Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

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!

 

 

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!

 

 


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!

 


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.