I’ve had my cane, Alice, for more than ten years. She is sturdy and beautiful, with cat faces all over her. I named her Alice because I expected her to lead me into Wonderland, which she has done.

Alice has also had some adventures of her own. Late one rainy afternoon, I stopped at a grocery store on my way home from a book event. I use Alice while I walk into a store, then she rides in the cart while I do my shopping. On that particular day, I happened to park next to the spot where carts get returned. By the time I came out of the store, it was dark. I unloaded my groceries, and shoved the cart into the cart stall. Because my car was right there, I didn’t need Alice in order to walk across the parking lot – and I left her in the shopping cart!

As soon as I got home, I realized what I had done. My heart sank at the thought of possibly losing Alice. I called the store and explained my predicament. As soon as I described Alice, the clerk said, “Oh, yes. We have it. It’s behind the customer service counter.” (I wanted to correct the clerk and point out that Alice is a “her” and a “she,” not an “it” but I decided not to press my luck.)

I was too tired to drive back to town that night but first thing the next morning, I went to retrieve Alice. She was leaning against the wall in a corner, with a handsome dark blue cane that had apparently also been left behind. I was glad Alice had found a friend so that she wasn’t afraid to stay alone overnight in the store.

The first time I flew with Alice, I put her in the overhead bin. When the bin was opened at the end of the flight, Alice jumped out and tried to whack a passenger on the head. I grabbed her in the nick of time.

The next time we flew, I placed Alice on the floor under the seat in front of me. When the plane took off, gravity pulled her backward and she slid under the seats behind me. Nobody noticed. When I realized she was gone, I walked down the aisle, looking on the floor. I finally found her three rows back. The young man whose seat she was under didn’t know she was there, but he laughed when I told him Alice had run away, and he fished her out for me.

Now when I fly, Alice rides on the floor but I squeeze her tightly with both feet during takeoff and landing, to make sure she stays where she belongs.

Occasionally I give Alice a bath, rubbing her with a soapy cloth, then rinsing and drying her. She gets “new shoes” now and then, too, because the rubber tip on the cane bottom wears out.

Because of Alice, I feel more secure when I walk. I’m far less likely to fall when she is by my side. We’ve had many fine adventures together, and I anticipate many more.

Infrequently Asked Questions

Several recent letters asked me if I miss Minnesota. My answer is, no.  I don’t miss California, either, and I lived there longer than I lived in Minnesota. I don’t get asked about California because I have not written much about my experiences while I was there.

I have fond memories of my years in Minnesota and California. I was happy in both states but I don’t miss them because I’m happy now, too, here in Washington. I’ve always liked every place I ever lived because contentment comes from the inside, not from a location.

Another reader wrote that since so much of my personality seems to have been shaped by my polio experience, she wondered if, given a chance to live my life again, I would choose to still have polio. Again my answer is no, only this time it’s a big fat capital NO!

The original polio experience lasted about a year. At the end of that time I was emotionally stronger, more independent, more aware of what’s important, than I was at the beginning. There were many positive results to help balance the terrible fear, pain, and loneliness that I endured.

The negatives, however, keep coming. Post-polio syndrome limits me in myriad ways half a century after I was “over” the disease. It is frustrating to attend a granddaughter’s gymnastics meet and be unable to climb the steps into the bleachers in order to see well. Neck pain limits my computer time. Travel is increasingly difficult. The school visits that used to be such fun are now so fatiguing that I have quit doing them. There are dozens of small difficulties every day, all a result of the late effects of polio.

This is not to suggest that I am unhappy, because I’m not. I have an interesting, fulfilling, and joyful life – but it would be even better without polio.

Another question that’s been asked lately is, “How did you meet your husband?” The complete answer is in my book, Five Pages a Day: A Writer’s Journey.  The synopsis is that we both signed up to work at a church food booth at a county fair, and were assigned the same shift.

Many kids ask about favorites. What’s my favorite animal? I don’t have one. How could I choose? If I said “cats” Lucy’s feelings would be hurt, and if I don’t even want to think what Pete would do if I said that dogs are my favorite.  I like all of the animals. 

I don’t have a favorite color, either. For favorite food, I usually reply that it’s a chocolate milk shake – but on a cold, snowy day, I’d choose hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and nutmeg.

This last question has been popping up now and then for years: How many more books are you going to publish? That is a good question, and I have no idea what the answer is. There’s a new book coming out in November (Stolen Children from Dutton Children’s Books) and I have a proposal under consideration and another book partially written, plus several folders full of ideas that keep resurfacing every few months. How many of them will eventually become books is anybody’s guess. All I know for sure is that I will be writing today, and every day that I am able to do so. Some days I write for many hours, some days for only a few minutes. Some days the writing occurs only in my head and doesn’t get transferred to the keyboard until a later time. It depends on what else is happening in my life.

So I can’t promise any specific number of books, but I can promise that I will continue to work, at whatever pace I can manage. The books will get written, one page at a time.

What Am I Working On Now?

I’m asked some form of that question many times each week. “Are you writing a new book?” If I say yes, because, of course, the answer is always yes, the next question is, “What is it about?”  Therein lies my problem. Unlike many authors who will gladly discuss their works in progress, I don’t like to talk about mine until they’re done. More than that, I don’t want to discuss a book until it’s sold and in an editor’s hands.

It has always been difficult for me to share my unfinished work.  In the early years, before I was publishing regularly, I joined a critique group – and dropped out after only a few months. I enjoyed hearing what the other members had written, and I felt I was a reasonably good critic, but it was painful for me to share my own writing while I was still working on it.  Since there was no point in sharing it after I was done, I decided to forego the group sessions and spend that morning each week writing.

Most writers do belong to groups, and they benefit mightily from the input of their peers, but I am not comfortable in that situation. It never bothers me to have editorial feedback, and I’m happy to revise when suggestions make sense to me, which is most of the time, but group sessions are not for me.

When I’m asked what I’m working on now, my response is generally to state the title of the book that will be published next.  It’s sure to be new to the reader who asked, since it isn’t out yet, and it saves me from giving information that I am not ready to share.  

If I tell young readers the title of the next book, they invariably ask, “What’s it about?”  One begged me to send her “just a few pages.” 

For those who are curious, my next book will be published in November by Dutton. The title is Stolen Children, and if you want to know what it’s about, you’ll have to wait and read it yourself.


Many readers have e-mailed to ask where I will be on Christmas Day.  I will be at home, and my daughter, son-in-law, and two of my grandkids will be here, as well.  I love to have family here during the holidays.  My son, daughter-in-law, and my other two grandkids are coming on Dec. 30 and will stay for New Year’s.

 I have done way more cooking than writing this week. There are a few special recipes that I make only at Christmas time.  My favorite of all is rolled sugar cookies.  All my old cookie cutters are hanging on the wall and I enjoy taking them down, washing them, and using them. This year I made trees and stars. I’ll do bells for New Year’s.

One year I made a big batch of gingerbread men. I used raisins for the eyes, red cinnamon candies for the mouths, and chocolate chips for the buttons. I left them on the table to cool overnight, and when I got up the next morning, I discovered that my cat had eaten all the raisins! Everything else was intact, but I had a whole tabletop full of blind gingerbread men.

Yesterday my friend, Marilyn, and her daughter, Karrie, came for lunch.  Karrie is my pet-sitter when I travel and it was fun to see how excited and happy Lucy was to see her. 

Another friend, Mark Smithberg, will be here on the 28th. Mark is my “honorary son” who shares my love for player pianos and jigsaw puzzles.

Edgar’s big day is set for the 27th – when his new “mom” and someone from Pasado’s will be coming to finalize his adoption and take him to his permanent home.

Thanks to all of you who sent holiday cards and e-mails. I wish each of you happy reading in the year ahead.

Santa Collection

Last night I got out my Santa collection and arranged it on the buffet in my dining room. Many of the Santas are souvenirs of my travels, and at the time I had the good sense to write on the bottom of each of them so I can remember where and when I got them. Here is a small sample of what’s written on some of the Santas:

1. “Author reception, Cleveland County Historical House, Norman OK 2/25/94”  This reception followed a week of school visits in Norman. The historical society sold antiques on the upper floor of the house.

2. “Silver Falls State Park, OR, 2001”  Carl and I were on our way home from a week of school visits in Oregon, and spent the weekend in our motorhome in this beautiful park.

3. “Opreyland Hotel, Nashville, Accelerated Reader Conference, Feb. 2000”  I spoke at the conference; that evening Carl and I explored the hotel’s shops.

4. “Duluth MN 1996 MEMO Conference, Maud Hart Lovelace Award.” I had received the award for Cages. This Santa is riding on the kind of barge that I saw in the Duluth harbor.

5. “Eric’s 10th birthday trip, Alaska, July 2002” When each of our grandchildren turned ten, we took them on a special trip.  Eric’s was a cruise to Alaska. My souvenir is Santa in a canoe, along with some wildlife.

6. “Speaker, post-polio group, Seattle Jan. 1998”  Someone from the group took us to a Swedish pancake breakfast prior to my talk. The church that put on the breakfast was also having a bazaar; I bought a Santa.

7. “School visits, Iowa, 1996”  This was another fun motorhome trip. Our motorhome was programmed to stop at antiques shops, but I rarely bought old Santas because the majority of them are scowling. Really! Most antique Santas look crabby; I prefer happy Santas.

The Santa I’ve had the longest is a small one made of yarn with a cotton beard. My mother made these as package decorations one year when I was a little girl.

 A large bobble-head Santa who comes apart at the waist has lived with me for a long time, too. My grandmother sent him to my children, filled with Mrs. See’s candy, as a Christmas gift in 1963.  I have filled him with candy and displayed him every December since then.  I also have a copy of The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa, which is inscribed by my grandmother to my son and dated December 25, 1961. Bob would have been two years old. At the time I did not realize how much I would treasure these gifts so many years later.

There is a snapshot of me, age ten, wearing a Santa costume which I donned on Christmas Eve and wore to distribute the gifts from under the tree to my family. I only fit in it for two years but I still remember how much fun it was to “be Santa” – to come ho-ho-hoing down the stairs where my parents, brother, and grandpa showed great excitement at my arrival.

 Each year when I display my Santas, I am flooded with happy memories. 

Thank You

I often get thank you letters.  Sometimes the letter-writer thanks me for writing a specific story; sometimes it’s a more general “thank you for writing good books.” Children often thank me for volunteering to help animals.

My good friend, Larry Karp, who writes terrific adult mysteries, always e-mails the day after he and his wife have been to my house for dinner, to say thanks for the meal and the conversation. Another friend never fails to send a hand-written note of thanks for her birthday gift, even though I always give it to her, and get thanked, in person.

My grandkids always thank me for attending their sporting events or concerts.  Lucy thanks me by wagging her tail and dispensing doggie kisses. The cats show their gratitude with loud purrs.

Of course I would write stories even if no readers wrote to say thank you. I would host dinners for my friends and remember their birthdays whether they contacted me the next day or not. I enjoy seeing my grandkids perform and I’m always glad when they invite me to watch.  Still, everyone likes to feel appreciated and a simple “thank you” costs nothing.

Many, many readers have brightened my life over the years with their words of thanks.  Now it’s my turn:

Thank you for reading my books. Thank you for telling me when you like them, and for recommending them to your friends. Thank you for caring about the animals, and each other. Thank you for being the best fans ever!

Books, Chocolate, and History

I went to Hershey, Pennsylvania, this week to receive the Keystone State Reading Association’s Young Adult Book Award for The Ghost’s Grave. It is always rewarding to spend time with a group of reading teachers and librarians because they are my partners in the cause of literacy. I write the books; they put them in the hands of kids who read them. It was a lovely award luncheon and I now have friends in Pennsylvania.

My son-in-law and grandson, Kevin and Eric, went with me. While I was at the KSRA conference, they spent the day in Gettysburg. They are both students of military history, and were thrilled to stand at the spot where Lincoln gave his Gettysburg address.

The next day the three of us visited Hershey Chocolate World (yum!) and took a tour to learn the history of Mr. Hershey. He was a remarkable man who had persistence, business acumen, and compassion. We also visited the Civil War Museum in Harrisburg.

The only travel glitch was in Cincinnati. When we changed planes to fly to Harrisburg, PA, my bag was left uncovered in the rain. It sat there long enough for the rain to soak completely through the bag itself and into the contents. My clothes were all wet, including what I planned to wear at the award luncheon. My nightgown was so soaked I couldn’t wear it. Posters that I had taken to give away were wet, but I spread them around my room and they dried overnight. Luckily, the “Visit With Peg Kehret” DVDs that I took as gifts were in plastic covers.

I arrived home to piles of mail, a packed Inbox of e-mail, phone messages, and excited animals. Lucy has been a “Velcro dog” since my return, Molly claims my lap at every opportunity, Edgar (my foster cat) yowls for attention, and even Mr. Stray looked in the window to welcome me home.

This was my last out-of-state trip for awhile. I like to meet new people and to see and learn about new places. Awards that kids vote on are dear to my heart and I feel honored to hang the beautiful KSRA plaque on my wall. Still, I agree with Dorothy: there’s no place like home.

Literacy Festival

For three days last week I was at the Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival in Seward, Nebraska. The festival is held each year on the campus of Concordia University, and this year more than 7,000 people attended.

 I gave three talks to children on Thursday, three talks to children on Friday, and three talks to teachers and media specialists on Saturday. Whew!  I also attended a dinner/auction for the festival’s sponsors, where I talked briefly about myself.  I enjoyed hearing Richard Peck speak at the Sat. luncheon.   The other festival presenters were Andrew Clements, Robin Brickman, Ted and Betsy Lewin and Laura Numeroff.  It’s always fun to get to know my fellow authors. 

I don’t know how many books I signed, but there were stacks and stacks of them when I arrived and none left at the end of the last session. The folks at Concordia were warm and welcoming. On Wed. night we were introducing ourselves and shaking hands. By Sat. we were good friends, hugging goodby.

I stayed in a guest house on campus which was well stocked with goodies, including coffee and chocolates, which I consider essential food groups. 

 There were many highlights. I met a woman who, as a high school student, had acted in a play that I wrote.  I met a mother and daughter who had been e-mailing me for a long time and who drove from Iowa to hear me talk. I heard wonderful reports from librarians who are using my books to encourage reluctant readers.

I loved making new friends, and talking with teachers and librarians, but the best part of the conference was the children who were excited about books. They are the ones I write for and it was extremely satisfying to hear their questions about my work and to bask in their enthusiasm. 

Trash Talk

Today is recycle day in my neighborhood. I have a large, wheeled bin where I put newspaper, plastic, aluminum cans, mixed paper, and cardboard. Every two weeks I roll it out to the street and an amazing truck automatically lifts the bin and empties it. 

On the night before recycle day, I do my litter walk. I take Lucy along and we walk about a mile, picking up trash that’s been discarded on the side of the street. Last night I filled a large bag, mostly with beer cans plus one beer bottle, one Pepsi can, an empty cigarette package, and a few candy wrappers.

Last year a class of students in Darien, Connecticut, who had read Small Steps, sent me a wonderful gift. It’s a “picker-upper,” one of those long handled devices with tong-like grips on the end, intended for reaching items on high shelves. The one the kids sent me is a gold color and it’s called a Golden Retriever. It’s a perfect name for a dog lover and I use it on my litter walks to retrieve cans that are thrown into the ditch, where it’s hard for me to reach them.

For many years before my area had curb-side recycling, I sorted the cans, paper, aluminum, etc. and took them to a recycling center. I still do that with glass, which isn’t allowed in my bin.  All of my friends recycle, too. It’s a way of life for those who want to conserve the Earth’s resources and I’m dismayed when I attend an event where no effort is made to separate recyclable items from the rest of the trash.

My semi-weekly litter walk is a small thing.  On the other hand, if everyone spent an hour every other week picking up litter in their neighborhood, our streets would look better, and if the cans and papers all got recycled, there would be a whole lot less trash in our land fills. 

Support your local artist

Yesterday I received a chain saw sculpture that I had commissioned.  Mark Herrington is a local chain saw artist whose work I admire. I had asked him if he made custom orders and told him what I wanted: a big bear reading a book to a small bear, and when Mark said he would carve that for me, I could hardly wait.

Since I live in a log home in the woods, this kind of outdoor art work is perfect for my setting.  Both bears are seated on stumps, with the small one looking up eagerly, as if hanging on every word of the story.  The big bear holds a book, titled Spy Cat.

I will enjoy this sculpture every day, and I know my visitors will smile when they see it. I’m pleased that I was able to support a local artist by purchasing his work.  It is not easy to make a living in any artistic field and I try to encourage my fellow creators.  Both bathroom sinks in my home were hand-painted by a local artist.  My front door was carved by hand with a scene of deer and fir trees. A stained glass carrot hangs in one window; the local birds eat from my hand-crafted bird feeder.

Because I appreciate the creativity and work that went in to each of these pieces, I treasure them far more than I would a factory-made door or a Made in China bird feeder.  Yes, my door cost more than if I’d gone to Home Depot and chosen one from the stack. It is also more substantial, far more beautiful, and it gives me pleasure every time I open it. 

I also have several paintings – one of which is the original cover art for Searching For Candlestick Park.