First Day Hikes

I love any idea that will get people outside more. Just thought I’d share this post from Virginia State Parks. The initiative is nationwide.

Hoping you get outside — not just Jan. 1 but all year!

Christmas Day Hike

Christmas Day Hike


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New Year’s Resolutions from Authors and Illustrators

It’s a new year, and many of us are reflecting on how we want to approach it in our personal lives, our creative lives, and the intersection between the two. I won’t provide a Venn diagram here, but as you make your own resolutions, consider an accompanying graphic. Meanwhile, I hope you’ll find inspiration in this collection of resolutions from some old friends and some new ones in the kidlit community. Wishing a happy, healthy 2017 to all of you. Drink more water (author Erica Perl says she makes this resolution every year). Write hard. Find joy. And if you have a resolution to share, we’d love to hear it in the comments.

Gigi Amateau, COME AUGUST, COME FREEDOM: There’s a river book I’ve been wanting to write for a while now, and hope to write over the next 30 years, because I want to live with the experience of writing this book for a long time. So in 2017 I aim to hike to the headwaters of the James and learn to kayak.

Tom Angleberger, ORIGAMI YODA series, FUZZY: Make plot decisions and stick to them! (You can always change them later.)

Cece Bellflytrap, EL DEAFO, INSPECTOR FLYTRAP: I think my resolution is to have no resolution. Just make stuff, give more stuff away, maybe dip a toe into poetry. I’m taking a sabbatical in 2017 — no deadlines, no school visits, no Skype visits, no nuttin’. The last couple of years were amazing but now the well is dry and needs some major refilling. It’s gonna be a funky-weird year in my studio, and I’m looking forward to it!

Molly Burnham, the TEDDY MARS series: My resolution is to listen to other people with openness and less judgment. And to articulate my own thoughts the same way.

Mary Crockett, DREAM BOY: I resolve to keep a notebook and pen nearby and to spend some time every day writing by hand. Typing on my laptop has become my go-to, but I find I think differently when I write longhand. I’m more likely to allow myself to wander and write something that might surprise me.

Lulu Delacre, ¡OLINGUITO, DE LA A LA Z: I’d like to create a picture book for very young girls about how thinking creatively empowers you. And I’d like to illustrate this book in a minimalist graphic way pushing the boundaries of what you can do with the white of the paper. We’ll see!

Moira dogbikeRose Donohue, DOG ON A BIKE and THE INVASION OF NORMANDY (forthcoming): I resolve to use strong action verbs, in both my writing and in my response to any person who tries to bully or harm another person just because he or she is different.

Pintip Dunn, FORGET TOMORROW: This year, I want to read 100 books. I’d like to break new ground with my writing and take my skill set and craft to a higher level. I want to try something radically different, whether it’s a new genre or a new target audience. Ultimately, I’d like to find a harmonious balance so that my writing is characterized more by joy than by stress.

margaritaMargarita Engle, LION ISLAND and DRUMDREAM GIRL: I resolve to keep writing poetry about peaceful heroes, no matter how many politicians promote hatred and violence.

Marty Rhodes Figley, THE TRUE STORY OF JIM THE WONDER DOG: This year I want to wake up each morning and take a moment to feel gratitude for all that I have.

Josh Funk, LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST (sequel forthcoming): In 2017, I resolve to take more classes and attend more workshops to learn as much as I can to improve my craft. I want to educate myself as much as possible so everything I write in the future is better than what I wrote before.

Laura Gepeephl, PEEP AND EGG: In 2016, the books I most admired were not just funny and clever but overflowed with heart.  So my resolution for 2017 is to take hold of the roller coaster that is my daily life and try to pour all of those raw emotions into my writing.

Leah Henderson, ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL (forthcoming): Remembershadow to try and let go of my fears and worry and embrace all the twists and turns, ups and downs, and sour and sweet moments of my debut year. Continue to learn and hopefully grow both as a writer and as a person. And never forget to smile, laugh, and be grateful because I am having a truly blessed life.

Jacqueline Jules, ZAPATO POWER series and SOFIA MARTINEZ series: To be less distracted by social media. To write more poetry. To be more present in each moment. And to remember always that I feel most alive when I am writing.

aminaHena Khan, AMINA’S VOICE (forthcoming): 2017 is the first year I will be devoting myself entirely to writing full-time, which both exhilarates and terrifies me. My resolutions are to finally cure myself of imposter syndrome somehow (any suggestions?) and to develop more discipline and a routine around writing, exercising, and managing social media and other author-ly activities. I’m embarrassed to admit that I have absolutely none right now!

Rashin Kheiriyeh, TWO PARROTS and THE SAFFRON ICE CREAM (forthcoming): Definitely, I will eat more ice cream, and I am going to share with kids the joy of my favorite flavor of ice cream, saffron ice cream. I will also spend more time playing with colors and find more inspiration from nature. Hopefully I will find my imaginary, playful cat between my stories.

Renémamathealien Colato Laínez, MAMA THE ALIEN/MAMA LA EXRATERRESTRE: For my nuevo año resolutions, I plan to keep writing at least two pages a day and read more picture, middle grade and young adult books. Also I plan to visit my native country El Salvador and promote children’s literature everywhere I go. I plan to have fun, too. Cheers, felicidades for  2017!

C.B. Lee, NOT YOUR SIDEKICK: In 2017 I resolve to write stories that not only will move the landscape of fiction towards more representation, especially for LGBTQ youth, but are fun and inspiring. I also resolve to read and discover more books from #ownvoices authors.

Sylvia Liu, A MORNING WITH GRANDPA: I promise to ENJOY the creative journey and to minimize distractions. I will focus on my writing, illustrating, and the kid lit resource website I co-run, Kidlit411. I will continue to speak up about things I care about, particularly the environment.

Natalie Dias Lorenzi, A LONG PITCH HOME: Write for 15 minutes a day. I’m actually going to set a timer, and if I want to write more, all the better! Since I moved from being an elementary to a secondary school librarian, I’ve really struggled with finding time to write.

Kelly Starling Lyons, ONE MORE DINO ON THE FLOOR and JADA JONES: ROCK STAR (forthcoming): Somdinoetimes the biggest writing obstacles come from within. My 2017 resolution is to walk in faith, not fear. I will banish doubt by writing from the heart, focusing on the children I serve and pushing for stories that center the lives of kids who are too often unheard.

Ellen Oh, PROPHECY series and FLYING LESSONS AND OTHER STORIES (ed.):My resolution is to raise my voice even louder and to try and inspire a new generation of young teen activists to raise their voices louder than our own. To teach them to never stay quiet when faced with racism, prejudice, hate. To demand accountability from those who do wrong. To keep having uncomfortable conversations about race and discrimination and politics. To never quit no matter how tough it might get. No matter how depressed or hopeless we might feel. No matter how bad the harassment might get. And I will be right there with them every step. Because we must unite together and raise each other up in order to fight for our future.

Lisa Papademetriou, HIGHLY UNUSUAL MAGIC and APARTMENT 1986 (forthcoming): This year, I resolve to slow down to a sloth-like pace. I am a pathological multi-tasker, often juggling multiple projects, ideas, novels, etc., but I think my work will benefit from slow consideration and deliberateness. If I can handle it!

Erica Perl, CAPYBARA CONSPIRACY and FEROCIOUS FLUFFITY: Draw every day. I think it capybarais one of the most awesome ways to get creative juices flowing. Also: Wake up and fight. That’s actually a Woody Guthrie resolution, but 2017 strikes me as a good year to adopt it. I’m actually pretty conflict-adverse, but I think by “fight” he meant: speak up for what matters to you. For me it’s kids, books, equality, human rights, kindness, humor and celebration of differences.

Lori Richmond, PAX AND BLUE: My resolution for 2017 is to better incorporate ideation time into my day. I get so caught up in all of the “now” illustration work and deadlines, that sometimes there is little time left over for developing my own ideas. It’s time for more ME TIME.

Madelyn Rosenberg, NANNY X and HOW TO BEHAVE series: The Hamilton soundtrack’s still getting a lot of play at my house, so I’m finding resolutions in the lyrics: Look around. Rise up. Write like you’re running out of time. My other resolution is to be a maker, whether it’s books or music or little creatures out of salt dough.

Tammar Stein, THE SIX-DAY HERO: I will accept the non-linear way that writing progresses. Two steps forwards and one-and-a-half step back is still forward motion, even if it doesn’t feel like it!

Theodore Taylor III, WHEN THE BEAT WAS BORN and the LITTLE SHAQ series: My resolution isn’t much different than it was last year. I need to draw more regularly and consistently, improve my craft and get all of my projects done in a timely fashion.

Erin Teaganfriendship, THE FRIENDSHIP EXPERIMENT: This year my goal is to continue to grow as a writer by trying new things and taking on different kinds of projects as well as making more of an effort to connect with readers by doing more events and school visits.


Ruta Sesaltpetys, SALT TO THE SEA: My resolution is to read more short stories. As a novelist, I struggle to capture a story in 350 pages. I am in awe of writers who capture an entire journey in ten to twenty pages. In 2017, I’d like to read several short stories per week as a literary vitamin and lesson in form.

Wendy Wan-Long Shang, THE WAY HOME LOOKS NOW: Last year, I wrote something about protecting my daily writing time.  What I’ve found upon my return to work is that protection mode is kicking in full blast, because while I love my social justice work, I also need to have my creative writing to feel like a complete person.  There are trade-offs.  The house is messier.  The kids are learning to love laundry, and I’m realizing that any day that feels like I’m top of it means that I forgot to make dinner.  No matter.  The writing will stay, even if it takes the most precarious, ferocious balancing act I can achieve.

Nanci Turner Steveson, SWING SIDEWAYS: My resolution is to dig deeper inside than ever before, to listen to people more fully, to write with passion and offer literature that helps kids feel safe in an often rocky world. In doing so, I resolve to work toward freeing myself from the fear of failure, and to keep my writing notes in a much more organized manner so I’m not always scrambling to find them.

Thanks so much to all of the authors and illustrators who shared their resolutions this year. To check out creative resolutions from previous years, click here and here. And please note: I tried to list one representative book for each author but many of them have written much, much more. Explore their websites to learn more about them!
















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What to Tell the Children About Trump

I was trying to tuck the kids in late last night with words that would allow them to sleep. I reminded them that we are surrounded with good people, people who are not prejudiced, people who understand what is happening to our planet, people who value kindness and goodness and will work hard to protect them and the nation as a whole. I may also have included the word “douchebag.”

In a few minutes, they will wake, my children and yours, and they will want to know more. They will want to know why. And we will say: Because people were afraid.

Soon, those people will be more afraid. Maybe in a few months, maybe in a year, maybe in a few minutes — however long it takes to find out that the man behind the curtain is not great or powerful or capable of fixing the world. But together, we are, and we will tell them that. We are capable of working together to make the world a better place, which is no different from what we’ve told our children since they were born, in every story, in every lullaby. We will tell them again.

We will pat their backs and tell them everything will be okay, repeating it and repeating it until we believe it ourselves.

We will tell them to watch out for  friends and for strangers and for people whose voices are soft and for people who feel they have lost theirs altogether.

We will ask our children what they believe in and find solace in their answers.

We will tell them it’s okay to be scared but we will ask them to be brave.

We will show them the sun in the sky and the birds in the trees (or we would if it weren’t raining.)

We will show them the cats, who will flit their tails and demand food and knock the vase off the counter.

We will quote from their favorite books.

We will wear poetry like it is armor.

We will arm ourselves with music and quote Mr. Rogers and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

We will quote prophets and comedians and saints.

We will take the lessons from storybooks. We will not give up.

We will give our children pens and pencils and crayons and tell them that sometimes we have to rewrite the story. Now, we have to rewrite the story.

We will demand a happily ever after.








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Hamilton Vocabulary

I redid my office with the chalkboard paint that I’ve been wanting since my kids were preschoolers. Better late than never, right? My plan was to use the wall to explore different plot points while I was writing. But I wanted the kids to use it, too. Maybe, I suggested, we could write up a word of the day. (Insert groan here. Go ahead. I’ll wait.)

We tried it for a while without much traction until my daughter wanted to know what quagmire meant, because A. Burr was trying to figure out how to emerge from it. And voila, our new project: The Hamilton word of the day. (Or, you know, when the mood strikes us.) The kids get to do their fair share of swearing while singing along with the soundtrack, and they get to learn some SAT words, too.

A sampling:











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Fuzzy: Introducing Paul Dellinger to the Kidlit Crowd

I worked with both  Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger at The Roanoke Times for many moons. But Paul’s tenure there eclipsed ours. It eclipsed everybody’s, really. For one thing, he was there a lot longer (44 years, people!) But even if he hadn’t been, he would have written more stories than the rest of us put together.


Paul, looking contemplative. Photo by Maxine Dellinger.

Paul was known for doing six things at a time and some of us were convinced he could be in two places at once — a coal strike in far Southwest Virginia and a science fiction convention in Roanoke. (I, for one, have seen no evidence to prove he isn’t capable of doing this.) During our years at the paper, Paul also wrote science fiction stories on the side. Then he retired and Tom, who was already well into his Origami Yoda series, knew exactly what to do with that retirement: He teamed up with Paul to work on a middle-grade novel, which was published by Abrams this month.

The novel is called Fuzzy.  It’s about a girl named Max, an overbearing vice principal, and a robot who is programmed to use fuzzy logic while attending middle school in the midst of standardized-testing-obsessed America. The story got a mention in Time Magazine this month and a starred review in Kirkus. It also received a star from our family, where we’ve been passing the book around during that painful segue from summer to back to school.

51Ggnimw74L._SX338_BO1,204,203,200_Since many folks in the kidlit community haven’t met Paul Dellinger yet (that’s Dellinger with a hard g; I mispronounced it for ages and he was too kind to correct me) I thought I would do the introductions by way of an interview.

Me: You’ve always been drawn to science fiction. Could you tell us a little about how your love of sci-fi started?

Paul: It started in childhood, with comic books and occasional movies (there weren’t many SF movies back then, unlike today when every other new movie has at least SF elements). One of the earliest influences was probably a 1924 book called Peter and Prue by Mary Dickerson Donahey, loaned to me by a 2nd-grade teacher, a fantasy about two runaway kids visiting planets throughout our solar system and combining the science about them (as then known; I wish I could somehow get the rights to do a rewrite of it and bring that part up to date) with the Greek, Roman and Norse “gods” associated with them. It was a gem of a book. Next was the spinner-rack of paperbacks in my hometown newsstand where, again back then, the discovery of a new SF book was precious because there weren’t that many.

Me: I love the way taking things out of this world allows you to better comment on/consider this world.

Paul: I agree. People say science fiction is supposed to predict futures (and it can, in small ways) but often it’s written to avoid them (Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, for instance; Bradbury abhorred the idea of book burnings). Neville Shute’s On the Beach and all the after-the-bomb stories that followed. And today’s dystopias are not futures we would want). Even non-SF work like Dickens’ Victorian England or Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin leave me with more of a feel for what those times were like than reading only factual history books.

Me: As you know, I was SUPER excited about the idea of you and Tom teaming up to write FUZZY. Could you talk a little bit about what the process was like, and who brought what to the story?

Paul: The concept was entirely Tom’s. At a farewell party where photographer Gene Dalton and I were retiring from The Roanoke Times, Tom came and suggested the collaboration. I’m sure he could have handled it alone, although it would be a different book, and I’m grateful for his generosity in inviting me in. I had published some science fiction stuff and he thought I could bring something to the table from that.

(Tom adds: Sure, I suggested some of the ideas, but Paul did, too. Biggs and Valentina are two of his! I think the exciting thing to me is that neither one of us would have written this book without the other one!)


Tom A and Paul D: Collaborating at a burger joint.

Me: How did the process differ from when you worked with reporter Mike Allen on The Sky-Riders?

Paul: Mike and I (and Mike’s wife, Anita) met occasionally during the process and brainstormed research and how the story would play out. One of us would then write it, and the other would go over that and make rewriting suggestions. With Tom, we had fewer face-to-face meetings but a lot more back and forth on the internet, sending huge sections of text to one another. Toward the end when we were zeroing in on changes we needed to make, one of us would do one section and one would do another. By the end, I’m not sure we could really tell who did what.

Me: Did you and Tom ever meet over lunch (lunch being important in any middle school novel) and if so, did your food source give you inspiration?

Paul: We had a few meetings at burger places midway between where we live, where we could find corner tables and spread out our paper stuff. So we ate mostly burgers, not too inspirational. We occupied our table for much longer than it took us to eat.

Me: How did the team process differ from when you’ve worked alone?

Paul: When I’ve worked on stories solo, it’s generally been whenever I could sandwich time in front of a computer (or originally a typewriter; yes, I do go back that far. My first published short story, written while in the Army, had its first draft handwritten in a spiral notebook). I thought I’d have more time for that in retirement, but, surprise! Retirement’s been pretty busy.

(Note: During his time in the Army, where he wrote news releases and worked for the post newspaper at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Paul also wrote a musical comedy, which was performed at the enlisted men’s service club.)

Me: What was the best thing that came out of your recent partnership with Tom?

Paul: For me, it was coming up with a product that probably neither of us would have had alone. Plus, Tom has been very easy to work with. I don’t think we ever had any battles over where the story would go at any point. (The same was true with Mike.) We went back and forth over some things but always wound up in agreement.

Me: Have you ever tried writing for a younger audience before?

Paul: No, this was the first time.

Me: Did you make any discoveries along the way?

Paul: Let’s see…I discovered that you can radically change what would be a cliché situation simply by reversing the roles of the two characters involved. And that references to old-time western novels would be meaningless to today’s [middle grade] readers. And probably much else that I don’t recall at this moment.

Me: As someone who lives in an area where manufacturing used to be King, have you seen friends lose jobs to automation? Did that creep in to any of your thoughts as you were writing this book?

Paul: I have seen friends lose jobs for that reason, and as businesses consolidate trying to do more with fewer people. One of the adult characters in the book hates anything involving robotics for that very reason.

Me: You and Tom (and you and Mike, for that matter) have journalism in your blood. Did that have an impact on your story in any way?

Paul: We should all have deadline setting in common but, in both cases, we kind of let our projects play out to however much time it took, often interspersed with other projects we were doing. That changed toward the end of Tom’s and my book, when contract deadlines came into play and our journalism experience with deadlines no doubt helped us.

Me: So a bit off the subject, but since we’re talking robots: do you own or have you ever wanted to own a Roomba?

Paul: No. They look really efficient in TV ads, but I’m afraid we have too much furniture in the way. (Or stacks of books to knock over. My wife already says I have too many of those.)

Me: What’s the closest thing in your house to a robot?

Paul: Probably Siri, on my iPhone. You can actually have conversations with Siri, as the astronauts in 2001 did with HAL. (Does playing chess or checkers against a computer on an iPad count?)

Me: (Who owned a flip phone until two weeks ago, and who has zero experience with Siri or iPads) Yes, absolutely that counts. Have you ever tried to build a robot?

Paul: No, all I can ever remember building were Lincoln Log forts as a kid. I peopled them with toy soldiers or plastic cowboys and Indians, and staged stories in them. This may have been the primitive form of today’s sophisticated gaming. Oh, wait, I did once “build” a backyard spaceship, out of a discarded refrigerator box that I painted silver and filled inside with all kinds of fancy controls.

Me: If you had infinite programming abilities and were able to build a robot, what would you want it to do?

Paul: Housecleaning (around those stacks of books! In fact, it could catalog or alphabetize them for me), lawn-mowing, driving long distances (only when that becomes foolproof)…can’t think of much else. My preferred non-human companions are still dogs and cat. And horses. Now, when they make a robot that follows directions and looks like Marilyn Monroe – but, no, that would be an android.

Me: Star Wars or Star Trek?

Paul: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the original versions of both. Enjoyed each a little less with each new incarnation.

Me: What are some other robot-related books that kids inspired by Fuzzy might consider?

Paul: I, Robot, by Eando Binder. I, Robot (same title, different book, actually a short story collection), by Isaac Asimov. The Humanoids by Jack Vance. “Marionettes, Inc.” by Ray Bradbury. “Helen O’Loy” by Lester del Rey. The Caves of Steel and The Robots of Dawn, both SF/mystery novels, both by Asimov, as well as his The Bicentennial Man. I read most of these as a kid so the short stories may be a little hard to track down, but the novels are still available.

Me: At the Roanoke Times, I was always blown away by how many things you could do at the same time, so the obvious question might be: what ELSE are you working on now?

Paul: I’ve been working off and on with a novel set in 1952 Hollywood but with flashbacks to the authentic old west. I needed to place it at a time when a major character could have lived during some of the historical events of the 1800s and still be functional. It’s an attempt to combine the Hollywood west with the actual one. Nobody is out there screaming for it so I haven’t set one of those deadlines to get it done.

Me: (Insert scream here.) And finally, could you tell the nice folks what you do in your free time?

Paul: Read, although not as much as I thought I would in retirement. Write, although ditto. I volunteer at the Wythe County Public Library, helping with publicity and assembling material for three of its eight monthly book clubs. I’d planned to take some community college courses but most of [my options were on-line] and I wanted actual classrooms. (I’ve instead ordered some of the Great Courses offerings with lectures on CDs and DVDs and gone through at least a dozen of those.) Occasionally, horseback riding. A friend and I do a monthly showing and providing the background for a series of vintage movies at the local community college.

Thanks, Paul!

Paul is still pondering this whole website business, but until then, you can learn more about him by visiting Abrams or by checking him out on Twitter.

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