Breakfast at the Bird Feeder

At 6 am it’s the coolest time of the day. I try to spend as much time outside before the DC area humidity gets me, and there’s no other option except siesta, so I’ve been taking my tea and oatmeal on my balcony. The space is large enough for a couple of chairs, a side stool, and a few plants. I added a birdfeeder this year and I love it.

Mostly, there are sparrows brown and delicate, but there’s also the sweetest Tufted Titmouse. His little downy blue-grey mohawk and big black eyes speak to me. The house finches, males have this beautiful scarlet cap and breast. They mob the feeder and devour the seed. There’s a mating pair of Cardinals, orange beaks cracking sunflower seeds. I also love the White-breasted Nuthatch who hops up the building clinging to the bricks, waiting for his turn. At the feeder, he dips his long thin beak into the seed.

Of course, the big guys want a piece of the action. There’s a red-bellied woodpecker, which doesn’t actually have a red belly but a red cap and white belly. Its black tail is dotted and dashed with white like Morse code come to life. There are Blue Jays who scream at the smaller birds and drive them away. A Mourning Dove who has only visited a few times, and a huge crow who perched on the hook holding the feeder this morning. (I cawed at him to leave the seed for the smaller birds and he complied.)

The whole time, Rothko (my cat) crouches inside, tip of tail flicking in anticipation of a kill that never comes.

Rothko stalking the balcony bird feeder.

How do you eat a whale?

I’m in the copy editing stage of the publishing process for my book SHIRA AND ESTHER DOUBLE THE WONDER. My middle-grade debut novel launches Fall 2023 from Chronicle Books.

Perhaps because of the heat, my attention is not as focused as usual. Like a squirrel, I skitter from one thing to another—foraging, cleaning, social media, videos, playing with Rothko the cat, and back to the work at hand before something else shiny catches my eye. I’ve been waiting and working for this moment for the last 20 years and yet, I’m procrastinating.

One show that I’ve been obsessively procrastinating with is Home Town Takeover with Ben (a cuddly bear of a man who can make anything out of wood) and Erin (pixie-dream-girl, and artist extraordinaire) Napier. The premise of this show (in case you don’t know) is that they have chosen one town to revitalize. Ostensibly, the show is about remodeling buildings but REALLY it is about leadership, economics, transportation policy, marketing and community. The Napiers often reflect on the massive task they’ve taken on with the question: How do you eat a whale? The answer of course is: One bite at a time.

Back to copy edits. Enjoy this excerpt of the poem “The Whale,” by Joseph Edwards Carpenter.

The Whale
by Joseph Edwards Carpenter

1

Oh! the whale is free of the boundless sea
He lives for a thousand years;
He sinks to rest in the billows breast,
Nor the roughest tempest fears:
The howling blast as it hurries past,
Is music to lull him to sleep,
And he scatters the spray in his boisterous play,
As he dashes the king of the deep.
Oh! the rare old whale, ‘mid storm and gale,
In his ocean home shall be,
A giant in might, where might is right
And kind of the boundless sea!

Book Review Wednesday: Jumper by Melanie Crowder

Blair Scott is in her second season as a wildland firefighter when the Forest Service puts out a call for an additional class of smokejumpers. She and her best friend Jason both apply, though neither expects to get in since they’re only nineteen. But it’s been a devastating fire season, and they are both accepted. But going to training camp is only the first step—everyone expects the teenage rookies will wash out in the first week. Blair has always been touchy about people telling her she isn’t good enough, so she begins taking unnecessary risks to prove herself. It doesn’t take long before everything spins out of control, leaving Blair struggling to cope. 

Penguin Random House (2022)

There are very few YA books that I read in a day, but Melanie Crowder’s JUMPER wouldn’t let me go. Perhaps it was the characters. Blair Scott is a young woman with a medical secret. A daughter driven to achieve everything with her body when her mother would prefer she be careful and cautious. Aunt Cate, a single, smart, scientific, woman who lives in the woods. Jason. Ah. Sweet, strong, incredible Jason. All of us want a friend like Jason. Two smart, salty, veteran firefighting instructors and a cadre of firefighting candidates, each with their own carefully drawn personalities and experiences.

Perhaps it was the setting and the action. The textures of Montana range, mountains, and forests are beautifully drawn on the page. It is a ripped-from-the-headlines setting where Blair and Jason train to contain and fight fires that most of us would run from. But, the big fires aren’t the only ones burning and they aren’t the focus for Blair, Jason, and their smoke-jumper colleagues. The smoke-jumpers parachute into the woods to tamp out and contain smaller, hard-to-get-to fires. Crowder keeps the reader on the edge of their comfy reading cushion as the firefighters strategize to battle the intensity of the flames while keeping their egos and personal struggles in check.

Perhaps what kept me reading was the structure. For an East Coast reader, a lot of this was new information, but Crowder had that covered as well. Careful and intentional insertions of firefighting orders, “watchouts,” and vocabulary kept me informed and foreshadowed the action, urging me on.

Perhaps it was the timeliness. In just the last couple of weeks, four fires have broken out in Montana and in a California heat wave, the Oak Fire in Yosemite (the photos in this TIME magazine article are jaw-dropping) expanded to 28 square miles (19,000 acres). Climate change has expanded the fire season so much that for some places, there’s no more season at all. Fires happen all. The. Time. (Take a look at this fire and smoke map.) Upon finishing the book, I ran into this tweet reminding us that those who run toward the fires to save our lives and property are often volunteers and underpaid workers.

But wait…I can’t forget the emotional arcs of each of the characters. Crowder writes emotion so well. You’re going to swoon, you’re going to cry, you’re going to be destroyed in all the best ways.

Get the book. Just get the book.

Poetry Friday: Empty Nesting

Purchase at your local independent bookstore or through my Bookshop link.

It’s been a long time since I spoke about mothering. Mommy blogs as a genre seem to satisfy their purpose once a child has become an adult. And yet, I am still a mother. With two sons, I’ve experienced everything twice. They each left for college but came back for holidays and vacations. Then they each finished college and set up nests of their own.

This last time handed me a gut punch I wasn’t really expecting. After all, we had already navigated long stretches away from each other, serious girlfriends, a pandemic separation (when we all agreed they’d be better with Dad in Maine then with me in NYC), and weekly phone calls that became more occasional. I’ve learned I cannot control their day-to-day health and safety (much less my own). I understand not only that I’ve given them all I could, but also, that they are fine humans whom I trust completely.

However, I had those moments, maybe you’ve had them too, where you look at the young man before you, and perhaps the light shifts, and you see a flicker of them as the small child they once were. And then it’s gone.

This poem from Laura Foley in the poetry anthology THE PATH TO KINDNESS: POEMS OF CONNECTION AND JOY (p.76 Edited by James Crews, Storey Publishing, 2022) captures my experience.

Laura Foley
A PERFECT ARC
I remember the first time he dove.
He was five and we were at a swimming pool
and I said: you tip your head down as you are going in,
while your feet go up.

And then his lithe little body did it exactly right,
a perfect dive, sliding downward, arcing without a wave,
and I just stood
amazed and without words
as his blond head came up again
and today

I watched him for the longest time as he walked
firm and upright along the street,
with backpack, guitar, all he needs,
blossoming outward in a perfect arc,
a graceful turning
away from me.

Summer Reading TBR

With the humidity, it feels as if it’s over 90ºF here in the DMV. So find yourself some AC, a fan, and a cold glass of lemonade and get busy reading some phenomenal books. (I’m hoping that my students read at least one this summer!)

Here are some middle-grade and YA that I’ve loved over the past few weeks. If there’s a date on it, that means it’s an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy). A few of those won’t be out for purchase until the fall.

Here’s my To Be Read (TBR) pile. It keeps getting bigger, but I’m trying to use the library too. Some came out last year and some are brand new. If you read any, leave me a message and tell me what you thought.

Happy Reading!

Honoring Many Voices and SCBWI

If there’s one lesson learned from last year’s activism and protests, it’s that silence is complicity. In that spirit, I share some thoughts about the children’s book community, diversity, and SCBWI. 

SCBWI is a family business. As with many family businesses, a few people who were friends and family worked hard at a thing they loved, taking no money for a time. Eventually, they found other people with the same passion, and the organization grew from mimeographed newsletters to an organization with international digital communications and conferences. As the original founders aged, they gave the organization to their children and so it has grown for 50 years. In order to grow, they also needed a small army of volunteers.

That’s right. The Regional Advisors who liaise with members, book hotels, coordinate schedules, plan menus, develop mentorships, judge scholarships…all unpaid. There are also one-and-done volunteer opportunities for event registration, driving industry professionals, etc.

The volunteers in charge of big events recruit already low-paid editors and agents and authors for a small stipend and sometimes travel and lodging reimbursement. No industry professional is getting rich off of these events considering they often put in many hours planning panels and reviewing manuscripts and portfolios to “give back” to the children’s book community with the hope that they’ll find a diamond in the rough.

Back to the volunteers. They are compensated with complimentary entrance to regional and national conferences and VIP events where they might grip and grin with Children’s Book royalty in the hopes that it might further their careers. It’s no surprise that the “it’s who you know” proverb is important in any industry.

Now, doing all this organizing takes a lot of time and energy. The active volunteers are often whiter and wealthier, but there are exceptions. There are some diverse creators who have been working diligently to grow the organization. Some volunteers are not at all wealthy and their sweat equity gets them into places of which they would be otherwise priced out. 

Does this sound familiar? Interns in the children’s publishing world have also been historically whiter and wealthier because they can work unpaid and still live in NYC. Just as interns become industry professionals, Regional Advisors sometimes end up on the Board of Advisors after they have given many years of service.

I was an SCBWI-NE conference co-director in 2008, and co-director of the New England “Many Voices” conference in 2009. I was a Regional Advisor from 2009-2011. In that time, I advocated for scholarships, conferences, and keynoters that would increase diverse representation. It is because I gave so much energy to the organization, that I care about its future. Let me also say that I am writing this with information that was true at the end of my own tenure. If you know of Regional Advisors who are being paid, please say so in the comments.

It is my humble opinion that we will not see lasting change in the organization until the rank and file members are diverse and that diversity is reflected in the regional staff. THAT will not happen until volunteers are replaced by paid staff who are hired to answer to the many voices of its members.

Moxie

Last night I gathered some of my most supportive women for a Moxie watch party to celebrate where we are now–in life, in our careers, in our parenting, and in our feminism. I had loved the book by Jennifer Mathieu and have been eager to see the film since I’d heard that Amy Poehler would be directing it.

We filled up the chat bar with our texts–cheers for the young women as they fight the patriarchy and transform, eye rolling when the stupid adults were stupid, cheers for the romantic male lead, boos for the villain and the administrator who ignores her duties, fists raised for the inclusion of intersectional feminism and LGBTQ representation, gasps when the inevitable shocking plot-twist appeared. Perhaps it was, as this NYT reviewer says, “unfocused and too often unbelievable,” but for us, that was the point.

We can all point to too many real-life f-ed up news stories (Brock Turner, Brett Kavanaugh, Trump) that I saw symbolized by Patrick Schwarzenegger’s beautiful villain in Netflix’s Moxie. Everyday there are new #metoo situations in the news and others that we only hear about in whisper campaigns. As a parent I have felt ineffectual when I heard after-the-fact that sexual assault and harassment issues infected the schools to which I sent my own children. These stories and the patriarchy have beaten us down over the years taking away our hope that anything will be better anytime soon. As a white-woman I am tired of losing, yet when I feel that I have lost, I know that there are others that have lost even more. So I was absolutely fine, buoyed in fact, when I could lose myself in this feminist Quasi-Fantasy*, with my glass of wine and my girlfriends. Says one girlfriend:

Anna, is there a word for quasi-fantasy*?  That’s how it felt to me. Simplistic kind of on purpose, just giving us the gift of more ease since we live the BS of reality. Quasi-Buffy but instead of slaying vampires they slayed football players with Zines.  

The alternative reality that props us up for another day.  Shows like Madame Secretary make me feel that way too, or Wonder Woman.  Just a bit where we get to pretend the work could be easier and we could get our vindication and dance party at the end of the damn day

-K.C.S.

YES! Let me stand akimbo with my lasso of truth. I am aching for that dance party where I can thrash about, that catharsis when in the movie when Lucy challenges the book list, that passionate release when Lucy and Amaya kiss, how sexy it is when Seth asks for consent, the power when Vivian finds her voice, and the chilling hope when the students who walk out scream in chorus.

The book Moxie and others you might like (Dress Coded, Fighting Words, Maybe He Just Likes You) tell stories that are more nuanced than the Netflix version. I highly recommend them to both adults and young readers. For educators and parents, please take a look at the resource: 100 School Districts: A Call to Action for School Districts Across the Country to Address Sexual Harassment Through Inclusive Policies and Practices from the National Women’s Law Center.

If you are experiencing or have experienced sexual assault, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

My Book Birthday! This Pup Steps Up! A dog book for kids.

Arf, yip, yap, bark! Today is my book birthday for This Pup Steps Up! A dog book for kids.

After a long social media roll-out with a cover reveal…

Happy Birthday Book Baby!

…and a puppy countdown…

The print book is available!!!

Shamrock is twirling for joy! Thanks Shamrock!

In my last post, I discussed how I compose my rhyme. It’s a tricky thing to get rhyme right and it doesn’t just appear fully formed on the page. I showed this image of my notes:

This scribble with cross-outs, word lists, and prose eventually (with a lot of reading aloud) turned into this:

The rhyming couplets are rhythmic and great for early learners (0-3) as well emergent readers (3-6).

While my editors and I are responsible for the text, I couldn’t be more pleased with the design and photo illustrations. I’m grateful to the graphic designers at Callisto Media and Rockridge Press for making this book diverse, fun, and engaging for young readers.

The book is currently available on Amazon but if you are a bookseller or book buyer at an independent bookstore, please contact me and I’ll put you in touch with the right people!

Please follow me on my Author Page or on Instagram where I’ll be sharing a few more spreads from the book. If you purchase a book, (especially with a dog or young reader) I’d love for you to tag me @annawritedraw or use #thispupstepsup!

New Year, new book: THIS PUP STEPS UP! available for preorder.

It’s a brand new year and I have a new book launching on January 19th!

THIS PUP STEPS UP! A Dog Book for Kids is a rhyming picture book with fabulous graphic design and photo illustrations of the cutest pups. It’s perfect for 0-3-year olds. Preorder yours today.

If you’ve been following me on Instagram or if you’ve liked my Facebook Author Page, you know that I had some fun revealing the cover of the book over a full week followed by a book giveaway.

The real joy though was in writing the book. During the most difficult parts of 2020, I was able to research dogs and search for puppy pictures. I watched a lot of dog videos including many that showed the training for guide, support, and hearing dogs. All those loyal balls of fluff gave me comfort when things felt overwhelming.

Rhyming couplets sometimes came easily but other times they were difficult. Forced rhymes, rhymes that don’t scan well, or rhymes that don’t convey the correct meaning, are the bane of a writer’s existence. You can see in this bit of my notes that I often start by brainstorming and writing out in prose what I hope to ultimately convey in rhyme.

In the days to come, I’ll be sharing the actual final page that came from these notes. I hope that you’ll step up with your own doggy pictures as I count down to the on-sale date, January 19, 2021! Please tag me @annawritedraw or use the hashtag #ThisPupStepsUp.