The Matchbox Diary is an Italian immigrant's account, a hymn to literacy, an enticement to collectors, and a celebration of the box. It came from many points in my past, all of them converging at an unexpected meeting.
It was two decades ago that my friend and inspiration Kathy Chilton introduced me to her fellow artist Gary Hamel, who proceeded to lift the lid off one of his matchbox journals. My eyes expanded. The cigar box contained several dozen matchboxes brought on one of his trips, each dated and holding a few objects found on that day. Though we'd never met before, I was bold enough to ask if he might let me play with the idea. He agreed. My mind began whirring.
A writer's toughest task isn't finding an idea, but figuring out what to do with it. This germ overflowed with personal connections and possibilities. My mother had long ago given me a tiny sliding cardboard box she'd made and covered with paper she'd marbled, a work whose craftsmanship I aspire to whenever I write. I'm a lover of boxes and made a series of matchbox theaters some years back (see below). The smallness of matchboxes might be tied to the smallness of children and their knack for spotting little objects; I'd been the smallest kid in my class year after year. The urge to record where we've been was a possible focus. Or the way we live on through our objects--the reason my father kept his tailor-father's heavy shears close by his desk. Or a diary-in-objects might be kept by a character longing to communicate, a thread that's run through my work and my life, leading me to study instruments and languages and tutor new immigrants in English.
With so many choices, it should have been easy, but every use comes with problems. It took fifteen years of periodic attempts before I found one whose problems I could solve, weaving several of the above themes around a story of immigration in my grandfather's era, letting the similarities to my immigrant students' lives hover in the air. What a pleasure it was this summer to visit Gary Hamel in his home town of Orange, NH, to have him give his blessing on the book his idea spawned, then to have him bestow upon me one of his matchbox journals. My eyes jumped again. I love this job...
Starred review, Publishers Weekly
Starred review, Booklist
Starred review, Kirkus
Starred review, School Library Journal
A Junior Library Guild selection
Amazon Editors' Pick, Best Books of March
"If you can't read or write, how do you remember the important moments of your life?...A powerful introduction to the American immigrant story." --Publishers Weekly
"The illustrator Bagram Ibatoulline can create images so exquisitely realistic that they could be mistaken for photographs." --The Wall Street Journal
Paul Fleischman's comic campaign-trail novel for adults
A president walks into a country....But it's no joke for the rich and removed American leader fighting for reelection in this political satire. The second coming of the Great Depression has arrived, complete with apple sellers and Bruce Springsteen singing "Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime" on the radio. Far behind in the polls, the president has no choice but to follow his handlers' advice: cross the country incognito, living and working among his people for two weeks in a desperate bid to seem attuned to their plight. Hadn't Peter the Great done something vaguely similar? What's the worst that could happen?
Find out, as the presidential entourage hits the road with hidden cameras and bickering speechwriters composing his diary--He Walked Among Us--to be served hot at the convention. From hobo jungles filled with middle management to the bank-robbing exploits of Pretty Boy Nussbaum, truth and truthiness collide as a president steps far off the red carpet and into the nation he nominally governs. You gorged on politics through all of 2012. Now for the literary Alka Seltzer.
The U.S. Board on Books for Young People named Paul Fleischman the United States' author nominee for the 2012 Hans Christian Andersen Award, an international award given every other year to an author and illustrator for a body of work judged to have made lasting contributions to children's literature. Twenty-seven countries submitted nominations, reduced to a short list of five that included Paul Fleischman. The winner was Marķa Teresa Andruetto of Argentina.
Sid Fleischman was the U.S. author nominee in 1994. Peter Sis, the illustrator of The Whipping Boy and many other Sid Fleischman titles, was the 2012 winning illustrator. You can see information about the nominees and the list of past winners at ibby.org.
R e c e n t l y P u b l i s h e d
Illustrated by David Roberts
Stars of their classroom after outwitting Miss Breakbone, the Dunderheads take a crack at Hollywood fame--only to land in a mystery not in their plans. Lights, cameras, and thievery collide in a summertime caper requiring all their sundry skills, illustrated once more by the wickedly witty star of pen and ink, David Roberts.
The Dunderheads (2009) won the PEN Center USA Literature Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature, the Horace Mann Upstanders Book Award, and was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal.
"All of the dark, dry comedy of its predecessor..." ~ Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Subversive and exuberant..." ~ School Library Journal, starred review
Watsonville, CA is the latest city to choose Seedfolks for its community reading program. The book is a collection of vignettes by 13 characters describing the first year of a community garden in a Cleveland immigrant neighborhood. Its short length, multicultural cast, suitability for adults as well as children, and availability in Spanish (see below) have led it to be used in One Book programs around the country.
VERMONT used the book as its One-State One-Book choice. There were discussions, dramatizations, readings on Vermont Public Radio, and the participation of dozens of groups--from the Friends of Burlington Gardens to the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Project--in communities up and down the state. For information on Burlington's splendid community gardens and views of my visit, click here.
RACINE, WI gave away copies of the book, encouraging readers to leave them in public places when finished, posting comments and following the book's journey via BookCrossing.com. Discussions in Spanish, a screening of Greenfingers, writing and virtual gardening at a women's prison are a few of the many activities that took place. The book was chosen as well for the statewide reading program, Read On Wisconsin.
TAMPA, FL gave away more than 15,000 copies of the book and used it in conjunction with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, encouraging citizens to volunteer in an array of community improvement projects.
NEWBURGH, NY connected the book to a month-long multicultural celebration of words, art, and dance, with concerts and classes on everything from found sculpture to African drumming. The local newspaper serialized the book in both English and Spanish.
"Dear Paul Fleischman: I've bought 20 copies of Seedfolks and given them away."
The book has been used in connection with school gardens at every level, performed by community theaters, and used in school-wide and district-wide reads. I've posted an article--included in the new paperback edition--on how the book came to be written. Click here for a newspaper article on how a New York teenager put the book into action. An audio of the book is now available from AudioGO. If you're interested in using Seedfolks in a school or community reading program, contact HarperCollins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to download HarperCollins' teacher's guide to the book.
"The size of this slim volume belies the profound message of hope it contains." --CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
Seedfolks in Spanish
Translated as Semillas, Seedfolks is now available in a Spanish paperback edition from Scholastic's Lectorum Publications.
NPR's Backseat Book Club--created for the benefit of young hostages to public radio--made Seedfolks its April 2012 selection. Readers were invited to submit comments, questions, and photos of their own gardens. You can hear my All Things Considered interview with Michele Norris here.
WESLANDIA -- the musical
Composer Frumi Cohen has brought Weslandia to the stage! The tale of a grammar school outcast who founds an alternate civilization in his backyard has now been infused with her toe-tapping, lyrical, irresistible music. The one-hour musical is available both as a large-cast student production and as a touring play for 6 actors. Click here for more information.
L O G O M A N I A C S
play for adults
receives its premiere
Ladies and gentlemen--step inside and prepare to behold a freak show like no other!
A parade of 26 word obsessives, one surname for each letter of the alphabet...Men who don't simply use language to communicate, but who lose themselves for years among its labyrinths--playing like children, collecting, dissecting, seeing mathematics and music where you and I see simply letters...Builders of verbal wonders as colossal and rarely glimpsed as the overgrown pyramids of the Mayas...Each man's tale more astounding than the last...Every one of them true!
SEE Daniel Nussbaum's retelling of Genesis via vanity license plates!
MARVEL at George Perec's novel written without the letter e!
GAWK at Flann O'Brien's exhaustive, acid-tongued Catechism of Cliche!
WEEP at Ludwig Zamenhof's poignant attempt to end war through his invented language!
A hymn to our instincts for play and creativity, performed in the style of a carnival sideshow with music composed by Annette LeSiege, Actors Shakespeare Company presented Logomaniacs at New Jersey City University in Jersey City. Read a review here.
For rights and a script, contact Buddy Thomas at email@example.com.
C O M P O S E R S
L I V E !
Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices may be the only Newbery book never to be translated into another language--but composers rushed in where translators feared to tread. Quite a few have set selections from the book to music over the years, captivating works I can now share with you. Did you think all composers are dead or that questions have only one right answer? Listen to these very different treatments of the same poem.
The first is the work of Shirley Hoffman Warren, one of five Joyful Noise poems she set to music, all performed at SUNY in New Paltz, NY, where she lives. "I often strive for a slightly off-balance feel," she says--wonderfully evident here. To hear more of her work, visit her website at www.washalee.com .