Sunday, November 22, 2009


Just found out I WILL be able to get the Australian edition of Dinosaur Parade, published down under by Koala. I'm so excited. I've known since summer that the book was reprinted there in a new edition, but I only just found the right contact to buy a copy or two. I can't wait to see it. Hope Lark can tell me if those royalties will show up on the next statement, too. But for now, I'm just excited.

Here's the PDF of the Scholastic Australia sale of the Koala version. FUN.

And here's the Koala Books PDF.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Word from the Creation Museum

Someone from Crevo Press emailed me to say:

FYI,Per your visit to the Creation Museum, one of your books is in their library: Dinosaur mummies : beyond bare-bone fossils

I'm flattered that my book was included in their library, even if I didn't see it -- or a library. So I reviewed my original post and softened the language a bit. But our differences remain. I believe in geologic time, and I still can't embrace the "truth" served up at the Creation Museum, or its possibly negative impact on kids.

We need the next generation to fall in love with science if we have any hope of remaining a super power or an academic contender in this world, and that's hard to do if religious entities put up barriers. So yes, the museum worries me. But it is, without question, a stunning group of dinosaur exhibits.
Here's the library link CP included:

Creation Museum in Kentucky

From November 1 to 13 I was in Northern Kentucky speaking at 10 elementary schools and it was WONDERFUL. The people in Florence and Hebron and Burlington and all those small communities were fantasticly welcoming and kind. I am beyond grateful.

While I was there a librarian was kind enough to take me to the Creation Museum -- a place I asked to see -- my idea. I was astonished by the quality of the museum and the exhibits AND I was frustrated at the same time. Because the museum teaches kids that paleontological science is wrong, then creates a fantasy to explain dinosaurs and fossils -- incorrectly.

To each their own. I respect and defend each of our rights to worship our own ways. But I hate the idea of kids being misguided by the stance of the Creation Museum. That said, Northern Kentucky DID invite me to speak in their schools even with my evolutionist mindset. So balance is clearly welcome in the region.

Thanks, Northern Kentucky, for having me, for showing me such kindness and warmth, and for showing me your museum. Agree or disagree, it was a magnificent place.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

School Visit Season...

...has officially begun. I spent three days at schools in Clarkston, WA, then two days in Yakima for the WLMA Conference (my boss Chris Crutcher and I did a censorship panel together, great fun -- thus the photo with this post) then three days in Louisville, Kentucky.
I'm headed for Northern Kentucky the first two full weeks in November, then on to Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Texas, to name just a few of the destinations. And I'm doing a bunch of days in Washington cities including Spokane, Wenatchee and Yakima, along with the more distant destinations.
The work is demanding, I confess. I come home exhausted. But as I struggle to recharge, I am reminded of how remarkable all the kids I get to meet with actually are. Regions and races differ, but the kids -- they remain so much the same. Each of them simply want to learn and laugh and dream, and I feel as if I have the chance to move those things forward when I visit their schools.
School visits tire me out -- actually, airport travel tires me out a whole lot more than the school days do -- but the kids make every minute worthwhile. They love my books, and that enthusiasm means everything to me. As long as they want what I write, I'll keep writing -- and doing school presentations. I'll keep at it for myself and for those wonderful kids!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Publishers Weekly - SAVING THE BAGHDAD ZOO

Needless to say, I'm thrilled that SAVING THE BAGHDAD ZOO was included in this feature in Publishers Weekly -- The War, at Home: Military Conflict in Books for Children and Teens. Thank you, thank you PW. Thank you, thank you John A. Sellers.

"Both Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle and Saving the Baghdad Zoo pair soldiers with picture book authors to tell hopeful, true stories set in Iraq," said Sellers. "Saving the Baghdad Zoo: A True Story of Hope and Heroes by Kelly Milner Halls and William Sumner (Greenwillow, Nov.) is a photographic account of Army major Sumner's work helping rescue abandoned animals in this zoo."

Happy me. : )

Thursday, August 13, 2009

DONE...well, almost! SASQUATCH ROCKS!

Well, I'm putting the last finishing touches on my manuscript for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, IN SEARCH OF SASQUATCH and MAN, what a great adventure this has been. When I first started this journey, I was excited but unaware of HOW thrilling the path would be. How was I to know I'd discover a linguistics expert with 30 years of U.S. Navy and academic experience convinced the audio tapes of Sasquatch vocalizations represented language, not just random sounds? How could I have imagined the compelling anatomical proof that Sasquatch footprints are neither fakes nor human, but rather ape-like? The book will reveal the credibility of the concept of a North American Great Ape and the people who believe in it.

Revisions will come next, and that's one of my favorite parts of this job. Editorial teams turn a good manuscript into a magical book, and it's a transformation that always excites me. But I'm a little sad everytime a manuscript is "finished." Not for long. The next project is usually calling me. Looks like ALIEN ENCOUNTERS may be next. Hooray. So I see a trip to Area 51 in my immediate future. But I'm still determined to get to Australia to write that book on the baby fruit bat rescue hospital. They've already agreed to let me stay for a week and help with the rescue effort.

Any editors out there dying for a great baby bat photo essay project? This one is a BEAUTY!

Back to work, then lunch with Crutcher and Trueman. Hope EVERYONE has a great day. I'm gonna do my best to do the same! : )


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

White DUNNY -- FREE, but out of reach

DANG. I want this great DUNNY from Kidrobot...and they're giving 500 away free. But you have to be at the store in NYC and I'm in Spokane. How unfair is that? Sigh. He should have been in my ALBINO ANIMALS book, huh? He's so cute and angry-like. Anyone in NYC willing to snag one for me? I know, REALLY unlikely, but I thought I'd ask. Sigh...again.

Isn't he great though? Check him out HERE.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

ALA in Chicago

Let me say from the start, this was the best conference experience I have every had -- barr none.
I landed in Chicago at 6:30 pm, Saturday, July 11 so I had to miss the Lerner Publishing dinner I'd so wanted to attend earlier that afternoon. But I did manage to catch the end of the nonfiction author panel dinner. My old friend Hester Bass and her husband were also able to attend, and that was a special delight. Stephanie Reynolds and her associates from the University of Kentucky were also eating there, so that was a treat. And several of my friends from the Highlights Foundation's Writers Workshop in Chautauqua, NY were also at the table. So late or not, I got to reconnect with a great cross-section of amazing writing friends.

My amazing roomates, Christine Taylor-Butler and Gwendolyn Hooks and I walked from dinner to our hotel, the Hard Rock Hotel and checked in. Our floor, the 16th floor, was dedicated to Prince and featured one of his beautiful silk shirts and a guitar. I loved Prince when I managed an LA record store in the late 70's and early 80's, so that was cool. But not half as cool as the two women I roomed with.

On the morning of the 12th, I went to the HarperCollins Author Breakfast at the Intercontinental six or seven blocks away, but what a beautiful walk. Chicago is such a vibrant, lively city, even on a Sunday morning. From the breakfast, I went to the panel at the McCormick and MAN, were there a lot of people there. More than 300 folks filed in to hear us share information on nonfiction books, and it was just astonishing. You can see in the photo above, me sitting waiting for my chance on the stage, flanked by all those talented librarians. WOW.

I signed at Lerner after the panel had concluded, had lunch with a bunch of wonderful people, then signed at Sterling after lunch. My signing at Sterling went long -- a good thing -- so I closed the conference down that day. By the time I got on the bus for the VOYA reception at the Marriott, I'd missed it entirely. Disappointing, because my friend Andy Smith -- Andrew Smith on his books -- was going to be there.

Anastasia Suen and April Pulley Sayre were kind enough to invite me to join their party at dinner, so I shared a booth with them at Beppo's on North Rush with some online friends including an old pal of mine, Chicago local Esther Hershenhorn and the very charming editor of Cricket Magazine and her dauther, her daughter's boyfriend and an illustrator I THINK was part of their art department team (forgive me for not knowing -- I crashed the party).

After dinner, I walked back to the Hard Rock and met my roomies. They were headed to dinner, so I had a glass of ice water with them and enjoyed the grand company at a table outside -- a beautiful little Irish restaurant and pub.

My wake up call on Monday was at 4:00 am for the 6:00 am flight -- a little too close, but I made it. I slept most of the way home, but I was so incredibly happy. This was the best possible way to enjoy a wonderful conference. And I'm grateful to everyone who helped ot make it such a success -- including my "boss" who helped me cover the cabs.

Thanks, everyone, for the really exceptional time.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Legend of Boggy Creek

I've just about finished the first of six chapters in my new children's book, IN SEARCH OF SASQUATCH for Houghton Mifflin. It's due this summer, so I'm making good progress. As I weave through my notes and interviews, I find many of the Bigfoot experts were inspired by Charles B. Pierce's camp classic, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK.

I've written many dinosaur books and articles and paleontologists were often spurred to the study by GODZILLA. So I'm not surprised Mr. Pierce's film sparked Bigfoot hunters. I do hope I can reach Mr. Pierce to get permission to use his poster in the book, and I HOPE if he has time, he might agree to a short interview. But no matter how that unfolds, I think it's fascinating that the story of the Fouke Monster from Arkansas had such a far-reaching effect on adventurers all over the country.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Are wasps evil, or do they just bite that way?

Okay, I don't know yet if they bite or sting, but I do know it HURTS. I got out of my Rav4, headed for the steps up to my house, when they swarmed me -- only three of them. But one stung while the others scared me back. I had to walk to the far side of my car to get my grocery bag, then I had to RUN up the far side of the stairs as they CHASED me. It's been 15 minutes, and now the site of the bite or sting is bigger than a quarter, as you can see in the BAD picture here.

I love animals, even insects. I think they almost all have their place in the universe. I used to think only headlice might be a legitimate exception. Now I'm thinking these AGGRESSIVE wasps -- not the timid ones, but the mean ones -- might deserve extinction too. Man, they sting -- or bite -- as if they are wielding tiny, shards of broken glass.

Should have skipped the groceries. Now, how do I get RID of them?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wendie Old, nonfiction blogger supreme!

My good friend Wendie Old, and one of my fellow panelist for ALA in two weeks (Sunday, July 12 at 10:30 am, see entry below for the room assignment) flattered and humbled me today by quoting me on her blog. I slipped into a kind of self-indulgent moment of zen/bliss on a listserv -- babbled on about how much I love my job, and I do. She felt the same, so she posted the paragraph HERE.
Thanks, Wendie, for honoring me this way and for being my friend. See you soon in Chicago.
Here's to kids nonfiction! It's true magic!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

ALA, here I come!

I was going to wait to post this until early July, but I can't wait...too excited. I get to be at ALA again this year, again on a nonfiction for reluctant readers panel. This year, it's me and a WHOLE bunch of other good, good writers. If any of you have time on Sunday, sure would love to meet you. And you'll get a great cross section of new titles to consider, direct from the authors that wrote them. Hope you'll stop by. I'm also signing at the Lerner and Sterling booths. BAGHDAD ZOO won't be ready in time from HarperCollins/Greenwillow, but they promise me I'll have an F&G -- maybe. : ) Anyway, here's the "official" ALA website skinny, with our Wiki link (courtesy of Anastasia Suen) added:

SUNDAY 10:30 am to 12:00 pm
Convention Center Room W181. (Level 1 of the West Building.) Nonfiction Book Blast: Booktalks for Reluctant Readers
AASL Track: Children & Young Adults; Literature& Collection Development

Despite the emphasis on fiction for leisure reading in schools, many reluctant readers are often more drawn to reading nonfiction. Expand your nonfiction repertoire as 18 authors booktalk their latest work. Panelists include award-winning and acclaimed authors April Pulley Sayre (VultureView), Kelly Milner Halls (Albino Animals), and Carla McClafferty (Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium), as well as many additional prolific or brand new authors. Their booktalks, plus new ones crafted by audience members, will be yours to take back home to excite your students about reading nonfiction.

Speakers: Anastasia Suen; JoAnn Early Mackin; Gwendolyn Hooks; Carla Killough McClafferty; Wendie Old; April Pulley Sayre,and more.

12:15 pm – Learner booth
3:30 pm – Sterling booth

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Thanks, Elizabeth Bird!

Hey, a big shout-out to librarian/author Elizabeth Bird for featuring SAVING THE BAGHDAD ZOO in her terrific Fuse blog for School Library Journal. She profiled her explorations at the HarperCollins Librarian Preview event, and included the book. THANK YOU E.B. I couldn't feel more honored.

Check it out HERE.

And here's a short excerpt:

"We've been seeing quite a few true life stories coming out in picture book form for kids regarding animals overseas. This one is particularly fascinating. It discusses the push that was made to save the animals in this zoo after America invaded. "

We sure tried to make it worthwhile, Elizabeth. I hope we succeeded, but time will tell.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Bigfoot Round-up, oh yes!

Last weekend I drove to Yakima, Washington in search of Bigfoot. I was researching my new book, and MAN, did I hit the mother load. I spent two days with some of the most famous patrons of the North American Great Ape on the planet, and I learned so much. I even met a 13-year-old boy who had found and photographed remarkable tracks in the high Sierras while hunting with his dad. He'll be a magnifcent part of the book.

I have to finish up my school year -- some more JLG biographies and four more school visits. But once the summer is mine, I'll have time to WRITE this book, at least part of it, and to do at least two more research field trips for this same book. And I couldn't be more excited.

It's so great when you get to write a book that you feel passionate about. I've been lucky that way so many times. I'm grateful to be lucky that way again, now. I do SO love my job.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

One more photo from Houston.

Yeah, it was really great!

Houston -- who says you can't go home again?

I flew to Houston Sunday afternoon to do three school visits -- one on Monday, one on Tuesday and one on Wednesday. It's a LONG flight. Obviously, it's a long, long way. But man, was it ever worth it.

Houston has a richly diverse school population, and it's fantastic. But the beauty isn't in the differences. The beauty is in how much kids are, essentially, all the same. I don't mean they aren't utterly unique or individual. They are. Every kid is a shooting star -- dazzling and distinctive. But their desire to be heard, to be cared for, to laugh and especially to know the power of mutual respect transcends age, race and geography.

That constant gives me so much hope. And the love the kids share with me makes me feel like a titan, even if I am wrapped in a plump, old lady cloak.

Thanks, kids of Houston. And thanks librarians. You work SO hard. And the hard work SHOWS in the faces of the young people you serve so well. THANK YOU for having me at your schools. It was a TREAT and a pleasure I will never, ever forget!


Monday, April 27, 2009

Censorship blog renewed!

Man, I am never surprised by the ugly head of the censor reared. I've seen it far too often now to be easily phased -- from my high school years to the years I've spent working for Chris. But a very brave librarian is battling censorship as we speak and her foes claim NO book has been banned in this country in over 50 years.

It's probably true that our government has not banned a book in 50 years. But school districts and other "concerned educators" ban books far more often than you might imagine. I've seen Crutcher's books banned repeatedly in the five or six years I've worked for him. And I've seen dozens of other challenged and, yes BANNED again and again and again.

For several years, I kept track of banned books and book challenges on my website. I let it lapse because I got too busy...or so I thought. But this is too important for me to be too busy. So I've stepped back into the box, ready to work.

This afternoon, I collected some book banning documentation and posted it on my OTHER blog. I'll be searching for current and future challenges all over the country from now on, and posting them there. They won't all be banned, thank goodness. Most will be challenged, then set right, because ours is still a nation of laws and the First Amendment and Supreme Court rulings still matter. But I'll get them posted so brave librarians will have a resource.

I'll miss some. I always do. But if you have information I've missed, PLEASE let me know.

It's important. At least it is to me.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Carrie's FeeJee Mermaid, from her thank you note, via Holmes Elementary. She heard it as Pegi Mermaid, I guess...which is A-OK. Thanks, Carrie.

Thank YOU, too!

...I wrote about this before, but I got two reminders of why I write for kids today. First, I got my royalty check. Thanks Darby Creek. When you do this for a living, those checks are LITERALLY a godsend. Hooray. I sold more than 5,000 more copies of TALES OF THE CRYPTIDS between July 2008 and December 2008, and the book is three years old. Man, if publishers would just let me keep making these kinds of books -- we'd make a lot of money together AND the kids, those reluctant readers (mostly boys) would keep BUYING and READING. That's a win/win, isn't it? This Alien book is all but written. Doesn't anyone WANT IT? Hope I find the editor that does soon.

In the meantime, the second reason -- the second great envelope I got in the mail today. I got GREAT thank you notes from kids from Holmes Elementary -- 4th and 4th graders in Ms. Harper's class. They get it, ya know? And I love them to pieces. Check out the thank you notes they sent me, and these are only two of from Billy and one from Carrie.

Yeah, I do it to make a living, even if it is pretty modest. But REALLY I do it for these kids. In that respect, I'm richer than I ever thought I would be. And the kids are worth it. Absolutely.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Snow? On April 14?

Okay, I moved to Spokane --in part -- because there were four distinct seasons, including wintery white. But three inches of snow in the middle of April is PRETTY weird. Check out my frosty Bigfoot friend. He's not thinking this is funny. And neither do I.

It is pretty, but they've got half ths streets torn up in my neighborhood so the daily commute is already a little snarled. Mix in a little slush and it's down right uncivilized.

Oh well. I guess REAL spring, assuming we don't just leap into summer sizzle, will be that much sweeter. Here's hoping.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

2009 Sasquatch Reading Award -- ALMOST

Cryptids almost won the 2009 Sasquatch Reading Award, but Dan Gutman surged forward to win.
Dan's The Homework Machine got 2,351 votes. Cryptids got 2,101. But hey, second is exciting to me, and a BIG congrats to Dan. Very cool!! Thanks to all the kids that voted for Cryptids. I'm so excited the book was worth your time!

All Better...and on to BATS and BIGFOOT

Thankfully, I never stay sad for long, and I'm on to my next nonfiction adventure -- or two, or three. I have been corresponding with the director of a baby bat rescue hospital, and she's eager to help me tell her story. So I HOPE I will soon have a new proposal about this wonderful conservation effort. More on that VERY soon.

And I got confirmation that I'll be sitting in on the Bigfoot Roundup in Yakima, Washington on May 15 and 16 as research for my new book for Houghton Mifflin. I am THRILLED because so many respected expects will be there. And my illustrator Rick Spears MAY be able to come down over for the Roundup too.

I'll take LOTS of pictures, and I'll share them with you -- at the Bigfoot Roundup and when I go to the bat hospital, of course. And I'm still researching about a dozen other topics for other books yet to come. It's good to feel like my NORMAL self. I'm glad I'm not sad very often.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


I wish I understood exactly how my sadness switch works. It may be partially genetic as in brain chemistry. I almost never saw my mom awake, other than at mealtimes when I was a kid. She slept most of the day and night, and it always puzzled me as a kid.

How can she nap, I wondered, when she just woke up? I know now that's a red flag for serious depression. So I may have it in my blood.

It may be circumstantial. My marriage was hellish, as was my girls' relationship with their less than decent dad. That was depressing. By the time I got a brain in my head and filed for divorce, I felt so guilty for subjecting them to prolonged madness, I never even thought about trying again. I devoted all my time to paying the bills and being with them. That, I'm proud of doing. I owed them a LOT. I always will.

But now they're grown -- 19 and 26 -- with significant others of their own. So I find myself at loose ends, emotionally. Where I could barely scrape together enough hours in the day as a working mom -- I slept 4 hours a night -- I am now, to condense it down to a word, LOST.

I didn't make many friendships as a kid or an adult -- I didn't know how. Still don't, really. And those I did make, well, they have families of their own. And I'm not easy to like right now. As one friend put it, I don't have any fun. I think I've forgotten HOW.

That's not exactly true. Writing books is fun. School visits are fun. Dinner with my kids is REALLY fun. Movies are fun, though I see most of them alone, which can be hard. Coffee with my friend is fun -- when I'm not being stupid. But for the past few months, I've been stupid a lot. And that's depressing and puts what friendship I have at risk.

Stupid = afraid. And fear is almost never my friend. I mean, it keeps me from driving off a bridge, I guess, so that's not a bad thing. But the fear of loneliness and loss can sometime paralyze us -- paralyzes me. Paralysis doesn't do me much good.

I'm trying to find my way out of the mess I've made of my life. Well intentioned or not, it is a mess. What is it they say about the path to hell? Paved with good intentions? Rings true, at the moment. But where there's a road in, I have to believe there's a road out. So I'm looking for it -- back tracking.

I had help, but I did find my way about of 17 years of abusive marriage. So maybe I can find my way out of this mire. I hope so. But if I could turn the sadness switch off while I try to find my way, it sure would be an easier journey.

Haven't figured that out yet. But I'll keep trying. In the meantime, I have a school visit tomorrow, so I'll have a little escape. I'm really lucky to have those kids.


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pumpkin has cancer

For months, my deep orange tabby, Pumpkin (the one on your left, the lighter one on your right is Bitty), has had this THING dangling from the armpit of his right front leg. When it looked like a blister, I ignored it. As it grew, I scraped together the money to have it removed. By the time I had $600 that didn't have to pay tuition or the mortgage, the tumor was the size of a ping-pong ball, suspended from a 1/4 inch stretch of weary, over-taxed skin.

The biopsy came back, and it was cancer. He's 11-years old and hates going to the doctor. So even if there were chemo treatments available, I wouldn't put him through that. This is the kitten my kids bottle fed from it's third day outside the womb. The neighbor took his mother away, left he and his brothers to die in a flower bed, in spite of my begging them to let me take care of her AFTER the kittens were ready to give away.

The neighbors didn't seem to car, so we took the little things in -- two for us, two for the letter carrier's family. Their little ears went flat and wobbled as they drank from the doll bottles -- the two we had looked like tiny Yoda hybrids. Every two hours at first, then every four. It was a long, hard summer, but it taught my kids love and compassion.

Pumpkin was the kitten we kept. We moved him from Colorado to Washington with three other cats, two dogs, a ferret and a hampster -- along with my two daughters and me -- in a four door Dodge Neon ten years ago when he was barely a year old. Six months after we moved to Spokane, some little a**h*** shot him with a B-B gun. He jumped up through my screenless bedroom window and slowly padded into the living room where I saw his side drenched in crimson. He survived.

Now he has cancer.

Some people think it's crazy for a single mom with two girls in college (two tuitions to pay each quarter) to spend $600 to save a dying cat. And maybe they're right. But he didn't ask me to rescue him from that flowerbed. He didn't ask me to stop the bleeding or seek medical care when he was shot. I literally took his life in my hands when I scooped him out of the mulch that kept him alive for two days, eyes sealed shut, without his mother. And I felt like I owed him something -- like an unspoken promise.

So, we'll do without a few things like food without "ramen" printed on the package for a few weeks. And we'll keep our Punkin-rubby as comfortable as we can until he can't live a life worth living. Then I'll pay another couple of hundred bucks to release him from a body that turned against him, and I'll cry for two days and wait for his ashes to rest on my fireplace mantle.

Love, even for an animal, carries with it responsibility and cost. But when he's gone, I'll know I kept my promise to him. When he's gone, he won't be forgotten.

Love ya, Punky. Love ya, fierce.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Boys DO read...and buy books, given the chance.

I've had this conversation with Chris Crutcher, Bruce Coville, Jon Scieszka and -- of late -- my old friend Andy, ah, Andrew Smith, but now that Billy Bones has jumped into the ring, seems like a good time to bring it up again.

Boys DO read.

For the past ten years, I've written my heart's desire -- books of appeal to reluctant boy readers. That's my heart's desire because when I was a kid, I was a reluctant boy reader -- except I was a girl.

I grew up as a boy would because my sister and Lori Johnson were the only girls in my neighborhood. I played at Lori's once in a while, often to listen to RUBY TUESDAY (Lori had the 45...I did not). I played Barbie's with my sister when she let a lizard or toad stand in as Barbie's giant pet. But 90% of my time was spent outside with my rowdy guy friends. I grew up as if I was a boy. My interests were identical to those of a boy. So the books I wanted didn't exist, at least not at the time.

The only books I loved were Abe Lincoln biographies, reptile and amphibian books and books about vampires. I ran out of those pretty darn quick.

When I started to write books rather than articles for kids, I made an active choice to write the books I would have wanted when I was little --and boy-like. So in a sense, I have a better idea of what boys want than most women. I lived, almost all my life, among them.

Boys want books that appeal to their sensibilities. They want action and danger and daring and honesty. They want gross and scary and unbelievable and real. They don't want sweet daydreams and optimism, necessarily. They want stories -- fiction and nonfiction -- they can sink their teeth into. And I've worked hard to give them those nonfiction stories.

Billy Bones apparently agrees, that given the write material, boys WILL read. And his poster is so fun and compelling, I stole it from his Facebook page and posted it here. I hope he won't mind. Maybe it'll be cool since I'm a fan, and since I've been known to write about a bone or two myself. But check out his Facebook if you can. He's earned praise and traffic, and I'm the first one to say so.

Boys DO read. So let's wake up and help them find the books they're longing to find.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Festival Fun

My blogging has been sketchy at best, and I apologize. But I've done two literature festivals, one young author conference, three school visits and three articles since I last posted and, to be honest, I was (am) a little tired.

Now that I'm catching up a little, I want to say how much I LOVED being in Kentucky and Missouri for those to WONDERFUL festivals.

In Kentucky, I joined Chris Crutcher, Gary B. Schmidt and E.B. Lewis as speakers, and what a THRILL that was. It's always fun to hang out with Chris, obviously. But signing next to Gary and having dinner across from E.B. -- it doesn't get any better than that. It was just a joy. Thanks, Stephanie, for inviting me.

In Missouri, I joined about 30 other writers and illustrators at the Univesity of Central Missouri, as bus loads of kids buzzed the hallways in search of our presentation rooms. What a rush it was to not only meet with the kids each day, but to hang out with so many people in the industry after hours at the hotel and other social settings our host Naomi and her volunteers made possible. It's a yearly event, so I hope I did well enough to be invited back.

The school visits I did were, as always, WONDERFUL. I love school visits. And the Young Authors Conference yesterday was so much fun. All of those kids -- nearly 500 of them -- dug in deep and wrote their little hearts out for me. And it was fantastic.

Now I'm home and I don't have another event until April 6 (Holmes Elementary, I'm coming). So I get to do a little more writing for a while. But I wanted to say thanks to all the people who have been so kind to me the past few weeks. I am so grateful, you may never know.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


I love and respect teacher, especially the really good ones. And even the bad ones are better teachers than I would ever be. After a "writer-in-residence" experience last year, I decided the only thing I could teach kids would be how to play and get off track. Since they already know how to play, I'm not much good as a "real" educator.

But why do some teachers wield control like a battle axe? Even on my time as an author visitor?

Not long ago, I did a school visit, and it was wonderful. They almost always are. My book topics are just weird enough to capture most kids imaginations, and I can be funny and educationally fun. There are sometimes kids that need a little convincing. But I've never met a kid I couldn't recruit -- not so far. I haven't been so lucky with every teacher -- especially not the other day.

Teacher A didn't come into the library with her class, so it was up to me and the librarian to wrangle the rowdy pair. A little laughter did the trick, and they were on my side ten minutes into the hour. Then the teacher decided to show up -- AFTER I'd managed the wise guys.

Teacher A zeroed in on a girl in the back row and began to scold her. I couldn't hear voices, but the girl's body language said it all. She went from relaxed and curious to stiff and shame-filled. Her face was etched with that stress only a disapproving authority figure can inspire.

All the other kids stopped listening to me -- of course --and focused on the teacher and the target. I was silent, watching too. Teacher A looked up.

"I'll just wait until you're done," I said.

"I'd rather you didn't," Teacher A said. "I'd rather you just went on."

I tried to ignore her and do just that, but it was no use. Kids can't resist watching the sacrifice of a classmate.

Then Teacher A proceeded to take four other kids out of the group -- including the two I'd already made a deal with -- and moved them to chairs in the back row. Again, too much commotion to over come, and by now another five of my 45 minutes have been squandered.

Teacher A looked up at me.

"You about done?" I asked.

"I had to get this under control," Teacher A said.

"I had it under control," I said, by now more than a little annoyed. Sorry, but Teacher A's behavior was nothing less than RUDE.

"You should have seen them this morning," Teacher A said.

"Could be," I said, "But this hour was MINE."


All I could do was try to recover a little of the energy the kids had shared with me before Teacher A decided to bust in. And I managed a little. But all the interaction was now stilted. Every kid was a little bit afraid of getting the axe.

I did the best I could, but Teacher A's agenda didn't educate the students. It cheated them of an enrichment their school had paid to have them experience. Teacher A had cheated me of the chance to share my craft with those kids.

Teacher A left the room very upset with me. I called that teacher out, in front of the kids. I regret that. But when I'm doing a presentation, that time IS mine. No, that's not right. When I do a resentation, the time belongs to the KIDS. My ego and that teacher's ego should take a backseat to serving the kids. Disruption like that was disrespectful to me AND to the kids.

It doesn't happen every day, thank god. But when it does happen, I can't help but wonder, WHY?

Why come in the first place if you're feeling stressed and uneasy? Wouldn't it have been better to use that 45 minutes to unwind and center? To put a little distance between what must have been a rough morning and the afternoon? If Teacher A had never joined the students, I wouldn't have skipped a beat or made a single judgment. In fact, I think it's smart. Teachers don't get enough planning time. Why not use the visiting author time to get a few things done?

And why wasn't my frustration enough to put Teacher A on a more constructive path?

Why use my time to flex narcicistic muscle? I don't have a clue. I only know it made me feel diminished and under occupation. Imagine how Teacher A's kids must feel, day after day.

Let's just hope it was an exception. I sure wouldn't want to live under Teacher A rule.

Monday, March 2, 2009

More on Lexington

Here's the press release about the conference I helped staff this past weekend. The picture is one a librarian took of Chris at his breakout after his luncheon presentation. He did great, but he always does.

McConnell Conference for Youth Literature is Feb. 27-28

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 11, 2009) − The University of Kentucky’s School of Library and Information Science (UK SLIS) announces its 41st annual McConnell Youth Literature Conference to be held Feb. 27-28 at the Griffin Gate Marriott on Newtown Pike in Lexington.

The deadline to register for the conference is Feb. 20.The conference events will begin at 3 p.m. Friday afternoon.
The highlight of the first evening will be a banquet and keynote address by award-winning author Gary D. Schmidt.
Schmidt is a two-time recipient of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Newbery Honor for his novels "The Wednesday Wars" and "Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy", which was also a Printz Honor Book for Young Adults. Schmidt is a professor of English at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. where he teaches courses in children's literature, medieval literature, and creative writing.

Saturday’s events begin with a presentation by E.B. Lewis, award-winning picture book author and illustrator whose honors include a 2003 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for his "Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman" and a 2005 Caldecott Honor for "Coming on Home Soon".

The luncheon speaker on Saturday is critically-acclaimed young-adult author Chris Crutcher, the 2000 recipient of ALA’s Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime contribution to young-adult literature.

Also presenting during the weekend will be the author of nonfiction children’s books, Kelly Milner Halls. The conference also will feature several concurrent sessions on topics ranging from how to reach reluctant male readers to the art and creation behind every child’s favorite story-time attraction, the pop-up book. Finally, graduate students from UK SLIS will offer sessions on the 2009 medal winners and honor books for the Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz Awards, presented each year by the American Library Association.

Register online or call (859) 257-8876.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

McConnell Center for Children's Literature Conference

I just got back from Lexington and the University of Kentucky's McConnell Center for Children’s Literature Conference. And I had so much fun. My fellow speakers were Gary Schmidt, E.B. Lewis and my friend and boss, Chris Crutcher. It was such a fantastic gathering of librarians and library students. Dr. Stephanie Reynolds is a remarkable expert and she ran a brilliant event. I am so proud to have been included.
Gary Schmidt was the dinner banquet speaker and his comments were so moving and so wise. He teaches at a University in Grand Rapids, Michigan in addtion to being a Newbery and Prince Honor winning author. And I feel honored to have spent time with him.

Illustrator and fine artist E.B. Lewis was the breakfast speaker and he was so amazing. I have loved his work for years and years, and I even got to him dinner with him (and Stephanie and Chris) after the conference concluded. He's funny, compassionate and thoughtful, in addition to being a gifted painter. I hope to write about him soon.

Chris was the luncheon keynote, but just barely. He had to be in Missouri Friday, then fly to Kentucky Saturday morning for his presentation at noon. It was hit or miss, but he made it. And he was sensational. He always is.

Beyond my fellow speakers, there were such wonderful librarians -- working professionals and students. So many attended my workshops, and they seemed to share my passion for helping kids find just the books they need to grow confident in their reading and writing. What a treat it was to be part of this conference.

Thanks, Stephanie, for including me. Thanks Lexington librarians for making me feel so welcome.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

God bless President Obama!

Every once in a while, a leader finds his or her way into office, and the impossible comes within reach. I truly believe President Obama is our miracle -- our bonified leader. And after eight years of George W. Bush, I am so proud and so grateful. God bless this man and help him find the energy and will to transform our nation -- to get it back on track to be the shining nation of compassion and leadership. What a remarkable man.

BTW, the photo is from Vanity Fair, at this URL:

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The people we "know."

For years, when people have asked me who my best friend in high school was, my answer has been Andy Smith -- Andrew Smith now that he's a grown-up and a writer.

He was, at the time, the funniest person I'd ever known. He taught me how to write, how to question, how to yearn. He broke my heart twice -- once when he asked Key to the homecoming dance instead of me. I went with Kirstin, a German foreign exchange student in my photography class instead, just so I could BE there. But my heart was standing in Key's shoes (and boy, were they crowded).

Incidentally, Looking Glass was our band for that dance. And believe me, you haven't lived until you've heard "Brandi, you're a fine girl...what a good wife you would be...." a dozen times, live, in the course of three hours. Looking Glass had more hair than they had hit songs. : )

We spent a whole lot of Friday and Saturday nights at Disneyland, Magic Mountain, Mann's Chinese Theater, Pier I, Marie Calendar's, just where ever life and his Toyota would take us. We shared dreams and movies and records. He was my very best friend. I thought.

But now that we've reconnected, I realize I hardly knew him. I loved him. Don't get me wrong. He was my best friend and I wouldn't trade those memories for anything. But the kid I thought I knew and the man he's turned out to be don't always reconcile.

For example, in one of his most recent blogs he says he hates movies. Man, we saw dozens and dozens of movies when we were kids. It was one of our favorite things to do. Or I thought it was. Now I wonder, was it just my favorite thing to do and he put up with it? I didn't think so. Star Wars, Fantasia, Indiana Jones, The Omen, the Exorcist, those were all his idea. Good ideas, but his. But did he love movies then, if not now?

Maybe we never really know the people we think we know. Or maybe "know" is subject to relativity. I know how Andy reacts when I explode a ketchup packet and it hits his wheat jeans hours before the school day is scheduled to end. He REALLY doesn't like it. I know how loud he can scream when he's pretending to be terrified after seeing the Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the drive in. I know how frustrated he was when Mr. Smith threatened to shut down the school paper if we let the ACLU take the district to court in defense of our free speech. I know how much that manuscript he and Chris N. wrote meant to him, all those years ago. In fact, I still have it.

Maybe the rest -- all the things he never told me don't really matter -- at least not when you're looking forward, rather than back. Guess I'll wait and see. As for the second time he broke my heart, well, that's to be continued. If there are so many things I never knew about him way back then, maybe he had blind spots too.
Here's to the future.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Junior Library Guild -- PERKS!

Okay, I admit it. I'm a trophy hound. It's been true since the first day I realized winners get shiny golden things, while losers get to watch the smiling winners. I have horse show ribbons, journalism competition plaques, tennis trophies, and -- whenever possible -- book award trinkets and certificates. I love them. I can't help it.

So here's the latest one -- the perks just awarded through the Junior Library Guild. Six of my books have been JLG selections over the years, but this is the first year they've offered a certificate and lapel pin. Color me content with the neat new goody.

THANK YOU, JLG. I'm thrilled. ~ Kelly

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

GET LIT asks: What keeps you writing?

Asa Bradley emailed today asking me and Claire Rudolf Murphy to respond to that simple question as part of the GET LIT festival here in Spokane, and I'm delighted to be included. So here goes.

I could be flipant and say the desire to stay housed and fed keeps me writing, because as a single mom, writing isn't just fun for me, it's my job. It is the work that keeps my kids Kerry and Vanessa at Eastern Washington University and Spokane Falls Community College, too. But my choice to make writing my life's work is about far more than money.

What keeps me writing is probably a burning curiosity. I was born with an unyielding need to discover the who, what, when, where, why and how of virtually any topic that crosses my field of vision -- dinosaurs, mummies, Bigfoot, albinism, any subject that makes me urgently wonder. Because I never really graduated from topics that also appeal to kids, they are the best candidates with whom I can share my enthusiasm. So I happily write for kids.

I write for the kid I once was -- the reluctant reader tomboy who never found the books she might REALLY want to read. She finds them now because she writes them. And the reactions of the kids like me constitute the second primary reason I keep writing. I do it to help the "weird" kids out there -- kids like the kid I was -- understand they are special and they are not ever truly alone.

That's what keeps me writing. Well, that and the price of electricity in Spokane. Talk about a topic that makes me curious. : )

Thanks GET LIT -- for the prompt, for letting me visit remote schools as part of the festival team, and for every other terrific opportunity you've afforded me. I'm glad to be part of the team!


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wow, one more from Whitworth.

A few weeks ago, Chris and I visited a children's literature class at Whitworth College here in Spokane. Sophie, a 19-year-old journalism student, told us about her plans to create a kid lit blog, and she's done exactly that. GREAT job, Sophie. Thanks for including me!

Publishers Weekly, YAY!

And...SAVING THE BAGHDAD ZOO was in the Publishers Weekly Fall 2009 previews. How fun to see my book mentioned right after my friend Chris Crutcher's new book, under the same Greenwillow banner. It said:

Greenwillow goes to the head of the class with Amelia Bedelia’s First Day of School by Herman Parish, illus. by Lynn Avril, the housekeeper’s picture-book debut; Angry Management by Chris Crutcher, three loosely connected novellas starring past Crutcher characters; Saving the Baghdad Zoo: A Story of Hope and Heroes by Kelly Milner Halls and Major William Sumner, a photo-essay about the mission to rebuild this Iraqi landmark; Duck and Kangaroo by Edward Lear, illus. by Jane Wattenberg, nonsense verse illustrated with original photos and archival prints from Lear’s time; and Santa’s Stowaway by Brandon Dorman, about a determined elf and an unforgettable sleigh ride.

Yikes & Skypes

Has it really been a month since I posted? I'd feel bad, except no one reads my blog, so I've only disappointed myself. : )

I've been pretty busy with assignments, school visits and Skype experiments.

What is Skype? It's an online forum -- free so far -- that enables member-to-member video communications. Because TALES OF THE CRYPTIDS is on the PSLA's Young Reader's Choice nomination list, I've had the opportunity to talk to several classrooms in PA about the book via Skype, and it's been tremendous fun -- at least for me.

The discussion among children's writers and illustrators, with regard to Skype, is what to charge for time invested. For illustrators, I can see exacting a fee, because prep time for illustrators is a little more extensive. But so far, I'm not charging for the opportunity because I see it as a promotional opportunity along with an outreach. But I'll reserve the right to change my mind.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Farewell, ye Tiara!

Few are the times I wish I was rich. This time, is one of them. Alas, I've lose my R.L. Stine tiara to a series of fatter bids. It's a good cause, and I'm glad more money will be in the NYPL's coffers. But I wish I had enough to beat the beefy. Sigh. Some things just aren't meant to be, I guess. Bob -- if you're out there -- I've been your faithful fan for many, many years, and remain so, even if my keepsake will live on another soul's bookshelf.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Tiara Treasures

I know, I just posted, but I just found this great CAUSE so I had to post again.

Meg Cabot is fronting an online auction -- fun tiaras decorated by various authors and other celebrities -- to raise money in support of the New York Public Library. Each of about 30 people were asked to create their own crown from a common template, and they're fantastic. I love Mo Rocca's Sarah Palin tiara. But I bid on R.L. Stine's masterpiece, so nobody else bid on that one, okay? Kidding. Well, kind of kidding. I really want it. Bob Stine is one of the nicest guys on earth -- once told me I had a great voice -- and he's brave to make a "scary" crown. I WANT that beautiful thing SO BADLY.

Anyway, check it out and bid, bid, bid on all the other tieras right away. And let me know which tiera you like best, okay? I'm really curious.

PS Check out Mo's YouTube video about creating his Palin prize.

Lewis Black, front row/center

Last night, at the last minute, I decided to go and see humorist Lewis Black. He's one of my two favorite comic minds, tied with the late, great George Carlin. I didn't have a ticket. I decided to chance it at the box office. To my great surprise, the clerk handed me a front row ticket, square in the middle of the row. I was dumbfounded -- and thrilled. When I tried to pay for it, I swear this is true, he said, "No, it's on the house." WHAT?

It was a fantastic show. Lewis Black is brilliant, live or taped. And I had a great, great time. But for me, it was even bigger.

I live alone and my kids are grown, so I tend to deny myself things. I tend to do without. I tend to sit home rather than jumping into a crowd of strangers if it's not work related. In fact, I tend to work without play. Last night, I took a chance and broke that tendency. And the results were skyrocket spectacular. So maybe it'll be a little easier to take a chance the next time an opportunity presents itself. Maybe it'll feel less alien the time after that. Maybe there are adventures left for an old lady with a bad knee. It sure is fun to imagine.

Thanks, Lewis Black. You inspired me. I won't call it "hope" -- in your honor (still picturing that tattered little basket). But it was the perfect way to start the new year. Next time, maybe I'll get to shake your hand. Hey, after last night, anything is possible. : )

Thursday, January 1, 2009

ReadKiddoRead, from James Patterson

Like Jon Scieszka (Guys Read) before him, James Patterson is concerned that kids aren't all jazzed about reading. So he's launched ReadKiddoRead -- a social network of professionals determined to spark the reading flame. It's already pretty robust. So check it out and join in the fun!