Catherine Thimmesh

Building the Fire Within: Author Catherine Thimmesh Makes Children’s Nonfiction Non-boring

“I didn’t want to be an author when I grew up,” admits award-winning author Catherine Thimmesh, “I never even knew it was an option.”

As a child, Thimmesh loved to write. There were no daily journal entries and volumes of completed diaries; rather, she wrote stories and plays and song lyrics. Though she received feedback like “you’re so creative!”, she doesn’t recall receiving encouragement to keep writing. “No one was really interested in hearing me read my work. This was OK because we had a very large slate of chalkboard at home, and I was the permanent teacher. I regularly subjected my imaginary students to my stories and plays and had all sorts of fun.”

In addition to writing, Thimmesh read a lot and had her favorites, of course. There were the Judy Blume books, the Bobbsey Twins books, the Great Brain books, and Where the Red Fern Grows (Doubleday, 1961). And one must not forget Dear Lovey Heart (Vagabond Books, 1975)—the book she ordered from the Scholastic Book Club handout with her own money. Interestingly enough, it is not her own books or favorites that spark detailed memories, but her younger brother’s favorite book.

Catherine Thimmesh book covers

“He had a MOST favorite book, Emmett’s Pig (HarperCollins, 1959), and checked it out from the library at least 100 times. When he and his wife had their first baby, I thought it would be a wonderful surprise to give them Emmett’s Pig. But my brother barely remembered it and did not remember his attachment to it as a kid. I’m not sure why I remember that so vividly. It might be that this was one of the first books I could read by myself out loud. I don’t know for certain if this was the case or not, but there must be some reason why I have such vivid memories of a book I liked well enough but didn’t particularly love.”

As Thimmesh was unknowingly preparing to be an author, she had several miscellaneous jobs, like waitressing, and dabbled in various interests. Finally, she settled into a career as a contemporary arts gallery owner in Minneapolis for about three years, but she wasn’t truly at ease. Writing was calling to her.

“One thing I guess I’d like to be remembered for is being an author who respects the intelligence of my young readers. It’s something that’s important to me as a writer—and as a reader—and I hope that is evident in my work.”

“While I had the gallery (and it was becoming obvious that I could not sustain the business), I decided to take a creative writing class at The Loft Literary Center. There was one offered in writing for children that fit my schedule, and I thought ‘hmmm I love writing, I love kids. I’ve never thought to combine the two. I should check it out.’”

Thimmesh found she thoroughly enjoyed storytelling for children and thought she was at least fairly decent at it. So she researched the field, read an astronomical amount of children’s books, joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), attended a few conferences, and joined a small writers’ group. She even spent a year working in children’s marketing at a Minneapolis publishing house to get a feel for how the business worked. Finally, she felt ready to make the leap; she submitted a magazine article entitled “What’s So Neat About a Lopsided Lady?” about making the museum experience fun for kids.

Catherine Thimmesh book covers

“I lucked out when the first thing I submitted for publication was accepted and published. That gave me an initial boost of confidence, and I started thinking more seriously about trying to become a children’s book author. I met my Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) editor, Ann Rider, at an SCBWI conference that I had helped organize. I had submitted Girls Think of Everything (Houghton Mifflin, 2000)  to her as a piece of fiction with these nonfiction bits on inventions by women woven within. Her primary piece of feedback was that the fiction story felt contrived. (She was right.) But she loved the nonfiction bits and wondered if I might like to try turning it into a nonfiction book. My initial response was ‘But I don’t think kids really read nonfiction.’ And she replied, ‘I think they do if it’s good.’ (She was right.)”

 In the Beginning…

“My first real attempt at writing a book for children was what I’ve called a bad picture book cliche. After discovering my interest in children’s books, taking a class, and reading and studying the picture book form at the library, what I came up with fell into the camp of: anthropomorphized animal not liking something about themselves, or doing something physically or behaviorally opposite to that we know to be true. A giraffe who doesn’t want to be tall, or a nocturnal animal who’s afraid of the dark for example. Not sure why I chose the word cliche because I can’t think of tons of examples … but the idea at least felt ‘obvious.’

“My attempt was a baby duck who was afraid to get her feet wet and avoided puddles at all costs. Lo and behold, several years later, the extraordinarily talented Amy Hest and Jill Barton gave us In The Rain with Baby Duck (Candlewick, 1999)—a picture book masterpiece in my opinion. I don’t recall sending my own story out on submission, but it’s possible that I did.

“And what did I learn? What every person in a creative field learns at some point: ideas are just the tip of the iceberg—essentially a dime a dozen—it’s the execution of the idea that counts. Every time.”

Where Do Those Ideas Come From?

“Like many others, I have an idea file for stashing tidbits and notes that I find interesting and that might inspire future projects. Truthfully, it’s more of an ‘idea file’ (quote-unquote). Because alas, my idea file is a disorganized mess, and not a file at all. I have various folders on my computer—all labeled slightly differently—and many I can’t find or I forget about until I happen to stumble upon them. I have ideas on Post-It notes—some compiled into one place—others randomly strewn about: by my bed, in the kitchen, stuck to the current manuscript that I’m working on, etc.

“I probably shouldn’t announce how scattered I can be, but sometimes the truth is the truth—embarrassing or not. I have learned too often that trying to recall ideas from my ‘brain file’ often fails—so I scribble stuff down in the moment—on whatever is handy—or bookmark a link in passing. The upside to this haphazardness is the often random rediscovering of interesting tidbits and experiencing the thrill of an ‘aha’ moment when something clicks.

“In fact, Camp Panda (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2018) arose from such a method. I had bookmarked several photos and news stories about these caregivers dressed in panda suits, holding cuddly panda cubs. There were no notes accompanying the articles, mainly just intriguing and awfully cute photos. I stumbled upon the links a year or two after I had saved them and had the same reaction: I love these photos! But what is going on? Serendipitously, I opened a notebook a few days later to find a note to myself in the margin, starred and boxed off, with the page earmarked. Note: ‘What is the story behind those guys in panda suits? Why are there just a few lines of information? Look into it.’”

It is difficult to believe Girls Think of Everything was first published 18 years ago, especially since each year a new audience discovers it. With its longevity and popularity, Thimmesh’s publishing team at HMH asked her to update the book as it approaches its 20th year anniversary. Was she excited to jump in? Not really.

“At first I wasn’t really inspired to do so. It was a little bit along the lines of: I’ve already done that and would rather find new projects/subjects to work on. But my editor brought it up a few times, so I decided to revisit the book and think more in depth about revising and updating. I’m so glad I did! I’m very excited about the revision coming out in October. There are seven brand new stories, and Melissa Sweet’s art is phenomenal.”

So what made the cut for this revised version? “Deciding who to include is a lengthy and fairly subjective process. First, one of the things that was so appealing about a revision was being better able to represent diversity among women, which, unfortunately, was quite limited in the initial book. Researching the original text in 1998 was an enormous challenge: it was pre-Internet and pre-Google searching, and women simply didn’t have much written about them in general—and women of color even less so. It was extraordinarily difficult to find inventions by women of color that were also kid friendly and would be of interest to a young reader. So one of the joys in doing the revision was having a better research tool to find some amazing inventions by women of color and also by women outside of the U.S. At the end of the day, I tried to include inventions and women who I think will inspire young readers in some way—hopefully to come up with their own creative solutions to problems, whether through invention or some other means.”

Fascinating Miscellany

“When my kids were young, I discovered a circus arts summer camp in St. Paul and signed them up immediately. It sounded so fun! And unique. Turned out, there were classes offered year round and circus became our second home for the next 13 years. One day I commented to another circus parent about these amazing opportunities our kids got that we never had, and they told me that there was an adult flying trapeze class offered. So I signed up. These days, I still do trapeze with a small club—mostly just in the summer, outdoors—and I haven’t improved much over the years. In fact, I’m pretty bad at it—but I don’t care because it’s really fun and great exercise too.

“I’ve been taking classes in improv comedy for the last three years—both short form and long form.

I took a class because I wanted to try something new and challenging and outside of my comfort zone—and boy, was it! But still, I enjoyed it, so I kept going. I improve little by little and have fun—so that’s good enough for me.

“Other interesting/unique tidbits:

  • I can write legibly with my left hand but I’m not ambidextrous.
  • I like trying to speak with accents—but can only do mediocre British and Indian accents—but it really freaks out the dog when I do this.
  • I am ‘famous’ for my chocolate chip cookies (the secret ingredient is a bit of fancy bottled water like Evian).”

In addition to working on the updated inventions book, Thimmesh is also busy with other projects and responding to fan mail. “I’m currently working on a couple of exciting new nonfiction books for middle-grade readers as well as a nonfiction-based picture book for babies and toddlers. Readers can reach me by email at cthimmesh@comcast.net. If they want to send an actual letter and then receive an actual letter in response, they can write me at:

Catherine Thimmesh, Author
c/o Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Books
125 High Street
Boston, MA 02110

With a thick folder of new ideas, a variety of interests, and a deep curiosity, Thimmesh is sure to be writing for years to come. “I hope readers will be inspired to explore and nurture their curiosity and inquisitiveness about the world around them. I hope they’ll realize they are the leaders and innovators of tomorrow—actually, in many ways, of today as well—and that each person can contribute to the greater good regardless of how small or large the contribution. I hope young readers will be sparked by something in one of my books—a person, an action, an idea—and then go out into the world and act on that spark…build the fire within.”

Bryan Collier: Each Day Brings a Blank Surface

Artist Bryan Collier’s work speaks to thousands of readers with its signature combination of collage and watercolor that automatically pulls them into the illustrations. Full of textures and rich color, Collier’s illustrations have also caught the eye of award committees that recognize their beauty and impact. He has received multiple Caldecott Honors and several Coretta Scott King Awards, and was selected as the U.S. nomination for the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award. Here he shares his thoughts on his work, the state of art and publishing, and the future.

With a mother who was a Head Start teacher, I’m sure you must have had access to plenty of great books at home from a young age. Why did your parents feel having books was so important?
I don’t remember plenty of books, but my mother did bring home enough for six children to share. My mother was an educator and books were an automatic part of the deal.

You discovered your gift for painting when you were about 15 years old. What inspired you to even try watercolor painting? Did you have any artistic influences during your childhood?
At 15, watercolors were the only paints I had and could afford. I was totally taken by the water and pigment combination and dazzled by what color could do. I do consider myself to be self-taught, but my grandmother made quilts when I was younger (4-7 years old). After I graduated from Pratt Institute in 1989, I discovered I was unconsciously drawing on her influence with the layering, overlapping, and landscape imagery.

City Shapes book cover and spreads

You have definitely developed a unique method for combining collage and watercolor. Do you feel like your skills are still evolving or have you settled into your signature style?
I think the work is still evolving. I mean, I still have so much to say with the work. The presence of different intensities of light as it falls on characters and objects is a big part of me capturing the mood and tone of the text. In terms of style, I just focus on clarity of message and let everything else take care of itself.

“The best thing and the hardest thing about making art is that everything you did yesterday doesn’t count today and it can’t help you with what you are working on today. Every day you start new, a blank surface.”

While you were a student at Pratt, you began working with Harlem Horizon Art Studio. What is the concept behind this hospital-based art center?
I started as a volunteer in the Harlem Horizon Art Studio a month before I graduated from Pratt. I was paid a stipend and I also sold my artwork at that time to support myself. The HHAS is a painting studio located on the 17th floor pediatric wing of the Harlem Hospital that gives children—those in the hospital who are there for various treatments as well as children from the Harlem community—the opportunity to make art, free of charge. The freedom of expression demonstrated by the children was and is delightful, and resonated with me.

I read that you decided to try your hand at children’s books when you didn’t see many that reflected black people and stories. Were you an instant success?
I pursued making a picture book soon after graduating from Pratt. I went door to door once a week, every week, for seven years until I got a book deal.


So how do things look to you today, 25 years later? Do you see better representation? What impact have your books Hey Black Child (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2017) and Dave the Potter (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010) had on the industry?

Diversity is still a big issue in publishing. Hey Black Child and Dave the Potter have been received well in the market place and embraced by the public, but more needs to be done to include more writers and artists and editors and designers of color.

Your work has been very well received from readers, teachers and librarians, and awards committees. To what do you attribute your success?
I think everyone recognizes the honesty, love, and commitment I put in the work. And I absolutely love teachers and librarians! I love when teachers and librarians use my books to bring the text alive.

Unfortunately, more and more schools have found art budgets slashed with decreases in school funding. How do you feel about the scarcity of artistic resources and instruction in education?
Art is always the first to get cut yet it is so vital to our survival. We have to keep fighting for the arts.

As an artist and author, you have received some incredible honors. For example, your book Trombone Shorty (Harry N. Abrams, 2015) was named a Caldecott Honor Book and you also received yet another Coretta Scott King Award. What is your view on awards?
I think awards are great and can put a great spotlight on your work which in turn allows you to reach more people, and that is a good thing.

It’s Shoe Time! book cover and spreads

One of these days, when you set aside your paints and collage supplies, what do you hope your legacy will be? How do you want to be remembered?
I want to be remembered as someone who simply dream walked in the fullness of the day with his heart and eyes wide open.

A Heart for Art: Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat

He was supposed to be a doctor. At least, that is the career his parents chose for him. And that is the path he followed until the day a career fair came to his college campus. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; let’s start a bit earlier in Dan Santat’s life.

Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator and award-winning author Dan Santat was born just a few years after his parents emigrated from Thailand. He spent his first three years in New York before his family moved to California. Santat’s childhood there was shaped by his parents’ belief in hard work and their dream for him to be a physician.

A self-described hyper child, Santat found sitting still and focusing difficult. Books really held no interest for him unless they explored subjects he liked. “Things didn’t really click with me until I started using books more as a utility purpose of understanding how to do certain things,” says Santat. “If I played soccer, I checked out books on how to play soccer. If I played baseball, I checked out books on how to play baseball and things like that.” And yes, that is how he learned to draw: He checked out a book from the library.


In creating art, Santat found himself and his passion. But when it came time for college, Santat followed the direction that had been set for him: medicine. “I had always loved art, but the idea of making art for a living never felt like a viable option. My entire life I was told it should just be a hobby, and so I just accepted it as fact.”

While pursuing his degree in microbiology at the University of California, San Diego, his friends told him that he should go to art school. He brushed off their suggestion until one fateful day. “I remember walking through an on-campus job fair on my way to class, and I stopped by a booth for the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I looked through the catalog. When I saw the various ways art could be applied, I suddenly realized at that moment that there were actual jobs you could get as an artist. I think that was the moment I followed my heart.”

After graduation, Santat enrolled at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and never looked back. “I’m thrilled with my decision. I would have been a horrible doctor. My parents are happy, too, and I think they agree that I would have been a horrible doctor, as well.”

Though following one’s heart is important, Santat knows it also takes work to be successful. Lots and lots of hard work. After graduating with honors from art school, Santat worked as a commercial artist, a 3D modeler, and even a concept artist for video games. He created a popular animated series for Disney called “The Replacements.” He was even offered a job to be a Google doodler. But he had his eye on children’s books, and that goal was the only one he set his heart on pursuing.

Santat’s break came with the publishing of his first title, The Guild of Geniuses (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2004).  Then he spent the next 10 years literally working day and night, churning out page after page for book after book. Gradually, he built a name for himself as an illustrator and an author, as well as a solid reputation as the hardest worker in the children’s book industry.

“My home actually was not filled with books. My parents, as immigrants, weren’t knowledgeable about Western culture classics and so they mainly went by my judgment in my youth, which wasn’t too great. I was kind of a hyper kid in my youth so it was hard for me to sit still during story time in school. The first book that really clicked with me wasn’t until junior high when I read S. E. Hinton’s book, The Outsiders (Viking Press, 1967). I just found the characters to be absolutely compelling.”

But in 2014, Santat was at a tipping point. Though just 39 years old, he felt much older. He was overcommitted professionally. Family members were experiencing medical crises and hospitalizations. He was exhausted. “I was struggling at that point,” Santat admits. “I was working long hours trying to meet deadlines, and I was juggling way too many projects at the time. It’s hard when you’re constantly churning out books and feeling like no one reads them or cares. I felt really burned out.”

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2014) had come out earlier that year, and there were rumors of a possible Caldecott Medal mention. Santat had read the reviews and had heard the rumors, but didn’t really see any substantial indicators. “I thought it was the strongest work I had ever done, and I figured it would probably be the only chance I ever had at winning such an award because I was the ‘funny book guy’ and was never the type of illustrator/author who was considered as someone who created a work worthy of merit.” But as the year passed, and Santat found himself edging closer and closer to burnout, the hope of a Caldecott Medal flickered.

And then he got the call.

That morning, Santat was up early with indigestion, so the call didn’t wake him but it did surprise him. “I got the call at 4:30 am and immediately assumed it was for an Honor because no one else would be calling that early in the morning. When they told me I won the medal, I broke down in tears. I had exceeded my own hopes and dreams.”

When it comes to his work, Santat is all in. He knows his audience. He remembers their concerns, interests, and needs, and he writes and illustrates based on that knowledge. “I try to simplify the characteristics of my characters to what I see in kids so that they can relate. I often notice that kids are overwhelmed by the world because everything is new and a little frightening. I think it’s only in our most ideal perception that kids are fearless and inquisitive when surrounded by adults. Kids typically are fearless when they explore on their own terms. They need to feel some sense of control. I was like that as a kid. I felt comfortable working at my own pace. A lot of things made me feel nervous when I was young, but when you finally overcome that fear is when you suddenly feel alive. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

Santat consciously tries to give kids that “best feeling” with every page he writes or illustrates. “Story always comes first, but a good story doesn’t evolve without a strong solid concept. I spend years thinking of good concepts and metaphors for books. If you can do that, then everything else easily falls into place. The art is just a vessel for which I communicate, and I think I do that more effectively than with words.”

With his most recent books and projects, it is clear that Santat communicates very well with pictures. His work published this year also emphasizes how skilled he is at conveying a wide spectrum of emotion through art.

Dude! (Roaring Brook Press, April 2018), a wordless book by Aaron Reynolds, provided a fun challenge. “I think the misnomer is that wordless picture books are easier, and I don’t necessarily agree. I had a basic outline of what was supposed to happen in Dude! and Aaron and I speak on the same wavelength in terms of humor, so we feed off of each other well. One joke I put in is on the cover where it says WORD by Aaron Reynolds. I just thought it was a funny joke and Aaron loved the idea. (He, of course, did more than just one word!) The notes were all fairly loose and my job was to punch up the laughs.”

Drawn Together (Disney-Hyperion, June 2018) took Santat from a work of humor to a work of the heart. The story by Minh Lê conveys tender emotion, and Santat masterfully gave that emotion color and expression and context. “I kind of felt bad that I’ve been an Asian American artist who was making work for years that was not speaking to Asian heritage. I was making books about superhero house pets and imaginary friends, but never anything that was culturally informative about myself and the culture I came from. I received this great manuscript written by Minh Lê, and it was a story that just spoke to my soul. Minh is Vietnamese and had written this book for his grandfather, but I always had a great love for art from Thailand, which is my background; so I decided to blend the two together.

“I always make art to serve the author’s words. I never want to let the author down, so I always try to deliver more than what is in the text. You always get a little sense of direction in what is happening in the story, but it’s up to you, the artist, to really drive that message home.”

“I had a similar experience with my own grandmother where we could not communicate with one another except with food, so she just kept feeding me as a sign of love and affection. Art is the thing I communicate with the world and so I kind of envisioned myself as the grandfather speaking with a young version of myself. This is a story I needed as a kid and I’m honored to have had the opportunity to do the art for it and share with the world.”

In addition to these two books, Santat fans will see his work in The Princess and the Pit Stop (Abrams Block Book, July 2018) by Tom Angleberger. In the near future, readers will see what occupies Santat at the present time. “I’m currently working on two graphic novels that I’ve both written and illustrated. The first is The Aquanaut with Scholastic Books, and the other is a memoir of how I got into art school called You Bad Son. I’m also writing/illustrating another Elephant and Piggie book with Mo Willems.”

Though Santat has an extensive book list to his credit as well as many awards, including the Caldecott Medal, he continues to pour himself into his work. “One day I’d like to have someone look at my list and say, ‘He was full of good ideas and never slowed down until his last dying breath.’”

Ellen Oh: Taking Diversity in Literature from Fantasy to Reality

Ellen Oh is an author, but oh so much more. She not only has a professional background in law and in education, but she is also the co-founder, president, and CEO of We Need Diverse Books. Her passion for helping kids see themselves in literature is second to none. Here she shares her experiences with reading, and her hopes for the future of the publishing industry.

“I was a kid of the public library system … the public library meant I could read all the books I could put my hands on.”

What was your introduction to literacy as a young person? What are your earliest memories of reading and writing?
I was a kid of the public library system. Owning books was a luxury we couldn’t really afford in our house, but the public library meant I could read all the books I could put my hands on. My earliest memories of reading are sitting with my mom and dad reading all my books to them. I also remember going to the library for hours as a young child, even closing it down. My parents would often use the library as a babysitter and I didn’t care because I would just read until the librarians would kick me out.

As the co-founder of We Need Diverse Books, you clearly saw the need for authors and illustrators whose work is more inclusive. When do you first remember coming to that realization?

It isn’t a realization that really hit me until I was a new mom. I remembered how much I hated The Five Chinese Brothers (Coward-McCann, 1938) and its racist depictions of Asian people, and it wasn’t until I was in college that I found myself in the pages of a book with the Joy Luck Club (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1989). But it didn’t really hit me hard until I was looking for books in the children’s section when my oldest daughter was just a baby, and I realized the shelves didn’t look any different than from when I was a kid. It made me determined to write a hero of my own that my kids could read about.

Is that how you choose which characters you write about and which stories you tell—ones you want your children to read?
I write characters that I wish I’d been able to read when I was young. I write stories that I want to share with all readers. And when I can share my culture and my heritage with them, it is even more meaningful. For example, even my children didn’t know about all the Asian mythology and legends that were in my first series, the Prophecy series (HarperTeen). And it was a great learning experience for me as a writer. When I was first researching Asian history and mythology, I thought it was so fascinating and I just wanted to share it with the American audience because it was so different from anything that was out there.

Do you include elements of yourself in your books?
Yeah, so the joke in my family is that I have a bloodhound’s nose. It is both a curse and a blessing. I have an extreme sense of smell and I suffer from it a lot. That’s why I gave Kira the ability to smell demons. And that came about on a hot August day in NYC when I was visiting my parents and working on Prophecy (HarperTeens, 2013). I was trying to figure out what a demon might smell like when I walked over a subway grate right as a train passed underneath. That malodorous wave of toxic fumes mixed with urine and death hit me hard and just like that I thought “Ah, so that’s what a demon would smell like.”

You left your career in law to pursue writing. Do you ever doubt that decision? Did your family support your leap into literature?
Funny thing is my mother is still mad at me about not being a practicing lawyer and asks me constantly when I’m going to go back. Maybe that’s why she still has me do all her legal review for her. To be honest, I still review and draft contracts on a regular basis but I don’t “practice law” anymore. I’m quite happy with the decision to change careers. I’ve always been a good writer but legal writing and fiction writing is so different that I wondered if I’d made a big mistake when I was first starting to write. But luckily a lot of practice and a lot of reading have helped me become better at it. Having a fabulous editor has been key to my development and I have been extraordinarily lucky to have only the best editors in my career.

Speaking of editors, you have worn the editor cap when compiling and editing anthologies featuring diverse authors. What is appealing to you about these projects, and will you pursue more anthologies that spotlight people of color?

“I hope that one day we won’t ever have to describe a book as diverse. I hope that one day diversity becomes a given.”

I love working on anthologies because I get to work with some of the most talented writers in our industry. And yes, I have so many ideas for more anthologies!

Let’s talk diversity. What makes a book diverse?
A book that is about a character of color or a character that is from the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) or disabilities community.

How did you launch the movement that is now known as We Need Diverse Books (WNDB)?
We were a group of authors, illustrators, editors, librarians, and people who cared about kid lit and were tired of the lack of diversity in children’s literature. So we started a hashtag campaign and urged people of all ages to tweet about why diverse books were so important to them. The hashtag was #WeNeedDiverseBooks, and the response was enormous.

Why did you transform the movement into a nonprofit organization, and what does the organization do?
It wasn’t enough just to talk about why we needed diverse books. It was vital that we actually tried to do something to make lasting change happen. And that’s how we became a nonprofit organization that gives grants to writers and illustrators of diverse backgrounds and also to college students interested in entering the publishing industry. We also give thousands of books a year to underserved schools across the country. And our proudest accomplishment is upholding the legacy of the great Walter Dean Myers by establishing the Walter Award for Outstanding Literature.

Do you foresee a time when intentional discussions about diversity in literature will be unnecessary?
I hope that one day we won’t ever have to describe a book as diverse. I hope that one day diversity becomes a given.

What can readers look forward to seeing from you next?
The sequel to Spirit Hunters (HarperCollins, 2017), The Island of Monsters (HarperCollins, 2018), will be out this summer and I’m currently working on a new fantasy project that I’m very excited about.

Do you respond to fan mail?
I love fan mail! I love fan art! Readers send me emails or messages via Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram, and I just love hearing from all of them! They really make writing worthwhile.

Margarita Engle: Award-Winning Author and Young People’s Poet Laureate

Miguel y su valiente caballero: El joven Cervantes sueña a don Quijote coming March 2018. Translated by Teresa Mlawer and Georgina Lázaro

Margarita Engle has received multiple Pura Belpré Awards, a Newbery Honor, and several other accolades; and she is currently serving a two-year term as The Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate—the first Latino to do so.

“Being chosen as the national Young People’s Poet Laureate was such an astonishing honor that at first I felt a bit uncertain of how to proceed. All I knew was that I wanted to choose a theme of peace, in every sense of that word. I’m working with that theme whenever I speak to adults, children, or teens, and I’m in the process of developing a poetry workshop based on the image of bridges as a metaphor for building peace. We need to offer young readers an alternative to all the destructive ranting about walls between nations, between cultures, between genders. We need bridges of words to cross barriers of all sorts, including international borders. We need a way to embrace the whole world, instead of being haters.”

Engle, a Cuban American, is passionate about creating stories and characters authentic to the culture she loves in both her poetry and her prose. In some of her work, she even includes bits and pieces of her family’s own experience.

“My deep attachment to Cuba grew from childhood summers spent with my abuelita and extended family. My memoir, Enchanted Air (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015), tells how this happened, and how profoundly traumatic it was to lose travel rights after the Missile Crisis. I have included family history in The Wild Book (Harcourt, 2012), which is based on stories my grandmother told me about her childhood. In general, I write about subjects that inspire me because people in a certain time and place were independent thinkers, persevering, and kind.”

Receiving Young People’s Poet Laureate Pegasus Award, Chicago, June, 2017

Engle’s path to publishing all started when, as a young child, she began writing poetry. And she never stopped. “For decades, I published separate poems, articles, essays, and short stories. My adult novels were in prose, but when I switched to children’s literature, I also returned to poetry.”

Cuba, 1960

Many of Engle’s novels and picture books are written in free verse. Miguel’s Brave Knight (Peachtree Publishers, 2017) is a fictionalized first-person biography told in a series of free verse poems imagining the life of famous author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra who finds refuge from his difficult childhood by daydreaming about the adventures of a brave but clumsy knight. He is inspired by storytellers and wandering actors who perform at festivals, and grows up to write poetry and pen Don Quixote, the first modern novel. “It’s a tribute to the comforting power of the imagination, which cannot be defeated even by a force as intimidating as the Spanish Inquisition.”

Her writing style has attracted a devoted audience of readers representing all age groups, and impressed awards committees; and these feats, in turn, have caught the attention of publishers.

“When The Poet Slave of Cuba (Henry Holt and Co., 2005) received a Pura Belpré Award, followed by a Newbery Honor for The Surrender Tree (Henry Holt, 2008), doors opened that allowed me to continue getting published. Without those awards, I’m afraid that my verse novels might have been regarded as too unusual. At the time, poetry was marginalized, but today, thanks to the inspiring works by Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, and Jason Reynolds, verse novels are flourishing. I am so grateful to poets who pave a pathway for others! With respect to picture books, Drum Dream Girl’s (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015) Charlotte Zolotow Award opened the gate for future biographical stories, as well as family ones like All The Way to Havana (Henry Holt, 2017). Of course, a great deal of the credit for any picture book’s success must go to the illustrator!”

Recent visit to a reforestation project in Cuba

Engle’s poems and stories are also welcomed in classrooms and libraries across the country, and she makes it easy for educators to utilize her titles with Latino and non-Latino students by offering a wealth of resources on her website. “Fortunately, my publishers usually produce wonderful teaching guides written by people like Sylvia Vardell, who specializes in advocating for poetry. I’ve also been able to produce some bilingual videos with the help of the Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. A few of the ways that my poetry can be used in classrooms are as reader’s theater for the verse novels, as puppet shows using Cuban music in the case of Drum Dream Girl, by making a cardboard car for an All the Way to Havana road trip, etc. Teachers can set their imaginations free to imagine all sorts of interactive ways to use poetry.”

In addition to her responsibilities as the Poet Laureate, Engle keeps busy with promotional activities and writing new material. “My love of biographical picture books and historical verse novels continues! I’m working on a sequel to Bravo! (Holt, 2017), two biographical verse novels, and a collaborative picture book of science poems, co-authored with Padma Venkatraman, who is an oceanographer as well as one of my favorite poets.”

“I love the rhythm and flow of language in free verse, and it feels very natural to link shorter poems in a way that tells a longer story. By using multiple voices, all in first person, I am able to distill complex situations down to their emotional essence. Basically, poetry is satisfying, and it makes me happy.”

In early 2018, readers will also see The Flying Girl: How Aída de Acosta Learned to Soar (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) and Jazz Owls, a Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots (Atheneum). In the fall, Haku Finds a Home (Lerner) will be published. (“It is quite different, because it’s about a dog-feeding festival in Kathmandu, co-authored with my Nepali son-in-law and my daughter.”) In 2019, Soaring Earth (Atheneum), a high school/college sequel to Enchanted Air, will debut as well as another biographical picture book illustrated by Rafael López. Finally, Dreams From Many Rivers (Holt) will be published in the fall of 2019.

Don’t Spread the Virus!

“I rarely hear young people say that they dislike poetry. Children love rhymes and rhythms! When I hear adults repeat negative stereotypes about poetry, I think of it as a virus that they’re spreading to children. Here’s a true-life parable: I’m afraid of water. I learned my fear from my mother, who learned it from her mother. In Cuba, there were sharks, moray eels, and crocodiles in the ocean and estuaries. Those are not dangers in a California swimming pool, but my fear extends to pools. In order to make sure that my children did not copy my fear, I let my husband teach them to swim. They are wonderful swimmers. In a similar manner, I think adults who are afraid of poetry should step back and let children learn directly from poets, just enjoying the experience instead of having to dissect and analyze.”

Contact Margarita Engle

“I do answer letters. Both adults and children can write to me by going to my website and clicking ‘contact.’ If teachers want to send batches of snail mail letters, they can email me to ask for my P.O. Box.”

Chris Harris Strikes Comedy Gold On and Off Screen

Chris Harris has built a successful comedy career as a writer and producer for the television shows How I Met Your Mother and The Late Show with David Letterman. Though it took years to achieve success in television broadcasting, his first foray into children’s publishing was an instant hit. Harris’ book I’m Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2017) was a New York Times bestseller and garnered him comparisons to Shel Silverstein and even Dr. Seuss.

So who is this comedic phenomenon? Well, it all started when he was a youngster.

“My parents are not authors, but they read to me constantly when I was a toddler. Our house was full of books to the point of being a fire hazard. I learned to read on my own by making my parents read me the same book over and over (and over and over…) again until I memorized it, then slowly connecting the words they were saying to the words on the page. The book I most vividly recall memorizing from repeated readings like this was The Diary of Anaïs Nin (Mariner Books, 1969). No, wait. My mistake. It was Hamilton Duck (Golden Press, 1972).”

“I was never a reluctant reader, but sometimes I was reluctant to stretch myself – I’d get stuck in an ‘easy’ genre that I enjoyed (science fiction short stories, The Three Investigators series, the backs of cereal boxes during breakfast), and it would take a parent or teacher to push me into trying something more challenging.”

From an early age, Harris understood that words were magical. “My favorite ‘aha’ moments while reading books as a kid were the ones that made me sit up and see something about words or the world that I’d never even imagined was possible before. The Phantom Tollbooth (Random House, 1961) did that for me in fourth grade (thanks for the rec, Mr. Lesh). Before that, a book called Arm in Arm (Parents’ Magazine Press, 1969) by Remy Charlip. And of course Shel Silverstein. Later on, Douglas Adams and Catch-22 (Dell, 1968) gave me that same feeling. Those were all books that took joy in exploring the boundaries of what words could convey, and even played with the idea of what a book itself could be.”

Though I’m Just No Good at Rhyming is his first book written for kids, he actually wrote his first book as a kid. In first grade, Harris created his first book by stapling paper towels together and then writing a story about a monster that causes earthquakes. “Ms. Perksin had me go read it to the kindergarten class next door. As it turns out, that would be my last book reading for over 40 years. I don’t even remember it going that poorly…”

“When I visit schools, I always talk about the importance of looking around one’s own life for inspiration; if something made you laugh (or sad, or angry, or pensive) in real life, then there’s a good chance that sharing that moment in writing will make the reader feel a similar way.”

Just a few years later, Harris found his life’s purpose: using words to make people laugh. “In fifth grade, Mrs. Gozzi gave us an assignment to write ‘updated’ versions of nursery rhymes. With that assignment, I remember having that … feeling of having discovered what I was born to do—that same feeling Jackson Pollack probably had when he started flinging paint everywhere. I dashed off about 15 of them that night and read a bunch to the class the next day. That’s the first time I combined verse and humor, shared the results to a classroom, and got huge laughs. One of them went:

Little Jack Horner
Sat in a corner
Looking up at the sky.
But when he looked down
His face showed a frown
He’d forgotten to zip up his fly.

Harris went on to establish himself as a go-to guy for top-notch humor, becoming an Emmy-nominated writer and producer. And now with the successful debut of his collaboration with illustrator Lane Smith, it definitely seems like Harris has the Midas touch.

“The back cover of my book asks something like, ‘Do you (think you) hate poetry? Then this is the book for you!’ But from what I’ve seen, very few grade-schoolers hate or even (think they) hate poetry–they’re still attracted to the rhythms and rhyming patterns of simple poems. Ask a fourth-grader to parse John Berryman and sure, their opinion might change. But sometimes I wonder if we do poetry a disservice by even suggesting to kids that hating poetry is in any way a typical opinion for them to have.”

“I’m grateful to have found a career in comedy – both on television and now in children’s books – but I’m still not sure that I see myself as someone with any special gift for humor. I see myself more as a fraud who’s consistently gotten lucky enough to think up one more decent idea, but whose luck is bound to run out at any moment.”

Harris readily admits that he did not expect the positive reaction the book has received. “It’s on so many best-of-the-year lists. Half of me wants to soak in the positivity; the other half of me wants to shake the list compilers and scream ‘Are you mad?! There were so many other great books out this year!’”

Because of the book’s reception and his encouraging entry into children’s publishing, Harris is eager to begin his next book project in between writing for television and doing school visits. “My family and I are constantly collecting ideas, both inspired by real-life incidents and born from our own imaginations. I hope I can turn it into another collection within the next several years. And if Lane can forgive me for saying in the first book that I don’t like him, then I’d love nothing more than for him to join me for another collaboration.”

Illustrator Lane Smith

Chris Harris on his book “I’m Just No Good at Rhyming”

“Our faux-antagonistic relationship throughout I’m Just No Good at Rhyming is my favorite runner in the whole book. I’d already written the finale – the poem titled ‘I Don’t Like My Illustrator’–but when Lane signed on, our rivalry became an even bigger part of the book, even spreading into the dedication page (I dedicate the book to my lovely wife and wonderful children; he also dedicates the book to my lovely wife and wonderful children; things go downhill from there).

“My favorite illustration of Lane’s is probably the one he did for the more serious poem ‘I’m Shy on the Outside.’ The way he depicts an externally quiet child who has a whirlwind of thoughts going on inside his head is, to me, magnificent.

Harris’s children

“My favorite serious poem in the book is one called, ‘You’ll Never Feel as Tall as When You’re Ten.’ I remember writing that one really quickly after a particularly tough year, as a reminder (to myself, really) to hold on to that wide-eyed perspective of youth even though one’s biggest dreams rarely ever turn out the way one had hoped for. My favorite surprise about that poem has been discovering that even though adults see it as tinged with sadness, kids seem to read it as an inspiring, uplifting validation of their own viewpoint.

“My favorite humorous poem changes with the weather. Today it may be ‘The Good Child Test,’ the entirety of which reads, ‘I used special ink on this poem’s last line / That some children see and some don’t. / If you’re a good child, then you’ll read it just fine — ‘ And that’s the end of the poem. I like that it’s (I hope) instantly funny to adults, but a little bit of a puzzle to figure out for younger kids.

“In a way, short-form poetry is like bite-size literature. A child only needs to invest in a few lines’ worth of reading in order to get a payoff in the form of a laugh, or a surprise twist, or something to think about. It provides something close to instant gratification.”

“Also, I have a soft spot for any poem that’s inspired by a real-life event with my own kids, of which there are many. There’s a poem about ‘the sweetest lullaby ever’ that ends with the parent shouting into the former baby’s face, which was a running joke we had together for years. Another poem is based on an incident that happened with my daughter one morning when she was three. I told her to eat up because ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day.’ Without skipping a beat she looked up at me and said, in a deeply serious voice, ‘That’s not very nice to lunch.’ So I turned that moment into a poem about how hurt lunch feels about people saying that cliche about breakfast.

“I was lucky enough to have teachers who encouraged me to write as well as to read.”

“I first wrote all these poems as a way of sharing with my own kids some things that made us all laugh, and to show them what a playground the English language can be once you start thinking about all the different ways to place words on a page. Now I hope other children are inspired by the book to see what they can do with words, based on their own unique perspectives.”

Adam Rex: Finding Success in Comics, Picture Books, and Novels

Rex (Darth Vader) and his brother (Yoda) from Halloween, 1980.

It was his brother’s whining that motivated young Adam Rex to become an artist. Rex could really draw and paint. He knew it; his brother knew it.

“I was five when I overheard my eight-year-old brother complaining to our mom how unfair it was that I was already better at it. I didn’t know that was true until he said so. And so I sort of decided then and there that I was going to be an artist when I grew up—if only because it seemed to upset my brother.”

Though Rex’s parents had never met another artist, they did what they could to support and encourage his artistic endeavors. They bought art supplies and paid for drawing and painting classes after school. “They never let me know how worried they were about my future. In retrospect, I realize that they tried to nudge me toward being an architect at one point; but they backed off when it became clear all I really wanted to do was draw D & D stuff all day.”

In high school, Rex discovered the magical world of picture books through his part-time job at Waldenbooks. He knew that this was his niche, so he began pursuing his BFA in illustration at the University of Arizona. But children’s literature was his only passion.

“I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing, but that’s not so unusual in and of itself—all kids draw. We all start out as illustrators, telling stories with pictures.”

“I was interested in comics as well, so as an undergrad I started taking a portfolio every year to Comic-Con in San Diego, looking for work. I showed it to anyone who would look at it. So, in this way, I got sidetracked into illustration jobs for D & D and other games for a lot of years. But it was nice getting paid to draw and paint while working on a separate children’s portfolio in my spare time, because it turns out you can’t show illustration samples of blood-spattered orcs if you want to break into picture books. There’s less overlap than you’d expect. At one point, I was actually paid to paint a picture of a zombie vomiting up a smaller zombie.”

Rex’s studio

Though he had moved up the ranks at Waldenbooks, with enough freelance work to support his modest lifestyle, Rex left his job and focused on his illustration work full time. For the most part, he never looked back; well, sort of. “That’s not exactly true. A few years later, the work dried up a little. I taught about five semesters worth of community college classes.”

For several years, Rex continued to show his portfolio to publishers and meet editors while doing freelance work. He would send samples to contacts in Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (Writer’s Digest Books). Any positive feedback would trigger a follow-up by Rex asking the editor if s/he would like to see the picture book dummy he’d just finished. Finally, he got his big break.

“An editor at FSG had been particularly encouraging, so when my future wife was planning a trip to look at grad schools in New York, I told him I’d be in town and asked if I could drop in. I think the threat of having me in his office convinced him to find something for me to work on, so he handed over the manuscript for The Dirty Cowboy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003) and asked if I’d like to audition for it.”

Rex nailed his audition and made his debut as a picture book illustrator with The Dirty Cowboy. Reactions to the book were mixed, and it soon found its way to lists of banned books. “When your book gets banned, a certain kind of person pats you on the back and tells you what good company you’re in—the Bible, To Kill a Mockingbird (J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1960), Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Charles L. Webster and Company, 1885), and so on. It’s like when people tell you it’s good luck to be pooped on by a bird. You just got POOPED on—what else are they going to say?”

“It hurts me when my books are challenged. I love kids and I’ve decided it will be my life’s work to make good books for them. A book banning instead tells me that certain people think some of my work is dangerous and detrimental, and I’m neither strong nor self-assured enough to brush that off.”

Since his first book, Rex has illustrated titles by picture book greats like Mac Barnett, Katy Kelly, and Neil Gaiman. He has also successfully ventured into writing picture books and novels such as Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich (Harcourt, 2006), Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story (Balzer + Bray, 2010), and Nothing Rhymes with Orange (Chronicle Books, 2017). Interestingly, Rex has chosen, at times, to let other artists illustrate his books.

“It’s exciting to work with illustrators I admire, and from a practical standpoint, I seem to write more than I can illustrate myself. When I wrote School’s First Day of School (Roaring Brook Press, 2016), a first-day story told from the perspective of the school itself, I didn’t feel like it played to my own visual strengths. Every time I imagined how I might render it, I saw myself trying to rip off Christian Robinson’s style. So, instead, we went about seeing if we could get Christian to agree to do it. Since then, I’ve just been asking myself, ‘Does this manuscript need me to illustrate it?’ If not, I’d rather collaborate with one of my illustrator heroes and leave myself available for opportunities like my recent collaboration, The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors (Balzer + Bray, 2017), with Drew Daywalt.”

Rex’s books have been very well-received. Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich was named a New York Times bestseller, and his first novel, The True Meaning of Smekday (Disney Hyperion, 2007), was adapted into the 2015 DreamWorks animated film, Home. “DreamWorks flew me out a lot to see what they were up to, and it was such a lengthy process that I came, eventually, to see the movie as a separate organism that needed its own room to breathe.”

Rex, himself, hasn’t taken much time to breathe. He has been busy working on book projects, responding to fan mail, and following Twitter. Next up on the publishing schedule is Are You Scared, Darth Vader? (Disney-LucasFilm Press) debuting July 2018 where readers will learn the types of things Darth Vader fears.

“Young artists and authors need to give themselves permission to make terrible stuff. Really awful first drafts and sketches. Art comes less from sudden inspiration than it does from revision.”

Rex is also busy answering fan mail. “If a kid emails me, they’ll get an email back. If they write me a physical letter, they’ll at least get a postcard. And I’m on Twitter (@mradamrex) a lot more than I ought to be.”

Kelly Barnhill: Eclectic Fantasy Writer Wins 2017 Newbery Medal

Former Walker Library in Minneapolis, MN

It was one of her first jobs: leading her siblings and cousins down the road five blocks to the former Walker Library in Minneapolis. She was eight years old, and the oldest in a house with lots of kids and lots of books.

“I was not at that time, nor would I be for a while, much of a reader,” confesses Newbery Award-winner Kelly Barnhill, “but I was a listener. I loved curling up with my mom and dad as they read to us. I loved listening to the dramatic readings of books on LP records—The Hobbit and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Treasure Island and The Happy Prince. In addition to being a listener, I was a teller, too. Since I was often put in charge of younger kids, I often held the line against misbehavior by telling stories about wood gnomes and water witches and flowers with malevolent intent and the fact that there was a magic sword somewhere in the back yard, and if we found it, we would be king.”

The fascination with telling stories never left Barnhill—especially those that involved fantasy and magic such as the award-winning The Girl Who Drank the Moon (Algonquin, 2016), The Witch’s Boy (Algonquin Young Readers, 2014), and The Unlicensed Magician (PS Publishing, 2015). “I think about that line from one of Emily Dickinson’s poems: ‘Tell all the truth but tell it slant.’ I think, for me, that is the draw of fantasy. Because it allows us to be in that space of awe and wonder, and it allows us to think about the world as it isn’t so that we may think about it as it is.”

“Fantasy allows us to think about the world as it isn’t so that we may think about it as it is.”

Barnhill’s storytelling took the form of poetry while she was in college. But when her studies came to an end, so did her creative ideas. “Once I graduated, I found that I didn’t have a whole lot to say. I wrote some short stories during my twenties—few and far between, and never with any kind of tenacity. Still, I called myself a writer a lot back then. I liked the idea of being a writer far more than I loved the work of it.”

Photo Credit, Joe Treleven

While dabbling in the art of writing, Barnhill explored other careers and vocations. She worked as a bartender, a janitor, and a park ranger before being a teacher. “I taught high school and middle school for a while, and I was a GED teacher at a drop-in center for homeless youth for a while as well.” All of these experiences were essential stepping stones in Barnhill’s journey to where she is today.

“I can see now that my restlessness at that time—my need to explore, my need to connect myself to other people, my need to feel deeply, my need to learn as many things as I possibly could—was all laying the groundwork for the work that I do now. I don’t call myself a writer anymore. I don’t call myself anything, really. I just work.”

And that seems to be working for Barnhill. She now has to her credit essays, short stories, children’s nonfiction, novels, and even a novella. She has written for young readers, middle-grade readers, and young adult/adult readers. But in all of her writing, Barnhill’s main goal is to show how her characters work through emotions and dilemmas as their stories unfold.

“For me, I will always be pulled to the page to wrestle with Big Questions and Big Ideas: the problem of power; the miracle of human love; the perversion of greed; the disconnect between good intentions and actions; the fundamental ability for all manner of things to transform. I often have no idea what a story wants to be when I start—and for me, that scramble through the utter dark, trying to feel my way towards the surface, is important. I have to trust my instincts and remove any external structure or preconceived notion. It’s just me and my senses and my wits trying to move towards the light.”

Fans of Barnhill’s work have long recognized and appreciated her storytelling style; the way she weaves intricate details to create a finely crafted tale, and the depth of emotion her characters bring to each story. Barnhill has received recognition and awards for many of her works, but this year, The Girl Who Drank the Moon, a New York Times bestseller, was named the winner of the 2017 Newbery Medal.

Barnhill and family

“This is what happens when you win a Newbery: you get woken out of a dead sleep at five in the morning by a room full of SUPER CHEERFUL LIBRARIANS, and they all try to explain to you how they’ve just changed your life.”

So did winning the Newbery really change her life? “Sort of. In some ways, nothing has changed at all—my first priority is, always, to my family, and my writing will forever be second. I do feel quite a lot of pressure regarding the next book—not from my publisher, but from myself. Because I care about the story and I care about the characters, and I know that they will be in the shadow of Luna and her family, and that’s not a comfortable place to be.

“Prior to winning, I certainly didn’t believe it was at all possible, and that belief was unchanged by actually winning the dang medal. I still don’t believe it was possible. It’s still hard for me to grasp. After all this time. Maybe this will always be so. Which means that the rest of my work will still come out of that same place of trepidation and care and worry and hope. Hope that I managed to do right by my characters. Hope that I was able to be true to the story. Hope that just one reader—just one—manages to find my book and find meaning in it. That’s all I really want: just one reader.”

Dreadful Young Ladies to be published February 20, 2018 by Algonquin Books

On Building Readers

If we want our kids to be readers then we, the parents, need to be readers, too. And this doesn’t just mean the books that we read out loud to our kids, although those are important. Our kids need to bear witness to us reading our own books, as well. And talking about books with other people.

If we want books to be a central part of our kids’ lives, then books need to play a central role in our lives too—not our phones, not the television, not video games. Books. Parents really like to wring their hands about their kids’ reading habits and don’t do nearly enough self-reflection on their own. This needs to change.

Also, building readers means building relationships, which means that parents need to pay close attention to what draws our children to books, and to have a wide variety of books available. So this means weekly trips to the library. It also means getting access to lots of books and bringing them home.

Coming Soon…

“I have a collection of grownup short stories coming out called Dreadful Young Ladies (Algonquin Books, 2018). Also, I am in the midst of re-writing (again!) a book called The Sugar House—a weird retelling of Hansel and Gretel (with a bit of Mother Hulda and some heartless giants thrown in for good measure), set in South Minneapolis. I’m pretty excited about it. Also, I’m working on a book called Dispatch from the Hideous Laboratories of Dr. Otto van Drecht, which has required me to learn a lot about shipbuilding, piracy, the Holy Roman Empire, alchemy, palmistry, cryptobiology, and poisons. I’m having an excellent time.”