Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


Fabulous Summer

As usual, I forgot to blog. This time I can blame it on a fabulous summer. You already know that in June I went to Washington, D.C. to receive the Pura Belpré Honor for Diego. Well, in July, I flew to Boston for my son's wedding. I enjoyed the wedding, the bride, and her family. But we also visited the JFK Library, Lizzie Borden's House (Guilty!), Plymouth Plantation, and the Seamen's Brethel in the movie of Moby Dick. I returned to teach at the Whidbey Island MFA where we heard wonderful speakers such as Virginia Euwer Wolff.

I, too, read Road to Tater Hill and liked so much that I assigned to my students.

My Sonia Sotomayor: Supreme Court Justice is out! The Spanish version received a Junior Library Guild.

I will be missing you again soon because I am going to Europe to research Picasso! But I'll try to connect from France and Spain.


A Day Late, But Back Aboard!

When I sat down at the computer to start my work this morning, I felt like I was forgetting something, and then it dawned on me: our blog has resumed after a summer hiatus, and my day to post was yesterday! And so, like a kid walking into class late, I’m finally here and ready to start a new year of posting and reading and learning from my fellow potatoes.

Summer was hectic, what with our move to Whidbey Island, exploring our new “neighborhood,” and entertaining family and friends on our sailboat. As you can see by the accompanying picture, however, there is always time for reading!

Like some others, I tend to take summers off to read and recharge myself, then resume my writing schedule when school begins again. Some of the books I recently read and would recommend include:

The Willoughbys, by Lois Lowry. Very funny book, crisply written.

Freddy Goes to the North Pole, by Walter Brooks. I always seem to have a Freddy book on my nightstand. This one, second in the series, contains all the elements I enjoy in a novel: great characters, humorous situations, plenty of action, and a reading experience that is just plain fun!

The Teddy Bear Habit and its sequel Rich and Famous, by James Lincoln Collier. A “lost treasure” from my youth, The Teddy Bear Habit still inspires me, though I admit it’s strange to read a kid’s book involving beatniks and hippies, and adults who always seem to have a cigarette going! I was excited to finally read the sequel this summer, but must admit it did not have the power, for me, of the original.

Rumo, by Walter Moers. Another example of unbridled imagination by the author of The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear, one of my all-time favorite books.

To Catch a Mermaid, by Suzanne Selfors. Great fun, great plot, great writing!

Not Just a Witch, by Eva Ibbotson. I usually don’t read many books about witches or ghosts, but I love Eva Ibbotson and never fail to be inspired (and a bit daunted) by her talent. This one, as usual, did not disappoint.

Writing this list reminds me of how much I enjoy reading, and what inspired me to be a writer in the first place. Now it’s time to hunker down and do some of my own work…

Summer's Summary

How comforting to return to our One Potato... Ten! blog after a summer of launches! It started early last June with the graduation of my daughter from high school, which began the launching of her towards Oberlin College where she began classes just last week. The next launch was my new book, The Princess and Her Panther. The author, Wendy Orr, arrived all the way from Australia just on time for a celebration at one of our local independents, The Red Balloon Bookshop. Making a tent of red silk fabric, inspired from the story, Wendy read from the book while I used shadow puppets on the tent wall behind her to add to the drama of the night time camp-out scenes. We also presented at various other venues. For our more formal presentations, I created a movie of the book, with music composed by my husband, Matthew Smith, (pictured here with Wendy Orr and myself), and a wonderful reading of the story by Wendy, with her lovely Australian accent.

After successfully launching our book, I rushed Wendy to the airport then rushed to the Circus. When I am not writing and illustrating picture books, I am writing the script and designing and painting sets for the fabulous Circus Juventas! -- a youth circus school in St. Paul. This year's August show, which features their most advanced performers was SAWDUST. The story was based loosely on the book, Water for Elephants, but was set during the Golden Age of the American Circus, just before the Depression.
Sawdust was launched with great success! There were nineteen performances to sold-out audiences. I tried to usher as many shows as possible to see the script and sets come to life. These kids are amazing performers. I have come to see my work at Circus Juventas as bringing a story to life- like a giant picture book! (Also, my son performs with Circus Juventas. He is the clown in the poster.)
There were other events, including reading from my books on the Lake Harriet Trolley in Minneapolis. It happened to be the hottest, humid-est day of the summer (ending with tornados!) so after reading from my new book, I read from my books, Winter is the Warmest Season and Snow, just to cool us off!

I did have time for reading too- every morning with my cup of tea, my best reading time. Some favorite books are:
THE BOG CHILD and THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY, by Siobahn Dowd. I had read her book, A SWIFT PURE CRY, two years ago and was so moved by the story and Dowd's gorgeous writing that I was determined to read all of her books. She tragically died of breast cancer too young, but has left her mark on children's literature, winning the Carnegie Medal posthumously for THE BOG CHILD, among many, many other awards.
Another book I enjoyed and found provocative was LIFE AFTER GENIOUS, by M. Ann Jacoby. A quirky first YA novel about a boy genius who drops out of college at 16 and tries to re-enter normal family life, with a lot of emotional fall-out for all of the characters.
These books along with others wove in and out of a very full summer. At last it is fall. My studio is cleaned up and ready to begin my next illustrated book, Tell Me About Your Day Today, by Mem Fox.

Summer Musings

Hi fellow readers, writers, and dreamers,
It was great fun reading all your posts and comments. I agree that reading books is a requirement in our line of work, even if it doesn't feel like work. Here are a few of my favorites from the summer. I also read a number of short stories, some of which you may have already read in school: The Lottery, Heidegger's Experiment, Yours, The Story of an Hour, and The Tell-Tale Heart. They're worth a re-read if it's been awhile.

I also want to share a poem that knocked my socks off (where did that saying originate, I wonder).
by Gary Soto
The first time I walked
With a girl, I was twelve,
Cold, and weighted down
With two oranges in my jacket.
December. Frost cracking
Beneath my steps, my breath
Before me, then gone,
As I walked toward
Her house, the one whose
Porch light burned yellow
Night and day, in any weather.
A dog barked at me, until
She came out pulling
At her gloves, face bright
With rouge. I smiled,
Touched her shoulder, and led
Her down the street, across
A used car lot and a line
Of newly planted trees,
Until we were breathing
Before a drugstore. We
Entered, the tiny bell
Bringing a saleslady
Down a narrow aisle of goods.
I turned to the candies
Tiered like bleachers,
And asked what she wanted -
Light in her eyes, a smile
Starting at the corners
Of her mouth. I fingered
A nickle in my pocket,
And when she lifted a chocolate
That cost a dime,
I didn’t say anything.
I took the nickle from
My pocket, then an orange,
And set them quietly on
The counter. When I looked up,
The lady’s eyes met mine,
And held them, knowing
Very well what it was all

A few cars hissing past,
Fog hanging like old
Coats between the trees.
I took my girl’s hand
In mine for two blocks,
Then released it to let
Her unwrap the chocolate.
I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.