Friday, December 14, 2012

Sandy Hook Elementary

Photo courtesy of the News Times.
I woke today to the early reports of violence on the Sandy Hook Elementary School campus in Newtown, Connecticut.  A gunman stormed the principal's office, then his mother's kindergarten class.  In minutes,20-year-old Adam Lanza, holding his brother Ryan Lanza's ID, was dead.  So were his mother, and six other adults.  So were 20 children, probably five-year-olds.

My heart is broken.

I visit elementary schools all over the country.  I visit those same kindergarten classrooms, where there shiny little faces are so new and so excited they are impossible not to adore.  They ask in appropriate questions.  They spin.  They giggle.  They love.  They radiate hope and promise -- perfect little clean slates eager to learn and connect in any way possible.

What could drive a young man -- a good looking kid who looks like my daughter's friends -- to gun down his mother and 20 of her tiny students with two semi-automatic pistols?  What statement could he be hoping to make by going to her school to take his last stand?  Why claim those perfect, innocent victims along with his mother?  

Where did we go wrong?

I hear cries of gun control, and I agree.  We need to find a way to keep guns out of the hands of people likely to snap.  But how can we tell which people will turn to violence?

I hear cries of tighter security at schools.  But locked doors would have opened easily to the son of a teacher at the school.  No one would have suspected he was a danger, would they?

It's all speculation at this point.  But could the shooter have suffered with mental health issues?  Seems pretty crazy to gun down a classroom full of kids, if you ask me.  Kids exactly like those kids that welcome me every time I visit a school.   Was this young man mentally ill and we simply missed it?  If he was, how can we get better at recognizing and correcting the symptoms of the mentally ill?

I remember, vividly, the year Ronald Reagan turned the mentally ill out onto the streets, saying inpatient treatment was cheaper...that there was no need for mental hospitals that cost the taxpayers so much money.  I remember the immediate rise of homeless people who may have planned to take their meds, but somehow forgot or got confused or couldn't afford them.

I am a flaming liberal, but I hesitate to take guns from responsible gun owners. I know a lot of people who keep them safely for self defense or as collectors.  They don't worry me -- now.  But I do wonder how we can be sure those reliable people will never slip over to the dark side?  We can't be sure about that.  Depression strikes, as do other common mental illnesses.  So it seems to me, we can only hope to prevent this kind of violence by being more careful about who gets guns AND by tending to people with mental illness more effectively. 

Most importantly, the discussions have to begin.  We don't need defensive nonsense from partisan mouth pieces.  We need real conversations from all sides.  We need to find a way to better protect our kindergarteners, our middle schoolers, our high schoolers, our college campuses, even our parents and grandparents.

We have to TALK ABOUT IT to make it better.  Period.

I'm in tears thinking about those perfect little people, their lives cut short.  Senseless can be defined by this shooters selfish choices.  We will never know what magic they did and would have brought to our world.  But the loss is immeasurable.

In the days and weeks to come, please let us do SOMETHING so they will not have died for nothing.

My heart is broken.  Those kids, like all kids, were my tribe.  I wish their parents any comfort they can find.  I wish, how I wish, there was something I could do to help them.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Edmonds, Seattle & Bellevue

After NCTE, I was sick as a dog -- so I basically slept through Kerry's birthday and Thanksgiving (sorry baby girl).  Then I headed to the Washington Coast for a week of school visits at Edmonds, Seattle and Bellevue elementary schools.  I was a little bit altered at the first three schools, thanks to three different over the counter cold meds I took to quiet all my symptoms.  But I think I did a good job, even with the floating sensation.  I sure loved the kids and the teachers and the sensational librarians who coordinated the whole thing. Ann Bell-Hayes and her kids at Cedar Way made this and other signs to welcome me.  And boy, did I feel welcome.  Ann even picked me up at the airport, snuffy nose and all.  Bless her for pretending not to notice how sick I was.  : )

Ann's friend Kristine McLane at North Beach Elementary in Seattle took my picture at the close of her school day for a new READ poster.  She warned me my curly hair wouldn't look perfect.  I reminded her I'd never had a perfect hair day with that curly hair, so I'd be fine with it.  And boy do I love the poster she created.  Thanks, Kristine -- for the poster and the cool ride from Seattle to Bellevue.  I had no idea how fast paced things were in these high energy cities until you gave me the tour!  FUN! 

On my last day, I visited Linda Peterson at Woodridge Elementary.  Parent volunteer Melanie Pang picked me up and took me to the school, and the fun never stopped.  Melanie and I are Facebook friends now.  Neat!  The kids were so wonderfully prepared, they knew just what to expect.  That was true at all five schools, and I appreciate it so much.  One of Linda's students -- a Russian girl named Madino -- had done a review of my new book, TIGER IN TROUBLE so I posed for a picture beside it.  Madino gave me FIVE STARS so she's my new best friend.  How great is that?

Thank you, Ann Swenson at Madrona School, Joan Maybank at Beverly Elementary, Ann Hayes-Bell at Cedar Way Elementary, Kristine McLane at North Beach Elementary and Linda Peterson at Woodridge Elementary.  You ignored my sniffles and, together, we made it a week to remember.  I will forever be grateful -- truly.  You are the BEST.

NCTE 2012 in Las Vegas

Three weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend my first NCTE in Las Vegas.  My publisher, Chronicle Books, sent me to promote GIRL MEETS BOY.  I was also part of a panel on reaching reluctant readers with Ellen Hopkins, Terry Trueman and Bruce Hale -- moderated by Cari Sandler.

Every aspect of the experience was sensational.  I had dinner with Claire Rudolf Murphy and Meghan Nuttall Sayres the first night -- even tossed a few dollars in the slot machines.  I ran into Teri Lesesne and Paul Hankin, walking the MGM Grand mall toward the conference center. 

I attended Claire's panel on using picture books for older readers -- sensational.  I also sat in on Charlie Price's panel on mystery novels for young adults.  Charlie is not just a great mystery writer (who won the 2011 Edgar Award), he used to teach at the Lakeside Alternative School with Chris Crutcher, MANY years ago.

My own panel was so terrific, in large part because all of the authors on it with me were people I knew and respected enormously.  Makes for a great panel.  And any discussion on reaching reluctant readers is important to me.  That's always my primary target audience.   So grateful to Cari for putting the proposal together. 
Finally, Chris Crutcher, Terry Trueman and I signed copies of GIRL MEETS BOY at the Chronicle booth.  It was a little crazy.  Chris had just signed ARC copies of his new book, PERIOD 8 at HarperCollins and he was bouncing from the Chronicle table to the exhibit hall isles like a ping pong ball.  But I really appreciated the fact that he and Terry took the time to sign the anthology.  I was grateful.  Truly.

I left Las Vegas brain adled and sick -- a sinus infection and chest cold this time (not strep throat).  But it was a wonderful opportunity, one I hope I get to experience another time in the not so distant future.  Thank you, Chronicle Books, Claire Rudolf Murphy, Meghan Nuttall Sayres, Cari Sadler, Ellen Hopkins, Bruce Hale,  Chris Crutcher and Terry Trueman.  Thank you everyone else I saw, met, spoke with.  My first NCTE was truly great.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Strep Throat

I flew home from New Hampshire on Friday, May 25.  I was tired, of course.  I got up at 3:00 am EST to catch my 5:00 am plane, which was midnight Pacific Time. All of my connections went well, which is fantastic.  Manchester to Detroit, Detroit to Salt Lake city, Salt Lake City to Spokane.  Not a hitch.  But when my daughter picked me up at the airport, I felt a scratch in my throat.  I tossed back some ZICAM (an author visitor's best friend), and blew it off.

The next day, I felt a little like I was coming down with a cold -- tired, mostly and still that sore throat.  More ZICAM and sleep.  Then came the fever, and all I could do was sleep.  I checked with the librarians, no reports of strep at the schools.  So I passed it off as a summer cold.  Ten days later, the sore throat, fever and headaches remained, with no other symptoms.  No sniffle.  Only a little cough.

By Sunday, June 3, my throat hurt so much, I couldn't even swallow ice water.  So I went to the doctor.  Yup, it was Strep Throat, a bacterial infection of the throat caused by Group A Streptococcus bacteria. All the online medical groups say it will clear up on its own in a week, but mine was still thriving ten days after the first symptoms arose, so I was glad to go to the doc for antibiotics after wasting more than a week feeling crummy.   Hope I'm 100% by this weekend so I can do revisions on my third UNCLE JOHN'S BATHROOM READER FOR KIDS contributions.  Book three is called SMELL-O-SCOPIC.  Should have written about Strep Throat.

SCBWI Regional Conference, Portland, OR

Thanks Robyn and Judi for including me as a speaker at your SCBWI regional conference in May.  I had a sensational time for so many reasons.  First, I had no duties on Friday, so I got to attend sessions.  Because I love illustrations so much, I sat in with the artful folks, and what a treat that was. 

 Here is Simon & Schuster art director Laurent Linn is reviewing porfolio assignments at this session, which was astonishing for me to watch.  How I wish I was good enough to illustrate for a pro like him.  He was brilliant and smart and so tuned in to kids. 
 My agent Jill Corcoran was also a speaker, so it was super great to catch up with her and her sensational new assistant, Eve.  Dinner was so relaxing and fun. 

Toward the end of the conference, Laurent shared more of his wisdom, as participant book covers flashed on a screen behind him.  Obviously, this one was mine.  Can't get over how smart this guy was.  Amazing.

Thank you, New Hampshire!

Completed my last school visits for the 2011/2012 school year on May 22, 23 and 24 in the lovely state of New Hampshire.  The first two days were at the Deerfield Community School in Deerfield, NH.  The third was at Rundlett Middle School in Conchord, NH.  Deerfield was a beautiful little community with the sweetest kids EVER, not to mention a really great librarian named Gina Schonwald. 

She was so kind, she even swung back by her house after picking me up to try and give me a glimpse at a huge snapping turtle that had come into her yard to lay eggs.  I'd never seen one in person, and she took the time to give me a look (except her husband had already moved the big girl to keep their cat from getting "snapped").  I did get to hold one of their freshly hatched baby chickens.  How I love peeps!

After my time at DCS, Nancy Keane picked me up for my day at Rundlett.  It was my second opportunity to visit Nancy's great school, and I couldn't wait.  The kids are so energetic and enthusiastic, I love them.  And they didn't let me down...hopefully, I didn't let them down, either.  : ) 

They created their own cryptids -- mysterious animals -- to win a pizza lunch with me, and man were their creations amazing.

These are just a few of those submitted.  They were all sensational.  One of my favorite kids at the pizza lunch was a great guy named William.  William wore the COOLEST Sasquatch t-shirt (below) and he kept calling me "the ultimate woman" because I liked to write about cool topics like Bigfoot and video games.  But all the kids were sensational.  So was Nancy Keane.
Once school had concluded, we had a whole evening to kill because my flight out of New Hampshire didn't leave until 6:00 am the next morning.  So Nancy drove me to Manchester, NH to do a little ghost research at the famous Palace Theater.  More about that in my next book for Millbrook, GHOSTS.  I got a great story from Deerfield, too, about Blackbeard's 13th wife.  So cool.  I'm loving research for this new book.
Last but not least, Nancy and I had the best grilled cheese sandwiches on earth at Manchester's famous Red Arrow Diner.  Well, it's famous if you're a political junky like I am.  When candidates for national political office visit New Hampshire -- and they all visit New Hampshire -- they grab a bite at the Red Arrow.  Al Gore had eaten at my booth.  How cool is that? 

Bottom line, I had such a lovely visit with my friends in New Hampshire.  Thank you so much for having me, and I hope you'll have me back again.  I really do feel like I've made new friends everywhere I go.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Sasquatch Conference -- May

In May of 2012, I got to head back to Richland, WA to speak at my first Sasquatch conference since IN SEARCH OF SASQUATCH was released.  It was my chance to catch up with the greatest names in Sasquatch investigation to see if they approved of what I'd done with the book.  To my great delight, they were very, very pleased, including the one and only Bob Gimlin (above), of the famed Patterson Gimlin film (below).
Radio host Thomas Cantrell hosted the conference and offered me the speaking slot.  I was honored, but half the people I wrote about were sitting in the audience.  My topics were limited because they were about to talk about the same subjects.  So I mentioned how kids love the idea of a new species surviving in the wilderness regions of North America.  It was a wonderful experience.   After I spoke, Bob and his friend David Ellis pulled me aside to share something special with me.  It was a baby Sasquatch plaster cast, pictured below in my very small adult hand.  Astonishing.
If you could see it the way I could, you'd see the dermal ridges -- like fingerprints on the toes and other parts of the tiny foot, proving it's not a fake footprint.  This is either a very heavy toddler human, or an average weight toddler Sasquatch.  How I hope it's a Sasquatch. 

Thank you, Thom, for including me at your conference.  I'm so grateful.

Texas Library Association -- April

I was born and raised in the great state of Texas.  I am living proof of the old saying, "You can take the girl out of Texas, but you can't take Texas out of the girl."  I live in Spokane, but the Lone Star State will always be my home.  Is it any wonder my first trip to TLA was incredibly meaningful to me?
My publisher, Chronicle Books covered my hotel expenses, thanks to the recent releast of GIRL MEETS BOY, my first YA fiction anthology.  So my first duty was the publisher cocktail party.  Who should I see first, but John Green?  Now I know who John is, of course.  But I didn't know he knew who I was until he said, "Kelly, hey, I didn't know you were going to be here."  John Green knew my name, and took this fun picture.  Thanks John.  I'm a fan, from Booklist forward.
Next, I saw my old friend Bruce Hale at the cocktail party.  Bruce and I have been friends since my first or second speaking event at the SCBWI National conference in L.A. but the friendship really clicked when I mediated a panel discussion outside of Detroit, Michigan with Bruce, Bruce Coville, my editor at the time, Tanya Dean, their editor at the time Michael Stearns.  THAT was a hoot!  Anyway, it was fun to catch up with Bruce, too.
Christa Pryor and Melanie Rivette Mallory are two of my all-time favorite librarians and both work in the Houston, Texas area.  I've been the two schools for Christa (a third this fall), and two for Melanie (I hope a third this fall).  So running into them was absolutely running into good, good friends. 
I was fortunate enough to do the Lone Star Book Panel with my friends David Lubar, Brian Faulkner and Adam Gidwitz. TALES OF THE CRYPTIDS was a Lone Star Book back in the day, so I was included and it was an enormous honor.
Last but not least, I got to talk YA, Doctor Who, and dozens of other fantastic topics with the kids and staff from the Friendswood Public Library.  This was huge to me.  Why?  Because I spent the best part of my childhood living in Friendswood, Texas.  It wasn't planned that I'd land with these kids.  The universe just gave me a huge present, and I couldn't be more grateful.  My first trip to TLA was sensational.  I just hope it won't be my last.  Going home is always a pleasure.

Casper, Wyoming

In April, I landed in Casper, Wyoming -- where Dick Cheney grew up.  For twelve years, I lived in Longmont, Colorado and traveled through Casper when I drove to visit relatives in Utah.  And anyone who knows dinosaurs knows the Tate Museum in Casper. 

But it was my first chance to do school visits there.  The people -- both educators and parents -- truly love their kids.  They are fighting for their chance to thrive as students and, eventually, as adults.  It was such an honor to be a short term partner in that endeavor.  And they made the days in Casper fun.  The teacher below was 6'9" tall.  I asked him to let me compare his very substantial feet to the plaster cast of Sasquatch, and he was such a great sport to say yes. 

One school even bought one of my books for each student.  How rare is that?   Thank you so much for having me, Casper!  I'm always here if you need me. 

Oregon, Wisconsin ROCKED!

I closed out March by visiting Christine (Chris) Antonuzzo and the astonishing kids at the Rome Corners Intermediate School in Oregon, Wisconsin.  Spending two days at a single school adds a magic that cannot be matched any other way.  Although each group I saw was made of of kids I hadn't seen before, that second day gave me a familiarity I don't often enjoy.  It feels like MY school, in a way, and the kids have heard about me, may even be looking forward to seeing me.  I see the kids I've already seen in the halls, and the smiles are real and warm.  It's such a rare treat, I always appreciate it.

But it was especially fun with Chris at the helm.  First, we're both munchkins -- short.  Second, we both truly love the kids.  And last, we're both heavily into politics (both liberals).  So after school, Chris took me to the Wisconsin State Capital in Madison, which was amazing, to me. 
Did you know Wisconsin is the Badger State?  My daughter's boyfriend loves badgers.  I had to pose for a picture.  Plus I was hoping to see union busting naughty Gov. Scott Walker, but he wasn't in.  Protestors say he never leaves his office by the traditional routes, but via underground tunnels so he won't have to talk to his constituents.  Who knows?  I love his badger, either way.
 After we toured the capital building, it was time for dinner and I wanted something uniquely Wisconsin.  So Chris took me to The Old Fashioned, a Madison favorite, to get their famous cheeseburger with an egg.  Yes, I mean it.  A cheeseburger with a fried egg perched on top (see below).
The little bits beside this ambitious burger are deep friend cheese grits.  OMG.  I'd never had deep fried cheese, but what better place to try them than Wisconsin?  The burger was good but OH SO MESSY.  The cheese was unlike anything I've ever eaten before.  Like eating cheesy little erasers.  LOL.   Oddly fun. 

Thank you, Chris and all the kids in Oregon, Wisconsin for making my two days with you absolutely fantastic.  Thank you Chris, for the friendship.  Means the world to me.

Bothell, WA -- Blue Heron and a murder of crows!

People in Bothell and its surrounding sister cities CARE about their environment.  They protect the stunning Blue Heron rookeries with passion and unyielding devotion.  Watching one of the mated parents launch from their high altitude nesting sights -- the picture of ancient history in sync with the present -- infuses you with the same determination.  Don't ever let this graceful birds lose their protected status in Bothell. 

So they had me on their side from the minute I checked into my hotel.  But it kept getting better, each of the four days I was in the region.  The kids were sensational -- so bright and engaged.  So were the librarians, which explains the kids.  That is always cause for celebration.  
As if all that wasn't enough, I made a discovery the day I arrived.  Bothell had an enormous murder of crows.  More than 10,000, according to one university professor, gathered in various places in Bothell each night to sleep with more safety and more warmth (safety and body heat come with gatherings of great numbers). 

As a kid who grew up intrigued and terrified by THE BIRDS (thank you Mr. Hitchcock), I wanted to see this astonishing act of nature.  Alas, it wasn't to be.  The librarians tried really hard to help me.  And I'm grateful.  But I'd come at the onset of nesting season, so they were off doing other important things.  But here (below) is a picture of what PART of that murder would have looked like, had I found it.  Another year.  I swear, I'll be back just to see that -- and those graceful Blue Heron.