Archive for the ‘Lanie: Girl of the Year 2010’ Category

A time to write and a time to figure out next steps

After all the fun of creating Ready Set Go Books for Ethiopia in 2017, I reluctantly admit it’s time to think about next steps.

In 2016, Stephanie and Troy and Nahosenay and Yacob met with those young illustrators in Ethiopia and read them a few of the simple stories I had written. I was charmed–and dismayed all at the same time.

art work 3

How were we going to get from that one lion to all the illustrations needed for my story based on an Ethiopian saying about lions and spiders?

Back in Portland, the answer came in the form of an eleven-year-old who showed not only great artistic talent but also great determination to figure out all the postures of the lion, page after page.


Now even my story about a runaway rolling injera has found a volunteer illustrator up to the demands of the story!


I promised going into this project that I was going to put on my artistic hat and not try to solve production and distribution. Luckily, between Ethiopia Reads and Open Hearts Big Dreams and WEEMA and a handful of other NGO supporters, we’ve been able to get a few of the books read in Ethiopia…enough to know that–as my sister puts it–adults and kids would glom onto these little books like iron to magnets.

Now more volunteers have stepped forward–a bunch of them in Seattle as the organizers and visionaries behind this event on December 9, coming right up!


2018 will be the year of figuring out production and distribution. We’ve experimented enough to find out a lot of what DOESN’T work. I know there are enough creative brains engaged in this project to figure out what does. Up with Ethiopians and Americans working together to figure out steps for reading…for all the power of ideas unlocked when people can share words on a page across continents.






It’s fall and that means time to write!

It’s fall! Most of my apples have brown fuzzy centers (since I don’t use any pesticides in my yard) and then every once in a while I cut open one that is beautiful.  Yesterday, traveling birds also stopped by the yard to feast on elderberries. The world is bursting with good

And then there are the wildfires. And the floods. And the long, hard slog of cleaning up after disaster up-ends everything. Whew do I know that story (and the urge to tell the stories of our disasters that is so powerful and often healing).


The scary and the hard and the beautiful all squashed together…I think…is part of what compels us humans to make art.

We also feel compelled to find the small things we can do to keep despair and darkness at bay. For me right now, that’s the work I do in my yard and with Ready Set Go books. Flinging those stranded starfish off the beach one starfish at a time.


#pollinationrocks (created at two library programs for PLANET JUPITER here in Portland)

Planet Jupiter by Jane Kurtz – Review by Jennifer Jacobson

Sweet words from a reader!

Nerdy Book Club

I have been eagerly awaiting Planet Jupiter, the newest middle-grade novel by Jane Kurtz.  Kurtz’s novels contain the number one thing I search for in stories: HEART.  Planet Jupiter is no exception. It is a deeply layered and incredibly moving. For this reason alone, I want to thrust it into the arms of young readers, teachers, and librarians. But it also contains an oft forgotten truth.

Jupiter is a girl with agency. When Paddy Wagon, the van that keeps her freewheeling family on the road breaks down, Jupiter saves money to repair it. When her older brother feels the need to stay put and earn a regular paycheck, she plans to bring him (and her rolling-stone father) back into her orbit. When Topher (her mother’s heretofore supportive friend) moves on, Jupiter scatters the blessed thistle to keep him away for good. But it’s when her seven-year-old cousin, Edom, arrives…

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Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Ah. Every author’s dream question! I recently was asked it about my new middle grade novel, Planet Jupiter.

01 cover

Some authors have flippant answers…from the idea fairy. I capture them tumbling under my bed with the dust bunnies. I sometimes point out that a novel has to have interesting and unusual ideas for every scene–and that maybe a better question is, “Where do you get your details?”

In the interest of demystifying the writing process just a little, I show how various details in my books have come from memories, observation, and research–even if in the end, there is something deeply mysterious about the whole stew of it all, and how we take a spoonful and shake our heads and say, “needs something.” How we find something to try. How we know whether or not we’ve created the effect we want.

With Planet Jupiter, I can vividly remember where I stumbled on some of my details. For example, I agreed to be part of a reading night for the school where my brother, Chris Kurtz, was teaching in Portland, Oregon. One of his students introduced me to her twin. The way the two of them described their experiences made me burst out laughing. So I went to school to interview them about twin-dom.



By the next school year, I’d finished many drafts and gotten feedback from my editor, so Chris and I decided it would be okay if I came back to school and read the entire novel aloud to his third graders.

I sang songs for them. They sang songs for me. Every time I read a chapter, we discussed Jupiter and Edom’s lives and feelings and struggles and worries.


I asked if they knew what buskers were (a word I’d only recently learned, myself, for what I’d called “street performers”). Not only had most of them seen buskers around Portland, one boy had been busking with his family all over the world! Wowie zowie on that.

A couple weeks ago, I returned to school to show the Advanced Reader Copies of Planet Jupiter. Embarrassingly enough, I told the students that when I was first working on writing the entire story–the year I interviewed the twins–this group would have been in second grade.

Chris classroom

And the group I read the revised-and-ever-revising novel to? They were in third grade, then, and in fifth grade now.


If you’re a writer–if you’re me, anyway–it takes a long, long time and ever so many details before you actually get to share the stew with your friends.

But then the feast is delicious!


On Being Grateful to readers

I was thanking my artistic friend Stephanie Schlatter today on the phone for her support of the new Ready Set Go books, and she said something I’ve heard from other people I’ve thanked in the past few weeks–I didn’t do much it was your determination blah blah blah. But here’s the thing…


On our way to Maji

If Stephanie hadn’t wanted to go create art in Maji, Ethiopia last year…if Maureen (seen with me at one of our hotels on the way) hadn’t created tissue paper art with kids at the bookmaking day in Addis Ababa…if Troy hadn’t scanned the kids’ art and created a prototype book…

turtle…if Stephanie and Dr. Ann Porter in Grand Forks, ND, hadn’t financially supported us with materials and to help pay for design and translation…if people in Portland like Ann Griffin and Laurie Curtis and Beth Neel and others hadn’t helped set up a bookmaking day here…if Molly Curran hadn’t talked to her daughter’s school and teachers hadn’t said YES…

Findley 2

…if WEEMA and Ethiopia Reads hadn’t paid for a printing and wanted to distribute the books in Ethiopia…and if a whole other army of volunteers and supporters hadn’t stepped up…

…these kids and adults wouldn’t have instantly stuck their noses into the books and started to read and talk and laugh and love them.


Really and truly…it takes readers to make a book a book.

Creating books

I’ve published an interesting bunch of 30+ books–fiction, nonfiction, picture books, easy readers, middle grade and young YA novels. I’ve written articles and short stories and magazine pieces and grant proposals and memos. (When I taught Business and Technical Writing at the University of North Dakota, one of my favorite assignments was a memo announcing a new no-smoking policy: words have weight and reverberations.)

Never before have I been the one in charge of shepherding books from a glimmering idea…an urge of a story wanting to be written…all the way to kids reading it for the first time.


But then along came Ready Set Go Books.

First, I got to inspire some illustrations and even try my own hand at some.


A few kids helped with writing the stories, but mostly that’s been the job of my older sister and me, two writers who used to love making up and acting out stories when we were kids in Ethiopia and who traveled back to that beloved spot last year.


We’re pretty tough editors of each other’s and our own writing, too.

But then came things I’ve never had to think about–like layout. One of my author-illustrator friends helped by creating thumbnails for one of the stories I’d written. (It was about a lion, and she’s published a book about lions!)

A young illustrator then took Jo’s thumbnails and turned them into characters for one of the Ready Set Go books.

2016 lionlion

It’s been great fun to think about the impact that page turns have on the pacing and interest of a story. Not as much fun…copy editing. LOTS of it.

WEEMA logoEastside display

But now, thanks to lots of guidance and help from Eastside Printing in Portland, donors, creative volunteers, and an NGO (WEEMA) that ordered 1000 books, I’ll soon get to see kids reading the first 10 books that exist (so far) in four languages.

Wowie zowie.   Ready.   Set.   Go.

at the printer

Blogging for Ethiopia Reads

I’ve written a few blog posts to share the new bookmaking project with Ethiopia Reads supporters.  The second one just went up today:

Meanwhile, as I describe where the inspiration came from for these new stories, I am blown away by the powerful example of how Stephanie Schlatter as a painter gets similar flashes of inspiration from the world she sees:

The road between Tum and Maji as we returned one evening last month…acaciainspire2-3616.jpg

And one of Stephanie’s paintings.


I also was awash with warm memories of the Ethiopia Heritage and Culture Camp near DC as I looked through pictures of the time my son and his wife and their kids joined me.

Ellemae at camp

Noey at camp

Awwwww.  So glad they worked with me on creating these new stories for Ethiopia Reads.

An Ethiopian Diary: From Maji to Tum

Writers and all other artists try to tap into vivid, surprising, primal moments and details in order to spark the vision. So powerful to see how Stephanie does it.

Stephanie Schlatter Art

acaciainspire2-3616.jpg The view that inspired so much.

Many painting in this Ethiopia series were inspired by that magical moment on the road from Maji to Tum when the sun was setting and the mountains glowed as they rolled on all around us.

acacia1-3616 24 x 48, acrylic

All of us four painters who were a part of An Ethiopian Odyssey II were glowing, basking in the warmth of a perfect day.  We had trekked to a waterfall, saw the vast dramatic expanse of Nafis Bir and brought the Polaroid out in the town square, with many memorable exchanges.

acacia2-3616 24 x 8, acrylic

Our truck was bopping along the ever-twisting and turning road and suddenly, this acacia tree was before us, popping out of the landscape like a regal, proud ancestor. It’s given me loads of inspiration, burning the memory even deeper in my mind. This is a joy of painting, to be…

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An Ethiopian Diary: All 21 Ethiopian Odyssey II Paintings!

I write…Stephanie paints…deep gratitude for seeing my magic world through her eyes.

Stephanie Schlatter Art


I know as the year goes on I’ll be painting more in this series, but for now, it’s a wrap!

When you have a concept of a series, it’s like something bubbling up inside you. You’re bursting at the seems to get all these images held inside of you out. Especially if you are a landscape painter who has just been to one of the most beautiful places on earth. Especially when you have been traveling with other artists who inspire you and with whom you’ve had the time of your life.

But alas, I came home with a crushing jet lag (eight-hour time difference, 30 hours in transit), the usual culture shock, a cold and a pile of “catch up.” I was delayed in my start. But maybe that was a good thing because once I started this series, I could not stop. It was like running down a hill…

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An Ethiopian Odyssey: The Final Days (Making Books)

No matter how much I thought about the bookmaking ahead of time, I could never have guessed all the things I would learn on this adventure!

Stephanie Schlatter Art


The rest of my days in Ethiopia found me in the capital city. I’m not a city girl; no matter the country, I love the countryside. Addis Ababa is a bustling, rapidly growing city. It reportedly has a population of 3,384,569, with a growth rate of 3.8 percent, but  both numbers are widely considered underrated, according to Wikipedia.

But it gives you an idea. The pollution and chaos cannot be overstated. I try to spend as little time here as possible, but I still have some work to do. So I’m resigned to a few more days. The city has a certain energy and bustle that is charming, but for me the charm lasts about an hour, so let’s go visit a few artist studios and make some books and get me out of here.

First is bookmaking day. My dear friend Jane Kurtz is a very accomplished children’s book …

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