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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!

 

 

A Happy New Year

December 30th, 2014

Sending thanks to all the wonderful fans of Humphrey and Eben McAllister as well as best wishes for a HAPPY-HAPPY-HAPPY 2015!

Don’t forget to make those resolutions – they just might take off this year!

It’s been an unsqueakably busy year – most of which was taken up by neck surgery and ongoing recovery – but I’m doing much better. Of course, for our furry friend, it’s been a year of great adventures, including the launch of the new shorter, illustrated Tiny Tales series. Humphrey’s Really Wheely Racing Day and Humphrey’s Playful Puppy Problem are already available and Humphrey’s Creepy Crawly Camping Adventure comes out in March. I’m so lucky that Priscilla Burris is the illustrator. I can’t think of anyone better suited to bring Humphrey and his friends to life!

Book 11 in the According to Humphrey series, Imagination According to Humphrey, will be published January 22 in hardcover. It’s all about writing! Also in January will be the paperback release of Secrets According to Humphrey.

As the year ends, I look back with gratitude for Humphrey’s wonderful fans – the best in the world. I wish each and every one of you a fantastic 2015! I hope you all read a lot of great books

Here’s a peek of me with Priscilla – I think we’re very colorful characters, too!

 

 

… but she’ll always come back!

A few weeks ago, I was back in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. (My GPS says “St. Louey,” which makes me laugh every time.)

It’s a place in the news a lot lately.  In a perfect world, this would be an opportunity for everyone to come together and find a new path to improve life for everyone. I’m hoping for a perfect world. On the other hand, go Cards!

I was in town for several reasons: to reconnect with family first and foremost. Also, to attend my first meeting of the Webster University College of Arts and Sciences Advisory Committee in beautiful Webster Groves. And since I couldn’t go on a Humphrey tour because I’m still recovering from neck surgery and can’t lift anything over ten pounds, I did a little Humphrey business as well, because my husband, Frank, was with me and he CAN lift more than 10 pounds.

The best part of the visit was spending lots of time with my sister, Janet, and her husband, Steve, niece Jen and nephew Todd, nephew-in-law Jeff, gorgeous great-nieces Samantha and Carter! Oh, don’t forget dog-nephew Elmo. I brought along copies of Humphrey’s Tiny Tales and discovered – amazingly – that Elmo can read! Really- I didn’t stage this shot. I found Elmo with the books on the couch as pictured.

I also visited schools. I spent a day in the Affton School District, where I attended school grades K-12 Unfortunately, my elementary school, Reavis, was torn down long ago … and it was practically brand new when I attended! But when I spoke at Gotsch Elementary, I think the kids were pretty surprised to learn that Mr. Gotsch was our principal and a really outstanding one!

Then I went on to Mesnier Elementary. Mr. Mesnier was the Superintendent of Schools when I lived in Affton and lots of my junior high and high school friends went there. The most notable thing about Mesnier – at least from the outside – is the giant ice cream cone in front! I know that ice cream cone well. It stood in front of Velvet Freeze – a stellar ice cream place within easy walking distance of my house, in the days when milk shakes had real milk in them and they served actual malted milks. When Velvet Freeze was being torn down, they donated the ice cream cone to Mesnier, which makes it the yummiest school on earth! Great to connect with Affton students today, still going strong. Here I am with an authentic Affton School bus. There’s something funny about it if you look closely -my friend, Nancy, is standing behind me, peeking out. Maybe she was camera-shy?

 

Frank and I had another mission while in town: to get a picture of me with the street sign for Humphrey Street. Yep, there’s a place behind the name of that familiar classroom hamster! My parents grew up as neighbors on Humphrey Street in South St. Louis and were best friends – inseparable, people say – from the age of nine. So all my aunts and my uncle and grandparents were neighbors on Humphrey Street. Later, I spent a lot of time visiting my mom’s parents on Humphrey Street. The house looks quite a bit different now, but oh, the happy times my sister and I had there. And the wonderful stories my grandmother told about growing up in the country – some of which are in my book, The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs. Finding the Humphrey Street sign proved to be a bit of a challenge. It’s now a one-way street, so the sign closest to my grandparents’ house isn’t there. (Near Humphrey and Morganford for those in the know.) So we had to go further down to find a sign – and when we did – there was a huge construction truck next to it! Not good for a photo-op.  So we drove around the neighborhood awhile, down the street where my dad’s parents eventually lived, and the street where my great-aunt lived. And down Grand Avenue, which was the big shopping district, and Tower Grove Park with its amazing Victorian pavilions.

When we got back to the Humphrey Street sign, the truck was gone! Success!


On the weekend, my sister and brother-in-law threw a party for us, with all my local relatives – as well as the Braun “boys” – who might as well be relatives because we grew up not just as neighbors but as one family – and I’m not exaggerating. Great to see them, great to see that my aunts and my dad’s cousins are all in excellent shape! My son curated the cheese and charcuterie from Murray’s Cheese in NYC, where he is a buyer. Niece Jennifer and her caterer friend Heidi did the rest and – well – you can see it was quite breathtaking.


Back to “work” again meant traveling to the historic and picturesque river town of St. Charles (on the Missouri River – you DO know that St. Louis has both the Mississippi and the Missouri Rivers) to Main Street Books. They handled all the books sales for Affton and for Hazelwood, where I spoke as well. All I have to say is this: Main Street Books is not only the most charming but the most jam-packed-with-goodness- indy bookstore ever. Indies rule! Thanks to co-owner/proprietress Emily Hall who journeyed all the way to Affton to sell books and to Mary who drove me to the schools in Hazelwood. Here’s Emily in front of her store, and don’t you love the old typewriter? I want it!

We see things on the news about St. Louis and there are problems to be resolved. But for those of you who see St. Louis as a fly-over city or a sound byte – it’s a physically and historically beautiful place, with great people of all ethnicities – and my fervent hope is for a bright future and progress for all!

Oh, and everybody should go to St. Charles. Charming place. And from there, we went to another charming place: New York City and the Hudson River Valley. Cheese caves! Rip Van Winkle! Coming soon to a blog near you!

 

 

 

My Secret Dream

September 2nd, 2014

When people ask me: “What’s the one thing you’d like to change about yourself?” like most of us, I have many answers: be thinner, be richer – you know the list. But in the end, what I always come back to is this: I wish I could draw! My dad was a great artist and woodcarver, but I inherited ZERO talent. Although I can draw a passable rose, a not bad tree and a recognizable horse – because he tried to teach me –  I didn’t ever take art as an elective because it would be embarrassing. But in my secret life, I spent countless hours and used up reams of paper drawing. All during my childhood, I drew rows of girls with different hair and different dresses and yes, I did make up storylines about them, but I didn’t write them down. It was just for fun. I’m also an inveterate doodler. I even dabbled a little in throwing paint on paper a few years back and found I could manage postage stamp sized paintings but not big ones. The problem is, I can’t draw. When it comes to art, I’m a klutz!

To make things worse (well, better, really) I worked in advertising for years where I was always teamed up with an artist or art director (think Mad Men), so all my close friends were and are artists. Even my two beautiful stepdaughters, Rebecca and Anna, are amazing artists, both graduates of prestigious art schools, while artistically, I am chopped liver! Even today, I am lucky to count amazing children’s book illustrators as my friends. I can’t believe they’d even speak to me.

I was so lucky that my book, The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs, was illustrated so beautifully by Matt Phelan – his first book and he now has an impressive body of work. Here’s a sample from the bo

    

I had two wonderful picture books published almost two decades ago – Tyrannosaurus Tex, illustrated byJohn O’Brien, whose cartoons I had long admired in The New Yorker, and Pie’s in the Oven, illustrated by Holly Meade, who sadly passed away far too early last year. She generously sent me the artwork for an entire spread, which is on my wall and will remain there always.

  

But the According to Humphrey books aren’t illustrated. They have photographs (wonderful ones) on the covers both in the U.S. and U.K.  I like that because it makes Humphrey totally real and believable . But when Humphrey’s Tiny Tales were underway, the question was what would Humphrey look like? And even more importantly, what would his classmates and teacher look like? The books were published in the U.K first, charmingly illustrated by Penny Dann.

When the books were going to be published here in the U.S., I knew they would be re-illustrated. Different countries, different publishers, different tastes. And then my editor, Susan Kochan, said the magic words: “How about Priscilla Burris?” I know Priscilla! She’s a Southern Californian, as I am, but she’s actually a native Angeleno,  while I’m a transplant. I knew who she was because she’s on the board of SCBWI! (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and I know you may be tired of hearing it, but if you want to write or illustrate children’s books, JOIN!).

My answer was: YES-YES-YES! And I wasn’t disappointed. Priscilla is the perfect illustrator for Humphrey. I always say that I AM Humphrey but now she is Humphrey, too. She creates so much heart with her deceptively simple lines.

So as a “wish I could be” artist, I was delighted to see this video of her drawing Humphrey. In typical Priscilla fashion, she added a charming bee friend for Humphrey. I’m so happy, I could spin on my wheel! In fact, I think I will!

The first two Tiny Tales; Humphrey’s Playful Puppy Problem and Humphrey’s Really Wheely Racing Day are now available in paperback and hardcover.  And there will be more!