HAPPY NEW BOOK

January 1st, 2018

 

 

 

Time to celebrate the new year – and the whoopee cushion Santa brought me! And what better occasion to celebrate than a brand-new book. Yep, January 2 is a book birthday for my new Tiny Tales book, HUMPHREY’S PET SHOW PANIC. Ta-da!

 

 

 

I love how illustrator Priscilla Burris can get so much feeling into her drawings using very few lines! She has a very talented paw! You can see how she draw me here. https://vimeo.com/104481200

And guess whose head I’m sitting on? Yep, it’s the return of Clem, Miranda’s dog from THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY! And there are so many other animals at the pet show, from dogs, cats and rabbits, to a frog named Og – oh, you know him! I even get to see my old pal, Winky. With so much competition, I’m not sure I can possibly win. But my classmates are counting on me to bring home a prize. And I have bigger things to worry about, like Clem. No wonder I’m in a panic!

 

MERRY-MERRY-MERRY

December 22nd, 2017

Humphrey and I hope the halls are decked, you are feeling merry and bright and looking forward to a GREAT-GREAT-GREAT 2018 with new Humphrey books! Stay tuned ….

Mrs. Birney’s Neighborhood, pt.1

November 7th, 2017

I have been fortunate that for almost all of my son’s growing up and since then, I have been able to work at home. Even before books were my major endeavor (but I was always working on them), T.V. animation writers like me worked from home.

There are drawbacks, of course. Lack of social interaction is the major one so if you freelance, you have to make sure to schedule face-to-face visits with colleagues and friends. But there are advantages as well. Traffic in Los Angeles is horrible and continues to get worse. My commute is about 22 steps across my backyard to my little blue writing house. I make that walk MANY times a day! In fact, many’s the day I log 10,000 steps and I haven’t left the property. But I do walk around the yard, usually listening to audiobooks.

Another plus is that it’s quiet and conducive to concentration, but I can be as distracted as the next person, if the truth be known. I can distract myself without any outside intervention.

Although we have neighbors on either side and behind our house, we have total privacy. Our house is 80 + years old with lots of old growth trees and California greenery including the epically huge avocado tree outside my office.  It’s like a little cottage in the woods.  At night, the light by the door serves as a nightlight for the whole yard. In a word, it’s cozy.

It may sound a little bit lonely out there, but I have lots of company. For one thing, I have my characters, like Humphrey and Og, or Eben McAllister and Rae Ellen Hubbell (rhymes with trouble) from The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs. They all live in my imagination and are good companions. There are also plenty of living creatures around whose lively workdays include hunting avocados (the squirrels) and building nests (the birds). Maybe I took Disney’s classic Snow White and Cinderella films too seriously, but I talk to them frequently. (To date, however, none of them have ever sewed me a dress – one of my favorite scenes ever.)

 

 

I do miss the best dog who ever lived, the irreplaceable Desiree Birney (Desi for short but often called Miss Birney), who lived a very long and happy life and loved spending as much time as possible in the yard, where among other things, she hunted squirrels as well as avocados.

She was vigilant about squirrels, seeming to believe they were our worst enemies that – without her – would take over the yard. (She was right. They have.) She never met a human she didn’t like but squirrels  were her sworn enemies. First thing in the morning and last thing at night, she sniffed the entire perimeter of the yard to see if any intruders had crossed into it. She even went behind the office, which abuts the neighbor’s fence and is frankly, a place I don’t want to go. There was one particular corner of the yard that commanded so much of her attention (it is hidden) that we came to call it Where Evil Dwells. Miss Birney kept the evil at bay.

 

 

 

 

This might look like a sunny and inviting spot, but behind that greenery is Where Evil Dwells. Maybe. You can’t be too careful.

These days, the squirrels fascinate me and keep me well entertained during the day as I sit at my desk near the glass door. I have a great view of the tree that I call The Squirrel Superhighway. The squirrels go up and down that tree dozens of times a day and often we even make eye contact.  Sometimes the males tell me off. The cute little females aren’t even afraid of me. Those big males carry huge avocados in their mouths and sometimes, unfortunately drop them along the way. Once an avocado is dropped, they don’t pick it up again. In fact with most avocados, they take a few bites and leave the rest on the ground.

Like today, for instance. What a waste of some potential guacamole! In fact, it’s the pits!

 

That tree outside my office  is amazing! It’s green most of the year, but turns red in the winter – I’m just starting to see a few red leaves. Soon it will look like the picture at the top of this post, which doesn’t LOOK like Southern California but we do get some fall color … in the winter. While there are still a few red leaves on the branches, the tree blossoms with beautiful white flowers. Eventually all that white looks like snow on the ground. Here’s Desi in the “California snow” some years back. There were still a few colored leaves on the ground.

 

I’ll write more about the squirrels soon. But there are other critters out there. I wake up really early and am usually walking those 22 steps at 5:00 or 5:30 am, in my pajamas. (Don’t worry – no one can see me.) Recently, in the shadows (heading toward Where Evil Dwells), I saw something small and black with a great big white stripe down his back. I tiptoed back into the house. I came even closer to one once when I went out early to get the paper. I retreated into the house VERY-VERY-VERY quietly. Desi, however, was happy to take on the skunks and we all suffered from her encounters. Once a skunk sprayed her squarely in the eyes and nose and we thought she was going to die. She was just dazed but for the first and only time in her life, she had to sleep in the garage. She didn’t argue. We tried the tomato juice routine and she turned a lovely shade of pink! The folks at our Petco store just down the street says the skunk removal stuff is one of the biggest sellers in our neighborhood. We even have a skunk season where we are awakened almost every night by the overpowering smell. Luckily, that season doesn’t last too long. But believe me, you will never see a photo of a skunk taken by me! It’s not worth the risk.

In the 20+ years we have lived here, only once have I seen a raccoon. That was last year,  in the still-dark early morning as well. I’m glad the family didn’t settle in the neighborhood as they are destructive AND smart, which is a bad combination. Long ago, I twice saw coyotes in the very early morning. One was lying in the driveway. One was in the front yard against the hedge. This is not normal behavior for them. But with so much building encroaching on their territory in the hills, I’m sorry for them. Where are they to go for water and food? Not that they don’t make me nervous.

I won’t even talk about rats. Nope, not going to mention them. Just forget I typed the word. They’re gone now (the rodent rats, not the human kind). Occasionally, we’ve had opossums, too. Those slow movers are hardly a threat … but yep, Desi took them on, too.

More to come about the fauna and the flora in Mrs. Birney’s neighborhood – because it’s a very busy place!

 

 

Spelling Matters – A Lot

October 31st, 2017

You never know what you’ll find in your inbox. On Friday, I had an email with news that made me surprised and  HAPPY-HAPPY-HAPPY.

Humphrey’s Mixed-Up Magic Trick, one of the Tiny Tales, was named a 2018 GREAT WORDS, GREAT WORKS title by the Scripps National Spelling Bee. That’s the big one!

I did not know about this list, but here’s how they explained it:

“The purpose of this list is to highlight books that introduce students to rich and varied spelling and vocabulary words in context. The Bee curates the Great Words, Great Works list annually to provide teachers with grade-level appropriate reading recommendations that cover a variety of genres and topics, from classic to contemporary, fiction to nonfiction. Every word on the 2018 School Spelling Bee Study List can be found in one of the books from the corresponding grade level. Nearly 11 million students across the country in the 1st through 8th grades use this list to prepare for their classroom and school spelling bees.”

Humphrey’s Mixed-Up Magic Trick has been selected as one of five 2nd grade fiction books.

If you know Humphrey, you know that spelling is very important to him. He faithfully takes the spelling tests along with his fellow classmates in Room 26. Alas, he has not yet gotten 100%, like Sayeh, but one day maybe he will. NEVER-NEVER-NEVER give up!

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NOTE FROM HUMPHREY: READ-READ-READ!

I am an unsqueakably good speller …. for a hamster!

 

 

 

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Spelling is important to me as well! I was always a naturally good speller as were my parents and sister. I often won or tied for the school spelling bee and my sister ended up on the local St. Louis televised spelling bee in the ’50s. Early TV, just kids on folding chairs and no real set. My sister didn’t like the limelight much. I was watching at my grandparents’ house, but when she finally missed on the word “phenomenal,” she looked greatly relieved! The funny thing is, I always get hung up on that word even today. I think it’s because “phenomenon” has the “o” but “phenomenal” has an “a.” Or did I get that mixed up too?   Big Sister Janet and me around the time of the spelling bee. Rock ‘n’ roll was the big new thing back then! Rock Around the Clock!

I like Humphrey to use interesting words and there is lots of wordplay in the books. (I often wonder how that works in translation.) Remember “Piewhacked” from Mysteries According to Humphrey?

So any honor that has to do with spelling, words and phenomenal vocabulary makes me unsqueakably glad.

Oh, and I really like that particular book. My son was heavily into magic tricks as he was growing up and we all had a lot of fun with it. You can even learn a phenomenal trick in the book!

 

 

BIG-BIG-BIG Cover reveal is here!

October 24th, 2017

I told you it would be a different kind of According to book! Humphrey and I agreed it was time to hear Og’s side of the story, but we had no idea what his past life was like. Mark your calendars for July 3, 2018 and get ready to visit the swamp! I’ll be talking more about Og and his past in a blog in the very near future, but for right now, I’ll let this cover sink in!