Ringing in the New Year

What an interesting year to work in a book store! Annie Blooms is in a neighborhood with the largest Jewish community in Oregon and also a sizable immigrant African population. Here’s what I’ve found uplifting in a year full of ugly politics. Time and again, readers came in looking for a book that would help them make sense of their opponent’s point of view.

The conservative who just doesn’t understand what black people are so upset about, was willing to walk out of the shop with Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Willing to look into it. Eager, in fact, to understand better.

The talk of several local, and generally liberal, book clubs has been Hillbilly Elegy by S.A. Vance. “How can a bunch of white men feel so discriminated against,” say the bookclub ladies. “Where on earth can all these Trump supporters be coming from?” I don’t know either but these earnest bookclub members are searching for insight and talking about what they find.

Nearly everybody who comes into the shop talking about some crisis or other, the Standing Rock Sioux and the oil pipeline or the tide of refugees fleeing into Europe, has an opinion to start with. But here’s the cool part; they know they need to know more. They know that what is online masquerading as news is often not reliable. They already know what they think, but they want to know what the other guy thinks. They want to know the context, the history, the back story, the supporting science. And very often they want to know how to talk about these issues with their children. And yes, there are books for that! 

Although we need more than a few good books and people reading them to solve the mountain of issues we will need to address in the coming years, I do believe that books are a good beginning. A jumping-off place. An invitation to conversation. I’m grateful to have a shop full of good books to share, and a community open to new ideas.

My hope for the new year is that I will continue to listen and to and learn what I can, not to erase our differences or compromise on values I hold too dear to let go. But that I can see opponants more clearly and understand issues more fully, and rededicate myself to doing as much good in the world as possible–and maybe even a few good things that are impossible.

Thanking the Light-Bringers

unknown Today is the feast of Saint Lucia, which is traditionally celebrated with a procession involving a girl wearing a crown of candles and a tray full of cookies or sweet breads. The custom commemorates an Italian teenager who, during the Roman persecution of Christians, spent her dowry to bring food and books and letters to Christians who were hiding in caves to survive. The story goes that she wore a crown of candles to light her way in the dark and give the refugee Christians light to read by.

My family has made a custom of baking sweet bread and sharing it with people who are light- bringers in our lives. For the past 21 years that my children have been attending public schools, we have brought sweet bread to their teachers with a note of thanks for all the unsung work they do to make their classrooms and the lives of my children a brighter place.

My youngest will graduate from high school this year, so I wanted to take one last opportunity to thank all of my children’s teachers and librarians over the years, their 16 primary school teachers and the the primary school librarian. their 72 middle school teachers and the middle school librarian, and their 96 high school teachers and high school librarians. All of them teaching in the Beaverton School District in Oregon. I am inspired by your dedication to excellence in the classroom, by your creativity, your steadfastness in a culture that shows little respect for education and even less for those who have dedicated their lives to teaching. Even in those years where one or another of my children struggled with illness or injury or immaturity, you were a steady hand in their young lives. Even in years when you struggled–I remember those too–the year your mother went blind, the year you were pregnant with twins, the year you were critically ill or grieving a death in your family. You were still faithfully in your classroom day after day trying your best with a dwindling pool of resources.

imagesAnd I want you to know that even though I will no longer have children at home to send to your classrooms, you are still all my local teachers. And my work of advocating for better schools and more just funding of educational needs and wise allocation of the funds you have, will go on. Your value extends far beyond what you can do for my immediate family, and I will continue to do what I can to support the light you bring to our community.

Thank you.

Can a book transform its reader?

Lots of talk lately about the role books play in helping young readers develop empathy and expand their world view. I don’t have definitive answers on that score but I will be talking about all of those meaty book issues with some fellow authors this weekend. I’ll be hanging out with Fonda Lee the author of EXO, Tina Connolly the author of SERIOUSLY SHIFTED  and Mary Elizabeth Summer the author of TRUST ME I’M LYING. It will be lots of fun. There might even be cookies.

It’s a ANOTHER READ THROUGH, an indie new and used bookstore in Portland at 3932 N Mississippi Ave . We will be there at 1:30 this Saturday December 3rd. Hope to see you thereseriously-shifted-smallHiRes Cover TIDEexo-199x300


2016-wordstock_square-600x600-240x240 I’m so thrilled to once again be a part of Portland’s premier book event. I’ll be doing a pop up reading of The Turn of the Tide at the Portland Art Museum I spent a terrific afternoon scouting locations founknownr it. With a little luck I’ll be able to involve a little bit of audience participation art as well.

But the big excitement is that I will be moderating a panel with the authors of these lovely books: local writer Kathleen unknownLane who wrote The Best Worst Thing and National Book Award nominee Jason Reynolds who wrote Ghost. We will chat about the joys and particular challenges of writing realistic fiction for young readers. It will be at 4:15 in the Miller Gallery of the Portland Art Museum. It’s going to be a day full of inspiring book talk. I hope you can join us Saturday November 5th at the Portland Art Museum!

PNBA Trade Show and OCTE conference

I’ve got a busy fall. In addition to writing a new story that I’m absolutely over the moon about, I have a bunch of appearances in the next few weeks. I will be talking about bookstore events and what makes them work. I bring a perspective of a writer who has traveled to about a dozen bookstores in the last year. I’m also a bookseller at the Annie Blooms in Portland.

1320912I’ll be chatting with writers at the Oregon SCBWI PAL meeting at the Belmont library Saturday September 24th at 3pm. It’s a gathering for published writers and illustrators. I will also be at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Trade Show on the 30th of September. I’ll be part of a panel about making bookstore appearances work. The trade show is in Tacoma at the Hotel Murano. They have a full day of educational programing for writers, librarians, and booksellers.

1462416905And then on the 8th of October I’m so thrilled to be spending my day with the terrific teachers and librarians who come to the Oregon Council of Teachers of English conference at Wilsonville High School. I’ll be doing a workshop on using books across the curriculum with Deborah Hopkinson and one about New and Notable books for use in the classroom. I will also be on an author’s panel. Lots of good stuff. Hope to see you there!