Happy New Year!

In a few days a new year will arrive. Time to look back over the old one. What kind of year has 2012 been? It’s hard to say. The pluses came with minuses and the minuses came with pluses.

A lot of fine things happened with my writing. The Golem’s Latkes won a National Jewish Book award. I’m very proud of the three books I published in 2012. Jack and the Giant Barbecue was loads of fun to write, especially at the end when illustrator John Manders and I collaborated on fine-tuning the text. John had so many good ideas. I crack up every time I read it. Moby Dick came out in the early fall. That book takes my breath away every time I open it. It began as a joke, but by the time we finished, illustrator Andrew Glass and I had given it every ounce of imagination and talent we had.

Then there was Hiss-s-s! That’s a product of my effort to break out of picture books and try some new genres. Hiss-s-s-s! is a middle-grade novel about a boy who wants a pet snake and the complications that arise when he gets one. I’m so happy with how it turned out. Sometimes, when I’m alone, I will open to my favorite parts and read them aloud to myself. It always makes me laugh, even though I know all the jokes. That’s good writing when you can say that!

I also finished Ghostboarders, my first effort at a YA. My agent Jennifer was extremely excited about it. It went out to editors in December. Jenn expects to start getting responses after the New Year. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. We shall see.

On the other hand, 2013 saw a further shrinking of the picture book market and the almost total extinction of folktale retelling. Is there anything in the pipeline? Not that I can see. I only have one book in the works right now. A lot is riding on Ghostboarders. My hope is that it will be a new direction for my writing. My fear is that it might be a dead end.

All in all, I’m a better writer than I’ve ever been. Yet I look out on a shrinking market where the kind of writing I love to do is becoming extinct. Reinventing yourself isn’t easy, especially when you like whom you are. What to do?

It’s the same with school visits. They are way, way down. All my writer/artist friends tell me the same. It isn’t surprising, given the effects of Race For The Top/No Child Left Behind and shrinking school budgets. What disturbs me most is that trained, certified librarians are becoming a rare species. The librarian is always the key person in arranging an author visit. The librarian knows the books and prepares the children. Teachers, parents, and principals—no matter how well-intentioned—can’t do it. They don’t know the books and they don’t have the time. It used to be that librarians knew the books they wanted. They had a list, even if they didn’t have the money to purchase them. Every time a few dollars came in, either as a grant, gift, or donation, the librarian would order off her list of books she wanted. Without the librarian, there isn’t even a list. That’s devastating for the whole children’s publishing industry.

On the other hand, the visits I have done this year were memorable. I loved the Dalton School on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I’ve visited public and parochial schools in and around Doylestown, Pennsylvania, in the spring and just before the holidays. What a good time I had! Each day was a joy. There’s a chance I may be back this coming spring. I hope it happens. I can’t wait.

The icing on the cake was my trip to Turkey. Doris and I had an astonishing time. I loved the country, the people, its rich culture and ancient history. We weren’t there long enough. I’d go back in a flash.

No international trips are scheduled for 2013. I am going to Arkansas in the spring. I am SO looking forward to it. I’ve never been in Arkansas. Now I’ll be able to say I’ve been in 49 of the 50 states. The only one left is Delaware.

My 50th high school reunion is coming up in June. I was part of the class of 1963. Back then, the question I was asking myself was, “What do you want to do with your life?”

Fifty years later, I’m still asking myself the same question.

Happy New Year!


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