The latest from the Front Porch Library

Here is what happened today at the library I have for my neighborhood kids:

It was China Day at the Front Porch Library. My singing partner, Craig, who lived in China for many years came with cool activities and props. First we found China on the map and looked at its placement in relation to the US–both are in the Northern Hemisphere so we have that in common. He then put up a silhouette of the two countries–roughly the same size, then with cut out paper figures we compared populations, each child taping up a figure to represent a 100,000 people. Hmmm…they’re pretty crowded in that same-sized country.
 
He shared artifacts and gave away coins. “What are these worth?” Kelby wanted to know. Something less than ten cents. Still–Chinese coins!
 
For me one of the best moments was unscripted. Miss Betty, who drops off baked goods for the food pantry–a Chinese immigrant–and Craig began speaking Chinese. I watched the kids blink. Chinese sounds as far from English as the human mouth is capable of going.
 
Betty then talked about her own family, about foot binding and how girls never went to school, the families were too large and the boys had priority. Then a “grey beard” came to the door, a missionary, who offered free schooling for her mother, and the family grabbed the opportunity. Betty then exhorted the kids to study hard! “They can take money from you! They can take possessions from you! But they can’t take your skills!”
 
I had wondered why she often, when dropping off food, pointed at a kid and said, “Nine times three! Seven times six!” She knows firsthand the power of education.
 
Craig then showed photos of iconic Chinese sights and cultural figures from Bruce Lee, to the Great Wall, to caligraphy, to the Terracotta Warriors. He turned it into a Bingo game. “RIce paddies? Guardian Lions? Dragon Boats?
 
It was such a great program. Thank you, thank you, Craig!
 
After Craig left, Sequoia, Klark, and Kelby tore out to shoot hoops. Olivia, Brianna, Lizzie and I stayed inside to write poetry, which of course began with decorating the paper–poems didn’t necessarily get written, but the papers were beautiful.
 
Olivia wrote a complete poem called Sweet Dreams about a nightmare. I think the opening line was, “A spider walks down your spine, thousands more stand in line.”
 
It was a super day at the FPL!
 
 

Botany Day at the Front Porch Library.

Here is the latest from the children’s library I run for my neighborhood kids:
It was botany day at the Front Porch Library–some days I feel ridiculously ambitious.
 
We began with a non-botanical read aloud, “The Water Gift and the Pig of the Pig,” a title so long I was amazed the publisher allowed it. It was a book about a man with the gift of finding water with a dousing stick and the offspring of the pig (the pig of the pig) that had gone around Cape Horn with the man when he lived on water. That brought on a discussion of dousing…and pigs.
 
I then boldly set out images of the different types of leaves from simple, to compound, to bi-pinnately compound. Palmate leaves, alternate and opposite leaves–then we went out to collect. Olivia found a leaf long enough to double as a jump rope–one that could easily accommodate two jumpers. Brianna found the bi-pinnately compound, Nandina–a fairly invasive plant but a great example of bpc leaves.
 
The leaf collecting was enthusiastic. Identification followed with the same devil-may-care enthusiasm, and then, I gave each kid a one square foot frame to drop on the ground and then see what could be found within that space. Ants. Ants could be found, leaf skeletons, mold. One caterpillar.
 
Some of the kids have a love-hate relationship with nature. It is hard work creating enthusiasm for mold, collapsing acorns, worms, but I tried.
 
Time to change direction. Alex and Charlie cleared a table for Scrabble. Charlie worked the add-an-S angle beautifully.
 
Briana, Olivia and Klark sat at the other table and I broke out food colors and tubes of marzipan (told you it was a real shift). Briana made an ostrich with a chick in the nest at its feet (a pair of chopsticks died in the making of the legs)/ Olivia made a mermaid tail that sat upside down on the table as if the tail was just breaking the water. Klark made a brown blob and a purplish blob. He mashed the two together and went back to experimenting with the (okay, I have no idea what it is called, but it is that glass-ball thingy that looks like it has lightning in it) The boys enjoyed the mild shocks and passing the shocks on to each other.
 
It was an exuberant gathering, and I have the upside-down and leafy living room to prove it!

The latest from the Front Porch Library.

The Front Porch library is a children’s library I started at what used to be my dad’s place. We meet every Sunday, neighborhood kids arriving by bike, scooter and on foot. Here’s what happened today, September 2, 2018.

It was code day at the Front Porch Library–and boy was it fun. We had keys for three different codes. One was the obvious, run the alphabet backwards under one that runs A to Z and replace the letters in what you are writing with the ones from the reverse alphabet.

The second one involved a grid and letters were translated to a binary from the horizontal and vertical axes, for example, A2 would be the letter B.

secret-codes-pigpen2

The third was my favorite. The parts of the grid that surround each letter create angular shapes (the second letter in the grid enclosure is expressed by the shape and a dot). Make sense? Sure, you’re smart!

It was just me, Mr. John, Brianna, Olivia, and Klark, but we were enough. We sat around the old folding table and wrote our names in the three codes. Then we took a puzzle and hid the pieces, writing a clue in code for each of the hidden pieces–there was a lot of “Close your eyes!” involved.

Pieces were in places like behind a pillow behind Mr. John, in the turtle shell, behind a drawing made by a library kid who has since grown up.

As we coded, the scheduled storm moved in, soaked Olivia’s bike and Briana’s scooter and knocked the Front Porch Library sign flat on it’s back.

As they left with their mom, I heard Klark say Library was really cool today. And it was!

Miracle Mountain Writer’s Retreat.

13923328_10210737144931294_4237416309831891465_oIt’s a July tradition. Writer’s gather on a mountain overlooking Maggie Valley (we are a mile up, the clouds below). Organized by Dr. Joan Kaywell, many in the group are teachers and professors in their so-called real lives.

I teach writing workshops twice a day and critique the writers’ works in progress. Joan’s husband Frank, and mine, Ray, were the chef and sous-chef–and boy did we eat.

Priscilla Estes taught yoga morning and evening and we hiked up and down the steep grade at the top of the mountain between the two retreat houses (thanks to Charlie and Dee for housing some of us and having a table long enough to accommodate so many writers).

It seemed as if the butterflies were having a mountaintop retreat as well. The phlox in front of Priscilla’s house was alive with swallowtails. And then there were the bears… This was our third retreat, and I will probably say this every year, but it was the best. So much good writing, good food, good fellowship. It was hard to return to the sea level of real life.

Here’s our group:

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Done at last!

the end

I just finished the first draft of my next novel. Not to give the ending away, but here is the very last thing on the very last page:

. (Yup, it ends with a period).

I’d like to tell you the title, but a title either appears in my brain like some loud prop plane trailing a huge banner with the title emblazoned it, or it hides in the weeds and it takes several drafts of the book for me to find it.

Here is the basic premise of the story.

What if time is a commodity distributed throughout the universe from a central location that enters each place through some kind of portal, for example a bead that hangs around the neck of its latest earthly keeper, a fifteen-year-old girl named Beatrice Summers?

And what if that commodity is limited and worlds that are being starved for time would like to pirate what this inexperienced keeper is guarding?

This book without a name is the opening novel in a trilogy. Not too give too much away but here is how volumes two and three will probably end:

. and .

Writer’s retreat!

If it’s January (and it is) it is time to gather on St. George Island to write, critique, schmooze, and eat some great cooking.

Every year I teach writing workshops, and edit stories-in-progress at Fiction Among Friends, a gathering of intrepid female writers who want to escape from the day-to-day for a while and concentrate on their true passion, writing books (and eating).

Here is a typical gathering to write and discuss exercises in the craft of putting words on paper.

Workshop

Just as sure as you’ll hear fireworks in your neighborhood every New Year’s Eve you can count on January to be Fiction Among Friends month.

We always welcome new writers to this annual event.

So, check it out. Fiction Among Friends. 

Children’s and YA Literature Festival in Salisbury.

Boy, have I been remiss about posting! But things have been pretty darned busy. I’ve  been to Salisbury Maryland to celebrate children’s lit and the life of Dr. Ernie Bond, the power behind the festival. Sadly Dr. Ernie recently passed away.

Here I am, doing a public radio spot–look how nicely we cleaned up to be on the radio! To my left is author Jen Cullerton Johnson, then Dr. Patty Dean, Dr. Ernie’s faithful sidekick (she kept saying, what would Ernie do?), and author Shelley Ratner.

We did lots of authorish things, but we also went to Assateague and hung out with the wild ponies–we didn’t impress them, but they sure impressed us!

Authors in Apalach!

Apalachicola is a sleepy Florida town famous for oysters and the invention of refrigeration–and a great gathering of authors called “Authors in Apalach.”

(If you live in Apalachicola you shorten it to Apalach).

This is me and my buddy Jan Godown Annino. She is holding up her book, She Sang Promise,  the true story of Betty Mae Jumper, the first elected woman leader of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Before becoming chief Betty Mae earned money wrestling alligators. Check it out!

Writers eat Oreos.

Every January I lead two writer’s retreats for women–I know men write too, but sometimes women have to be free to act silly and eat Oreos while they work on their stories.

Here are the writers in my second group, The Sisters of the Sentences. We are, standing on the deck of Always Awesome, a house overlooking the beach on St. George Island.

See the lady on the far right? That’s Sharon Ketts, a retired teacher. She is writing a book called “The Boys on Mars.” I think you are going to like it.

Seriously, a song about English teachers?

I forgot to mention…

At NCTE I did quite a bit of singing, including a song I wrote in honor of English teachers and the conference.

Want to hear the song and see the stage full of authors? Click here.

Seated behind me is a bunch of authors you have probably read and loved. To my right is Sharon Draper, to my left is Ibtisam Barakat. The camera also catches quick glimpses of Meg Medina and G. Neri.

Jason Reynolds was there too (I think he was right behind me). eE Charlton-Trujillo was off camera, but definitely there. And my buddy Dr. Joan Kaywell was the moderator.

Bet you can’t tell how scared I was. I was singing for a HUGE CROWD.