I’m Happy-Dancing…

…because I got the final cover for Champlain and the Silent One today, and Fabulous Zach at North Country Books gave me the okay to share it!

 New book covers make me positively giddy.  I haven’t talked about this one in a while, so I’ll share the blurb, too:

His tribe calls him Silent One.  He hasn’t spoken since his uncle died fighting the Iroquois.  But in the winter of 1609, a new language echoes through the north woods.  Samuel de Champlain and his Frenchmen speak of friendship and promise to help Silent One’s people fight their enemies.  This time, Silent One must join the war party, journey far from home, and find his voice to save his brother and his own spirit.
 ~Champlain and the Silent One
, September 2008

New blog readers might not know that my mom, Gail Smith Schirmer, created the paintings for the covers of both Spitfire and this new book.  Her work can be seen in the Pat Rini Rohrer Gallery in Canandaigua, NY and here on her blog – gailschirmer.

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Four Days in Washington, DC

4 people,
1 small hotel room,
7 museums,
5 monuments & memorials,
1 living history village,
and many miles later… I have some highlights to share.

Here we are on the steps of the National Gallery.

I’m that one… in the pink shirt. On that top step.   

Now do you see?

By the pillar… No, the other pillar.

I actually squealed (and got a slightly dirty look from a National Gallery guard) when I saw this painting…

I loved Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer and have always wanted to see “A Lady Writing” in person, but I had actually forgotten that the painting was here until I turned a corner and saw her.  Stunning.

The Smithsonian is simply amazing.  We spent time in the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Museum of the American Indian, Museum of Air & Space, and Museum of Natural History, where the gems and minerals were just incredible.  (I thought of you and Samantha,


We also checked out the International Spy Museum, which not only has cool spy stuff like a lipstick pistol but also tons of fascinating history on espionage and its role in world events. 

Ford’s Theater was closed, but we toured the house across the street where Lincoln died after being shot.  I was impressed with the small historic site  but even more impressed with this man…

…a National Park Service guide who told the story of Lincoln’s assassination to a different group of visitors every ten minutes with the animation and enthusiasm of someone reporting it for the very first time.  I love people who do their work with passion.  And yes…it was neat to stand in the room, too.

Did you happen to see the National Memorial Day Concert on PBS over the weekend?  I was there.

Okay, technically, I was at the dress rehearsal on Saturday night and not the actual concert.  We packed a picnic and joined the crowd on the Capitol lawn for an evening of music from the National Philharmonic, United States Army Band, Sarah Brightman, Idina Menzel, Rodney Atkins, and Gladys Knight. 

It was a gorgeous night, so sitting out on the grass with the kids, listening to music was just perfect.

We also drove down to Colonial Williamsburg for a day, toured the Governor’s Palace, and checked out the historic park. 

My favorite stop was the apothecary, who had an authentic 18th century amputation kit. 

(If you’ve read Spitfire, you know why I was excited  to actually see the tools.)

Monday was our monument and memorials day, appropriately enough.  I especially liked seeing the World War II Memorial, which is new since my last trip to D.C. 

Looking back at the Washington Monument…

All along the memorials, we saw flowers, photos, letters, and other tributes to people’s loved ones.  So very many stories that we won’t soon forget.

A Rainbow Kind of Day


First, an ARC of Laurie Halse Anderson’s CHAINS showed up in the mail, just in time for a plane trip I’m taking tomorrow.

Then the phone call I’ve been waiting for happened.  An over-the-rainbow sort of phone call.  More on that soon.  :^)

And tonight, this…the first of the year over Lake Champlain.

Thankful Thursday, indeed.

Raise the Spitfire?

The debate over what to do with the wreck of the Spitfire, the Revolutionary War gunboat featured in my first historical novel, seems to be resurfacing.

Librarian Cally Flickinger alerted me to this article in the Burlington Free Press.  I expect it will reinvigorate our conversations about the value of historical resources.

What do you think should happen?

Awaiting an Illustrator

There are so many exciting steps along the way in a writer’s journey.  Some of them, like getting books in the mail or doing a first book signing, you’ve heard about and expect to be amazing experiences.  But some of the other milestones have taken me by surprise.  Like when my editor emailed me last year with the ISBN number for Spitfire, my first regional historical novel. 

ISBN number???  I have an ISBN number?  I have an ISBN number!!! 

I was so giddy that a slightly snarky friend suggested I have the number tattooed on my forehead.

Today was another one of those memorable milestones.  I got an email from Melissa, my editor at Chronicle Books, which is publishing my first picture book, Over and Under the Snow.  She’d just come from a meeting with Chronicle’s design department,  and she wanted to share the short list of illustrators under consideration.  They are all amazing.  I spent half the night online, looking at websites and portfolios and requesting picture books from the library.  Obviously, it’s way too early in the process for me to share much.  But I can share this…

Wow.  Just wow.   It’s humbling to think that someone with such incredible talent will create art to tell a story with my words. 

I’d love to hear thoughts from those of you who have been through this process.  I can’t begin to imagine how exciting it will be to see the final illustrations.

I know there’s more work to do with this manuscript.  There’s editing.  I still have to fill out that long author questionnaire (I’m working on it, really…).  And I’m sure there will be bumps in the road before my picture book is a book.  But for now, what a gift  – to be able to look at the work of such amazing artists and imagine what each of them might bring to SNOW with their unique styles and moods. 

Tonight, I’ll be dreaming in pen and ink, watercolor, mixed media, and everything in between.

So long, salmon…

I said goodbye to some old friends on Friday.

It was time for these little guys — salmon that my students raised from fertilized eggs in their science classroom — to make their way out into the river.  Our 7th graders spent a gorgeous Friday on the river bank, releasing the fish, conducting a watershed survey, and relaxing in the sunshine to do some journaling and reading.

They loved the hip waders we used to collect temperature readings and macroinvertebrate specimens.

Here I am, releasing the stragglers after all the students let their own fish go from paper cups.

They seemed happy to be free, but I can’t help but worry.  It’s been three days, and I haven’t heard from any of them.  They don’t write… They don’t call…  I’m guessing some of you who have had kids go off to college can relate.

Of Macroinvertebrates and Multiple Choice

Guess what??  I’m going on a field trip tomorrow!  (I know that makes me sound like a third grader, but I love field trips just as much as a teacher as I did when I was a kid.) 

We’re taking our 7th graders to the river to release the baby salmon that they raised from fertilized eggs in their science classroom. 

Then we’re putting on hip waders and collecting macroinvertebrates for a watershed survey.
And then we’re having a picnic lunch and lounging on the grass and reading our novels until it’s time to go back to class.   Now that’s my kind of school day.

My students have also been working on another interdisciplinary English-Science activity called the River City Project.  We’re participating in a Harvard University School of  Education research project to determine how video game concepts can best be adapted to engage kids in academic settings.  In this game, kids travel back in time to a 19th century river town where residents are getting sick.  Students work online in collaborative teams, use their 21st century research skills to gather data, form hypotheses about the causes of the illnesses, and design experiments to test their hypotheses.  Afterwards, they write letters to the mayor of River City explaining their conclusions and making recommendations to improve the city’s health. You can read more about the River City Project here.

I thought this was all worth posting because there’s been an awful lot of talk online lately about No Child Left Behind and the damage that high stakes testing has done to many schools.  It’s a huge problem — one that’s chasing many great teachers out of the classroom. (Read Jordan Sonnenblick’s heartbreaking SLJ column.

But there are also lots of teachers like

, whose recent post on testing reminds me to keep fighting the fight for authentic learning. 

We don’t test our kids to death at my school.  We don’t have them fill out bubbles in workbooks for weeks on end.  We read and write and think and question and get outside and learn.  I have faith that these kids are going to be critical thinkers and real-life problem solvers when they leave us.  And you know what else?  When it comes time to fill in the bubbles on the test, they do just fine.

Thank you, Chamberlin School!

I spent a fabulous day with the 4th and 5th graders at Chamberlin School in South Burlington earlier this week.  Their amazing librarian, Cally Flickinger, even set up a special blog so we could chat a little online before my visit.  

I did a large group presentation for each grade level; both went long because the kids had so many fantastic questions. They had all read Spitfire and asked very detailed questions about specific scenes in the book – terrific fun for me as an author!

After the two presentations, I got to work with small groups for historical fiction writing workshops!  The kids who signed up for the workshops were just amazing.  We spent an hour doing different kinds of research — from deciphering 18th century journals to trying out some of the games, tools, and foods that would have been part of everyday life.

The kids went back and forth with their “experimental archaeology,” trying things out and then taking notes with loads of sensory details relating to each experience.

There was the ever-frustrating bilbo-catcher, a game that I managed to win once — the first time I tried it.  I haven’t been able to catch the ball on the post ever since.  Not surprisingly, some of the 4th and 5th graders were much, much better at it than I was.

The kids also tried their hands at tabletop ninepins…

…making sparks with flint and steel…

…and practicing penmanship on a slate.

They’re using their notes to write stories set in the 18th century, and they’ve already posted some terrific first drafts to the blog their librarian created. 

We talked a lot about revision during my visit.  I told them some of my revisions stories and pulled the messy, marked-up manuscript I’m working on now out of my tote bag to share.

They’re excited about revising, and I’m excited that I’ll get to play another part in their writing process.  After they’ve critiqued one another’s work and made revisions, they’ll post to the blog again, and I’ll be making comments to them online, offering “editor feedback” for one more round of revisions before they complete their final drafts. 

With their permission, I’ll post some excerpts from those final stories when they’re done.  I can already tell they’re going to be fantastic.   Chamberlin School has some seriously talented writers!

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Children’s Literature New England

My Mother’s Day weekend started off in a room full of readers and writers.  I got to say hello to LJ friends



, and I heard two amazing lectures at the Children’s Literature New England Colloquy. 

First came M.T. Anderson, discussing “Experimental” opening pages.  If you’ve never heard Tobin Anderson speak, you should do everything you possibly can to find an event where he’s featured. He’s simply brilliant and speaks so eloquently that I’d drive a couple hours just to hear him read the phone book, because he’d probably make such smart, funny comments about the names after he read them.  (I was too enthralled to take a picture on Friday, but here’s a photo my friend Stephanie took after we heard him speak at Vermont College’s Special Event Day last summer.)

And look what Candlewick handed out after Anderson’s presentation…

I’ve already started reading my ARC of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves and will be sure to post a review before the book comes out in October.

I had remembered my digital camera by the time Gregory McGuire (the one at the podium)  introduced the Friday afternoon speaker, Arthur Levine of Scholastic (the one smiling even though he has a broken hand). 

Arthur wouldn’t tell us how he broke his fingers (

, do you know?), but he did tell lots of fascinating, funny stories about his own “first pages” that led him to be the über-editor that he is today.

I was surprised — but thrilled — when I ran into Brian Selznick, who wasn’t speaking until later in the conference.  I couldn’t stay to hear his presentation, but I did get to chat with him about how The Invention of Hugo Cabret started out as a fairly traditional middle grade novel and evolved into the incredible book that won the Caldecott Medal. 

Brian signed this copy of Hugo as  a Mother’s Day gift for my mom who arrived at my house for the weekend with my sister right after I returned from the conference. 

Mom (

) loved the artwork in Hugo; she’s the artist who created the cover art for Spitfire.  The publisher of my regional historical novels, North Country Books, has also asked her to do the cover for Champlain & the Silent One, which comes out this fall.  It’s almost finished, but not quite.  I got to see the current version this weekend, and I’m so excited.   I’ll be sure to share the final painting when it’s done!

As for the rest of my weekend…the sun is shining, and the bike path is calling.  Have a terrific Mother’s Day!

Thankful Thursday

I’m thankful because I’m going to see M.T. Anderson and Arthur Levine speak  at Children’s Literature New England tomorrow.  Is anyone else going to be there? 

Also, two nights ago, I finished a new round of revisions on my MG novel MAPLE GIRL and clicked the send button.  My agent read it in 24 hours (I don’t think she sleeps) and says it’s ready to go.  Think good thoughts for my manuscript, okay?  It’s a big, bad world out there….

Oh – and one more thing… tomorrow’s the deadline to comment on this post and enter to win an ARC of KNOWING JOSEPH by Judith Mammay.