter the seriousness of the theme, Barbara’s humor spontaneously bubbles to the surface. In fact, Barbara has made something of a career out of focusing on funny, irreverent, wisecracking kids who, like her, just can’t walk away from a punch line.

Though Barbara’s books are moral in the truest sense of the word, she steers clear of heavy messages and “life lessons.” Says Barbara, “I happen to think that a book is of extraordinary value if it gives the reader nothing more than a smile or two. It’s perfectly okay to take a book, read it, have a good time, giggle and laugh — and turn off the TV. I love that.”

In the early 1990s, Barbara was approached by Random House with the idea of writing a series for younger readers. It scared her half to death. Barbara admits, “There was some question as to whether or not my dry sense of humor would be picked up by younger kids.”

In the end Barbara decided that she’d have to write to please herself, to be true to her own sensibilities. “I can’t change my sense of humor,” Barbara explains. “If I did, it wouldn’t even be me trying to write this book. It would be me trying to write like somebody who didn’t think like me!”

Barbara soon created the irrepressible character Junie B. Jones. This best-selling children’s character, who often said and did all the wrong things, elbowed her way into the spotlight. Barbara didn’t have to look far for inspiration. “Junie B. is me in an exaggerated form,” Barbara admits. “I think the core of most of my characters is me. I mean, where else is it going to come from? It’s got to be from you.”

Though Junie B. is in kindergarten (with a move to first grade coming soon), Barbara has an uncanny knack for inhabiting her world. She says, “I’ve never had a problem becoming five years old in my head. I really think that you basically stay the same person all your life. I fell the essence of me hasn’t changed.”

Junie B. is by no means perfect. She acts out in class, she’s not always respectful, and she tends to massacre the English language whenever she opens her mouth (which is often). An ideal role model? Forget about it. Junie B. is much more than that — with her foibles and mistakes, she is as genuine as her readers. Junie B. is a pretty terrific kid doing her best to get it right — and happily succeeding most of the time.

COMINGS & GOINGS: The Rochester Children’s Book Festival, November 16th

I’ve always heard great things about the Rochester Children’s Book Festival, but never got invited. I tried to weasel an invitation a few years back (clever Cynthia DeFelice reference), but that went nowhere. Finally, at last, I wore ‘em down. Good thing, too, because I’m hoping to promote my SCARY TALES series as well as, you know, meet some kindred, book-loving spirits. So if you are near the area — a teacher, a librarian, or merely a stalker — please stop by and say hello.

Some of the many authors & illustrators who’ll be there: MJ & Herm Auch, Julie Berry, Michael Buckley, Peter Catalanotto, Bruce Coville, Cynthia DeFelice, Jeff Mack, Daniel Mahoney, Matt McElligott, Linda Sue Park, Matt Phelan, Robin Pulver, Jane Yolen, Paul O. Zelinsky, and more.

Holy crap! What a list of luminaries! My knees are sweating already. I better pack a clean shirt.

I’m looking forward to it, with thanks to my publisher, the kind folks at Macmillan, for putting me up with a family of Armenian immigrants at a nearby trailer park for the weekend. I just hope they remember to roll out the red carpet. Remember, I’ll only eat the blue M & M’s.

Happily, the event places me in close proximity to my oldest son, Nick, who attends Geneseo College. And by “attends” I mean, I certainly hope so!

Over Halloween, he and some friends decided to go as “Dads.” I functioned in an advisory capacity, the content of which he politely ignored. My big idea was to get a Darth Vader helmet and cape, then pull on one of those t-shirts that reads: “WORLD’S GREATEST DAD!”

Because, you know, irony!

Anyway, check it out. Nick is the one in shorts, pulled up white socks, bad mustache, and “Lucky Dad” hat. Hysterical, right?

Lastly, hey, if you happen to be in Elmira, NY, on November 6th, or Richmond, VA, on November 13, you can catch a lively, fast-paced musical based on my book, Jigsaw Jones #12: The Case of the Class Clown.

I did get to see it a few years ago, with a knot of dread in my stomach, and came away relieved and impressed. Everyone involved did a great job and, to be honest, the story is sweet, too.

Here’s the info on Richmond, VA (where, coincidentally, I’ll be visiting middle schools in early December, mostly giving my patented “Bystander/Anti-Bullying/Author ” presentation. Anyway, the info I promised:

Families, elementary schools and preschools are encouraged to make reservations soon for performances of a children’s show.

A 55-minute performance of “Jigsaw Jones and the Case of the Class Clown” will be performed at 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at Civic Hall Performing Arts Center in Richmond.

The show is based on a children’s mystery series written by James Preller. Theodore “Jigsaw” Jones and his friend, Mila, are investigating who’s playing practical jokes. It includes music and humor.

“Jigsaw Jones” is presented by Arts Power, a professional theater company touring the nation.

Admission is $2 per student because a grant from the Stamm Koechlein Family Foundation is helping offset the cost for Civic Hall’s Proudly Presenting Series educational programming.

Teachers and chaperones are admitted free.

For Elmira, click here or call: 607-733-5639 x248 (and tell ‘em Jimmy sent ya!)

WHERE’S JIMMY: “If This Is Saturday, It Must Be Austin.”

I won’t be blogging for the next 7-10 days, but I’m confident the world will keep spinning. But don’t think that I’ll be relaxing, people. I’m actually going on a book tour, my first ever, and I’ll be talking up the new SCARY TALES series.

Check out this schedule:

Monday, 10/21: Flying to San Francisco, staying in Petaluma. I’m having dinner with educators and young readers, arranged by the kind folks at Cooperfield’s.

Tuesday, 10/22: Visiting the Old Adobe Charter School, Liberty School, and McDowell School for presentations to about 550 students. Swinging by Cooperfield’s to sign books. Then driving to San Francisco for the night.

Wednesday, 10/23: Thanks to Books Inc, I’ll be visiting at the San Francisco Day School and Brandeis Hillel Day School. Flying to Los Angeles.

Thursday, 10/24: In a day arranged by Miss Nelson’s Book Store, visiting at Telesis Academy and Shelyn Elementary. Flying to Chicago.

Friday, 10/25: Thanks to Anderson’s book store, I’ll be visiting with students at Builta and Churchill Schools, and later that night should enjoy a fun-filled Halloween celebration at Anderson’s, book signing, and free dental.

Saturday, 10/26: Flying to Austin, where I’ll be attending a cocktail party and then heading off to a cemetery for a literary walk with R.L. Stine to scare readers silly.

Sunday, 10/27: Flying home.

Monday, 10/28: The New York State Reading Association Conference in Albany, NY, for a luncheon, then a panel discussion with Ann Burg, and a brief dinner presentation along with Joe Bruchac and Adam Gidwitz.


Congratulations, Iacopo Bruno: The Not-So-Secret Weapon Behind SCARY TALES!

All we really want in life is to be appreciated. That’s basically it.

I’m not talking about authors or illustrators. I’m talking . . . everybody.

A word of recognition, a note of thanks.

We saw what you did.

We want it from our children, our spouses, our friends & co-workers.

So I was very glad to see that Iacopo Bruno was recognized by the Society of Illustrators for his brilliant work on the first book in the SCARY TALES series: Home Sweet Horror.

His illustrations will be included in — and I quote — “an annual exhibit created to showcase illustrations from the year’s best children’s books published in the U.S.”

The exhibit, titled “The Original Art,” will be in NYC from October 23 through December 21, 2013. After it closes, select pieces will travel to galleries, museums, and exhibit halls across the country for a year.

I can’t take any credit for this, the honor is Iacopo’s alone. But I’m grateful to have our book bask in that warm light. It is a great feeling to be well-published. An honor and a privilege.

I’m feeling blessed.

The 1st Annual Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival: October 5th . . . That’s Soon!

Come to the Bell Middle School in Chappaqua, NY and celebrate reading with some of the area’s most fabulous authors (and I’m crashing the party!).

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This particular festival has risen from the ashes of the great, departed Sunnyside Book Festival in Tarrytown, which I dearly loved.

Here’s to new beginnings. If you are around, please stop by and say hello.

As always, great weather is personally guaranteed.