Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


Europe Calling

I was fortunate to spend five weeks this summer in Europe, two in Lithuania, two in Denmark, and one in Norway. I was in Vilnius as part of Summer Literary Seminars and this provided an opening to a part of the world I knew little about. Vilnius was a major center of Jewish life before the war and after the Holocaust, only traces of this remain. The history hangs heavy, and Lithuania, which has only been a country since 1990, is struggling to come to terms with what happened before, during, and after the war and what it means to be Lithuanian. I was surprised how deeply this place spoke to me and the enormous contrasts between darkness and light provided a constant churning. It's also a country where basketball is hugely popular and people wanted to talk hoops. I had time and space in Vilnius to write and look forward to going back.

On the way we stopped in Denmark to spend time with Fiona's cousin Claire and her family on their farm. We enjoyed the chickens, pigs, horses, cats, and dogs and the seven children who range in age from eighteen to three. We also stayed at Fiona's uncle and aunt's cottage in Langeland, which was remote and beautiful. It rained almost every day, which was a nice break from the heat of Minnesota.

Back home, we marked the one-year anniversary of my mother's death on August 30 and I'm still sorting through that and working things out with my siblings. The travel this summer provided a separation and an opportunity to reflect on my new situation and what I want to do.

Fiona received an invitation to speak in Norway the first week in September and I could not pass up the chance to go with her. We spent a few days in Trondheim, pictured above, which is the farthest north I've been in the world. We saw few tourists there and remarked on how many similarities were apparent between Norwegians and Minnesotans. In Oslo we met with writers, editors, and publishers, and I was amazed to find out some of the differences. In Norway, college tuition is free, writers are eligible for government stipends, and when a children's book is published, the government buys 1,500 copies for Norwegian schools and libraries. Considering the population differential that would be like 75,000 copies being bought in the States for libraries for each book. I'd be fine with 1,500.

In between trips, we had two weddings, a week-long visit from our nephew, and an abundant garden year. I value the transition time of September and am glad to reconnect with my fellow Spuds.


All My Days Were Circus Days! (almost!)

Painting Tumbleweed!
Most of this summer I spent painting the sets for SHOWDOWN, Circus Juventas's summer show set in the dust and tumbleweeds of the Wild West. I find many similarities between painting the illustrations for a picture book and painting sets. For instance, when I finish the illustrations they are merely a set of paintings-- and cannot be a book until the publisher, printer, art director, designers, and marketing all come together to turn it into a picture book...

When I paint the sets for circus they are not much to look at until performers, directors, coaches, lighting, sound, and choreographers all come together to bring them to life. And that is exactly what these talented performers do-- bring them to life in a big and breath-taking way! 

Wall Tramp- the final shoot-out in Showdown!
7 man pyramid on the high wire!
My son Cooper on the German Wheel (photo: Bill Raab)
Circus is truly the way I spend my summers as long as my son performs with them. I love writing the script in the fall, collaborating with the Artistic Director of Circus Juventas. I love designing the sets and working with hundreds of other volunteer parents making the entire show come together over three weekends- twenty performances! It is definitely a contrast to the quiet isolation of the studio.

But summer ended in a blink this year with only a week between the final circus performance and the beginning of my son's junior year in high school. Cooper started at Perpich High School for the Arts this fall and it was an excellent move for him. Just last week I saw my daughter off at the airport on her 8 month long adventure. Her trip begins in London working as an intern with Tender, a human rights program that uses theatre and the arts in the schools to educate young people about abusive relationships. After three months of interning, she will travel to France, Spain, Morocco, Italy and who knows? If you want to follow her travels, her blog is: wanderment

My life in picture books returned with excitement for my new book, Tell Me About Your Day Today, written by Mem Fox. It received a starred review in PW and a write-up in the NY Times which was a lovely way to start a book in the world! Like David and John, I spent a wonderful day at the Minnesota State Fair in the Alphabet Forest.

Sharing activities with Fair Goers
I never feel as if a book is properly launched until it has a birthday party. Once again I painted the 10 foot window at the Red Balloon Bookshop and a party with cake was held in honor of the book just last week.

Painted window at the Red Balloon
A delicious Cake! Happy Birthday Book!
With children and a book launched I am ready to settle into fall plans. I have begun the script for next year's circus show. I am in the sketching and storyboard stage for my next illustrated book, Deer Dancer, written by Mary Lyn Ray. I am beginning marketing plans for When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky which comes out next March. And I am quietly finding time to write stories of my own. Fall means time. I am glad to welcome time to my studio again.


It Never Gets Boring (to Me)

As I’ve mentioned here before, my writing life follows a school schedule.  And summer means sailing.  This year was no different.  A review of the Captain’s Log reminds me of our various adventures.  An overnighter to James Island with a buddy and his son for some exploring and a rare driftwood beach fire (allowed on only a few islands these days).  Several stays in Deer Harbor, where the swimming pool at the resort has orcas painted on the bottom and sides so that as you approach the end of the pool, swimming underwater, you find yourself coming face to face with a just-less than-life-sized whale!  Fourth of July at Fisherman Bay, on Lopez Island, which boasts the “largest public-funded fireworks show west of the Mississippi” (they’re not lying).  Also, I am happy to report that the ice cream shop and used bookstore in Friday Harbor remain the best two such establishments I have ever visited.

We mixed it up a bit this year, too, spending a week in San Francisco visiting family friends.  The trip to the planetarium in the hills above Oakland was a highlight, along with an afternoon at a fabulous park where we rode on a miniature steam-engine train and were introduced to geocaching, “a treasure hunting game where you use a GPS to hide and seek containers with other participants in the activity.”  What a great idea and an awesome activity to do with kids!  We found two containers at the park, including one that held a Star Wars action figure; after that discovery, my son was hooked.  I had no idea something like this was going on (Google it and you might be amazed, too, if you’re not already hip to it). 

Although I knew I’d be away from home a lot during the last two months, I set a goal of finishing two ongoing projects.  Did I accomplish them?  Sadly, I did not.  I managed to sneak in a day or two of work, here and there, but my “summer goal” now becomes, by default, my “fall goal.”  That’s all right: I recharged my creative batteries and spent quality time with good people, living our own stories.

With school back in session, the days growing shorter, and a drizzly gray Northwest winter approaching, the time is right to get back to work . . . .