Jason's recent piece for NPR, part of Weekend Edition's Next Chapter series, is a stunner. It is the type of thing I'd listen to on a loop, forcing my friends and family to listen, too. Hear how influential 80's and 90's rap has been is on his poetry and fiction.
So, listen here. Then listen again. Then share . . .
Spoiler alert: this is the last line of my newest picture book, SOME PETS.
Though, when I was a kid I don’t think I would have ever agreed with that statement, most likely because when I was a kid I had the worst pet in the world, Bootsie.
The only photo of Bootsie in existence. All cuddled up with my Gram shielding me from her claws and teeth.
I was 4-years old when my mom finally caved from months of relentless badgering for my dream pet—a kitty. A kitty I could sleep and snuggle with, dress up in adorable outfits and push around in a stroller…but what I got was something very different. Sure, Bootsie looked like a sweet and loveable calico cloud of grey, orange and white fluff on the outside, but beneath that furry exterior lurked a miniature rabid Siberian tiger. There was no way that cat was going to let me accomplish my 4 year-old dream of pushing a Holly Hobbie bonnet-wearing furbaby around in a lacy pram. Instead, my arms became Bootisie’s scratching posts, my ankles her chew toys and my Mom’s favorite shag carpeting, her litter box.
Despite these shortcomings, I still loved her. But, after several months of hissing, spitting, scratching and peeing, my mom had endured enough.
Looking back, I have vague memories of Bootsie’s departure. Mom said something about, “a farm where Bootsie can run and play all day, happy and free.”.
Fast forward 30-plus years: I was allergic to cats, (which is just as well as I think Bootsie showed me that I was not a “cat person”) and I was now a Mom who was relentlessly badgered by my 4-year old daughter, Sophia, for her dream pet—a puppy.
Sophia illustrates her bond and affection for her pup (and like many little girls she also wants a pony).
As a parent, I wondered if a 4 year-old was too young to care for a dog? Did I want to spend the hours potty-training and caring for a puppy and a preschooler? What if it turned out to be the dog counterpart to Bootsie? Would I have to resort to “the farm”? However, I recalled how, like Sophia, I was an only child who desperately wanted a fur-sibling. I finally caved and began combing through countless pet profiles listed on animal rescue websites, determined to avoid (what I now dubbed) “The Great Bootsie Fiasco of ‘77” and find our perfect pet. A dog we could give a fur-ever home to.
And, we did.
Our modern girl's version of a bonnet- matching superhero capes.
I have no idea what breed our dog is, but Sophia dubbed her Mimi The Wonder Dog, “because we always wonder what breed she is.” And we get asked that a lot because Mimi is such an adorable, sweet pup. Sure, she barks when the doorbell rings, steals shoes and pees when she gets excited, but luckily there is no shag rug.
Thanks to our friends at Thomas J O’Connor Adoption Center, Mimi became the newest member of our family and for that I am fur-ever grateful. Grateful for the love and affection she shares, the laughter and beauty she has brought to our lives (and for the ending she has given me to SOME PETS).
The other day Sophia told me that Mimi is her best friend. “What makes her your best friend?” I asked. “What makes your best friend your best friend? “ she countered. I thought carefully before I answered, “My best friend is always there for me. They make me feel better when I’m down. They listen to me when I need to talk. They make me laugh and they love me.” Sophia smiled and replied, “Yup. Just like Mimi.”
Soph and Mimi, her BFFF- best fur-friend forever.
SOME PETS, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel, the sequel to the “bright” and “breezy” (Booklist) SOME BUGS, will be released on August 23rd from Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster,
“The plot is a celebration of diversity, both human and animal,as everyone cavorts and cuddles.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Bouncy verse, playful illustrated details, and abundant affection between animals and humans add up to an exuberant reminder of the joy that having a pet can bring.” — Publisher’s Weekly
If you aren’t familiar with his work, first as a record album cover and jacket designer and then as a Caldecott-winning illustrator, visit the wonderful web site his family has created, where you can find out all about his career and hear his voice on a video as well: Pulcinella Press.
This July 12th marks the fifteenth anniversary of his death, and we miss him just as much each year. It was a terrible and dark day when we found out he had passed away after a three-year battle with colon cancer. We knew his death had been fast approaching, but we weren’t ready. Nobody could possibly be ready to say goodbye to this elegant artist and friend.
Here are some things that people said about him in a tribute.
During that last year of his life, Fred had finished the story, the sketches, and even painted some of the final art for Arrivederci, Crocodile, the sequel to his bestselling I, Crocodile, the first original book he had ever written and illustrated.
And now finally, with the help of the legendary editor Caitlyn Dlouhy at Atheneum Books, we have found a way to publish Arrivederci.
Watching my girls industrially roll bits of toilet paper between their fingers to make miniature popcorn or cut tinfoil mirrors for their dollhouse brought back a flood of memories of making doll houses from household objects. Bowls became bathtubs and swimming pools, cups were elevators, boxes with sponges and wash cloths were beds, the possibilities were endless.
Cardboard boxes have been the most useful and fun for me and my kids.
First, big refrigerator boxes were exciting houses and cars when the girls were smaller, then we started making doll houses from boxes. They love to make cardboard laptop computers, smart phones and cameras. And a silver jewelry box (with a hole cut out and pictures glued in) makes an excellent tv.
It’s funny, my daughters spend hours making their houses, designing and decorating them and making furniture and food for them but don’t spend as much time playing in those worlds, and I remember doing exactly the same thing. Maybe inventing and making your own world is more fun than pretending to live in it, that part can be boring. I love seeing my daughters’ elaborate set ups that combine everything; store bought toys mixed with things from our kitchen, toys from my and my parents’ childhood, pieces of fabric they have cut from my nice napkins, and wood and ceramic miniature stools my husband made for work.
This is My Dollhouse came from watching my daughters and my own memories of the endless entertainment of making miniature worlds with the ordinary objects from around the house. It is about how one girl’s handmade cardboard dollhouse is far more fun than her friend’s ready-made, store-bought one. How her mix matched family of toys has more personality and life than a perfectly matching plastic family. Mostly I hope “This Is My Dollhouse” inspires other people to make their own dollhouses, furniture, and toys if they haven’t already, and find the same joy in it that my family has had. There is a simple diagram of how to make your own cardboard dollhouse on the inside of the book cover and I made a little movie about that too. Here's the LINK. Enjoy.
Giselle Potter is the author of the recent picture book, This is My Dollhouse (Schwartz and Wade, 2016), and Amazon best book of the month for May.
On 5/17/16, Hello, My Name Is Octicorn will be published by HarperCollins imprint Balzer & Bray. This is a dream that goes many, many years back. But as my friend Dylan, an arborist here in Portland, Oregon, said, "Ideas are like seeds. They take awhile to grow into trees."
This book has taught me a lot about patience, about pursuing your dreams in a world that often tells you to play it safe and keep your head down, and it's helped me on my own journey of self-acceptance.
That this book means so much to others is the real reward.
When we self published this book a few years back, Kevin and I were humbled to see an outpouring of support for the character, book, and it's positive message, that it's OK to be different, in a society that's often subtly asking you to be like everybody else.
Reviews on Amazon poured in. And while it's never a good idea to read your own reviews, these ones touched our hearts.
"Love this! I bought it for myself, but will give it to my girls as a gift. Its a great story of a little guy who doesn't quite fit in, but realizes its okay to be different and not look or act the same as everyone else. Reminds me of my daughter on the autism spectrum (aspergers)." - review on Amazon
"I teach guidance/counseling lessons to kindergarten and 1st grade (among other things) and am going to use this book for a lesson...it's wonderful." - instagram comment
We even heard that this book, originally intended for children, was being used in an adult therapy sessions. Whoa!
Octicorn's first window was designed by Nena Rawdah of St. John's Booksellers.
With Octicorn stepping onto the national stage soon, it seemed appropriate to once again thank all the people who have helped make this happen. Dreams can come true with enough hard work, persistence, luck, serendipity (the list goes on). But you don't get there alone. And we've been blessed to have the support of our family, friends, and co-workers since the beginning. Back in 2013, 277+ kind folks with big hearts donated money on Kickstarter to help bring this project alive and that early support helped take Octicorn from a sticker once seen on the tip jar at the Portland, OR venue Doug Fir, to a book you could physically hold in your hands.
The book had many early champions, including designer Dani Guralnick who worked on it, Susan Sullivan - who kept me drawing, folks like Marni Beardsley, the Janet Champs, the Mary Zulegers, the Mike Folinos. The list goes on. Every project needs cheerleaders. The people who tell you to KEEP GOING! (And the more you listen to your own inner cheerleader instead of your inner critic, the more you will experience yourself moving forward instead of getting stuck.)
I must admit, when I started this LinkedIn post I didn't intend for it to sound like an Oscar acceptance speech, but have to admit, pretty sure the music is starting to play and I'm running a bit long.
THANK YOU: Elena Giovinazzo, Alessandra Balzer, Binny Talib, Dana, the folks at HarperCollins, Severin Villiger, Boys Fort, Powell's, Green Bean Bookstores, Moule, all our awesome Kickstarter backers...this dream is also happening because of YOU.
Music playing - they are walking me off the stage. This is awkward. This isn't even an award show.
I guess all I'm saying is: I'm excited. And grateful.
Hello, My Name Is Octicorn can be pre-ordered here.
For those in the Portland, OR area, a reading of the new book will take place at Powell's on Saturday, June 4th at 11am. A reading is also being planned that Sunday at Green Bean Books on NE Alberta St. Stay tuned for further details.
When we first read the query letter for the novel-in-verse that would become Somewhere Among, we were struck by the manuscript’s lyrical language and evocative feeling…and also with the author’s unique perspective. As a white American married to a Japanese man, raising their children in Tokyo, Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu drew heavily on her family’s own experiences to tell Ema’s story—being “in two worlds,” sharing a small space with generations of family, and a national tragedy that tied her even more closely to her adopted home.
I didn’t set out to write about 9/11.
At the time of the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, Japan’s 9/11, I was working on a middle grade prose novel set in Texas, my home state. The earth rocked our Tokyo house for months afterwards. The damaged nuclear plant threatened our air, food, and water.
Leaving Japan was not an option. We were living with in-laws, one child was in university, and the other was about to start Japanese high school. Who could leave and come back? Health issues, an aging mother-in-law, and pets made it impossible to go to the area to volunteer. I tried working on the Texas novel and sent out a lifeline by paying for a critique for it. Survival mode took its toll and I eventually had to put it aside.
I needed to ground myself in Japan.
I wasn’t able to write about the aftershocks, the fleeing foreign residents, and the radiation crisis of the nuclear plants. I couldn’t bear reading, hearing or seeing anything more about it. I had to disengage to lighten my heart.
In troubled times, we turn to family and relationships and, sometimes, to the past for comfort. I started writing tidbits, the observations and connections I had made over the years here, things that rooted me here, things about living here within a Japanese family for over twenty years:
the old wooden house Great-grandfather built after World War II that leaned in typhoons, jerked in earthquakes, but stood its ground;
the one-room lifestyle we had upstairs in the old house before we built a new house in its place;
the palm tree that soared above its rooftop but now watches over us from outside the dining room window;
the loving relationships my children had with all their family;
the experiences my children had in Japanese public school, and
the ease my children had in moving from one language and one culture to another (despite their limited English exposure.)
A dozen or more short pieces, poems and images quickly evolved into a fictional story from a child’s point of view. The first draft came fast, but I had to set it aside.
I was still dealing with the grief of the earthquake and tsunami. I kept thinking how glad I was that it hadn’t happened when our children were small. How were parents coping? Especially up north at the epicenter.
It was hard to trust the earth beneath our feet.
Hard to trust the roof over our heads.
Hard to trust the air we breathed.
The story did not turn out to be about any of that.
But it didn’t turn out light-hearted.
It had become Somewhere Among, a middle grade novel set in another difficult time, 2001. I shielded our children, then 9 and 5, from the TV coverage of the attacks, but the TV was always on downstairs at their grandparents. The nine-year-old actually created a tower made of yogurt bottles and bandages for the school’s November 2001 art exhibition.
Somewhere Among highlights the history, anniversaries, and tragedies my two families’ countries have shared before and during 2001. It is about reconciliation. About going on. About finding peace within.
It is built from research of events, weather, and NASA.
But we do appreciate sky watching. We’ve met more friends than bullies, and once, while exiting a train, a woman, seeing I was having a bad day, placed a peace doll in my hand.
It still brightens our hearts.
Annie’s debut novel Somewhere Among comes out on April 26, 2016. Find research for the book at anniedonwerth-chikamatsu.com, and read more about her life in Japan at Here and There Japan.
The collaboration that would become Maybe a Fox began many years ago in a freezing and dingy dorm at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where we were new both to the faculty and to each other. Alison’s roller bag had gone missing at the airport, and she remembers Kathi tilting her head in sympathy and offering, in that beautiful Texas accent of hers, to lend her a pair of pajamas. Kathi doesn’t remember that, but she does remember breakfast the next day, when the two of us loaded up our trays and scuttled to sit together at a small table between two huge pillars in the drafty dining hall, a table we sat at every day, three times a day, for each of the residencies we shared.
It was friend-love at first sight, and it was that very first week, when we were eating one of the many meals we ate together Between the Pillars, that Kathi suggested we write a book together.
“What kind of book?” Alison said.
“A book about two sisters,” Kathi answered.
Both of us had many other projects that occupied us, and the idea was tabled, although one of us would occasionally bring it up over the years. Then, about five years ago, Alison sent out a poem about a small red fox in snow as her Poem of the Week. Something about that little fox ignited both of us, and we decided to take the plunge and begin our book.
The ground rules:
- The book would be about two sisters who were somehow separated, and it would also contain a small red fox.
- Each of us would take on a new challenge in the writing, something she’d never done before as a writer.
- We would each write in a separate viewpoint, with chapters alternating between those viewpoints.
After considering the sister possibilities –twins separated at birth? Sisters each living with one parent? One sister in prison and the other not? One sister alive and the other not?—we left it vague. Sisters, separated somehow. We figured the fox would appear on its own terms, when the time was right, so we didn’t worry about that. As for the personal writing challenge, Kathi decided to write in first person, since she hadn’t before, and Alison decided to write in the voice of the fox, since up until then she’d stayed strictly with humans.
We began the book by trading chapters weekly, sometimes more often if the muse struck. We worked wildly fast, most of the time, and the story gathered ground and impetus week by week. Kathi was fascinated by the fact that some rare rivers disappear underground. Alison was fascinated by the idea of an animal that could sense things from a world beyond this one. We tossed ideas back and forth, tried them out week by week, abandoned them if they were dead ends, followed them as far as we could if they felt powerful.
Eventually we realized that we were writing a book about maybes, about the way we as human beings try to answer unanswerable questions –what happens when we die? What happens with grief too big to stand? What happens when you can’t find the answers to what you most need to know?—and that sense, of both possibility and heartbroken wonder, became the core of the novel.
We wrote an entire, unwieldy mess of a draft in half a year. With the ongoing help of our wonderful agent and the massive efforts of our beloved editor Caitlyn Dlouhy, we rewrote that mess of a draft countless (literally, we have no idea at this point how many times we rewrote that book) times over the next four years. What began as an alternating-chapter, alternating-point of view method turned into a we’ll-work-on-the-whole-thing-together method. Where Alison once was the sole writer of the fox chapters, and Kathi the sole writer of the Jules chapters, we can no longer point to any voice or passage or chapter as belonging to either of us. We moved from emailed chapters to simultaneous Google doc revisions to taking turns separately revising the entire book (over and over).
At one point early on, Kathi flew up from Texas and we sat on Alison’s porch in Minneapolis and took turns reading chapters out loud to each other, pencils in hands, marking up places to revise. We laughed. We cried. We talked through every aspect of plot and character. We never once, strangely enough, argued. Kathi flew back to Texas and the rewrites continued for another three years. At some point along the way we began sending each other fox totems: a fox necklace, a framed fox photograph, a felt basket with a fox on it, fox notecards. Alison now sees foxes wherever she goes; like the characters in Maybe a Fox, she considers them good luck.
Maybe a Fox is so much a part of our hearts and souls at this point that we privately admit to each other we have no idea if it’s any good or not; it just is. We do know that we still, each of us, cry when we read the ending. Just like Jules and Sylvie in Maybe a Fox, we consider ourselves sisters. Sister Kathi, Sister Alison. Our book is made out of wonder and longing and struggle and love. We hope it finds a good place in the world.