Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

 

(Note: Links to two reviews are included in the text)

Reviews are dreaded (always), hated (often) and loved (if they are good).  A writer is so thrilled to have a book accepted for publication! It’s everything you ever wanted – a dream come true! But once the book is in the works, the sense of dread starts to build. Yes, it’s published but what if the reviews are unfavorable? That doesn’t mean it won’t find its audience and yet …. And a good review is a good review, but nowadays, it’s all about the *starred* reviews. A good review without a star is still excellent, but people tend to check the *stars* first.  We live in an increasingly judgmental and unforgiving world these days, in my humble opinion.

Someone not in the publishing world recently expressed her surprise that reviews were important at all for children’s books because, of course, children don’t read reviews or care about them – bless them! But they are still important. There’s the industry profile and reputation that a writer builds to consider. And there are the teachers, librarians and even parents, who keep up with children’s books and want to make sure their children are reading quality books. They are the gatekeepers who can pass your book on to young readers or lock the door.

A lot of authors (and actors) don’t read them or claim not to read them – after all, it’s only one person’s opinion -but reviews carry weight. That’s why a simple added, “however ….” or “but …” can make an author’s heart sink to her toes. Ignore them if you want but they exist. Reviews have sabotaged careers. They have  kept potentially good or great writers from ever picking up the pen again. I think most professional reviewers realize this and are responsible. Most.

I have been lucky so far – knock on wood here or any other superstitious warding off of evil – but that guarantees nothing for the future.

I have this evil eye in my office. I bought it in Greece, when my son was studying there. All of the shops have them -some of them huge – outside. They are to ward off any evil that’s approaching. It’s usually over the door, facing the street. Mine is directly opposite my glass office door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also have this lovely creature in my office. It’s the Brazilian equivalent of the evil eye, which my husband brought back from the rainforest, when he was shooting a film in Curitibo. (Which is an extremely progressive city, by the way.) I would definitely say I’m NOT superstitious, but you can’t be too careful.

I’ve not had a dreadful review so far in my career. I say that as an apprehensive person who always feels as if that bad review is lurking just around the next corner. I had a few books that failed to get many reviews. That might be a blessing if the reviews may not have been favorable.

All that being said, I put all thoughts of reviews out of my mind when coming up with an idea, executing it, publishing it. Thinking about them would prevent you from writing at all. You know they’re coming and you brace yourself, but I truly don’t dwell on it. But once the release date draws near, you prepare yourself.

The first review for Life According to Og the Frog was in Kirkus (here), which has a reputation among writers for being tough.  Even so, The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs got a star from Kirkus and Humphrey got a highly favorable review. So when the review for the new book came out, I thought, “Well, even if the next review is bad, I’ll have this one as a back-up. It’s lovely and says so many things I wanted a review to say.

 

Then, I got a Google alert that Publishers Weekly, which is probably the one publication everyone in the industry reads, had a review up. It was FRIDAY afternoon at the start of the Memorial Day weekend. People in NY, the hub of the publishing business, had already gone home or left for a long weekend. I clicked on it and there was the *star*, followed by a beautiful review. The second word was “sparkling.” I knew no one would see it until Tuesday, but I had a gigantic adrenaline rush and walked on air for a few hours. The *review* (here) highlights elements that I worked especially hard on and this wasn’t an easy book to write.

Again I thought, well even if I get a bad review next, I have this one. (PW also gave The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs a starred review, which is quoted on the cover of the book.)

So what does it all mean? It’s not that huge in the giant scheme of things. It’s not life or death. Besides, now online reviewers – like you and me – are also really important. And in the end,  it’s up to the faithful and fabulous Humphrey fans to decide. But that star gave me a lift and validation I haven’t had in a long time, so I am grateful and I will live on that for awhile … at least until I have to worry about the next book. But at least I feel more confident that there may BE a next book, at least today.

(There WILL be a next Og book… I just finished it! Exploring According to Og the Frog.)

 

 

 

Humphrey takes his job as a classroom pet VERY-VERY-VERY seriously (and so does Og, as you’ll learn when his first book comes out in July) … but he is far from alone in the category of working animals.

Dogs are particularly suited to many jobs from security dogs at airports, police and war dogs, cancer-sniffing dogs, dogs that visit hospitals, rehabilitation and retirement homes and rescue dogs (oh, the hard work of dogs after 911 and the Oklahoma City bombings).

But SCHOOL dogs? I did encounter a working school dog during the years I spent traveling around the country and speaking at schools. I wish I could remember where. That fine dog’s regular visits were calming and helpful to students struggling with reading. They could read to her and her complete attention and lack of judgment fostered the confidence they needed to move forward.

And now, please meet the very handsome Thabiso! His name aptly means “Bringer of Joy.”  As his partner in this work, Allison Smith, says, “He visits libraries, an assisted living facility and a homeless shelter as well and is closing in on 800 total visits made.” Thabiso has been visiting 4th grade classes for two years and 2nd grade classes weekly for five years at E.J. Arthur Elementary School in Athens, NY … and that’s how he came to know the Humphrey books.

(Thabiso is certified with Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs and Allison and her husband – along with Thabiso – are featured in the book RESCUED by Peter Zheutlin.)

Allison donates Humphrey books to students in the classes … and the books are “pawtographed” by Thabiso!

She says, “He loves his kids so much and they love him and they are more confident readers because of him. We know from many past classes that he helps inspire a love of reading What could be better than that?”

Nothing!

He also recently was loaned to a school where several children were victims of a terrible tragedy and he helped comfort their classmates.

This is work. This is hard work. And it’s something that dogs do so well.

Our own departed but still beloved dog, Desi, created jobs for herself. She would have loved to have had a REAL job but looking after rather limited humans was her lot in life. Yes, she thought we were limited, with extremely poor senses of smell and hearing but an uncanny ability to score yummy food!

She was a true pack dog with a rather paltry pack. One of the ways she showed her allegiance to our pack was the fact that she would lie outside the room of whichever person was the last one still in bed, facing outward so she’d see the enemies coming. She wouldn’t budge until that family member got up.

She also thoroughly searched the perimeter of our yard (which has some rather wild areas) first thing in the morning and last thing at night. She checked every inch without fail to see if any critters had crossed the line.

When they did, she took care of that situation with many “notches”” in her collar for ridding the yard of possums, skunks (not a good idea), squirrels and other rodents -no hamsters, thank goodness!

I am not making light of her work. She was the smartest dog I’ve ever known and took her job seriously. She was a playful pet and sympathetic friend to my son, but also always on alert for anything that wasn’t quite right. She was not the kind of dog who sat at your feet, but rather sat outside of the circle, facing out, watching for danger. But we had a blind friend and somehow she sensed Carolyn couldn’t see. She would plant herself at Carolyn’s side so she could pet her easily and would NEVER get under her feet. She was the only visitor who received this treatment.

I’m sorry Miss Desi didn’t meet Thabiso. She would have loved his job!

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 ….

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!

 

 

Humphrey Show and Tell

January 24th, 2015


This week was so exciting, Humphrey’s whiskers were wiggling and his tail was twitching. I was pretty excited as well because of four BIG-BIG-BIG releases.

On Thursday January 22:

 

BOOK 11, Imagination According to Humphrey, was released in hardcover in the U.S. (It comes out in the UK on 5 February.) I love the cover and I’m especially excited because the book has a lot to do with using your imagination and writing. I’ve learned from many students I’ve talked to that writing can sometimes be more difficult than it sounds. In this story, Humphrey tries to write a story and is surprised that his imagination doesn’t seem to be working. (Sometimes mine is a little sluggish, too.) Here readers can get some tips about jump-starting story ideas … and also read about real and imaginary dragons, as well as ghosts, crying babies and so much more.

Here’s an excerpt from the Booklist review – I cut out some spoilers and I don’t know where the reviewer got the idea that Humphrey’s been around for 15 years, but other than that, I’m pleased. (It’s 11 years, by the way.)

“Humphrey celebrates 15 years in this eleventh outing of the forever popular classroom pet series. In characteristic hamster style,
Humphrey solves a new sibling problem for a student, helps a lonely classroom pet in another classroom, and learns about creative writing.
Working along with the students, Humphrey experiences difficulty with the process. Birney cleverly intertwines various characters and subplots.
For example, a hissing bearded dragon briefly disrupts Humphrey’s concentration when Mrs.Brisbane is reading an absorbing book about dragons.”

 

The same day Imagination came out, BOOK 10, Secrets According to Humphrey, came out in paperback. I’m always happy when the paperback versions come out so more people can read about Humphrey’s adventures.

 

I’m thrilled that on Thursday, the Spanish translation of BOOK 1, The World According to Humphrey, was published in the US.  I’ve been hoping for this for a long time and here it is!

 


There’s been quite a gap in the audiobook releases but also on Thursday, this 4-book audio collection was released. It contains Mysteries According to Humphrey, Winter According to Humphrey, Secrets According to Humphrey and Imagination According to Humphrey. I hear from lots of families who listen to Humphrey books in the car.

Now Humphrey will have to spin his wheel until May, when the third Tiny Tales book is published: Humphrey’s Creepy-Crawly–Camping Adventure!

As for me, Book 12 is just about to go into editing as well as the fourth Tiny Tales book. Next week, I’m doing a Skype tour for Penguin Kids, visiting 16 classrooms from my desk. If you wish you had known about this opportunity and want to keep up with events like these, please follow Humphrey on his Facebook page.  www.facebook.com/AccordingtoHumphrey.  You can follow me as well. Also follow Penguin Kids – they always have great ideas for teachers and librarians.

HAPPY-HAPPY-HAPPY Reading!