wild rumpus

This summer, I made a few pilgrimages to Wild Rumpus, that beloved independent bookstore in Minneapolis.


This place makes me want buy stacks of books, open my very own bo0kstore and get some pet chickens. Immediately. And maybe put some turquoise streaks in my hair to fit in with the booksellers.

It reminds me of the value of independent bookstores. (Warning, I’m about to get sappy.) It reminds me why Amazon is a failure when you are looking to discover and explore books. It reminds me why independent bookstores put Big Box stores to shame. It reminds me why having physical (not virtual!) gathering places to be around (and touch!) books is vital.

I read a lot about books: magazines devoted to reviewing and explaining them, blogs discussing them, etc. But it never fails that when I go into an actual bookstore I am startled to find so many gems that I had never even heard about or to explore a book that I had only read a description of.

I had an involved conversation with one of the bookkeepers about the best translation of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales (try the one translated by Tiina Nunnally), what she thought of Philip Pullman’s version of the Brothers Grimm stories (excellent) and we talked about the emergence of picture book biographies (brilliant). Where else could I have such a conversation?

When you go, let your kids walk through the purple, kid-sized door (it is jammed every time we go, but we wrangle it open because kid-sized doors are one of the delights of childhood and they are ALWAYS worth wrangling), chase some of their chickens or cats, enjoy the maze-like aisles, purchase a stack of books and buy some stickers (they have great stickers).

from martha graham

Box Canyon 040“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”

starting over

Pikes Peak 010

Last month I finished the first draft of my very first picture book biography.

And then I did what I usually do with my first draft – I sent it to my first readers, revised based on those comments, revised some more based on new ideas and fantasize about submitting.

But something different happened this time. I revised my manuscript and it wasn’t enough. I was stuck. I wrote about that here.

The problem was I knew I wasn’t telling the story the way it deserved. It was lacking. It was missing something. It seemed off.

The problem was I couldn’t quite articulate what was wrong with it. That knowledge kept picking at me at odd moments. And when I got quiet enough, that knowledge said horrid things to me like:

“you have to start over”

“your sentences are pretty but they don’t add up”

“trying harder isn’t going to make a difference here”

So I got some help because I needed it. And two lovely writers, my mentors, told me what was wrong. They didn’t tell me how to fix it. That’s my job. But now I know what is wrong. And I have a small idea of how to fix it.

So, I am starting over.

It actually pains me to write that sentence. I do not want to start over. I want my little manuscript to be whole and lovely, and frankly, I want it to be Done. But it is not. And the idea that saves me from abandoning this manuscript is that I’d much rather write something excellent than just be done.

I’m opening a blank document and beginning again.

I have no idea how to do this. And sometimes the knowledge of all the thinking and writing I have ahead of me makes me want to lie down and take a nap…for a week. And then I read this post by Seth Godin and I get to work.

And it is my hope that I will be able to do this one thing well – tell this woman’s story beautifully.

winters: my secret power

Sunset 001

In the midst of this unrelenting winter, when its cold teeth were firmly grasping my neck, a friend sent me this quote: “Wisdom comes with winters.” ~ Oscar Wilde

It was a comfort as I braved another week (another month) of below zero weather. It made me feel as if my fortitude would bring me a reward – a valuable gift – if I could just make it through the tunnel of snow and cold. Mostly, the quote helped me feel as if my suffering had meaning – which always makes suffering a little more OK. The formula is simple: I go through a trial and am stronger for it.

I learned later that the quote really did not mean that. Not at all. I was tolerating winter, not embracing its gifts. And therein lies the difference.

Sometimes it feels like a national pastime, to hate winter. As soon as the shine of the New Year grows dull, the complaining – about the cold, dark, snow, gray, blah, blah, blah – begins. Yes, the days get long. But I’ve lived in and traveled to a variety of places and each one has its own special climate and weather. We complain about the rain in Washington, about the crushing heat in Arizona, the chattering cold of Minnesota, the humidity of Tennessee. But, I say, isn’t that part of the loveliness, the uniqueness that makes those places what they are?

There wouldn’t be a confluence of waterfalls around Washington without the rain. There would be no saguaro cacti in Arizona without the dry heat. The humidity of Tennessee affords us magnolia trees. The cold of Minnesota offers us the miracle of the birch tree.

There is a natural inward turning for me in winter. After Christmas, I get very quiet. I read a lot. I make soup. I fill the pages in my journal. I read some more. I write. I read. I roast sweet potatoes. I sew a quilt top. I knit. I bake bread. I read.

This winter, with its record-setting and humbling cold, I stayed home. It didn’t feel safe or wise to leave the safety of home. I felt like by getting quiet and reading and doing all these things, I was gaining some wisdom. Winter forced me to be still. Quiet. This was my instinctual understanding of those words by Wilde.

It wasn’t until I was reading a section in Leadership Education by Oliver & Rachel DeMille that I understood Wilde’s quote in a fuller way. As it turns out, wisdom does come with winters, but it doesn’t come by just bearing through it.

The DeMilles write, “Winters are for stories. In our agrarian past, people worked hard from spring through fall, and took winters off as a natural time to share the learning of the past…Much of a farmer’s work was done for the year when the snow fell, and winter was a time of learning… Winter is a time for stories and study.”

They continue, “The activities of body in spring, summer and fall prepare the mind for yet another significant annual learning spurt from October through April…the natural time to significant paradigm shifts and great learning is winter.”

For most of my life, I’ve naturally read more, regrouped, dug deep, reflected and written during winter. But I’ve never known why. I’ve never put a name on this natural pattern. And I love, love, love it when I finally can understand in a factual way something that before was a hunch, a quiet urge.

And so this winter – and for all my winters to come – I embrace the cold, the stories, the quiet, the inward turning, the writing. I won’t will the calendar pages to move quickly to the warmer months. I’ll embrace the gift of winter, the power of those cold days – to dig in without distraction.

Today, as I run down a manuscript, I am grateful for these lingering days of chill air. I know that as soon as the sun emerges and decides to stay – I will be unable to resist (nor should I) the lure of long days spent running, biking and gardening outside.

lovely links: April 2014

again and again Seth Godin nudges me back on track

these bare books are a great find

100 Great Children’s Books/100 years

10 British Children’s Books That Every Young American Kid Should Read

Where can I find great diverse children’s books?

Ernest Hemingway creates a reading list for a young writer, 1934

reading The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler by James Cross Giblin, Howling Wolf and the History of Ledger Art by Joyce M. Szabo, Locomotive (perfection) and Moonshot by Brian Floca, The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman, The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting,  Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider, chipping away at the Bible and considering using The Eerdmans Companion to the Bible as an aid the next time I read through it and wrapping up A History of the American People by Paul Johnson (a remarkable book)

from jack kerouac

Cloud 001

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…”

the sibert medal

The Sibert Medal is my FAVORITE book award. (sorry for yelling.) I am reading my way through this list and I haven’t come across a single title that hasn’t delighted and surprised me.

There doesn’t seem to be a particularly interesting story connected to the award’s creation. No matter. The books that have received the medal and honor are excellent. If you have a child (or a self) who is deeply curious about all kinds of things, look no further than the past Sibert Medal winners and the 2014 winners for intriguing titles. (I can’t find an integrated list anywhere.)

Here’s the official story: “The Robert Sibert Informational Book Award, established by the Association for Library Service to Children in 2001 with support from Bound to Stay Bound Books, Inc., is awarded annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book published in English during the preceding year. The award is named in honor of Robert F. Sibert, the long-time President of Bound to Stay Bound Books, Inc. of Jacksonville, Illinois. ALSC administers the award. Informational books are defined as those written and illustrated to present, organize and interpret documentable, factual material. Poetry and traditional literature such as folktales are not eligible but there is no other restriction.”