Iowa’s Bells

iowabell1.JPGMy Iowa Children’s Choice Award arrived yesterday – a marvelous brass school bell engraved on one side with the Iowa Library Association logo and on the other side with my name, the year, and the winning title, Stolen Children.

This is my fifth time to win the Iowa award, and my fifth school bell.  In my acceptance speech for the second one, I told how my grandkids loved to ring the first bell to call everyone to dinner. When I won again, I said that I now had three bells,  but four grandchildren and said I needed to win once more so that I could leave one of the bells to each child in my will. It became an on-going joke with Beth Elshoff, who had chaired the ICC committee the year that I won the first time. When I won bell #4, she emailed me that she was happy all of the grandkids were now taken care of.

So this year, I won my fifth bell and the timing was perfect. Seth Robert Kehret, my first great-grandchild, was born last week.

How old are my readers?

ghostdogsecretscover.jpgI just read the reviews of Ghost Dog Secrets. I am not a fan of Amazon reviews because they are posted with no criteria as to whether the reviewer is qualified to judge a book. Even so, my books generally get good reviews and this was no exception.

One reviewer went on at some length about the fact that he was too old to read this book. It is a book for kids, and he is a senior citizen. He phrased everything in terms of how he would have reacted when he was eleven or twelve. In the end he said he would give the book five stars, but he was too old, so he gave it four.

The very next reviewer made a big point of saying it is too bad Ghost Dog Secrets is shelved with the books for kids because it has wide appeal for readers of all ages. Another reviewer said she’d read it because her twelve-year-old son had recommended it, and had enjoyed it a lot.

Most of my books, including Ghost Dog Secrets, are categorized as middle grade, meaning ages 9-12, but I write them for myself. Like many adults, including seniors like me, I love middle grade and YA books. I read a great deal of adult material, too, but a good book is a good book, no matter what age reader it’s intended for.

I had them first

smallstepscover1.jpgIt has happened again. For the second time, a famous author has chosen the title of one of my books as the title for his newest work.

The first time it was Louis Sachar. The long-awaited sequel to his marvelous Newbery winner, Holes, was called Small Steps.  Since Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio is one of my most popular books, I was chagrined  by this, and worried that there would be confusion.

Now John Grisham has published the second book in his middle-grade series about Theodore Boone, The Abduction.  I liked the first book in this series a lot and have ordered this new one but I do wish Mr. Grisham had chosen a different title. At least there’s a The on his title to distinguish it from my Abduction.

Titles can not be copyrighted, and I’m certain neither Mr. Sachar nor Mr. Grisham intended to cause me distress. But I can’t help feeling these were MY titles and wishing they’d chosen something else.

Japanese edition

japannightoffear.jpgThe Japanese edition of Night of Fear is out. My copies arrived yesterday and, even though I can’t read Japanese, I love it. There are several interior illustrations, which neither of the English editions had, and there is a slim blue ribbon bound in with the pages so you never lack a book mark.

Foreign editions are one of the most fun parts of being a writer. It’s hard to believe that kids far across the ocean are reading my words in a language that I can’t decipher.

Charlotte Award

charlotte2.JPGI got the BEST mail today! The New York Reading Association sent me the Charlotte Award that I won for Stolen Children. I knew the award was named for the spider in E.B. White’s wonderful book, Charlotte’s Web, but I did not expect an award like this.

The glass ball that dangles beneath my Charlotte is painted on one side with my book’s title and my name. The other side has a painted spider web and the words Charlotte Award.

Thank you to the New York Reading Association for this unique, wonderful award.charlotte.JPG

My first novel

Deadly StrangerI remember the phone call in vivid detail. “We have an offer,” said my agent, “for Deadly Stranger.” With goosebumps on my arms and my heart racing, I jotted notes as she talked. Then I hung up and burst into tears. That morning remains one of the high points of my life.

I’d previously sold plays, short stories, two adult nonfiction books, and Winning Monologs for Young Actors, but Deadly Stranger was my first novel for children, the book where I finally found my voice and discovered my life’s work. It impacted my entire way of life.

Soon after Deadly Stranger was published, a teacher asked me to speak at her school. I was astonished. It had never occurred to me that anyone might want me to be a speaker. I’ve since talked at schools, libraries, and conferences all across the country. These events provided fresh ideas, introduced new friends, and fed my creativity. What a fantastic adventure!

But the biggest impact from the sale of that first novel was internal. It was the shining knowledge that I had aimed for what seemed unattainable, and I had achieved it. That glow remains. It allows me to take chances, to write what interests me regardless of what’s currently popular. It keeps me slogging through sagging first drafts because I know the end result will be worth the drudgery. It is the sure, constant awareness that being a writer of books for kids is not just what I do as a career. It is who I am.

No matter how many times it happens, it is still a thrill when a book is published, and every book reinforces the commitment and the joy created by that first one.

Note: A version of this blog was written when I was a guest blogger for my talented friend, Kirby Larson.