R e c e n t l y P u b l i s h e d
Builders of 26
Wonders of the Word
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Most of us see words as good only for exchanging information. Not so the wild-eyed figures profiled here!
They're mesmerized by words' shapes and sounds. They see numbers in letters and art supplies in dictionaries. Language for them is something to be hacked, played with, and explored, inspiring jaw-dropping quests and arduous treks to its most distant shores.
Behold Daniel Nussbaum, who retold the classics using only vanity license plates. Marvel at erasure artists like Janet Holmes, who removed words from Emily Dickinson's verses to reveal a wholly different group of poems. Regard Raymond Queneau, whose mix-and-match sonnets would take a million centuries to recite. Consider his friend Georges Perec, who set himself the task of writing a novel without the letter e.
Alphamaniacs is a gift to word-lovers of all ages. With hearty humor and dazzling art, this sideshow-in-a-book will not only entertain but inspire readers to embrace challenge, curiosity, and play.
Published 2020 by Candlewick Press
R e c e n t l y P u b l i s h e d
NO MAP, GREAT TRIP
A Young Writer's Road
to Page One
How do you become a writer?
You listen to your shortwave radio deep into the night, encountering foreign languages, strange music, fresh-made history.
You have your own business in middle school and your own underground newspaper in high school. You're often called to the dean's office, but not in a good way.
You take your first long-distance bike ride at sixteen, then move across country by bike three years later.
You live without electricity and make your own maple syrup. You study birds and stars, folklore and Latin, bass recorder and banjo. In your pocket, you always have a notebook and pen.
That's my recipe, anyway, presented here with five servings of writerly advice from a career that's included everything from a wordless book to opera. Readers who want to know more about the origins of Seedfolks and teachers who want to encourage young writers will find much to their taste.
Parents who worry about the vitamins lacking in childhood today will get plenty of ideas on fortifying young lives with curiosity, creativity, independence, and adventure. Bikes, music, and radios are still widely available. Have a great trip!
Published 2019 by HarperCollins
Schools can now perform Seedfolks as well as read it. My school-friendly adaptation is large-cast (11 males, 12 females minimum), single-set, and well-supplied with female and nonspeaking roles. It's one-act, technically simple, and at 40 minutes fits into a single class period.
The play is a spoken musical of sorts. For a taste, see the opening scene. There's lots of dialogue, action, and new material, including the answer to the question, "What happened with Curtis and Lateesha?"
The acting edition has been published by Playscripts, which will handle licensing as well. Break a stalk!
A Worldwide Jack
and the Beanstalk Story
Illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Tales of unafraid underdogs give us heart. And what figure faces steeper odds than a child confronting a man-eating giant?
From Jack to Little Thumb to Molly Whuppie, these valiant youngsters are known worldwide. Despite being scorned for being the youngest and smallest, they're always well-armed with cleverness and courage.
Julie Paschkis and I tell their stories, combining sixteen variants--from Ethiopia to Indonesia to the United States--into one tale. Impossible? Check out our braiding of Cinderella versions in Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal and creation stories in First Light, First Life, both published by Henry Holt.
What led to these books? My answer--from my childhood shortwave radio to folkdancing--can be found here. You can look over Julie Paschkis's shoulder and get a great view of her creative process on First Light, First Life here.
Published April 2019 by Henry Holt
F o r a d u l t s
Before Bill Clinton and James Patterson's entry in the field, Paul Fleischman's president went missing in a wicked campaign-trail satire
A president walks into a country....but it's no joke for the rich and removed American leader fighting for reelection during the second coming of the Great Depression. Behind in the polls, he has no choice but to follow his handlers' advice: cross the country incognito, living 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 a president steps far off the red carpet--washing dishes, picking fruit, dumpster-diving, panhandling--and discovers the nation he nominally governs.
Didn't know I write for adults? Read "Swat Radio," published in The New Yorker.
A s t o r y o f
i m m i g r a t i o n
Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
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...
2014 Christopher Award
Finalist, Children's Choice Book Award
IRA Teacher's Choices reading list
A Junior Library Guild selection
Best Childrens Books of 2013, Kirkus
Best Books of the Year, Bank Street College of Education
New York Public Library's "100 Titles for Reading and Sharing"
"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
A Spanish edition with the same stunning artwork is available from Lectorum.
History is happening now
EYES WIDE OPEN:
THE GOAL: Giving readers 14 and up the briefing they need to comprehend their moment in history.
And a riveting moment it is. We've grasped the dangers of civilization-as-usual and are laboring to alter our course, veering away from fossil fuels and switching our thinking from short-term to long.
Entrenched interests are resisting. It's a time of bold advances and shameful retreats, apathy and innovation. Adolescence is dramatic and untidy; so are periods when societies change.
THE MEANS: Searching out the principles that decode a thousand headlines at a swoop--vested interests, the lifestyle ladder, defense mechanisms, big-country syndrome, and more.
Because power and money are as important as molecules in this story, history and politics and psychology are featured as prominently as science. Because information sources vary in reliability, readers learn to look critically at the media and how to test for trustworthiness. Using my own small town as an example, the book demonstrates how to see the global in the near-at-hand, looking behind and beyond local headlines. Read the first chapter.
"For high schools that
Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize
Winner of the Green Earth Book Award
Winner of the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award
Booklist Editors' Choice
Junior Library Guild selection
Louis J. Battan Award nominee (American Meteorological Association)
Outstanding Science Trade Books (National Science Teachers Association)
Science Book and Film Prize nominee (American Assoc. for the Advancement of Science / Subaru)
Association of Children's Librarians of Northern California Distinguished Books
Nerdy Award (Nerdy Book Club)
Available from Candlewick Press in hardcover, paper, audio, and e-book
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.
The second was composed by Brian Holmes and was recently performed by the Peninsula Girls Chorus in Burlingame, CA. Click here to learn and hear more.
1968: Cover illustration copyright © 2018 by James Weinberg. Published by Candlewick Press.
EYES WIDE OPEN: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines. Text copyright © 2014 by the Brown-Fleischman Family Trust. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
THE MATCHBOX DIARY. Text copyright © 2013 by Paul Fleischman. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Bagram Ibatoulline. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.