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!