Reviewing the situation – TWO STARs for Og

June 10th, 2018


(Note: Links to two reviews are included in the text. In addition to the starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, since the post below was originally written School Library Journal also published a starred review for Life According to Og the Frog, calling it  “full of heart and humor.”)


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 unfor

giving 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.)





May 28th, 2018

I’ll always think of this as the book I wrote on the kitchen table.

That doesn’t sound extraordinary, but it was very unusual for me. After all, I have my sweet office in the back of our yard as a perfect writing haven.

But in early January 2017, I took one step down onto our patio and could tell immediately that something had gone very, very wrong. I already knew I was overdue for a knee replacement, but now I couldn’t put any weight on that knee at all. My first thought was, “Now I’m going to have to have the knee replacement.” Indeed, I had sprained all the ligaments in my knee except the ACL, and had a complex meniscus tear. But that problem was minor compared to the amount of arthritis in that knee.

I probably would have been in surgery within two weeks but there was one big problem. OG THE FROG! I was under contract to write the first book looking at Room 26 from the point of view of that other classroom pet. I’d already started, I had a deadline – the ball was rolling. I didn’t want to delay the book, so I put off the surgery for 5 months so I could finish.

(A little over a year later, it will be released on July 3.)

Because of a previous neck surgery, I was only working on a desktop computer, so I immediately ordered a laptop because I literally couldn’t make the 50 steps or so from my house to the office. I was rolling around the house in a desk chair, but we have a couple of steps to go outside so that was too difficult. I made one trip to the office to get any supplies I might need and I moved into the kitchen.

I am used to writing in solitude with only the sounds of the birds chirping and the squirrels scurrying around my office. I have a very thoughtful husband who never comes out to the office and interrupts unless it’s a true emergency. (They say it takes five to ten minutes to get back up to speed if you are interrupted.) I rarely even bring the portable phone to our landline out there unless my husband is gone and I keep my cell phone muted so I can screen my calls and not hear the sound. Writing in the kitchen meant phones and doorbell ringing, husband coming in to eat lunch (inconsiderate of him, right?) and more interruptions in general. Guess what? I found out I’m not such a special snowflake about writing after all. I was so completely engrossed in creating Og’s past life in the swamp and writing funny songs, I barely noticed any of it. I kept my laptop free from most apps and made it more difficult to go on the internet. All my attention was on Og’s story.

I did miss my office, but not enough to struggle to get out there. The squirrels were probably glad to have the territory all to themselves.

(Doesn’t it make a nice little nightlight for our yard?)

All I did was write. All I could do was write. My husband took over the shopping and I also used Instacart. I like to cook but I didn’t. I finalized the due date with my editor at Putnam’s, Susan Kochan, and scheduled surgery for May 23.  I even finished early and had time to prepare. (By then I was hobbling on crutches or cane as the injuries healed somewhat.)

In the end, I think that being so totally focused on the story made me able to ignore the pain, so in a way, Og did me a favor.


Knee replacements require a long recovery (a year) lots of physical therapy, lots of meds. But my husband was a wonderful nurse and a few weeks later, Og’s copy editing came back which I could handle at the kitchen table. I had no pressure to do anything except heal – and the healing went well. I was always ahead of the milestones they gave me – even in the hospital, I got out a day early because I met all the PT requirements.

I just passed the one year mark and my knee is great. I do Pilates twice a week and have gone back to a walking program. I’m stronger in every way. And I just had the other knee checked out, and it only has moderate arthritis around the kneecap. It pops sometimes, but I don’t need surgery.

I’m back in my office … and I just did a major cleaning and restructuring.

But I still write at the kitchen table sometimes. It’s cozy in its own way, with large windows looking out on the yard.

And there are squirrels there as well. If you want to see why we don’t have bigger avocado crops, check this link to a video taken through that kitchen window. I love how he uses his little paws just like hands.



Thabiso, an outstanding working dog

May 2nd, 2018

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?”


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!


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.

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!



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 ….