Laughter and applause drifted through the walls from family story time in an adjoining room. In another area young boys and girls entered with bags of books, scoured the shelves, picked a favorite…or two. I was in a new space, the children’s section of the Free Library of Philadelphia, where I had come with some fellow writers from my critique group. But it wasn’t just a visit and a chance to share our latest work in progress. We were privileged to be meeting with the curator of the children’s literature research collection. Housed at the library are a range of original artwork and manuscripts from leaders in the world of children’s literature – Newbery winners, Caldecott winners, classic and contemporary authors and artists. I had to almost pinch myself when I realized I was standing among one of the largest collections of primary source material for children’s literature in the country.
As we sat around the table and introduced ourselves to Christopher, the curator, I had an immediate sense of my identity as a writer. Christopher asked about our background, but he was more interested in what we were currently working on and our role as authors in the larger community of authors and illustrators. It reminded me of how important it is to take such interest in the young writers we work with. When you ask about the writing work they are doing, you are acknowledging that they are writers.
One of our members is also an illustrator interested in collage work, so we were treated to viewing, up close, some of the original works of Ezra Jack Keats. So precious. So beautiful. As the others talked about technique and style, all I could imagine was Mr. Keats in his studio, creating. All I could think about was this wonderful collection housed in this space shared by the community. All I could think about was being a part of it all.
Imagine a space built into the trees along the forest walk, where children of all ages can experience the joys of nature.
Imagine that in that space there were huge horns where visitors can listen to the sounds from the forest and nearby meadow.
Imagine a wagonload of inviting books and puppets ready for play.
Imagine the opportunity to use magnifiers to examine leaves and gourds up close.
Imagine children gathering in that space for stories and finger plays and songs.
That’s how I spent my morning – helping with Family Story Time at Longwood Gardens. What a treat!
I’ll admit it. I have a sweet tooth. Lately though, I’ve been trying to cut back on sugar in my diet. I am more drawn to baked goods than candy, but there are certain types of candy that are hard for me to resist. One is Twizzlers, and the other is Toffee Crunch, sometimes called Buttercrunch Toffee. You know, that toffee candy encased in rich chocolate, then smothered in almonds. People often give it as gifts and it is, in my estimation, simply irresistible.
Once I received a box of toffee crunch as a gift and right away I knew I was in trouble. Allan hates toffee, so it was all up to me. I decided I would carefully parcel out the pieces. After taking out two small chunks, I carefully retied the box and put it in the cupboard. Apparently that was not far enough away because within just a few minutes I was back for more. This time after retying the box I put it on the top shelf of the cupboard. If this sounds a little like Frog and Toad’s predicament in “Cookies” (Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Together), you are right! It was just like that, except that I didn’t scatter the candy for the birds. My lack of will power won out.
Last week my sister-in-law brought over some items from a gift basket she received and, you guessed it, there was a box of that toffee crunch.
“You can’t leave this,” I protested. “I’ll eat the whole thing.”
“It’s just a little box,” she said. Little did she know what I would be up against.
As I was unwrapping the inner bag I noticed a green card at the bottom. This box had come with a warning! Needless to say, there was none left to freeze, but at least I got a good laugh.
I’ve been absent for a while. Not writing, not even reading much, and not exercising as much as I should. August was kind of a blur. Even though I had a wonderful week in Ireland and spent time with family and friends, there was a dark cloud hanging around. Towards the end of July my mother-in-law’s health started to decline rapidly. She was in the hospital for a short time, then came home to hospice care. Last week I kissed her good-bye for the last time as she joined her beloved husband of seventy years who left us in December.
Those of you who are teachers know all about the school calendar – how the new year does not start in January like everyone thinks, but rather around Labor Day, when school starts. Since yesterday was Labor Day, I decided I needed a new beginning. I woke early and willed myself into doing some writing work. I’ll admit I was nervous. The creative juices have just not been flowing. I’ve felt stuck, wanting to give up. I opened up a manuscript I’d been working on, read it and reread it, looked again at the comments from my critique group, and picked up the pen. It wasn’t easy, but I was able to make some revisions (good, I hope). It’s a start, and I will sit down with it again today.
I’ve heard the saying that goes something like, “I don’t love to write, but I love having written,” and that’s how I felt after spending some time with my words. Having written was a jump start. I spent the rest of the morning doing some gardening, taking the dog for a walk, and organizing my tasks for September in my bullet journal. Since many of my August tasks had not been completed, I just rolled them over to the new month. They’ll be completed, and new tasks will take their place. But there will also be new ideas, new opportunities, and new beginnings.
The article in the Philadelphia Inquirer caught my attention – “Yoga with Goats: All the Kids Are Doing It.” I didn’t get the play on words immediately and thought at first it was just for children. But the more I read, the more intrigued I became, and after discovering that this was an actual new “thing” across the country, I decided I had to try it out.
On Sunday I drove a little more than an hour to Mountain Pride Farm. It was a beautiful morning – low humidity, blue skies, light breeze. I joined other yoga enthusiasts, including about half a dozen or so baby goats, in a large enclosure where there was room enough for everyone. Since I’m used to dim lighting and a soundtrack of soft background sounds in my yoga classes, this experience was quite different. It seemed fitting to engage in sun salutations while feeling the sun’s warmth on my skin. My music was provided by a woodpecker rat-a-tat-tatting in the distance, punctuated by a rooster’s crow and the bleats from the baby goats. It actually was very relaxing – very zen.
I’m still not entirely clear on the “why” of yoga with goats. At one point I stepped off my mat to get better footing for a balance pose. When I turned back, one of the goats was nibbling some hay scattered on my mat. I just couldn’t help smiling and grabbing the chance for a quick petting before he bounded off. Did that bring me more out of the moment or into it?
All in all, it was a fun experience. There may even be a picture book in there somewhere. “The Three Yoga Goats?” or maybe “The Three Billy Goats’ Mantra?”
Last week I traveled to Shenandoah University in Virginia to attend two days of their week-long Children’s Literature Conference. Every day three authors or illustrators make whole group presentations, sign books, and then meet with attendees in small groups. You may remember my post from a few weeks ago about authors being my rock stars, so yes, this was right up my alley.
I’m almost afraid to admit this, but up until last week I wasn’t a huge Mac Barnett fan. I read Sam and Dave Dig a Hole more than once, trying to figure it out. And after I heard several colleagues rave about it, I read it again. But I have to admit, I just didn’t get it. Then there is his new book Night Noise. Not sure I truly got that one, either, on the first read. That is, until I heard Mac Barnett speak at the conference, heard him read his work, and listened to him talk about the important collaboration between author and illustrator, how books hold surprises, and how he strives to create stories for young readers that leave them thinking Huh?, inviting a re-read. Mac was engaging, captivating, creative…and I think I finally get him.
I love to listen to authors talk about their process and hear the back story of how their books are created. I think it is important for our young readers to hear this, also. How wonderful it is to bring authors to schools or engage with them via Skype. And how sad it is that much of this important work is being cut from schools because of time or money.
Without a doubt, authors are my rock stars.
The Highlights Foundation, nestled in Pennsylvania’s Pocono mountains, is a special place where writers and illustrators of all shapes and sizes and experience levels come together to learn, share, and be inspired. When you turn into the driveway and make your way to The Barn, you can feel the energy. It’s almost magical.
Last weekend I had the privilege of attending a workshop at Highlights. Most of the guests are housed in individual cabins, but this time my room was in the Lodge – a larger building with its own unique charm. There is a great room with comfortable couches, a kitchen area, and writing desks that opens up to a wide porch with rocking chairs. There are about ten guest rooms, and it is the custom of the staff to attach a sign to the door of the cabin or room announcing the name of the guest. After locating my room, I continued down the hall to see who else was there. I think my heart literally skipped a beat when I got to the last two doors. On one side of the hall – Rebecca Stead; on the other – Wendy Mass. Suddenly, I was once again sitting with a group of fifth graders reading When you Reach Me and 11 Birthdays. Instinctively, I put my hand on each door, willing that the creative spirit and talent of these two wonderful authors could somehow transfer to me.
Rebecca and Wendy were not part of my workshop (which, by the way, had its own lineup of superstars). They had come to spend time on their writing and be inspired, just like the rest of us. I did have the opportunity to speak briefly with Wendy later in the evening, but I only got a glimpse of Rebecca at breakfast before they both headed home.
Authors are my rock stars, and that’s the way it is at The Barn – you never know who you might run into.
The Lodge at the Highlights Foundation