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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/13/fashion/weddings/13NAILOR.html?_r=1&emc=eta1

THE STORY
My daughter, Kaaryn Nailor, was married Sunday December 13, 2009 at Bridgewaters in lower Manhattan. Fifty guests came from out of town and stayed at a hotel near the site--myself included.

Ten AM found me in the bridal suite with the bridesmaids for hair, makeup, lunch, mimosas, steaming gowns, waiting for the wedding planner...Then someone came in (the planner?) and announced that the wedding announcement was in that morning’s New York Times. As we were looking at it, the photographer, Kenny Pang, came in and was excited as it was his photo that ran. He said hardly anyone gets their announcement in the paper and of those that do, they rarely get a photo. I used to do the wedding announcements when I was a staff writer on the Women’s Page of the Hartford Courant and knew that he was right.

THE WEDDING
It was held in South Street Seaport, an historic area near Wall Street. It has narrow, winding, cobblestone streets, replicas of 18th century sailing vessels, and quaint shops.

There was a tree, four stories tall, in the center mall with bright red ribbons and we could see it through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

First Lady Michelle Paterson was there. She, like First Lady Michelle Obama, is black. Michelle Paterson’s husband is the Governor of New York State, and the first legally blind governor in US history.

The wedding ended at 10 PM when the DJ played Alicia Key’s “Empire State of Mind.” New Yorkers are in love with that song. Then they played Frank Sinatra's “New York, New York” and all the guests gathered together into a line and did a Rockette’s-style high kick. I think this is all now a New York City tradition.
 
GROOM
The wedding was beautiful. The only person who cried was the groom (3 times). When the minister announced them man and wife, the groom--nicknamed Bam (from the Flintstone’s character)--grabbed my daughter and said, “I love you so much. I am so happy,” then held on to her and sobbed.

There was a groom’s dinner the night before the wedding. A woman who Bam went to high school with is now a famous cake designer (like those TV shows- “Amazing Cakes," etc.). She and my daughter got together and secretly designed a cake for the groom. It was of his backpack with booklets etc. from his favorite sports team, a lift ticket (they will have a ski honeymoon in Colorado), and a replica of their puppy’s leash down to the weave.

THE END
After the wedding (10 PM) the guests were surprised with cocoa and cookies in the lobby of the event facility. Then we were given sparklers. They were lit and we formed an arch. The bride and groom came out, went under the arch to the waiting white limo, but half way down the arch the groom grabbed my daughter and gave her a long, passionate kiss.

MORE
The next morning--Monday--the bride and groom hosted a breakfast from 10 AM to noon at Freshly Made, a pretty restaurant that made homemade frittatas, bagels, French toast, Vermont bacon, etc...all buffet-style.

I got back to my apartment a few days later and went online to discover that people had sent The New York Times link around. Not only were people reading about my child’s wedding, but they were also reading about my book! The link was on her law school’s page, the websites for the many vendors for the wedding, Facebook, Twitter...Wow.

They are off on their honeymoon and I am a happy mom.

Happy holidays!


Posted by Linda Trice, author of Kenya's Word

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dog Gone!

In less than twenty-four hours I am headed to Deutschland to share in my son's experiences with the people of Germany. Christmas markets will be all aglow with booths filled with the Christmas season. There will be music, and happy chatter, scents of cherry and chocolate filled crepes mixed with evergreen and incense, and I think I'll laugh when again no one has heard of the German tradition of the Christmas pickle, said to have descended from a world war when a soldier gave a starving prisoner his dill pickle. The prisoner and those who knew of the story were said to have hung a pickle on the tree ever since--which ascended into a glass pickle ornament and a child's Christmas morning game. When my son asked about the tradition, multiple folks in Germany laughed. "Americans hang pickles on their Christmas tree?"

Meanwhile amid all this festive fun, I feel Aggie's cold nose against my brain wondering what trouble she wants to get into now. I am Aggie smitten. The only dog I ever owned was a collie pup. I was quite young ,we lived in a small Syracuse, New York, apartment where dogs couldn't stay, and Lad became my aunt's dog. I never knew I had a love for dogs until I met Aggie. Then I was dog gone.

My bishop had a dog, a big floppy golden lab. This was Aggie. When I first saw Aggie, she lazed in the summer sun on the back patio of the beach house. We'd brought young single adults from church to their beach house for a day of BBQ and boating. As skis, tubes, and kids were loaded into two boats, our bishop's sweet wife brought bread outside for my young daughter. Ducks waded nearby in the shallows.

Jennifer tore and tossed bread into the lake, and Aggie's head lifted. She picked up her floppy body and bounded toward us. Aggie took a giant leap into the lake right on top of the bread. SPLASH! Ducks squawked flapping for the skies, bread sank to the depths below, and Aggie doggie paddled back with the smirkiest doggie grin. Instantly she came right to where we were standing, shook her self off, as if her splash wasn't wet enough, and then she went right back to her sun heated cemenet bed and flopped down. I was drawn to this funny dog. I half felt she knew exactly what she was doing. A-G-G-I-E spelled trouble.

Though new to the writing world, I knew she was my character, I just knew it. An excited energy filled me when I simply thought of her. My heart would get all happy, jumpy, and my mind would want to play. I loved this character. I interviewed my owner friends again and again. The more I learned about Aggie, the more she cracked me up. Then , I started to hear Ben. (He actually began as an imaginary young Tony McCasline.) I fell hard for dogs and found myself at the pet store with my children taking pups out of cages just to play. Then, one day I took the kids, and there was a beautiful baby girl husky pup with sky blue eyes. We ran home and dragged in dad. He got the pupster out to play. We all fell in love with a husky and she didn't go back. Daily doggie adventures of garbage, mud, digging and squirrels became stories.

Much to my joy and surprise, Aggie became real through Charlesbridge. Stories grew and continue to grow from a fraction of truth mixed with a bunch of imagination. Aggie Tales continue to come and she still cracks me up as I write. The seed of Aggie is gone now, but it's so sweet to know where she came from, and to have my own puppy adventures. Once Nikita stole a whole chicken off the counter, cooling for dinner. As she ran from me, she ate the entire thing--carcass and all--in a matter of moments. I called the vet with bone concerns and he asked what kind of dog I had. "Husky, " I replied. Then he laughed. "That's what they do in the wild!" Nikita has me dog gone as Aggie stories continue.

By spring 2011, Aggie will have four books--Aggie and Ben, Good Dog, Aggie, Aggie the Brave, and Aggie Gets Lost. Aggie is every kid's dog, pulled from the adventures of everyday life. Through Aggie, I learned to love dogs and the magic.


Posted by Lori Ries, author of the Aggie and Ben series, Super Sam, and Fix It, Sam.

Photo by Julie Padbury, JMP Services.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"The Day-Glo Brothers" sweep 2009!

Chris Barton's first book for children wowed 'em in Wooster. Ohio, that is.

Chris recently traveled to the great state of Ohio, the home of the Day-Glo Corporation--which was founded by Bob and Joe Switzer, the subjects of his book--to visit the Buckeye Book Fair. While there, he took the opportunity to visit the Day-Glo plant. Read all about it at his blog, Bartography.

From the photos, this factory looks like the most beautiful place in the world to work. But that broom is mostly useless, if you ask our Irish mother.

The Day-Glo Brothers has enjoyed a great run right out of the gate:

* Publishers Weekly's Best Children's Books of 2009
* Kirkus Reviews' Best Children's Books of 2009

"[T]hese . . . brothers shine even more brightly than the paints and dyes they created. "
--Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Barton takes on the dual persona of popular historian and cool science teacher as he chronicles the Switzer brothers' invention of the first fluorescent paint visible in daylight. "
--Publishers Weekly, starred review

"This unique book does an excellent job of describing an innovative process."
--School Library Journal, starred review

Visit Chris Barton online.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"I Didn't Know You Liked Wonder Woman"

For the longest time, I avoided writing about my family.

My husband, who knew all about my interesting childhood, couldn't fathom why I'd waste "such a gold mine."

He'd shrug, muttering about how "you can't make this stuff up."

I had written three novels for young readers, none about my life in particular, though my first came the closest. That one, How I Survived My Summer Vacation, is about a boy who wants to be an author.

The next two, The Girlfriend Project and Nothing, are, respectively, about a boy who wants a girlfriend and a boy who develops bulimia. (My family, startled by the subject matter of the latter, asked for several assurances that I was not, in fact, writing from experience. I was not.)

But I'd never written a novel about a girl.

Or, more specifically, a girl who was born in Israel, lives in immigrant poverty, and tries desperately to understand the American dream.

And I never thought I would, until I met the late Paul Zindel, renowned author of The Pigman, at a writing luncheon. Offhandedly he commented that all of his books are autobiographical.

"Doesn't your family get angry with you for writing about them?" someone asked.

"Yes," he replied casually. "But then they ask me who's playing them in the movie."

It got me thinking. More than thinking, it got me writing.

I started with the basics: A thirteen-year-old girl, born in Israel, growing up on Staten Island in the 1980s.

I added: She hates gym, watches too much TV, and, most distressingly, can't get her hair to do what everybody else's hair does, that is, feathering into a set of perfect wings.

I kept going, embracing all the cringe-worthy memories of adolescence that are probably best left forgotten, much less broadcast.

I'm talking about the most private, most embarrassing, most personal kinds of thoughts a thirteen-year-old girl could possibly confide to a nonjudgmental diary with a lock firmly around its middle.

Yes, that means observations on boys, body image, desire, and self-esteem, all tinged with a palpable current of longing that could exist only within the peculiar eccentricities of being an outsider, a foreigner in a strange land, with the attendant constant feelings of being excluded, different, and even unwelcome.

Then I added the fiction. Or, more to the point, I added what I would have liked to see in real life if I had been in charge of the story.

A seductive concept, to be sure. Maybe even literary therapy.

I had a finished draft all ready to go in 2004. Little did I know it would be five rewrites and five years before my draft became a published novel.

The responses from editors were surprising, to say the least.

"Not believable."

"This can't really have happened."

"The characters don't seem real."

More and more, I rewrote my autobiography, moving my story further and further away from reality. Finally, it sold.

The Importance of Wings was published in July, 2009.

It's still about a thirteen-year-old girl growing up on Staten Island in the 1980s, born in Israel, who watches too much TV and hates gym and her non-feathered, non-wings hair.

But mostly it's fiction, fiction I would have picked for my childhood story. After all, authors don't just "write what they know"; sometimes they write what they wish they knew.

As publication day drew nearer, I still had two hurdles left to clear: my sister and my mother. I stalled as long as I could, and knowing I was writing from experience, they were getting downright concerned. (My father was in the book too, but he'd always been easygoing about my writing, and not much of a reader, besides.)

I mailed my mother and sister advanced reading copies a few months ahead of publication and hoped for the best.

The verdict came back: Four thumbs up.

Along with indignant "how-come-you-never-told-me?" comments.

"I thought you really liked gym."

"Did you really hate your hair?"

"I didn't know you liked Wonder Woman."

"Were you that worried about fitting in?"

"Well," I replied, trying to shrug off the questions and trying to channel Paul Zindel, "You'll just have to wait for the movie."

Posted by Robin Friedman, author of The Imporatance of Wings.
Visit Robin online.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2009

The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors
Chris Barton, illus. by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge)

The unlikely subjects of this fascinating picture book biography exemplify ingenuity and dedication to chasing one's dreams.

And some other very nice books are on this list and you can find them at PW.com.

"[T]hese . . . brothers shine even more brightly than the paints and dyes they created. "
--Kirkus Reviews

"Barton takes on the dual persona of popular historian and cool science teacher as he chronicles the Switzer brothers' invention of the first fluorescent paint visible in daylight. "
--Publishers Weekly

"This unique book does an excellent job of describing an innovative process."
--School Library Journal

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bringing the Moon Down to Earth

Faces of the Moon is my new children's book, released this July in time for the United Nations' International Year of Astronomy. Featuring amazing linoleum-cut illustrations by artist Leslie Evans, this book reintroduces the Moon to the young, and young at heart, and helps the reader/listener make sense of her ever-changing face.

I never envisioned myself becoming a writer of children's books, per se. Among other things, I am an amateur astronomer. I enjoy sharing the night sky because we all are curious about the mysteries beyond our world. Learning about the universe also gives kids a tangible appreciation for the fragile nature of our humble planet--orbiting a little star in a VERY big place. And after all, gazing into the great expanse of space can turn even a grownup into a wide-eyed child, when we feel the awe and wonder not only in our hearts, but throughout our entire bodies.

As my friends and family will attest, I have remained in touch with my "child self" throughout my 50 years (this makes me sometimes forget that I don't quite look like the rest of the kids when I drop into a skateboard half-pipe nowadays). Perhaps this benefits my writing for children, but most of all, several years of teaching elementary astronomy has helped me notice where other books can lose kids' attention and curiosity. Having been a longtime musician, I also understand our natural attraction to rhythm and rhyme, and that's why I write my books in rhyming verse.

There are more books available on the Moon, planets, and space than there are stars in the sky. When I approached writing my books, I needed a more grand purpose for my astronomical verse. For instance, there were no kid's books that explained why it's difficult for us to see all the stars in our night skies nowadays (because of the problem of man-made "light pollution"). For me, this was a perfect challenge: to tell this timely story with a message of hope, instead of just being a downer. There Once Was a Sky Full of Stars wound up exceeding my expectations.

For my latest book, instead of pursuing tantalizing astronomical subjects like black holes, or galaxies that devour one another, I instead chose to focus on an entry level to astronomy: the Moon, which I consider humankind's first "stepping stone" to the universe. I had my sights set on 2009, the International Year of Astronomy, and I thought, "What could better engage the public-at-large in astronomy than the Moon?" For all the knowledge humankind has accumulated to date, most grownups can't even tell you why the Moon goes through different phases--if they even notice it does! The basic story of Earth's satellite seems to have never been told or shown in a way that stuck with the reader. I took my next challenge: to write a book that would make Moon gazing exciting again and help make basic lunar information household knowledge. Fully loaded with the "goods"--lyrical rhyme, die cut pages, and Leslie's beautiful illustrations--Faces of the Moon offers one of the most inviting gateways to astronomy yet.

If you haven't already, I invite you to tatke a look at Faces of the Moon for yourself. In our rapid-paced, plugged-in modern world, which is only getting faster and less organic, it wouldn't hurt for us to raise a whole new generation that can still look beyond it all and connect to the silent grandeur of our universe--even by merely following the Moon in orbit.

Stop by sometime and visit my website.


Posted by Bob Crelin, author of Faces of the Moon.

Check out the Faces of the Moon - Moon Gazers' Wheel

Click here to watch a trailer of Faces of the Moon.

Download the Teachers' Guide.

Listen to podcasts and watch interviews with Bob Crelin at Charlesbridge.com

Monday, October 5, 2009

Don't the Moon Look Good, Mama, Shinin' Through the Trees
















Bob Crelin assures me that his blog entry is forthcoming. Meanwhile, as you can see at the left, he's busy sharing Faces of the Moon with young readers who are eager to find out more about a planet's best friend.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Stay Tuned


Bob Crelin will be posting his blog entry soon.

Meanwhile, did you see how Charlesbridge and Bob Dylan have a lot in common in the previous post below? Uncanny. Bob is also of Russian descent, which makes The Magic Babushka even more Dylanesque. Plus it's an Easter story, which Bob mentions in "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" on Highway 61 Revisited.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Finally! A Dylan Connection

Charlesbridge enters the rock pantheon with The Magic Babushka.


As you can see on this Bob Dylan album cover for Dimestore Medicine, Bob's friend (is that Sara?) is wearing her own magic babushka.



A side-by-side comparison


This photo is from 1965. Dylan is a folk music hero. The Magic Babushka is inspired by Russian folk tales and was originally published in 1998.







The Magic Babushka
by Phyllis Limbacher Tildes
ISBN 978-1-58089-225-4
Ages 5-8, Paperback, $7.95

Friday, September 11, 2009

PARENT AND KIDS CAN READ TOGETHER! AN AUTHOR TRIES IT!

The blue box on the left-hand side of the Charlesbridge Publishing website, pairing an adult book, The Genius of America, with my children's book, Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation, intrigued me. PARENTS AND KIDS CAN READ TOGETHER! Both my sons are grown, and grandchildren have not appeared yet. I don't have a real life child in my life to read with. But the idea of comparing a recent adult book on the U.S. Constitution to my own children's book appealed to me. I'm glad I tried it. Not only did I find a highly readable and enlightening text on American government, but my own purpose for writing a children's book on this topic was validated.

The Genius of America by Eric Lane and Michael Oreskes examines the foundation of our constitutional government in a concise and compelling manner. Throughout this work, the authors refer to our "Constitutional Conscience" as a vital component of the American political system. Democracy in and ofitself will not protect the rights of citizens. A constitution in and of itself will not preserve democracy. Germany was a constitutional democracy in 1933, when Adolf Hitler came to power.

In addition to describing the creation of our government, Lane and Oreskes clearly explain challenges our Constitution has faced over the years. For example, Proposition 13, which allowed the 50% of Californians who voted to make a sweeping decision for the entire state on tax revenues. Direct democracy doesn't always provide a centrist approach. This is something our founding fathers understood when they wrote the Constitution.

But do all American citizens understand this? Do they understand how close the United States came to falling apart under the Articles of the Confederation? In 1787, during a blistering hot Philadelphia summer, fifty-five delegates met behind locked doors to confront a startling problem: America did not have a functioning national government. The thirteen states behaved like squabbling siblings. They fought over river rights and land boundaries. They didn't honor each other's money. When Massachusetts was faced with a rebellion, her sister states essentially said, "Sorry! Take care of it yourself!"
At Independence Hall, the founding fathers realized that a new government was essential to the future of our fledgling nation. However, the delegates were at a bitter impasse over the issue of representation in congress. Benjamin Franklin called for prayer, and George Washington looked haggard, as if he were reliving the terrible days at Valley Forge. If the delegates had not reached a compromise, it is possible that the United States of America would be an historical footnote, not the powerful country it is today.

In my book Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation, I focus on the drama of the Constitutional Convention--the problems between teh states and the Connecticut Compromise, which convinced the delgates they could agree on a national government after all. Our form of government was built on compromise, something all American should take note of and celebrate.

In 1787, our founding fathers ingeniously created an entirely new form of democracy--one designed to protect minorities from majority rule and majorities from minority rule. Checks and balances between three branches of government keep any one branch from obtaining too much power. While our system is slow and often leads to frustrating stalemates, it requires that people work together to produce results. Such a government has built-in impediments against militant or fringe groups who might try to take control. In other words, the very machinery that makes governmental change so maddeningly slow preserves our freedom. Reading The Genius of America reminded me of this important fact.

Lane and Oreskes end their book with a call for more civics education. If there are flaws in our government and changes are needed, they must be made with a solid understanding of what we already have. This education needs to start with our children. Please join me in promoting Constitution Day activities on Constitution Day, September 17th and education on the creation of our uniquely American democracy throughout the year. I have compiled a list of Constitution Day lesson plans and resources on my website. I'd love to hear how you are teaching the Constitution in your homes and classrooms. And if you have ideas to add to my list, please let me know.


Posted by Jacqueline Jules, author of
Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a
Nation.
Watch the video trailer of this book.
Download the Readers' Theater Guide

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Weaving Words

-- Or, How I Came to Write Up, Up, and Away --

"Where do you get your ideas?" is the question I always get from students during school visits.

Most authors would agree with me that ideas come to us in the strangest ways, sometimes from nowhere and totally unexpected, and they dangle and entangle us like a spider's silk thread, just begging to be woven into a book, poem, or magazine article.

Up, Up, and Away didn't happen over night, or even in a year... or two... or three. The idea of the book began because I have a pen pal friend, Edward Kanze, who lives with his family in the Adirondacks in New York. (I live 3,000 miles away in Northern California). Ed is an author and a naturalist. He writes a weekly nature column for newspapers in his area, which I get via email.

At least ten years ago, Ed wrote about spiders and ballooning, about when a spider, and often a newly hatched one, releases a strand of sturdy thread and sails off on the wind currents to find a home of its own. I loved the article and the rich images of spiders soaring here and there on little strings. One single phrase "eight-legged kites" stayed with me all day. So I printed out Ed's column and saved it.

And like most nonfiction authors, I am a saver of IDEAS. It is a joke in my family that when I discover something, everyone knows just what I will say. "Wow! That would make a great book. I can just see it now!"

My husband, Bill, might groan and shake his head. "Finish what you're working on first."

And he's right. Nonfiction authors can spend HOURS on the computer, doing additional research on whatever captures our attention for that moment. Some of my friends play Solitaire on their computers. Not me! I "play" research. And punching "print" is something I do every single day. That is why I have three file cabinets in my office overflowing with possibilities. Two closets in extra bedrooms house even more file cabinets, also stuffed to the brim with research materials related to other books. Like an alcoholic, I confess... I am a hoarder and saver of facts. The thought of moving to a smaller house is a nightmare.

Somewhere in this over packed house is Ed Kanze's delightful column about ballooning spiders, but currently, it is "missing." Even Ed could not find his original column, so he must be The Pack Rat of the East." I'll claim my title as The Pack Rat of the West.

One day the urge to write about those "eight legged kites" hit me like a tsunami. Maybe it was because of Charlotte's Web by E. B. White. I re-read the book from time-to-time. It's such a memorable classic with that heart-stopping first sentence. "'Where's Papa going with that ax?' said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast."

I wrote Up, Up, and Away in lyrical, poetry-like prose. I had never written anything in this format before. I love it! It was magic to balance the words and scientific facts, similar to the ballet a spider performs every day as it dances across a wind-blown web.

I work in a wood-paneled office in my home that has one entire wall of books. Windows face my redwood tree-rimmed property. My golden retrievers, Willa and Scout, sprawl across my feet like two enormous slippers. We take "recess" in my half-acre garden, which merges into 300 adjacent acres of undeveloped open space that belongs to my community.

While working on Up, Up, and Away, I would step outside with spiders on my mind. Writing this book taught me to think and act SMALL. Spider and spider webs are everywhere, and now, I crawl under webs instead of damaging ones that span the winding brick path through my garden. Frequently I discover messy-looking webs as well as gorgeous globe-shaped ones.

Spotting the actual spiders is often challenging. They might hide under a curled leaf, to avoid a predator, or remain camouflaged by matching the color of something in their little world. A dot-sized spider might drift past me on a steely-strong strand, in search of a new home.

Unlike many of my friends, I am not afraid of spiders. They fascinate me. I have been trying to photograph them and some of the other critters--lizards, snakes, frogs, and more--that live in my garden. It is NOT easy.

As a result of writing Up, Up, and Away, I've written a draft of a book about a colorful California kingsnake I've observed in my garden, crafted in the same lyrical format. A future book? Who knows?

I hope that readers, young and old, will enjoy the story of Spider, a garden spider, and they will take time to walk slowly and look closely at the world beyond their backdoors!



Posted by Ginger Wadsworth, author of many nonfiction books for young readers, including Desert Discoveries, Tundra Discoveries, Up, Up, and Away, and more.


Watch the book trailer for Up, Up, and Away.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Books help us deal with the tough times

It started with a lump in my throat. "I don't know if I can do this," I told my sister.

The feeling caught me by surprise. I had read and discussed my first book, Emma's Question, with all kinds of audiences--from wiggly preschoolers who made it through without having to go to the bathroom, to elementary school children who did not chase me off with iguanas and other classroom pets, to teachers and librarians used to hearing from famous authors. I had spoken with a steady voice and without tears, even though the book is based on an emotional time in the life of my family.

This time, however, I struggled with a stinging behind my eyes. I suddenly realized that this event--Sunday brunch at the Voxland family reunion--was dangerous territory. Clutching my book, I stood up and glanced at the group, all wonderfully and terribly. . . familiar. Smiling back at me were all the aunts, uncles, cousins, and other family members who populate my richest memories: the five once-lightweight kids who water-skied all together behind our Aluma Craft runabout; the uncles from the family farm "up north" who pulled the hay wagon while we city kids sat squealing atop a quivering tower of bales; the cousins with whom I shared Orange Crush and Cheeze Wiz sandwiches in Grandpa's cow pasture.

For the first time in years, the three remaining generations of Voxlands had gathered together--with one important exception. And that was the problem. It was as if there were an empty chair front and center.

Missing from the gathering was my mom, Randie Louise Nelson, daughter, sister, mother, aunt, grandmother--and the subject of Emma's Question. Unfortunately for all of us, she died in 2001 after a long and courageous battle with cancer.

As a new author, I love every opportunity to read Emma's Question and talk about my mom, and I believe the book is more hopeful than sad. But on that day I wondered . . . why did I write about something so personal and so hard? The answer is complicated. First, as an obsessive worrier, I have little control over the voices that pop into my head. The day I started the book Emma was a voice stuck in my brain, a little girl standing on a chair crying, "pay attention to me!" She was the little girl in me who just wanted my mom to get better and everything to go back to the way it was before. And she wouldn't be quiet.

Second, as a writer I believe that sometimes our best stories come from the experiences we'd least like to write about--our sharpest pain, our deepest fear, our most humiliating moment. When I visit classrooms, I encourage students to dig into these memories for the seeds of a story. If the incident carries deep emotion for the writer, the readers is likely to feel that emotion, too. The phone call telling me my mom was sick was a seed for Emma's Question, just as the humiliation of sticking the blue paintbrush in the red paint during my early days of kindergarten was a seed for my second book Polka-dot Fixes Kindergarten. (A bit of emotional baggage can be an asset).

Third, as a mom and someone who loves children, I believe that stories about difficult topics prepare children emotionally for life's inevitable challenges. As parents, we sometimes resist reading or talking to children about hard things until they occur. Deep down we want to protect the illusion (ours and our children's) that life consists of routines that we can count on forever--like the ice cream truck that rolled down our street every sunday night. These routines are a rich and comforting part of life, but they are not the whole picture. Inevitably, we all experience the telephone call that changes everything. When a child reads about hard topics--whether it be dealing with the illness of a family member, losing a pet, or confronting a bully--it helps prepare her to deal with emotionally charged situations before they occur and helps give her empathy for other children going through hard times. Sometimes books that deal honestly with emotional topics do trigger tears--though usually from the adults. (My experience is that children are often more curious than sad).

I made it through the reading of Emma's Question at the Voxland family reunion. My voice wobbled a bit, I stumbled over a few words, and I didn't look at the audience? It wasn't a stellar performance, but no one seemed to notice. Afterward, there were a few tears, along with laughter and hugging--lots and lots of hugging.

And that is life.

Catherine Urdahl is the author of Emma's Question. Visit her online at www.catherineurdahl.com.