Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

… 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!




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!







      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.







Hi – this is Humphrey squeaking and just this once, I’m taking over Betty G. Birney’s blog because her paw is all worn out from signing lots and lots of books! She’s been spinning like crazy,  all over the U.S. (and even across the border) since mid-April to talk about my books. She says an airplane would be a very dangerous place for a small hamster like me but I’m pretty brave for a small creature and I’d like to try it sometime.








She started out in Vancouver, Canada, where she spoke at several schools and public events, sponsored by Kidsbooks. She LOVED-LOVED-LOVED Vancouver and showed me this  photo she took when her plane home took off from Salt Lake City.








With Tuan Nguyen of Mackin and Cynthia Oubre, Kolter Elementary School librarian

Betty came home to re-pack and then  – whoosh – off to Houston to visit Kolter Elementary School – which had won her visit in a contest sponsored by Mackin, an educational resources company. Too bad they don’t let hamsters on airplanes, because I think I’d be quite a prize to win! Kolter is an outstanding school … and they even have a buffalo. I’m not sure it’s real, but Betty says they have a prairie and a garden which among other things, yielded 200 pounds of sweet potatoes last year!









Betty at IRA


From Houston, she went – whoosh- directly to the IRA (International Reading Association) Conference in San Antonio.  I do love it when Mrs. Brisbane reads to us!  It was fiesta time in San Antonio (sort of like Mardi Gras), but it’s always a fiesta when Betty get to hang out with the people from her publisher, Penguin … especially her editor, Susan Kochan! She spoke at the One School One Book symposium, put together by Read to Them, a terrific non-profit which is growing the One School One Book program and expanding my unsqueakably wonderful audience!






Betty celebrating with John Rocco, Sarah Weeks and Jordan Sonnenblick at AIA


Whoosh – Betty left the hotel in San Antonio at 5:00 am to head to Rochester Hills, MI for Authors in April. I know she’d been looking forward to it for a long time because she was there with some really great people. Author, illustrator and Caldecott Honor Medal winner John Rocco spoke to the kindergarteners and first graders and Betty says he can draw a great hamster and other equally cool things. He has a very talented paw! Sarah Weeks spoke to the third and fourth graders about her hamster-rific books, including one about Oggie Cooder – I wonder if he’s related to Og the frog? And Jordan Sonnenblick spoke to the big kids and taught them a lot about writing. I’ll bet he keeps his ideas in a notebook, just like I do.

  John          Sarah


They were so busy, they hardly had time to eat … but when they had the chance, they chowed down on food that looks even tastier than my Nutri-Nibbles.

Betty spoke to the second and third graders at fifteen schools, attended a fancy banquet, did a library event and signed more books than she’s ever signed in one place before. She says the kids in Rochester and Rochester Hills are BIG-BIG-BIG Humphrey fans – so I LOVE-LOVE-LOVE them!








Birthday girl Betty G.


She even spent her birthday there … and they celebrated at a fiesta at a Mexican restaurant. She says they don’t allow hamsters there either! Mostly, though, she talked about how wonderfully she was treated and how much fun the week was. (Note to self: find out when I have a birthday, please!)

Betty returned to Los Angeles, packed her bags again and – whoosh – she headed up to Bakersfield, CA. This time she went in a car and I know for a fact that they allow hamsters in cars. But she said it was 100 degrees in Bakersfield when she arrived and I must say, we hamsters don’t like weather that’s too hot or too cold.







Betty with authors Kristine O’Connell George, Tina Nichols Coury and Greg Trine

Again, Betty was paired up with unsqueakably great writers. They were busy, speaking all day at different schools. She spoke to big groups of kids there – I’d love to give them all great big hamster hugs! It was mostly work, but there was a banquet, speaking at the Kern County Young Authors Fair AND some of the writers sneaked out one night and went to Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace for a hootin’ and hollerin’ good time. (Hootin’ and hollerin’ hurts my small hamster ears.)

Betty’s home again and she says she’s never traveling again … but I happen to know that she’s going to the Edinburgh BookFest at the end of August and squeaking about me! Then off to London. Oh, how I’d love to shake paws with the Queen!

But I have to scurry off now, because now MY paw is tired.

Signing off …. your furry pal HUMPHREY




Oh my,Ojai

October 8th, 2012

 My husband and I recently took a birthday jaunt (my husband’s birthday, not mine) for a few days. Ojai is a town a little over an hour from our house and is pronounced “Oh-hi,” which rhymes with “Oh my.” And read on – because of course, the trip is related to books.








I would love to have this sign over my desk! 

When my son was growing up, we used to go up to Ojai a lot. From my house you drive up the 101 freeway, through Oxnard and Ventura. Just as the 101 begins to show a shimmering ocean view, and moments before you hit Santa Barbara (another favorite destination) you turn east for a few miles to the Ojai valley. I never appreciated the true beauty of a valley until I went to Ojai. The town is surrounded by the Topa Topa Mountains and often compared to Shangri-La, because a shot of the mountain stood in for that paradise called Shangri-La in the film, Lost Horizon. Ojai is also famous for the “Pink Moment.” At sunset most every day, the sky turns pink over Topa Topa. It really does.

Sometimes we’d spend the weekend at the Ojai Valley Inn, which now has a major spa and is called the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa. Sometimes we took our dog up for the day, because there was a local pizza place, Boccali’s (that grows much of its own produce) and you could sit outside under big trees at picnic tables with your dog. Boccali’s is still there, but you can’t take your dog any more. They have a beautiful park, Libbey Park (glass magnate Edward Libbey, was a big, early booster of Ojai) which hosts the L.A. Philharmonic concerts every summer.

Sometimes when guests were visiting from out of state, we’d drive them up to have lunch at the Ojai Valley Inn at an outdoor restaurant looking out at the world-class golf course. You can see the golf course in the Jack Nicholson film, The Two Jakes. Once we took my parents up and June Allyson was at the next table. (She had married a local dentist.) My mom was a huge June Allyson fan, so it pleased her to see her favorite star at the next table looking very  happy.

We always enjoyed the town and shops in Ojai, but there’s so much more to see. We’d take long drives up into the mountains, past huge ranches – lots of avocados come from there and now, the cute Pixie tangerines. We’d drive past the sulphur fields and hold our noses. Once when my son was young, we stopped at a farm where you could feed the goats. I don’t know what they put in the food, but it was obviously gas-producing, so there were the three of us surrounded by goats making lots of noise. (Think Blazing Saddles.)  Obviously, the only noise louder than the goats was the sound of us laughing.

Our more adventurous forays to Ojai took us on picnics and hikes. Wheeler Gorge is the epitome of California to me: shaded, surrounded by chapparal and mountains with lovely mountain streams. Once, when our son was two, we went up on a weekday to Ojai. It was Washington’s Birthday – warm and sunny in L.A. and in Ojai. As our car climbed the twisty mountain roads, we saw a few tiny patches of snow, but we didn’t realize what was in store for us. We took the short hike to the Rose Valley Falls – a beautiful waterfall that, as I recall, you can walk through. (Yes, you walk through the falling water to a little cave.) That was delightful, especially to a two year-old. But the walk back was even more surprising as we encountered a shaded path that was completely covered in snow. Here we were with sunshine and warm weather one minute – and in a total winter wonderland the next. My son had never seen snow before!  The fun part was that he had no idea how to walk on snow, but he was so excited, he wanted to run. Each of us took a hand and guided him as he slipped and slided, whooping with delight.

Ojai attracted some pretty interesting people through the years – Theosophists, followers of Krishnamurti, Aldous Huxley (who co-founded a boarding school there) and most famously, Beatrice Wood, the famed artist and potter who lived to be 105 and lived fully, shall we say. And there are movie stars tucked away in those hills and valleys. There is a vibe in Ojai that can’t be denied and is still there. Must be that “Pink Moment.”

We hadn’t been to Ojai for awhile and so our whole trip was a “re-discovery.” We stayed at the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, as usual. Our first stop was brunch at the Ranch House restaurant, which defies description with its nooks and crannies and tables looking out on their own garden, which you can stroll through.  We visited many old haunts – most notably Bart’s Books.

Bart’s is definitely one-of-a-kind. There’s an old house in there somewhere, surrounded by mazes of aisles of used books. You could get lost in there, and you wouldn’t be sorry if you did. It was hot that day -it’s been super hot in L.A. and Ojai is a warm place to begin with. But we still managed to make a few finds. The house has the brand new books in the living room.  Cookbooks are in the kitchen, of course. And yes, there is a cat.


 Cat books …






    Cook books ….







Book nooks …


 24-hour-a-day books

If you get to Bart’s after-hours and are in need of a book, there are outdoor shelves of books you can peruse. Just leave your money in the box outside – the honor system has been in effect here for years. You have to love a place where you can get an “emergency” book 24 hours a day.

I don’t think we’ll wait so long to go back to Ojai. And we took the long way home – through those sulphur fields and winding     mountain   roads and Santa Paula and Fillmore. Next time, I think we’ll go to Rose Valley Falls.

Let’s face it: the whole doggone place is like something out of a book!




It’s That Time of Year Again

August 24th, 2012





Color coordinated with my Princess phone!

It seems as if every time a new school year rolls around, I put up a picture of me from Kindergarten or first grade. So today … I’m time traveling to high school!

After my recent Esther Williams blog, I was in touch with my old friend Sandy, whom I wrote about. By the way, she’s still swimming and doing water aerobics, which doesn’t surprise me. She asked me if I remembered us being in the pool and hearing the school bus make its practice rounds – and how excited we’d be. (Almost as excited as when I got my own Princess phone!) I’d forgotten but it made me recall the great anticipation of a new school year. We didn’t know who our teacher would be until the last moment. Sandy and I would walk to Ben Franklin (a five-and-dime store, like Woolworth’s) and buy our school supplies. There were always new fall clothes – dresses and skirts only, of course.  And there’s nothing sweeter than grabbing that last bit of summer fun. Hello, Sandy? Want to walk to the Crest to see that great new Gidget movie?

I loved summer so much … but I was happy to go back to school and see all my friends. I hope I wasn’t the only one who loved school! Still, there was nothing like summer for reading.






  Ah, summer reading on the front porch – my great-niece Rita de Leeuw.


Here’s my great-niece Rita reading Mysteries According to Humphrey in June. We were visiting her family in Glen Ridge, NJ for the day and she read the whole book while I was there. She found a few mistakes in the bound galleys, but they were corrected. (Future copy editor?) And she told me there’s a Mr. E. at her school, just like in the book. By the way, Rita contributed some excellent material for School Days According to Humphrey!

  Great-niece Josie de Leeuw tracking down more Humphrey books!

Meanwhile, her sister Josie was out scouting the Humphrey books at a local shop. I have a whole network of family members reporting on the stock at their local store. She also gave me a fun idea that I just might use one of these days. I’ve got to keep those girls working on Humphrey ideas!

Anyway, ready or not … here comes the 2012-2013 school year. And I know one classroom hamster who’s unsqueakably happy to go back to school!

    U.S.                                                            U.K.