Wednesday, October 30, 2013

AUTHORS AHOY! School Visits and More in Beautiful Humboldt County, CA

I am just back from Eureka, CA, and the wonderful Humboldt County Children's Author's Festival--great schools, great people, great authors and illustrators, great Humboldt county scenery--who could ask for more? The theme this year (you can tell by the hats) was Author's Ahoy!
Humboldt County Chamber Readers who performed my book Wiggle and Waggle
Every two years the hardworking festival committee invites twenty-five author and/or illustrators for four days filled with a variety of activities–author visits in the schools, a reception and illustrators’ exhibit at the Morris Graves Museum, a potluck dinner with entertainment by the talented Chamber Readers, a banquet–held this year in the elegant Ingomar Club, and a community book signing at the Humboldt Public Library.  This the fourth time I have participated in the festival, and each time it gets better and better.
Welcome banner, Mattole School, Petrolia
On the first day of school visits my driver, Jere, took me to the wild and beautiful Lost Coast where I visited Mattole School in Petrolia and Honeydew School in Honeydew.  The long ride from Eureka went through Ferndale, up and down over the hills, with spectacular views of the ocean and Cape Mendocino.  At Mattole, I spoke to two groups of children, first the primary grades and then, after the earthquake drill, to the upper grades.

Questions and drawing, Mattole School
The children had read several of my books and prepared questions and wonderful drawings for me.  I could see that their favorite books were about giraffes and zebras!  Then after a delicious lunch at Mattole, I went to Honeydew School where the children had learned about platypuses in my book A Platypus’ World. Then I read them my story about another “mixed-up” animal The Terrible Hodag and the Animal Catchers.  Afterward my driver took my through the majestic redwoods to Highway 101 and we headed back to Eureka.
"Whale Come" at Redway School
On the second day of school visits my driver, Linda, took me to Redway School, also near the redwoods.  The children there had made wonderful welcome posters and prepared questions.  At the end of my presentation the children gave me their questions which had been written on index cards.  Most drew pictures on the other side.  Among my favorites was a picture of me and the student under a colorful rainbow.
Banquet dessert.  Delicious cakes by Ramones
Friday night was the celebratory banquet at the Ingomar Club. Because it was our first time there, the authors were treated to a special tour of the house before the dinner. After a delicious meal, each of the authors gave a three minute talk.  I’m always amazed at the talented company I’m in and  how each one of us is unique. Then, on Saturday from 10:00 to 2:00 we all signed books at the Humboldt County Library, before heading home. It is a tradition that we all wear our festival t-shirts for the signing.
"We are excited to see you and to have a real author at our school." Letter and Zebra pictures from students at Redway School..
It was a full four days with many events to remember.  I thank all the people who work so hard to put it on.  You do a terrific job! 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Art Exhibit, Morris Graves Museum, Eureka, CA

I am pleased to have two of my pieces of original art for my books, A Polar Bear's World and A Walrus' World on display at the Morris Graves Museum in Eureka, California.  As part of the bi-annual Humboldt County Children’s Author & Illustrator Festival, they are among select works from winning illustrators demonstrating the processes of illustration in children’s literature.

The exhibit opened in September and groups of school children visited and learned about the art from docents. I thank Lucy Quinby of the Festival Committee and Jemima Harr, Executive Director and Curator of the Morris Graves Museum for doing such a good job of mounting the exhibit and working with the children.  It was so nice to have the books displayed alongside the art so viewers could see where the illustrations fit in the books. The exhibit will be up until October 29, 2013.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

PEN Literary Awards Festival

Imagine a room filled with more than 300 writers representing genres ranging from fiction, poetry, and graphic novels, to screenplays, teleplays and research nonfiction, to journalism, translation, drama, creative nonfiction and children’s/young adult literature. On October 14, 2013, I attended the 23rd Annual PEN Literary Awards Festival at the Beverly Hills Hotel in California with my friend and fellow author Gretchen Woelfle, one of the judges this year for the Children’s/Young Adult Award.
We sat with the winner, Michael Harmon, the author of the novel Under the Bridge (Knopf Books for Young Readers) and as we ate our delicious dinner listened to him and the other authors accept their awards.  The evening also included awards given for lifetime achievement (Joan Didion), the First Amendment (Chris Hedges) freedom to write (Sonia Nassery Cole) and award of honor (Kickstarter.) 
The program began with a surprise speech by Governor Jerry Brown, standing in for Joan Didion, who couldn’t come at the last moment.  I was sorry not to hear Joan Didion, a writer I have long admired, but the governor was an appropriate choice in that both of them have long associations with Sacramento and have known one another for a long time.  Later in the program we saw a short video interview with Joan Didion.
I am proud to be a member of PEN USA whose mission is to “stimulate and maintain interest in the written word, to foster a vital literary culture, and to defend the freedom of expression domestically and internationally.”  To learn about the many activities of this fine organization go to the PEN USA website.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Kangaroos are giant leapers.  Did you know that an adult grey kangaroo can jump 30 feet (9 meters) in a single bound and leap over a fence 9 feet (2.7 meters) high?  Its long, heavy tail keeps it from tipping forward as it hops. To jump, a kangaroo springs forward on its hind feet.  Inside each leg is a tendon, which acts like a large rubber band.  When the kangaroo lands, each leg bends, and the tendon stretches.  On the next forward leap, the tendon contracts as it snaps back to its resting position.  This pushes the kangaroo forward.
Click here for a downloadable coloring page of a kangaroo.  A cockatoo is watching from a branch.  You can find out about kangaroos in my book A KANGAROO'S WORLD (Picture Window Books, 2008) and in KANGAROO (StarWalk Kids, 2013) downloadable to your Kindle.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Last Saturday, October 5th, I had the pleasure of participating in the 61st annual Breakfast With the Authors in Santa Barbara, California.  It was a morning of delicious food, good conversation with teachers, librarians, authors, illustrators, and children’s book lovers of all kinds, plus a panel discussion about the impact of the new Core Curriculum, which was followed by short presentations by the authors, all in beautiful Santa Barbara.  There were twelve other authors besides myself and we each had three minutes to update the audience on our latest work and to give our views on the Core Curriculum.  I love hearing what other authors and illustrators are doing and I’m always amazed how we each manage to get so much into our allotted time. The panel discussion of the of the Core Curriculum, expertly moderated by Matt Zuchowicz from the County Education Office, included Barbara La Corte, principal at Hope Elementary School in Santa Barbara, who has hands on experience in putting the new program in place at her school; me, representing the author’s point of view; and Erin Frazer, buyer at Chaucer’s book store in Santa Barbara, who commented how the Core Curriculum is affecting her business. After the initial discussion, an open mic forum allowed people in the audience to express their points of view.  I felt honored to be part of the panel–I learned a lot in preparing! I’ll put my thoughts in a future blog.

I have attended in the Breakfast With the Authors many times in the past.  I believe the first time I came was in 1981, when I was a new author and one of my new books was Animals That Migrate.  The last time I came was in 1999.  It was great to be back!  Thank you Rose Koller, Matt Zuchowicz, Fred Borchers, and all the staff at the Santa Barbara County Education Office for putting on another great event!  Hurray for children’s books and reading!

The authors and illustrators who were there:  Caroline Arnold, Susan Casey, Tina Nichols Coury, Joan Bransfield Graham, Carol Heyer, Valerie Hobbs, Sarah Lynn, Michelle Markel, James Mihaley, Karen Lee Stevens, Greg Trine, Lee Warlaw and Eugene Yelchin.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Caroline, Age 10
When I was ten years old, I met a girl who loved to read as much as I did.  We went to the library together, checked out books, and talked about what we had read.  One day we decided to have a project:  we would read all the books in the public library!  Week by week we systematically went through the library shelves pulling out the books we hadn't read. Did we read all the books in the library?  Not quite, but we read a lot.  And I realize now that my love of books that began when I was a child was the perfect preparation for becoming a writer.

If you want to be a writer, there is no better way to get started than to be familiar with the books that have already been written. My basic words of advice to aspiring writers are to read as much as possible.  It is also important to know your audience.  Writing for a three year old has different challenges from writing for a ten year old. Go to a bookstore or library and browse the shelves.  Look at how long the books are, the relationship of text to illustration, the variety of topics for each age level.  Try reading the text aloud and listen to how it sounds.

Of course, every writer must also write and, like every other skill, writing improves with practice.  As you work on your stories, use what you've learned through your reading to improve your writing!