Archive for December, 2012


New Year often feels like a time for a big leap–or at least a big step. Preferably forward. Three years ago at the end of December I headed to Chicago for what became an intense year of meeting fans of Lanie. Could anything be sweeter than talking to readers of that age?chi fam

Listening to those youngsters tell me about gardens and yards and bugs and butterflies made me want to write the novel for young readers that will come out this year.   It made me fall in love with my garden all over again, a love that became requited once I moved to Portland.

These rainy wintry days as I walk out and survey the garden, I like seeing the plants that flunb themselves all over in the spring.  A lot of them are still moving, creeping out over the bricks and curbs.


I like leaps.  But a lot of good things move slowly.  When I was a child, we crept up Maji mountain in a Jeep, often going so slowly that my sisters and I could hop out and walk for a while.  In the smooth spots, we would stand and let the wind whoosh our hair and shout, “Super highway!”  We made up stories about all the plants and rocks around us and let those stories unfold bit by bit.

Maj mountain

Every teacher knows the faith it takes to believe that one bit piles on another bit and gradually makes something real and new.

Bit by bit.  Word by word.  Dab by dab. Rock by rock.  Bring on 2013!

1 mercato readingart with students


Christmas ho ho ho

Christmas joy–in the house shared by the teacher and nurse who lived in Maji–the only other English-speakers besides our family–and more recently!Christmas morningEllemae decorating

1 Christmas739Christmas elf


mom+4girlsMy mom homeschooled me for my first three-four years of school–and I loved school.   She used to laugh and tell the story of this exchange.  She asked–when she started classes with my older sister–“Do you want to join Caroline in school?”

I asked, “Do I have to?”

“Only if you want to.”

But that wasn’t what I wanted to hear at all.  “No, Mom,” I said.  “Say I have to.”

I wanted to be a real student.  And when I did go off to boarding school in Addis Ababa as a nine-year-old, I learned the feeling of homesickness–but I loved having a library and I loved being on a team.  At recess, we would pour out of the classrooms and tear onto the softball field trying to get to pitcher or catcher or first base or batter…please not right field!  My school was small.  Everyone who wanted to be on the team could be on the team.  And I always wanted to be on the team.  (I’m the one on the left above.)

author friendsOne fateful day after I’d started publishing children’s books, I made a decision to go to the huge American Library Association conference when it was in New Year City.  That’s when I met my team of wild women children’s book writers.  We’ve stayed together in cities all over the country.  We’ve written and read and felt the wounds and fires of this artistic life together.

Vermont College MFA program has become my writing team in a different way.

Boot Camp for Children’s and YA writers.

Very bonding.

And flat out HARD

But writing is hard.  What would I do without other authors to scoop me up and wrap me in a virtual quilt and give me cocoa and plop me in a rocking chair when I can’t even move?

Last weekend and this weekend I was in Seattle doing the annual events to raise money for Ethiopia Reads (  WHAT is it about Seattle?

Book love.


Courage for start ups.

Ethiopian Americans and book lovers and adoptive families came last weekend and this weekend and celebrated the idea that great young minds should have a way to gather and explore and celebrate and share ideas.Seattle team

In reading in writing in discussion in art.

In school.

This team flew in from Iowa and NYC and New Hampshire.  I took the train up from Portland.

We filled sugar bowls.

And cream pitchers.

We lugged books and baskets.

We tipped chairs.

We made up speeches and read descriptions of auction items.

Not the most glamorous stuff in the world.

But joyful anyway.  Because we’re supporting people like Sallamnesh, who works alongside Temesgin as an onsite assistant manager where the new kindergarten-library is being built.  When some of the young women of the community asked about her role in construction, Cien writes in his blog, she kept the words short and grabbed a hammer and started swinging.  And the result of that?

School!  Reading.  Books.  In the place where I learned to read.

Azedebo the fence is on its way 065


Stories without words?

dancersI tell stories with words.

Words are the thing I moosh and goosh and smoosh around as potters smoosh clay…the things I shape and eventually–oh! I love that part–polish and smooth.

Words make us feel things.

Think things.

Words bubble in our blood and brains.

When I was in Seattle last weekend speaking at the Ethiopian Community Center about Open Hearts Big Dreams and Ethiopia Reads ( I watched these dancers and thought about the ways we tell stories without words.

I thought that again when I got home and watched this book trailer about a book by a fellow VCMFA faculty member.

young artistAnd as I got ready for the second Seattle event, an auction and dinner, with art donated by Stephanie Schlatter who creates opportunities for kids in Ethiopia to put color to paper for the first time.

In some ways, Stephanie is lucky.

When we work on book opportunities around the world, we have to think about what language the story is written in.   Someone may be able to look at the cover of one of my Lanie books and know it’s about a girl and plants and bugs and butterflies…but to feel much of anything, that person has to be able to decode black squiggles on a white page.

Or maybe a screen.

And unless those squiggles make a sound in that person’s brain…a sound that makes sense…even decoding is no good.

Reading starts in a deep down place where kids get a chance to notice shapes on paper and get to feel a jolt of communication even with someone who doesn’t speak the same language.  Look at Stephanie’s page and see if that jolt doesn’t happen for you.

Seattle dancersHere’s hoping for lives full of telling

and dancing

and miming

and reading

and painting

and potting

and sharing

the stories of our special spots on this earth.


And here’s to teams in Seattle and Grand Rapids and Grand Forks and other places that are volunteering so much time to spread the ripples.