Friday, December 14, 2007

School Program Prize Winners!

We are excited to announce the 2007 Exercise the Right to Read Prize Winners 1st Place—Charles F. Patton Middle School in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania Through an innovative get-involved campaign for the students and their families, and through the seeking of corporate sponsorship from businesses in their community, this school raised nearly $9,000 through the campaign. Wow! 2nd Place—Central Middle School in Edmond, Oklahoma This school went all out to bring the students, staff, and community together as one united force. From pajama reading parties to superheroes exercise day, to walking with pedometers and weights, the degree of total involvement of this school is inspiring. Congratulations to CMS on their hard work and energetic spirit! 3rd Place—Sequoyah Middle School in Edmond, Oklahoma Two leadership classes took on the task of motivating their school to read and run their way to this top finishers’ slot. Quite an undertaking for fifty students, and kudos to the student body for rising to the challenge. Way to go! 4th Place—Kazen Middle School in San Antonio, Texas This school used "a little creative fundraising." They put a container for pennies in each classroom, and had a competition: the classroom that had the most pennies minus larger denomination coins (added by kids and faculty from competing classrooms) won a library-sponsored pizza party. Sounds creative and fun, and was also obviously effective--they pitched in pennies all the way to fourth place! Participation Prize—May Grisham School, Santa Maria, California The kindness, generosity, and good-will demonstrated by the kids at this school is something that should be turned into a movie. This is not a “rich school”, yet they felt that there were others less fortunate than they, and decided to raise money and books for a school across the state that desperately needs supplies for its library. In addition to collecting pledges, May Grisham students put on a play, sold shirts, sold popcorn, had a penny drive, wore ETRTR sandwich boards, and just worked-worked-worked to collect funds and books for their sister school. After sending 10% to First Book, May Grisham School was able to present their sister school with 2,000 very gently-used books, and a check for $3,000. What a truly inspiring school! To see what these winning schools will receive, click here We’ve also decided to add a special individual award: The Spirit Award goes to Kate Schoedinger, Reading Specialist at Ross A. Lurgio Middle School, Bedford, New Hampshire. Kate is one of those rare individuals who helps you believe that you can make your big dreams a reality. Over the past year, Kate has rallied behind the program, championing the cause throughout her school and her community. She has also been a pillar of strength and support to us personally, even coming out to the NYC Marathon to cheer us on. Although we didn’t know Kate when this program started, we know she’ll be a life-long friend. She will receive a (now rare) autographed first edition of How I Survived Being a Girl. As I said when I started this program, I'm a jogger, not a blogger. And so, until the 2008 ETRTR School Program starts up, this blog now goes (officially)dark. I need to turn my concentrations to my writing deadlines, my family, and my friends. Thanks for checking in -- I hope you'll come back for more running and reading next year!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Marathon Slide Show!

Sorry for the delay. There was the trip home, the physical recovery, and then we did leave two teen boys "home alone" for 5 days, so there was definite recovery from that!

Plus, I'm no Web design wizard, so it took me a little while to put the slide show together, but it's now up and working on the ETRTR home page. It's a brief overview of our time in New York City, including a visit to Random House, the men's Olympic trials in Central Park, and "race day" on November 4th. Our camera stopped working around Mile 20, but we were able to recover the pictures and have ended the slide show with an After Run Party shot that was sent to us.

FAIR WARNING: Some images of your illustrious running-for-reading author are shocking. Frightening. (At least to me!) These slides are rated U (for Ugly). Marathon running ain't no beauty pageant, baby. It's gritty.

Click here for a shortcut to slide show. And please come back soon for news on this year's prize winners and next year's school program, which will run again due to popular demand.)

Enjoy the show!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


Hi. Mark here. I’m catching this up to date because we just arrived home and Wendelin is having a little “recovery nap”. (And this post is a day late because—as you’ll see—we arrived home a day late!)

I know Wendelin’s already mentioned this, but the support from our friends (both old and new) was really wonderful, and helped make this entire adventure something we will both remember for the rest of our lives. And of course the marathon itself also contributed to that feeling. I’ve heard for years that the NYC marathon was unlike any other, and now I know what they mean. (Example: when was the last time you saw blind people running down the street? And I mean running. The Achilles Track Club has volunteers that help disabled athletes compete in the event, and we encountered more than one sightless runner trucking along, tethered to a sighted runner giving them guidance. Kind of makes you feel silly for complaining about a sore hamstring.)

The support of the spectators of New York was something else. (Actually, the word ‘spectator’ doesn’t do them justice, because these folks were seriously involved!) There were people out in force along almost the entire route, and many of them were there for hours, cheering on the runners. When we came off the relative quiet of the Queensboro Bridge and finally entered Manhattan sometime after mile 16, the sonic impact of the crowd lining 1st Ave. was amazing. I turned to Wendelin with a big grin on my face and yelled “This is the reason people run this, right here…!”

(As for the results, we were especially stoked that Paula Radcliffe was the women’s marathon winner, as she was coming off having a baby earlier this year. Not that we actually saw her or anything, as we were slogging along in the middle of the pack while she and the other elites were flying along a couple of hours ahead of us, but hey – we were in the same race!)

The post-marathon revelry was really nice. A small group of us met at “Harry’s Bar” (gotta love that name) right after we finished. We’d planned to go up to our room and shower/change before joining them, but we ended up attending in all our sweaty glory. (We just popped in on our way up but I could tell that Wendelin really needed to eat, so we sat down ‘just for a minute’, which turned into two or three hours…) Following this we did the ‘shower-change-eat (again!)-sleep’ routine, then got up Monday morning and had a great breakfast at Sarabeth’s. Did a little window shopping, then headed out to the airport so that we could be home Monday night… we thought. To sum up a long boring story, from the time we arrived at JFK until we finally landed back home it was almost 24 hours (due to a series of airline misadventures that would have been almost comic if we hadn’t been so tired).

But here we are, happy to be home but also thrilled to have had such an amazing, uplifting time as your faithful ETRTR correspondents. Wendelin will touch base soon with an update on the program.


Sunday, November 4, 2007

New York City:Day 3 (NYC Marathon!)

We got up at 4:00 this morning to catch a cab to the buses (which were parked, appropriately, outside the NY Public Library). The buses took us to Staten Island, where we shivered until the sun came up, and waited in our corral area until 10:00. The gun went off at 10:10, but there were 40,000 runners (unbelievable) corralled and waiting to start, so it took us 15 minutes to be processed to the starting line. But then we were off! It was an amazing experience because the people of New York made it so. They lined the streets the whole 26 miles, cheering, encouraging, some offering candy or water. The run goes through the five NYC boroughs, starting in Staten Island (a short leg of the journey), then moving into Brooklyn (a really long leg, with interesting changes in culture through the neighborhoods -- we loved Brooklyn). The route then took us through Queens, and then the Bronx (where we were greeted by a big rapper shouting "Welcome to da Bronx!" -- it was classic!). The final borough was Manhatten, and by then I was doing the shuffle-of-pain. I started slowing down around mile 18, and was greatly relieved to see the Mile 20 marker because after that I could handle just checking off the remaining miles -- the toughest 6 miles, but still manageable in my mind if I'm checking them down one at a time.

Mark made the whole thing look easy, jetting off to take pictures (lots of awful ones of me, but running a marathon ain't a fashion show), and some outstanding ones of the contrasting neighborhoods and crowds.

The NYC marathon is known for people running for causes, and it was interesting to see the varying shirts. Besides our Exercise the Right to Read campaign, people were running "for" everything from curing childhood leukemia to blasting bowel disease (seriously!).

Seeing friends along the way meant a lot to me. We stopped to hug and thank, and I will never forget the ones who cheered us on. It really does help to have people to look for; people who believe in you.

Mark's doing great, but I am sore! I'm glad we took our time running and didn't worry about our marathon time -- it was an amazing experience and I'm proud to be part of a movement to help kids and libraries.

Tomorrow is a travel day, but I'll be putting together a little slide show of our trip on the ETRTR website -- subjects I think will interest people. From the impressive Random House lobby to shots from the marathon. So tune in again soon!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

New York City:Day 2

We got to see the Olympic trials for the men's marathon (for the 2008 Olympics in China). The runners looped Central Park (about 5 times) to complete the 26.2 mile course, starting at 7:30 this morning. Runners and running fans from all over were out in the early COLD to watch, and it was well worth it. Amazing athletes. We were hoping Brian Sell--a dark horse and really hardworking "middle class American"--would be among the top three representing American in Beijing, so we were delighted when he pulled up from the second chase pack to come in third.

The winner, Ryan Hall, put on an amazing performance. He made it look easy! The last mile or two he pumped his arm at the crowd and got them cheering him on. He's only 25 and this was only his second marathon. It was just awesome to watch him run and soak in the win.

We're off to have dinner with a reading specialist who's come from New Hampshire to cheer us on tomorrow. Pasta time! I doubt I'll have time to update any more before we run tomorrow, as we have to leave the hotel at 4:30 in the morning!

Wish us luck!

Friday, November 2, 2007

New York City: Day 1

We have done so much in the last 24 hours! We're in NYC, staying in a hotel right across from the south side of Central Park. You can see the horse-drawn carriage waiting for riders, bumper-to-bumper taxis on Park Avenue South, and the beautiful towering trees of Central Park. Manhattan is, as everyone always says, so alive.

We arrived around midnight last night, then got up early to catch a shuttle to the Javitz Center where registered runners pick up their "race packets". A race packet has your race bib, your "chip" (a device the size of a fat quarter that you tie to your shoe that keeps track of your race time and what check points you've crossed), and some goodies (like your official participant shirt, coupons, samples, etc.). There was also a bright yellow Spongebob Bikini Bottom Track Club hat. Don't ask me.

After we got our race packets and talked to officials about the best way to get to the start point (something we'll post about later), we "hopped in a cab" and went to visit the agency that represents my books. (Fortunately, it did not cost $900 to get there.) I met with the literary agent (who has also become my friend over the years), the foreign rights agent (a dear man who's behind my translations contracts with dozens of foreign publishers), and the film agent (whom I'd not met in person before). Interesting conversations, and fun too!

After that, we ate lunch at a funky New York diner -- it was fabulous. I had pancakes and eggs (yes, lunch, but I was jonesing for pancakes and over-easy eggs) and Mark had the weirdest, most delicious veggie burger.

We walked up Broadway quite a ways, then took another cab the rest of the way to Random House, where I met with my editor and all the members of the wonderful book-making team. (There are a lot of people involved in the publication of a book--a lot more than you'd imagine. It's taken me 20 books at RH to really understand what it takes.) I got to see my Reno 9-1-1 buddies (see previous post) and personally thank the woman who okayed the $900 cab fare.

My editor put together a wine and cheese reception (we loaded up on her delicious spice cake and the available crackers and bread -- no wine, very little cheese) at Random House, then took us out to a lovely sushi dinner (ate lots of rice!). Mark snapped the above picture of us at dinner. From left to right: a RH sales rep who is one of my favorite people.(We 'bonded' years ago durning another transportation adventure when I was on a book tour -- we call it Lillian's Wild Ride.) My lovely editor, and the school-and-library division director (and my pal), and me. Mark was a real sport (as always) as we cackled through dinner.

That's it for today -- oh! Except for tracking down warmer clothes for Mark -- it's COLD here (by our standards, anyway), and if we have to be on our way to the starting line at 4:30 in the morning, he was way under packed.

Thanks for checking in -- I got several nice e-mails from schools today wishing us well -- one signed off "we're running and reading with you!" which made me feel really good. I like that image. It'll help me get over the finish line.

More tomorrow!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

And We're Off (to New York)!

This appropriate drawing courtesy of cool(and very funny) author / illustrator Kevin O'Malley. Slow and steady, that's how I'm going to do this 26.2 miles. (Now, if Kevin had drawn one for Mark, there'd be a hare. Oh, wait, no. The hare didn't fare too well, did he. It'd be more like a mountain goat--Mark's amazing on hills.) Regardless, I appreciate the drawing and the sentiment. Thanks Kevin!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Hi! It’s Mark again, filling in while Wendelin frantically packs for our trip to NY!

Inspiration is where you find it. Take Ed, here. He became inspired to begin running recently. He’d been in good shape all his life, but earlier this year he came to the conclusion that he needed to do more aerobic activity. He and his wife Rosalyn had been walking regularly, but he realized that their walking group (as much as he enjoys their company) wasn’t challenging him enough. He’s a real intelligent, scientific sort of guy and he knew about the tremendous physiological benefits of running, so he decided he might give it a try. And a lot of people might have stopped right there, with that good intention left floating somewhere in the back of their mind. But not Ed. He made the decision to DO it, not just think about it or talk about doing it “someday”, or worse yet, make excuses due to time constraints or age, etc.

We discussed the best way to begin, and I suggested a very conservative, progressive approach. We started with 5 minute walk/run segments, and built from there. (Basically, the same program we describe in the ETRTR educational handout – “5 Easy Steps to Becoming a Runner”.)

That was last February. When he started, some of the other seniors in his walking group said to Rosalyn, “What’s he doing? Is he crazy? He’s going to kill himself!” But he stuck with it, slowly build up his time and distance. (And when he started, he wore his usual walking clothes – jeans and a sweater. But as you can see, he’s now fashionably dressed as a serious runner!)

That was then, nine short months ago. And now? He’s out there every other day, putting in his early-morning miles at the beach. He’s up to 4 miles, currently—quite an improvement from being able to run for one minute—and still improving. He knows about pace and hydration and goo and blowing your nose on the fly without missing a step. All in all, quite the runner, that guy.

And… he’s almost eighty.

And… he’s my dad.

And… now he’s my inspiration.

Now That's A Beautiful Sight

Check out all those boys reading! This school bought multiple copies of a book that the kids read at the same time. Note the teacher in the back of the top photo. That's the science teacher, running an after school reading session. It's interesting to see the variety of ways teachers work at engaging students in the reading process. (And these boys certainly look engaged.) Kudos to this school!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Digging for the "Real Gold"

This picture is from a 5th grade teacher who has taken on Exercise the Right to Read as a fundraiser for a sister school. The notion of doing something like this is nice, but making it a reality? That takes some real commitment. And very often local businesses and residents will support their neighborhood schools, but hold back when they learn that the donated money is being sent across the state, or out of state. But when these kids hit roadblocks, they found creative ways to make raising funds for a sister school a reality. Here's what their teacher reports:

Last night was our Fall Festival and my kids and I helped to sell kettle corn, which ended up being a big hit for the evening. The owner gave us half his profit towards ETRTR, so the students were very excited that we made $230! Then we had a booth next to his selling t-shirts and made another $100. Today we're off to the soccer fields where we are doing a bake sale. What's nice is that the students came up with many of these ideas, and they are truly excited about doing the work for someone else's benefit. It is exactly what I wanted to see happen. It won't be about how much money we raise, but about opening the kids' hearts to how good it feels to do something for others. That's the real "gold".

These kids and their teacher are real gold, if you ask me!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Reno 9-1-1

There are not a lot of speaking engagements I would have accepted the weekend before the NYC marathon. Aside from the exhaustion of traveling, it's hard to eat right, work out, or sleep well when you're away from home. But when the American Association of School Libraries asked me to be their banquet speaker, it was an engagement I really wanted to accept. The organization has a conference only once every two years, and to be invited to be the banquet speaker is a real honor. So I said yes! The trip started off with a fizzle. A two hour delay. Weather in San Francisco was cited as the reason. My connection to Reno was in question, but I lost myself in the writing of my next story and tried not to stress. I did make it to San Francisco, and although this airport saga is actually quite convoluted, I'll cut to the chase -- my flight to Reno got canceled and the "best they could do" was get me on a 10 PM flight to Reno. The banquet started at 6:00 To cut to the chase once again, after communicating with my (very nice, very competent) Random House connection and exhausting all other options, I was told to hop in a cab. Isn't that so New York? But, really, time was of the essence, and I'm grateful that their mindset was Get here any way you can. We stopped for gas in Roseville (a city that's very clever at hiding its gas stations) and were asked by 2 people if we were lost. Not a lot of bright yellow San Francisco cabs in Roseville. But the cabbie got me to Reno, pulling up to the banquet venue at 7:20. (I was scheduled to speak at 7:30. ) My Random House connection met us out front and paid the nearly $900 fare,(yes, the cab driver ran the meter), she let me make an emergency pit-stop and refuel with a glass of water, then showed me the podium. So (thanks to a generous publisher) I made it, and my speech was really well-received. I talked about everything from my first car, to Exercise the Right to Read, and afterwards I signed books until after 11:00. And since the restaurants in the area had all closed down at 11:00, I wound up with a big bag of vinegar-salt potato chips for dinner, which I ate while I watched Reno 9-1-1 on the tube. How could I turn that off after the day I'd had? Then I tossed and turned all night, and tried to look not-too-wiped-out at my two book signings the next morning. I'm home now (and still kinda wiped out) but the truth is, I would do it again. I met some wonderful, amazing people, and reconnected with some of my favorite librarians. They treat me like a "book star" but to me these book missionaries are the ones to be revered. I just hope getting to New York is easier than getting to Reno!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Room 302 Runners and Walkers

We've added more pictures to the slide show on the School Program page -- check it out!
I love this one and the note that came with it:

Hi Wendelin & Mark-

Here are a few pictures of our class. As you can see, we sure love to ETRTR!!! Plus, we also get lots of questions and comments when we run as a class! We especially love going back inside and curling up with a good book! What a great idea to exercise our bodies and our minds!
Big smiles-
Kerrie Wisneski & the Room 302 Walkers (& Runners!)

Only a little over a week left and kids (and teachers) will have "run a marathon" and "read a marathon". I'm so impressed with all the people who have embraced the program with such gusto. I want to go to every participating school and run laps with the kids. Read pages. Tell them I think they're fantastic! This has been an amazing journey. I'm actually looking forward to completing my own marathon 12 short days from now...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Authors 'R' Us

I've been in North Carolina this week, participating in "Novello", a program coordinated by the Charlotte public libraries that brings authors into local schools. I've had the pleasure of meeting (or in some cases, re-meeting) some truly excellent children's book authors. Eric Kimmel and I got to relive memories of being trapped in an ice storm when we both did a reading festival in Michigan years ago, Coleen Paratore (Wedding Planner's Daughter) and I discussed how we get story ideas while running, Pat Mora is always a delight to spend time with -- so gracious and wise, and Libba Bray (A Great and Terrible Beauty trilogy) and I had a wonderful conversation about the (sometimes emotionally devastating) process of writing novels. I also enjoyed conversations with Coretta Scott King award winners Nikki Grimes and James Ransome, Tony Abbott (Secrets of Droon) and Jeff Smith (the Bone series). It was nice for all of us to get to spend time with each other, but the real point of us being in Charlotte was kids getting exposure to "real authors". We went out to various schools to inspire children (and young adults) to read and write -- all this coordinated by the public library. Amazing.
The NYC marathon is in two weeks (yikes!) so I had to get my runs in. There's no gym in the hotel where we're staying, so I hit the streets of Charlotte. It's humid here and by the time I'd return to the hotel, I'd be drenched in sweat, wishing it would have rained.
This morning there's a public event where all us authors are on a Q&A / discussion panel, then it's home to Mark and the kids! It's been great here at the Novello festival, but there's no place like home.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Marathon Man Runs the Library

We received this inspirational guest blog from John Volkman, the librarian at Reedley High School in California. Keeping up with him would be quite a challenge!

At last year’s California School Library Association convention, Wendelin was the keynote speaker at the California Young Reader Meal banquet. When she announced that she was going to run the New York Marathon and have a reading program tied to it, I was immediately excited because those are two of my favorite activities. I have now run 87 marathons in 37 states and thought I could tie the program at our school with my running of the Hartford Marathon in October.

To motivate students to participate, I have obtained gift certificates to award to all those who meet the minimum goals, as well as other prizes for the top fundraisers including an Ipod Shuffle. I put together a packet which described the program and included running/reading/fund raising logs and other information about the marathon and exercise. I presented the program in person to all 65 of our tutorial (study hall) classes.

We are having competition between these tutorial classes. The teachers are also being challenged to participate and have been divided into 4 teams. I had the Activities Class draw a large map of the United States on which we highlight the states between Reedley and Hartford. Each day in the bulletin we read one of the reading quotes and mention something of interest about the state of the day.

I challenged those students who wanted to run their individual miles for time to add them up and see if they could beat my 26.2 miles straight time in Hartford which turned out to be 3:43:44 (Boston Marathon qualifying time for me).

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Personal Best

Hi! Mark here, guest blogging for Wendelin.

It’s easy for runners to get caught up in the clock and judge the success or failure of every run strictly by the numbers on your watch as you cross the finish line. In fact, runners are such a chrono-centric group that the term “personal best” has come to mean simply “fastest time to date”, with no regard to how good the run actually was, in terms of enjoyment or natural beauty or fitness or camaraderie on the trail.

Well, I got a little lesson in this today, and I hope I’m smart enough to retain it for life.

Today I posted what was by far my “worst” half-marathon time ever, yet the race was definitely a personal best. This was because I had the distinct pleasure of coaching, and then running with, my younger son as he completed his first half marathon. (He’s the one peeking over our shoulders on our home page…)

He’s only 13, and last year when our older son (15 at the time) completed his first half, the younger one announced that next year, he would do it also. Wendelin and I privately had our doubts but we decided to take him at his word, so this summer when we started training, we invited him along and he joined in without (much) complaining. The boys & I spent a lot of Saturday mornings slogging through the hills in our area, but in the end it was worth it… as always.

Wendelin and our older boy had a great day (and he beat his previous time by a minute, so he had a PR in the traditional sense of the word). But it turned out that out of almost 700 entrants, our younger son was the youngest of all, and he placed first in his age group (okay, there were only three boys under 15, but still…). So not only did he finish (his real goal) but he medaled as well (a nice bonus which really put the icing on his day).

Last year after this event, Wendelin told me what a great feeling it was, running with our older son as he crossed the finish line for the first time. Today, I truly understand what she meant. I’m probably happier than the guy who took first place. It really was a Personal Best.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Teaching Team Does the Triple Twist

This adorable class photo was sent in from a 5th grade teacher whose school is running and reading to raise funds for a sister school. They are the "Gators" hence the alligator with the book in the banner. The teacher explains how their school is running the show:

My class serves as ambassadors to the school. The three of us in our teaching team (we call ourselves the Triple Twist) are taking the kids out running every morning at about 8:20. It takes us about 15 minutes to run/walk and then we get on with the rest of our day. We are competing between classes (throughout the school) as to which class can raise the most money to support Alicante school in order to help them buy new books. Students can win a t-shirt by raising funds, or purchase one to help support the cause.

In addition, my class will present our original play "Sammy Keyes and the Marathon Mystery" next week to parents. During the play, we will have t-shirts available to purchase, too.....and dessert to go along.

Most of the classes in the school are also participating, so it's a school-wide idea. I just think that having my own class really pushing it and loving the idea is the key.

Reading, running, and writing a play? This school is amazing!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Starting the Day With a Music-Jam-athon!

This came in from the "Loud Librarian" at a New York middle school.

Here's a snapshot of Spencerports' Cosgrove Middle School students in action. We have been offering students 'Mini-Music-Jam- Walkathons' every morning, and sometimes afternoons. The kids (and teachers) get a chance to walk a mile (in about 12-15 minutes) and hang out with their friends before and after school. We have been averaging 100-150 students every AM...count the miles! I've even spotted kids walking and reading at the same time...which can be dangerous...but also fun to watch!

We have our ELA, health, and PE teachers, and school counselors working together to push the ETRTR program. I've got most of our 'Book Brag' lit club, as well as the Cross Country Team locked into it as well. (Check out the lit club blog at We've been giving away t-shirts as raffle prizes, and I personally have been talking it up big time during the morning PA announcements. Our schools 'Building Planning Team' is very excited about ETRTR as it aligns with our school district's focus on Health and Wellness this year. We will be spending our collected dollars on Health and Fitness books for our library, as well as a donation to First Book. Thanks so much for setting up this terrific opportunity!

The mini-music-jam's a great idea. Music keeps the legs pumping! Rock on, Cosgrove runners and readers!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Time For Kids Magazine Spotlights ETRTR

In case you're not already familiar with it, Time For Kids is a division magazine of Time Magazine published especially for children and distributed mainly in classrooms. It has a circulation of 3.5 million and covers issues from world affairs, to sports, to popular culture, to...a certain author who's running for reading.

They placed their article about Exercise the Right to Read next to a piece on Asafa Powell, the fastest man on the planet. Maybe I'll get some of his speed by association?

Of course, I'm also next to a piece titled One Stinky Bloom (about a five-foot-tall flower known as the 'corpse flower' because it smells like rotting flesh). Let's hope that doesn't rub off!

Anyway, the text in the graphic is too small to read, so here's what TFK had to say about ETRTR in their Spotlight column:

On November 4, Wendelin Van Draanen will trade her writer's hat for running shoes. The Sammy Keyes author will take on the New York City Marathon as part of a program she started called Exercise the Right to Read. The campaign aims to heighten awareness of the importance of improving childhood fitness and literacy. Funds raised from sponsors of the author's 26-mile run will be donated to First Book, a charity that gives books to underprivileged kids. "One of the things I put forth to children in my books is that individuals can make a difference," Van Draanen told TFK. "I'm trying to live that advice."

For 26 days, starting on October 1, schools participating in the program will hold reading and running sessions to raise money for their libraries and First Book. Some teachers plan to take their students to cheer Van Draanen at the race. "I'm going to need that!" she says. To learn more, go to

Monday, October 8, 2007

Leadership Students Running the Show

Another nice shot, this time of team leaders at a middle school. I love the idea of students getting other students involved! Here's what their LMS had to say:

I have 36 eighth grade leadership students who are "running the show". They are so excited about having the opportunity to be role models here at our school. They have been receiving some good attention here at school and from the community. Donations are starting to come in. So far so good! Thanks for all you are doing for this cause. We are having a good time taking part in this!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Helping to Heal the World

Yesterday we spotlighted a school, today an individual. It's a young lady doing the Exercise the Right to Read program as her Tikkun Olam project. Here's part of the message she sent out to her family and friends:

I am working with author Wendelin Van Draanen's program, Exercise the Right to Read to raise money for school libraries and First Book. First Book gets books to kids and communities that have few or maybe even no books. For my Bat Mitzvah I am doing a Tikkun Olam project. Tikkun Olam means to heal the world. I am supporting Exercise the Right to Read by getting sponsors for First Book and school libraries.

She tells us that she's has already collected several hundred dollars of donations, and she sent along this reply from one of her supporters:

Your idea about 1 mile a day adding up to a marathon after 26 days, got me out on a daily walk the last two days. The walks have been much more fun knowing that they are adding up to a marathon! What a great example of breaking a big task down into manageable and doable tasks. I'm sure many more people will get to read their own book and learn to read because of your project. My grandmother would be very proud of you. Long ago, she ran a library out of her home because there wasn't a library in the community where she lived.

I love it!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Central Middle School Runs, Reads...and Rocks!

This message and photo just in from Central Middle School in Oklahoma.

We had a wonderful day on Monday as we kicked off our "Exercise the Right to Read" campaign. Tara [the principal] started the day by playing your jingle over the intercom, and then she talked about the purpose for the campaign and why we were participating with you. She was GREAT! The core classes watched the video clip from your website, passed out the materials, and read for 26 minutes. The elective classes showed a power point we put together based on the handouts on your website, and then we gathered outside for the last twenty minutes of each grade's second elective class to run, jog, walk, or a combination of all three. The reporter from The Oklahoman and a photographer came to talk with Tara, some of the kids, and a couple of the teachers. The reporter was impressed with the whole idea of your national program and enjoyed what we did. Thanks for creating a fabulous and fun way to encourage all of us to read, exercise, and, hopefully, raise funds for books.

I love the race bibs they made for the kids. And the banner! What an awesome team of educators, what a fantastic group of kids. Central runs, reads... and rocks!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Crazy For Condors

The school program has begun! Wonderful e-mails are coming in! People are jumping on at the last minute! I've been crazed!

But I just have to share today's amazing adventure with you. Quick back story: The latest Sammy Keyes book (Sammy Keyes and the Wild Things)is a backpacking adventure where Sammy joins a bunch of eco-nutty girls who are dying to see a condor in the wild. Sammy thinks they're out of their mind, but by the story's end, she gets it.

Various combinations of my siblings, Scout troop, and friends spent years searching the forest and skies for a glimpse of a condor, so when I wrote Wild Things, I had lots of backpacking experience to draw from (and make total fun of).

When I was researching Wild Things, I discovered that a news anchor friend of mine was putting together a feature story about the condor recovery program (for which she went on to win an Emmy). Because of her position, she was allowed access to the release of a condor that had been kept and nurtured by a recovery team...and she offered to sneak me along as her "field producer."

In all those years of backpacking, I never actually saw a condor, so I was crushed when I learned that the release date was during a week that I was traveling out of state.

A year went by, and last week she called again with a second chance for me. The recovery team was ready to release two more condors into the wild, and once again she offered to sneak me along as her field producer. So today I spent the day awed by condors. There were about ten inside the flight pen and two perched on top (wild ones, dropping by to say hello), plus about a half dozen that cruised through the sky overhead during the day. With a nearly 10 foot wingspan, these pictures don't do this amazing bird justice.

Now back to sending out t-shirts, answering teachers' e-mails, and really, I've got to get to the dishes. Man, you should see my kitchen!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Thank You, Runner's World!

I've been reading Runner's World magazine since I was about 18, so having the magazine's editor-in-chief spotlight Exercise the Right to Read in the current issue is quite a thrill. Here's what he had to say in his "Miles and Trials" Editor's Letter on page 18:

"...I'd also like to recognize Mark Parsons and Wendelin Van Draanen, a California couple who started a program called "Exercise the Right to Read" that combines three of my favorite things: kids, running, and reading. Their goal is to get children exercising, beef up the libraries in their schools, and, in conjunction with publisher Random House and national charity First Book, get new books into the hands of low-income kids. At, you can make a pledge toward Parsons and Van Draanen's marathon or find out more about their program."

If you've never read Runner's World, try an issue (shoot, get this one!). It's not just about splits and form and nutrition -- I love the magazine because it's inspirational. It'll keep you going, or get you started. Articles like "The Newbie Chronicles" are pure inspiration for someone who wants to get in shape.

Happy reading, happy running!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ancient Greece Tie-In

We received an interesting correspondence from a South Carolina school. They're using Exercise the Right to Read as a tie-in to a unit they do every year on Ancient Greece. Check it out! Our school is an International Baccalaureate--Middle Years Programme school with a big emphasis on Community and Service. As a part of our state social studies curriculum standards, the sixth graders study Ancient Greece every year. The media center has coordinated a big marathon webquest for the last few years to support the standards Since Exercise the Right to Read coincides beautifully with our Ancient Greek unit, this seemed like the perfect place to combine a Community and Service Project with their content area coursework. The media center will likely kick-off the event by showing the video clip on the morning announcements. Social studies teachers will help coordinate the walking part of the project and will collect the money raised. Language arts teachers will share the inspirational quotes at the beginning of each class and will help students tabulate their time spent reading using the website bookmarks. During the last mile, students will wear their bibs, get cups of water as they cross the finish line, and hear the song "Chariots of Fire." How cool is that?

Rowdy Clubbers and Flying Cash

I was invited to speak about Exercise the Right to Read at a regional Rotary Club meeting yesterday at noon, and a Kiwanis Club meeting last night. I had never experienced the Rotary / Kiwanis style of meeting, but man, it's wild! They have big brass bells that the hit with a gavel (shooting the unsuspecting guest speaker through the roof), they fine people for everything -- being late's five bucks, having a birthday costs you twenty, talking out of turn is, oh...two or three or whatever the president decides. Those meetings are dangerous! And at the Kiwanis meeting they burst forth with song at unpredictable intervals! I couldn't keep up, man. Money was being passed around all over the place, bells kept gonging, and people kept singing. But really, these clubs have fun, and they do wonderful work for the community. (Not to mention serving great food to their guests.) The Kiwanis member who arranged to have me be the guest speaker at last night's meeting is a bookseller, and she's been a supporter of the ETRTR campaign since the day I told her about it. She's also been a "closet smoker" for, what? twenty years? She told me last year that she was going to use the ETRTR campaign as motivation to finally stop smoking, and that her goal was to run a 5K by the time the NYC marathon rolled around. Over the past year she has quit smoking...and started again...several times. The longest she could make it without a cigarette was three grueling days. I wanted so much for her to succeed because I know she's wanted very badly to quit for years, but things were not looking good. Well, last night after I gave my little talk at the Kiwanis meeting, she stood up, paid twenty bucks for her birthday, and then made an announcement: She confessed to the group that she'd been a smoker, and that, as of tomorrow, she'd been 'smoke-free' for three weeks. She's through. She's had it. She's done. And from listening to her talk, I know she's never going back. And what's more, she announced, she'll be running a 5-K on October 14th, and is collecting pledges which she'll send to First Book for the ETRTR campaign. I just sat there looking at her, glowing with pride. And man, you should have seen those people throw cash at her! She even got her birthday money back.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Run Connecticut Run!

We had another "adoption" go through today. A couple of weeks ago a middle school in Connecticut contacted us wanting to do the Exercise the Right to Read program but donate their pledges to a school in the "Katrina" area. First off, I love that. I love that there are teachers / schools / kids who come forward and say, "We want to help." So I started making phone calls to see what I could arrange. (I began by calling information and getting the number for the Louisiana Department of Education.) Several helpful conversations later, I was in touch with the Director of Academics for the "Recovery District". She, in turn, met with school principals in the Recovery District and came back to us with a school. It's a middle school on the east side of New Orleans, a section of the city that's having a hard time recovering from the Katrina disaster. From what I understand, the old school was completely destroyed by the hurricane, and where the pre-Katrina buildings used to be, there are now modular buildings. "It has tremendous potential," the Director informed me, "but at this point there's very little inside the buildings." In other words, their library has no books. "Connecticut's going to help them with that!" I told the Director, and she was touched that kids in a school so far away were stepping forward to help. I am, too. I mean, it's one thing to have the idea that one school could adopt another. It's quite another to actually step forward and adopt. Run, Connecticut, run!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sammy Keyes and the Cold, Hard Cash

Just a quick check in to report that I've finished the rough draft of Sammy Keyes #12. (Probably to be titled ...and the Cold, Hard Cash.) Wa-hoo! What a wild ride. I never know until the end whether it'll turn out the way I envision. And then, when I write the last page and all the subplots I've been juggling come together for the grand finale, well, I can't help jumping around all over the place. See me? I'm like a pogo stick over here. (Oh, just let me bounce around, okay? It happens, like, once a year--maybe twice.) Tomorrow I face the rewrite. And the re-rewrite. And the... But tonight I pogo!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Pump You UP!

Okay, so this picture may not have the best resolution, but the content ROCKS. This is a PRINCIPAL coming in to a multi-media presentation put on by a middle school LMS about Exercise the Right to Read. The LMS did a Power-Point, explained the program, showed them the bookmarks, etc., and when she was done, she played the ETRTR jingle and the principal came in to pump the kids up. Asics may not have gotten back to us, Oprah will almost certainly never call, but you know what? THIS is what it's all about.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

My Risque, Gossip-Inducing Life

I got a request for "more personal" blog entries. Like, what's my day-to-day life like. I actually sorta avoid that, because I think the philosophical angle is way more interesting. And I think what one thinks is very personal.

But okay, here's a weekend in my life:

Friday my younger son and his band had a gig at a restaurant that specializes in hot dogs and brats. We hauled PA gear, instruments, etc., set the boys up, tip jar and all. They'd been written up in our local paper, and a gazillion people turned out for the 1-hour show. (Well, okay, maybe 100 -- by middle school band standards, that's equal to a gazillion.) From originals to Wolfmother, they totally rocked the place. Teachers from the present school and their elementary school showed up, there were (gasp) groupies, and people from the school where I used to teach made the trip to see Wendelin's "baby" bash on the drums. Our other son sat in on "Crazy Train" -- one of my favorite Ozzy songs -- and he did an awesome job channeling Randy Rhoads on guitar.

By the time we got home, we were all wiped-out tired. I tried writing on the Sammy title before bed, but it was hopeless.

Saturday, however, I passed up the opportunity to go on a sensible morning run and wrote. Two great hours typing on my laptop while Mark went out in search of his dad, who's recently started running Saturday mornings at 7 AM.

Both boys had birthday parties to go to, so after breakfast we helped them focus on getting their chores and homework done beforehand. (Translation, we kept busy with our own chores and checked in on them every ten minutes, making sure they were doing what they were supposed to be doing.) After presents were wrapped and all of that, we dropped them off at their parties, had lunch at Baja Fresh, and went home, where I wrote some more on Sammy while Mark took care of some Modern Drummer business (he writes for that magazine).

Is this boring enough yet? Geez.

Around four o'clock I had had enough of sitting and typing, so I strapped on my shoes, and Mark (who cannot pass up a run, even if he's already done one that day) and I went about 11 miles. We went past the clubhouse where our 16-yr old was attending the b-day party, and Mark actually wanted to go peek in the window! I wouldn't let him -- our son would have been mortified.

Kids came home, we sat around and talked for a while, I worked on a song I've been writing for about two months, folded mountains of laundry, wrote some more on Sammy Keyes and called it a day.

Today I went to a tomato festival. Seriously. It was at an organic farm, there were dozens of varieties of tomatoes, and it was actually very interesting and tasty.

And there you have it -- my risque, gossip-inducing life. See why I prefer the more philosophical approach?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Crazies 'R' Us

When I was working as a teacher, I was an absolute maniac. I rarely sat down, I ran between classes, I was, like, Hyper Lady. I know I drove other teachers crazy, but there was just so much to do. At the end of the school day, I'd be totally exhausted, of course (it's a integral part of the profession), but then my second shift would start. Being a mom. Well, I discovered that I was Good Mom when I'd squeeze in a run before picking my kids up. Just a quick 25 or 30 minutes would give me enough energy to make it to bedtime. On the days I was "too tired" I'd be Draggy Mom. It seems like a complete paradox, but running really does give you energy. "Gee, I wish I had your energy" people tell me. Well, I get wiped-out tired like everyone else, I've just learned to recharge with a run. After I'd worked as a teacher for about ten years, the school hired a woman who made me look calm. I was able to take a step back and go, wow, that woman is crazy! I loved it! She's still in education, but at a different school, and she's charging up her kids to exercise and read in October. Since the Exercise the Right to Read campaign began I've met two more "crazy people". One's in New Hampshire, one's in California. Both have so much energy that I feel like a slug! I've written about the gal in New Hampshire in previous postings, and she e-mails me from time to time with updates about what she's doing to prepare her whole county--scratch that, I bet she's influenced the whole state. She's creative and enthused and is actually going to travel with her posse of like-minded crazies to NYC to root us along on November 4th. I'm passing the Hyper Lady tiara over to her! My new "crazy" friend in California is a librarian at a high school who's run an unbelievable 86 marathons in 36 states. He's doing all sorts of innovative things to get the kids at his school running and reading in October. Prizes, competitions, challenges...he's the sort of person you know is going to get kids motivated.I'm wowed by his energy and his willingness to dive in and make things happen. Another one who makes me look like a slug! Still, when I do school visits, kids often ask me, "Are you ADD?" (The ones asking are always so hopeful they've found a kindred spirit.) When I tell them, Uh, no, they sometimes follow up with, "Well...are you ADHD?" Still no. I'm not a coffee drinker, either. Me and coffee are, like, dangerous. What I am, is a runner.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Big, Puffy, Purple Chair at LAX

I was planning to check in every day while I was in Oklahoma, but gee, I was busy! I visited two wonderful middle schools--exhausting days, but so worthwhile. The kids were great (about 1000 at each school) and the educators were fantastic. Dynamite schools. I also did several breakout sessions and a keynote at Encyclo-Media, an Oklahoma state educational conference. I met some amazing and refreshingly "real" people in Oklahoma! So it was a super-busy week, with evening events scheduled, too, but I managed to hit the gym at odd hours and got my miles in. Good girl! Where the whole week fell apart was on the way home. I had a delightful conversation with the woman next to me on the leg into LAX, was feeling great, and was actually looking forward to working on the new Sammy Keyes story during my nearly 3 hour wait for a connecting flight, when I got waylaid by a big, puffy, purple chair. Where in LAX can you find a big, puffy, purple chair? With an outlet in plain view beside it t'boot? At the Starbucks in the United terminal, that's where! I thought I was dreaming, really, I did. But now that you know where to find this big, puffy, purple chair, I have a word of advice -- don't let it lure you in. Or, at least, don't eat the sandwiches offered at that Starbucks. The coffee may be fine--I wouldn't know. I wanted that purple seat, so I ordered "dinner" there -- a turkey sandwich and a bottle of iced tea. I snagged the seat, plugged in my laptop, and was totally jazzed. Such luck! But halfway into the sandwich, I knew something was not right. My tummy began protesting. It grew increasingly furious. It was soon preparing for a revolt! Overthrow that sandwich! Adding insult to brewing injury, the outlet didn't work, but who could concentrate anyway? I was sick! I managed to get home, but I was laid up for nearly the whole Labor Day weekend. Lured in by a big, puffy, purple chair.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Checking in from Oklahoma

It's a week in Ooooklahoma for me. (I always say Oklahoma like that -- my parents used to play the Oklahoma musical soundtrack around the house. I always want to sing it when I say it.) While here, I'll be doing school visits and a conference. I've received quite a few e-mails lately asking for a Sammy Keyes update -- I'm working on it, I'm working on it! This morning (after crashing at 8 pm and waking up at 3 am) I finished a chapter. Sammy just cracks me up. It's a nice way to spend the early hours of the day (as I've done since the beginning of the series). In this book, she has the revelation that an easy way to sneak around the seniors-only apartment where she lives illegally with her grandmother, is not by ducking and hiding like she usually does... It's done by camouflaging herself as an old lady! Ha! If you know Sammy, you know that's gonna be one hilarious adventure. She's having to do this because there's something strange going on in the Senior Highrise. And I'm not just talking the Nightie Napper! (That thief will be stopped in a future book.) No, I'm talking about the money Sammy found. Bundles and bundles of money. From poor girl to rich girl in the blink of an eye. But for how long? And who's got an eye on her? Old guys can be deceptively sly. Uh-oh. Time's up. I'm getting picked up by a reading specialist in a baby-blue VW in 15 minutes. At least, that's what I've been told. Gotta get down to the lobby! More updates from Oooooklahoma coming soon!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Having Hope in the Mail

It took me ten years to get a manuscript accepted by a publisher. And in those ten years I went from being married, to being married with two dogs, to being married with two dogs and two kids. Oh, yeah. And there was that full-time job teaching school, too. During those ten years, I wrote actively. I was in a routine of getting up every morning at around 5:00 (because that's when Mark left for work), I'd write until one of the babies would go "Waaaaaah!", then press Control-S and get the kids ready and head off to work. During those ten years, I submitted actively. I sent out query letters, or sample chapters, or shoot--the whole manuscript to publishers and agents in New York. And during those ten years, those New York publishers and agents actively rejected me. "We're sorry, this is not right for us at this time, but please think of us again with your next project." What got me through those ten years was not knowing it would be ten years. What got me through those ten years was Mark's unwavering support. But the key thing that got me through those ten years was having hope in the mail. Hope in the mail--we started calling it that early on, and I love the expression because it really does capture the feeling you get when you put a manuscript in the mail. "Good luck, Great Story" you whisper at the post office, and as you leave, you're whole soul is lifted. You have hope in the mail. Now, that Great Story will likely get rejected, but it almost doesn't matter, because in the meantime you have the energy to continue on your quest. Or to start writing something new. Hope is in the mail. From my ten years of experience with rejection, I learned that half the battle of making any dream a reality is having hope in the mail. And for us it's now a metaphor for taking the steps, making the call, asking for help, doing whatever it takes to get to the next square. The whole idea of having hope in the mail makes me face my fears and put hope in the mail. Hope is a wonderful thing. It's what life is all about--that uplifting feeling that something great could happen... today! For the ETRTR campaign, hope is definitely in the mail. We've been working really hard on putting together dynamite press packets, and they are now winging their way to different parts of the country. It's an enormous relief to have it done, but more than that, I'm filled with that wonderful, uplifting feeling that something great could! So what's your dream? Have you left it hidden in a drawer? Are you afraid of the sting of rejection? Dreams don't come true in drawers. Open the drawer. Dust off the dream. Get yourself some hope in the mail!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Talk About An Inspiration

I met "JC" when I was moonlighting as a continuation ed teacher. I had a full-time job teaching math and computer science to high schoolers, but also worked two nights a week trying to help kids who'd dropped out of high school get their GED. This was pre-children, back when I didn't really feel qualified to be a mentor teacher. But JC arrived one night eager to help, ready to learn the ropes from someone who was still learning the ropes herself. She already had a child and was holding down three part-time jobs, but she was also somehow whittling away at her degree. Her dream was to become a teacher. I looked forward to Tuesday and Thursday nights with JC. She said I inspired her, but she was an inspiration to me. Always cheerful, willing to absorb, contribute, and improve, she brought a real sense of calm determination in getting those "drop outs" to succeed. She also brought homemade tamales. And cookies. And a wonderful, heartfelt laugh. After my first son was born, I stopped working at the continuation school. And as the years passed, I lost touch with JC. But this week (as I was in the midst of supervising a camping trip with a bunch of my sons' "monkey boy" friends) I got a phone message from her. "Call me back!" she said. "You'll never guess what I'm up to now!" So I did, and I learned that she is now a high school vice principal. Vice principal! From 3 part time jobs to support her family, to endless night school classes earning her BA and her teaching credential, she now also had an administrative degree! "I used to get sent to the vice principal's office," she chuckled. "Now I am the vice principal!" Talk about hard work and determination. Talk about an inspiration.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Cool News From Illinois

This just in from Illinois--how nice! Chicago is ready to run and read! As a reading specialist for 22 Chicago Public Schools, we are looking forward to having our students and teachers take on this challenge to help raise funds for First Book and their libraries. We will be making plans to jumpstart this event in October by sending the word out in September to the schools and the community. October will be a marathon of reading and running towards the finish line at the New York Marathon. I myself missed the lottery for NYM, but I will be running the Marine Corps Marathon on October 28th to help motivate the students to run and read. We are excited to give students the opportunity to exercise and read by setting an exciting goal that they will be able to accomplish. Many Chicago teachers are marathon runners and applaud Wendelin and Mark for making a difference in literacy and children’s physical fitness.

Friday, July 27, 2007

California Readers and Runners

Coast to coast, schools are starting the year off right!

Another exceptional message, this one from a teacher in California.
At May Grisham School in Orcutt, California, we are looking forward to the beginning of school and the start of our exercise! Starting with the first week of school, we are challenging our students to get the word out to as many friends and relatives as they can about Exercise the Right to Read. More than just looking for sponsors, we want to have them help spread the word by phone calls, e-mails and letters.

Besides that, we will start "warming up" for our marathon by doing some pretty exciting daily "crazy" runs. Our idea is to make doing exercise something everyone wants to be part of! We want to get not only a bunch of kids in our school to participate, but help to spread the word.

Our fifth graders are also going to start their year by writing letters to different schools around the country to see if they can persuade them to run and read! We think your idea is awesome.

And we think May Grisham School is awesome!

Are you starting your school year off right? Send us your story, we'll send you a t-shirt like the one in the picture!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

New Hampshire Rocks!

This just in from a reading specialist in New Hampshire: Bedford, New Hampshire is ready to exercise and read! We are a town with 3 elementary schools, 1 intermediate school, 1 middle school, and 1 high school. The district's reading specialists, librarians, physical education teachers, technology specialists are united to get moving and reading right when we get back to school. Each school has designated language arts teachers, known as the go-to Reading Divas, already crowned. The month of August will be spent fine tuning our plans. September will be spent getting the word out to staff, faculty, students, parents and community about First Book, Random House's commitment, the October event, and the New York City marathon that Wendelin and Mark will run. We celebrate Olde Towne Days in September and Team "Exercise the Right to Read" has a booth reserved to inform everybody of this tremendous nation-wide event. October will be spent exercising, reading, and raising funds for First Book. Our family will travel to New York City to cheer on Wendelin and Mark in person catching up with them at different mile markers. Bedford can't wait to get new books in kids' hands! Thanks, Wendelin, for celebrating exercising and reading!! Little plans or big, we'd love to hear what you're doing / planning for Exercise the Right to Read. From New Hampshire to California (to Africa!) we've heard from people who are excited about participating. If you are, too, don't be shy! Drop us a line -- we'll send you an Exercise the Right to Read t-shirt (while supplies last!).

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Aaaaah, and the Washington Post

I found out today that Sunday's Washington Post had a very nice "Book of the Week" review of Sammy Keyes and the Wild Things. Well, wa-hoo! I also got a really nice compliment from my truly excellent sister-in-law about Wild Things. (This woman really is the best. Always supportive and complimentary, smart-smart-smart, and thoughtful. Example: She gave me a bracelet and two silver charms when Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief came out, and has bought 2 more charms for every Sammy book since then. I guess she didn't know what she was getting into. Ha! I'm gonna have to convert to a necklace by the time I get to book 20.) Anyway, she read Wild Things and told me that she thinks it's now her favorite Sammy. (Either Sisters of Mercy (#3) or Skeleton Man (#2) was her all-time favorite before, so bumping an early title so late in the series is in itself quite a compliment.) But it was the way she described how I'd wrapped everything up at the end of the story that really made me feel good. I personally love books where all the little things tie together at the end, but doing it takes a lot of planning and plotting and balancing. Authors work really hard at weaving their threads and getting the details just right, so when somebody notices and really enjoys it, it makes you go Aaaaah inside. Aaaaah.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Backing Over Pots and Pans

When I was a teenager, I used my finely honed driving skills to back over some camping equipment that had been left on the side of our family's driveway. The car was not damaged, but some pots and pans were crunched, and it was my responsibility to replace them. Looking back on it, I don't understand why it was so hard to get new ones. Maybe they were a model that was no longer available...but they were just cooking pots for camping, so what did it matter? Maybe I didn't really want to pay for them because who'd left them there on the driveway to get run over, anyway? But it was on me to replace them, and bottom line -- I put it off. I kept those smashed pots in my closet, and every time I opened the door, there they were, reminding me that I hadn't done what I was supposed to do. Many years later I was talking to Mark about something that I needed to take care of and I said, "I've just got to do it. It's making me old." Thinking back through the events in my life, the first time I ever experienced that "making me old" feeling was those pots and pans. I also see them as the edge of the wedge. Oh, to go back to the day where the only thing that was "making me old" was replacing a few pots and pans! But defining and analyzing helps to address the situation; helps you take steps to deal with the things that are weighing on you most. So after re-re-rewriting the "grueling rewrite" book of previous postings, after getting a really great start on the new Sammy Keyes, after sending out letters to people about ETRTR and looking into getting a professional publicist to help out with the campaign, I finally sat down and took care of something that was making me VERY old--fan mail. Oh, my goodness. The accumulated box of letters was daunting and I just didn't know how I was ever going to get through them. I actually toyed with they idea of just chucking them. Who could blame me? Who would ever know? The kids would probably figure I never got their letter. Shoot, they'd probably become someone else's "#1 Fan!!!" during the time their letter had languished in my box. But some of these kids pour so much into their letters. They're so sweet. And the fact is I would know. Talk about making yourself old! Ay-yay-yay! So I had my son help me sort it into piles, then worked from pile to pile. And two weeks of steady work later, da-da-da-DA! I'm done!! What a relief! And it feels good to think that those kids who wrote me will open up their letters and be happy! And I can finally get this box out of my office! Oh, what a glorious day. I feel so young!

Monday, June 18, 2007

A Shoe In The Door?

Getting sponsorship is quite an undertaking! If I take it as a whole, it's almost paralyzing. But Mark and I have been taking it bit by bit, and our latest effort has been to contact Asics and send them a copy of this picture. Those are the Asics shoes we've run through this past year.

We're a shoe-in, don't you think?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Sharpening the Saw

We're back from a few much-needed days away to San Francisco. What a beautiful city! The skies were clear, and when the winds weren't gusting it was actually warm. Whenever I'm in a new city / place, I like to take a "jogging tour" of the area, so Mark, the kids, and I jogged from our motel down to the water and across the Golden Gate bridge and back. It was about 8 miles round-trip (a bit much for the kids) but what a great run! The next day we walked to and around the Embarcadero, then took a tour of Alcatraz. And the next day we spent in China Town. My ankles /calves are sore! I brought writing work to do, but by the time we were in each evening I was too tired to tackle it. Mark calls time away "sharpening the saw", and he's right -- our saws definitely needed sharpening!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Cyber Fun For Everyone

Just a quick update: The Shredderman movie aired last night on Nickelodeon. It's the first one of my books that's been turned into a movie, but I was so busy that I did not throw a party. What was I thinking? I got calls from friends and relatives today saying they had Shredderman parties, and I started feeling like I really missed out. Next time! A "Behind the Scenes" segment airs tonight, and my kids are secretly hoping there'll be a glimpse of them in it (because we spent a day "on the set") but I really doubt it. BTW, the whole cast was really great to the kids -- Nolan (aka Ned aka Devin) was super nice to them and Bubba (aka Andrew) is as funny in real life as he is in the movie. There is talk of additional Shredderman movies and if Nick does do one, I hope they structure it around the storyline of the 4th book: Enemy Spy. Andrew/Bubba would be great as Shredderman's sidekick--instead of the guy who's always side-kicking him. Cyber fun for everyone!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

In case you were wondering, there is a reason I haven't posted anything in a while, which I will get to, probably next time.

But right now I've got to share last night's experience attending a play at an elementary school. Under the guidance of two amazing teachers, a fifth grade class put on a play titled Sammy Keyes and the Marathon Mystery. The characters in this cast of 34 fifth graders included Sammy Keyes, Shredderman, "Gwendolyn Van Drama", Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and a "KSPY" newscaster named Wendy Freeze. The plot involved someone stealing the pledge forms (and money!) from a school that was participating in the Exercise the Right to Read campaign. The play was funny and smart, the kids remembered all their lines and were great physical actors, and the whole project was their way of sharing with their community the merits of participating in the Exercise the Right to Read campaign.

It's flattering enough to have your characters and fundraising concept be at the heart of a school play, but what just boggles my mind is that these teachers wrote this play over Memorial weekend! Their kids learned their lines and parts and put together backdrops and costumes and programs in, like, ten days!

Last night as I was reflecting on what I'd witnessed, I thought about all the work involved in being a teacher. With all the changes in education, most teachers don't have the energy or feel they have the time to pull together anything extra-curricular. And yet, when these kids look back on their 5th grade experience, it's not the facts and figures or their test scores that they'll remember.

What they'll remember is the extra-curricular -- things like being in the play.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Magic of Sanchez

I'm not the gardener type. My parents are Dutch immigrants who instilled in us the belief that hard work was the key to success, and that if you could do it yourself, you should do it yourself. So I'm no stranger to weed wackers, machetes, hoes and shovels. I've had some righteous bleeding blisters in my life! But last year we hired a man to tackle the fire hazard of weeds on the hillside below our house. His name was I-Could-Not-Pronounce-It Sanchez. "Just call me Sanchez" he said. He, in turn, called me Lady, because my name is similarly difficult. He worked hard and steady, and at the end of the project we gave him a nice tip because his original quote was definitely too low for the work he'd done. We didn't ask him to, but a week or so later Sanchez was back. He worked. He left. And then he appear again a week or so later and worked some more. He saw bushes that needed trimming, grass that needed mowing, weeds that needed wacking or pulling or killing. He just made himself busy, and every now and then produced a scrap of paper with numbers on it. A sum I was happy to pay. Then things started appearing. A little fake bird like florists put in their festive arrangements was put on a vine. "Who put that there?" I asked the kids. Nobody new. Then potted plants appeared. Flowers popped up around the house. Stuff just materialized, and we finally caught on. "Sanchez was here!" They were little things, but we started to understand that inside Sanchez beats a big, generous heart. And the more I got to know him, the more I liked him. How many gardeners will help carry in your groceries? How many gardeners will coach you on home remedies to help you get over a cold? How many gardeners will stand in your driveway and sing you a heartbreaking song about September Eleventh? We started calling it The Magic of Sanchez. He just has this wonderful way of lifting your spirits with his kindness and willingness to work hard. We convinced Mark's parents to hire him to help around their yard, and one evening when we were dropping by for a visit, we saw two chipped ceramic squirrels poised on broken tiles in their planter. It was certainly not a design choice Mark's parents would have made, and immediately we knew--Sanchez was here! "It means he likes you," we told them. "Be flattered!" My mother also needs big help around her yard, but she's an hour's drive away. I doubted Sanchez went out that way for work, but I asked anyway. "No, Lady," he said. "Never." "That's what I figured," I answered, and I was just going to leave it at that, but then he asked, "Why?" I'd barely gotten "My mom..." out, when he put up a hand and said, "For your mother, I will go." I tried to talk him out of it, but he had his mind made up. And then when he learned that we were having a birthday celebration for her over the weekend, he dropped his other plans and the very next day drove all the way out to her house and tamed her yard. The day after he was back at our house plotting who-knows-what in the way of landscaping, and when I told him how grateful I was that he'd gone clear out to my mom's, he simply said he was happy to do it and asked what day her birthday was. "We're celebrating on Sunday," I told him. Guess who showed up on Sunday with a lovely bouquet of home-grown roses. I couldn't believe it. "Sanchez!" Mark and I cried. Of course, we'd told my siblings about the "Magic of Sanchez" and now suddenly here he was in real life, with his wife and little Pomeranian dog, delivering flowers to my mother. He stayed a while, sharing stories and sodas, and serenaded my mother with songs in Spanish that none of us could understand. It was strange. But not. It was like he was, in some parallel-universe-kind-of-way, family. An immigrant, just like my mother, who'd come to this country to seek a better life. Someone who believes the things our parents taught us: That a good life is found through commitment to hard work. And what I've learned -- or really, re-learned -- from Sanchez is that it's the little things you do that make a big difference to others. My sister summed it up best, I think. "Can you imagine if everyone on earth was like Sanchez?" It would, indeed, be a joyful place.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Good Laugh

I'm happy to report that I've begun work on the next Sammy Keyes book. That girl is such a kick to spend time with. This is the 12th book in the series and I'm nowhere near tired of her. When I do school visits I sometimes joke with kids that I write to crack myself up--that my reason for writing is simply to make myself laugh. That's not true, of course. I write for much more complex and serious reasons than that. But I also write to crack myself up. And so far, I've done a lot of laughing. I mean, having a man get scared to death is, on the surface, not funny. But when it's Sammy doing the scaring, for some reason it becomes hilarious. Poor girl. The things I make her go through to get a good laugh.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Shredderman Rules!

We finally have a verified air date from Nickelodeon! Their made-for-TV movie based on the Shredderman books will air Saturday, June 9th at 8:00 PM. This is Nick's first original TV film, and it stars Devon Werkeiser from Nick's popular show, Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide. The cast also includes Tim Meadows (a former Saturday Night Live cast member) as Nolan's teacher; Andrew Caldwell as Bubba Bixby; and Mindy Sterling (from Austin Powers) as Nolan's principal. Nick is calling it a "Ned/Shred" weekend--with the season finale of Ned's Declassified airing before Shredderman Rules. I got to take my kids to a day on the set during the filming of the movie last year, and it was a blast for both them and me. This has been in the works for a long time, so it's fun to have it cued up and ready to shred!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Miles to Go Before I Sleep

School visits are usually whole-school affairs where the author give presentations to (large) gatherings of kids, usually grouped by grade level. Yesterday I visited a middle school that had a reading requirement for attendance at the assemblies. Every kid had read at least one of my books, so they were familiar with my work and, consequently, were interested in what I had to say. Nice! Some of their questions were really insightful -- especially in regard to Runaway, which seemed to be a favorite. The school has a very supportive PFO (which, in the day, was called the PTA)and an awesome librarian! It was a long drive and long day, with no time to train for a marathon, but that's okay. A few students delivered letters to me before I left, one of them saying, "I enjoyed your speech today when you shared with us your struggles. It really made me motivated to never give up and always complete my goals." That'll carry me miles!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Week Full of Surprises

Highlights from this week include: My 10 year old nephew calling me up from out of state to tell me he'd seen an ad on Nickelodeon for the upcoming Shredderman movie, Shredderman Rules. I knew the movie had been shown at Tribeca and other film festivals, but this was a first-sighting of soon-to-be-aired evidence, courtesy of my shreddin' nephew! My mother--troublesome eyes and all--gobbling up the newly released Sammy Keyes and the Wild Things and sharing a laugh with me over the book's "Phony Forest" and nasty, biting, stinging creatures. Nothing like shared experiences (real-life backpacking amidst nasty, biting, stinging creatures)to help you share a laugh. A surprise birthday party for a dear friend. How nice it is to see someone so happy. E-mails to the Exercise the Right to Read box from teachers and librarians all around the country. They're excited! They're participating! They're thankful. (And I'm so thankful to hear from them!) But best of all...I received an e-mail from South Africa and another from Botswana. South Africa? Botswana? They were both from teachers wanting to know if their schools could participate in the fundraiser. I work with words, but this touched me in a way I can't find the words to describe.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A Most Excellent Day

Yesterday was a most excellent day. First Book ( posted my guest blog, creating lots of activity on the ETRTR site ( Every time I communicate with someone from First Book, I'm re-impressed. Efficient, dedicated, compassionate...they're on a mission and they intend to get the job done. My kind of people! Web cruisers obviously read their blog, too, because we received a flurry of encouraging e-mails in our box from all around the country. Encouragement is a good thing! Mark and I also ordered Exercise the Right to Read t-shirts--simple white shirts with the logo race bib on front--it's a truly excellent day when your most immediate worry is, what size do people like to sweat in? It's good to savor Most Excellent Days -- here's hoping you have one soon!

Monday, April 30, 2007

The Principal in Pink Converse Shoes (and Other Tone-Setters)

A school's principal has an amazing influence over the vibe of a school. Teachers have their own classrooms, work independently, succeed in meeting the curricular demands without their "boss" breathing down their necks...some go for days without seeing their principal, and yet the principal's attitude influences the entire campus. This past week I spoke with a teacher who told me she'd like to participate in the Exercise the Right to Read campaign but then whispered into the phone that her principal "would never go for it." I felt sorry for her because the tone of her voice said it all. "My book club will do it, though," she added. "We'll do it on our own." I've met principals like that--and I haven't met them, too. I've done some school visits where the principal's been "too busy" to come to the assembly, let alone meet the visiting author. The teachers and librarians are always apologetic, but it's not their fault. I know the deal. Lip service to literacy is just a stepping stone on their quest to becoming superintendent. But for every principal like that there are dozens who set the tone right; principals who are involved and truly care about the kids and the teachers, not just career advancements. Like another principal I spoke with last week who is so enthused about the fundraising program that she's meeting with the other principals in the district, challenging them all to participate. And then there are the principals you can't help but marvel at. Two in particular spring to mind: I met the first one after I'd traveled long and far to reach a school in rural California. I was beat and still had a full day of presentations to give, so I decided at the last minute not to switch out of my travel shoes -- black and white Converse "low-tops". (I was still in that phase where I thought it wasn't appropriate author attire, but at that point I was more interested in being comfortable.) I was feeling a little self conscious, but when the principal stepped from behind her desk to greet me, my jaw dropped at the sight of her feet. She was wearing pink Converse high-tops! This was the principal? I loved her already! I should explain that my Sammy Keyes mysteries feature a spunky seventh grade girl who swears by high-tops, so this wasn't the principal's normal attire. She had declared it Converse Day at the school in honor of my visit, and I soon discovered that the entire student body and a lot of the teachers were decked out in high-tops. The tone of that school was amazing. They didn't have much in the way of "resources", but their principal was a source of inspiration beyond any educational gadget. The other principal that I will never forget headed up a middle school in Oklahoma. He was an intimidating sight -- you wouldn't want to mess with this guy! But he was soft spoken, patient, and when some kid got himself into trouble he'd sit them in his office (which was wall to wall books) and after discussing the infraction and necessary consequences, he'd ask, "What book are you reading, son?" And after discussing that for a while, he'd select one from his collection and give it to the kid to read. It would be a book relevant to what the kid was going through, and part of the "detention" would be a future discussion of the book: What did it teach? Did he relate? How could its lessons help him to become a better person? This principal did more than talk the talk about literacy and the value of books. He took action. He lived it.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The UPside

Maybe I love it because I used to be a teacher. Or maybe I just love being around kids. Even the middle school kids who have developed that "too cool" exterior -- I think they're a blast because by the time I'm done spazzing out in front of them, they've forgotten all about being cool. They laugh and gasp and elbow each other ("Did she really say that?") And they want to know why I'm wearing Converse shoes and "Are you ADD? ADHD?" and "Where did you get your earrings?" I'm talking about school visits. One of the fantastic things about being a children's book author is that schools all over the country invite you to give presentations to their student bodies...and they pay you to do it! A lot of children's book authors make their living, not through royalty checks, but by doing school visits. Besides getting paid, the cool thing about school visits is that you get to interact with the people you write for--kids. They love to tell you what they like about your books, and they love to tell you what they think should happen next (in a series). Through school visits you see again how important books are -- not just your book, all books. Kids share what they're reading, what they love, what they hate...and there are always a few who are dying to know how to become an author. Not a pop star or a rock star or an actress or the author. It's the thing they want most in the world. Anyway, I was away doing school visits the last few days, and I'm recharged with the value and purpose in what I do. I write books to help kids find themselves. For me it's about making them feel that they have enormous potential to do and be anything they set their minds to. Through my characters--or through relating the stories of my own struggles--I as an author have the opportunity to help kids believe that their dreams can also come true. I may only get royalty checks twice a year, but every time I do a school visit I get paid in ways that cannot be measured in dollars and cents. I get the priceless sense that what I do matters.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Another question I often get asked by kids is: Are you a millionaire? I don't mind that question--I think it's legitimate. A lot of kids (adults, too) seem to think that once you've landed a book deal, you've struck it rich. The truth is that the financial spectrum of being a children's book author runs from paltry to...well, who hasn't heard of Harry Potter? So it's hard to talk specifics, but here's a quick overview of the average financial reality of being a children's book author: Once you land a book deal, your publisher will give you an advance against royalties -- this is money up front for signing a contract. For my first book (How I Survived Being a Girl) that was $4,000 -- an average amount for a beginning author 10 years ago. If you have an agent, 15% goes to your agent. Since you have a government, 35% should be put aside for taxes. That leaves you with about half of your advance--in the case of my first book, about $2,000 There are no benefits in this package--no health insurance, 401K, etc. Most authors don't publish more than one book per year. Since the money was an advance, you need to earn that amount back before you see any extra money (royalties). Streamlining numbers, a basic royalty structure goes something like...10% of the hardcover, 6% of the paperback. That's about $1.50 per hardcover sold, $0.30 per paperback. All those buck-fifty and thirty-cent(es) have to add back up to the original advance ($4,000) before extra monies are paid. Many children's book authors barely earn back their advance (so they earn very little royalties). Many children's book authors also have books go out of print within a couple of years (which ends the meager royalties). Translation: Plan to keep your day job (at least for a while). (Next post, the financial UPside to being a children's book author!)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Good Intentions

Everybody has good intentions. My desk has a folder on it that's full of things I intend to take care of. Soon. Really, I do. So when people tell me that they're gonna do this, or gonna do that, I always take it with a grain of understanding salt. Everybody has good intentions. Months ago when I met a reading specialist at a middle school in New Hampshire, I told her about our plans for the Exercise the Right to Read fundraiser and she got really enthused about the possibilities. "I'm going to write my governor!" she said. She also said that she'd been meaning to get in better shape and was going to start exercising and lose some weight. And, as if that wasn't enough. she said, "As a matter of fact, I think I'll go to the marathon and cheer you on!" I loved all these good intentions. Well, this morning I heard from her, and guess what? She wrote the governor. (It's a great letter, too!) She's lost 17 pounds and 15 inches. (WOW!) And she swears she'll be in New York in November to cheer us on. (I believe her!) She's inspired me to open up that folder on my desk. It's time I followed through with some of my good intentions.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Where Do You Get Your Ideas (or...The Man With No Nose)

I have a slew of fan mail that I've really got to answer. I always have such good intentions of getting back to these (mostly) kids the same week as the packages of mail come in, but life just interferes. But I do, eventually, buckle down and answer the letters. All of them. Well, no, that's not really true, now that I think about it. I've chucked a few in the trash. They went something like..."We're writing authors for a class assignment and I chose you. I read the first page of your book and I already know it's the best book in the world. I'll try to read more later. Could you send me something?" The ones I love to answer go... "I read your book and it changed my life..." I used to write a personal letter to each kid, but I just can't manage that with the volume of mail that I now receive. But I think it's important to answer kids' letters (and to not get too big for your ding-dang britches), so I do a sort of Top Ten Questions Answered form letter and add a personal note. And what is the Number One Question I get asked? "Where do you get your ideas?" It's the #1 question when I do school visits, and it's the #1 question in my fan mail. Is that because my ideas are a little wacky? Yeah, probably. But other authors I know say it's the #1 question they get asked, too. In my case, the answer to this #1 question is varied (depending on what wacky idea I'm currently stewing in), but the common basis is people. I get my ideas from watching people. Generic people are disposable. I spend no time looking at "normal" people because their story is most likely boring. No, I study the crazy-looking people. The lady who, at eighty, is still dressing like Barbie. The man with the sweat-stained, salt-encrusted cowboy hat and hairy ears. The snotty girl with her nose turned up so far that you can see clear up to her teeny-tiny brain. Or the man with no nose! What a shock he was! A few years ago I was driving my kids to daycare (on my way to my job teaching school), when I happened to glance over and see that the passenger in the car alongside mine had no nose. I stared straight ahead for a second, as we waited for the light to turn green. Had I seen that right? I had to know! So as I kept facing forward I cranked my eyes waaaay over, and sure enough--the man had no nose! Now, what you want to do in a situation like this is roll down the window and say, "Hey, Mister! What happened to your nose?" but of course you just can't do that. (Besides, he might retort, What happened to yours? as one might suspect that mine got caught in a pencil sharpener...) So when the light turned green and we went our separate ways, I couldn't stop wondering about him. Why didn't he have a nose? Was it an industrial accident that left him schnoz-less? Did he have nasal cancer? Was he born with no nose? Did he still have his olfactory senses? What would it be like to go through life noseless, having pencil-nosed women at intersections cranking their busybody eyes over to get a peek at your schnoz-free face? This, you see, is how my brain works. This is how I get my ideas. This is why they're often wacky. I just need to know the back story to the "characters" that I meet at the intersections of life. And if I can't know the real story, I'm forced to make up my own. Which I then build a theme up around , a plot up around , and a whole world up around. Usually when I answer kids I simply tell them that I get my ideas from watching people, or from reading the newspaper, or from things my kids have told me about being in school, or from having been a teacher for 15 years, or from my own experiences being an outsider kid. One time, though, I was doing a school visit and I tried explaining about the man with no nose. When I was done, a boy raised his hand and said, "But there are no people without noses in my neighborhood." "Oh, yes there are," I told him. "Keep your eyes'll see!" And that, really, is the nutshell of how a person gets ideas.