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dogs and names and books

Posted by Lois Lowry
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on Thursday, 23 August 2007
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I woke up to rain this morning...not unwelcome because we need it, and currently the pump in the old well that waters my gardens is not working properly. But I hope it clears by tomorrow, because tomorrow Alfie is entertaining a guest, his friend corgi Charlotte. Charlotte was born into a litter that were all named for children's book characters... I don't know the names of the others but will ask Charlotte's mom.

Once I knew a golden retriever who was named Henry, each of that litter having been named for Shakespeare characters: a rich source; I can picture Falstaff and Prospero.

Alfie's litter was not named thematically...they were not named at all, actually, until owners took over (and I do know that he has a brother and sister somewhere now named Elvis and April) but if they had been named for British movies, as Alfie was, they could have been ... what? Maurice? Iris?

Best news bookwise in a while is the announcment of a sequel to "The Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett. The new one, due out in October, will be called "World Without End." I remember when 'Pillars' was published: quite a long time ago, maybe early 1990's*, and although I had not before been a lover of historical novels, that one so captivated and fascinated me that I recommended it to countless people, and every one of them was hooked the way I had been. Just the other day I got an email from my brother, whose wife had recently had surgery, tellng me that he had whiled away the hours sitting at the hospital by re-reading "The Pillars of the Earth"... His wife is doing fine now, and one hopes he doesn't have to sit in a hospital ever again, but I was pleased to be able to tell him about "World Without End."

* I just googled it to check. 1990.

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How about them apples?

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on Monday, 20 August 2007
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Apples_2


It is a truly great year for apples, at least at our Maine farm. Every apple tree...and we have seven...is weighed down with fruit ripening. I was looking ahead to making applesauce...LOTS of applesauce...but in a way dreading the hard work of it...until a visiting friend recalled her mother using a gizmo called a Squeezo-strainer for that purpose. "Probably obsolete," my friend. "It was forty years ago." But we googled Squeezo-strainer...and now I have one; and if my friend's memory os correct, I'm going to be churning out applesauce practically effortlessly, as soon as the apples are ripe enough.

In the meantime my grandsons' younger golden retriever, Dash, is chasing apples as if they were balls (and when he's bored, he eats them). (His older half-sister, Tillie, has no interest; nor does my dog, Alfie)

And here is a very majestic dog, already in the car for his leavetaking this morning after a weekend visit. This is Paddington Bear, at least his head, with the other 160 pounds not visible. It is not often one has a RUG to visit. He was lying on the floor last night when a newly-arrived dinner guest walked past and jumped when the Newfie blinked. "It's ALIVE!" she said, startled, having thought it really WAS a rug.

Bear_82007

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IN the beginning...

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on Thursday, 09 August 2007
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So here's the thing. I agreed to do the beginning of a story for a section of Weekly Reader called "Weekly Writer"...in which a professional writer starts a story, kids continue it over several months, paragraph by paragraph, and eventually the professioal writer finishes it up. Stephen King has done one. Walter Dean Myers. R.L. Stine. Others. And yesterday I set out to write my "beginning."

I always start a story, or a book, with a little introduction of character(s) and a sense that something is wrong and that something - at this point unkown, perhaps a little mysterious - is going to happen. (That is, after all, why a reader turns the page).

"It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened." That is the "beginning" of THE GIVER, and it does what I just drescribed, in the space of one sentence.

Another begining, this time of GATHERING BLUE:

"Mother?"
THere was no reply. She hadn't expected one. Her mother had been dead now for four days...

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scarves, earrings, and boots

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on Tuesday, 07 August 2007
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Someone has sent me this little news story - and photo - from Castle Rock, Colorado:


Soaring Hawk Elementary kicked off the new year with a school-wide reading of Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry. Gooney Bird has the gift of storytelling and she mesmerizes her classmates from the moment she walks into class from China wearing pajamas and cowboy boots. Her elaborate tales, although they are absolutely true stories open up a new world to her second grade peers. Suddenly, everyone has a colorful tale to spin.

Students are now having book discussions on the playground and at the dinner table with their siblings and parents. They are focused on their writing assignments and trying to include words and phrases that will capture and keep the readers interest. Diamond earrings, a consumed cat, and a flying carpet certainly kept the Soaring Hawk kids entertained.

The last day of school for C-Track, Danna Finks 4th grade class all dressed as Gooney Bird Greene. Polka dot leggings with flip flops, fancy scarves and head bands, one big dangly earring and lots of boots made for an awesome track off day.It also epitomized the spirit of Soaring Hawk as a learning community.

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Back in Maine

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on Tuesday, 07 August 2007
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Alfie and I returned to Maine today, stopping midway for several hours to speak at a lunch in Kennebunkport (no, not at the Bush estate). I've done this two summers in a row, at the Colony Hotel, a vast and luxurious and lovely summer resort hotel. Last year I stayed overnight (their treat in return for my speaking) but this year I needed to head on north because of commitments here tomorrow, and because the dog was with me (though they tell me that it is a dog-friendly hotel,and indeed I did see a cocker spaniel in the lobby).

Alfie was a pretty good boy, though after an hour of so of being tied to a piano leg, the kind local bookseller volunteered to take him for a brief walk. I wrote that sentence wrong, didn't I? I made it sound as if the bookseller was tied to a piano. But you knew what I meant.

I read today's audience...and last week, a different audience, at Lesley University...Chapter 2 from "The Willoughbys"...the chapter that describes the terrible parents, who are dreaming up a despicable plot to rid themselves of their children. Heh heh. Villainry! I love it.

Only recently, reading (also at Lesley) from an very old Anastasia book, did I remember that Anastasia Krupnik..then age 12....had a crush on her gym teacher, who was named...ta DA...Ms. Willoughby!
And also recently, I have had some correspondence with a young man who works for the Civil Liberties Union in Oregon, and his name is...ta DA... Willoughby. And..here in Maine...the local chamber music series is headed up by board president ...ta DA...Mrs. Willoughby.

So apparently the name did not just appear out of the blue, for me. It was lurking there. And I hope no one named Willoughby minds. Although the parents, Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby, are terrible parents and end up dying a bizarre but deserved death at the end....the children (there are four of them) are quite lovely and all of them live happily ever after, as most Willoughbys should.

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Shhh, I'm listening

Posted by Lois Lowry
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on Thursday, 02 August 2007
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A recent lightweight article in the NY Times raises the question of whether listening to a book qualifies as "reading" the book. My personal opinion is: who cares?

It did make me remember back to my grad school days when I took two semesters of intensive Shakespeare, and I found that if, while I read the plays, I listened simultanmeously, I got more out of the experience. This pre-dated CD's or even tapes. I used to go to the university library...I seem to recall a glass-enclosed (probably soundproof?) room where I listened to actual recordings.

Now...I mean like RIGHT now...I listen to audio books in the car. Back and forth to Maine, 3 hours each way. Some people tell me they worry that it would distract them from their driving but I haven't found that to be the case for me. I listen to mindless but absorbing mysteries.....except for one recent high-brow trip, a four and a half hour drive - nine hours round trip - when I listened to "Collapse"...interesting, but after a the seventh or eighth hour I really did not want to know one more thing about deforestation. Back to Police Inspector Brunetti.

Anyway: all of those thoughts spring out of the fact that this morning I had a four and a half hour dental appointment. I SHOULD have taken my headphones and a book on my iPod because four and a half hours is a very long time to sit and listen only to the whine and screech of dental tools.

But it didn't occur to me. I did, though, because of an aching head and mouth, come home at the end of those hours and curl up with a book and some Tylenol. I rarely read during the day....it feels decadent. But I started today on "Peony in Love" by Lisa See and it pulled me right in. Now I can't wait to get back to it, though I am not yearning for more dental recovery time...just routine bedtime reading.

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Lilies of the Field

Posted by Lois Lowry
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on Saturday, 28 July 2007
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I think that's an old movie title. Sidney Poitier and a bunch of cheery nuns, maybe?

IN my case, it's just a lot of flowers in my garden (see photos), and also:Lily_2
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a shameless plug (I get no commission) for Deerwood Gardens in North Waterford, Maine, where Beverly Hendricks raises thousands of daylilies of all varieties. I took my visiting thirteen-year-olds there yesterday (they thinking, Ho hum, gotta humor the grandma) ...then they were just as dazzled as everyone is on seeing the array of colors this time of year. I had them each pick out two...(and now I forget the names they chose, except for "Blueberry Candy" and "Aquarelle.") Bev went out and dug up their choices and so yesterday my visitors went on to their next stop (and how I'll miss their giggling!) with daylilies tucked in the back of the rental car.

And what's a great way to amuse 13-year-olds iif you have a good camera and know how to use Photoshop?

Here are the fake book jackets I made for them:

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Harry Who?

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on Sunday, 22 July 2007
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A reader has emailed to ask my feelings about the Harry Potter phenomenon. I feel very out of that particular loop...have not read a single one of the books, not seen a single movie. During the past two weeks I got calls from a lot of media, including ABC News, wanting a statement from me regarding HP...but I couldn't reply except in a general way. Certainly the whole thing has been wonderful for the world of books and kids. It got kids reading, and talking about what they were reading, and looking forward to more reading...and three cheers for that.

I feel kind of sorry for J.K. Rowling, though, because she lost any vestige of privacy she ever had, and I don't know if she'll ever get it back. Anonymity is something writers savor, I think. No matter how popular a writer is, he/she can walk down the street and not be mobbed or photographed or intruded upon. But not so, I fear, for Rowling. The books made a celebrity of her and that part of it must be awful. I hope she can get her life back now.

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visiting granddaughter

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on Sunday, 22 July 2007
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Nadine_cartwheel

Last Wednesday I drove down to Boston and on Thursday collected my grandaughter and her best friend, both 13, who had flown in from Germany, and on Friday brought them back to Maine. Fortunately the weather has been fabulous here and they've spent time at the beach, and had a boat ride on the lake with thier uncle, aunt, and two cousins. In the evening we've watched movies...last night, "Aquamarine"...and done jigsaw puzzles, and just hung out.

Today my German daughter-in-law arrives...she has been in New York....and probably some serious shopping will have to take place, since the weak dollar against the Euro means that things are a great bargain here for her, even if it is a nuisance schlepping stuff home.

Luckily teenagers sleep late in the morning, which means that I do have these early hours—it is 6:20 AM as I write this—at my computer, and today I can mail off the completed Gooney Bird manuscript (now titled "Gooney Bird is So Absurd") and then turn my attention to the stage adaptation of "Gossamer" before I head to Milwaukee August 12th to work on it with the theater director there.

I stopped in yesterday at our wonderful Bridgton Books, the local bookstore, and when my friend Perri, who works there, commented that she was weary...and I asked why...she said, "Have you been living under a ROCK?" Of course: Harry Potter. In this tiny town they had had 500+ people lined up at midnight the night before. Even as we talked, Perri was fielding phone calls from people wondering if she had a copy available for them. Nadine and Annika, when I mentioned it, just shrugged. They aren't HP fans. Cornelia Funke...yes. They would have stood in line at midnight for one of her books.

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And beginning with the letter D:

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on Tuesday, 17 July 2007
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Day_lilies_2
Deer_2
Dog

Dawn: daylilies; deer; dog.

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Land ho!

Posted by Lois Lowry
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on Sunday, 15 July 2007
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Although we look - because the sun was in our eyes - like Magellan and his sidekick disovering the Pacific, this is actually me and Paul Janeczko, yesterday at my house. Paul and his wife and daughter Emma joined me and several other friends for lunch.

I had been reading some of Paul's excellent books on the art/craft of writng poetry because that is what Gooney Bird Greene's classroom is doing in the book I'm just finishing. Then I remembered that Paul lived in Maine, and not actually all that far from here. (I had also been reading Lee Bennett Hopkins, and corresponding with Lee, who's an old friend. But Lee lives in Florida, too far for lunch). So I got in touch with him and voila! Fun lunch yesterday.

But: here's the small-world thing. Paul, in explaining to his wife who this unknown person was who had invited them over, said something like "She lives in Bridgton and has a dog, some sort of, ah, something terrier..." (probably he had read this on my website) ..and his wife said, "Tibetan?" and he said, "Yes, how did you know that?" and his wife said, "Because I met her and her dog on the 4th of July."

I had been on th edge of the street watching the funky tiny-town parade that day with my dog and grandsons, when a nice woman came up and asked about the dog and we had a brief conversation, without exchanging names. Paul's wife, Nadine. Who knew?

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Allen Say Exhibition

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on Friday, 13 July 2007
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It was nine hours of driving, round-trip, but worth it. Allen Say's retrospective exhibition...in celebration of his 70th birthday...will be at the Eric Carle Museum in Amerhest, Massachusetts, until October, and if you are able to get there, you should. We all know his books. But to see the orgiinal paintngs is a very different experience; they are luminous.

I was fortunate to have dinner with Allen and a number of others including Eric Carle and his wife. The grounds of the museum are so beautiful, and there was a moment, when, glancing out, I could see one of Allen's guests from Japan, in kimono, standing in the twilight in the grden..it was magical.

Here is a not-so-magical photograph of me and Allen.

With_allen

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wise women

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on Wednesday, 11 July 2007
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from a blog reader:

In two weeks we will be discussing The Giver in my book club...at 59 I am their junior member, and many are approaching 80...one is 92. I am excited to lead this discussion...it will be the third level of readers I have talked about it to.

Any special words of wisdom, or insight you may want to pass on to these wonderful, wise women?

What an opportunity..as book discussions always are...to reminisce, to recall ways in which one's life was touched by issues raised in a book. Quite simply, I think women of that age might recall compromises they have made in their own lives, for the sake of comfort and safety...choices they may now regret (or not).

I look forward to hearing how it goes!

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Kids and poems

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on Wednesday, 11 July 2007
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Yesterday...after the exterminator was here (powder-post beetles on the underside of the barn)...I drove about 15 miles to a lovely lakeside house that friends of mine from Massachsuetts have rented for three weeks. They'd invited me for lunch.

Granddaughter, Emma, age 9, was visiting, and so I looked for a book to take Emma, who is a bit of a bookworm. I settled on (pictured) "This is Just to Say: Poems of Aplogy and Forgiveness"
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by Joyce Sidman. Emma settled right in with it.


That would have been me, at her age: outside, woods and trees and water and boats and sunshine...and me curled in a couch with a book (and usually my mother saying, "Wouldn't you like to go OUT on such a nice day?") But she was a sympathetic mom, and preferred a good book to a brisk walk herself.

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Blueberries for Sal (or whomever)

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on Tuesday, 10 July 2007
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Boys_blueberreis

Boys_in_field

Well it is blueberry season. last year we did not get a good crop, but this is the Year of the Blueberry, and this past weekend we had blueberry pancakes and blueberry pie, the berries straight from the field. This is - first (clikc to enlarge) - a photograph of my grandsons, picking (mostly eating) blueberries in a earileir summer; and also a painting by my friend Middy Thomas (who illustrates the Gooney Bird books) of the same boys, same blueberry field. It hangs in the room we call The Fold (family room, office, library, den).

And looking at these does make me remeber Robert McCLosky's "Blueberries for Sal" about a little girl picking with her mom, and around the hill, a bear cub similarly with his mom; and the two little ones get mixed up and with the wrong mothers, if I am remembering it correctly. We have bears here (and there are moose droppings in the field, though I have not yet SEEN the moose, and would love to) so we are sharing the berries for sure; that is what life is like in rural Maine.

So many children's books come to my mind on a day-to-day basis. "Miss Rumphius" by Barbara Cooney, who also (like McCLosky) lived here...I think of that book every time my lupine is in bloom.

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Barn Stuff

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on Thursday, 05 July 2007
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Barn_1
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Barn_2

OKay, more photos (click to enlarge) of my barn. I had not realized so many people reading this blog...presumably because they are interested in children's books...are also interested in barns. Of course there are many connections, the most obvious being " 'Where's Papa going with that ax?' " said Fern to her mother.."

My barn dates to the early 1800's. (The house is earlier, late 1700's, so perhaps there had been a smaller, earlier barn which was razed to make room for this one). So a lot of cows have been milked here, a lot of horses have chewed at their stalls (we still have evidence of that), a lot of pigs been slaughtered, a lot of kittens have been born, a lot of spiderwebs have been spun, in this barn.

Thinking back, way back, as a writer, I am remembering that my first book for young people, A Summer to Die
, published 30 years ago, was set in an old New England farmhouse. I lived in Maine when I wrote it, so the setting came naturally to me, but also I wanted to move the fictional family to a somewhat isolated setting in order to focus on the intimacy of the family relationship without the distraction of school, friends, etc. that would have been neecssary details had I kept them in their town setting. So...(writers have such amazing power!)...I gave the college professor dad a year's sabattical in order to write a book, and they rented a rural farmhouse.

But it only occurs to me now that I did not give that house a barn. Or if it had one, as presumably it did, I didn't make it part of the narrative. In a way I wish I had. It would have been a somewhat magical place for the introspective young girl who was the central character in that book, which was written in the first-person.

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things on walls!

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on Tuesday, 03 July 2007
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A reader has emailed to ask if I could talk about the franed things on the walls, and also the old copper n the shelf in the last photos of my studio. Happy to. I love everything that hangs on my walls...and in two separate houses, that is a LOT of stuff....

First, though, the copper. Which is in SERIOUS nede of polishing. All of it dates back to probably around the time this house was built...late 18th century. But I did not prowl the countryside collecting it myself. An elderly great aunt who had been an antique collector left it to me when she died. (the same great aunt who was a photographer in the early 20th century, and who left me her photographs, which now illustrate a book called THE SILENT BOY. But that's another story.)

Things on walls. Click to enlarge. The first, which sadly is fading badly, is several pages, four of them, each framed, of a musical composition written by a composer friend. "Third String Quartet" commissioned by the Kronos Quartet, it says on the inscription, and he...the composer, Thomas Oboe Lee, gave it to us in 1982.

Second is a framed memento - several photographs of the production - given to me by the director and cast of Prime Stage Theatre in Pittsburgh, after they had presented the stage adaptation of THE GIVER in soring 2006, just a little more than a year ago.

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Bambi's Mom

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on Monday, 02 July 2007
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Deer_73

Well, I was annoyed when Alfie woke me at 5:30 and wanted to go out. But there, standing in the meadow in the dawn light, was a large and gorgeous doe, and I grabbed my brand new camera...for which I have not yet read the manual...and luckily figured out what button to push.

I am expecting a visit from grandchildren today. But yesterday I was all alone all day...did not speak to another human except briefly when a neighbor from down the road stopped by to pick (with my permission) some wildflowers to use for tonight's benefit dinner for the library. Spaghetti. I will go and will take my grandsons, good spaghetti eaters...and for such a good cause. This small town has a wonderful library but like all such institutions in this world where too much of our tax money goes to the wrong things...its budget (and therefore its hours, and its staff) has been drastically cut.

Nonetheless every time I go into the library, it is filled with cheerful people...and in summer, with tourists collecting their email on the computers. I use it for audio books. With a 3-hour drive each way to my "real" home, I pass the time of the ride quickly listening to books.

And on the 13th of this month I will drive for 4 hours to Amherst, Massachusetts, for the opening of a retrospective show (at the Eric Carle Museum) of the art of my friend, Allen Say. Everyone has already heard the story of Allen and me..both of us the same age (born 1937) staring shyly at each other across a schoolyard in Tokyo in 1948. Me, an American child on a bike, stopping curiously to watch the Japanese children at their recess play. Allen, one of the Japanese children. Forty six years later, in 1994, we would be at the podium together, as he was awarded the Caldecott Medal for "Grandfather's Journey" and I the Newbery for "The Giver."

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Washington DC

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on Wednesday, 27 June 2007
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I am just back from several (hot) days in Washington DC, where the American Library Associaton Convention was in full swing; it is always a wonderful opportunity to see many old friends in the children's book world: writers, publishers, librarians. And of course you talk too much and eat too much and I suppose some people even DRINK too much (gasp!) but I am not one of them.

A real treat for me was being with, for the first time, Marilyn Nelson, author of A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL, a book that I consider a real tour de force. And I had a few minutes with old-pal Jerry Spinelli who with his wife, Eileen, is in the throes of house renovation; a glass of wine with Jack Prelutsky who tells me he is becoming a serious bird photographer; a too-brief moment with my friend Pat Mora; tea with close friend Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, to whom I am giving unsolicited decorating advice because she and Rex are about to move and there are few things I enjoy more than choosing paint colors and arranging furniture; and a re-connection with Judy Blume, whom I've not seen for several years. I did not go to the Newbery/Caldecott dinner because it was the time I could spend a quiet evening with a recently widowed close friend who lives in Washington.

I went on from the convention to the Holocaust Museum, where I spoke Monday about "Number the Stars" to a group of 100+ teachers from around the country who are there for a workshop on Holocaust education.

My house here in Cambridge is covered with scaffolding and I do not envy the painters who are out there scraping and suffering in the heat. Tomorrow I head back to Maine to hole up again until mid-July when I will go overnight to Amherst, Massahusetts, to the Eric Carle Museum to be with my dear friend Allen Say as he opens a rerospective exhibition of his work. Allen and I go back a long, long way...to the day in 1948 when both of us, 11 years old at the time, stared at each other across a schoolyard in Tokyo.

Here is the cover of Allen's Caldecott-winning book, "Grandfather's Journey." It was both ironic and wonderful that "The GIver" won the Newbery Medal the same year and that Allen and I were able to be up there together at the podium.

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Trina again.

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on Friday, 22 June 2007
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Wanted_poster

Well I had said that when I was back at my home computer I would look for some photos of Trina Schart Hyman. And I did, and here they are, and need explaining. One is simply of her majestic cat...I think this is the one named Bad Baby...one is simply of Trina withher unforgettable smile. But the third (actually first in line) needs the explanation.
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Trina and I had many startling similiarities in our lives. One time, we were to meet at Logan Airport in order to fly together to a conference. She called the night before for final details, and said, "I almost had to cancel. Had an abcessed tooth and had it pulled this morning." I replied: "Tooth 14?" (Dentists have numbers for each tooth) And she said, "Yes! How did you know that?" And I said: "Because I spent this morning at the dentist too. Tooth 14."

But this (photo #1) is equally startling. Separately we had each fallen: she on the rocks while visting friends on the coast of Maine; me tripping on some steps in a college chapel in Ohio. And both of us ended up with colassal shiners, as you can see. I made the WANTED poster for her (the reference to Hawaii is because we had spent time together there once, at a conference) (If you click on it you can see it enlarged)

The funny thing is, if one were to write such coincidences into the plot of a book...the editor would say: SERIOUS CREDIBILITY PROBLEMS. But truth is certainly stranger than fiction.

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