GIANNA Z. Launch Chapter 2: The Koffee Kat Book Bash

After teaching all day, then heading straight to my favorite coffee shop for this afternoon’s GIANNA Z. launch party, and signing books for two hours straight…I am pretty much out of words tonight.  Pictures will probably do a better job anyway, of capturing the brilliant fun and sheer joy of sharing this book launch with such amazing friends, colleagues, and students. 

Thanks so, so much to everyone who stopped by today – it was an afternoon I’ll never forget.

When You Reach Me, A Tale of Two Cities, and Mr. Caisse

Today in my 7th grade classroom, we started our first read-aloud of the school year, Rebecca Stead‘s amazing WHEN YOU REACH ME.   If you read my review, you know how much I love this book.  I’ve already read it aloud to my eight-year-old daughter, who swooned over it just as much as I did and cannot wait to see Rebecca at the Rochester Children’s Book Festival in November to ask her how she made everything fit together so perfectly.

When I finished reading the first two chapters to my classes and closed the book today, I got thinking…   If this book had come out when I first started teaching, I might not have chosen to share it with my students.  Why?  Because there is absolutely no chance I will be able to finish it without crying.

I actually remember setting aside a couple stories in my first year of teaching because I almost loved them too much…because I knew I couldn’t read them without getting all emotional, and that worried me. What would the kids think?  

But after spending thirteen years with seventh graders, I don’t worry about that any more. I know what they’ll think.  "Wow. Stories are powerful."  And they’ll be right.

I remember two things about my own eighth grade English class.  One was dressing up in an enormously fluffy rabbit costume to give a speech.  (I cannot remember what the speech was about or why it seemed like a good idea to deliver it dressed as a rabbit, but I remember being hot in there.) 

And I remember Mr. Caisse reading the very end of A TALE OF TWO CITIES aloud to us.  I can still hear his voice breaking on the words…

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.

And I still remember the impression it had on me. That a book could move someone who had clearly read it about a hundred times to the point where he would tear up in front of a room full of 8th graders.  That a man could love a story, a particular line from that story, so much, that he seemed to forget we were even there.

Not a bad lesson at all.

First Day of School

The kids came back today!  We had teacher meetings yesterday, but the first day isn’t really the first day until the seats in my classroom are full of 7th graders.  I’m always excited for the start of a new school year, but this year brings some extra joys.

  • One of my former students is all grown up and working as a teaching assistant in our school.  She’s helping out students in my classroom one period a day, and she is every bit as smart and kind now as she was when she was twelve.  I’m so excited to have her in our classroom this year!
  • Another one of my former students is teaching third grade in our district, and my daughter is in her class. I remember thinking when this young woman was in seventh grade what an amazing teacher she’d be if she chose that path, and I’m thrilled that she did.  It makes me feel so proud of her.  (Also kind of old…but mostly proud.)
  • Tomorrow, we’ll start our first whole-class novel of the year, Rebecca Stead’s WHEN YOU REACH ME.  I gush about this book at every opportunity, and I’m so excited to share it with my kids that I kept bouncing today while I was telling them about it. It feels like I have a huge surprise present for them – I just know they’re going to love it as much as I do.
  • Our students will have the opportunity to see President Obama’s back-to-school speech this week.  They weren’t back to school when he delivered the speech yesterday, but they’ll meet by grade levels in the auditorium to see the recorded speech on Friday.
  • Our district is taking real steps to embrace Web 2.0 opportunities for teaching & learning.  This year, I’ll be teaching a mini-unit  on social networking and talking with kids about Facebook, MySpace, & Twitter – and how those who choose to use these sites can do so effectively, responsibly, and safely.
  • Along those same lines, we’re having a class Twitter feed! We’ll be tweeting reflections on our learning, book reviews, and all sorts of things, and we’re inviting parents, other teachers and librarians, and kids’ authors to follow us and maybe join in some of our conversations.  Here’s our Twitter profile – if you’d like to follow us, just send a request. (The feed is locked so that I can filter out inappropriate followers,  but we’re happy to talk with anyone interested in reading, writing, and learning.)
  • I’m teaching an advanced creative writing class again, this year in a team teaching situation with , who is both a great teacher and a gifted writer. She’s also my friend and funnier than most comedians I’ve seen, so I expect this class to be a lively one!

I hope your September shines and smells like new pencils, too.

A bit of advice for new authors

Helpful tip #1:

It’s probably not a good idea to try out trail running for the first time, on unfamiliar trails, an hour and a half before you need to leave for a book signing.

Even if your son, who just started running cross country and claims to know the trails, really wants you to go with him.

Because if you have fall allergies, there will inevitably be lots of ragweed.  And your asthma will kick in and you will be the wheeziest runner the trails have ever seen.

And then you will probably trip on an invisible root and go flying through the air and land on your stomach with the kind of loud, guttural "Ooomph!" sound that is usually reserved for people falling in cartoons.  And then your legs will look like someone attacked you with sandpaper and you will have to wear the longer skirt to the book signing.

If you ever get there, that is. 

Because when you turn around to run home, you will take the wrong trail, not once, but three times, before you find the right one. You won’t have time to eat lunch, and you will just barely have time to shower really, really fast before you put on the skirt that covers your scraped up legs and get to Lake Placid.  (The good news is that you will be just a minute or two late, but the people at the Bookstore Plus are so, so nice that they will have your table all ready and offer you cold drinks and cookies anyway.)

Helpful tip #2:

If you are ever invited to sign at Bookstore Plus on a glorious Labor Day Weekend, you’ll want to say yes.

I had the best time at this afternoon’s event, despite my burning knees.  Lake Placid was bubbling over with visitors, and they set up a lovely little table outside under the awning for me, right on Main Street.  I spent the afternoon handing out bookmarks, visiting with readers, and signing lots of books, including one for Arabella…

She’s 15 months old, and her mom let me take her photo since she’s officially the youngest person I know of who owns a signed copy of GIANNA Z.  Her grandmother bought it to save for when Arabella is older, a tradition that I absolutely love.

Helpful tip #3:

If you are in Lake Placid signing books or doing anything, really, you should probably have dinner here afterwards.

Tail O’ The Pup BBQ is sort of a legend in the Adirondacks, thanks to their picnic tables, live bands, and killer chicken and ribs.  (Which you will appreciate more than ever…because you didn’t have lunch on account of that trail run, remember?)

Anyway…thanks to the great, great, book-loving people at Bookstore Plus for a fantastic afternoon – and to everyone who dropped by to say hello!

GIANNA Z. Launch Chapter 1: In which I hug friends, sign books, and eat too much candy corn

Yesterday’s launch party for THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. at Flying Pig Books was…well…it was the stuff launch party dreams are made of.  So many kids, teachers, readers, and friends, along with a great place for a party — the beautiful, light-filled Flying Pig Loft.  We got there early to set up…

We had a drawing for a free school/library presentation.  (Mrs. Althoff, congratulations!  My son drew your name out of the bag.  I’ll email you today so we can start figuring out the details!)

I was excited that the silicone bracelets I ordered – red and gold swirled with the book title embossed – arrived on time!  And those are Nonna’s famous funeral cookies from the book on the plate with the candy corn.  (If you weren’t there to eat some, you can download the recipe from my books page!)

My daughter helped me set up by placing a sugar maple leaf on each chair before the guests arrived.  That’s the tree Gianna and Zig are trying to identify in the book in the excerpt I chose to read, so I thought it would be fun for kids to follow along with a leaf as they tried to figure out whether it had teeth or lobes, a downy underside or not, milky sap…all those tree identifying things.

After the reading, kids had a chance to try their own hands at identifying leaves.  I set up a tree identification challenge – with photographs of three different trees and branches from each one.  Kids used the Watts Tree Finder guide – the same book Gianna and Zig use in the novel – to identify trees and win prizes.

And then it was party time!

Here I am with Flying Pig co-owner and picture book author Elizabeth Bluemle. Note her stylish accessories.

From left to right: Jo Knowles ( ) me, Cindy Faughnan ( )

Jo and Cindy and some other friends made long morning drives to be here, and it just about made me cry every time one of them walked through the door. My friend came over on the ferry from NY and brought her daughter Stephanie, who drove up from Albany for the weekend.  Stephanie is in graduate school to become a children’s librarian right now, and she’s one of my former students (also a survivor of the original monster leaf collection project that inspired my book!)

Me, Marjorie, & Stephanie

At the end of my reading, I took a minute to introduce the other authors & illustrators who were there.  In addition to Jo and Elizabeth, there were Sarah Dillard, Amy Huntington, Liza Woodruff, and Tanya  Lee Stone.  "Wow," my husband said when we were packing up the car. "You children’s book people really support one another, don’t you?"  We’ve talked about that before…how the people who work in this field are some of the nicest people around.  It’s one of so many things I love about writing for kids.

The morning flew by like leaves in a gust of autumn wind… I hugged lots of friends, read from my novel, ate entirely too much candy corn, signed lots of books (including a bunch for far-away friends!  When I came down to the store after the party, Josie presented me with a stack of "virtual book signing" copies. If you ordered one, it’s all signed and will be in the mail next week!) I’m so, so thankful to everyone who came out on the last weekend of summer and to the folks at Flying Pig, who always make an author feel so special. 

When the last book was signed, we headed to the nearby Shelburne Museum for a picnic with Jo Knowles and her family.  My daughter and Jo’s son got to be pals at her launch party for JUMPING OFF SWINGS a few weeks ago, so it was great to spend the afternoon together. Sitting on the grass, exploring the steamboat Ticonderoga, and riding the antique carousel seemed like just the right way to end the day.

Morning Radio Interviews for THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z.

I left the house before the sun came up this morning…

…saw it peeking over the horizon halfway through my ferry ride…

…and then arrived here for a series of morning radio interviews on my new middle grade novel, THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z.  

WOKO-FM is the number one radio station in the Burlington market, but more than that,  WOKO and sister stations KOOL-105 and WJOY are  made up of a bunch of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.  These stations do so much for our Champlain Valley community, so I was honored to be their guest in the studios today, talking about my new book and my GIANNA Z. events coming up this weekend. 

I took my trusty FlipVideo camera along with me and recorded two of the interviews, so you can check out this ten-minute video if you’d like to hear and see how they went!

best tracker

So what did you do on your book’s release day?

First things first this morning…and that’s a HUGE thank you for all the good wishes on THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z.’s official launch yesterday.  I am so, so grateful for my family and friends, including this amazing community of writers I know mostly online.

Next, a few updates and bits of news on GIANNA Z.

  • For Boston-area folks, I’ll be at Newtonville Books at 2pm on Saturday, September 19th for a reading, Q and A, tree identification activities for kids, and book signing. I’ve heard AMAZING things about Newtonville Books and am so excited about this one.
  • Also…I’ll be doing a joint event with the inimitable Eric Luper ( ) at Dog Ate My Homework Bookstore in Glens Falls, NY on Saturday, October 3rd from 4-6pm.  I’ll be signing THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. and Eric will be signing his historical YA novel BUG BOY.  Or if you’d like, I’ll sign BUG BOY and he can sign GIANNA Z.  (We are easy-going that way…)
  • This weekend, I’m at Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, VT at 11am Saturday and at The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid, NY at 2pm Sunday. I’d love it if you’d stop by and say hi if you’re nearby.
  • My virtual book signing is this weekend, too!  If you don’t live close enough to attend an event but would like to order a personalized, signed copy of GIANNA Z. just call Flying Pig Bookstore at 802-985-3999 and they’ll take your information so I can sign a book for you this weekend and get it mailed out.
  • GIANNA Z. is featured on the Shrinking Violet Promotions blog this week, and you can enter to win a signed copy for your favorite library, just by leaving a comment on the entry. 

And now the "what-did-you-do-on-your-release-day" story.  As my fellow writers will tell you, sending a book off into the world involves a whole lot of planning and email-writing and flyer-making and things like that in the days that lead up to the launch, so a break from all that seemed like a lovely way to celebrate GIANNA Z’s birthday.  My daughter and I decided to hike Owl’s Head, one of those smaller Adirondack peaks that still has a great view from the top.  It was…perfect.  And as usual, E knew just what her mom needed.

"Mom, stand still for a minute and just listen. There are so many sounds here." 

And there were. Chirping crickets and whispering leaves and grasshoppers that made loud clicks when they jumped.  Buzzing cicadas and scolding red squirrels and the rustle of a hurrying something just off the trail.  And when we slowed down to listen, we saw things we hadn’t seen before, too.  A soaring hawk way down in the trees.  A spider web built around a hole in a hollow tree.

It felt like just the right way to celebrate a book about leaves and changes and the healing power of nature. I know the pictures won’t do it justice, but here they are anyway.  Listen, and maybe you’ll hear the cicadas, too.

When we got home, there was a big box in the front hallway, with this inside…

My author copies!  (A whole lot of GIANNA Zzzzzzzs!!!)

The rest of the day was a blur of phone calls and email wishes that made me smile, and an evening with writer friends who surprised me with cupcakes that we enjoyed on the porch. Not a bad way to bring a book into the world at all.