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!