I discovered this book, written by Baptiste Paul and illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara October 2019 at a USBBY (United States Board on Books for Young People) conference where there were people from all over the United States and abroad. It was a fitting to place to find a story set on a Caribbean island, about kids playing a game played all over the world. Whether you call it futbol or soccer, the universals of kids having fun rain or shine, and not wanting to go in but mamas insisting it’s time for bath and bed, will find common ground. This portrays a bright, real world I’d love to visit.
To see summaries of the five Thanksgiving books, scroll to the bottom of this post. If you have a couple minutes . . . I’m finding so much to be grateful for these days. Sunsets.
The most precious grandbaby in the whole wide world.
Tater tots and books, a library and bookstore within walking distance, falling temperatures and birds in flight and things to look forward to like dinners and stories around tables . . . and pie. I hope you find some new treasures in the books below:
Pie is for Sharing creates a wonderful world, one I wish I could step into. The illustrations paint a picture of a perfect day as different families gather in a park. The kids start off sharing pie, then a book, a ball, a tree, with spare, clever text like “Other things for sharing: a jump rope, your place in the middle, a rhyme (turn the page) time . . . That one word on a beautiful spread where kids build in the sand at the edge of a lake or chase each other through the shallows while the adults sit and chat.
The day ends with sparklers and a shooting star shared on a blanket under the night sky and a little more . . . pie. A lovely circle back to the beginning as the day ends. Not a Thanksgiving book, or even a November book (it takes place in summer) but sharing and giving thanks go hand in hand, and ‘tis the season for pies.
‘Tis also the season for squash and Sophie’s Squash is adorable. One fall day Sophie chooses one at the farmer’s market. “Her parents planned to serve it for supper, but Sophie had other ideas.” What a brilliant line, inviting us to turn that first page and find out what she’s thinking.
Turns out that squash is “just the right size to love.” Sophie gives it a face with a marker and christens her Bernice, and after that they’re inseparable until Bernice begins to go soft and spotty. Sophie asks the man at the farmer’s market how to keep squash healthy, and he tells her fresh air, good dirt and a little love. She tucks Bernice into a bed of soft soil, and that night it snows, but come spring, Bernice produces two small squash who Sophie names Bonnie and Baxter. This is a sweet story of friendship and hope, the parents are kind, and Sophie is so loyal. May we all have a Sophie in our lives.
Pumpkin Circle is an ode to the pumpkin, following its path from seeds that reach with “silky roots” to grow a dense patch of leaves and vines. Their “twisty tendrils grasp like hands stretching out to cling. They roll down into fancy curls and wind up just like springs,”
If you’re not a writer, maybe you think this post isn’t for you, but I would argue that everyone revises. For writers, it happens on the page all the time, but for humans, we revise our plans and our lives every time we encounter change. Sometimes the change is self-inflicted. I revised what I thought my kids are capable of when our family traveled overseas for a year.
Sometimes we have no control, and unforeseen circumstances force us to revise when Plan A doesn’t work out.
I revised my to-do lists and my pace when Rebeka came to live with us for a year to have surgeries on her clubbed feet. My life slowed down as we took time for her to learn how to walk on her turned-straight feet.
A death, a move, an accident, kids, winning the lottery, or an empty nest . . . they all require life revision. And for writers, revision also comes in the form of edits in our manuscripts. In the same week that my new book deal was announced . . .
I received my revision letter for the first of the two-book deal, THE MINOR MIRACLE. The manuscript a publisher buys often goes through a lot of editing before it gets published. For me, it’s usually easier to revise than to face a blank page while drafting a new story. But not always.
As I dug into my editor’s twelve-page revision letter and comments in the manuscript itself, it felt a bit like a game of Bananagrams. For those unfamiliar with the game, everyone pulls letter tiles and makes their own crossword, and when someone uses all their tiles everyone has to pull another from the big pile in the middle and incorporate it. Sometimes it’s easy. You pull an “s” and make a word plural. But sometimes you pull a “j,” and to fit it into your perfect little puzzle you have to entirely mess it up and start over.
Some of my editor’s comments will require me to cut chapters, and then add new chapters. I’m needing to think deeply about theme and motivation. There is a trickle-down effect to edits like this that affect the entire manuscript, and so I take a deep breath and mess with my tiles. My tidy manuscript is messy again.
It is great practice for life, holding loosely to my puzzle so I can change and adapt when needed. In Bananagrams, when there are no more tiles left to draw and someone finishes their puzzle, they yell “Bananas!” I’m looking forward to the day I can send my manuscript back to my editor with all the pieces back in place, the story stronger, proud of how I was able to incorporate all those edits. It is a “Bananas!” moment.
Those writers out there know there’s a good chance I’ll be playing another round before it’s all through. I’ll be okay. I love games, revision, and most importantly, this story.
“I would love to tell my story. Could you help me?”
When I got a letter from this spunky, brave, strong-like-a-butterfly girl asking if I could tell her story, I couldn’t resist.
Meet Riley. She’s ten years old and she’s read Her Own Two Feet five times. She’s also had stomach surgery “twice in the same spot.”
The first time I’d heard about Riley was back in November of 2021, when I got an email from her mom. She said Riley’s fourth-grade teacher was reading Her Own Two Feet in class when Riley had to have emergency surgery.
Her mom said Riley was talking about Rebeka in the surgical prep room, but at the time her mom didn’t know what she was talking about. “Come to find out, she was using Rebeka as an example of surviving anything. Riley reads your book over and over again.” I was so touched. Before Her Own Two Feet came out, Rebeka told me she hoped her story would help kids who were going through hard times, so this was really gratifying. I printed the email to send to Rebeka and sent Riley a letter and an autographed sticker for her book.
Five months later, this April, I got a package in the mail from Riley.
The letter, with stars dotting the i’s, said she had another stomach surgery on the same spot. In her letter Riley said, “Rebeka helped me so much.” I wanted to hear more, so I asked Riley’s mom if we could zoom so I could ask Riley a few questions and she agreed. We chatted a bit and Riley showed me her butterfly shoes and pink crocs, just like Rebeka’s.
Then Riley told me about her first surgery. How she had started having bad pains the night before, and the next day after her regular doctor couldn’t diagnose what was wrong and she couldn’t stop getting sick, her mom rushed her to the hospital.
She talked about how there were so many doctors in the room, the bright lights, lots of medical equipment, and how nobody could go with her when it was time for surgery. It sounded a lot like Rebeka’s experience that we describe in the book. “It sounds scary but once you do it, it’s not scary,” Riley told me.
Which isn’t to say that it’s easy. Riley told me about her second surgery, how she had the familiar pains at school this time, and had to have the same surgery again. This time she got the same medicine Rebeka had before her surgeries to help her relax (Riley called it the “I don’t care” medicine), and she got to choose a flavor for the air in her mask like Rebeka, too.
What struck me about Riley is how much it helped to face a painful, frightening situation with courage because she had seen someone else do it. And now she has her own story to share with others, her own encouragement she can give. Encouragement is such a gift, and Riley is an excellent gift-giver.
When I asked her about the gifts she sent for Rebeka’s family she explained their specific purposes. In Chapter Thirteen of the book Rebeka uses tape to hang a tutu on the wall of our house. “What a wondrous thing this tape was! How Papa would love a roll.”
Riley explained that the clothespins can be used to hang clothes on a rope to dry. And the rubber bands? Riley remembered how Rebeka hurt her knee when she crawled on a piece of dry maize in Chapter One of the book. She imagines how someone might use rubber bands to hang the maize to dry up high, so little kids won’t hurt themselves.
Not only is she strong, and courageous, and kind, Riley is creative.
My favorite stories tell both the big moments (like emergency surgeries) and the little heartwarming ones (like rolls of tape, clothespins and rubber bands in a package.) I count it an honor to tell a little of Riley’s story here, and I hope she goes on to share it herself. She’s got lots to give.
When I shared this post with Riley and her mom, before posting, Riley wanted to tell me “one more thing.” At her school library, Her Own Two Feet is in the “Heroes” section, and she thinks that is the perfect spot for our book. To the librarian who made a spot in the library for books about heroes, and the teacher who read out book to her class, and to Riley’s mom and Grandma who helped her reach out to us, and to Riley who’s sending a roll of tape, rubber bands and clothes pins across the ocean, you are our heroes. Thank you.
It’s so cool when the circles of your life intersect, and I’ve found it often happens when you say “yes.” Yes to writing an article or stepping into a new group of friends or taking an extra minute to reach out with an email. Circles like writers, family, friends, book club, dog park, church . . . each has its own thread. Here’s how two of those threads, they all seem so random sometimes, braided together in an unexpected way. I was running around chasing a doodle and writing stories in Austin, Texas . . .
. . .and a then-stranger named Julie Rubini with her much-better-behaved dog Luna, was also writing stories in Toledo, Ohio.
We first connected when I wrote an article for Nonfiction Fest about my process in writing Her Own Two Feet and Julie won the giveaway, woohoo! We got in touch so I could mail her the book and she kindly mailed me one of hers in exchange, children’s biography Virginia Hamilton: America’s Storyteller. A friendship bloomed, ala’ digital pen pals. We already had a connection in that she had been inspired to start a book festival in Toledo after visiting the Texas Book Festival, created in honor of their daughter Claire, who tragically died at the age of ten.
I was so touched and impressed by all that she and her husband had accomplished through Claire’s Day, truly an awesome children’s literacy event that changes lives and has grown tremendously over the years. She and her husband had also traveled extensively in the US, with their kids in an RV, and Clay and I have traveled a bunch with our kids overseas, and Alayna and Choi had their RV travels. So we had lots to talk about.
But I figured that was that, two women separated by many miles who would occasionally correspond via email, until Julie texted saying she and her husband were in town en route to pick up an RV in San Antonio. When I say, “please let me know if you ever come to town,” I mean it! Julie believed me, and I’m so glad she did. The four of us (Julie and I plus husbands) got together for lunch, and serendipity number two, their hotel was right across the street from where Nate’s band Everett was playing their first concert since the pandemic!
Julie and her husband Brad joined Clay and I, some of our friends, and old and new Everett fans for drinks and great music. The energy on stage was awesome (shameless plug, I love the new Superhero release) and Julie and I snapped a quick pic in the dark bar all smiles.
I would have never thought, writing that article, I’d end up with a new friend sharing drinks in a little bar off Red River listening to Everett. It’s not a big thing, really, but life is a little richer and the friendship stronger and who knows where it might lead?
I like to think the braid isn’t complete. Maybe I’ll find myself in Toledo someday, or in an RV with Clay at some campervan park, meeting up with Brad and Julie. And we’ll turn on the radio, and Everett will be playing, it’s a top ten countdown, and Julie and I will be talking about our recent bestsellers and tracing the braid since the last time we met . . . because we never stopped saying “yes.” It’s so worth it.
I would not be unique in saying how much I love Kate DiCamillo, or Sophie Blackall. I have a Sophie Blackall print hanging in our condo that I first saw when riding a subway in New York. It features a quirky group of subway riders including two nuns sharing headphones, a guy in a bear costume, a woman holding a fiddle leaf fig, and a guy playing an accordion.
I just love her sensibility, and I like to think how Kate must have swooned to have her illustrate The Beatryce Prophecy, to “illuminate” it and give it life.
The first DiCamillo Book I read was The Tale of Despereaux and I loved the voice and the quirkiness and how it talked about darkness and light, good and evil, wrapped up in a great story with unforgettable characters. I’ll never forget her description of poor, beaten Mig’s “cauliflower ears.” The Beatryce Prophecy is also quirky with great characters. There’s a goat that strikes fear in the heart of grown men and a mute girl, there’s a mystery that needs solving, and underneath it all there’s something deeper going on. What’s the importance of prophecies, and what can change the world? This book talks about the importance of stories, of reading, of words, of using your voice, of power and laying down your power.
I picked up this book at the perfect time, when I had the time to read it all in a couple of big gulps on a few gray days. I read it as I’m approaching a writing project of my own, puzzling how to intertwine the bones of plot with the tendons and sinew of theme and purpose and things that matter. DiCamillo does it so, so well.
On September 4th I wrote a post about Nate and Jo’s wedding ceremony getting postponed due to Covid, and while we were sad we had to cancel the plans in Washington State, we knew it would all work out and there would be a good story to tell. We had no idea what was in store for us two weeks later.
First, Nate had to get over Covid. Their friends were really sweet, even dropped off pretty white flowers and a bag of chips and hot sauce, Nate and Jo’s fave.
They decided to get married in Austin, and we got to work planning a ceremony at our ranch that would take place at 8AM Sunday morning, September 19th. We had about 12 days to get the ranch ready and make all the wedding plans. By the time Alayna and Choi flew in to Austin on the 17th, we were just about ready and so excited! Imagine a bottle of champagne that’s been shaken-that was us. Then Alayna and Choi gave us this happy news.
Alayna told us she was ten weeks pregnant and we exploded in a joyful, crying, hugging, high-fiving fizz of celebration. We decided to keep it a secret from our families until after Nate and Jo got married and drove off Sunday afternoon. After a full day Saturday getting everything ready, we gathered that night for barbeque down the road with all the families. Nate and Jo seemed amazingly calm and so, so happy.
Many people have asked, “Why so early on a Sunday morning?” When the sun came peeking over the horizon, and our good friend who did the ceremony came in to our last minute hustle and bustle and showed us a pic he snapped, I knew Jo’s instinct for Sunday morning was right.
You may remember from the last post how Jo hadn’t tried on her dress until the night before she was supposed to leave. This dress, it was something special. She had dreamed it up and found a seamstress who could make it, something with a transparent layer on top of a silky layer. The sun shone through the sleeves and hit the tips of the tall grass and it really was just beautiful. So were our friend’s words, about love and faith and the sacred vows they were making.
After the ceremony we took pictures, and then Nate and Jo went off to take some more pictures while we got the breakfast tacos and juice set out. (Did I mention that a morning wedding means a super simple menu? Breakfast tacos, fruit, coffee and mimosas!) While we were doing this, I heard someone say, “Hey, there’s horses!” Horses? We don’t have horses.
We found out later they had escaped from a ranch nearby, they really seemed like a touch of magic galloping across the meadow with their tails flying. Nate and Jo did a first dance not long after the horses departed.
And then there was brunch, and toasts, all of us gathered around tables we’d pushed end to end to make one long table down the driveway. Lots and lots of sweet words to bless this couple as they start their life together. Jo’s sister made us all cry.
And then they cut the cake, and we threw petals as they ran to their car, and then they drove off down our asphalt drive. We told our families about Alayna being pregnant, and we continued celebrating, and our ranch is now full of so many more wonderful memories. I would have never imagined the horses, and I didn’t have a clue we’d have baby news that weekend, but could I have imagined these two sitting in a field full of tall grass grinning nose to nose in their wedding best? I had a hunch.
I wish this had been on my shelf a long time ago. On the heels of lots of rescheduling/looking on the bright side around here (thank you covid), I was already sold on this title. When I saw reviews comparing the main character to Ramona, one of my favorites growing up, I couldn’t wait to crack it open, and this cover . . . so cute! Renée Watson gives us Ryan, an African American fourth grader who is full of spunk from the first line of the book when she tells us, “I am a girl with a name that a lot of boys have.” But when the boy sitting next to her in class points this out to the substitute teacher she feels compelled to say, “I do not have a boy’s name. I have my name. My name is Ryan and Ryan means ‘king’ and that means I am a leader . . .”
A few pages later she races this same boy at recess and almost wins but doesn’t because she trips on her own shoelaces. She doesn’t complain or pout (even though she skinned her knee and it’s bleeding) or make excuses (even though her friend says it’s no fair). She keeps up her end of the bet and buys the boy his candy, but she buys herself some, too. She’s had a hard day, and she needs some chocolate. I like this girl.
I also like slipping into the skin of an African American girl and seeing the world through her eyes. There is a chapter where Ryan’s mom tells her not to go swimming because her grandmother recently straightened her hair, something that took a lot of time. So while Ryan’s girlfriends are all having a blast in the pool she has to hang out on the side in her swimsuit and just get her feet wet. She can’t stand it, so finally she ties her hair up in a scarf, pulls on a shower cap and jumps in for a holding-your-breath contest. She wins, but the consequences are dire. My heart broke for Ryan when I saw the illustration, her eyes closed so she doesn’t see yet what everyone else does.
One of the girls says, “Your hair looks like it got electrocuted!” It is the perfect description spoken just how a fourth grader would say it; so, so mean. So heartbreaking. And yet you can just hear the giggles, right? We’ve all been in those circles where some clever person came up with the perfect insult that made everyone laugh. It’s brilliant how a book can give a reader empathy, build it, and word by word change the world by changing a heart, reader by reader, story by story. Whether that reader is the teaser, or the one who has been teased.
Fast forward to Ryan looking at herself in the mirror. She’s combed out her wet hair, pulled it into a rubber band making a “big, big Afro puff.” She says, “I like the way my hair looks like one massive storm cloud, how if I stretch it, it boings back into place.” Ryan decides to “try to be the beautiful person Grandma says I am.” This book is filled with goodness. Parents that love Ryan and want her best, a Grandma who speaks truth to her, and a stable church she’s gone to forever where she’s been nurtured in their Easter tradition of reciting poems. There’s a teacher that understands her quirks, friends who love her no matter what, and a market with sugary elephant ears. Sure, there’s plenty of conflict. Her dad loses his job, they move to a smaller house that’s run down, and she doesn’t have a talent for the upcoming show but ungirding Ryan’s world is sunshine and hope and positivity. I checked this book out at the library, but I’ll be buying it and adding it to my shelf.
Consider this Part Two to the post A Dark and Stormy Night, the story of Nate’s proposal to sweet Jo. On May 28th they got engaged, and ever since they’ve been planning like nuts for their wedding. They also had some really sweet engagement photos made.
The plan was to get married in Olympic National Park on the morning of Sunday, September 5th. That’s right, three months and a week after getting engaged they were going to get married in a tiny little ceremony in the forest. They worked so hard, figuring out a complicated schedule of rental cars and flights, to get parents and siblings and grandparents and a few close friends to gather. Alayna and Choi were in that neck of the woods (literally) and found the most beautiful spot.
Of course, it wasn’t going to be perfect having a destination wedding in the midst of a pandemic. We laughed, a little nervously, about the stories we were sure we’d be telling about that weekend wedding. On Tuesday (5 days before the wedding), Nate found out they had both been exposed to covid the previous weekend. They have both been vaccinated but as soon as he heard they started wearing masks and both got tested. Their rapid tests came back negative that afternoon. Jo spent the night in our condo that evening, and I made sure she had a special book bedside, giddy with excitement about all that was to come.
The next day Nate got on his health portal online and thought he got a negative PCR result so even though he started feeling a little run down and sniffly, he figured it was just a sinus infection. The day was busy, busy, busy with wedding details, trying to pull last minute stuff together plus Jo moved into the condo where they will live together. Their first home is actually going to be six floors below us, a little one bedroom nest. Nate didn’t come back upstairs to our place until late, and he was really tired.
Jo got back a negative PCR result on Thursday afternoon, phew, but Nate was feeling worse. He went back and checked his health portal and realized he had seen an old PCR result from a test he took months ago. Uh-oh. He called the doctor, but they still didn’t have his new PCR results back yet. His had been sent to the lab in a different batch. Nate and Jo’s flight left Friday morning and Jo still didn’t have her dress. In fact, she hadn’t tried it on since it had been altered, but her tailor had assured her it would be delivered to our condo at 1, make that 6, well, maybe 7 . . . but, “Don’t worry,” she assured Jo, “It’s on the way.” At this point things were not looking good for Nate but we were hope, hope, hoping Nate had a really bad cold or something. Honestly, looking back, we were in denial. Nate was in bed down in their new condo when we got the text at 7:15 that the dress had arrived. I ran down to get it and met Jo and her friends up in our condo (Clay was out with Humphrey). The sun was setting, rosy pink, surely it would be all right.
Jo unzipped the garment bag, we squealed, she took the dress out of the bag, and my phone buzzed. It was Nate. I answered, and he said, “Can you hand the phone to Jo?” And sweet Jo, holding her dress in one hand, took the phone and listened for a minute. Her eyes got glassy but she did not burst into tears or rage. She did not turn to self-pity or anger. She said, “I am holding my dress, and I’m still smiling. I love you, and we’re going to get married, and it’s okay.” And that is why I am so happy my son is marrying this girl. Nate was covid positive, they would not be getting married in Olympic National Forest on Sunday morning, and it was okay. With tears running down my cheeks I hugged sweet Jo. That kind of love comes from being rooted in a love bigger than either one of us, being covered in a Holy Spirit peace we can’t understand.
And that is the story of love. Jo’s friends gave her big hugs. Nate texted me “How is Jo?” (did I mention Jo dropped her phone earlier that day and it wasn’t working?) and I texted him back, “she’s just fine.” We’ve still got Jo’s dress in our closet. I had to smile at the name on the garment bag, ironic, funny but not funny because Jo will absolutely wear that perfect wedding dress, and it won’t be long.
And as for Humphrey, we got him a short haircut in anticipation for a long stint at the boarders. He has no idea what he narrowly escaped. I live in fear of him getting into the closet and messing up Jo’s dress.
And these two? Stay tuned for Part Three. I have no idea what it will be titled, but I’m certain of this, it will be a really good story.