Remembering Katherine Kellgren

Sad news from Shelf Awareness today: 

Obituary Note: Katherine Kellgren

Katherine Kellgren

“Katherine Kellgren, who narrated more than 200 audio books and was winner of multiple Audie Awards, died on January 10 after a long battle with cancer. Robin Whitten, founder of Audiofile Magazine, called Kellgren ‘a brilliant narrator… Her wonderful performances are known and loved by listeners. Her work was celebrated with every audio book award—Golden Voice, Earphones, Audie Awards, Odyssey, Voice of Choice, and more. Her kindness and indomitable spirit were loved and cherished by her colleagues and friends. We will miss her greatly. However, Katy leaves us with the enduring treasure of her audio books.’ In lieu of flowers, please donate to Hispanic Federation to help the people of Puerto Rico.”

Katie Kellgren narrated my books Grayling’s SongWill Sparrow’s Road, and Alchemy and Meggy Swann, for which she won numerous awards. We had many phone calls as we worked together on the books, and Katie was always delightful, warm, funny, and brilliant at inventing voices and accents that made me laugh out loud right there on the telephone. The book world will be a sadder place without her.

Why I Write for Young People

December 26th, 2017

I’m often asked why I write for young people. The following note from Molly K. should answer that question.

Dear Mrs. Cushman,

Recently I just finished your book The Loud Silence Of Francine Green. It was such a great book. I really felt and feel close to the main character Francine. I am a eighth grade girl and I need to find a high school soon. I also go to a catholic school and I have to wear a skirt. I love how in your book Sophie drew little flowers all over her skirt, I just admire her bravery to stand up for herself and others. When I was finished reading your book I felt a sense of bravery in a way, the way you wrote the book made me feel I could do anything. I am a very introverted girl and I don’t have very many friends. But this year I started coming out of my shell and talking to more to people and I have really talked a lot.  In your book Francine was a very shy girl, then she grew and grew throughout the novel. Then finally at the end she stood up to Sister Basil. I have started to become a girl that stands up for myself and others more and more each passing day. Your book helped me so much, it helped me believe a small, shy girl can do anything she wants.

From one of your biggest fans,

Molly K.

What I’ve Been Reading

You Bring the Distant Nearfor young adult readers

You Bring the Distant Near
Mitali Perkins

I was just writing this post about Mitali Perkins’ terrific new book, You Bring the Distant Near, when I saw that it is on the long list for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Of course! It’s fabulous, with romance, humor, and gorgeous writing. Five women in three generations of an Indian family struggle to adjust to life in the US. I’m not going to repeat what reviews say. You can read those. Just know this—I loved every word.

On Creativity: Karen Cushman

Karen CushmanA few months ago, I cried out for help. I was finding it profoundly difficult to be a writer. My inspiration and enthusiasm were buried so far below an onslaught of awful news headlines and downright hate, trauma, and tragedy that I struggled to reach them. What’s a girl to do? In a world so woeful and broken, how might I dig beneath the heartbreak and create? How could I free myself to write during these confusing and troubling times?

In other words, I asked, as Anita Silvey did, “What difference does a children’s book make in the midst of all of this political calamity?” Feeling distraught and discouraged, I went where I so often go for guidance—to my fellow writers. And I received generous, loving, thoughtful, eloquent responses.

Will Alexander recommended music; Ginny Wolff, laughter; Susan Hill Long, imagination; and David LaRochelle, honesty and kindness. Susan Fletcher found “sideways wisdom” through her writing. Margi Preus reminded me just to put one word after another, and Anita Silvey, like the rest of us, does it for kids. Susan Cooper and Gennifer Choldenko wrote about hope and Marion Dane Bauer, wonder. Jen Bryant, Dorothy Love, Avi, Karen Blumenthal, and Nikki Grimes stressed the need for engagement and writing out of our struggles.

I now add them to my company of inspirations, people whose words keep me afloat, like Mary Oliver:

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Like Gwendolyn Brooks, Pulitzer Prize winning poet, in her “Speech to the Young”:

Say to them,
say to the down-keepers
the sun-slappers,
the self-soilers,
the harmony-hushers,
“Even if you are not ready for day
it cannot always be night.”
You will be right.
For that is the hard home-run.
Live not for battles won.
Live not for the-end-of-the-song.
Live in the along.

Like Berthold Brecht, poet and playwright whose words found me in this dark time:

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.

Yes, there will be singing about the dark times. With our voices and our words. In this dark time, whatever we may write will come from that place. And as the 1st/2nd century Mishnah sage, Rabbi Tarfon, whose quote is calligraphed and hanging on my wall, said: You are not required to complete the task. Neither are you free to abstain from it.

You must stay drunk on writing, said Ray Bradbury, who has so often said what I need to hear, so reality cannot destroy you.

The upshot is my despair and anger have not passed. Until we live in a perfect world, I imagine it won’t pass. But thanks to all who offered wisdom, compassion, and inspiration, I can write despite such feelings. Or maybe because of them. And because of you.

Now excuse me, I have a book to finish.

On Creativity: Anita Silvey

My question to several writers I admire: “I find it profoundly difficult these days to be a writer. My inspiration and enthusiasm have been buried so far below an onslaught of awful news headlines and downright hate, trauma, and tragedy that I struggle to reach them. What’s a girl to do? In a world so woeful and broken, how can I dig beneath the heartbreak and create? Do you have the same thoughts? If so, how do you free yourself to write during these confusing and troubling times?”

I have received thoughtful and inspirational answers. I’m happy to share them with you here over the summer. I’m posting them in a random order, as I received their responses. If you have your own thoughts about these questions, I hope you’ll comment.

_________________________

Anita Silvey

Anita Silvey writes:

Dear Karen:

When I read your letter a couple of months ago, I felt I had no answers to your dilemma. I had not abandoned hope completely but found it difficult to write daily. “What difference,” I was asking myself, “does a children’s book make in the midst of all of this political calamity?”

As usual, time and the young (in this case the students at the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College), provided the answers. Having agreed about a year ago to speak to them, I attempted to garner some optimism for the occasion. But only on the day I delivered the lecture did I actually understand how to do that.

Let Your Voice Be HeardWalking to the podium I realized that the events of the last year have — and will continue to — change every decision I make about writing books for the young. As a small example, in August of 2016, I finally published Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger. The book had taken me eight years to write; when I went to document all my research, it came to eleven pages of footnotes and sources (in a 96-page book). Seeing the published book, I thought that sourcing excessive. Some paragraphs in the book had been referenced by five print sources and an interview with Pete. Who did I think I was? The New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal? An adult academician?

But in August of 2017 I am thrilled that those eleven pages exist. And I believe that those of us who struggle to craft narrative nonfiction for young readers have an important role to play in the time ahead. We can show where facts and opinions come from; we can demonstrate using primary and secondary sources. We can stand shoulder to shoulder with all the devoted journalists of our time and the academicians who are fighting for an understanding of what constitutes real facts.

As long as I can breathe, I have hope. Now, more than ever, those of us who have the privilege of writing for the young need to reinterpret what we do in our books. What do we care about? What do we stand for? I want to help children engage in critical analysis of information. When the history of this time is published, I want to be able to say, “I stood with the kids.”

_________________________

The author of 100 Best Books for Children500 Great Books for Teens, and Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book, Anita Silvey has devoted 40 years to promoting books that will turn the young—and families—into readers. She has appeared frequently on NPR, The Today Show60 Minutes, and various radio programs to talk about our best books for young people. In a unique career in the children’s book field, Ms. Silvey has divided her time equally between publishing, evaluating children’s books, and writing. Her lifelong conviction that “only the very best of anything can be good enough for the young” forms the cornerstone of her work. Formerly publisher of children’s books for Houghton Mifflin Company and editor-in-chief of The Horn Book Magazine, she currently teaches modern book publishing, children’s book publishing, and children’s book author studies at several colleges.

On Creativity: Jen Bryant

My question to several writers I admire: “I find it profoundly difficult these days to be a writer. My inspiration and enthusiasm have been buried so far below an onslaught of awful news headlines and downright hate, trauma, and tragedy that I struggle to reach them. What’s a girl to do? In a world so woeful and broken, how can I dig beneath the heartbreak and create? Do you have the same thoughts? If so, how do you free yourself to write during these confusing and troubling times?”

I have received thoughtful and inspirational answers. I’m happy to share them with you here over the summer. I’m posting them in a random order, as I received their responses. If you have your own thoughts about these questions, I hope you’ll comment.

_________________________

Jen Bryant

Jen Bryant writes:

Dear Karen (with gratitude for bringing us all together in this conversation):

Where to begin, where to begin . . . ??? How is it possible to keep putting one foot in front of the other—one word after the last word—one breath after the next one? I think perhaps the answer is different for each of us, just as the flow of writing flows from very different sources in each of us.

For me, the words of those I admire, of those I’ve looked up to and have been mentored by—provide comfort. They comfort because even though the November election left me in an unprecedented state of disbelief, disappointment, and just plain disgust, I have faith in the goodness of ordinary people. I have no idea why this is true, but I think it has something to do with my chosen profession as a children’s author and poet. Children represent hope; poetry (inasmuch as it is singing from the soul) represents survival.

I have MANY quotes from writers past and present taped up on my desk and on the walls of my writing room. On the really bad days (when the best thing I can find in my morning’s New York Times is that Congress has adjourned for the weekend . . .) I pause to read as many of those quotes as I can before I sit down and begin to work. Today, I lingered over this one by my friends and long-time mentors Jerry and Eileen Spinelli. It’s the final page of their collaborative book Today I Will: A Year of Quotes, Notes, and Promises to Myself (Random House Children’s Books, 2009), which I highly recommend:

“I understand that some things are beyond my control. I also understand that my view of life depends on choices I make. I hereby choose to view the cookie as half remaining rather than half gone. When life challenges me, I shall turn to my resources the healing love of friends when I am hurt, the promise of new opportunity when I am rejected, my own common sense when I am afraid, confidence in myself when I am alone. I hereby choose to believe that life is good.”

It’s not always easy in times like these, but in the end, the only thing we REALLY control is our attitude. Therefore, we need to believe that life is, indeed, good—and do our small part, each day, to make it so.

_________________________

Jen Bryant writes picture books, novels, and poems for readers of all ages. Her three biographies illustrated by Melissa Sweet—A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, and The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus—have earned Caldecott Honors, a Sibert Medal, and the Schneider Award from ALA and the Orbis Pictus Award from NCTE. SIX DOTS: A Story of Young Louis Braille, illustrated by Boris Kulikov, won the Schneider Family Award for Young Readers this year. Jen’s historical novels in verse include The Trial, Ringside 1925, Pieces of Georgia, and Kaleidoscope Eyes. Jen lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Visit her on Facebook or on the Web.

On Creativity: Karen Blumenthal

July 25th, 2017

My question to several writers I admire: “I find it profoundly difficult these days to be a writer. My inspiration and enthusiasm have been buried so far below an onslaught of awful news headlines and downright hate, trauma, and tragedy that I struggle to reach them. What’s a girl to do? In a world so woeful and broken, how can I dig beneath the heartbreak and create? Do you have the same thoughts? If so, how do you free yourself to write during these confusing and troubling times?”

I have received thoughtful and inspirational answers. I’m happy to share them with you here over the summer. I’m posting them in a random order, as I received their responses. If you have your own thoughts about these questions, I hope you’ll comment.

_________________________

Karen Blumenthal

Karen Blumenthal writes:

The ugliness just kept coming: Attacks on Mexicans, Muslims, women, and the press. The constant drumbeat made my writing for kids seem insignificant. I felt an urgent need do to something more relevant, to put whatever skills I had to offer toward something with more direct impact.

I looked at jobs sites. The local ACLU needed a development person, and I had a little experience fundraising for nonprofits. But surely there were more qualified people.

Lawyers were needed to represent refugees and immigrants who just wanted a chance at a better life and suddenly, a career I rejected decades ago seemed worth considering. I looked up the public law schools nearby. I was qualified, but a degree would cost more than $100,000—and three years was just too long to wait.

As a life-long journalist, I had never protested or marched. But terrified of losing my health insurance, I called and wrote my representatives in Washington for the first time. It may have been important, but honestly, it wasn’t all that satisfying.

My little “a-ha” came on a trip with my husband. He writes about airlines and travel for a major newspaper, and he can get pretty cranked up when he sees airline or airport employees ignore their own rules.

I always have the same response for him: “Don’t get mad. Write about it!”

He usually does, and it usually makes a difference.

Of course, that was really my own best advice. I chose journalism over law school or Wall Street because I believe in the power of words to make a difference.  I have long said that my book-writing mission is to share stories that give teens context for a complicated world. The most obvious and meaningful thing to do was to channel my worries and frustration into my writing.

So my new project is about a women’s issue I care deeply about. I recently agreed to do a biography of an important woman. And I am trying to write a potential picture book that speaks to a current hot-button issue.

The best option for any of us is to use our individual gifts and passions to deliver our most effective response. If you sing, sing. If you draw, draw. And if you write, write. The accumulation of our unique voices will make a difference.

_________________________

Karen Blumenthal is the author of seven nonfiction books for kids, including Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different; Hillary Rodham Clinton: A Woman Living History, and Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine and the Lawless Years of Prohibition. Before that, she was a reporter, editor and Dallas Bureau Chief at the Wall Street Journal for more than twenty years. Visit her website

On Creativity: Margi Preus

July 20th, 2017

My question to several writers I admire: “I find it profoundly difficult these days to be a writer. My inspiration and enthusiasm have been buried so far below an onslaught of awful news headlines and downright hate, trauma, and tragedy that I struggle to reach them. What’s a girl to do? In a world so woeful and broken, how can I dig beneath the heartbreak and create? Do you have the same thoughts? If so, how do you free yourself to write during these confusing and troubling times?”

I have received thoughtful and inspirational answers. I’m happy to share them with you here over the summer. I’m posting them in a random order, as I received their responses. If you have your own thoughts about these questions, I hope you’ll comment.

_________________________

Margi Preus (Shirleen Hieb Photography)

Margi Preus writes:

Here’s how bad it is: I can barely muster up the wherewithal to write a blog post, much less a novel. I’m just too busy reading the news feed on my phone.

Back when I used to write, I wrote mostly historical fiction. I noticed, as Avi pointed out in a June 8 post in this blog, that there are “many moments in history which echo today’s world.” That’s for sure. If there’s one thing you get confronted by when you write historical fiction is how this has all happened before, and how bad it has been—worse, lots of times. Lots worse. But then you find stories of people who have dug themselves out, have risen like phoenixes from the ashes, or somehow shone a light or shown a way forward. Or who, in spite of everything, just kept valiantly moving forward. One foot in front of the other.

While writing my first novel, Heart of a Samurai, a lot of me was deeply despondent about the Iraq War and some hateful rhetoric of the times. Writing about a friendship between a Japanese boy and an American sea captain might seem far away from that reality, but for me, their friendship—two people from countries deeply antagonistic toward each other–was solace. I was reminded that individuals, one at a time, could steer their way out of antagonism. I was also reminded, every day, that this single friendship helped pave the way for a peaceful resolution to what could have been a deadly encounter between east and west. For me, writing that story became my daily prayer.

Excuse me while I check my news feed.

Okay, I’m back. Where was I? Ah, yes. I guess the only way is forward. I guess the only way, in these backward times, is to lean into the headwind and no matter how much the wind pushes us back, just keep inching forward.

How? I don’t know, but once in awhile, during a slow news moments, I put pen to paper. The movement of the pen—forward—feels positive. The filling of the page feels like something is getting accomplished. Turning the notebook page to the next feels like forward motion. There’s the soft, nonjudgemental whisper of pen on paper. Words are being set down. Witness is being borne. Light is being shone into dark corners. One word in front of the other.

_________________________

Margi Preus

Margi Preus is the Newbery Honor winning author of Heart of a Samurai and other books for young readers, including West of the Moon, Enchantment Lake, Shadow on the Mountain, and The Bamboo Sword. Her books have won multiple awards, landed on many “best of” lists, been honored as ALA/ALSC Notables, selected as an NPR Backseat Book Club pick, chosen for community reads, and translated into many languages. The latest, The Clue in the Trees, the second in the Enchantment Lake mystery series, is due out in September.

On Creativity: Susan Hill Long

July 18th, 2017

My question to several writers I admire: “I find it profoundly difficult these days to be a writer. My inspiration and enthusiasm have been buried so far below an onslaught of awful news headlines and downright hate, trauma, and tragedy that I struggle to reach them. What’s a girl to do? In a world so woeful and broken, how can I dig beneath the heartbreak and create? Do you have the same thoughts? If so, how do you free yourself to write during these confusing and troubling times?”

I have received thoughtful and inspirational answers. I’m happy to share them with you here over the summer. I’m posting them in a random order, as I received their responses. If you have your own thoughts about these questions, I hope you’ll comment.

_________________________

Susan Hill LongSusan Hill Long writes:

So much clanging and bellowing, so much horrible noise. As citizens, we can’t hole up and quit listening. But let’s listen, as well, to the stories of people who have imagined and who continue to imagine a way and a world that makes sense. Ursula K. Le Guin writes, in her essay The Operating Instructions, “Reading is a way of listening.” For lots of us, so is writing. Maybe listening (reading, writing) requires precisely what it seems we can’t afford—solitude, dream-time, head-space, nature, time for thoughts to flow without judgment. Maybe it seems indulgent to while away an hour in dreamy imagining. But imagining is not a small thing. It isn’t frivolous. Le Guin writes, “…the imagination is an essential tool of the mind, a fundamental way of thinking, an indispensable means of becoming and remaining human.” I like that a lot. That helps me.

This little note-to-self helps, too. It’s nothing much, the title of a poem. (Doesn’t Mary Oliver often step in to say the exact right thing?) When I saw the words, wherever I saw them, a shy bell chimed in my heart, and so I made a note and Scotch-taped it to my monitor: To be a writer is to have The Chance to Love Everything.

That’s encouragement enough for me. For you, too?

_________________________

Susan Hill Long

Susan Hill Long is a children’s book author. Her recent books include The Magic Mirror: Concerning a Lonely Princess, A Foundling Girl, a Scheming Pig, and a Pickpocket Squirrel, and the middle grade novel Whistle in the Dark, named a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year. Her awards include Bank Street Best Books, Oregon Book Award—the Eloise Jarvis McGraw Award for Children’s Literature—and the Katherine Paterson Prize. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two daughters.

On Creativity: David LaRochelle

July 13th, 2017

My question to several writers I admire: “I find it profoundly difficult these days to be a writer. My inspiration and enthusiasm have been buried so far below an onslaught of awful news headlines and downright hate, trauma, and tragedy that I struggle to reach them. What’s a girl to do? In a world so woeful and broken, how can I dig beneath the heartbreak and create? Do you have the same thoughts? If so, how do you free yourself to write during these confusing and troubling times?”

I have received thoughtful and inspirational answers. I’m happy to share them with you here over the summer. I’m posting them in a random order, as I received their responses. If you have your own thoughts about these questions, I hope you’ll comment.

_________________________

David LaRochelleDavid LaRochelle writes:

It is easy for me to become overwhelmed by the news of the day: political leaders acting unjustly, elected officials disregarding our environment, dishonesty becoming an acceptable mode of ethics. Everything I care about most feels threatened. All of this news can leave me immobile with fear and sadness. What has helped me most to keep functioning has been learning to set limits on the barrage of news that I expose myself to. At various times this has meant turning off the radio, avoiding Facebook, and taking a break from newspaper headlines.

Is there something wrong with me for feeling this way? Others seem to be energized to action by seeing all the injustice in the world. With all my heart I want to make this planet a better place, and to do that I need to be an informed world citizen. But too much news makes me depressed and hopeless to the point of paralyzation, so I struggle with balancing the amount of news I need to know against the amount that will stop me in my tracks.

As I struggle, I also remember this advice: today I may not be able to solve the world’s problems, but I can treat the people with whom I come in contact with love and kindness. And that’s what I try to do. I cling to my values of honesty and compassion, even when it seems as if others have abandoned them. And I trust that this will make a difference. That gives me hope to keep going, and keep writing.

_________________________

David LaRochelle has been creating books for young people for over twenty-five years. His many picture book titles include The Best Pet of All, How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans, and Moo! He is the recipient of the Sid Fleischman Humor Award, multiple children’s choice awards, and a three-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award. A former elementary school teacher, David still visits many classrooms around the Midwest (and world!) each year, talking with students about books, writing, and illustrating. When he is not creating new books, he loves to read, play board games, and carve unique jack-o’-lanterns, which you can view at his website.