Take Care

I write. When I’m happy or sad or completely pissed off or trying to figure something out. Some of that writing stays in my journal. Some finds its way into my blog. Some finds its way into my books.

Take Care started as a simple poem to remind young children — and myself — that it’s up to us to take care of the world and of each other. I wrote it two years ago, a response to the things I was losing sleep over in the news: the Paris attacks, the bombing in Turkey, the nightclub shooting in Orlando.¬† At the same time, I’d been doing some distressing research about the earth for a science fiction book I’d been working on. If I sat down to write after looking at today’s news — or last month’s or last year’s — I would have written the same poem, which, despite the paragraph you just read, is actually optimistic.

The poem begins:

Take care of the world

Of the mountains and trees

Tend to the world

All the bumbles and bees

Albert Whitman and illustrator Giuliana Gregori turned the poem into a book. Kirkus said that though this version is not religious, it reads like a prayer. I’m good with that.

I asked Giuliana, who is not on social media, what I should tell people about the book. “This is the only planet we’ve got and everything starts from each of us,” she said. I told her I’d pass it on. We hope that you’ll pass it on, too.

Take care,




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Telling stories

When I worked at the Roanoke Times, I covered a few KKK marches in Radford and in Blacksburg, both Virginia college towns.

The hardest part, for me, was watching small kids marching alongside their parents. I remember, especially, a young girl with dark, brown hair and braids. She looked like I looked when I was 9. She was marching with her mother, who dressed in white but did not wear a mask.

The photographers at the paper weren’t able to find pictures of the pair, when I asked them, years later, to check their archives. (No photos ran after the event, per newspaper policy at the time; there was a small turnout on the KKK side and little conflict had erupted.) The picture has been¬† in my mind ever since, though. The girl’s shirt was pink. She wore jeans. I couldn’t read her face. Her mother’s face was contorted because she was yelling, like the men carrying torches last week at the University of Virginia. But I’ll bet when she smiled, she looked completely different, like someone I would have talked to at Kroger.

I’ve wondered for years what happened to that girl and her mom. In my brain, I make up an ending: The girl went off to summer camp or maybe a school field trip, and had to share a room with a girl of another faith or race. They liked each other at once and became friends — best friends. In summer, they caught fireflies in mason jars and then let them go. In the winter, they went sledding behind the elementary school, sharing a sled, and falling off when they went over a ramp they’d built from packed snow. At first, Emmy (that’s what I’m calling the girl) hadn’t been allowed to have her new friend over to spend the night. She didn’t understand why. For her, whiteness was just about the snow. But when she was in middle school, her mom finally gave in. In high school, Emmy joined the debate team. She was good at it. So good, she won the regional tournament in Bluefield. So good, she somehow convinced her mother that they had been wrong to shout the things they had once shouted in the streets. They had been wrong about the things they whispered, too. Racism was wrong. That’s what Emmy started whispering. And then she got louder. She went to college and then law school and then started working for a civil rights organization. Her mom volunteers there sometimes, on weekends.

Because I don’t know what happened, I can make up my ending. But I can’t believe it. Though I’ve read news stories about real life changes, I know my story is a fantasy.

Speak up, people have said all week, after white nationalists and neo-Nazis invaded Charlottesville. Speak out.

I’ve tried, but I haven’t known what to say. That I’m heartbroken? Nauseous? Scared? That this isn’t what our country stands for? That we won’t let the racists win?

None of that seems to help. None of that seems enough.

I write a poem and scratch out the second line. Then I scratch out the whole damn thing. I do not have answers. I do not even have the poetry that comes from searching for one.

The writer in me is tempted to make up a new ending for every person who carried a torch last weekend in Charlottesville. But I know that I can’t just write a decent ending. I have to work for one. And we’re not even at that part of the story yet, are we? After all of these years, we are still at the beginning. And we have to work for that, too.

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It’s been a while since I posted, so I thought I’d take a moment and pound out a few August updates:

THIS IS JUST A TEST, my middle grade novel with Wendy Shang, is now out in the world. We had a great launch in June at One More Page Books. (Order through them if you’d like a copy signed by both of us. They’re located halfway between us!) One of the best things about the evening, besides seeing so many friends in one place, was getting to meet Chris Danger, the cover artist, who’d recently moved to our area. Here’s a photo of the three of us together:



In other book news:

-Wendy and I will be speaking at the National Book Festival at the Library of Congress over Labor Day weekend. We’re spending the next few days working on our talk, and figuring out who we want to go hear ourselves.

– Wendy and I will also be on a panel together at the VAASL (Virginia Association of School Librarians) conference in October. The panel is moderated by Meg Medina, and features Virginia author Lamar Giles and Tennessee author Ruta Septys. We love all three of these authors and we’re excited to spend the morning with them.

-When we were at Swanson Middle School in June, they interviewed us about the Swanson Writers Project, a school-wide effort to link authors with students. Here’s a link to a video about the program, which is the closest we’ve come to the Today show thus far: https://www.apsva.us/post/swansons-writers-project/

-Wendy and I are going to be on a panel with some fabulous friends at East City Book Shop in D.C. on Sept. 9 at 3 p.m. More details when we have them. (I know which friends Cecelia was asking; I just don’t know who is confirmed.)

-I’m going to be moderating a panel at One More Page on Sept. 23 at 3 p.m. featuring Tracey Baptiste, Caroline Carlson, Jessica Lawson and Tara Dairman.

For some reason, summer hasn’t felt like summer so hoping to fill the rest of this month with putt putt, lemonade, and homemade ice pops. Hoping you’ll do the same.

And this isn’t book-related, but don’t forget about the eclipse on August 21st!









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3…2…1… Launch and Giveaway

this is just a test coverTHIS IS JUST A TEST, written by yours truly and Wendy Wan-Long Shang, goes out into the world on June 27. We’re celebrating with a launch party at One More Page Books, and by hosting a little giveaway.

How to enter: The book is set during the 1980s, when the two of us grew up, so we thought we’d show you our best 80s selves (below) and ask to see yours. Just tweet us a photo of your best 80s self and use the hashtag #TIJAT. Tag @wendyshang when you do. For Facebook folks, look for Wendy’s post about the contest (or mine) and put a photo of your 80s self in the comments. If you weren’t around in the 80s, dress up your current self in your best 80s garb and send it along! We’re enclosing photos of us below (Madelyn, trying to be Molly Ringwald, Wendy, all prepped out and sporting a forensics trophy.)

That’s it! We’ll draw a name from the people who enter and that person will win our prize pack of a copy of the book, one of Madelyn’s lucky charms (of a cassette tape), and, Holy Shoulder Pads! A book of paper dolls called Great Fashion Designs of the Eighties.

madhat wendy80







Visit Scholastic to learn more about the book or check out this review in School Library Journal.





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Book Launch!

Wendy Shang and I will be holding our book launch for THIS IS JUST A TEST on Tuesday, June 27, at One More Page in Arlington. The event starts at 6:30. We’ll have cake, perhaps some trivia, and we’ll read to you and answer questions. We hope you’ll come see us.

More details: https://www.facebook.com/events/2004827549745140/

In other news: We got a lovely write-up in today’s Christian Science Monitor.

Here are links to some of our other reviews:

School Library Journal


Publisher’s Weekly



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