Posts Tagged ‘publishing’

The joys and agonies of bookmaking

Early in 2016, my sister Caroline Kurtz and I took a group of artists to Maji, Ethiopia, the place where she and I spent long, magical days making up and acting out stories–and where I learned to read.

artist car

When we returned to Addis Ababa, we tried our hand at a bookmaking workshop–the first time I truly faced the challenges of actually creating books rather than being the person who writes the words.


Luckily for me, one of the artists from the trip–Troy Zaushny–took the individual pictures children had created after listening to Yacob and Nahosenay read the stories aloud and used digital design to create a digital version of a first book.


My dream was to have playful, appealing, colorful, culturally appropriate and easy-to-read books in local languages. Back in Portland, Caroline and I found ready volunteers to help with writing and illustration…we had to hunt much harder and follow many dead-end paths with translation and design. In the end, under the guidance of East Side Printing here in Portland, we did a lot of the layout ourselves, discovering why book publishers have to hire people to handle design, fonts, copy editing, etc. What an education!

But a year later, WEEMA, an NGO that works in the rural area of Kembata-Tembaro where they have built a public library and started some kindergartens, got a donation for 600 books. Caroline will also carry some books for an Ethiopia Reads school in Oromia when she travels to Ethiopia next month. What an accomplishment of volunteers using their talents to share book love!


Can’t wait to start on the next ten!



American girl, Ethiopian girl

The children’s book world is a small one.  No sooner do you insult someone in your publishing life than she shows up as the new marketing director who has absolute control over your new book :>  Authors support authors in many times and ways, too–laughing together, empathizing over the agony, celebrating the shiny spots.  It’s hard to get a big ego when you’re a children’s book author.  I love the generosity in places like the Vermont College MFA in Children’s and YA literature residencies.

So it was that one of my author friends met author Paul Acampora at Kindling Words and discovered that his daughter had posed for the Lanie books I wrote.  She dialed me up on her cell.  Next thing I knew, we were saying that a joint book signing would be a hoot.  I immediately thought…and let’s make it a fundraiser for Ethiopia Reads.

Paul told me that his daughter turned out to be eerily close to the Lanie character.

Here she is putting out food for birds.

It turned out she’s an outside girl, just like Lanie, and thinks of the little things she might do to make a difference in the lives of…well…birds.

And other living things.

I also found out that–like me–she was a more than a tad bit overwhelmed when she discovered what a big deal the Doll of the Year for American Girl really was.  She and I both had experiences when we were in American Girl stores and we were too shy to tell people in the store our connection to the big display all around us.

So we were bonded even before we met.

It took a whole year to figure out a venue that would work to have Gabrielle and me speak and sign copies of the Lanie books.

She lives near Philadelphia.

I lived, when we started this plan, in Kansas and now live in Portland.

But another generous writer friend–who has an adopted daughter from Ethiopia–ended up talking to her church near Doylestown, PA, which was putting a spotlight on reaching out to orphans one Sunday in November.

We did it!

We both got up on that stage in front of a whole room full of girls and dolls and moms and grandmas (and a few dads).

We signed books and met girls and moms and grandmas and dads who made donations to Ethiopia Reads and said things to us like, “Thanks for a fun, fun event and for the great reminders that everyone can figure out some ways to make a difference in this world.”

I’m always heartened by how much FUN people can have raising money.

It was really, really, really fun and joyful, even though the line for signing, as Gabrielle said, only seemed to get longer every time we looked up.

People really do like to gather and talk about stories and reading and writing and saving monarch butterflies and birds and plants and other precious things in our own back yards and around the world.

One of the most thrilldom things in this whole Lanie adventure has been for me to see the power of girls.

There are girls who are determined to save orangutans.

There are girls (one of them came to the event on Saturday) who go to Ethiopia when they are only in high school and volunteer in a library there.

There are girls who read stories about kids in other places and feel their curiosity and empathy genes being tickled.

There are girls who raise pumpkins and sell them or bring a book and buy a book (or do other kinds of fundraisers) to donate the proceeds to Ethiopia Reads so that girls in Ethiopia will have a chance at school…will have books to read.

Wowee.  Girl power.