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The best review

Early reviews of Thérèse Makes A Tapestry are beginning to emerge. They are all positive so far (yay!), but I know that I already have the best review I could ever receive. image of iPhone text from my mother reading: "Alex your book is incredible. The illustrations of your writings seem to compliment incredibly. I am so proud of you and in awe of your abilities And while I know what an amazing writer you are, knowing you accomplished this with a toddler n baby on board is another thing altogether. [emoji of clapping hands] Congratulations dear Alex. [kissing face emoji]

My mother gave me her official review last spring. She passed away in July. The dedication of the book to her was supposed to be surprise when it came out in print. I remain grateful to the team at Getty Publications for overnighting a final draft for her viewing in the days before she died. So yes. Thanks, Mom. I’ve already won the review game.

MLA Engage 2015

Image of Engage word cloud used for Maine Library Association Conference 2015I spent Monday and Tuesday of this week at the Maine Library Association’s Annual Conference: Engage 2015. This was my first time attending, and my first conference in the last five years. My conclusions were: librarians are the best. MLA welcomed me with open arms. In fact, they actually sponsored my attendance. I had called to see if they might be willing to still give me the early bird discount even though I had missed the deadline given that I’m looking for a job and finances are a bit tight. Their response was incredible. They quickly replied that they would be delighted to sponsor my attendance this year and in exchange I could volunteer at the registration table. Well, really, that was the best thing I could have done anyway. It immediately put me at ease talking, and I met so many people right away. From this whole experience I learned that a) it never hurts to ask and b) librarians are awesome. I already knew both of these things, but boy did this confirm it for me. Oh, and c) volunteering is a great way to network.

It felt good to be back among librarians. Here were some of the highlights:

Maine State librarian Jamie Ritter spoke about democracy in libraries and the importance of maintaining our shared core principles of intellectual freedom and privacy. He described silence as an incredible phenomenon, and despite the stereotype of librarians with a ready “shh” on their lips, the reason and importance of quiet is for thinking. As he explained it, “libraries are deliberate in providing opportunities for [the experience of thinking].” The library is a place to exercise our right to think and the right to our privacy in those thoughts.

Of course, I (and I’m sure other youth services librarians) could not help thinking of the youngest patrons who often think out loud and process through noise. Thankfully the two thought-provoking experiences can peacefully coexist in a library!

Another noteworthy session featured Gardiner Public Library Director Anne Davis (winner of this year’s Outstanding Librarian award) and Belfast Free Library Director Steve Norman as they discussed advocating for libraries. They championed local advocacy as the best way of creating change. By attending community meetings, getting involved with local organizations, and making your library a site for civic debate and civic events, you gain allies and establish yourself as an active and vocal member. Other suggestions they made: Always have a story to tell, and when possible have someone else tell your story. When advocating at a state level, contact your representatives. They
don’t hear from people about most bills, and when they do, it matters! Go to the state house and testify. Likewise, to advocate at a federal level, contact your legislators! It makes a difference.

alschiMy favorite speaker was ALSC President Andrew Medlar. He transformed us, a tired audience (it was
the last presentation at the end of the day), to singing, clapping, laughing, and feeling playful and inspired once more. He mentioned that the majority of the kids being born this week are expected to live into the next century. He spoke about ALSC’s big mission — ensuring that libraries are recognized as vital to all children and the communities that support them — and some of its initiatives towards this goal (“Media Mentorship”Every Child Ready to ReadBuilding STEAM with Día, and Día! Diversity in Action, for example). He concluded by asking us to think of one person we’d reach out to in the next month to tell them how awesome libraries are — and you, if you’re still reading this post, should do the same!

Tuesday began with ALA President Sari Feldman — a fellow UW-Madison SLIS alum (woohoo!). She spoke of the ways libraries transform people and communities, and of librarians as change agents. We need to take calculated risks. We do change people’s lives! She pondered how libraries can tap into the sharing economy more. She too emphasized the need for libraries to continue to protect the right to privacy and freedom of inquiry when there is so much before Congress right now chipping away at those ideals. One of the most interesting points came out in the Q&A (doesn’t it so often happen that way?), and that was that in traveling around the globe, Feldman has come to understand and appreciate that libraries are very American institutions–the large number of public, school, and academic libraries all over this country are unique and greatly respected around the world.

The last session I’ll talk briefly about was on Whole Person Reader’s Advisory, and included many useful suggestions, but in particular was the tip to say to a reader, “Tell me about the book,” that they have read or that they are looking for even if it is a book you know. Doing so gives them the opportunity to relive their experience of the book and helps them connect to you, but chances are their choice of words will also tell you something more about what exactly they liked about the book and offer clues towards the next book they’ll love.

And on that practical note, I will end my MLA conference recap. Okay not quite. I have to say again: librarians are awesome.

The countdown begins.

One month. That’s how long before I am sitting in a bookstore at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, signing copies of Thérèse Makes a Tapestry— a picture book that I wrote–for the very first time. This book is close to my heart. It is my first, so there’s that. It is the book that made my long held dream of becoming an author come true. It is the story of a girl who finds a way to accomplish her own dreams. It is a story dedicated to my mother, who passed away this past summer. It is a book that I have been working on in one form or another over the last two years.

Image of the invitation to Woven Gold, the exhibit at the J. Paul Getty Museum

The invitation to the opening reception of Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV at the J. Paul Getty Museum

Like all picture books, it is a story made complete only by its beautiful illustrations by the masterful Renée Graef, who rendered Thérèse with such thoughtfulness and care that I recognized her the instant I first saw her! It is also a story tied to history, art, and an exhibit at the Getty Museum.

While writing Thérèse’s story, I was neck-deep in research on weaving and tapestries produced at the Gobelins Manufactory, but this will be my first time seeing the tapestries in person. Thérèse Makes a Tapestry will be available on site at the Getty starting next month, but its larger release will come in March, and then you will hopefully be able to find it at a bookstore near you! In the meantime, keep checking here for all things related to Thérèse and yours truly.

 

Secret #2: Picture book coming!

It’s August. How did that happen?! It’s not only August, it’s the very end of August. As in almost September. I can hardly believe how quickly the summer has flown by, in a way that only summers can. Life here has been full of travel, visits with family, adventures by the sea, weekly trips to our CSA farm, digging around in our own small garden, work, deadlines, my son’s second birthday (holy cow, I have a two-year-old), reading (of course), and…writing.

This summer I haven’t just been writing in my journal. In fact, my journal has been about as neglected as this blog. I have been writing a story that you all can read next year when it comes out as a picture book!

I am very excited to announce that I am the author of a forthcoming children’s book fromGetty Publications, due out November 2015. Excited is an understatement. This is a long-held dream come true, and I feel just plain lucky. Does luck ever feel plain actually? I feel extraordinary and giddy in my luck!

The picture book, with the working title Therese Makes a Tapestry, tells the story of a young girl whose family works at the Gobelins Manufactory during the era of Louis XIV. It is being published on the occasion of a major exhibition of French royal tapestries at theGetty.

Through the wonders of Skype, I have been able to meet the team of incredible individuals that I’m collaborating with, including my amazing editor and the fabulous illustrator. I truly couldn’t be happier with the process so far. Again, I thank my lucky stars.

So that’s the secret I meant to share much earlier this summer. Thanks for sticking with me as I come and go! Stay tuned for more book updates in the future.

 

Secrets and playing catch-up

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I can’t believe it is already May and nearly two months since my last post. In addition to keeping busy with part-time jobs, toddlers, travel, etc., I have been working on a couple of secret projects. One of these two projects I am now at liberty to share. I am cooking up baby #2, due in October! Ha, that counts as a project, right?

Pregnancy takes up a whole lot of energy. Naps have reentered my life (although they seem to be slowly drifting out again). Thinking about our life a few months from now, I’ve decided to let myself enjoy the occasional nap at present. I mean, all that well intended advice to sleep when the baby sleeps is really only applicable the first time around. Once there are two or more kiddos in the household, will anybody be sleeping, ever? A fierce internal voice says, YES! The mama in me chuckles and sighs, Sometime, someday.

I will leave you in suspense about the second project. I promise it is more of a traditional project, though.

We have been reading a lot, as always. I even had put an Off the Shelf series together back in March but for some reason never posted it. Better late than never?

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Books and Babies

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When I began to think about the phrase “books and babies,” it immediately reconfigured in my head to the tune of “love and marriage.” “Books and babies, books and babies…” It got stuck in my head, which was unfortunate, because the next line to come to mind was “go together like a bat and rabies.” I’m not sure Frank Sinatra would approve. At any rate, when the lovely and witty mama writer Katey of Kateywrites asked me to do a guest post for her series Raising Readers Monday, I knew exactly what I wanted to explore as my topic: books and babies.

Below is a snippet from my post:

It is never too early to begin reading to babies. Even newborns. They benefit from the visual stimulation of the pictures before them, the rhythms of the words and narrative, the act of being held and cuddled, the sound of a parent or caretaker’s voice. As far as literacy goes, babies begin to learn about the orientation of a book, the way the pages turn, and that books have particular sound patterns that go along with them, long before they can even fully absorb a story.

Enjoy the cuddles, and don’t worry if your baby wants you to turn the pages quickly. Just because they are speeding through doesn’t mean they aren’t enjoying it, as well. It might mean exactly the opposite, in fact! My son loved the collages and rhythms of Dancing Feet! by Lindsey Craig and Marc Brown long before he had the patience to listen to every word. But that didn’t matter. Eventually he wanted to hear all the words, too, but in the meantime we skipped around or did a speed reading version, which made me laugh. It remains one of his favorite stories. Above all, have fun when you’re reading together with your baby. Have fun watching them read with others, too. Have fun watching them decide story time isn’t for them on a particular day and crawl or scoot or squawk at the library instead. Parenting a baby…it’s a precious time, an anxiety-ridden time, a time that I wanted to speed read on some days, and on other days to linger on each page, each word, each image.

Read the full article, which includes suggestions for making book selections for the youngest readers, interpreting your baby’s opinions on books, and ways to incorporate story into your child’s life. Take some time to explore Katey’s blog! I have already learned so much from her, and am honored to share a small corner of her online thought space.
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Off the Shelf: 2/17/14

My son loves books. Now, at almost 18 months, he will sit on the floor for 15 minutes or so reading to himself (and longer if someone reads to him!), flipping through page after page and reciting words and lines he knows. It can be a challenge sometimes to get a new book through the pile of tried and true. However, when a book is in, it’s in.

Over the past few months, I have been thinking about starting a feature of what the boy’s favorite books are each week or two weeks, however time allows, since they do change. These are the books that I can hardly get put away during the week, let alone during the day because he wants to read them over and over and over, often three times per sitting, and usually two to three sittings a day. And so they stay off the shelf until he has quenched his thirst and is ready to move on to the next love, visiting these established loves between times.

Without further ado, here is the first installment of Off the Shelf.

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Over the last two weeks my son’s favorite books have been:

  • Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler and R. Gregory Christie
  • Goodnight Wisconsin by Adam Gamble and Mark Jasper
  • Hello Baby by Mem Fox and Steve Jenkins
  • Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry
  • Lulu’s Busy Day by Caroline Uff
  • Oscar Otter and the Goldfish by Maurice Pledger
  • Balancing Act by Ellen Stoll Walsh
  • Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman
  • Goodnight Kisses by Barney Saltzberg
  • My First ABC Book Board Book by DK Publishing, Inc.

Jazz Baby is still at the top of his list, and I will write a review later this week.

Photo of shadows of a family on sand

Parenthood

An old friend recently reached out on Facebook for perspective on having children. She wondered in particular how parents stay sane in the face of things like explosive diapers, extensive sleep deprivation, childhood illnesses, and the need to find and then pay babysitters to do anything without a child in tow. She explained that while lots of parents she knows say their kids are the best thing that ever happened to them, she could not see how she would overcome the aforementioned obstacles. Her questions and comments struck me for two reasons: one, their honesty — I think a lot of people have these questions and wonder why people assume having children is a good thing rather than just the next logical step at a certain stage — and two, I think she has picked up on something. Yes, plenty of parents do think and say that parenthood is the best thing to ever happen to them but not many expound on that. It is a lot easier to vocalize the frustrations of another sleepless night than the reason having a child is so wonderful. Plus, based on my very unscientific observations on the social media I inhabit, snark is a lot more “in” than sincerity. Complaints are or can be funny. Talking about love and joy, not so much (or at least those subjects take a lot more work). There is also the presumption, I think, that parents don’t need to explain to other parents. But for what it’s worth, here is the gist of the response I gave my friend.

I don’t judge anyone who doesn’t want kids. There are as many reasons to not be a parent as to be. (Furthermore, not having children does not make your life childless. Some of my child’s most ardent and adoring fans are dear friends who do not want their own children.) For me, though, having a child has been an exercise in falling in love, the greatest love of my life. There has been all the excitement, leveling of expectations, and attempts to be the best version of myself. More sleepless nights, yes, although it hasn’t felt so very different than college exhaustion-wise and from all accounts will probably last about as long per child. The reasons for the sleeplessness are different, and the responsibilities are greater, but exhaustion is exhaustion as far as I am concerned. However, no other person has the ability to make my heart explode with joy so many times a day. Or my throat tighten as quickly if I see them hurting. To make me feel like a superhero or like the most helpless creature on this planet. I have never had more fun or felt as humbled. The diapers, night wakings, illness, and babysitters, they’re all temporary. There’s probably a reason that those things coincide with the phase in which your kids love you so hard and so openly it can blow your mind. Thus far, parenthood is another type of education. High investment, high return, and the lingering hope that I don’t go utterly broke in the process.

Is my child the best thing that ever happened to me? Yes. “Best” is a misleading term, though. It sounds easy and obvious. Likewise, my “worst” days as a parent, the days when I feel most challenged, still contain more love, joy, and pride than any single day prior to becoming a parent.

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