I'd love to have written this fabulous book, but I'm very proud to have acquired and published it for Alanna Books. We are really thrilled at the response and especially the fantastic reviews. I've written a BLOG about it and the whole issue of Gendered Marketing of Children's Books and Toys on the Alanna site - click here to read it.
OK, after Ithaca and Syracuse, I did have some time off. The highlight of my trip was seeing Xu Bing's extraordinary work in Mass MoCa, Phoenix. Words can't describe...
Staying in North Adams, I found just the best piece of furniture ever in the hall by our room - a pulpit! Of course I had to have a little rant...
Then it was off on the road trip.
The leaves were just about to turn...
We had our eyes peeled for Moose:
But the only thing that came close were some taps in a restroom at Flume Gorge!
Having been excited to see such tiny gherkins in Syracuse,
...it was a total thrill to find miniature tomatoes in my salad in North Conway.
OK, so I took some time over lunch - I was on my holidays!
The leaves really were stunning:
and I saw a tree that looked like an elephant - or a Gruffalo -
and a hat made out of pheasant feathers
And more leaves...
...and I had time to read my book...
Then it was on to Boston - and work! (please note, all the words in green are live links).
First up was a trip to the John F Kennedy Elementary School in Cambridge, organised by Ellen from local independent bookshop extraordinaire, Porter Square Books.
The kindergardeners were REALLY good at listening:
We talked about how a book is made - looking closely at Ros's fabulous thumbnails:
We had a long discussion about Lola's name and alliteration and all the different languages the story comes in...
...and discovered that even when the languages are different, the pictures are exactly the same.
Of course we had to sing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star - Lola's favourite.
Then it was time to sign some books...
which also gave us time for more involved discussions about the books:
What a wonderful morning! Then it was time for a brief visit to the Porter Square Bookshop and a little more signing before heading to the Charlesbridge offices to meet the most amazing publishing team - probably in the world. Also had a chance to chat with Jackie Miller from Reach Out And Read - click here to read about their work, or like them on facebook.
On Friday I had a day off and managed to get to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum - no photos allowed so you'll just have to check it out if you're ever in Boston. Then on Saturday it was back to work with a visit to the Peabody Public Library. We met some wonderful children and a great young man called Larry who was working on his own picture book - best of luck to him.
It was an extremely serious morning's work:
Then it was the long plane ride home to the UK - but to the fabulous news that Lola has been given the CLEL Silver Bells Award - one of 25 books selected from books published over the last 25 years!
Arrived in Toronto on September and spent the weekend with my Toronto cousins. Came away with lots of new book recommendations, thanks Sheila and Lorna!
Then it was on to Binghampton via Detroit and my friend Suzanne's place in McDonough which is totally charming - the kind of place you imagine all children's books illustrators to live!
Including, naturally enough, her flying pig! (Sorry, ONE of her flying pigs!)
After a good night's sleep we headed off for Honesdale and the Highlights Foundation and say high to some old friends. The last time I visited, the Barn had not been built, so it was very exciting to see this amazing new space where the Foundation runs workshops and residencies. We were delighted to have dinner with the inspiring Kent Brown, then having distracted Carolyn Yoder from her work for an hour, we settled down in one of the gorgeous cabins.
The Barn, Honesdale
Next morning it was back on the road and preparations for our workshops in Ithica.
Friday 13th saw us arrive safely at Tompkins County Public Library.
Once we figured out how to get in...
The most energetic woman on the planet, Brigid Hubberman, of the Family Reading Partnership who had organised the event introduced us.
First up was a story time for littlies - which they seemed to enjoy...
We signed lots of books, caught out breath then it was on to the adults.
I did a lot of ranting... about age-inappropriate board books, and too-long board books, and books which have a disconnect between topic and the developmental age of the child which they are being marketed to... Suzanne kept me on track so we remembered to talk about great books too (and don't forget to follow Lulu/Lola's own Goodreads page for recommendations - click here.)
I think we were preaching to the converted and we had a great question and answer session to end. Now if only Brigid were president of the world...
Once we'd packed up, it was off to the lakeside for some downtime - well, actually not downtime so much as intense lively discussion and debate with a bunch of powerful advocates for child literacy.
In Brigid Hubberman's world, a late night of intense debate is no excuse for a late start, so by 10.00 next morning, we'd already had breakfast, done some sightseeing (the Taughannock Falls) and visited the Hands-on Nature Anarchy Zone at the Ithaca Children's Garden (too bad we missed Mud week!)
Then it was on to our Wegman's event. We met so many new friends (a special shout out to Ana and Julie), did lots of reading - sitting in the Big Red Chair - and signing (except of course for those who could sign their own names themselves - that would've just been silly!)
My stickers were a big hit - thought some kids were insistent on sticking them on my hands!
Sometimes after a long day, things can get a little silly...
Back to Suzanne's and some real downtime, then on Tuesday it was off to Syracuse to meet Suzanne's writers' group. I was honoured they let me sit in on their session and I learned such a lot.
MJ Auch, Bruce Coville, Amber Lough, Ellen Yeomans and Suzanne Bloom.
Ellen cooked a fabulous lunch - which sadly did not include the enormous variety of gherkin she grows.
On the way home, we stopped off to buy apples and I saw this sign which made me think of my own hardy Mum and want to wish her well:
Getting excited about my visit with the wonderful Suzanne Bloom and our forthcoming series of workshops in Ithica sponsored by the Family Reading Partnership. Click here to read more about their wonderful work.
The partnership have gifted many Lulu and Lola books, as well as lots of Goose and Bear books to children and both Lulu/Lola and Goose and Bear feature in their fantastic calendar. Cant wait to meet the team in Ithica.
When I decided to go to ALA this year, Charlesbridge, the US publishers of Lulu contacted Chicago Public Library who invited me to visit a number of libraries around the city.
I kicked off with help from Karen Mariani-Mondala at Sulzer Library's Children's Department. We had a lovely session and two children even stood up to teach me a new song!
Then it was on to the Lurie Children's Hospital. I was met by the wonderful Mariana Glusman MD and Elise Groenewegen of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Both are so committed to child literacy and gift books to the community as part of the Read-Out-and-Read program.
I met any patients who had appointments that afternoon and we spent some time looking at how a book is made...
from the first ideas,
through roughs, and storyboards to the finished book.
The kids were really fabulous - even those "too old for picturebooks" got caught up in conversations about covers and design and where ideas come from. I was so touched that Abigail brought in a story she'd written and read it to me. It was fantastic - if a little scary!
Moms got involved in the conversation, some more kids joined in, I signed some books and we had just a wonderful afternoon.
A little later, I met some of the babies.
There was time for one last photo before I had to drag myself away!
On Wednesday I headed South to Woodson Regional Library.
I was made welcome from the moment I entered the building - what a fantastic place.
Annette Stewart showed me around the children's section and we were joined by two groups from
Roseland Day Care Center. We looked at how Lola came to be then had some stories and songs. The children lifted the roof with If You're Happy and You Know It!
I was so touched when Miss Quen asked the kids to give a round of applause and instead they all got up and gave me a group hug. I LOVE my job!
Then it was one last photo with the team and I had to drag myself away once again.
Quentella Davis, Annette Stewart, Anna McQuinn and Bing Liu.
On Thursday morning it was off to meet Starr LaTronica, Vice President/President-elect at Association for Library Service for Children, Youth Services/Outreach Manager at Four County Library System and totally good egg. We agreed on the importance of being earnest - about books and literacy and inclusion and access for all. So much to discuss, so little time - isn't it always the same when you make a new best friend!
Then I had the rest of the day off - what to do? The Architectural Boat tour, as recommended by my cousin Beth, was great then we spent the afternoon mooching around, taking in the sights including Anish Kapoor's Bean
and a great wild-flower garden near the Art Institute.
Did I mention that the next Lulu book is all about gardening? Sneak preview here:
Friday it was back to work with a trip to the Harold Washington Library in the center of Chicago.
While I'd noticed these crazy lions (sorry my Boston colleagues) as I mooched around on Thursday afternoon, as an out of towner, I didn't quite grasp the significance...
... that was until my taxi came to a section of street which was entirely blocked off. Since I figured we were only a few blocks from the library, I decided to get out and walk the rest of the way - only to discover that the street was blocked off for the Blackhawks' victory parade and there was no way across! You have to understand - I'm on the left of this madness and the library is across the street and a few blocks along!
So everyone is in high spirits and cheering and waving and I'm trying to push through with a backpack, a suitcase full of soft toys (for Old MacDonald and Five Little Ducks obviously) as well as a guitar! Abandon that idea!
Onto the subway in a panic and thankfully passengers were helpful and pointed me in the right direction. When I emerged, the first person I asked for help turned out to be a member of ALSC on his way to ALA and he walked me to the door. Thanks Dan Rude!
Kelly Hefermann was so kind and helped me to gather myself for a lovely session with great kids from the Children's Depot Playstation, Dolton, alongside some Thomas Hughes Children's Library regulars.
We started with a little story - Lola at the Library of course...
But when we got to the part where Lola sings - well, we just had to have a go ourselves!
I got some more hugs (this time from the lovely staff) and a high five and "good job" from one of the little ones for my storytelling - I think she saw that I was having a tough morning and needed some encouragement!
Back on the street and it proved just as difficult to get back up town. More panic - I had a meeting scheduled at the McCormick Place Convention Center at 2.00 and had to check into my hotel, change, dump all my stuff and get out there! Eventually I spotted a rickshaw driver taking fans for little rides and asked if he would take me. He agreed and on I hopped - I quite enjoyed the ride and even more so the astonished faces of the doormen at the hotel when we drew up! (As Donna Spurlock pointed out, since I arrived with a suitcase and then went to check in, they may not have realized I just came from a few blocks down town). So sorry I was too frazzled to take a photo - but found him on the internet - so you just have to imagine me, my suitcase and guitar tootling along! The receptionist at the hotel was not impressed!
But it all meant I made it to my meeting with Brigid Hubberman, Director of the Family Reading Partnership in Ithica which I wouldn't have missed for the world. How great is it to spend time with people with not just a passion for children's literature and literacy, but boundless enthusiasm for DOING things to make sure every child is read to every day. Another new best friend! Now if we ruled the world...
Saturday and I took a whole day off! Went off to tour Frank Lloyd Wright's homes in Oak Park.
Went to the Unity Temple first - so beautiful and still and serene...
OK, that was it on the serenity front. Saturday evening we were off for the noisiest and tastiest dinner I've ever eaten (no - the food wasn't noisy, the cheerleaders at the next table were. I was going to go into battle when they started singing, but Donna, Meg and Julie, despite being part of the fantastic team at Charlesbridge saw singing Twinkle Twinkle with me as just one step too far!)
Next day was off to the McCormick Place Convention Center. Met Samantha Vamos who was signing copies of her new book, Alphabet Trucks and another new friend, Judy Goldman who was there to sign her new book Whiskers, Tails and Wings and speak at Charlesbridge's Book Buzz session about books from Mexico. I had a chance to look around at the exhibits then back to the Charlesbridge Booth to do some signing and hang out with the dream team...
along with lots of other nice Lola fans who happened along - including someone with the best nail do of the convention!
I also 'met' the amazing team from the I'm Your Neighbor project in Maine - except we had convention brain by that point and didn't make the connection! I signed a copy of Lola for Anne Sibley O Brien and smiled at Kirsten Cappy and Lanie Honda! They were at ALA to tell people about their project - they selected My Friend Jamal as one of the nine books for their project and I'm so proud! It was on display right round the corner and I somehow missed it! We were all so focused on that little attention-seeker, Lola!
It was hard to leave and head for the airport - though I did miss everyone from the Stripey Club at Acton library and was glad to see them all again on Tuesday.
Every celebrity in the country has been asked for their top reads this year, so what the heck, I'm adding mine. My top pick is a tie between Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey and Nightwoods by Charles Frazier.
Top reads included The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman, and the Dovekeepers which I've just finished; The Bride's Farewell by Meg Rosoff and Before I go to Sleep by S.J. Watson (though I think Nicky French's Land of the Living is better - if you read and enjoyed the much plauded Before I go to Sleep, make sure you seek it out).
Celtic twilight / pre-history and mystery...
I went through a bit of a history phase, revisiting Morgan Llywelyn. Nothing much beats her The Bard for me, but The Horse Goddess came close this year. I also revisited Juliet Marillier, re-reading Daughter of the Forest and reading Wildwood Dancing (not quite as good) and enjoying (once I got into it) Heart's Blood. All of the above are enjoyable if you like re-worked fairytales.
Wilderness Stories - my theme this year
I also went through a bit of a 'wilderness' books phase - possibly prompted by going away to do some writing in the wilds of Kerry. And these were my top books this year:
The Snow Child, set on a farmstead in Alaska is a really wonderful read - get your hands on one and read it this winter. I think any synopsis can't do it justice - I wouldn't even read the back cover copy - just go for it - it's a treat.
Out Stealing Horses is set in the wilderness of Norway - another one where I don't think I could describe the plot without ruining or reducing the story to much less than it is. Finally, Nightwoods by Charles Frazier tops my chart since it hit my wilderness craving - it's set in the middle of nowhere in Carolina - and also my love of books with small children at the centre of the story (though the main character is Luce) a lonely woman who has set up home in an abandoned hotel.
I'm loath to put this here in case any adult might think it's not for them, but Meg Rosoff's The Bride's Farewell was one of my favourite reads this year. Another impossible book to sum up (now I'm feeling like a total failure - shouldn't writer be able to describe her favourite book?). Just read it. Feeding Friendsies by my splendid friendsie, Suzanne Bloom is gorgeous, though I have to big up what About Bear? also by Suzanne and out from Alanna Books this September. So proud to publish this fabulous story - haiku for the under fives (the over 40s could learn a lot from it too).
Finally, a book I hope I won't have need for this year but which deals with the harrowing topic of a mother's death magnificently is The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic & Olivier Tallec. Originally published in France and published here in the UK by Walker Books (Candlewick in the USA). I always recommend Always and Forever by Alan Durant for anyone broaching the subject of death with a child and it is still the best book for children or adults that I know. The Scar deals specifically with a mother's death so will not have as wide a use, but is a very very special book.
Oh dear, I've managed to end on a sad note... never mind... go read The Bride's Farewell, or Nightwoods, or Feeding Friendsies...
Bookstart are the latest Lulu fans!
As part of a project they are doing, they've made an eBook of Lulu Loves Stories and it's on their website. You can read and listen in English AND in the 19 other languages from the CD. How amazing is that. Click here to check it out.
Finally adjusting to being back in the office after a writing retreat in the wilderness.
No phone, no internet, no emails, no TV, no car! Nothing to do but research and write. OK, so I did paint the gate and cleaned the windows and re-grouted the bathroom tiles before I finally knuckled down to it, but I got there in the end...
Now it's back to working on current projects: the new Zeki book is developing beautifully and the text for the next Lulu book - Lulu Loves Flowers went off to the US for approval today before Ros starts the roughs very soon. Watch this space.
On Saturday we went to cheer Team GB in their pre-Olympic warm up game against Portugal in Sheffield. The team played great and had a good win.
I was thrilled to meet the team and especially Luol Deng after the game. When I wrote 'My Friend Jamal, I wanted to choose a fitting hero for Jamal to look up to and I thought Loul Deng would be the perfect role model. As a young boy he fled Sudan with his family and ended up in the UK. Deng played basketball in Brixton then won a scholarship to the USA and he now plays for the Chicago Bulls.
When I wrote the story in 2006, Deng was in his first years as an NBA player. In 2007, he won the NBA's sportsmanship award in a vote by players. The award honors the player who best exemplifies ethical behavior, fair play, and integrity on the court. For that award, the league donated $25,000 on his behalf to Pacific Garden Mission, the oldest continuously operating rescue mission in the country.
Deng also won the 2006–2007 Golden Icon Award for Best Sports Role Model and most recently, he won the 2008 UN Refugee Agency's Humanitarian of the Year Award as part of the UNHCR's ninemillion.org campaign to bring education and sports to millions of displaced children. You can see more about his on his website. I really admire his work and donate 10p from every Jamal book sold to his charaties (click on the pages about Luol Deng and 'giving back' for more information).
Back in 2006, I would never have guessed that Loul would be back in the UK playing on Team GB for the Olympics, so you can understand what a thrill it was for me to meet him in person! I gave him a copy of the book and couldn't believe it when he said he'd already read it! Then he signed my copy - I will SO treasure it.
After all that excitement, it was off to Matlock in Derbyshire to the Big Book Bash. Children all over Derbyshire have been reading 20 books by 11 authors and passing them on in a reading relay -travelling over 1,000 reading miles.
The event kicked off with an opening ceremony, Olympic style. Each author was led out by children carrying images of their books and flags to an hilarious commentary. My little champions were slightly scared of the Gruffalo (who was also present) but we got there in the end!
Some of the picures are a bit blurry - but they capture the wild enthusiasm of the crowd! I made lots of new friends and ended the day signing some autographs myself!