This is a hard day.
I am frightened for the most vulnerable among us, for our whole country, for our foreign relations, and honestly, for our whole planet. I am desolate at the end of the Obama era, which was not perfect, but which filled me with a pride in my country and a hope for the future that I had never felt as an American. It’s not helping that the song from the Hamilton musical, One Last Time, is playing in my head, as though on endless repeat.
The cast of Hamilton with President Obama. Photo courtesy of: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/61/Obama_greets_the_cast_and_crew_of_Hamilton_musical,_2015.jpg
It is easy to cry these days, and hard to do much else.
But I am incredibly privileged, with those privileges comes work. I have books to write, and food to cook. I have teenagers to parent and Congresspeople to call. I have signs to make and letters to write and stories to read and understand and share. There is so much to be done, and I’m tired already, but not as tired as so many people who have done so much more.
Like hundreds of thousands of others, I’m planning to march in one of the six hundred Women’s Marches this Saturday. I have friends who think this is a waste of time, that this is a feel-good indulgence of going through the motions. Who think that nothing will change.
They’re right, of course, and totally wrong. It will feel good. It will feel great to be among so many like-minded people, to get energy from the group and share a feeling that I am not alone. And it won’t make a difference, if by that we mean the new administration will not look at the million women, marching all through this country and around the world, and say, “Wow, they really mean it. I guess we’d better ensure quality healthcare and equal rights.”
photo courtesy of: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Obamas_and_the_Bushes_continue_across_the_bridge.jpg
Of course not. But action begets action, and voices amplify each other, and we are #StrongerTogether.
For anyone, really almost anywhere, who is reading this and wants to join a march, please do check out this website: https://www.womensmarch.com/sisters — there are marches happening all over, and it is very easy to plug into one. If you can’t march due to health, work, or family commitments, but really want to be a part of it, consider making a sign that another local marcher could carry or share. Or donate to support the marchers. Here are a bunch of other ideas: http://www.upworthy.com/thousands-will-be-in-dc-to-stand-with-women-heres-how-to-stand-with-them-from-home
Basically, if you want to feel like you’re a part of this movement, there are ways to do so, even if you can’t attend.
But afterwards, then what?
The energy, the signs, the chanting, the singing…it will all end, and then what?
Then we get back to work. As I wrote in an earlier post, I’ve committed to at least one act per day until the 2020 presidential election: an act of resistance, an act of activism, an act of gratitude or generosity. Sometimes my act can take a few hours, if I’m researching something for a new organization that’s working on political change. Sometimes my act can take 45 seconds, as I call Senators Warren and Markey and thank them for supporting an issue that matters to me. Sometimes my act is curling up and reading something that will open my mind and help me understand how best to serve.
I will do this Every. Single. Day. Because this is the job of citizen, and it’s one I’ve been phoning in for far too long.
So what do we do next?
STEP ONE: Well, I’d recommend starting by reading this:
It’s a guide written by former Congressional staffers who experienced the challenges of a small, well-organized, disruptive group who stood up against a government agenda. The punch line? The small group was the Tea Party, and the agenda was the progressive one that the Democrats hoped to enact. But the learning is there — like it or not, they were successful.
STEP TWO: Next, I would sign up for one or two of the hugely useful action email lists that have come into existence. These are well-vetted and thoughtful actions are easy to do. And because they come to you (in your inbox or Facebook page), it’s easy to keep abreast. It can be overwhelming — the bad news comes in so fast, and it can be hard to know where to start. But these offer a way to take a concrete step.
Here are a few:
If you are on Facebook, there are some excellent groups doing day-to-day, activist work. Many of them are “secret” groups, meaning you can’t search for them. But if you are unable to link up with any leave a message in the comments and I will try to share some options.
Here’s a hint: don’t try to do everything. But try to do something. And take a little time to figure out what the most effective “something” might be.
- Got time but no money? Maybe look for a place to volunteer to tutor English to recently arrived refugees, or mentor a kid.
- Got money but no time? Maybe set up a recurring donation to the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, Greenpeace, or another organization that will be greatly needed.
- Live in a “blue bubble” — a phrase used to describe very liberal enclaves, where Democrats are consistently in office? Keep an eye on Sisterdistrict and flippable and others who will be working to engage voters across districts and states.
- Hate making phone calls? Tough. Do it anyway, because by all accounts, they really do matter, and honestly, I’m here to tell you it’s not that bad. Even if you mumble and stutter and feel like a fool, it will be over in a minute and you will be heard. Here’s a great link on how to deal with making political phone calls if you have social anxiety: http://echothroughthefog.cordeliadillon.com/post/153393286626/how-to-call-your-reps-when-you-have-social-anxiety
STEP THREE: Take some time to educate yourself, and try to help start a dialogue that will educate others. How do you do this? Well, I know I’m biased, but I’d start by reading (of course).
Congressman John Lewis’s account of the Civil Rights movement, Walking With the Wind, is incredible. So is Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist. Also the incredible young adult novel All-American Boys. Still on my to-read list is White Trash: The 400-Year Untold Story of Class in America. Below are some reading lists with good suggestions.
Suggest some of these in book club, or for a family read. Download the audiobook and make it your commute. See if your local library or adult education program has any events that center on race, class, politics, privilege, or other important subjects. Actually GO to these events, even if you’re uncomfortable — you don’t have to speak up. In fact sometimes it’s better just to listen.
Another critical education task: educate yourself, your kids, your colleagues and your family about how to spot fake news. Both the left-wing media and the right-wing media are guilty of click-bait headlines and false statistics that provoke outrage without the facts.
Do better. Do better by committing to pay for content — journalists need to get paid, and in order for reputable media to pay them, they need subscribers. So consider subscribing to the New York Times, the Washingon Post, The Atlantic, and others. Then, do better by learning about fake news. Believe it or not, some of the best journalism coming out these days is in Teen Vogue. Yes, as in a fashion magazine for teens. But here’s a great article
they had on learning to spot fake news. (And yes, I am a paid subscriber!)
Also, this graphic is useful — share it widely. You may disagree with some of her placements; that’s fine. Just consider it a starting point for a research-based conversation, not a screaming match.
Courtesy of Vanessa Otero 2016 http://www.facebook.com/vanessa.otero.9619/posts/10155006385626062
STEP FOUR: Remember we are playing the long game. My mantra, when things feel overwhelming, is simple: Help the most vulnerable. Work toward a better future. When I’m spinning my wheels, that’s what I return to. Because at the end of the day, change will happen. It always does. But what form that change takes is up to us.
Photo courtesy of: https://www.flickr.com/photos/126015850@N02/15128683288
It’s the shortest day, today, which always feels important. One of my favorite poems in the world, by Susan Cooper, begins:
And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.*
Of course there are twenty-four hours today (duh!), but here in the northern hemisphere we will have the least amount of daylight of the whole year, barely nine hours. The rest of the twenty-four will be dim and dreary and void of sunlight.
It’s a hard day, a hard time of year, and this year, more than ever. Times seem dark indeed, when terror attacks rock Germany, when people are murdered in Turkey, when thousands die in Aleppo, when here at home, our nation has failed to live up to what we hope and dream it will be. Dark times indeed.
The winter solstice is the first official day of winter, something that often feels a little sarcastic in New England, when we’ve been shoveling snow for weeks and watching our hair freeze if we go out with it wet. It can seem like winter has already been here too long, and will last forever.
But here’s the thing: I LOVE the winter solstice. I love the shortest day, the day I wake up over an hour before the sun rises, and practice yoga and get my kids ready for school in the murky dimness.
Because the NEXT day….well. We turn back toward the sun, that’s what happens. Minute by minute, in increments too small to notice right away, the days get longer. They might be frigid, and we might get buffeted with blizzard conditions that chill us to our core, but regardless, the sun is returning.
Tomorrow, we will be turning back toward the light, and what we each choose to do with those hours and minutes of sunlight is up to us.
Welcome to winter, fellow-Northern-Hemisphere-dwellers! And as we move through these dark days, let’s all remember that the light will return. The real question is what we will do with ourselves in the meantime. Personally, I don’t plan to wait. I’ll be doing everything I can think of to bring sunshine into our world. Hope you join me.
*This poem is read every year at a wonderful play called Christmas Revels, and in fact you can buy notecards with the poem here
I don’t want to talk about this. I don’t want to write about it, or read about it, or learn more. Within the borders of our country I worry about our democracy; within the borders of my home there is snow falling outside the window and the smell of baking within. I don’t want to pay attention to what’s happening across the world, in Syria.
But I have to.
Aleppo is a city in the north of Syria. It used to be one of the country’s largest cities, with 2.3 million people. It was, actually, quite lovely.
By anjci [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
But it has been in the crosshairs of a war for four long years, and it no longer looks like that. It looks like a bombed-out shell.
By Gabriele Fangi, Wissam Wahbeh [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
This article from the BBC
has photos of the before and after — old markets, historic sites, neighborhoods. The article also talks about who is fighting, and why, but the point, for those of us here, is not why, but who is left.
Recently the United Nations warned that over 100,000 civilians were trapped in the city as government forces pushed to take final control from the rebels who have been fighting them. Hospitals have been bombed. Food is running out. People are trapped and scared and the world is hearing this and not acting.
I don’t want to talk about this.
I don’t want to hear our United Nations ambassador Samantha Power, speaking to the Syrian government, saying “Are you truly incapable of shame? Is there literally nothing that can shame you? Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin?”
But we have to hear.
There are some incredible and heroic groups working to save people in Aleppo, and their stories move me almost as much as the tragedies of those who are trapped. I’ve donated money, given more donations as gifts in people’s names, and talked them up whenever the subject arises. But it doesn’t feel like enough.
So when my wonderful author-friend Rachael Allen (who writes some of the most hilarious and swoony YA when she’s not being a neuroscientist or SuperMom), contacted me and said she wanted to do SOMETHING for Aleppo, I was delighted. She wanted to try and rally the children’s writing community to raise more funds, and I was grateful to her for having the idea, and for galvanizing me to action.
Here we go.
Rachael and I decided that we’d try a fast Twitter-based fundraiser, where (hopefully) numerous authors will offer prizes to those who donate to one of the worthy organizations helping in Aleppo. Here’s how it will work:
WHERE: TWITTER – look for the hashtag #KidlitForAleppo
WHAT: A group of authors will offer these prizes under the hashtag #KidlitForAleppo on Twitter. Prizes will include critiques, signed books, signed advanced reader copies of books not out yet, and more!
WHO: Anyone who donates to one of the following organizations, or another proven organization doing work on the ground in Aleppo. Just screenshot your donation (keep private info private, of course) and respond to the author’s tweet.
RULES: Only one prize per donation, using the honor system. Don’t be a jerk.
DONATE: Any one of the following organizations are amazing and worth your money:
There are other trustworthy organizations worth donating to, and certainly if people choose to donate that counts toward a prize. Some other groups mentioned here are also doing good work.
AUTHORS: If you want to participate, email me or just jump in tomorrow on Twitter, offering a prize for those who donate, using the hashtag #KidlitForAleppo.
ASPIRING WRITERS/EDUCATORS/READERS/BOOK LOVERS: Please consider getting on Twitter tomorrow and searching the hashtag, and making a donation. Some wonderful authors will be offering prizes, all for a good cause.
So, again, I don’t really want to talk about this, and I don’t know if it will make a difference. The whole “light a candle instead of cursing the darkness thing” — it can feel pointless. After all, one candle doesn’t feel like much. But when everyone lights a candle…
Well. The light gets brighter, that’s all.
By Anonymous contributor (Anonymous contributor) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
How do we start at the beginning?
Do we begin with an election, an election between two flawed human candidates, but also one where one candidate had demonstrated, through decades of actions, her qualifications, and the other had demonstrated (also through decades of actions), his political inexperience, his bullying, and his lack of self-control?
Or do we begin farther back, with President Obama and those who wanted to insist that the election of a black president meant the United States no longer had any race issues?
Or even farther, to the inescapable fact that our nation, our “city on a hill,” was built on twin towers of shame: the eradication of the people who lived here before the first wave of immigrants arrived, and the tradition of slavery that ended not so long ago?
I don’t know. America’s history is in many ways no worse than most other modern nations. And there is much to be proud of here, much that Americans rightly hold up as the beacon they hope to be to the world. This is a complicated, complex issue that many smart people will spend years unraveling. But I am a storyteller, and more specifically, a children’s book writer, so I am trying to make sense of this story.
All stories have heroes and villains, scapegoats and tragic missteps. The best stories make us think…really think…about who is good or bad, and how the events unfold.
Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election to a man who has, for the last year, been a megaphone of fear and anger for this country. His election tells us less about him — a funhouse mirror that warps and distorts what it reflects in America — than it does about our country. People are angry about their loss of the American dream (whether mythical or real), about the fact that they used to know their place in the world and now that place is less clear, about the fact that while President Obama talked about hope and opportunity, they felt stuck and lost and unable to see a path forward. It matters hugely why so many people felt so lost and betrayed, and which policies and politicians truly failed our population. But that’s not the story I’m going to talk about.
I’m going to talk about what comes next.
My heart hurts, actually hurts in my chest, and has since last Tuesday night. I ping-pong back and forth between slowly feeling better, slowly getting back into some parts of my normal life (cleaning the bathroom, figuring out who’s taking care of the cats next week), and feeling incapacitated with sadness and fear over what comes next. In some ways I’m afraid to get back to work, because I’m afraid that I, as a white woman in a small liberal Northeast city, will lose focus. I’ll go back to tutting over the news, and donating money when I have it, and forget that an earthquake just jolted my country. I can’t allow that to happen. We are surrounded by damage, and the long-term consequences are unknowable.
One action that people took right after the election was to put a safety pin on their jacket. This small gesture began in England after that country voted, in a similarly surprising and upsetting vote, to leave the European Union. The vote was largely related to how the British felt about the recent influx of immigrants, and the result was a resounding and angry statement that they are not welcome. The safety pin, there and now here, is supposed to symbolize a welcoming presence; a way to say, without words, “I am on your side. I did not vote to exclude you. I will stand up for you.”
After last Tuesday, the safety pin movement grew quickly. On social media people posted photos of themselves proudly wearing a pin, and a group of children’s book illustrators created beautiful artwork of inclusivity, showing their characters wearing the symbolic safety pin. But then a backlash arrived. People of color, and of other maligned groups, spoke up that those wearing pins were not actually willing to speak their values, and were standing by while vulnerable individuals were being harassed. There were accusations of people wearing pins to feel good, but not to support those who needed it. In response, some white folks felt angry and hurt, like their goodwill was being thrown back in their faces. Understandable, I suppose. Those who are most at risk do not want to see feel-good symbols that don’t translate to action. Those who truly want to create a safe space don’t want to feel accused and defensive, like they are the bad guys.
Stories, again, are complicated.
Another common response after last week was a call to get over the animosity of the election, to move forward together, and to give the new administration a chance. These are all reasonable ideas. Or would be, in a reasonable time. But as Maya Angelou famously said, “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” The president-elect has shown us who he is. He has mocked a physically disabled reporter. He has called for his political opponent to be jailed, despite the fact many aggressive FBI-led campaigns against her have turned up no wrongdoing. He has spoken of assaulting women. He has called for a religious group to be rounded up and registered. Again, in a normal time, moving forward and assuming the best of someone is reasonable. In this moment, the calls to do so are really calls to normalize and accept what is not normal.
Online and in real life, I’m surrounded by like-minded people. We are all mourning, trying to make sense of what just happened. Specifically we are trying to both understand how we can be so disconnected from our country, and also to figure out what happens now. This presidency is unprecedented in modern times. Someone running on a platform of autocracy and fear has won the highest office in the land. Will our system of checks and balances be enough to hold him to what I’ll call the ongoing workaday hurtful policies against women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, healthcare, global environment and so on? Or are we in uncharted waters? Will he cut off access to the media? Force a religious registration that echos horribly of Germany at the rise of Hitler? What is going to happen? What can we do?
What can we do?
When writing my books, I sometimes lose my way. I get bogged down in details and write paragraphs, sometimes whole chapters, that do nothing to move the story forward. When this happens I have to regroup, read over my original outline, and try to remember what I’m aiming for. That is where I am now. I cannot get bogged down. I have to remember the story I want to tell, and that is a story of resistance and positive action.
So what can we do?
Here’s what I think:
- I think that wearing a safety pin, or an “I’m with Her” button, or a Black Lives Matter button, is a great idea. It shows others that you support something and that you’re willing to show it.
- I think wearing a safety pin and not practicing HOW you are going to intervene, how you will speak up on a subway, in the cafeteria, on the school bus, in the PTO meeting, is a bad idea. It’s scary and hard to stand up. It takes preparation and practice. Here are three great links on how to figure out what to do:
- I think the biggest risk right now is that people who are angry and want change will walk away from this movement. That people of privilege will get offended or feel unwelcome, or that people who are most vulnerable will get angry or despair. I think we — meaning all of us who oppose the direction of our country — need to stay focused on our common goals, even as we disagree and debate and speak truth to each other. Complacency and cynicism are our enemies. We must fight against them.
- I think those most at risk have a right to be angry and skeptical that the most privileged among us will keep fighting. I think those of us with privilege have to sit with that, not get defensive, and work to prove that yes, we are going to keep showing up.
- I think we need to speak up when it is scary to speak, and listen when it is uncomfortable to listen.
- I think walking away from the fight is a terrible idea.
- I think that even as we all work together on the big issues, we also each individually need to pay attention to the smaller issues close to home. In the children’s book world, the safety pin artwork is glorious, and hopefully teachers will use them in classrooms to cultivate inclusivity and dialogue. But let’s also look at publishing, and how much work we have to do to bring more diverse voices to children. Again, we need both. We need to stand up to overt hatefulness, and also look at more insidious systems that we ourselves might be complicit in maintaining.
- I think it is easy to be motivated now, but much harder to remain motivated for the next four years. To that end, I’ve created a challenge for myself, called #SustainedOutrage. I have pledged that every day, since the day after the election and until election day 2020, I will take an action for change. I will not get complacent and slip back into my privilege. I will not lose focus. I will keep on. What will I do for the next 1449 days? Not sure, but here’s a sample of what I’ve done so far:
- Set up a recurring monthly donation to the American Civil Liberties Union
- Wrote a letter of support to a dear friend who took weeks off from her job to work on the campaign
- Donated my books to an LGBT-friendly church in Montana that needed some love
- Called and wrote my elected officials to oppose the new president’s political appointments
- I hope you will join me with your own acts of #SustainedOutrage — share with me on Twitter or Facebook if so.
Finally, I think this story is far from over, and that we all need to write the next chapter together.
There is a general feeling that politics shouldn’t be discussed in a professional setting. I don’t always agree with this, but I try to keep my Ranty McRant pants in a hard-to-reach drawer, so I don’t pull them on too often. Mostly I write about books I love, or post photos of my cats, or other
totally irrelevant vitally compelling information.
(Here, here’s the cat. You’re welcome)
Boo cat living his best life.
That may be true in more typical election years, but this is not a typical year. This year the Republican candidate is an explicit racist, xenophobic bully who has not only spewed all kinds of dangerous hyperbole, but, even worse, has normalized this type of behavior so that all kinds of people — even kids — feel that it is okay to say out loud the racist, cruel, sentiments they feel.
Maybe it’s better this way. Maybe we’ve turned over the proverbial rock, and are allowing sunlight and air to hit the slimy, blind, wriggling creepy-crawlies beneath it. Maybe now that we, as a nation, see what is fermenting in our Obama-is-President-so-we-must-be-past-all-that-race-stuff country. This kind of hate is not new to the era of Drumpf, as I call him, but he has legitimized it. Now instead of whispering, more Americans feel comfortable shouting their distrust of Muslims, their anger against immigrants, their lack of concern over the racial equality gap. He has made this okay.
Today I happened to read this post on the blog #DedicateYourNoTrumpVote (which has all kinds of compelling and moving stories). In it, an author writes about her son Omar, and how a fellow student said to him, “When Trump’s president, you’re out of here.”
One ten-year-old to another.
This one gut-punched me. I cried a little. And I realized that, as an author for kids, this IS my business. These are my customers, if you will. These are my market segment. These are my people. And they are scared.
And you know who else is scared, because they’re facing the brunt of this hate? The authors, illustrators, and creators of color who stand at the front lines and take hit after hit from cruel and ignorant people so that they can keep pushing toward the goal of more inclusive children’s literature. They stand between haters and readers, between racists and kids of color trying to find themselves and their stories in books. And for their pains they get death threats, hate mail, professional setbacks, and more.
So I’m going to go ahead and #DedicateYourNoTrumpVote to the kids I write for, but also for the warriors of #WeNeedDiverseBooks, who saw a problem and turned a complaint into a movement, who created internships for diverse young people to get into publishing, who put a spotlight on #OwnVoices titles by highlighting diverse authors telling their own stories, who who speak up again and again for those whose voices are continuously silenced. I dedicate my vote to them, and hope to keep walking with them, in order to form a more perfect union.
There are a lot of these justice warriors, but I dedicate my vote to a few who I Twitter-know well, and have actually managed to meet in real life once or twice: to Ellen Oh, and Mike Jung, and the wonderful magical Kaye (who prefers not to use her real name)
I dedicate it to everyone at We Need Diverse Books.
And I dedicate it to kids like Omar, who is scared of where he will belong in a post-Trumpian world. Because he belongs right here, and our job, as writers, parents, librarians, teachers, and humans, is to make him feel welcome.
UPDATE: Honestly compels me to admit I thought I posted this over two months ago. And I didn’t ever post it, which is more than a little bit embarrassing. So…um. Well. Here you go. A blog post.
No embarrassed cat here. NOPE. Move along.
On May 2nd I got to go back to one of my favorite bookstores in the world, Jabberwocky, and have a party for The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island. It was a blast. There were new readers, and old friends, and of course whoopie pies. (Because I’m of the opinion that all good launch parties require whoopie pies, though I’ve learned cupcakes can work too…please note these bookish cupcakes we had at Blue Bunny bookstore just last weekend!)
Second books are very different beasts than debuts, for a bunch of reasons. Not better or worse, but just different. Expectations are lower — authors know what to expect, and how it goes — or higher — authors hope that readers and librarians will be excited for the new title! Authors do less promotion — they know it doesn’t have a real impact on sales, or they do more promotion — they hope they have a base of devoted fans who will rush out for the new one.
Mostly, for me, I was just deeply, totally grateful that I get to do this gig. As I say all the time at school visits: “I lie to children for a living. It’s a great job!”
Anyway, for those of you who couldn’t make it, I’ll share my thoughts here. I’m also happy to send along fun bookmarks, signed bookplates, stickers, and more if you or your kiddo want some fun Fletcher swag. (Sadly I can’t send a whoopie pie, as there are none left. My son, in a HUGELY thoughtful and generous gesture that will pay dividends for years, actually saved me an espresso cream whoopie before they were all gone. That was true love).
In some ways it’s hard to believe it’s been two years since I stood here and talked about The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, and in other ways that feels like ages ago…and that Sam and Jax and Eli and Frog, like my own kids, would be so much older, bigger, farther away from me.
But in books, thankfully, we can slow down the clock, so even though it’s already been two years, I can bend time, and pretend only a few months have passed.
The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island takes place just a few months after the first book ends, but it’s more of a companion novel than a sequel. As the cover suggests, it’s a summertime story, and I have to tell you…it was a delight to write. It really was.
Writers often tell horror stories about second novels, about trying to follow up a debut with something new, and feeling paralyzed and unable to write.
That didn’t happen. At least not with this book — ask me about the third book I just finished!
But truly, this story was easy…it unfolded on the page as quickly and happily as summer itself. Because here’s the thing — I love summer. I really do. Part of it is primitive — I think our caveman selves know that more warmth and light means better chances of survival, and better food. And part of it is the luckiness of my life — my summers have been spent playing and working in beautiful places with people I love.
Now as it happens I know a lot of people in education reform, trying to make our schools better, so that they can better serve kids who are living and learning and working in this 21st century world of ours. And I hear a lot about Summer Slide — which, though it sounds delightful and possibly dangerous or at least very splashy — is actually all about learning loss over the summer. And I also know that summer months can be brutally hard for working families to figure out, because summer camps and childcare and all those things cost money. So I totally get the movement to change how we think of summer, this archaic and old-fashioned idea that started with the cycles of life on a farm.
I get it. Summer vacation — whole months away from school! — is a problem. I know that summer can’t always be this perfect, and that the system might have to change. But one of the wonderful things about writing stories is that I GET TO MAKE THINGS UP. And so, for the Fletchers at least, I can ignore all the realities and just remember the best, more perfect fun that summer can bring.
Living here in New England, one of the reasons I love summer so much is that it feels so very short. On June 21st, the summer solstice, we celebrate and revel in the start of the season, but even as we’re doing so we realize that, starting tomorrow, the days are getting shorter again. In books, and in real life, kids get older, and things change, sometimes for the better, and sometimes not. I hope that everyone who reads about the Fletchers on Rock Island finds a way to revel in this summer, to remember what they love best, from popsicles and blue tongues, to concerts in city parks, to cannonballs in the pool, to swims in the endless ocean.
Because loving those summer days is really what this book is all about.
I look quite stern here. Perhaps I’m learning that the whoopie pies are all gone.
Anyway, I hope you get a chance to read The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island. I hope you like it. And I hope your summer, like the Fletchers, is filled with ice cream, adventures, good friends, and the feeling that time really should stand still.
The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island is in the world today, and I am downright giddy! In fact, if you’re looking for me, I’ll probably be spinning, Sound-of-Music style, or flailing, Kermit style, (or possibly napping).
But because I want to celebrate with all of you as well, I decided to throw a little virtual party, where we can share our favorite summer memories. So head over to Twitter or Instagram and post a favorite summer photo with the hashtags #SummerisComing #GameofFletchers and you’ll be entered to win one of three amazing giveaways!
Each winner will receive:
- BOTH audiobooks — The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, and The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island
- A special custom tote bag that Sam, Jax, Eli, and Frog might have brought back from Rock Island
- A mystery summer novel, specially chosen by ME for YOU!
- (Other assorted stickers and fun things)
Sadly, the contest is US-based only, for purposes of not going broke on postage.
The contest will run from today through Sunday night (May 15th), and winners will be chosen by random. One entry per person, no matter how many adorable photos you post.
So go ahead! Tweet me your favorite photo at the beach, the pool, the local ice cream store, Central Park, an old dock…the sky’s the limit! Because the Fletchers and I have been waiting long enough! #SummerisComing!
People have asked me to re-post the order links, so here they are! Just a reminder, for reasons to boring to get into, early sales matter A LOT for books, and early customer reviews help push the book so that more people see it. So if you’re inclined, buy early and often!
Barnes & Noble for reviewing and ordering
Amazon for reviewing and ordering.
Goodreads for reviewing
So…I’m beginning to realize that with this whole Tempus Fugit year I’m having, it’s about to be May, and my next book, THE FAMILY FLETCHER TAKES ROCK ISLAND, is coming very soon! (Pictured below…my author copies! Huzzah!)
I am beyond excited to share this story.
Now sometimes friends say, apologetically, that they didn’t buy my book, that they took it out from the library, or borrowed it from a friend instead. Let me go on the record: that’s awesome! Do NOT apologize! Share it, pass it along, take it out from the library…as long as you don’t steal it or illegally download it, I’m happy.
Here’s the thing: you can help an author in a bunch of different ways, some of which don’t involve spending a dime. And because people have asked, here are some ways to support your favorite books.
1) Pre-order it. If you ARE going to buy it, consider pre-ordering it from your local bookstore or one of the online behemoths. I’ll put links below, to make it easy.*
2) Request it at your local library. They will get pretty much any book you ask for, so make it a point to ask!
3) LEAVE A REVIEW! Seriously, this matters more than you might think. The big three are Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes & Noble (links below). It does not need to be a thoughtful, college-essay-caliber assessment of the themes and subplots. You can literally write, “Great book!” and give it five stars, and that would suffice. If you DO write a thoughtful and insightful review, you can simply cut and paste it from one site to another. (Note: some don’t let you post reviews until the book is out, others you can review whenever).*
4) Give it as a gift! If you know kids, or if you give gifts to schools, consider gifting the books you love. Most authors will happily personalize or send along extra swag like bookmarks to make it even better.
Again, don’t ever apologize for not buying my books…share them, borrow them, stick notes in them and leave them on a park bench. I’m honestly grateful and delighted to know these stories are out in the world, no matter what.
Read on, xoxoxo Dana
IndieBound for pre-ordering.
Barnes & Noble for reviewing and pre-ordering
Amazon for reviewing and pre-ordering. (Note: you cannot review until the book is officially out, even if you read an early draft!)
Goodreads for reviewing
*If you are wondering why it matters to pre-order books, or why reviews are important for things like internet algorithms and the like, I’m happy to go into it, but it’s kind of long and boring and I won’t bother unless you ask.
I don’t blog a lot. I admit it. So if you’re looking for updates, please check my News page, and if you’re looking for links and procrastination and general brain ramblings, consider taking a look at my Facebook Author page, which is a great spot to find all of that.
However, I do occasionally have something to say, so check back here as well, if you don’t mind being disappointed.
For instance, the book I’m working on now includes a small Roman centurion who is photographed all around the United States. How did I ever come up with that, you ask??
Well…more to come on that later, (and for that matter, more on that book, which will be coming out in 2017!!!) But for now, I leave you all with this.
Those who know me will attest that I’m not a particularly handy or crafty type person. In fact I have been known to duct-tape the cuffs of my jeans, and my kids once asked, when they were quite young, “Mama, what’s that?” when they first laid eyes on an iron.
Those who know me also know I am not religious, by any traditional measure. I don’t practice an organized (or even disorganized) religion in a formal place of worship, though I do seek mystery and spirituality the the world around us, when I’m not busy seeking laundry or a missing soccer cleat or my inspiration for a book.
So as a non-crafty, non-religious-type person, it is odd that I love the holiday season so much. But I do. Long before humans put the current names on the current religious holidays, the earth turned away from the sun, and the days got colder and shorter. This changing of the seasons toward the shortest day has always mattered. The rituals of lighting candles, hanging evergreens, and singing have been human instincts long before our religions incorporated them into today’s traditions.
I love this time of year. It marks the death of the old year and the birth of the new, the start of winter and, paradoxically, the start of lengthening days toward spring. So yes, my non-religious, non-crafty self gets very excited come holiday season.
With all that said, I have one spectacular holiday tradition that I’m pretty proud of, and thought I’d share. I’m particularly proud because, while it looks adorable, it really comes from a pathological inability to throw away cute socks or good books. Also it involves no sewing (*shudder*) or god forbid…GLUE GUN. (They terrify me).
So what is this magic? A picture book advent calendar! This began when I realized that:
- We owned a ton of holiday/winter themed picture books
- They didn’t get much attention the rest of the year
- My kids were starting to move on to chapter books but I wasn’t willing to give these up
- I have a lot of unmatched tiny socks for absolutely no reason
A bunch of years ago, I decided to take the holiday books out of circulation the rest of the year, hiding them away in my closet (not with the rest of the Christmas stuff, since I need them on December 1st, and I definitely DON’T need to be rifling through boxes of ornaments and stockings at 11:30 pm on November 30th, thanks for asking). The first few years we didn’t have quite enough books, so I borrowed a few from the library or from friends. But luckily or unluckily, truly gorgeous holiday classics keep being published, and while I try to be disciplined about picture books (since my kids are teenage-ish now), sometimes I have to add a new one. Anyway, I keep them in a pile in my room, and bring them down once the day’s sock has been opened.
Here are the books:
While there are lots of good ones, some of the favorite titles are:
- The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
- Olive, The Other Reindeer
- The Polar Express
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas (duh)
- The Shortest Day
- A Child’s Christmas in Wales
- Little Tree
- The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree
- Who’s That Knocking on Christmas Eve
- Night Tree
- All the gorgeous Robert Sabuda paper art pop-up books
I should also note that, as a God’s-Greatest Hits kind of family, where we celebrate both Jewish and Christian traditions, most of these books trend toward the secular, though there are a few really lovely ones (like One Winter’s Night by Diane Dillon) that tell the Christmas story in a way that allowed me to cover the facts without making me too uncomfortable with the religious aspects.
As pictured here, I took twenty-four tiny little baby socks and mittens, a piece of ribbon, and some clothespins, and set them up on the wall.
I typed up the book titles, printed them out, and cut them into little strips that could be tucked into the socks. Some days I also tucked in a marble, a tiny eraser, a chocolate, or some other little treat. (But not all days…because kids, like dogs, are easily trained, and after a few disappointed looks when “only” the book came out, I backtracked.)
Some titles correspond to specific days — we have a wonderful book called The Shortest Day, all about the solstice and the traditions that have surrounded it, from the druids to modern day — and that one gets read on December 21st. The Night Before Christmas, of course, is in the last sock. The Nutcracker, on the years we’ve gone to the ballet, is on that date. But otherwise, I just shove them in there.
My big grown-up kiddos still get excited when the familiar titles come out. Sometimes we have to delay a reading because of homework or late night hockey, sometimes the teen listens with one ear while checking his phone, but regardless, the tradition is still going strong. And I love revisiting these books, and seeing the tiny socks each year. Especially because no glue gun was required.
As mentioned above, we are Jewish and Christian, and so celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas. While there is always more hoopla for Christmas, I will add that I also have amassed a rather wonderful collection of Hanukkah books, and the top ones do come out on the eight nights of Hanukkah. (Though there are no socks. Sorry about that).
A few favorite Hanukkah books, for those who might want them:
- Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins
- The Hanukkah Guest
- A Light in Every Window
Happy solstice season, however you celebrate!