Beloved Reader

In many ways the 21st century public library and its role have been re-imagined. In this digital age the library has become much more than a repository for great books. Libraries are promoters of community as well. Take a look at the Morrill Memorial Library events happening in the month of April alone. We have everything from Musical Sundays to talks on Stone Carvers of Old – from Beginning Yoga to The Secret Lives of Owls.

Part of our shifting role includes providing information on the run. As mentioned by the Brookings Institute, “This ‘go-to’ role has influenced library programming and events, with libraries providing advice and connections to health, housing, literacy, and other areas.” Or, in author Neil Gaiman’s words, the library is “a community space. It’s a place of safety, a haven from the world.”

And yes, I could not agree more. In this digital world the library serves as a connector, providing access to information through workshops and speakers and more. At the heart of it all though, the library returns to two essential ingredients 1) free access to information and 2) our beloved readers.

In many ways the idea of free information for all began in Franklin, MA. The Franklin Public Library is considered America’s “first public library” because of Dr. Benjamin Franklin’s book donation for the use of the town’s residents in 1778. The original Franklin collection is still housed in the library’s Reading Gallery, and the United States is now populated by public libraries from sea to shining sea. According to the American Library Association, an estimated 116,867 public libraries exist today. Thankfully, the Morrill Memorial Library is one of them.

Several times at the library I have been approached by a person who recently immigrated to the United States. They cannot believe that our programs and services are free; this world is at their fingertips. Not only is this true here, but in the next town, and the town after that, and the one across the state, and across the country.

Which leads to the other essential ingredient at the heart of our libraries—our beloved reader, the person who lives and breathes for a good book. The person who enters the library, whether child or aged 102, with an empty tote bag, excited to fill it with 5, 10, 15 new reads. For FREE!!

During my years working in the Outreach Department, I have had the privilege of becoming a friend to many beloved readers. Often they are unable to come to the library on their own, so our volunteers deliver books and other items to them. While they miss browsing the bookshelves, they are grateful when these treasures arrive at their doorstep. It’s like a having a birthday every few weeks.

I have worked with many of these beloved patrons over the years but a few have stood out in my mind. Annette Webber was surely one. Sadly, she passed away this March just shy of her 93rdbirthday. Every other week her Outreach volunteer delivered about 15-20 books to her. The most amazing thing was her interests were limitless. Not only did she reread To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee but she gave Lee’s latest novel Go Set a Watchman a try as well. She always loved biographies, especially about politicians. The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher and A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler were two of her latest. However Annette could not be pigeon-holed onto a certain shelf. All-American Murder: The Rise and Fall of Aaron Hernandez, the Superstar Whose Life Ended on Murderers’ Row by James Paterson and Alex Abramovich was also one of her reads, along with Gold Dust Woman: The Biography of Stevie Nicks by Stephen Davis.

Sylvia Clark was another life-long learner. I first met Sylvia when I was running a book discussion at Benchmark Senior Living. She had lost much of her eyesight from macular degeneration but as soon as she realized she could borrow a CD player and audio books from the library, she signed right up. Later I learned that she was an educator who had taught at Maynard High School, Needham High School and Regis College. How I marveled that she was willing to become an auditory learner when necessary. Historical fiction was a favorite genre of hers and she relished books like Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and The Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. That said she could tackle a mystery series with equal aplomb, so we would toss in a James Patterson or Daniel Silva novel to keep her going.

Of course these are just two examples of the many beloved readers who have loved the library and all its treasures. It’s nice to know our patrons need the library as much as the library needs them. While the library has stepped boldly into the 21st century, our doors are always open to the patron who is searching for the perfect read.

Talent Search

We all have a variety of skills and talents. Perhaps we have worked hard to develop these abilities over time or perhaps we were lucky enough to be born with a gift or two. For example when I’m asked to write an article for the weekly library column, I feel equipped to do so. I’m comfortable writing children’s books or poetry. Crafting words is a skill I’ve developed over time. Likewise, I enjoy entertaining. I become a whirling dervish beforehand, but hosting a family gathering or holiday party is definitely my cup of tea.

However, the question I often return to is this: What am I doing with the wee talents that I have? Am I using them to the best of my ability? Do you ever ask yourself the same thing? And how wonderful it is when people share their talents, whether it is here in the library or at a local hospital, school, or homeless shelter. My coworker, Marg, is an example of someone who is always giving of her time and talent. She ventures to the housing facilities in town, teaching crafts like wreath-making and decoupage. My father was the same way, spending more time helping others than finishing his own projects.

If you are like me, you may have a “Bucket List of Talents” – skills you would like to master or perfect before you depart from God’s green earth. When my father passed away this April, my wish list grew longer. I thought about all his talents that were foreign to me. For years before Dad become a Dean at Central Connecticut State University, he had been an Industrial Arts teacher. While he inspired his students with his designs and craft, no one in my immediate family had learned to use the tools on his work bench. He had saws and drills and levels galore, and yet I hadn’t a clue how to handle them. How sad was that?!

For a brief amount of time I considered researching the topic of woodworking at the library. After all, we had book titles from Quick and Easy Woodworking Projects by the Handyman Club of America (2000) to Woodworking Simplified: Foolproof Carpentry Projects for Beginners  by David and Jeanie Stiles. Maybe I could learn to craft something. It wasn’t impossible, was it? In middle school I made a candle stick holder on a lathe. Perhaps I could watch a Youtube video or, better yet, take a Woodworking 101 class. The only problem was my heart wasn’t in it. While I marveled at my father’s talents, I didn’t feel an ounce of excitement toward wood unless it was going into the fireplace. I loved my father, but his passion wasn’t going to be my own. Instead my mother and I found a wonderful neighbor who adopted my father’s collection; he knew exactly what to do with each and every tool.

Nevertheless I hoped to follow in Dad’s footsteps in some fashion. It couldn’t be sailing – too expensive. Or model planes – too many parts. Since it was spring, I began to think about gardening. Again, I checked out a few books: Stuff Every Gardener Should Know by Scott Meyer; Improving Your Soil by Keith Reid and Practical Gardening by Jackie Matthews, Richard Bird and Andrew Mikolajski. I also peeked at his Harris Seed catalog. Lo and behold, I found a box of his seeds in his basement that was waiting to be planted (tears)! At least gardening was a talent I had begun under his tutelage. In my backyard, I’d managed to grow a small plot of tomatoes and peppers over the years, enough for salad and soup now and then. Dad’s garden plot had rich soil waiting for someone to start seeding. Turns out, I wasn’t that person.

Surprisingly, my 15-year old daughter, Sarah, was the one who took on this project. She researched which seeds to plant and how to plant them. Working in “Papa’s Garden,” as we called it, was healing for her. It also became a community project. The neighbors brought over seeper hoses and black weed barrier cloth to make the work lighter. In no time the seedlings took root and the garden began to thrive. Sarah even succeeded in growing bundles of eggplant, which had never grown for me. Along one edge she kept my Dad’s rhubarb, while colorful zinnias lined the other end. In between there were peas and beans and zucchini and peppers. Perhaps this talent had skipped a generation, but it was growing nonetheless. I decided to stick with the herbs on my deck and in my kitchen instead. After all I had the Indoor Edible Garden by Zia Allaway to help.

What I’ve come to realize is that there are some talents that may never come my way, as hard as I might try. Woodworking is one of them. And why struggle with a garden when I can sit back and enjoy the fruits of my daughter’s labors? That said, I did discover one of my father’s passions that I can do with gusto. I watched all of the World Series with a sense of pride and an understanding of why it is America’s “greatest pastime.” It seems my talent search ended right where it began, with words, these words: Go Sox! Damage Done!

It Takes a Stretch

You must have a favorite author. Someone you turn to when the rest of the world seems in chaos. Someone who is as comfortable to be with as your warm fuzzy slippers and a chair beside the fireplace. Perhaps it is Jamie Ford or Susan Meissner (two of my favorites) whose lyrical stories carry you back in time and make you fall in love with their characters. Or maybe you are addicted to Mary Higgins Clark or Louise Penny, and you cannot wait to settle down with their latest creations in your hands.

While there is something magical and wonderful about those treasured authors, there is also something to be said for those books that you never ever thought you would read, and suddenly you do. Perhaps you’ve been astonished when your world expands after being stretched by a story or concept that greeted you when you dared to open a book that wasn’t part of your regular repertoire.

Every month I lead between four or five book clubs. I know! I should have my head examined. Still, I enjoy each and every one of them. When I started these groups, I surveyed my readers to see what type of books they loved to read. Many of them preferred mysteries. Hands down! Ironically, it is a rare month now when I select a mystery for a book club read. When it comes to this genre, I find there isn’t a lot to talk about in a group. Trust me, I’ve tried. Once you know “who done it,” the conversation tends to be a bit sparse. So I decided to choose a wide range of books and topics instead. And yes, I like to stretch my readers. Actually, I like to stretch myself, too. Sometimes this means I pick a total flop. This doesn’t bother me, though. We’ve had the most engaging conversations even when the book choice is a bust.

An example of this happened recently. The Spy Wore Red by Aline, Countess of the Romanones was a big hit with my book clubs. Everyone loved the suspense in this true life story of a World War II spy. With this success behind me, I decided a similar read entitled A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre was appropriate. Boy, was I wrong. This was the story of a friendship between two spies, Kim Philby and Nicholas Elliott, and the years that Philby deceived both MI6 and the CIA. While we had a lot to discuss, the style of writing was rather dry for most of my readers. Nevertheless, we learned a lot about the circle of Cambridge University friends that the British intelligence recruited. Certainly, our minds were stretched.

Over the years my book clubbers have read a variety of genres that they might not have tried on their own. While we covered classics like Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Margaret Smith, we have also tried a western or two like True Grit by Charles Portis and post-apocalyptic science fiction like Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. On occasion we jumped into young readers like Skating With the Statue of Liberty by Susan Lynn Meyer or The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Why? Why not! Challenge accepted.

If you’re willing to stretch your definition of “good reads,” you might be drawn into another reader’s obsessions as well. I have a coworker who loves books about cats, any and all cats. Who am I kidding? I’m surrounded by coworkers who read cat books. To be honest, felines don’t always tickle my fancy as characters but, lo and behold, I found myself swept into a picture book called Caramba by Marie-Louise Gay when I saw it on my coworker’s desk. Now I’m addicted. I’m hoping Caramba, the cat who can’t fly, has many more stories to discover.

Likewise my husband has certain topics that fascinate him and I’m not sure if there’s any rhyme or reason for them. For a while Appalachian history captured his interest. For several nights in a row I fell asleep as he read out loud Night Comes to the Cumberlands by Harry M. Caudill. Soon I became intrigued by Appalachia as well. When Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance was hot off the press, I raced to get a copy. Later, when my husband’s curiosity shifted to the topic of North Korea, I followed suit. A Thousand Miles to Freedom by Eunsun Kim and North Korea Undercover by John Sweeney are two books I would never have touched without my husband’s influence. It seems that other people’s obsessions are catchy.

Truth be told, I enjoy being stretched. I bet you do too! In the words of Charles Scribner, “Reading is a means of thinking with another person’s mind; it forces you to stretch your own.” The only problem is finding enough time to fit it all in. I’d highly recommend trying something completely new. You might even win a prize if you take the opportunity to fill out our Summer Reader’s Bingo in the process. Consider some of the categories: “A Book With a Beach Setting,” “A Book Set in Winter,” or “A Book With a Food Theme.” Go ahead… give it a chance. What have you got to lose?

 

Fall Schedule

Upcoming signings:

September 18th, Book Birthday, Putnam Books for Young Readers, The Yin-Yang Sisters and Frightful the Dragon

September 22nd, 10:30 am, The Boston Athenaeum

September 28th, 6-8 pm, nErDy Author Night, Freeport, ME

September 29th, 1:30 pm, Children’s Book Reading Feat, Gordon College Bookstore, Wenham, MA

October 13th, 11 am, Book Launch Party, The Blue Bunny Bookstore, Dedham, MA

October 27th, 11 am, Story Time, Wellesley Books, Wellesley, MA

November 16th,  NCTE 18, Houston TX 12:30-1:45 pm, presenting on a panel “The Power of Quiet: Helping Introverts (Quietly) Speak Up” with four other awesome authors: Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, Erin Entrada Kelly, Nancy Tupper Ling, and Tamara Smith. 3:30 pm, Signing at the Penguin Booth on the exhibit floor. 

November 24th, Book Signing, Annie’s Book Stop, Worcester, MA

It Doesn’t Hurt to Ask

Funny thing! My Dad told me this a lot growing up: “Go ahead! It never hurts to ask!” As a shy child, I wasn’t so sure. Secretly I hoped things would work out on their own so I wouldn’t need to say a word. Requesting information, like “how much does that movie cost” or “where do you shelve the toilet paper,” took a monumental dose of bravery on my part. I am the model child for Susan Cain’s book Quiet.

Whether we like it or not, life provides opportunities to stretch ourselves, even on a daily basis. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t stick my head into books all the time as a librarian. I am called to be social and help our patrons. Likewise a big part of my day is spent answering patrons’ questions, which means asking a few of my own. And, as I’ve discovered, asking the right question at the right time can sometimes bring surprising results.

Case in point, several years ago I asked a question that changed my life. For years I’d submitted my poetry to June Cotner’s anthologies. When several of my poems first appeared in Baby Blessings, I was over the moon. After that first acceptance, June and I began corresponding regularly and she soon became my mentor in so many ways. 

Harmony, 2002
Andrews McMeel, 2017

 

Then in the summer of 2012 I discovered I’d be heading from Boston to Seattle for a writer’s retreat. At last June and I were to meet in person!

 

Before my trip June happened to mention that she was overwhelmed with work because her assistant had recently moved away. Without hesitation, I asked the simplest of questions: “June, is there any little thing I can do to help you from the East Coast?” I thought I might assist her by reading a few of the many submissions she receives regularly. 

I was completely shocked by her answer. “Well Nancy, how would you like to coauthor a book together?” 

I don’t think anything could have knocked my socks off more. I could barely reply with a “Wow!” and a “Really?” and yet my travels to Seattle began a new phase in our relationship. We were becoming coauthors! Of course, that initial question was followed by many more. What project should we work on first? How should I gather entries to our anthology? Who would we submit our proposal to?

As it turns out, Toasts: The Perfect Words to Celebrate Every Occasion was our first book together. June graciously walked me through every step of the way. While I’d written poetry and children’s books before, this was a whole new experience for me. I had so much to learn. What am I talking about? I am still learning. 

This New Year’s Day we signed a contract with Andrews McMeel for our second co-authored book entitled Family Celebrations, and thanks to the fabulous work of our agent, Anne Marie O’Farrell (Marcil-O’Farrell Literary LLC), we are excited to say our first children’s anthology, For Every Little Thing, has been accepted by Eerdman’s Publishing. On top of that, we have co-authored a children’s manuscript called Be Creative that my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette (Erin Murphy Literary Agency) is shopping around.

Yes, I have to say, I find that I am pinching myself on a regular basis these days. Could this all be real? It is hard to believe this long and winding road to publication is part of this shy girl’s journey. To think it all began with a question, or maybe two or three. What do you think about that? 

 

‘Tis the Season

What a busy spring with school visits galore! And yet there’s nothing like a spontaneous hug from a student, the creation of classroom poems, and the signing of a book to a new reader. After all, isn’t that what writing for kids is all about?

Here’s a few photos of my most recent visits to local schools (Wrentham & Norfolk),  a Boston school (Joseph P. Tynan), the Coolidge Elementary School (Shrewsbury) and the Tuscarawas County Public Library (OH). Did I mention I had a blast!?

I love all of the poems that the students created, each and every one, but there are always a few that are unforgettable, like the boy who wrote about his bed being his favorite place in the world (yes, I agree wholeheartedly).

Happy Summer, my school friends! See you again in the Fall (should I have said that four-lettered word?)

A Bit of Publishing Advice in a Letter

Illustrated by Jessica Lanan

In many ways, I’m still the girl who needs advice on how to get published. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that in the last 10 years, I’ve had 7 books published, three of them for children.

That said, a lot of people have been asking me how to break into the world of children’s publishing lately. After a great guffaw (as in, “you’re asking me?”), I would say the following 6 items are essential. I’ve written them in the form of a letter.

Dear Future Children’s Author,

Here’s my advice to you:

1. Join a critique group. Yes, it may take a while to find the “right” group, but I don’t know anyone whose manuscript is ready to submit by the first draft, or even by the 25th draft, in the case of my story, Double Happiness.

2. Join and attend a SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference. Not only will you meet others who are striving toward the same goal, but you will connect with agents, editors, and well-known authors who know their stuff.

3. Look for an agent. The right agent not only moves your manuscript out of the publisher’s infamous slush pile, she makes your stories shine. Not to mention, it’s a little known fact that the best agents are fully trained as counselors who will wipe away your tears and tell you to get back in the writing saddle.

4. Write (and illustrate) more than one story. I can’t tell you how many people have told me they have a story, but they haven’t written it yet. Or they’ve written one story, but that’s all. You need to have at least 5 quality manuscripts in your back pocket when you’re working on Steps 1-3 above.

5. Learn to listen and have a bucket load of patience. It’s the only way your dreams will come true. Each rejection, each road diverged, is a learning experience. If you close your ears to some of the best advice you can find along the way, you’re going to end up at a dead end vs the mountain top.

6. And, once you’ve “arrived,” once you’ve been published, never forget that you, yes you, asked a lot of questions along the way. Maybe it’s your turn to share your knowledge. After all, a generous author is a happy author.

All the best,

Nancy

(a grateful client of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency)

Let’s Celebrate Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Here’s to Multicultural Children’s Book Day  2017! I chose The Nian Monster, by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Alina Chau, and published by Albert Whitman, an award-winning children’s book publisher since 1919.

 Confession! I am completely biased. I have loved The Nian Monster ever since I heard Andrea Wang read her manuscript at one of our writing retreats. Wang and I both belong to the Erin Murphy Literary Agency (aka The Agency with the Best Client Retreats). And, yes, Alina Chau illustrated my book, Double Happiness, so I fell in love with her water colors quite some time ago.

That said, who wouldn’t want to take a journey with The Nian Monster? Wang has created a thoroughly beguiling story of the Chinese New Year with her feisty character, Xingling. Xingling is as loveable as Kungfu Panda and smart and wily as Word Girl.


For years the Nian Monster has been afraid to return to Shanghai during the new year because of the three things— “loud sounds, fire, and the color red.” However, Nian has grown accustomed to these tricks and has returned this year  to devour Shanghai. Of course Nian begins to realize what a wise, brave girl is challenging him. Xingling knows that the way to tackle this pesky monster is through his mind and his stomach, as well as a few firecrackers in the end.

With Wang’s lyrical text and Chau’s heart-warming illustrations, children will want to jump into Chinese New Year in this new way. They might even discover a unique way to frighten the Nian Monster, perhaps with a few Shanghai dumplings of their own.

Together at Last!

I am always amazed to hear stories of authors and illustrators who never connect during the picture book process. How can this be? I know publishers can be a bit leery of any author-illustrator relationship pre-publication. After all the author might attempt to influence the illustrator, or squash her creativity. But I LOVE to find my illustrator on social media right away. If the chance arises to meet her in person, all the better. And the ultimate meet up? You got it! A book signing together. 

Chronicle Books was the perfect matchmaker when they paired illustrator, Alina Chau, with my story Double Happiness. Besides being uber-talented, she’s delightful and humble and fun. While I’ve known this for some time, this summer was the first time I was able to see her in action at our signings in California.

First, we visited Luan Stauss’ Laurel Bookstore in Oakland. Alina’s dog, Coco, joined us. When you’re reading Double Happiness, see if you can find Coco in the book.AlinaandNancyatLaurel

PanelatLaurel
Photo by Selina Liu

 

 

 

 

We had a few celebrities join us at our signings, too. Here’s Mike Jung and his famous donuts: 

MikeJungatLaurel

The next weekend we were privileged to be part of an inaugural event thanks to the Book Shop West Portal and West Portal branch of the San Francisco Public Library. Alina and I read Double Happiness in two voices (Gracie’s and Jake’s) at the library. Alina showed the audience how to draw a few of the characters.

Characters2

We had a celebrity there, too–the lovely Deborah Underwood.DeborahUnderwoodWestPortal

 Our last stop was a totally new venue for me. Trickter is a gallery/bookstore in Berkeley, run by Anita Coulter. 

AlinaNancyAnitaSee what happens when you hang with your illustrator! A whole new world opens before you. 

Now if I can only entice Alina to visit the east coast for a few double signings here. That will be extra happy occasion, for sure. 

(As an aside, I had the best fig pizza ever from Summer Kitchen in Berkeley, but I didn’t get to try Mike’s donuts)