Monday, March 30, 2009

Michigander Monday: Margaret Mason

I'm pleased to welcome Margaret Mason to Michigander Monday!

Debbie: Tell us a little about yourself.

Margaret: I grew up near Columbus, Ohio, but I hasten to say I was never a Buckeye! (I actually didn’t pay any attention to sports, which is fortunate, because I also attended the University of Michigan for a graduate degree in public health -- and my husband has nothing but green and white Spartan blood flowing through his veins.)

I went to Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts for my undergraduate degree and then lived in Washington, D.C. for several years (where I met my husband, who was born in Lansing), working for feminist and advocacy organizations and, for a while, for Bella Abzug. I still have one of her hats! We moved to Detroit in the 1980s. I’ve worked at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan for many years now, developing health care policies and programs. I live in Ferndale, just north of Detroit, and have 3 children. I still think of them as my wee ones, although my oldest is now 21!

Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your book!

Margaret: Inside All is my first picture book, recently published by Dawn Publications, a nature inspiration and awareness publisher in California. They are a wonderful group of people to work with. Holly Welch of Minnesota created the illustrations, and as is often the case with authors and illustrators, I’ve never met Holly or spoken to her; it was so much fun to discover the magic of being part of an artistic partnership where we communicated solely through our art.

My favorite description of Inside All comes from my publisher:

Inside All offers children a vision of a vast universe and yet assures them of their place securely within it, guiding the reader from the great universe inward to the Earth, to a valley, to a home, to a hushed and golden space, a warm and enfolding bed – and then to their "pure and glowing" heart within, filled with “all - love overflowing.”
I wanted to convey the notion of the universe as a kind of Matreshka doll -- that we all are connected, and have a place; that we all fit.

Debbie: What a lovely notion and image! Do you have other books and projects on the horizon?

Margaret: My second picture book, These Hands, is due out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Fall 2010. I was thrilled to learn recently that Floyd Cooper is doing the illustrations.

These Hands is based on stories told to me by an old friend and union leader about the experiences of African-Americans working at Wonder Bread and other bakeries during the 1950s and early 60s: they were not allowed to be dough mixers or handlers because management thought that white people would not buy bread that had been touched by black hands.

Debbie: It sounds like an extraordinary book. Tell us, what are some of the most important things you’ve learned so far on your writing journey?

Margaret: That the happiest writing hours come when you’ve managed (to paraphrase Arlo Guthrie) to hook a catch from the great flowing river of artistic ideas that surges through the universe and is available to us all (although, as Arlo points out, some people, like Bob Dylan, seem to catch way more than their fair share), and you’re fully engaged in helping that idea realize its full potential.

Author Elizabeth Gilbert has a similar concept -- hearkening back to the ancient Greeks’ concept of genius as “divine, attendant spirits from distant, unknowable sources that influence creativity” –- that the creative process is a collaboration between the universe and us. You just have to show up, every day, cast out your line, and be patient.

I very much like the idea that I’m not on my own with this writing business – I’ll take the universe as a collaborator any day over the miniscule creative nooks and crannies of my own brain.

I also think it’s important to remember that the “us” includes readers. Writers write for the love of writing, but also, at least some of the time, as a way of connecting with others. I love this quote from Isak Dinesen’s story, Peter and Rosa:

“Imagine that a flute maker did make a flute, and that no one did ever play on it? Would not that be a shame and a great pity? Then, all at once, someone takes hold of it and plays upon it, and the flute maker hears and says, ‘That is my flute!’"
So never, ever give up. Use every rejection as an opportunity to re-examine and re-connect and revise, with the faith that if you’re showing up every day and taking joy in the process, one of those little catches that you are nurturing and nudging and helping to shine will eventually flow through you to its intended audience: your readers.

Debbie: What wonderful and encouraging words for us all to keep in mind!

Do you have any upcoming author appearances?

Margaret: I’m excited (and a little nervous) about my upcoming first school visit: to my sister Mary’s 4th grade classroom in Columbus, Ohio!

Debbie: Your favorite place in Michigan (or places, if you can't settle on just one)

Margaret: Lower Herring Lake and Pickerel Lake, up north, come to mind as sites of many magical family vacations, but I’d like to focus in particular on a somewhat different place: a cemetery...

Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit, on Woodward Avenue just south of 8 Mile, has many rich memories and connections for me. When I first moved to Detroit, an unusual and wonderful older lady who lived across the street (she called herself “Wild and Wacky Daphy”) invited me to walk with her one day, and she took me to what she called her “Pond of Peace” in Woodlawn Cemetery – where I ended up spending many a restorative afternoon, reading under the weeping willow tree, watching my beloved dog Vasco swim in the pond.

Years later, I watched a young friend be buried at Woodlawn, and more recently, with my family, saw Rosa Parks’ funeral procession (complete with a parade of Detroit city buses packed full of people except for the front seats, which were empty – reserved for Rosa - in every bus) end there. Now, I take my kids to Woodlawn to give them driving lessons on its winding, tree-lined lanes. It’s a peaceful, beautiful sanctuary in the city.

Debbie: Your favorite Michigan event or happening?

Margaret: The Dally in the Alley in Detroit (great music, food, camaraderie) and the Dream Cruise alternative: the Ferndale Green Cruise! Also, the June Fair -- an annual fund-raiser for Ferndale’s elementary schools, which enchants wide-eyed little ones (including my own, a few years back) with cake walks, dunk tanks, carnival games and live jazz, and lasts into the evening hours, so kids have the thrill of dashing around on their own in the early summer darkness, squeezing in just a few more ring tosses and air bounces.

Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Margaret: The best (and wittiest) teacher my kids ever had: Shirley Oleinick, who has worked harder to teach first and second-graders not only to read, but to learn to love reading and writing, than anyone I know. Also Detroit legend Grace Lee Boggs, who at the age of 93 is an inspiring, passionate advocate for human rights and social justice; she counsels young people to “find their piece of the puzzle” and pour their heart and soul into it.

Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about our state?

Margaret: First of all, we do not live in one big cornfield. (When I visited a friend in Manhattan one time, she solicitously greeted me with a basket of fruit – “you can’t get fresh apples in Michigan, can you?”)

Secondly, we have Ferndale! It’s kind of like Provincetown, Stars Hollow, and Greenwich Village, all tumbled together into 3.9 square miles. No matter who you are or where you come from, you will feel comfortable in “Fabulous Ferndale.”

Debbie: Some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: Are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Margaret: I think of myself as a “Midwesterner” – so I had to consult with my husband for this one. He says people who are born here are Michiganders, and that only outlanders say Michiganian. Hmmm… maybe I’ll alternate: Michigander on Monday, Michiganian on Tuesday, et cetera!

Debbie: A perfect compromise! Margaret, thank you so much for joining us today. It's been a pleasure.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Library-Loving Challenge

Update: I've extended my deadline until the end of Sunday, March 29, so keep those comments coming. And don't forget your chance to win a signed copy of The Pout-Pout Fish!

I was recently over on Jama Rattigan's blog and saw a mention of a "Bloggers' Library-Loving Challenge" as proposed by Jennifer Hubbard. The idea is for bloggers to post a blog entry during the March 26-28 timeperiod and offer to make a per-commenter donation to a library or library Friends group.

I love these sorts of things, and I'm glad to participate. My participation details are listed below.

But more importantly, I'd like to use this blog entry to encourage you to show your local library some love. And the best kind of love you can show a library is to...

.. use it!

Are you a devoted bookavore who has nonetheless managed to never acquire a library card? Well, now's a good time to go in and get one!

Are you a library card holder already? Great! But have you been lately? If not, go! And, if so, go again!

Truly, libraries are a treasure, and a resource for all of us. So log off, and head over to yours.

Now, the details: I have a base donation of $15 I will make to the Delta Township District Library in celebration of this Library-Loving Blog Challenge. (Other groovy libraries in my area include CADL, the Library of Michigan, and the Grand Ledge District Library; but Delta Township is my "home" library, and the one I use most often). I will add to this base donation fifty cents (up to $20 $45* additional dollars) for each blog commenter who posts a comment on this post.

But wait, there's more! A deal sweetener...
If your blog comment tells about a particularly lovely library experience you've had in the course of your life, your comment will count double ($1) and I will put your name in a hat for a drawing for one signed copy of The Pout-Pout Fish.

And then, when you're done here, check out some of the other bloggers participating in this challenge by heading over to the writerjenn blog at

*Update: Due to the great amount of response the first day, I've upped my potential donation and a few other details. So keep commenting!

And by the way, the deleted comments you see in the comments section are from a commenter who experienced one of those oddities Blogger is occasionally prone to: it sneezed out 4 exact copies of the commenter's comment. So the duplicates were removed. (Just didn't want anyone to think I'm editing out comments!)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tuesday Tunes: Mozart's "Clarinet Quintet in A," K. 581

In my youth, I played the clarinet for a number of years. I wasn't a stellar clarinetist, and I didn't stick with it beyond junior high (this was probably due to the fact that I didn't really like being in "Band"; I think personality-wise I was much more cut out for "Orchestra"), but I did enjoy playing an instrument, and am still thankful for the experience. I think, in fact, having musical experience has factored greatly in my love of words and rhyme.

I don't think about the clarinet very often, but every once in a while I encounter or re-encounter some beautiful clarinet music. Such was the case today, driving home from Stockbridge, when the fabulous folks at WKAR Radio played Mozart's Clarinet Quintet in A.

Listening to it was a wonderful rediscovery of a piece of music I've enjoyed in the past. As I drove along, in that quiet mind zone one sometimes enters when driving (need I add, "without children"?), I had one of those rare but wonderful Total Musical Experiences. The music wrapped around me and then carried me off. For almost the whole drive, I was completely with Mozart.

The recording that played on WKAR today was:
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Quintet in A for Clarinet & Strings, K., 581 David Shifrin, clarinet; Chamber Music Northwest; Delos DCD-3020

The CD on my shelf at home (neglected for too long, but now back on my play list) is:
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Clarinet Quintet in A, K. 581, Antony Pay, clarinet; Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields; Philips 422 833-2 (I don't find a listing for it on the Philips site, so I've linked to Amazon for info purposes; but if you consider purchasing it, please patronize your usual/favorite music establishment)

Both recordings are lovely.

(And so is WKAR. If you're not already a supporter of public radio -- and even if you are -- you might consider contributing to WKAR Radio's Spring Campaign.)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hooray, Ruth!

Hearty congratulations to Ruth McNally Barshaw for her nomination for a 2010 Beverly Cleary Children's Choice Award as well as for a nice mention of her Ellie McDoodle books in a Publishers Weekly article. In the PW article, Kenny Brechner, owner of Devaney Doak & Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Me, refers to the Ellie McDoodle series as “fantastic, original.” Yes!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Poetry Friday

For Hunter Park

"Stay away," says the fear.

"Please come back," says the breeze.

"They had guns," says the fear.

"I have birds," say the trees.

"There was blood," says the fear.

"I've got sun," says the sky.

"Someone died," says the fear.

And there is no reply.

"But I'm scared," says the fear,

"My complacency's gone."

"Yes, it is," says the park,

"Now come back, and walk on."

This past weekend, a young man was shot and killed in the park where I take my lunch hour walks. But I will continue to walk the path. It's a beautiful park, and it belongs to us all.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Mr. Fish Surfaces And Swims Right Into A Meme!

A big "Hello!" to the above-water-world from yours truly, Mr. Fish!

I’m grateful to Debbie for giving me this birthday present of a guest-blogger spot on Jumping The Candlestick. Very timely, too, because just last week Ms. Clam tagged me for the “25 Random Things About Me” meme.

So here goes, with 25 Random Things About Mr. Fish:

1. I can hold my breath above water for 1 minute and 2 seconds.

2. In high school, I was known as the Class Frown.

3. My favorite human is Jacques Cousteau.

4. For karaoke night, I always sing “I am the very model of the modern major general…” but I substitute the word “blub” for all the lyrics. Blub blub blub blub blub blub blub blub blub blub blub blub blub blub blub blub!

5. When I was much younger, I wanted to grow up to be a Flying Fish, so I could fly to the Sea of Tranquility on the Moon.

6. I’ve never harbored a desire to drive the bus. I would, however, like to drive the sub.

7. Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine I’m a giant whale, but instead of a spout I blow water out my nose.

8. My birthday is March 18, which makes me a Pisces. I prefer not to tell you how old I am, but I was born in the Year of the Rat. I really wish there was a Year of the Fish.

9. Book I faked reading: The Old Man and The Sea.

10. I used to believe biology was destiny, but a certain shimmery friend of mine has caused me to reconsider that position.

11. I don’t mean to brag, but I can mambo like nobody’s business.

12. Sometimes I swim upside-down and speak backwards, like this: “Sehsif Tseb.”

13. I love card games, except “Go Fish,” which gives me the heebie-jeebies.

14. I do a spot-on imitation of Garrison Keillor. “That’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the swimmers are strong, all the fish are good-looking, and all the minnows are above average.”

15. My least favorite day of the week is “Fry-Day.”

16. I once ordered some Sea Monkeys from the back of a comic book, and they ended up being nothing but Brine Shrimp.

17. My favorite made-up words are “fin-tastic” and “fish-arrific.”

18. Someday I’d like to travel to Australia to find Nemo.

19. I’m a little bit scared of the dark.

20. I collect bottle caps. I’ve got 14,812 of them, but 14,804 are buried under the sand.

21. Once, on a dare, I fin-wrestled a shark.

22. I play slide trombone. I’ve got a great embouchure, but a limited note range.

23. I prefer boxers to briefs, though I don’t know what either one of them are.

24. At night, when it’s very quiet in the ocean, I like to lie on my back and count the star fish.

25. I don’t pout nearly as much as I used to.

Now I tag: Mr. Jelly, Mrs. Squid, Mr. Eight, and Miss Shimmer.

And thanks, everybody, for a great first year!!

(Thanks also go to Dan Hanna and to Debbie for helping me with this post. Dan in particular is a very funny guy -- any of the lines that made you laugh out loud are probably his. Thanks, Dan!)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tuesday Tunes: Jackson Browne, "Solo Acoustic Vol. 1"

First off, a Happy St. Patrick's Day to you! Around here, St. Patrick's Day begins with a check of the Leprechaun Trap out back. The boys have yet to catch themselves a leprechaun, but they keep trying every year. In fact, plans for the 2010 trap began over breakfast!

Now, to the Tuesday Tunes.

Today I'm listening to Jackson Browne's Solo Acoustic Vol. 1. It's a nice selection of Jackson Browne's better known songs, along with a few lesser known, all performed (as the title implies) solo acoustic. The performances are live, and most are introduced with some backstory or observations by Jackson Browne. A nice listen.

You'll find reviews here, here, here, here, and here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Michigander Monday: Dan Mishkin

What a pleasure to welcome Dan Mishkin to Michigander Monday! I met Dan last fall at a bookstore event and was glad to make his acquaintance. I'm now very much looking forward to the Kids Read Comics convention this spring that he's helping organize. For more on that, and much more, read on!

Debbie: Tell us a little about yourself.

Dan: I’m an aging baby boomer who’s looking forward to becoming a drain on young, productive workers in my dotage; a father of three (all out of the house now); and husband of one. I was born on Long Island, outside of New York City, and came to college at Michigan State in 1970. After living in several other places, we wound up in East Lansing again just before our first child was born. I started writing comic books professionally in the late 70s, with my most productive period lasting into the early 90s. During that time I wrote many, many comics, primarily for DC Comics, and I was the co-creator of the superhero series Blue Devil and the girls’ fantasy adventure Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld. I’ve also written educational materials on pain and end-of-life issues for patients, families and physicians, working with my wife who’s a palliative care physician at MSU -- I’m especially proud on the work we did on a website called Completing a Life. I started writing prose fiction a few years ago when a small comics publisher I’d worked with decided to branch out into illustrated short novels for young readers. They published my book The Forest King: Woodlark’s Shadow.

Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your latest book.

Dan: Unfortunately, my latest book is not the sequel to Woodlark’s Shadow, which told the story of a boy recently moved to a small New England town who begins to suspect that something evil is lurking in the surrounding forest. Although Woodlark’s Winter and Woodlark’s Dawn are roughly plotted, the publisher is in a holding pattern right now and it’s unclear when and if those books will see the light of day. But the first book can be read as a complete adventure, especially if you skip the foreboding epilogue.

Debbie: Other books and projects on the horizon?

Dan: I’m about a quarter of the way through a young adult novel that will be more substantial than my previous book, which was meant to be a fast-paced quick read. The new one is called Analogue, and it’s about a sixteen-year-old girl who discovers that she’s actually an artificial person and not flesh and blood. I’ve also got a comics project currently being represented to mainstream book (not comic book) publishers -- it’s set in a world that is just like ours except for the fact that dinosaurs never completely died out and instead have lived alongside us for all of human history; but they’re now in danger of extinction. My teenaged hero fights to protect the dinosaurs that are left. It’s kind of a combination of Jonny Quest, Crocodile Hunter and Jurassic Park.

Debbie: Upcoming appearances?

Dan: I’m not promoting anything of my own right now, but I’m helping to organize the Kids Read Comics Convention that will be held at the Chelsea District Library next June 12 and 13. Our goal is to promote comics for kids, give kids and parents a chance to meet artists and writers, and provide workshops and other hands-on experiences for kids who’d like to learn how to make comics. We’ll have a bunch of Michigan and Midwestern talent there, so it should be blast!

Debbie: Your favorite place in Michigan?

Dan: Friends of ours have a beautiful house on Lake Michigan near South Haven, and I love it there. But my absolute favorite spot might be the hill on Old State Road that descends into the village of Central Lake, which I’ve taken on my bicycle at 45 miles an hour (after a significant climb from Torch Lake). The best part is passing the SPEED LIMIT 25 sign as the road starts to level off, and looking for a cop to memorialize the event with a ticket. For bike riding beauty, not just speed, there’s the Tunnel of Trees on M-119 between Harbor Springs and Cross Village.

Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening

Dan: DALMAC -- the Dick Allen Lansing to Mackinac bike ride (which is how I came to be riding through the northern Lower Peninsula). It’s held on Labor Day Weekend every year, with four- and five-day rides on different routes, and I’ve done it most years since 1996. Riding a bike is one of the best ways to see the state; I love the fact that over the course of a day at bicycle speed you can take in your surroundings (as opposed to driving in a car) but still get somewhere distant (as opposed to walking).

Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Dan: People might not know how many comic book creators come from Michigan. The Detroit area especially has been a hotbed of fan and creative activity for years. Artists Jim Starlin, Al Milgrom, Arvell Jones, and Keith Pollard are from Detroit, as is the comics and animation writer, and creator of Static Shock, Dwayne McDuffie. Geoff Johns, who seems to be writing half the books coming out from DC Comics right now, is from Clarkston. There’s also Mark Crilley, the creator of Akiko, and William Messner-Loebs, who did the wonderful series Journey, which was set in the Michigan Wilderness in 1812. Newspaper cartoonists Jef Mallett and Dave Coverly live in Michigan as well.

Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about our state?

Dan: They will not be allowed to take our Great Lakes water when their unnatural desert cities begin to run dry.

Debbie: Some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: Are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Dan: I’m a Michiganian...and a Spartan (my son would never forgive me if I didn’t include that).

Debbie: Dan, it's been wonderful having you here today. And my kids and I are looking forward to seeing you at the Kids Read Comics convention in June!

To learn how to help spread the word about the Kids Read Comics convention, click here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sandburg Saturday

Today I continue with one of my periodic posts about my yearlong project to read my way, aloud, through The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg.

I'm still in the Chicago Poems section of the book. I have to say, probably due to the fatigue that has accumulated around me these last couple of weeks, I found myself less enthusiastic about the poems than usual. So much of what is captured in these poems is bleak, and bleak I did not need. Probably I should have taken the week off and read light verse instead of poems such as "Anna Imroth" and "Ready To Kill." But still, I always enjoy the way the words roll together into something beautiful -- or beautifully sad -- as I say them aloud. And there is such honesty to them.

Favorite one of the week: "The Road and the End."

Friday, March 13, 2009

Poetry Friday

A note before we get to today's poem: I'm shifting my year-with-Carl-Sandburg project over to Saturdays. (Better alliteration that way -- "Sandburg Saturdays.")

The Black and White Cat

I first saw it drinking from a snow
puddle in our back yard, and I
assumed it was a stray. Its fur was
thick, its caution thicker. There was
watchfulness, and weariness, though
perhaps the latter I simply imagined.
Days later I saw it traveling along
the fence line, moving quickly and
carefully. My eyes took in its
skittishness and fear, until its four
feet ventured beyond my line of
sight. We of two cats, the thought
of offering shelter couldn’t even
flicker into my mind. But perhaps I
was wrong. Perhaps it wasn’t truly a
stray. For the cat, dead in the road
this morning, wasn’t there very long
before some kind soul collected it,
and took it in.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

It's Tuesday -- So Where Are The Tunes?

Michigander Monday, Tuesday Tunes, and Workout Wednesday are all taking this week off. It's been a little bit of a sick bay around our place for the last two weeks (nothing life-threatening, just a whole host of minor viruses) and blogging has had to go back-burner. I'll be taking the next couple of days to do some much needed work and home catch-up.

However, this lame blog post (which shall sit here, alone and unassuming, for several days) now provides the perfect place for you to add a comment or two about your own favorite author, CD, or workout DVD. Hey, yeah, that's it: it's a Do It Yourself Blog! Cool.

So talk amongst yourselves. I'll be back in a few days.

(And boy, wouldn't it be neat to come back to double digit stats in the comments section? Not that I'm hinting shamelessly or anything. I'm just saying.)

Vintage Children's Books

Neat blog I just ran across:

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Sun Came Out

Can I just take a moment to brag up the entire fourth and fifth grade of Delta Center? Their production of Annie Jr. was wonderful!

And you can bet your bottom dollar that "Tomorrow" brought a tear to my eye. Never fails.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Blame Ben

As my best friend can attest, I have a long-standing, inexplicable aversion to Ben Franklin. Reading today that DST was BF's idea does nothing to change that. As far as I'm concerned, the only thing he's got going for him is his wife's first name. Dang, that Ben Franklin; dang!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Poetry Friday

3 a.m., Now

I had a list, back then.
Back then, I had a list.
A long list, studded with capital letter words
such as
Surely I would need Patience –
so I grabbed a wad and stuck it in my sack
(only to find out much later, not that much later,
that I should have grabbed more).
And of course I would need Courage.
Lots of that.
Doubt I had, but I tossed in extra,
for good measure.
Wisdom? Yes, of course, though they were
out and told me to come back later
which I have meant to do ever since, and certainly will
next week
or so,
or whenever I can get to it,
but I will,
I will go back,
one of these days.
And a few shiny objects, small totems, those too
I added to my sack,
though they weren’t anywhere on my list.
They sparkled in the light and they
comforted me, so I took them along. Enthusiasm
I had already but I added more for there was
an overabundance and it was mine
for the taking and there was still plenty left
for the soon-to-be-mothers
queued up behind me, readying themselves,
their eyes glistening with the same joy and fear
I knew shone in my own. Oh, I was so earnestly

I took everything on my list and double that more --

But I did not know
that I should have looked,
and looked harder if I had to,
and looked forever if I had to,
and not left until I found

the magic wand
that makes ear infections go away.

I’d take everything else back now

if I could just have that.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Win-Win Situation

A wonderful children's book author in a wonderful bookstore -- what could be better?

Leslie Helakoski will be at Literary Life Bookstore this Saturday, March 7, at 11 a.m. Grab your kids (or, if you don't have any, borrow someone else's) and head on over for a story time. Details here.

There's a nice article on Literary Life over in Rapid Growth (an article that got a mention in today's Shelf Awareness - scroll down to the bookselling news section.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wednesday Workout Review: Crunch "Burn & Firm Pilates" with Ellen Barrett

Several of the workout DVDs in my collection feature Ellen Barrett (some of them are from the Crunch series; others are from her own studio).

Ellen is a pleasant instructor -- quite enthusiastic, but generally not excessively so -- and the exercises she offers are challenging without being frustratingly difficult. She tends to feature slightly longer sets of things than you might find in your typical exercise DVD, which is good for folks like me who take a few tries to get the hang of things.

I like Burn & Firm Pilates because it includes some exercises with arm weights, integrated into the flow of the workout. The DVD gets your heart rate up moderately while also incorporating some flexibility and strength training.

Reviews here, here and here.

Hail, Cesar!

Another first birthday to celebrate: Susan Collins Thoms' book Cesar Takes a Break was released one year ago today. So celebrate your inner iguana -- salads all around!

Congratulations, Cesar and Sue!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

2009 Indies Choice Book Awards

It was a pleasure to see that The Pout-Pout Fish has been included in the finalists list for the 2009 Indies Choice Book Awards. Mr. Fish is well pleased. In fact, he's grinning!

Thank you, independent bookstores everywhere, both for the honor of including my and Dan Hanna's book amongst the finalists, and for the privilege of having our book on your shelves. I am humbled by and happy about both spots!

Voting is open to owners and booksellers of ABA member bookstores throughout March.

Tuesday Tunes: "Parkening Plays Bach"

If I had to part with all my CDs but one, I'd probably hang on to Christopher Parkening's Parkening Plays Bach. (Ask me a different day, you might get a different answer; but today I'm definitely going with my longtime, steadfast favorite.) The album has been around long enough (mid-eighties, I believe) that I didn't find a lot of current review sources, but the customer reviews over at Amazon capture the feelings I have about this album quite nicely.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Michigander Monday: Shirley Neitzel

What a pleasure to have Shirley Neitzel here for Michigander Monday! I have long admired Shirley, a writer who embodies professionalism and generosity. Welcome!

Debbie: Tell us a little about yourself.

Shirley: From the time I was very young, I loved to read and I loved to write, so it's no surprise I studied to be an elementary teacher. When I taught in the Caledonia Schools, I modeled writing with my students, as I had been encouraged to do when taking a class patterned after the National Writing Project. I am a founding member of Peninsula Writers, a professional organization that grew out of that class. We encourage excellence in writing and the teaching of writing.

Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your books.

Shirley: One of the stories I wrote and read to my students was about a child with a stuck zipper. I also shared it with my teacher/writer friends who encouraged me to "do something with it," a euphemism meaning "send it to a publisher." I was timid to do that, but eventually did, and was ecstatic when the editor accepted it. That story became my first picture book, The Jacket I Wear in the Snow. It's a cumulative rhyme which Nancy Winslow Parker illustrated as a rebus with little pictures taking the place of key words. That was back in 1989, and I'm delighted to say the book is still in print. In fact I recently learned an educational publisher has chosen to translate it into Spanish for teachers to use as part of their curriculum.

The first book was followed by another, The Dress I'll Wear to the Party. When the editor accepted a third, she referred to them as a I was encouraged to send more. The series has grown to nine: The Bag I'm Taking to Grandma's, We're Making Breakfast for Mother, The House I'll Build for the Wrens, I'm Not Feeling Well Today, Our Class Took a Trip to the Zoo, and Who Will I Be? A Halloween Rebus. Not all of these have enjoyed the longevity of the first book. It's sad to see a book go out of print.

I also have a book of retold Ojibwa legends, From the Land of the White Birch, a book about Core Democratic Values, Liberty and Justice for All, and two religious books, The Ark That Noah Built, and Friends of Jesus.

Debbie: Do you have new books and projects on the horizon?

Shirley: Not everything I write becomes a book. Some pieces are magazine stories. Much of what I write is for children, but I also contribute to women's and general interest magazines. Even when I think a piece is a book, it's not a book until an editor says it's a book:=)

Debbie: Upcoming appearances?

Shirley: This doesn't qualify as an appearance, but I'd like to share that the Michigan Reading Association selected me for the 2009 MRA Gwen Frostic Award. The award "honors an author or illustrator who has greatly influenced literacy in Michigan."

It's humbling to be chosen for this award. It encourages me to continue to go to schools as visiting author, do workshops for students and teachers, and of course, write--all things I enjoy. Folks interested in contacting me for a speaking event can find contact information at my website

Debbie: Your favorite place in Michigan?

Shirley: My home is on the left bank of the Thornapple River. From my desk, or most any place in my house, I see the water and beyond it a tree-covered hill where turkeys roost and deer forage for acorns. A muskrat burrows among the roots and rocks on my bank and beaver have set up housekeeping near the opposite shore. Wild iris, anemone, buttercups, trout lily, and asters greet me in their seasons. I love to travel, but with this waiting for me, I'm always happy to arrive back home.

Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening?

Shirley: On the 50th anniversary of the Mackinac Bridge, my daughter, granddaughter and I participated in the annual five-mile Labor Day Bridge Walk. I was concerned my fear of heights would hinder me, maybe make me crawl across on my hands and knees, but the enthusiasm of fellow walkers, and the promise of fudge at the finish line, spurred me on, upright the entire way.

Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Shirley: As an introvert, everyone is more interesting than I am. If you talk to the children next door, the clerk behind the register at the drugstore, or the fisherman at the dock (but keep your voice low so as not to scare the fish) you'll meet some of the most interesting people in our friendly state.

Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about our state?

Shirley: Our state stone, the Petoskey stone, is actually a coral from the time when the area was a large inland sea, and we have huge salt deposits in our soil, particularly under the city of Detroit. Perhaps you could say we're well-seasoned. (I heard you groan.)

Debbie: Yes, but the groan is the universal sound of pun-appreciation!

Some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: Are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Shirley: Well, your previous question gives away your leaning, and I have to agree. I'm a Michigander. For the first quarter of my life I was a Yooper, but I've lived below the bridge long enough that I am now a Troll.

Debbie: Shirley, it's been a true pleasure to have you here today.

And hearty congratulations to you on the MRA Gwen Frostic Award. It's a very well deserved honor, for a wonderful Michigander!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Food Allergy Article

Interesting article in Time magazine on the topic of food allergies:,9171,1881985-1,00.html

Having a food-allergic child, I have to say, the world is a confusing place. Hard to know what is "being careful" and what is "being overly careful." I tend to err on the side of the latter, feeling it's the safer of the two; but there are risks to that as well.

A Fiery First Birthday!

One year ago today, Boni Ashburn's picture book Hush, Little Dragon was released. So today please join me in wishing A Very Happy Birthday to Hush, Little Dragon.

(One wonders: what does a dragon eat for his first birthday? Magician Cake, with a side of Three Musketeers Ice Cream?)

Read more about Boni on her web site and blog. She was also kind enough to do a Michigander Monday interview for me last summer -- you can read it by clicking here.
Now blow out that candle!