Humphrey’s new series debuts this week!

August 23rd, 2014


While Humphrey’s Tiny Tales are already available in the U.K., U.S. Humphrey fans have had to wait for awhile. The good news is, you only have to wait until August 28  - almost here! – and the first two books in the series will be released. YAY-YAY-YAY! Both books will be available in hardcover and paperback at the same time! I do love the hardcovers, however – especially because you can take off the dust jacket and still see the beautiful cover art on the actual book!

You can learn more about the stories, see some art, read reviews and even see Humphrey spin his wheel here on my website.

I’m personally in love with these books, not just because of the stories – which are shorter, for younger readers – but for the artwork by Priscilla Burris! I’ve long admired her (deceptively) simple, sweet and spicy children’s art,  so how lucky could I get? I don’t know how Priscilla manages to pack so much emotion in so few lines, but she’s the perfect illustrator to bring Humphrey and his friends to life. I also love the layout of the books – lots of white space for beginning readers, some large graphic type – really fun.

We both live in Southern California so I even get to see her in person from time to time. Here we are together after the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference earlier this month. Don’t we make a colorful pair? (If you want to write or illustrate children’s books, please join – go to scbwi.org and join – any writer/illustrator who is serious will tell you it’s been a lifeline, a support system and a total educational resource. Inspiring and fun.)

Thank you, Christopher Cheng, for taking this photo!

My Really Wheely Racing Day was inspired by an actual hamster race in Iowa – I’d visited the school and seen the video. There’s a frog race in the book, too, inspired by fellow Missourian Mark Twain’s story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”  One of the things you’ll see in the book actually happened. AND you’ll get to see Winky again -he’s the one-eyed hamster from Trouble According to Humphrey. Below is the real hamster that inspired his character. That photo is a little fuzzy because hamsters don’t like to sit still. But maybe you can tell that when he was born, one of his eyes didn’t open. It didn’t keep him from being an adorable hamster – he just looked like he was winking!

                    

My Playful Puppy Problem was inspired by another cute critter: my grand-dog, Bodhi! He was rescued running in traffic on the 405 Freeway here in Los Angeles, not too far from the airport. Angelenos will cringe at that thought — it has to be one of the busiest freeway sections in the world. But now he has a happy home. More recently, he has a brother named Flash, also rescued from not-good circumstances. They are truly lucky dogs! (That’s Bodhi in front – because he thinks he’s Top Dog).

       

  Didn’t Priscilla do a beautiful job?

 I loved seeing Humphrey, Og and all their friends come to life thanks to Priscilla’s talents. She and Humphrey have something in common: they both have big hearts!.


BEST-BEST-BEST of all – there will be two new books coming out for the next few years!

August 28th – start your engines!

Illustrations © Priscilla Burris


   


   

      


A huge pain in my neck

August 20th, 2014

An explanation for why I’ve been away from this blog for so long. Over a year ago – in July, 2013 – a neck issue I’ve been dealing with for years escalated and suddenly I was thrust into the world of pain and pain management. Over the past 13 months I have had innumerable tests and treatments. The only thing that helped was a course of steroids, which reduced the pain somewhat. Nothing else worked: muscle relaxers, epidurals, vicodin – zilch. I went into physical therapy, and then months of Pilates and massage (twice weekly). That became my life and I got stronger.

I had certain obligations and deadlines which made me put off the inevitable. On April 8, I finally had surgery: three discs were replaced on the right side, major clean up of arthritis on both sides of my neck and a titanium plate to cover the replaced discs and stabilize them. Apparently there was a large, sharp bone spur digging into my nerve: hence the tingling and the numb thumb. 4 1/2 months later, I am finally feeling better. The recovery is slow and long, but I’d been told that. In total, it will probably be a year or more. But my neck is finally feeling better and my thumb has some feeling back.

I’m not going to dwell on the gory details, tempting as that is. I’m appreciative that I’m finally feeling some improvement but still not ready to go back into physical therapy until the bones have fused. At least that process has started.

I can work and I’ve made adjustments to how I work. Early on, I got a sit/stand desk, as sitting is the worst thing for your neck and the rest of your body. All I do is push a button and the desk rises up or down. Sitting is the new smoking – a true no-no and I get up and walk for 1/4 or 1/2 a mile every half hour or so.

No more laptops  - ever. I have an all-in-one monitor which I love. It’s even touch-screen. And I have a very ergonomic set-up. I’m just sorry that like most of us, I ignored all warnings until I got past the point of no return.

I’m also sorry that I haven’t answered fan mail for a year! There are people out there who probably hate me.  I’m sorry that I’ve had to turn down all travel (I can’t lift over 10 pounds for awhile yet). I learned to say no – and believe me, people don’t like to take no for an answer. But I’m grateful that medical science is so advanced – this was a much worse operation only a few years ago. And I’m grateful that my body has been able to heal like this. Pretty amazing!

Through all of this, I have continued to write. Funny to say, but the month or so I was pretty much housebound was actually good for my creativity –  many new thoughts and attitudes grew out of that time.

Best of all, there’s something NEWcoming soon in the wonderful world ! On August 28, the first two books in the Tiny Tales series debuts in the U.S. The series has already been launched years ago in the U.K. but these are newly edited and newly illustrated books for younger readers. Shorter, illustrated Humphrey adventures! Best of all, they are illustrated by Priscilla Burris, who is like me, a southern Californian. She is PERFECT for Humphrey and I feel so lucky! I’ll be sharing the reviews (good!) soon and trying to keep this blog up-to-date. Thank you for your patience. And thank you to my husband, Frank, who made all of this run as smoothly and painlessly as possible.

I just can’t wait to go back to Pilates!

 

Virginia Snowflakes and Tiny Tales

April 5th, 2014


I live in Los Angeles, where rain is treated the same way a blizzard might be treated in other parts of the country. But I recently found myself in SNOW and it was beautiful!

I was in Northern Virginia for some school events with Bookworm Central – kudos to Radhika and Laurie for being fabulous hosts and the whole Bookworm Central team and our fabulous lunch! I also had a great dinner with local librarians and Baker and Taylor, wholesaler to libraries which is doing a big promotion for the Humphrey books and their new, virtually indestructible Paw Prints binding. It was a business dinner that was pure pleasure. (Thanks to Penguin’s Mary Raymond and to Katie Tucker who was there live and in person!)

 

 

 

Me with team Bookworm Central!

 

The big event was live-streaming and taping Meet the Authors for Fairfax County, VA. But the show is not limited to Fairfax County.  Any school can be involved – and should be!

http://www.fcps.edu/fairfaxnetwork/mta/birney.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

      With Katie Tucker of Penguin  

             Baker & Taylor dinner

 

I worked in Hollywood as a writer and producer, but I’d never done the equivalent of a live TV show. Luckily, host Della Kidd and the whole staff made it incredibly easy and fun. It live-streamed that day, and streamed again a few days later. Eventually it will be in their video archives and on video on demand. Challenging but fun, with kids Skyping questions from Oklahoma and Oakland, CA … taped questions from kids …. and live phone-in calls. Great questions and it was LIVE.  (I think I already said that.) They also had a great pre-taped segment on writing with tips from a very smart hamster named Mr. Bibbles!  Funny, because Humphrey book 11, coming out in 2015, has a lot to do with writing! Stay tuned for more info and the link.

 

My other news is that Humphrey’s Tiny Tales, which have been in the UK for awhile, are coming to the US in late August! These are shorter, illustrated books and they’re being reillustrated by a fabulous artist I know and admire: the one and only Priscilla Burris!!! She is perfect for Humphrey – yay!!! Keep your eyes and ears open for more details. There are two coming out in August: My Really-Wheely Racing Day and My Playful Puppy Problem. This is such exciting news, Humphrey is spinning on his wheel for joy night and day!

On a personal note, I’m having neck surgery April 8 and may be off the internet for awhile but am looking forward to coming back stronger than ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy 10th Hamster-versary

March 4th, 2014

 

No one is more amazed than I am that Humphrey has been around for ten years. Ten years, ten books – the newest is Secrets According to Humphrey! And I’m doing revisions on book 11. So how do you celebrate ten years of Humphrey books? With a PARTY, of course! Sharon Hearn, owner of the iconic Children’s Book World in Los Angeles, hosted a Hamster-versary party on Saturday and it was wild! If you’re going to give a party, you need to give it all you’ve got – and Sharon certainly did. Balloons, banners, face-painting, crunchy hamster snacks, art activities – and then I did a presentation and we all did the happy hamster dance. Luckily, I was assisted by my granddaughter, Remy!

        

I was worried that no one would show up – Angelenos (that’s what we’re called) famously DON’T go out in the rain. To our defense, when I say “rain” don’t think “showers.” We don’t get a lot of rain, but when it comes, it comes all at once. As in torrential. That’s what we had last week. Saturday was a little better, though still rainy, and they predicted thunderstorms – which didn’t happen. (Thunderstorms are extremely rare in Southern California.)

Well, I was wrong about no one showing up – people were packed in there like sardines but they didn’t  complain. One fan even brought his hamster, Gerald, along. Luckily, he was in a cage. A more enthusiastic group (maybe 100 people – or more) came together and we SQUEAKed and BOINGed and had a GREAT-GREAT-GREAT time!

 

 

By the way, I said ten books in the U.S. but there are actually 12, including Humphrey’s Book of FUN-FUN-FUN and Humphrey’s World of Pets.

I’m sorry if you couldn’t make it to the Hamster-versary party. Maybe in ten years we’ll do it again!

 

 

 

Humphrey’s Little Secrets Revealed

February 5th, 2014

 

           

 

If you haven’t gotten the new book yet, here’s one of Humphrey’s Top Secret Scribbles that gives a hint about just one of the many secrets in the book:

There’s just one thing I want to know:

Which of my friends is about to go?

 

Eeek! Go? Who? Where? When?

Book 10 in the Humphrey series, Secrets According to Humphrey, is now out in the US and UK. Around the time it came out, I was writing revisions on Book 11, which will be out in 2015. I’m not sure I’m ready to share the title quite yet, but it was interesting for me to write because it deals with the writing process. And that gave me a lot to think about.

Writers are always working in strange time frames, writing Christmas books in the summer, writing summer books in the winter – we’re never quite in sync with real time. But then, we pretty much live in our imaginations so life is perpetual time travel. (I’m not complaining about that!) In the US, the Humphrey books first come out in hardcover. A year later, the book comes out in paperback, usually around the time the new hardcover comes out. In the UK, the books are only in paperback.

From the emails I get, I can tell that lots of fans are very impatient for the next book to come out. But one a year is fine for me … and there have been other books that take up time, such as the Tiny Tales series in the UK. These are shorter, slightly younger books with illustrations. Why aren’t these books available in the US? So many fans ask that question. They were actually contracted for by Penguin before they were written and published by my London publisher, Faber & Faber.

But things are happening in the US … so hold on to your hats and I’ll let you know what’s happening soon. Let’s just say I’m very HAPPY-HAPPY-HAPPY about the way things are going!

For ardent fans in the US, I have to recommend Humphrey’s new-ish activity book: HUMPHREY’S BOOK OF FUN-FUN-FUN. All kinds of games and jokes based on all the Humphrey books. (I love puzzles, so I’m a big fan of this book myself.) And there’s a very comprehensive pet care book, HUMPHREY’S WORLD OF PETS. For anyone who loves all kinds of animals, it’s a fun book packed with really great information on caring for everything from rodents, dogs and cats to way more exotic animals. But it’s also filled with fun facts and jokes as well.

And I have a tiny window of opportunity to write something other than Humphrey. I know Humphrey fans would prefer that I only write about their favorite hamster … but I need to do some other writing for my own mental health … and to keep Humphrey fresh. Because one of the secrets behind the Humphrey books is keeping the pace manageable.