Imagine what it would be like to have a police car in front of every church on Easter Sunday.

Growing up, on the Jewish High Holy Days, there was always a cop in front of our synagogue.

“Why are they here?” asked long-ago me.

“It’s a deterrent,” my mother said. For awhile, I thought “deterrent” was another name for police — like “copper” or “brass.” But I finally figured it out. There are police cars in front of synagogues in Northern Virginia, too, on the High Holy Days. Now. In 2014. But they can’t be parked there all of the time.

My Facebook feed this week had an odd mix of updates. There were notes from friends in the midwest who know people in Kansas City, where three people were shot and killed on Sunday at Jewish facilities. There were notes from friends from North Carolina who had interviewed the Klan leader who allegedly shot them because he thought they were Jews. The result was an all-over chill that I still cannot shake.

In life, we always know these people: We know the dead. We know the shooter. And we know it shouldn’t be this way.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Writing with a partner

Lots of you have asked me what it was like to write a book with a partner, so Mary and I thought we’d make a few videos that would give you some idea. The snow day this week gave That Kid a chance to help me put together Video No. 1. I’ll probably link to it again later, but you can check it out now:

Posted in Dream Boy, writing, writing with a partner, ya, young adult | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

Harriet the Spy

Last summer, I did a talk for a Library of Congress contest called A Book that Shaped Me. If I had entered the contest myself, my essay would have been about Harriet the Spy. Because I’m pretty sure that my career as a journalist started the day I read that book. And though I eventually replaced Harriet’s composition books with reporter’s notebooks, I kept filling pages with notes on how people lived their lives. I spent a childhood and an adulthood playing her guessing games — deciding how people would look before I turned around, making up back-stories for everyone I’d meet. I rolled on the floor like an onion. I read with a flashlight under the covers. I developed an obsession with dumb waiters. For poem-in your-pocket day, I am sure to fold a copy of The Walrus and the Carpenter into halves and then half and half again. Harriet M. Welsch taught me about the complexities of human relationships. She’s doing it still. Happy birthday, Harriet; I’m glad you were born.

Ways to celebrate Harriet the Spy’s 50th Birthday:

- World Read Aloud Day approaches; you know what to do.

- Get yourself a fresh composition notebook. Begin.

- Give a copy of Harriet the Spy to a kid who hasn’t read it.

- Eavesdrop with abandon.

- Buy an orange hoodie.

- Read under the covers.

- Make a toolbelt, ala Harriet. (This blog post has a good example.)

-Serve up a batch of tomato sandwiches. A candle is optional.

Posted in journalism, kidlit, middle grade | Comments Off

How to Behave When You See Your Book Cover

Like this. You behave like this.

It feels like I’ve been waiting a long time to show you the cover of How to Behave at a Tea Party. Maybe my whole life. And today I finally get to share it!

I love the hair that’s out of place on Julia’s head. I love her willingness to finally leap onto the table top. I love the expression on every character’s smiling face. (And I adore their grumpy faces, when you peek inside…)                                The book is illustrated by Heather Ross, and ever since I heard she *might* do it, I have never been able to imagine it in the hands of anybody else. (Check out her fabric designs, if you haven’t already. Illustrations you can wear!)

I’ve always called HOW TO BEHAVE a “brother-sister book.” That subject seems to come up a lot in my writing. This piece, to be published by the warm and wonderful folks at Katherine Tegen Books (officially putting me within six degrees of separation from Johnny Depp) is the first brother-sister book I ever wrote.

As kids, my brother and I pinched, wrestled and occasionally beat the heck out of each other. For the most part, though, he was my best ally and friend. When I had kids — brother and sister — I got to witness the same thing. Only it felt brand new. I loved watching them navigate the world (and each other ) when they played. I still do. All of that, combined with my son’s type-A personality — and, okay, yeah, mine, too — eventually led to Julia and Charles. I can’t wait for you to meet them. And Rexie! And Frog! I hope you’ll join all of us for a nice cup of tea. Oh, and did I mention how much I love this cover? I LOVE THIS COVER!

The book hits the streets on Sept. 9th. Meanwhile, for some ideas on what you can do at your own tea party, check out my pinterest page.

To add HOW TO BEHAVE to your Goodreads to-be-read list, click here.

And did you know that, in addition to pre-ordering books online,  you can pre-order them from your neighborhood, independent book store? Months before they’re out? My local indie, One More Page, can also arrange for you to get a signed copy when the time is right. (If you call them, please ask for Lelia =)



Posted in family, how to behave at a tea party, illustration, world domination | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Genre Jumper: Jacqueline Jules

You should see the variety of items Jacqueline Jules brings in to our writing critique group every other week. Picture books, poems, middle-grades, early readers. You name it, Jackie’s written it.

This week, on the cusp of  the publication of her fifth Zapato Power book, Freddie Ramos Stomps the Snow, Jackie answered some questions about everyone’s favorite Olympic sport: genre jumping.

ME: Which came first, chicken or egg, poetry, picture book or novel?

JACQUELINE: I wrote poetry long before I wrote short stories, picture books, or novels. I started in middle school.

ME: What was the first thing you published?

JACQUELINE: I am not 100% sure but I know it was a poem. My earliest publications included poems in Young Judaea Magazine, Cosmopolitan, and America.

When did you publish something in a different form? I published a short story in Young Judaea Magazine and then I had a humor essay published in Woman’s World. I also did essays and articles for local newspapers during this time. (The late 1980’s).

ME: Are you a one-project-at-a-time person, or do you tend to mix it up? How easy is it for you to go back and forth between forms? In other words, talk a bit about your writing life.

JACQUELINE: It is not unusual for me to work on both poems and picture books in the same week or even the same day. Yesterday evening, I had the files open for a poem and an easy reader. I switched back and forth, fiddling with both files before giving up and going to bed. When I woke up, the words for the poem fell into place. Then after lunch, I concentrated on the easy reader. That’s how it works sometimes. Other times, I feel like I have to see where I’m going with a project and I keep a single-minded focus until I come to the end of a first draft or a chapter.

Silhouettes of cherry trees. Photo by My Kid

ME: Are there themes or places in your picture books that you tend to explore again in your poetry or novels?

JACQUELINE: There are many ways to view the same topic. Visual artists often do a series of self-portraits or still lifes. In the same way, I like to explore the same topic with different imagery and insights.  I’ve written a number of poems about my obsession with time (losing it, hoarding it, seeing it pass too quickly). I have a series of parenting poems, of poems adjusting to change, and several poems about a happy obsession—the spring cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin.

ME: Picture books, poetry, or novels? Do you have a preference? Or if you can’t choose, tell me what you like/don’t like about each form.

JACQUELINE: I probably enjoy writing poetry the most. Sometimes my self-indulgent reward for finishing a draft of something else is allowing myself to spend the whole day working on a poem or revising existing ones. It can take weeks to write a poem. So most of the time, I write poetry in my head on walks, when I’m driving the car, doing the dishes, taking a shower, etc. Thinking about the lines of a poem often relaxes me into sleep.

 ME: What have your picture books taught you about novel writing and poetry?

JACQUELINE: Picture books have taught me to think more visually. I often pull up a picture now on Google images to help me describe something better.

ME: What has your novel writing taught you about your poetry and picture books?

JACQUELINE: Novel writing affords the opportunity to delve deeper into a character and use more description. It’s quite different from writing poetry or picture books. When I write a picture book, I usually have a pretty good idea of what I want the ending to be. When I write a novel, I am not so sure where the characters are going. I often want to keep writing because I am interested in how the story will end, just like when I read a book.

ME: You can probably guess the next question: what has poetry taught you about your other forms?

JACQUELINE: Economy of language is everything. Don’t say it in five words if three succinct words will do. While I often repeat myself nervously in conversation (a trait I am always unsuccessfully trying to control), I go over and over my poems to eliminate any unnecessary words. I do the same with my picture books. Writing poetry is the best exercise to prepare a writer for picture books. I love the thrill of saying the very same thing, only more compactly, in heightened language.

ME: Is there a genre of literature you’d like to write that you haven’t tackled yet?

JACQUELINE: I love to read historical fiction but I am not sure I would have the confidence to do all the research necessary unless it was an era like the 1960’s in which I personally experienced.

Thanks, Jackie! You can visit Jackie at her web site at Her upcoming books, all due out in 2014, include Freddie Ramos Stomps the Snow, an early chapter book, Field Trip to the Museum, a poetry chapbook, and Never Say a Mean Word Again, a picture book based on a medieval legend. That’s a hat trick!

Posted in author interview, genre jumpers, poetry, writing | Comments Off