Bravo to Cynthia Lord for her newest middle grade story, "A Handful of Stars." Where was this book when I was in elementary school? A Handful of Stars is exactly the type of book that would have helped hook me into reading. But back in the “old days” there weren’t many books that explored cultural differences within our own country with such insight and sensitivity.
Lilly lives with her grandparents above their general store on a small coastal town in Maine. She wants to raise money to pay for an operation that will restore the eyesight of her old dog. Lucky, her black lab, leads her into a friendship with Salma, a migrant worker from Florida of the same age. Lily learns that Salma’s life in the “cute little blue cottages” that sit near the blueberry packing plant, isn’t an easy one. Most of the town’s people keep their distance from the migrants who come from both inside and outside the U.S. Feathers are ruffled when Salma enters a contest that Lily’s once-best friend is expected to win. Through Salma’s experience, Lily grapples with the struggles her mother, who died when Lily was very young, went through as an outsider in this same town.
As Lily deals with rocky friendships and jealousy, she also comes to look upon bravery in a new way. “Today I’d only felt a little bit braver than I was scared. Just enough to tip the scales.”
In case you don't know my book, Big Box for Ben (Star Bright, 2011), here's the trailer - my one and only - that I made myself. Tomek Bogacki's illustrations are wonderful.
I've read my picture book, Book! Book! Book!, (illustrations by Tiphanie Beeke) to hundreds of children. I love watching their faces as I mimic the sounds of the animals and encourage them (the children) to join in, often with puppets on their hands. Recently, my granddaughter asked me to read it to her, and in doing so, I could look closely at the illustrations. What a delight to have the illustrations facing me! Though I studied them long ago, when the book was published (2001), I felt like I was discovering some of the details for the first time. A few simple brush strokes, which I'm sure weren't simple to execute, show the animal's emotional change from happy to sad as they watch the children leave the farm. Look at the bored mouse sitting next to the doll, and the forlorn duck holding the tug-of-war rope in the 3rd image. As a writer, I enjoy and appreciate illustrators' storytelling abilities.
One of the best things about having kids is learning to play like a kid again. For me, that began over 30 years ago. I wonder, if I had never had kids, would I be taking selfies with a pony on a cold winter's day? Or would I have been inside, attempting to do something "productive," such as doing my taxes OR writing an Op Ed piece on "How my son benefitted from having a pony," or organizing my office?
"The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time unlike, say, brain surgery.” Robert Cormier, author of The Chocolate War.
I am forever thankful that I don't have to live with my initial stab at writing a new story. I never get it right the first, or second or often the hundredth time. And speaking of chocolate, here's one more reason I enjoy sitting down at my desk each morning - so I can start my day with a cup of coffee and a piece of Fair-Trade dark chocolate.
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly but rarely admit the change it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” -Maya Angelou.
I can appreciate the beauty of the butterfly without understanding what happened inside the chrysalis. If I were inside that chrysalis, I'd be bowled over by the complexity of the change. Getting published is like being trapped inside a cocoon. From the inside, it's a long metamorphosis that includes research (yes, even for a simple picture book), revisions, critiques and more revisions. Those who have been on the inside, understand.
Talking about flexibility, watch Maya Angelou's poem, Harlem Hopscotch, being performed. http://www.mayaangelou.com/oprah-remembers-maya/