The news of retired Greenwich, CT children's librarian (but in no way retired from the Children's book-and-library world) Kate McClelland's death in a senseless accident (broad daylight, allegedly drunk driver) is shocking. A doubly shocking loss because her colleague, Kathy Krasniewicz, was also killed, both of them in a taxi headed to Denver Airport following the ALA mid-winter convention. I did not know her colleague but I knew Kate, admired her colorful and voluminous clothes, and appreciated her spirit and enthusiasm and sense of humor. There will be many public tributes in the days to come as people try to come to terms with such staggering news; this is simply a private statement of what a gift Kate was to the world of literature and of children, and how greatly she'll be missed.
Lois Lowry's Blog
Okay, here's how dumb I am. I was told that if I went to the ALA website I could watch the announcements of the Newbery/Caldecott Medals; and so I went to that website, and clicked on something, and sure enough there was a room full of excited people, and committees being introduced, and much cheering at each announcement. It went on for quite a long time.
When they announced Christopher Paul Curtis's Elijah of Buxton I thought: Gee, I thought that was last year's book. Well, maybe it carried over into this year as well, and lucky him, he's getting awards two years in a row. Then I thought the same thing when the Caldecott went to Brian Selznick for HUGO CABRET.
You know how this ends, of course. I watched and watched and watched, award after award, and it wasn't until the very end that I realized I was watching the 2008 ceremony, not 2009.
So I simply read the list of this year's winners. Congratulations to Neil Gaiman!...
Someone has just told me that the Newbery-Caldecott Awards were announced this morning, though not what books won. They will no doubt be books I haven't read (though last year's Newbery book, Good Masters, Sweet Ladies, was one I had read and loved and recommended) since I rarely read kids' books and am very out of it in terms of what's hot and what's not.
But the timing of it---which I should remember, coming as it does right at Oscar Nomination and Superbowl time---made me remember my friend Carol Otis Hurst. At just this time two years ago, I wrote about her, something that remains in my computer, unpublished---at least I don't think I put it into my blog, which I suppose would constitute publication of a sort. So in her memory I am going to print it here:
My friend Carol and I played Canasta early every morning on the internet. Yeah, canasta: that game your grandmother played. Carol had to teach me how to play, actually, though I think I vaguely recall knowing back when I was a teenager. It’s been a lot of years since then.
We played as a team. She would usually e-mail me from her home, where she lived alone, 150 miles away, two words: Up yet?...
It is bitter, bitter cold (again!) but nonetheless I am headed to Maine to check out my new water supply and also because I have tickets to the Stone Mountain Arts Center (Brownfield, Maine, about 20 miles from my house) to see Ladysmith Black Mambazo----who would have guessed that African performers would be willing to come to the middle of nowhere in O degrees----or below!---to perform?! But folksinger Carol Noonan and her husband converted their barn into a fabulous theater and have enticed EVERYONE---(Judy Collins not long ago!)---to make the trek. Zulu singers/dancers will warm up a bitter cold night and it will be worth it.
In the meantime I am trying to see all the Oscar nominated movies ---and nominated actors and actresses---so have been on a movie-going spree: "The Reader" today, "Doubt" Friday night. I've also seen "Milk" and "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Revolutionary Road" recently---and just for kicks, "Last Chance Harvey," though it isn't nominated.
I've also seen "Frozen River," just for the record.
And I wil try to make myself see "The Wrestler" even though I don't want to....
This just appeared in the Los Angeles Times:
You won't be able to see the new movie "Hotel for Dogs" until this Friday, but if you're itching for a sneak peek, check out photographer David Strick's Hollywood Backlot for behind-the-scenes photos from the filming. (Don't worry if the pup in the above photo looks a bit odd; it's a puppet.)
"Hotel for Dogs," which stars Emma Roberts (best-known for her starring role in Nickelodeon's "Unfabulous"), Lisa Kudrow and Don Cheadle, is the story of two orphaned kids who find themselves in a foster home. Things go from bad to worse when they learn that they can't bring their beloved dog, a Jack Russell named Friday, along with them.
You can probably guess that hijinks and hilarity ensue from there, and the kids pick up more needy dogs on the way, creating a home for them in the abandoned hotel to which the title refers. It's based on the novel by Newbery Award-winning children's author Lois Lowry.
The on-line edition had a place where readers could add comments so I growled and barked a bit and got an email from the editor apologizing and telling me that the book was written, actually, by Lois Duncan.
Lois Duncan is a friend of mine and from time to time we have received fan mail meant for the other. (Sometimes I receive mail meant for Lois Lenski, as well) But I didn't know that LD had written a book about dogs.
I did write a book about a dog, once, (Stay! Keeper's Story) and it remains one of my favorite of my books. But it never really found an audience, and I think I know why. The language of the book is quite sophisticated----Dickensian, actually---so it is not easy reading (though I am told it is a very successful read-aloud). And it is illustrated with quite wonderful drawings by True Kelly. But the illustrations make it appear to be a book for, oh, say ages 6-8. And it isn't. So there is a discrepancy that I think hurt the book overall, which is too bad....
I am now back home from Baja California after a trip delayed by the usual: snowstorms in the Northeast.
On Thursday, while in Mexico, I got an email from my well-driller telling me that they had struck water---100 gallons a minute---at 320 feet. It felt a little like hearing from Daniel Day Lewis in "There Will Be Blood"...the search for oil. My gusher of water is not as valuable but to me it was veeerrry important and I was getting nervous when they got down to 300 feet and hadn't encountered a gurgle yet.
Here is a bit of what it looked like at the ranch where I was staying:
Still in Mexico, and very sorry that I don't have with me the gizmo that downloads photos into my laptop and therefore would make it possible to post one or two here. I'll do it when I am back home next week.
At this moment it is early morning. The two women I am here with got up at 5:30 and went off on a 4-mile hike. I wished them well and put my pillow over my head. Then at 6:15 I got up, intending to go for a (shorter) hike myself; but somehow in those early half-asleep hours I had been struck by some creative thoughts----a way to continue the part of a manuscript I've been working on---and so I schlepped my laptop to a quiet place near wireless access and coffee, and here I am, indoors, not out on the mountain (where, incidentally, a sign warns of mountain lions).
In the meantime, back in Maine, my well-driller is at work. Yesterday he emailed me that they are down to 200 feet and no water yet. ...but he says "the bedrock looks good"...whatever that means. In the meantime, a snowstorm has closed them down briefly.
I am going to turn now to my manuscript before the hikers return. Its bedrock looks good, too, I think.
No photos yet but I arrived yesterday in northern Mexico (Baja California, actually) where I am staying for a week with two close women friends. Crisp and cool -- but not icy like New England -- and a beautiful landscape of tan rocky hills in the background with green flowery cacti and desert vegetation surrounding our little cottage.
Our snow had all been washed away by several days of warm rain, but yesterday it returned with a vengeance and this morning, the first morning of 2009, it is bitter, bitter cold. Here are Alfie and his good friend Sophie, who lives nearby and comes to play often, at the front door, wishing they could come in and have a cup of coffee with me and Sophie's mom.
On Monday and Tuesday,----fortunately when the weather and the roads were still clear---I was in Maine to tend to the water problems at my house there. I met with plumber, well-driller, landscaper, carpenter--- and then left them all with a go-ahead to start their work. They tell me I'll have water by February. A new well---he estimates 300 feet deep---will be drilled down through, gulp, my front yard. New plumbing in
the basement, of course, and a line going through the granite foundation which dates back to 1768, when the house was built.
I stayed at a local B&B overnight, and among the other guests there was a man whose father, born in 1909, had grown up nearby. This man remembered, as a child, helping to bring the cows in from pasture at my house, herding them into the barn (badly, he said; he never got the hang of it, and the cows disobeyed) Such a long history, that barn!
On the old maps the property is deisgnated Brigham Hill, and this man says there were still Brighams in the house when he was a boy. There are many Brighams in the small cemetery down the road. Old men dead in their 80's, and beside them a sequence of wives living only to their 20's and 30's... died in childbirth, is my guess. And of course the little headstones of their babies and children....
Well, this is more than you want to see of my kitchen and dining room but it DOES show an apple pie, freshly baked, and a lot of Xmas gifts, unopened. But that was three days ago.
Now grandchildren have come and gone after two nights here, and tonight my SF daughter will be here with friends. It is raining...snow is melting away...and now we head toward New Years and 2009.....Resolutions and Inauguration and whatever surprises, probably both good and bad, are still in store for us.
My major resolution is to finish the book manuscript I've been wrestling with for too long. I wonder if a professional wrestler ever thinks: Enough wrestling, I'm just going to break this guy's back and get it done. That's how I'm feeling.
My grandsons gave their mom a kitten---now named Roscoe--for Christmas....
This weekend dumped a foot of snow on us (and on the Arizona football team that tried to beat the Patriots in weather they weren't used to!) and this morning sunlight shining on the icicles reminds me of the crystal chandelier that hung over our dining room table when I was growing up.
so winter is really here and I'm sure my son and his two boys will be out on the slopes with their skiis and snowboards before long. First, though, they will be with me for a couple of days at Christmas, as will my San Francisco daughter, flying in on 12/26.
Christmas was magical for me as a child, and I'm sure most people my age remember it the same way. But it was never lavish or extravagant. I always received a book or two, as gifts---when I was quite young, there was always a Marguerite deAngeli book---my two favorites were "Thee, Hannah!" and "Henner's Lydia"---both of them set in Pennsylvania, where I lived.
When I was eleven, we left the United States to live in Japan for a few years, and my mother donated all of our books to the public library. She meant well. But in later years I so often mourned their loss. Then, a librarian who heard me speak of the de Angeli books when I was at a conference in Mississippi sent me ALL of them--because they were being dropped from her library's collection. What a wonderful gift!
They still held---and hold---the same magic for me that they did when I was a child. But none at all for my grandchildren....or for the patrons of that library. Times change....
Thinking of my granddaughter, as I was when I wrote the previous post, I began to think of her relationship to books. Like all of my grandchildren she had been read to from her earliest days, both in German and English (her mother is German) and she acquired both languages simultaneously. Her American father, my son, died when she was twenty months old, but his language had already become part of her knowledge, and her mother continued to read to her in English, to speak English to her often.
Here she is at two and a half, during an April visit to the United States, four months after the Christmas snowstorm visit. That spring my daughter-in-law, Margret, and Nadine came from Germany and spent two weeks with me in the United States.
Beanie, as we often called her then, was beginning to acquire language---both German and English---and she called me “Oma” in the style of German toddlers.
One evening during the second week, I volunteered to baby-sit so that Margret could have an evening with friends. It was not an easy decision for Margret. She had not left Nadine with a sitter for eleven months, not since the day the previous spring when my son, Nadine’s father, had kissed them both good-bye, gone off cheerfully on a routine trip, and never returned. Nadine was too young to understand about plane crashes or death. Gradually she had stopped asking where her papa was.
Now, on an April evening, Margret said a casual “See you later” and slipped away with her friends while Nadine and I were busy playing a complicated game involving dolls going to the potty and receiving applause and rewards....
We are expecting a big snowstorm in Boston tomorrow, the first of the season, and so I have been remembering other snowstorms (including the surprise 26 inches one April Fool's Day!) but the one that stays in my mind the most was Christmastime in 1995.
My little granddaughter, Nadine, who lived in Germany with her mother (as she still does, though she is not LITTLE anymore) was flying to the states for Christmas. Here she is, that fall, just around the time of her second birthday in late October.
Two is not an easy age to travel with, but Margret was willing to do it, to spend Christmas with us, her first Christmas---all of our first Christmases---since my son, Margret's husband, had died the previous spring.
They flew from Frankfurt to New York's Kennedy Airport---an 8-hour flight---and arrived there in a snowstorm. So their connecting plane to Boston was delayed and delayed and delayed.
At one point it took off, flew all the way to Boston, circled the airport here, and then, unable to land, returned to New York....
I was amazed at the number of people who responded to the e-mail from an outraged parent that I shared yesterday....and many of them expressing the hope that I hadn't been too distressed by her message.
No, I have become quite sanguine when I receive (fortunately, not too many) such emails. I shrug them off but with the hope, always, that the child isn't too adversely affected. Sometimes I remember specific ones that worried me because of that possibility. For example:
This was in the winter about three years ago. I had rented a house in a warm place for three weeks, and had my laptop there with me, so could receive and reply to email. A mother wrote, quite upset because her 10-year-old daughter had written me a letter ("real" mail) and had not yet received a reply. Her classmates (writing to an author had been an assignment) had all gotten letters back.
I explained to her, by email, that I was not at home, and so letters would be waiting for me there when I returned, and I would answer them as soon as I could. But it would be at least two weeks.
Indeed, when I got home, there was a huge stack of letters and I made my way through them as promptly as I could. I had no idea which one was from her daughter because of course her email had not included the actual mailing address. But apparently the child had written me a frequently-asked question, like "How did you get the idea for NUMBER THE STARS"? and so she got, in reply, my form letter addressing that question. (If you get the same question 2,000 times, you can't answer it in innovative ways. There is really only one answer. Hence, the form letter)...
Woman: What do you do?
Man: Me? Oh, I write books.
Woman: How interesting! Have you sold anything recently?
Man: Why, yes. My couch, my car and my flat-screen television.
That's a dumb joke stolen from a NYT humorous piece about whether writers should be bailed out by the Feds.
And here is a venomous (and anonymous) email I received yesterday:
But 'tis the season to be jolly, so I am ho-ho-ho-ing....
This time I was so aware that I arrived 20 minutes late last year, that I arrived an hour early. Maybe some year I'll get it right.
In any case, here are Jack Gantos and Mitali Perkins, during their presentations, and then the three of us afterward at a nearby restaurant. In retrospect I'm sorry I didn't include Jack's 12-year-old lovely red-haired daughter, Mabel, who came with him and helped with the PP technology.
Mitali said she would put photos on her blog as well so I went there to see if she had firmed up my chin in Photoshop (alas, she hadn't). But I did see one thing I want to correct on her blog (sorry, Mitali, I'm coming on like an over-eager copy editor).. She refers to my having once worn the Newbery Medals as earrings. Can't be done! They are big and heavy! What she had heard about was this:
Here is Jack with his funny blueprint of his own childhood, which incudes the place where he vomited and splattered a wall, as well as bickering spots and an alligator who made off with his dog. (Yikes, Note to self: never move to Florida)...
This morning I got up, went downstairs, opened the front door to let the dog out, and saw, to my astonishment, two ambulances parked in front of my house. Bright red vans across the street. A police car with flashing lights. What the heck? (Dog didn't care. He scampered off to find the squeaky toy he'd left in the yard last night)
So I went out to the back yard, and looked down the side street (My house is on a corner) and this is what I saw:
Fire is such a hideously scary thing. It is now a couple of hours later and the street is still blocked off, firefighters still at work, and rumor has it that they got the occupants out alive, though I did see a fireman being taken to an ambulance by stretcher.
Tonight, as I have done each year for several years, I will speak to a class at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Last year (I cringe, remembering this) I had written it down on my calendar for the wrong night, and was home, in grubby jeans, mindlessly watching TV, when I got a call saying, "Ah, where are you?" So off I sped and arrived looking grubby, and twenty minutes late....
I'm home now and have been sent some photos from the muscial "Gathering Blue"... Here (from the bottom up, from some reason) are a scene where the village women are threatening Kira; one where she is comforting Jo, the small singing girl; and a scene in The Fen, when a fen-dweller says "what'll you gimmee?" Several more---including the Singer and the robe---coming in a separate post.
Here is the final moment of the show "Gathering Blue", sneakily taken by my cell phone.
It's an incredible show. My thanks go to playwright Richard Hellesen, and to composer/lyricists Michael Silversher and Joy Sikorski., as well as director Peter Ellenstein...oh, and the list goes on, and should include, of course, all the performers.
This event in Kansas, done through the William Inge Center for the Arts, is just the beginning of the journey that the show will take. Already the composers are feeling the need for another song---replacing some expository dialogue---at the beginning of act 2.
It follows the book very closely and the book has moments that especially lent themselves to dramatization and song. There is a lovely scene in Annabella's garden, where the old woman teaches the girl the names and uses of the flowers; after each verse of the song she turns to the girl with "Say it back" and the song becomes a lovely and lyrical duet. Later: I won't even attempt to describe it here but the performance of The Singer, wearing the robe, at The Gathering, is breathtakingly staged; the reaction of the audience (which included me) was palpable---we were all stunned, I think....