Summer 2015 roundup

The days are (finally) getting cooler and damper here in the Pacific Northwest and most of the kids are back in school, so it seems like a good time to reflect on the summer.
I typically don’t get to do much writing-related work over the summer, since the kids are home from school and the sun is shining, but this summer was filled with fun and exciting author events!

2015-07-11 Andersons Bookshop kids books extravaganza 2First, I got to participate in a huge author panel at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, IL. The kids’ books extravaganza on July 11th included some of my best friends in the industry, including Christine Hayes, Ruth Barshaw, Lynda Hunt, Keyan Atteberry, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, Tara Dairman, Janet Fox, and Amy Finnegan. It was even more wonderful because I got to meet the very special someone who wrote one of my all-time favorite reviews Emmanuel’s Dream, Keegan Knott, and it was her birthday, too! I got a hug. It’s a day I won’t soon forget, let me tell you. Thank you Anderson’s and Keegan for the wonderful memories! =D

EMLA costume partyNext I headed to the Erin Murphy Literary Agency client retreat at The Abbey Resort at Lake Geneva. I can’t even begin to explain what a powerful, amazing this annual event is for me, and this year was no different. We do lots of fun, silly things like the costume party, but we also do a lot of learning, networking, sharing, connecting, growing, and more. I feel so blessed to be a part of this community!
2015-07-12 Mustard Museum2015-07-12 St LouisIMG_2675From there I continued on down to St. Louis to sign books at ILA and conduct a research trip. Our first stop was the National Mustard Museum.

What am I researching there, you ask? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see! St. Louis was beautiful, ILA was a lot of fun, and I even got to go to
Cynthia Levinson’s book launch party for Watch Out for Flying Kids while I was there. Plus, the research trip was a huge success. I can’t wait to get back to work on that manuscript!

I had the opportunity to appear at several summer camps, including one on being a changemaker and another on early literacy, which I loved, and I did interviews on two different live radio programs.

IMG_2956Last but certainly not least, I also spoke at the Pacific Northwest Library Association (PNLA) annual conference in Portland with two of my favorite nonfiction authors, Mary Cronk Farrell and Elizabeth Rusch, and I did my first storytime for My Dog Is the Best at University Bookstore in Bellevue.
It was a busy, fulfilling summer, and now I’m looking forward to some quiet writing time!
 

Radio Interview: Brooke Taylor's A Special Connection

I recently had the honor of being interviewed by Brooke Taylor on her inspiring radio show, A Special Connection on WHKW AM1220 in Cleveland, Ohio. Brooke just happened to have stumbled across one of my books at her local public library and was moved by it, so she reached out to me to talk about it.
The whole show is fantastic, but if you’re in a rush, we start discussing Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah at about the 31:58 mark, and Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something that Matters at about 45:37.
I hope you’ll enjoy listening!
https://soundcloud.com/living-the-word/a-special-connection-with-brooke-taylor-july-25th-2015
What fun! Huge thanks to both Brooke and her producer, Brett Crowe, for making it such a pleasure.
I’ve got a couple more radio interviews in the works as well, so please stay tuned for more audio in the coming weeks!

In which I make my podcast debut on The Artist Rolls!

As I’ve mentioned before, I love listening to podcasts. One of my favorites is The Artist Rolls.
The Artist Rolls logo
On The Artist Rolls, Sean and Jamie ask their creative guests to fill out a form loosely inspired by character sheets from role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. They use these character sheets to help explore and discuss how each guest divides their time across the many different roles creative people must take on, what mediums they use to do their work, what their personal work style is, and how they view their own skill set. They incorporate dice to randomize the conversation, graphs to help visualize it, and humor and heart to bring it to life. It’s a fun way to learn about other people’s creative processes and challenges.

Sean and Jamie, the hosts of The Artist Rolls
Sean and Jamie, the talented hosts of The Artist Rolls

I was introduced to The Artist Rolls by my good friend (and amazing collage artist!) Liz Ruest. Since then, I’ve enjoyed listening to and learning from many of their chats with other creative types, so it was a thrill to be able to participate in one myself, made even more exciting by the fact that it was my podcast debut! I revealed much of my nerdy nature and consistently rolled well below average, but other than that I don’t think I embarrassed myself too badly. Check it out for yourself by clicking below:

The Artist Rolls, Episode 26 – Laurie Thompson Reminds Us to “Do Unto Others”

3 easy ways to help an author

book shelves

Many people have asked me what they can do to help promote my book. Many others have already helped in ways both big and small, and I’m grateful for each and every one. If you’ve ever wondered how to help an author friend, here are some quick, easy things you can do that will have a big impact.
1. If you can, buy the book… for yourself and for others!

  • Day 193: The Bluest EyeBooks make great gifts, so consider holidays, birthdays, and other celebrations as well as graduations, retirements, new babies, and other milestones coming up in the lives of your friends, family, teachers and coaches, and co-workers.
  • Many places are thrilled to receive donations of new books, too. Think about buying extra copies for your local food bank, hospital, shelters, schools, and libraries.

2. Help get the word out. 

  • Ask your local bookstore if they carry the book. If you’re bold, you can even tell them why they might want to consider stocking it!
  • Request the book from your local library, and then check it out when it arrives.
  • book shelvesAsk for help finding it on the shelf in bookstores and libraries, even if you already know where it is, so the booksellers and librarians will know where it is, too!
  • Ask the author for some bookmarks or other swag, which you can hand out to bookstore employees, librarians, and teachers or leave behind in coffee shops, doctor’s offices, waiting rooms, etc. as appropriate.
  • Share photos of “in the wild” sightings of the book to increase awareness of the cover and title.

3. If you like the book, share your thoughts with others!

  • Add to GoodreadsWrite a nice review on Amazon, BN.com, Goodreads, and/or elsewhere. It doesn’t have to be long or profound: Five stars and a simple “Loved it!” can go a long way!
  • Mark well-written good reviews you see on those sites as helpful (and, conversely, if you see reviews that are just mean or unfair, mark them as not helpful).
  • Share your thoughts on the book with your friends and followers on your social media outlets like your blog, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
  • Tell the author! Not all reviews are positive, and hearing from someone who liked the book might be just what the author needs.

Indies First 2014, this Saturday!

Indie's first logo
 
For the holiday 2014 season, bestselling author Neil Gaiman and musician-author Amanda Palmer called upon their fellow authors to get behind Indies First and “volunteer” at bookstores on Small Business Saturday (Nov. 29).
I couldn’t choose just one independent bookstore to hang out in (we’re lucky to have so many to choose from where I live!), so I’ll be doing two shifts:

I’ll be signing copies of BE A CHANGEMAKER and recommending a few of my other favorites, and I’ll be in great company with many other local authors and illustrators. So, if you’re in the area, please stop by and say, “Hi!”
If you’re not in the area, be sure to check out the interactive Indies First map to find a participating store near you!
 

Interview w/Matthew Winner of the Let's Get Busy podcast!

Every now and then I stumble on something so wonderful that I want to add it my own list of “My Favorite Things” and share it with the world: the Let’s Get Busy podcast from Matthew Winner is one of those things. Whether you’re an author, illustrator, teacher, librarian, agent, editor, bookseller–if you have anything to do with children’s literature at all–this show is too good to miss. Think you don’t have time for podcasts? I listen while I’m in the car. Or while I walk the dog. Or while I clean the house. And, believe me, all of those tasks are way more enjoyable when you have Matthew and his guests with you!
Matthew recently recorded his 100th episode of the podcast, and he put together a massive blog and podcast tour to celebrate. Here’s where he’s been so far:

And I’m thrilled that today is my turn to host! Matthew was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, so we can all get to know him better.
LT: Hi Matthew, and welcome! I’ve already gushed to you about how much I love your podcast, but I’m curious to learn more. How and when did you first become interested in doing a podcast like Let’s Get Busy? How did you get started?
MT: I listen to a lot of podcasts. I mean, a whole lot of podcasts. All the time. When I’m driving to work. When I’m washing the dishes. When I’m shelving books. When I’m mowing the lawn. It’s the primary media I consume. The idea for doing a podcast of my own and, specifically, a kidlit podcast just sort of popped into my head one day, took up camp, and then wouldn’t leave. But it took a conversation with Travis Jonker (of 100 Scope Notes) to nudge me into actually starting it. He and I were talking one evening during an ALA conference in Chicago about how much we love the insights but also those memorable vignettes that inevitably stick in your brain whenever you’re in the company of authors or illustrators (or anyone who has something to say, for that matter). Travis asked me what my next big project would be and I told him that all I could think about was this idea of capturing these sorts of conversations through a loosely formatted podcast. Then he basically asked me when I was starting, and that was all it took.
LT: Sometimes we just need the tiniest nudge, don’t we? (Thanks, Travis!) You sure have been busy since then. I can’t believe you started less than a year and half ago, and you’re already up to 100 episodes!
LT: How much time do you spend on the podcast overall, and what’s the breakdown of how that time is spent (lining up guests, recording and editing, promoting, etc.)?
MW: Eeep. Let me try to make this as interesting as possible.
MW: I shoot for 30-minute recordings so that I’m able to post twice a week (or 8 episodes per month). A lot of this is based on bandwidth limitations and the cost of maintaining a subscription on Libsyn, a podcast host site. I usually talk with each guest for about an hour total and we spend the unaired time locking into a comfortable candor (or going on tangents and then saying, “Shoot! I should be recording this!”). Editing and prepping the accompanying blog post takes anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes. And coordinating schedules and review materials and recording logistics over email can take upwards of 30 minutes per scheduled guest, but that might be over a series of weeks.
MW: So, let’s see. That’s 25 minus the circumference of Y, carry the 3 and substitute 7 for X… about 2-3 hours per guest from first contact to published and promoted episode.
LT: That’s a big commitment (but less than I thought–you’re fast!). What then is the hardest part of doing the podcast, and how do you deal with that?
MW: The hardest part for me is asking new people to come on. It seems like everyone and their mother has a podcast nowadays, but I’m often the first podcast my guests have ever appeared on or, in some cases, listened to. And also, many of them have no idea who I am. That gets in my brain and makes me think all sorts of wonky things and then I start to psych myself out over sending that first contact email. I’ve coped with it by asking each of my guests, following our own conversations, to recommend a friend or colleague whom they think my be a good fit for the podcast or this interview format. It’s worked pretty well for me and my guest list now reads like one great big family photo album with all sorts of zigzagging connections between each of the faces.
LT: That is really neat to envision. So much of what we do is built on personal relationships, isn’t it? I don’t think you have anything to worry about, though. First, kidlit people are the best people in the world, don’t you think? And second, I’m sure most authors and illustrators are thrilled by the opportunity to chat with you: you’re interested in our work, and you give us a chance to talk about it. Just remember: we’re nice, and you’re doing us a favor. There’s no need to psych yourself out! 🙂
LT: What has surprised you most about the podcast?
MW: Everything surprises me about the podcast. Sometimes the thing that surprises me most is knowing that anyone’s actually listening. I learn something new with each new person who comes on and by rule of thumb I allow myself space to wonder, to be excited, to nerd out over process, and to ask whatever comes to mind. That approach has served me well and has led to a good deal of surprises when our conversations take unexpected turns. It’s how I learned that Laurie Keller (Arnie the Doughnut) plays banjo, that Nick Bruel (Bad Kitty) used to work at Books of Wonder, a landmark children’s bookstore in New York, and that Steve Light (Have You Seen My Dragon?) works with PreSchool students!
LT: I love that every episode feels like a casual conversation between friends, rather than an interview, per se. In fact, it’s my favorite thing about listening to them! What is your favorite thing about doing them?
MW: So, I have a blog called The Busy Librarian. I started it as a sort of advocacy blog for all of us teacher librarians who are all just so busy all the time. On October 10th, 2010, I published my first post. Here is the text in its entirety:

This is a blog for busy librarians.
For those of us who feel, well, overwhelmed.
It’s a place of comfort and, hopefully, a source of inspiration.
Here you will find the opportunity to interact globally and to impact locally.
We’ll synergize moments, ideas, and activities that will enable us to become more effective librarians, more efficient in our libraries, and more energetic with our students, without feeling like things are careening out of control.
So, let’s get busy!

It made perfect sense to me to name the podcast as an extension of the blog itself. Hence, Let’s Get Busy. My very good pal Sherry Gick, teacher librarian at Rossville Consolidated Schools in Rossville, IN, and author of the Library Fanatic blog, and Nikki Ohs Barnes, fellow Nerdy Book Club member and co-founder of the Virtual Book Club, met me at ALA where, just one night previous, Travis and I had talked about podcasting. Super excited to share, I told Sherry and Nikki that I was going to start a podcast and that I decided to call it Let’s Get Busy after my blog. They both immediately broke into what they decided would have to be the podcast sound effect… a sort of BOW-CHIKKA-WOAH-WOW that I have not to this day been able to get out of my head whenever I’m about to start an interview. Carrying those sorts of memories around everywhere I go is definitely my favorite thing. And with 100 episode behind me, I’m definitely carrying around a lot of stories!
LT: I’m sure you are!
LT: How do you feel your other activities (teaching, presenting, writing, blogging, Twitter, parenting, etc.) make the podcast better? And, vice versa, how does the podcast contribute to those other facets of your life?
MW: Oh my word! Everything and I mean EVERYTHING goes into the pot when it comes to making these recordings. Books from my picture book guests are typically already bedtime staples with our 4-year-old son. Teaching and being a teacher librarian is the best and comes up over and over again on our chats because I like to share the way that the guests’ book is reaching kids and supporting readers in ways that I get to experience firsthand. Twitter is my professional learning community, but it’s also where I get to nerd out with friends over great kidlit and meet very cool people creating very cool books in the process, many of whom I’ll invite on the podcast because their work sticks with me.
MW: Doing the podcast brings me pure joy and is or has become a part of my identity. And I’ve gotten to meet a ton of really cool people in the process. I’m thankful that our son is growing up in a house surrounded with beautiful picture books, both on our bookshelves, and in frames hanging up throughout our house.
LT: Oh, I love that. Why have I never thought of framing picture books?  (Hmmm… just in time for Christmas, too!)
LT: I’ve always said that I will know I’ve made it when I receive one letter from one child saying that something I wrote made a positive difference in his or her life. How do you define success? Do you feel like you’ve achieved it? If not, what’s left on your to-do list?
MW: I listen to my guests and I listen to my listeners. The podcast succeeds when the guests feel like they’ve found a home in our conversation and when the listeners feel like they’re in the room with us. I also try to take in the kind things people are saying about Let’s Get Busy or about me personally. Seymour Simon once told me that he thinks of me “like a son” and that he’s proud of me. I achieved all I ever wanted when I published the very first episode of Let’s Get Busy. And I’m thankful that so many people feel moved to tell me how the podcast is connecting with them. Success to me is knowing that one person cares about the thing you’re making, or saying, or creating. And I’m one person that cares a great deal about what I myself am making, saying, and creating. So with every episode I get to share, I’ve already achieved success before a single download occurs.
LT: What a wonderful attitude, Matthew! I care a great deal about what you’re making, saying, a creating, too. Thanks so much for sharing it with us ! 


As you can see from above, Matthew calls himself “the busy librarian” for good reason. Here are some of the places you can find more from him:

And be sure to follow the rest of the Let’s Get Busy podcast/blog tour, here:

Fan mail: a teacher email about Be a Changemaker

I recently received this email from a middle-school teacher:

I wanted to let you know that one of my students has taken your book to heart.  He’s been carrying it with him for six weeks, and he is in the process of trying to start a nature club at school.  He is a super hard worker, and a wonderful, bright, sensitive 12-year-old boy–the type who might really make a dent in some of this world’s problems. He is passionate about this endeavor, but he doesn’t feel that he’s being taken seriously: adults are assuming he’s not going to work hard enough, he feels like things aren’t moving fast enough, and he’s disheartened. Still, he recently cited your book to me, saying, “She says sometimes it can take forever, and then sometimes things happen out of the blue,” so your words matter to him.

In the rush and hurry of getting through my inbox, this message brought me to a full stop. I’ve always said that I will feel like I’ve achieved success when I hear from one reader that my work mattered to them. Though not directly from the reader himself, this message from such a caring, dedicated, clearly amazing teacher on her student’s behalf feels every bit as wonderful. Reading this email was an even grander “first” for me than seeing my name in print for the first time, or holding the final book in my hands, or signing stacks of books at an event. This was a real connection with a young reader, a potential shift in the trajectory of this young man’s life that might not have occurred without my work. It’s both humbling and validating.
I have no doubt in the world that this student is indeed the type who might really make a dent in some of this world’s problems. It worries me, though, that even with this supportive teacher clearly on his side, he stills that one of the obstacles he faces is other adults assuming he’s not going to work hard enough. I mean really, what have we got to lose, adults? If they encourage him and he later quits, there’s no harm done: He feels valued and respected, he learns something about himself, and things go back to the way there were before. If they encourage him and he succeeds, the outcome really isn’t all that different: He feels valued and respected, he learns something about himself, and things get a little bit better.
I know that I’ve been guilty of similar reactions with my own children and their ideas. I’ve been too quick to point out what challenges I see and the reasons why their ideas might not be perfectly feasible. I questioned their long-term commitment to the projects they proposed. What I thought was helpful realism, however, wasn’t really that helpful at all. Indeed, what if my “realism” was actually cynicism, and maybe their “fantasies” could have actually worked? We’ll never know, because countless times I’ve inadvertently stopped them in their tracks before they even got started, all in the name of thinking things through and not embarking on something they couldn’t finish.
I think many of us (adults, especially, but kids, too) have become so goal-oriented that we don’t want to do or support anything that doesn’t seem very likely to succeed. We’re overly focused on the results, when so many of the potential benefits come from the process itself. We don’t want to waste time on something that might fail, but we forget that we learn by making mistakes.
If I’d focused on the likelihood of ever getting an email like this one, I would probably never have stuck with the process of honing my craft, revising my drafts, putting myself out there, etc. But if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be the person I am today, and I wouldn’t have received an email from a teacher that brought me to tears.
I’m going to try to do better for my own kids and other young people I interact with, and I hope you’ll commit to trying to support the young changemakers in your life as well. Let’s value their ideas and intentions for what they are, and let go of our expectations or concerns over the results. I have no doubt that, given the right encouragement, they are all the types who might really make a dent in some of this world’s problems. And we need each and every one of them to try.

Changemakers in the classroom

I’ve been hugely gratified by the responses I’ve gotten from teachers around the country about using BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS in their classrooms. The very first of these was a lovely 8th-grade ELA teacher from a private Catholic school in Louisiana. She reached out to me before the book was even released, and let me tell you, her enthusiasm was a much-appreciated soothing balm for all of my pre-release jitters!
She is using the book for her students’ “20% projects,” an idea adapted from the corporate world where companies allow employees to spend 20% of their time working on a pet project that interests them. They’ll be using the books throughout the school year to choose self-directed projects and bring them to life. Isn’t that exciting? I sure think so!

8th graders in class 1 with their new books
8th graders in class 1 with their new books

As part of her curriculum, she was able to purchase a copy of the book for each and every one of the students, and she even got them personalized! It was a huge pile of books for me to sign, and such an incredible honor for me to write each student’s name in his or her own book.
8th graders in class 1 with their new books
8th graders in class 2 with their new books

These pictures are from the day she handed the books out to all of the students. I hope you enjoy seeing them as much as I do!
The students also watched a video I made for them to help kick off their project. I posted about that video earlier this week. Check it out here if you missed it.
I can’t wait to hear about these students’ ideas and follow their progress throughout the school year. I’ll post updates here as I get them so you can follow along, too.
I love hearing about young people using the book, whether on their own or through a class or other organization, so if you’re using (or thinking about using) BE A CHANGEMAKER on your own or with your students, scouts, children, youth group, etc., please let me know! My email address is at the bottom of this page, or you can reach out on my Facebook author page or on Twitter.

It's PiBoIdMo time!

November is here, and that means it’s time for Picture Book Idea Month. So far, I’m two for two: woohoo!
PiBoIdMo 2014 banner
Remember the Howdy Doody theme song? Did you ever notice how PiBoIdMo has the same number of syllables as “Howdy Doody?” Now that I’ve noticed, I can’t get it out of my head. So, I thought I’d share my little earworm with you here:

It’s PiBoIdMo time.
It’s PiBoIdMo time.
Tara and her great crew
Wish PiBoIds to you.
Let’s give a rousing cheer,
Cause PiBoIdMo’s here,
It’s time for books to grow,
So here we go!

I love PiBoIdMo. Sometimes it’s a struggle to come up with ideas (okay, most times), other times they seem to flow faster than I can write them down (okay, rarely, but when it does it’s awesome!). Either way, it feels good to have those ideas tucked safely inside my notebook, ready to blossom when given a chance.
And yes, even nonfiction writers (like me!) can participate in PiBoIdMo! Christy Peterson has a great blog post on how to do that. I recommend reading it here (even if you write fiction!). I usually come up with about half nonfiction ideas and half fiction ideas, and I use all of the methods Christy mentions in her post.

sample Fiction Magic card
sample Fiction Magic card

This year I’ll also be using a new tool that just arrived (perfect timing!). My friend Deb Lund is a talented author, teacher, and creativity coach. She’s made a deck of cards, called Fiction Magic, which features prompts to inspire writers as well as a handy guidebook on how to use them. I drew one card today, played around with it for a while, and voila… I had two new ideas! You can get your own set of Fiction Magic cards here.
I probably shouldn’t be doing PiBoIdMo at all this year. I have too many projects calling to me at the moment, and the last thing I need right now is more ideas! But, PiBoIdMo is about so much more than the ideas for me. It’s about creativity, playfulness, freedom, and fun, and every year I end up rediscovering why I decided to write for children in the first place. In those ways, it’s good for my career. PiBoIdMo also reminds me to look at the world through a lens of discovery and curiosity, wonder, gratitude, and empathy. In those ways, it’s good for my soul.
I may not love all of the ideas I come up with during PiBoIdMo, but I love what PiBoIdMo does for me. If you want to write picture books, I hope you’ll give it a try, too! You can register through November 7th at this link.

Tales from my first book launch party

decorations

Two of the worst possible things that could happen to a book event in Seattle happened on the day of the Be a Changemaker launch party: one of our major bridges was closed for construction, and the sun was shining! Still, an amazing number of ultra-dedicated friends and intrepid fans braved the traffic nightmare and willingly (or perhaps begrudgingly) sacrificed one of the last sunny Sundays we are likely to have for months. And I am oh-so-grateful to each and every one of them for it!

decorations
Look at the pretty decorations!
I started with a brief thank you. I could have gone on for hours thanking everyone who played a part in this book, but I decided to spare those in attendance and kept the list as short as possible.
presentation
Here I am giving my presentation.
Then I gave a short reading from one of the In My Experience sidebars in the book. I started getting choked up and didn’t want to break down into ugly cry in front of all those people, so I cut it shorter than I had intended. Run away!
Josie Gillett for YUP
One of the inspiring teens presenting her organization.
My favorite part was when four local teens, whose organizations are among those featured in the book, presented a bit about what they do and where their groups are headed. They were all great speakers and held the audience in rapt attention.
signing closeup
I signed some books.
Then, it was time to sign books! I was so afraid I would spell someone’s name wrong, I even asked on the easy ones that I knew for sure I knew how to spell.
signing line zoomed out
I signed a lot of books!
By the end, though, my eyes were starting to cross. I hadn’t made any mistakes, so I let my guard down. One of the very last people in line is one of my dearest friends, whose name happens to be EXACTLY THE SAME AS MINE. Yes, you guessed it: I spelled it wrong. Fortunately, she has a good sense of humor, so we’ll probably be laughing about it for years to come.
Many heartfelt thanks to everyone who came and to Secret Garden Book Shop for hosting. I’m generally not much of a party person, and I really dislike being the center of attention. (Those giant posters of my face were a surprise from my hubby… eek!) But every moment of that launch event was a treat, and the experience is something I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.

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