- My new mystery, The Wolf Keepers, with beautiful illustrations by Alice Ratterree, was published in October! Here’s a picture of me with my wonderful editor and friend, Christy Ottaviano, at the Macmillan booth at ALA, holding an early copy. I was so happy to have it chosen as a Junior Library Guild selection, and it’s already in re-printings, so a big thank you to my readers for your support.
- I have two new picture books coming out with Henry Holt. The first, to be published this year, is called My Pet Wants a Pet, and it’s illustrated by Eric Barclay. I’ve just seen his fantastic sketches and I’m very excited. 🙂
- My middle-grade mystery, Masterpiece, has been chosen by the literacy organization Read to Them as a “One School, One Book” selection for school-wide reads! I’ve visited many schools as a result of this incredible program, and I’m constantly amazed by the creative uses teachers have found for Masterpiece in the classroom, not to mention the art room. I’m hoping that The Masterpiece Adventures early-reader series will allow younger students to encounter the characters and themes of Masterpiece at their own reading level. Please visit www.readtothem.org for a list of suggested activities; you can find out more about my experience with the program here in their newsletter.
- I’ve finished the third book in my early chapter book series, The Masterpiece Adventures, for ages 6 to 9, based on the characters from Masterpiece. It’s called Trouble at School for Marvin and James, and readers will find that “trouble” for a beetle can be veritably life-threatening! I’ve had so much fun introducing younger readers to Marvin and James, and Kelly Murphy’s two-color art for this series is breathtaking.
- La Fille Mirage, the French version of my teen novel, Desert Crossing (which was published by Henry Holt TEN years ago) was nominated for the Prix Farniente prize for outstanding teen literature in Belgium last year. I was lucky enough to visit Brussels as a result, and wandered through the cobbled alleys of that beautiful city looking for chocolate shops with my new friend Ruta Sepetys, who was also nominated. Spoiler alert: neither of us won, but when the runner-up prize is an enormous plaque made of Belgian chocolate, we ask you, who’s the real winner?
I’m doing final edits on a picture book with Christy Ottaviano about a baby bulldozer who has sleep issues. The illustrator is Barry Jackson, and I think his cinematic style will be terrific for the story. I’m also working on a new middle-grade novel, with a classical music mystery at its heart.
In October, I’ll be teaching a four-day workshop for children’s book writers with my great friend Chris Tebbetts, co-author of the Middle School and Stranded series, at the Highlights Foundation in Pennsylvania. The class is called “Getting Your Middle Grade Novel Unstuck.” More information can be found on the Highlights website at www.highlightsfoundation.org under Workshops.
What I’m Reading
Picture book: School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson. This hilarious but poignant look at a school building’s reaction to a first day filled with noise, anxiety, chaos, and joy is purely irresistible. School doesn’t even realize he is a school until construction ends, the school year begins, and suddenly he’s filled with kids. Rex cleverly turns the fears and worries of the typical kindergartner upside down by ascribing them to the school building, with delightful results. School is at first disgruntled and repulsed by various indignities, like kids in the cafeteria squirting milk through their noses. (As my daughter Zoe said, “Imagine how he’d have felt if he’d turned out to be a hospital!”) But he warms up to his human charges as the day goes on. Robinson’s vibrant, energetic illustrations are a perfect match for the story.
Middle-grade: The Nest, by Kenneth Oppel, with wonderfully creepy illustrations by Jon Klassen. This one came to me by way of my daughter Zoe, who told me it was so scary she had to stop reading at different points and tell herself, “It’s only a book, it’s only a book…” It’s the tale of a quiet boy whose life is turned upside down by the arrival of a baby brother with a severe (and unnamed) medical issue, and the subsequent interventions of a fantastical wasp-like creature who speaks to the boy in his dreams, offering comfort, and then increasingly specific instructions. If you’re feeling a tingle of foreboding, it’s well earned. The Nest is unabashedly a horror story, in the great tradition of writers like Stephen King. I think that’s a genre with huge appeal for kids but one that’s under-explored in children’s literature (barring notable exceptions like Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book). At almost every juncture, this story accomplishes the great feat of feeling new, like something you haven’t seen before. The Nest also has one of the most charismatic, funny, and terrifying villains I’ve met in a very long time.
Adult: I’ve read so many good books lately! Just finished The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, about love, gender, sexuality, motherhood, family creation, literature, pronouns, and feminism. I’ll give you a taste: “One may have to undergo the same realizations, write the same notes in the margin, return to the same themes in one’s work, relearn the same emotional truths, write the same book over and over again – not because one is stupid or obstinate or incapable of change, but because such revisitations constitute a life.” The Argonauts is part memoir, part literary criticism, and mostly a love story. It’s such a smart and thought-provoking book that I want to make all my friends read it and then meet me for breakfast so we can talk about it.
I’m in the middle of When in French by Lauren Collins, a memoir about marrying a Frenchman and trying to learn not just his language but the host of customs, assumptions, and rituals that come along with it. The book is a long meditation on language and culture – in particular, the ways they shape each other – and for a lover of words, it is rich in pleasures, like the Japanese word “komorebi” for sunlight filtering through the leaves of trees, or the German “schnapsidee” for the elaborate plans people make when they’re drunk. Collins makes the interesting point that we become different people when we speak another language, because our personalities are expressed by the ideas we’re able to convey, and those are subject to the words the language offers to us.
And finally, I’m reading an old collection of Alice Munro stories, Who Do You Think You Are? There’s no writer I admire more than Munro, and dipping into any collection of her stories reminds me why. I first discovered her when I was in college, and a few years ago, when I heard she won the Nobel Prize for Literature, I got tears in my eyes. Her stories are so complicated – the way that humans are complicated, and life is complicated – but they are told with a straightforward, natural grace, and an unflinching honesty. I truly love the way she writes.