Los Angeles

We moved from Chicago to Los Angeles when I was ten. When asked recently how I liked California, I came up with this.

Los Angeles

With my frizzy perm and
Little puff-sleeved cotton dresses
With sashes that tied in the back into floppy bows,
And brown oxfords, sturdy and roomy enough
To last all year,
I arrived to find California girls,
Mature even in their
Catholic School uniforms.
California girls rolled skirts up shorter and
Tucked white blouses into tiny waists
And tossed their hair in the boys’ direction.

The nuns at my new school didn’t like the way I
Looked or
Talked or
Or that the smartest girl in the class,
Had a whiff of
Polish and
Chicago about her.
You might have crossed your Ts like that
in Chicago,
The nun in my class told me with a sniff,
But we it is not proper here.

And
Those shoes might be acceptable
In Chicago
But they are not correct uniform shoes
Here.

I went home each day
Alone to lie on my bed and
Read.
In a book I could go wherever I wanted—
Home to Chicago, to Grandma and Grandpa, or
Over the ocean or
Back in time and
Imagine myself there.

Sometimes I wrote my imaginings and
My feelings down
But I never showed anyone.
I was supposed to be happy to be in California
Where the sun shone every day
And it never snowed.

I wrote letters to my grandma
Who couldn’t read or write.
My grandpa wrote back,
Enclosing a $2 bill each time
So I knew he still went to the bookie joint.

Who was drinking Green Rivers with him now?
Who helped Grandma make kolachke,
Sticking little fingers into the dough to make
Dents for jelly?
Was Sparkle happy in her new home,
Or was she sad and bedraggled,
Her cocker ears hanging to the floor?

Did the neighborhood kids play
Red Light, Green Light without me?
Did they play Hide and Seek,
Looking for
But never finding
Me?

Fall Reading Recommendations

I’ve been reading a lot of middle grade novels lately. Here are some I really liked.

Heartseeker.  Melinda Beatty. First book of a fantasy trilogy. I know—me recommending a fantasy. Who’da thunk? But it’s a lovely book.

Rebound. It’s Kwame Alexander. What’s not to love?

The Night Diary. Veera Hirandani. Family forced to leave home after India is partitioned in 1947.

The Train of Lost Things. Ammi-Joan Paquette. Boy searches magical train full of lost possessions, lost memories, and lost relationships for the last gift his father ever gave him.

Ghost Boys. Jewell Parker Rhodes. Boy shot by police speaks from beyond the grave.

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl. Stacy McAnulty. Math savant tries to hide her abilities.

Bob. Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead. Girl finds small zombie in a chicken suit looking for home. Odd but sweet.

In Observation of Memorial Day

Memorial Day

We Americans have been commemorating our war dead with flowers and speeches for more than 150 years. Each year we hope there will be no more soldiers to bury, but still we send our sons and daughters into battle.

Lately I read that 2018 has been deadlier for school children than for soldiers. It’s a hard truth to face.  More than twice as many people have been killed in school shootings than in all combat and non-combat deaths this year. Will we have to have a new holiday for remembering our murdered children?

When will we ever learn?

FAQ #6: Research

What’s your favorite part of researching a book you’re writing?

I like the early research that give the flavor of a time, a few interesting facts, and a place for me to stand.

It gets harder later when I search for specifics such as, “Was there mail delivery at Mission Beach, San Diego, 1941?” Never did find that answer. Do you know?

FAQ#3: Going Medieval

Do you remember your first exposure to medieval history? What clicked with you about that time?

In 1965 and many years after, I attended Renaissance Faires and was enchanted by the color, the music, the people, the language and food and life.  I transported the fair in my mind to the middle ages and held the memory tightly for 25 years until it blossomed in Catherine Called Birdy.

Renaissance Festival
Renaissance Festival (photo credit: Carol Mudd)
Renaissance Festival
Paved roads were a rarity! (photo credit: Carol Mudd)

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.

Charles Loring Brace and the Orphan Trains

Children's Aid Society

Rodzina Brodski is one of thousands of orphaned children who were sent West to find homes from 1845 to 1929. She is the heroine of my novel Rodzina. Here’s some of the factual background behind the orphan trains.

RodzinaThis article about the Children’s Aid Society recounts the history of Charles Loring Brace, the man who faced head-on the heavy immigration to the United States after the 1840 famine in Europe. With so many orphaned and abandoned children in New York City, Brace saw the need to establish an organization to get them off the streets. He was the mover behind the orphan trains, seeking to find homes for the children.

“Critical of congregate institutions such as orphanages and almshouses, Brace thought that the rigid discipline of those institutions sapped a child’s self-reliant spirit, and that charity only encouraged children to remain dependent. Alternatively, the Children’s Aid Society opened low-cost lodging houses for boys and girls, set up reading rooms and “fresh air” camps for their benefit, and established industrial schools to prepare them for employment and self-sufficiency.”

The photo above, which shows the CAS training children for office jobs, is one of a number available on Harvard University’s website depicting the Children’s Aid Society in its early years. The organization still exists today. It is considered to be one of the top children’s charities in the country.

A list of fantasy books, part 7

The Princess BrideThe Princess Bride by William Goldman. It’s a story that has everything: “Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.”  How could I or anyone resist?