The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books
author • speaker • teacher • volunteer

A Woman Walked Into a Picture Book…

After decades of publishing books that have sometimes been called lyrical and important and poetic, I’m about to publish a picture book that my friend Carmen Bernier Grand calls hilarious. Thanks, Carmen. Ironically, this book was born in a brainstorming session where my writer retreat friends and I were making each other laugh—and the idea

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Ready Set Illustrate

When I fell in love with the dream of an artistic life in children’s books it was through writing picture books. I used to love to draw when I was a kid. I didn’t pursue visual art with the same kind of single-minded determination I applied to the craft of writing fiction and creative nonfiction,

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2018 dawns full of emotion and the messy glory of life

Mid-January, I was battling both rain and snow (which of course = ice) at Vermont College of Fine Arts and loving doing the picture book workshop at residency with ten students eager to learn about this quirky genre + Liz Garton Scanlon + Ashley Wolff showing us how life looks from the illustrator’s point of

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A time to write and a time to figure out next steps

After all the fun of creating Ready Set Go Books for Ethiopia in 2017, I reluctantly admit it’s time to think about next steps. In 2016, Stephanie and Troy and Nahosenay and Yacob met with those young illustrators in Ethiopia and read them a few of the simple stories I had written. I was charmed–and

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It’s fall and that means time to write!

It’s fall! Most of my apples have brown fuzzy centers (since I don’t use any pesticides in my yard) and then every once in a while I cut open one that is beautiful.  Yesterday, traveling birds also stopped by the yard to feast on elderberries. The world is bursting with good things. And then there

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Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Ah. Every author’s dream question! I recently was asked it about my new middle grade novel, Planet Jupiter. Some authors have flippant answers…from the idea fairy. I capture them tumbling under my bed with the dust bunnies. I sometimes point out that a novel has to have interesting and unusual ideas for every scene–and that maybe

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On Being Grateful to readers

I was thanking my artistic friend Stephanie Schlatter today on the phone for her support of the new Ready Set Go books, and she said something I’ve heard from other people I’ve thanked in the past few weeks–I didn’t do much it was your determination blah blah blah. But here’s the thing… If Stephanie hadn’t

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Creating books

I’ve published an interesting bunch of 30+ books–fiction, nonfiction, picture books, easy readers, middle grade and young YA novels. I’ve written articles and short stories and magazine pieces and grant proposals and memos. (When I taught Business and Technical Writing at the University of North Dakota, one of my favorite assignments was a memo announcing

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Travels and the writing life

When I talk to young writers and when I have conversations with MFA students in the Vermont College of Fine Arts program, I like to imagine I can take a bit of the mystery out of words like “inspiration” and “imagination” by pointing to ways that details and scenes in my books have grown out

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Travels and the writing life

When I talk to young writers and when I have conversations with MFA students in the Vermont College of Fine Arts program, I like to imagine I can take a bit of the mystery out of words like “inspiration” and

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The joys and agonies of bookmaking

Early in 2016, my sister Caroline Kurtz and I took a group of artists to Maji, Ethiopia, the place where she and I spent long, magical days making up and acting out stories–and where I learned to read. When we

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Life imitates art imitates life

When I started writing about Lanie’s garden, I admit that I was mostly working from memory–drawing on the details of my Dad’s garden in Ethiopia when I was a kid but even more from my various vegetable gardens that I

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Higgeldy-piggeldy wanderings through spring

In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Barbara Kingsolver writes that on Mother’s Day, in keeping with local tradition, they took a tomato plant to a neighbor. “Carrying the leggy, green-smelling plant, our family walked down the gravel driveway to her house at the

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Happy Earth Day

Earth Day seems like a good time to start my new blog thread…going from being a somewhat restless traveler to putting down roots. Literally. It all goes back to Maji, Ethiopia.Since there was no winter in Maji, my sisters and

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Anna Was Here by Jane Kurtz

Daring Greatly at least every once in a while

Like at least half of everybody I know, I’e been reading Daring Greatly and liking Brene Brown’s disarming way of admitting that she might have studied shame and vulnerability for years, but that didn’t mean she wanted to BE vulnerable.  “I did

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Teacher strikes

Emotions are sizzling in Portland as the public school teachers–including my brother and sister-in-law–go on strike next week. Eeek. Overpaid whiners? People actually write that? In public? These days? Eeeek. I’ve worked with so many amazing educators–classroom teachers and librarians–in

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Gratitude Attitude

The ancient Egyptians believed in the magic of the written word–so a cartouche (that rope symbol) around the the hieroglyphs that spell out the name of a king or queen is there as protection from evil-doers who might mess with that name

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Following the Big Duck

My dad did not love school. He did not love reading (or at least not until my mom had hold of him for many years :>)  He had a curious mind, though, and a way of grabbing hold of baffling ideas

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