Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Where do ideas for books come from?

When I visit with school children, one of the things I love best is to share with them where my ideas for books come from. This is the question that comes up very often with children (and adults), and one that I love to answer.

Ideas for me come from a lot of places. I get ideas from everyday life, from pictures, from experiences, from newspaper stories, from real-life anecdotes that people tell me, from playing around with words and language, from my love of animals and nature, and from a host of other places. My story, Gobble Gobble Crash! A Barnyard Counting Bash came from a couple of different incidents that happened while my family and I lived in Pittsburgh, PA.

Many people have the wrong impression about Pittsburgh. If they've never been there, they might think of the pollution from the steel industry (the city is actually quite clean now), or they think it's very industrial, etc. But actually Pittsburgh is so unique that it's difficult to describe. On the one hand, there are areas that are more run down from the steel industry's negative effect of the economy, but on the other hand, there are beautiful tree-lined, hilly roads populated by adorable and quaint little brick houses. There are also little pockets of interest: the gorgeous big houses in Shadyside, the wonderful little mom-and-pop stores in the strip district, the bridges, the stadiums, etc. I could go on and on.

It was on one of those windy tree-lined roads that I had my first turkey encounter. We were driving home one fall afternoon and a big flying thing went right over our car. We didn't know what the heck it was, but it was big, it had lots of feathers, and it flew right over our car.

I asked around and found out that it was most likely a wild turkey. After that, I saw wild turkeys frequently in the city. Once I saw a mama hen with 7 poults crossing a busy street. All of the babies got across but one. He was watching the traffic and waiting (and hopefully made it).

Those turkey experiences, along with a trip to central PA with my mom and son to visit my mom's friends at their farm inspired a series of barn-animal related books, one of which was Gobble.

After seeing that turkey fly over our car, and thinking about a quiet barnyard at night, I decided to throw all of that in the mix and came out with Gobble Gobble Crash. It's a counting story where four wild turkeys flap around and create all sorts of chaos in the middle of the night. The farmer gets irritated, threatens to have a turkey feast, and so all of the animals in the barnyard band together to hide the silly turkeys.

It's a silly book, but it's one that I have special affection for because it took about nine or ten years from the time I got the idea to the publication of the book. So, thank you Dutton and Maureen and Steven for seeing this turkey project through. My dear friend Carol Baicker-McKee, an amazing artist and fabulous writer, wrote this very kind review of Gobble (and if you don't already subscribe to her blog, shame on you. It's awesome.) My dear husband wrote this on his blog (ditto about subscribing to his blog). And you can look here for other reviews, etc.

And happy gobbles to all of you this Thanksgiving and always!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I Witness: Hard Gold by Avi

Recently I finished Avi's book called Hard Gold. It is part of Hyperion's "I Witness" series for young readers. I noticed it in the new books at the library; it caught my eye because it is a pioneer story of a family from Iowa with "gold fever" that ends up in Colorado. They go by wagon train through the states to the territories out west.

I love this time period and, of course, the location. In the summer of '07, we went to the Buena Vista, Colo. area and went on this awesome jeep tour of the Collegiate Peaks. It was such fun! We bumped up the dirt paths above treeline to a spot where our guide showed us a rock patch where there were quartz crystals. Nearby we saw the ruins of a log cabin. The walls were only about two-logs high and grass grew inside the cabin. We wandered around the area and found broken china and light green and lavender glass that dated back to the late 19th century. To find "artifacts" from the days when the miners lived in log cabins on the side of the mountain inspired me to think about how I could turn that into my own story.

And in those couple of days near Buena Vista, I thought of a complete plot to a novel. After reading Avi's novel, I was reminded of the story I wanted to write a year and a half ago. I wrote another scene last weekend--the ending as a matter of fact--and then found a bunch of books at the library on the gold rush era. We'll see how it comes along.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A really interesting video

Another instructor at IPFW told me about this video on It's really fascinating! It's a lecture given by a percussionist who teaches her audience how to listen. She tells about different ways of learning music and different ways of hearing. I highly recommend it. Thank you, Marje, for suggesting it!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


So, thanks for all the help with the idioms! Today I taught "to go overboard" and "over my dead body," both suggestions from my mom (thanks!). Great ideas! Some of my ESL students have been in the U.S. longer than others; those are usually the ones who recognize the idioms the quickest, and they recognized these right away. So I know I hit on some common ones--always the best technique because of the varied language ability of all of the students.