The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

Hiding under the bed

When Jon Klassen gave his Caldecott speech at ALA this summer, he talked about the astonishment and, oh, maybe even terror he feels when he sees his books in a bookstore or anywhere else out in the world.  Wait!  How did that escape from my house?  How, um, EXPOSING is that?

I gave two VCFA lectures on lizard brain.Atlanta 012As scientists and therapists know, the lizard is not to be reasoned with.  It can be patted upon.  You can sit beside it and try to not forget to breeeaaathe.  You can down dog and up dog on the mat with it.  You can say, as my writer friends and I do, “Back, back Fearnando!” and pretend to be dancing it back with an invisible sword.

DSC01683And that is what it felt like to have my new middle grade novel arrive in the world this week.  Exciting yes.  Exhilarating.  But also vulnerable and scary and haaaard.

Why should that be?

Sometimes for art, we have to reach deep, deep.  As someone said, open a vein.  Is that it?

Ironically, this is a book about fear.  About a Safety Club.  Welcome to the world of 9-year-old Anna, a girl with utter confidence in her ability to prepare for utterly everything.

And if there’s anything she can’t?

That’s what prayer and angels are for.


Rich elephantDakar, my protagonist in JAKARTA MISSING, has a recurring memory of being charged by an elephant in Kenya.  Anna has memories of the fires that charged through her Colorado city.  These characters of mine are clearly rooted in my own lizardly feelings of what it was like to be a kid traveling the wide savanna, climbing Maji mountain in a Jeep, watching life lived without much of a safety net.

Rich skyDad would laugh uproariously as he told about swimming at German Wuha and coming around a bend and ending up face-to-face with a water buffalo.

crocodile 3Hippos kill more humans in Africa than crocodiles do…and I saw plenty of both.  I loved growing up in Ethiopia, but it’s a good place to remind everyone of how small and fragile human beings are.

Why do bad things happen to good kids?  Where have all the angels gone?  Anna’s questions are rooted deeply in mine.

Life’s big questions.  A few puny answers.

Anna+was+HereWelcome to the world, Anna.


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