Archive for April 6, 2012

Fan Mail Wednesday #147: In Celebration of Children’s Artwork

Is there anything better than children’s artwork?

No, there isn’t. There is not.

As evidence to that proposition, I share with you some of the contents of a fat envelope I received from Mrs. Chinchar’s first grade class, after I had visited Lawrence Brook Elementary School, in East Brunswick, NJ. (I think.) I can’t include all the drawings and letters here, but I’m grateful for each one. Below, a few highlights . . .

Okay, my heart just melted.

In her letter, Skye wrote, “I love Spring.” I look at this picture and think, Skye loves life!

Ariana concluded her letter with a P.S. “I love love love writing too!”

Zafir drew a scene from his favorite book, A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade. Move over, Greg Ruth, there’s another illustrator in town . . .

This stubble-faced guy frightens me, frankly. I wouldn’t trust him. Hey, wait a minute — I think that’s me. I recognize the shirt.

Each piece of artwork came with a letter. Here’s one that came from Lucus, on the reverse side of the drawing above. I love hearing from fellow writers who share my love of books and reading. Keep up the great work, Lucas!

Last but not least, I received a spectacular drawing and letter from Alyssa, who really “liket” Hiccups for Elephant and concluded her letter in all caps with an explosion of exclamation marks:


(Sorry, I couldn’t fit the entire, joyous piece on my scanner. It deserves a place on my office wall.)

Last comment: Obviously, Mrs. Chinchar is doing something very, very right in her classroom. Thank you for those beautiful, happy letters.

Let Them Eat Cake

I have so much to share these days, and so little time to do the sharing. It’s a happy avalanche of exciting writing projects (and deadlines!), amazing school visits, new experiences, fan mail, and baseball season — but it’s an avalanche nonetheless.

Here’s a quick post. I am looking forward to tomorrow’s visit to Algonquin Middle School in Averill Park, NY.


Because they made a cake.


The school created a couple of artistic bulletin boards, too.

However, I can’t eat them.

Seriously, these little touches make a difference . . . for me and for the students. They communicate excitement, anticipation, hospitality, and class. Thank you, much appreciated. Like I’ve said before: Authors don’t do school visits, it’s schools that do author visits.

Behind Every Harassed Child . . .

New York Times film critic A.O. Scott wrote a sensitive, perceptive review (3/29) of the new film, “Bully,” a much buzzed-about documentary by Lee Hirsch.

It’s worth reading in full. But here’s a paragraph to wet your whistle:

The feeling of aloneness is one of the most painful consequences of bullying. It is also, in some ways, a cause of it, since it is almost always socially isolated children (the new kid, the fat kid, the gay kid, the strange kid) who are singled out for mistreatment. For some reason — for any number of reasons that hover unspoken around the edges of Mr. Hirsch’s inquiry — adults often fail to protect their vulnerable charges.

I look forward to seeing this important film, while at the same time dreading it.

Here’s the trailer:

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There’s a scene in my book, BYSTANDER, when Eric speaks up to a group of peers. He asks, “The other day with Griffin and David. Why didn’t we do anything to stop it?”

And in that brief dialogue out on the playground, I wanted to quickly present, without editorial, some of the most common reasons cited for failing to stand up.

The mood of the group changed, grew quiet and uncomfortable. A few sets of eyes looked away, perhaps searching for Cody and Griffin.

“What about it, Hakeem?”

The thick-bodied, dark-skinned boy stared at Eric. He smiled, lifted up his hands. “My parents tell me to stay out of it,” he admitted. “I don’t want any trouble.”

“Hallenback is a loser,” Drew P. interjected. “You know how annoying he is, Eric. That kid deserves a little roughing up now and then. It’s like he asks for it.”

“Please, sir, may I have another?” Marshall Jenkins joked in a whiny voice.

Most of the boys laughed, nodding in agreement.

Eric noticed that Pat Daly wasn’t laughing.

“What about you, Pat?” Eric asked.

Pat swallowed, looked at the ground. “Even if, let’s say, maybe you saw something that seemed a little harsh,” he tentatively began. “What if you did say something? You’d get your butt kicked the next day.”

“It’s not worth it,” another commented.

“Besides, who are you going to tell?” Marshall asked. “The principal? Mrs. Morris can’t do anything.”

“What about Officer Goldsworthy?” Eric wondered.

“No way I’d ever rat someone out,” Sinjay stated. “Especially not to a rent-a-cop.”

“Eric, listen to me, okay? You’ve got to lighten up, dude,” Drew P. advised. “Why make a big deal out of it? Okay, a few little things have happened. There’s always going to be some guy who takes a pounding. That’s life. What do they call it in science? Natural selection,” he pronounced.

Rex Babin, Political Cartoonist (1962 – 2012): An Old Friend Remembered

Rex Babin lived a block away from me in the early 90’s, back when we both resided in Center Square, Albany. I was new to Albany, with a wife and (soon, in 1993) a young child. Rex was a single guy with a good apartment, and we hung out a lot, listening to the Pixies and Nirvana, and talking, talking, talking. Beer was sometimes involved.

This is Rex, holding my son, Nicholas, 1993. A  future father in training.

Rex was a California kid, tall, strong, ruggedly handsome — always a little out-of-sorts in the gray climate of upstate New York. He worked for the Albany New York Times Union newspaper as a political cartoonist, so there was always something rattling around in his head.

We lost touch after he moved to a new job at The Sacramento Bee in 1999 — keeping touch was something neither of us were any good at. We became Facebook friends, of course, following each other across a great distance, but that was a faint duplicate of the real, tangible connection that once was. I learned on Friday that Rex had passed, after a two-year battle with stomach cancer. He left behind a wife, Kathleen, and a son, Sebastian.
When I think of our friendship, I’m reminded of so many others that have come and gone. The kid in second grade I used to hang out with all the time. The girlfriend in tenth. The college roommate, the work colleague, and so on. All these friendships that we mutually surrendered over the years.
We simply let go.
Glad to unearth this old shot of me, my dog, and Rex.
What I now understand is that friendship has its own grip. We might loosen our connection, but the friendship — that thing, whatever it was —  never lets go. Anyone who was ever a friend, no matter how ephemeral, carves a permanent place in the heart. We might forget that in our headlong rush to the next and the next and the next, the busy itinerary of our days, but these recent years I find myself remembering those friends more and more.
Regrets, yes. The could haves and should haves. But mostly this: appreciation for what once was. Gratefulness. Forgiveness. Love.
Rex was one of those guys. A good guy who passed through and left a mark, like scrimshaw on whale bone. Rex was here. And despite the fact we haven’t spoken in years and years (and perhaps we both should have been better friends), I mourn his passing, raise a glass to his memory, send my best thoughts to Kathleen and Sebastian, and cry a few tears.
Rex was a friend of mine, and no matter how much rain and sadness we endure, that stuff never, ever washes away. He will be missed.
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