Archive for the ‘Awards + Nominations’ Category

Spelling Matters – A Lot

October 31st, 2017

You never know what you’ll find in your inbox. On Friday, I had an email with news that made me surprised and  HAPPY-HAPPY-HAPPY.

Humphrey’s Mixed-Up Magic Trick, one of the Tiny Tales, was named a 2018 GREAT WORDS, GREAT WORKS title by the Scripps National Spelling Bee. That’s the big one!

I did not know about this list, but here’s how they explained it:

“The purpose of this list is to highlight books that introduce students to rich and varied spelling and vocabulary words in context. The Bee curates the Great Words, Great Works list annually to provide teachers with grade-level appropriate reading recommendations that cover a variety of genres and topics, from classic to contemporary, fiction to nonfiction. Every word on the 2018 School Spelling Bee Study List can be found in one of the books from the corresponding grade level. Nearly 11 million students across the country in the 1st through 8th grades use this list to prepare for their classroom and school spelling bees.”

Humphrey’s Mixed-Up Magic Trick has been selected as one of five 2nd grade fiction books.

If you know Humphrey, you know that spelling is very important to him. He faithfully takes the spelling tests along with his fellow classmates in Room 26. Alas, he has not yet gotten 100%, like Sayeh, but one day maybe he will. NEVER-NEVER-NEVER give up!



I am an unsqueakably good speller …. for a hamster!





Spelling is important to me as well! I was always a naturally good speller as were my parents and sister. I often won or tied for the school spelling bee and my sister ended up on the local St. Louis televised spelling bee in the ’50s. Early TV, just kids on folding chairs and no real set. My sister didn’t like the limelight much. I was watching at my grandparents’ house, but when she finally missed on the word “phenomenal,” she looked greatly relieved! The funny thing is, I always get hung up on that word even today. I think it’s because “phenomenon” has the “o” but “phenomenal” has an “a.” Or did I get that mixed up too?   Big Sister Janet and me around the time of the spelling bee. Rock ‘n’ roll was the big new thing back then! Rock Around the Clock!

I like Humphrey to use interesting words and there is lots of wordplay in the books. (I often wonder how that works in translation.) Remember “Piewhacked” from Mysteries According to Humphrey?

So any honor that has to do with spelling, words and phenomenal vocabulary makes me unsqueakably glad.

Oh, and I really like that particular book. My son was heavily into magic tricks as he was growing up and we all had a lot of fun with it. You can even learn a phenomenal trick in the book!



I was stunned a month or so ago, when the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences of Webster University, David Wilson, called to say I had been selected as this year’s recipient of the Outstanding Alumna Award. I certainly didn’t feel worthy to accept it but how do you say “no” to such a generous offer? So I said “yes.” Then Dean Wilson said I would be delivering the commencement address – not to the whole university, but to the College of Arts and Sciences graduates in a separate ceremony where they receive their diplomas. Not only would I be receiving this great recognition …. but the ceremony is held at the Muny in Forest Park! Some of the happiest moments of my childhood were spent at the 11,000 seat open-air amphitheater where musicals have been staged for the last 96 summers. I saw so many stars sing and dance across the mammoth stage and even remember lying with my head on my mother’s lap and looking up at the stars when I was very young. My mother remembered her favorite stars from childhood performing there: Irene Dunne and Archie Leach (later to become Cary Grant). Sitting onstage at the Muny with the faculty of Webster University? YES-YES-YES!



It was Webster College when I was there, transitioning from a girls’ college to co-ed and immediately transitioning from a Catholic college run by the Sisters of Loretto to a lay school – that all happened when I was there. At the time, Webster was well known locally for its theatre arts program and generally for its fine arts. I started out in theatre but switched to a straight English major. I was editor of the paper, worked on the yearbook and was a happy Webster student. I even loved my student job, working for the new Master of Arts in Teaching degree. Then, Webster was a standout for its personal attention to students. Amazingly, that hasn’t changed with growth. I’m now on the Advisory Board of the College of Arts and Sciences and am thrilled to discover that the same attributes that made Webster special when I was there haven’t changed.


Webster Alumna Award


There was a great party the night before – a dinner at the Khorassan Room of the Chase Park-Plaza where we stayed. Hey, I had my proms at the Khorassan Room – deja vu! A group of us had drinks afterwards and then my son arrived. That was truly the best part of all – my son, Walshe, who lives in New York (so far from our home in Los Angeles that we don’t get to see him often) flew in for the event, which also happened to coincide with Mother’s Day! And we got to celebrate his recent engagement. Here he is with husband Frank and me. Walshe hadn’t been to St. Louis in many years, so we all visited with cousins, aunts, my sister Janet, brother-in-law Steve, niece, Jen and her husband Jeff, her daughters, Samantha and Carter and nephew Todd. What fun!Frank, Betty, Walshe in St. Louis 2015


Speaking in the Rain


My speech was delivered on the rehearsal stage in the pouring rain. Luckily, it didn’t rain until the very end of the larger ceremony, but it poured for the second part. The speech, my clothes, my hair were soaked. My shoes were ruined. The Dean’s introductory notes were in ink and they ran into a blur. My pages got stuck together and I had to stop to pry them apart. Everyone was more than  polite, I talked fast and every graduate got a signed copy of The World According to Humphrey! Left, I’m delivering the speech and a kind gentleman is holding an  umbrella over my head. You know what? I enjoyed it all!


Onstage at Muny 2    My soggy speech.Sodden speech Webster 2015

Above … yes I’m on stage at the Muny – can’t you see me? Actually, I was on the end of the inner aisle, row 2, so pretty much right behind the podium. Some of my cousins watched the live feed and they could actually see me!

Luckily, it wasn’t raining as the ceremony began. Pomp and Circumstance played as the students processed in while the faculty – and I – lined up. Then came the parade of flags representing every country with students graduating – carrying the colorful banners down the aisles of the Muny. Next, the bagpipers arrived, led with panache by Dean of the College of Fine Arts, Peter Sargent, who was there when I was in school. Finally, the faculty (and I) processed down the center of the Muny from the very top down to the stage. It’s very steep – don’t wear heels! (I didn’t). At this point, I relaxed and decided to enjoy every minute of the day, soak it all in (pun intended) because it was a once in a lifetime experience. I walked down to the stage with a big smile on my face, despite the threat of an oncoming storm.


Here’s a clip of how it looked from the stage.

It was the best graduation I’ve ever attended – formal yet personal, reflective and exuberant. The rain held off and honorary doctorate recipient, actress Jenifer Lewis, delivered the best commencement speech ever. Funny, sad, hopeful, musical,  honest and most of all inspiring. She rocked it. If you want a few minutes of inspiration, skip through the intros and watch her speech.


Because the weather forecasts were so dire, the College of Arts and Sciences videotaped me delivering my speech the day before graduation. It’s much tamer than the version I delivered in the rain and it was kind of odd to speak without an audience, but here it is, including the introduction by Dean David Carl Wilson. At least you can see me in cap and gown – though they thankfully reshot and edited the part where the tassel swung into my mouth. If only I had the out-takes!

A Writer’s Free Time

November 15th, 2011


Third Act 2nd Meeting July 2011








What do writers do when they’re not writing? Ummm , mostly hang out with other writers and attend book-related events.



Here’s one group of L.A. Children’s Book Writers that likes to gather together. Left to right, Kathryn Hewitt, Lin Oliver, Betsy Rosenthal, Marla Frazee, Eve Bunting, me, Susan Goldman Rubin, Susan Patron, Hope Anita Smith, Amy Goldman Koss (front) April Halprin Wayland, Ann Whitford Paul. Missing (because she’s taking the picture) is Sonya Sones. And Lisa Yee, who couldn’t make it that day.

Here we are again – this time Sonya’s in the picture – back row, far right, but Marla and Lisa are missing and Hope’s taking the photo. Hey – where’s Eve? She was there.

Third Act 3rd meeting2 August 24, 2011

I’ve also been attending a lot of more formal book-related events spanning the letters of the alphabet.

First came the SCIBA Awards (Southern California Independent Booksellers Award) two weeks ago in Long Beach, preceded the night before by a signing at the brand new and gorgeous Mysterious Galaxies bookstore in Redondo Beach. Summer According to Humphrey was nominated but I was pretty sure that The Marbury Lens would win and I was right. What chance does humorous middle grade have against an edgy dystopian YA book, but I had no problem with that. I did have a problem with the glitch that meant there were no books for me to sign. They had a plethora of writers there to sign, including keynote speaker Brian Selznick – a witty and wonderful speech, by the way. The other nominees had books to sign but not me. I was grumpy about it for two whole days.

Last week was the CLCSC Fall Gala and 50th Anniversary. Okay, that’s the Council of Children’s Literature for Southern California and was held in South Pasadena. Lois Lowry gave the keynote – how lucky were we? – and I saw a ton of writer and librarian friends, including Denise Doyen, Antoinette Portis (she was also at the SCIBA event), Eve Bunting, Susan Patron, Susan Rubin and Sharon Hearn, who receive a well-deserved honor for her contribution to children’s book in L.A. with her fabulous bookstore, Children’s Book World. I’m doing an event with Sharon this week.

Last night (after a fun baby shower with great friends – no, the shower wasn’t for me), I attended the CSLA (California School Library Association) banquet along with a ton of writers. Each of us hosted a table but I got the BEST table – a great group from Berkeley. My pal, Amy Koss was there, as well as old friends Barb Odanaka and Carol Tanzman. And I enjoyed meeting Maile Meloy, whose book Apothecary is hot and I can’t wait to read it. (I know most writers run around and get pictures of themselves taken with everyone they meet, but I like to talk to people and always find that distracting!)

But my favorite letters of the alphabet are SCBWI … a fantastic organization that’s a MUST for any aspiring  or published children’s book author or illustrator.

I have events this week at The Mirman School, Children’s Book World (at Overland Elementary School) …. then comes  Thanksgiving, immediately followed by a trip to NY – and that’s  immediately followed by 4 days in the Bay Area. Meanwhile, I’m writing Humphrey book 9 (title to come). Back to work!

Humphrey All Around Town

October 20th, 2011

UK HumphreyHumphrey’s popping up all over L.A. I just can’t keep him in his cage. It must be that lock-that-doesn’t-lock.

Last week, I was at St. Felicitas School in San Marino for a fun morning talking about Humphrey.

Humphrey showed up Sunday on the Kids’ Page of the L.A. Times in a terrific  review by a fan … with a GREAT-GREAT-GREAT illustration!,0,3310129.story

He’ll be on display in Redondo Beach Friday night, October 20, as the SCIBA (Southern California Independent Booksellers’ Award) nominees are on hand for a Meet and Greet at a brand new bookstore, Mysterious Galleria. Address is: 2810 Artesia Blvd., Redondo Beach, CA 6:30-8:30. Summer According to Humphrey is a nominee.

And on Saturday night, the SCIBA banquet will be held in Long Beach, CA. Pretty tough competition (sweeping sagas, dystopian novels) for a little hamster but I’ll be there in Humphrey’s name.


Meanwhile … there are new books in the UK to talk about and another new book in the works. You just can’t keep a good hamster down!

On the road again

September 11th, 2011

Laguna Beach Lifeguard tower 9.11



            Beach Street, Laguna Beach 9.11  Last week, I headed down to Laguna for a speaking engagement and ended up on the beach! Thus is life in L.A.  Unfortunately I also ended up smack in the middle of the blackout with no traffic lights working and major traffic jams. But I was with my Aunt Katie and that made it so much better. The traffic just gave us more time to catch up.

I’m heading out of Southern California on a book tour tomorrow, sponsored by my publishers, Penguin. I actually start the “tour” here in L.A., visiting two schools and signing books. Then I hop a plane for San Francisco for two nights and more schools. Next stop: Minneapolis where I’ll spend less than 24 hours. I’ll end the trip in Chicago where I’ll have a public event:

Anderson’s Bookshop, Downers’ Grove, Friday, September 16 at 7 PM! I’m very excited about visiting this fabulous indy bookstore. Illinois readers have been big fans of Humphrey and The World According to Humphrey is currently on the state’s Bluestem Award list.  So y’all come!

I actually lived in Chicago for seven months too many years ago to mention. A fun, fun city. It has a beach, too.