Thursday, January 31, 2008


I've had an idea for a while now: to make a plush version of one of my aliens and then make a pattern that can be downloaded off my site. Of course, the problem is I'm bad at sewing. I still want to make one as soon as I get a bit of time and can drag myself to the fabric store... wherever that is.

In the meantime, I have a proposal. If someone out there... anyone... has a bit of time and likes to sew... could sew me an alien... then I will PUT YOU INTO MY NEWEST BOOK - SEABISCUIT! I promise. All you have to do is make a nice little felty plush alien... or any character from one of my books and send me the photo... one I can treasure for ever... then I'll put you into my book.

Here are some ideas:

Seabiscuit is due VERY soon so you must hurry!!!

hugs and kisses,

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Year of the Rat

Chinese New Year is a-coming, February 7th to be exact, and the clever marketing people at my publishers have timed my new books to coincide. There's that picture book Bringing in the New Year, and, of course, my dear-to-my-heart new novel The Year of the Rat.

And The Year of the Rat has strangely taken on more meaning to me than just a story I wrote. In Chinese culture there is a 12 year cycle of totem animal years, with the rat being the first. So when it is the Year of the Rat, a new 12 year cycle begins--so it is a year of change and a new starts. The book is based on my own experiences during my first year of the rat; all the changes that I had go through then, and how I found I could survive and be stronger and happier.

So the themes of the book and the Chinese superstitions are so eerily appropriate for me during this Year of the Rat that I almost feel as if it were some divine fate guiding me. It is an odd mirroring of life and art, where the trace echos seem to call me. Leaving my identity of a cancer wife behind has been an adjustment; and I can feel myself on the cusp of a new, exciting and unexpected future. So for me, it is truly the Year of the Rat, a time of change and beginnings.

Here's hoping that the year is a lucky one for all of us!

Chihuahuas everywhere love Priscilla

Okay so its a slow day in my studio and I am procrastinating by taking pictures of my friend's dog. Thats Dingo. He likes to read. Mainly middle grade fantasy, but today he agreed to check out my new book. Thanks Dingo!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Highlights of the China trip

I've missed a few weeks of my day to post, so I thought I'd share this animoto video with highlights of our China trip. The pics aren't in order, but I think they give a good taste of what our trip was like! One note I should make--neither my friend Eveline nor I actually ate the big worm we're holding in the picture--Ki-Ki was the only one brave enough. But all of us tried the little worms (except Grace, who is NOT a sheep), and I even tried eating one of the bees. Overall, I had a fantastic time, and am still riding on my vacation high.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Priscilla at 7 Impossible Things

Just a heads up that the very kind ladies over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast did a lovely write-up about the illustrations for my new book Priscilla and the Hollyhocks. Click here to read.

The book is officially out on Friday! If you are in the Boston area, the author and I are throwing two launch parties to celebrate- come join us for some Boston book fun. Details here.

Friday, January 25, 2008


Wislawa Szymborska is one of my favorite poets. In the following poem, Tortures, she begins every stanza with the same sentence. She employs repetition to help make her point. Szymborska often uses simple language to make searing commentaries about the world, war, and life.

by Wislawa Symborska

Nothing has changed.
The body is susceptible to pain,
it must eat and breathe air and sleep,
it has thin skin and blood right underneath,
an adequate stock of teeth and nails,
its bones are breakable, its joints are stretchable.
In tortures all this is taken into account.

Nothing has changed.
The body shudders as it shuddered
before the founding of Rome and after,
in the twentieth century before and after Christ.
Tortures are as they were, it's just the earth that's grown smaller,
and whatever happens seems right on the other side of the wall.

Nothing has changed. It's just that there are more people,
besides the old offenses new ones have appeared,
real, imaginary, temporary, and none,
but the howl with which the body responds to them,
was, is and ever will be a howl of innocence
according to the time-honored scale and tonality.

Click here to read the rest of the poem.

I have an original poem about sledding in winter at Wild Rose Reader today.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Mentor Texts, Read Alouds & More.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

some finishes for Seabiscuit

I've been hard at work trying to get my Seabiscuit book done. Things are going slowly but that's because I want to get it right! Below are a few finishes.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Jacket sketch for Old Red Shoe

As I blogged about here, recently I finished the illustrations for my book What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe?... the next step after the interior illustrations are painted is to make a jacket sketch. Some people do this earlier on I think, but I tend to always do it last, after the characters have been worked out and I know what the inside of the book is going to look like.

For this book, I thought the jacket sketch should reflect the fact that most of the interior illustrations are spots, so I started by sketching some spots of the characters here:

The interior layout also has a lot of borders that tie each spread together. Again I thought the jacket should refelct the interior design by having a border too, so I loosely sketched these outlines around the spots I'd drawn (on a seperate piece of tracing paper):

Once I scanned the sketch and opened it in Photoshop, I added some tones to the background border:

Combining all elements, I came up with a few different variations for the jacket:

Here I reduced the amount of characters on the layout, and blew them up a bit:

Here I did an additional border, to see what that would look like:

Now I wait to see what my editor says! Which one do you like best?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Pictures & text: proportions, importance

When I gave my niece a copy of Ballet Shoes for her birthday, I didn't even notice that my friend Alissa (author illustrator of Neil’s Castle) had done the cover! It was a really good cover, too – but I didn’t think to look at the illustrator’s name.
llustrators often get overlooked in this way – and to do my bit to make up for that: The Moonbeam Awards (who knew there were so many small, independent publishers?) were given out for the first time this year – and Alissa -- or rather, a book she illustrated -- won a gold. The book is Our Friendship Rules, by Peggy Moss and Dee Dee Tardif.

I wish middle grade novels had illustrations – not just when the author can also paint and draw like Grace, but when the author can’t do either. Just to give one example, The Bridge to Terabithia, good as it is, owes some of its appeal to Donna Diamond’s charming drawings. They bring Jess to life right away – at least, for me they did.

It’s paradoxical: in picture books, the proportion of pictures to text has really increased in the last 25 years (FAR less text). Storybooks have almost disappeared. And far fewer novels have pictures at all! I can see why picture books have less text (declinging reading levels and all that), but why do novels have fewer pictures? And is it true (I think I heard or read this somewhere) that they may start having more?

Friday, January 18, 2008

One ms., two letters from editors

We’ve talked on this blog some about what to say in a rejection letter, and these 2 (in my opinion, anyway) got it just right. They’re both about the same ms.

One of these letters was from a trade book editor, the other from a text book editor. The two together convinced me that this ms. was not publishable, period – and anyone who knew the industry could have told me that before I wrote it. (Alvina writes great editorial letters, too, but she didn’t write one about this ms.)

This all happened in the bad old days before the BRGs. When I wrote my next non-fiction book, I described ideas to one of them first (VERY helpful, but that is another topic)….and I’m not sure I would have done that had it not been for these two honest, helpful letters.

POETRY FRIDAY: How to Change a Frog into a Prince

I enjoy reading poems that make reference to fairy tales. Here’s a poem with directions for all you princesses and queens who have hopes of transforming an awkward amphibian into royalty.

How to Change a Frog Into a Prince
by Anna Denise

Start with the underwear. Sit him down.
Hopping on one leg may stir unpleasant memories.
If he gets his tights on, even backwards, praise him.
Fingers, formerly webbed, struggle over buttons.
Arms and legs, lengthened out of proportion, wait,
as you do, for the rest of him to catch up.
This body, so recently reformed, reclaimed,
still carries the marks of its time as a frog. Be gentle.

Click here to read the rest of the poem.

I have two modified centos created from the titles of children's poetry books at Wild Rose Reader today.

Becky has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Farm School this week.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

why I didn't write about the nest removal

As I hope you all know, I did a book on Pale Male called City Hawk. I’ve noticed that it gets compared with the other two picture books on the same subject often. What puzzles me is that it gets compared at all. My book is NOT about the nest removal and the other two are. My book is about outsiders—the hawks—surviving in a manmade environment. It’s not about humans and animals fighting for the same space. It’s about harmony--the BEFORE and AFTER the nest removal. Not during.

I wrote City Hawk—then called The Story of Pale Male-- far before the removal happened. There were a few roadblocks along the way that delayed my book’s publication and that is why it came out when the others did.

I did talk about the nest removal in the back but chose not to mention it in the body of the book or to make that event the focus of my story. Why? Because the nest removal wasn’t a happy event. I read one comment somewhere that said that the newest book on the nest removal is more accurate than the other two—mine being one of them. If anyone bothered to do the amount of research necessary to have a good knowledge of the event then they would know that my author’s note on the removal is VERY accurate.

I noticed that most authors seem to side with the birdwatchers… thinking -- how dare those building owners remove that nest! The truth is that things got ugly and the story is not as B&W as people may think. How would you like to live in an apartment where it is being watched night and day by people using giant telescopes made for NASA? How would you like close-ups of yourself (people such as Woody Allen)--being sold in the park as souvenirs? Would you like to have your apartment building assaulted by pigeons because a birdwatcher dumped enormous amounts of birdseed on the entrance, on purpose, to cause an upsetting event? One of the bird watchers even got arrested! I don't see that mentioned in any of the nest removal books. Hmm. Wonder why?

After reading tons of articles on the subject, I can see good arguments for both sides. Of course I side with Pale Male and his family (that's why I wrote the book!) but I don’t think the building owner or the apartment dwellers were evil at all and I don’t think any book should display them as such. That isn’t right. Apartment dwellers were harassed during the event—there was a lot of shouting and other protests. Honestly, that isn’t good subject matter for a kids’ book! So that’s why my book isn’t about the removal. I wish people would read more about it before concluding that my book should have included that part of the story. I like to be accurate. An accurate account of that event for kids would be an awful one. There are two sides to every story. We shouldn't forget that.

In the end, Pale Male and his family stayed. There was a happy ending. That’s what my book is about. The happy part.

I'm glad to get this off my chest!


p.s - This is NOT meant to criticize the other Pale Male books. I think they're both very good, fun books and I own them both! I would like each book to be looked at individually... not collectively. I also want to explain to the critics why I didn't write about the nest removal. I hope now people understand why.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What awards just happened?

This is the first year that I had NO idea that ALA was happening. Here are a few morsels of honesty.

1) I haven’t looked at a kids’ book all year
2) I haven’t thought about reading a kids’ book all year
3) I don’t miss kids’ books

I know, it’s a terrible thing to say. In past years I was aware of every book that won an award. I’d get all worked up about the choices, thinking I could pick much better ones, etc. Now I don’t care. The books that are picked for the awards usually aren’t the most kid-friendly choices. Perhaps this is partially why I’ve stopped caring. The choices for the awards are sometimes obscure, boring, badly illustrated, and so on. So shoot me, I’ve said it.

I got my first book offer after moving to NYC. I think I was 22. That was a long time ago! Yikes! Perhaps I’m just burnt out. Unfortunately in this business, without someone to support you, there’s no vacation from the books. I probably need one. Perhaps by not looking at a children’s book for the whole year I’ve attempted to give myself one. Maybe next… er… this year I’ll get back on the saddle.

Save the date!

Good news, Priscilla and the Hollyhocks, will be released in February at last! When I was painting the illustrations last year I blogged about it a number of times if you may remember here, here and here. You can see some of my paintings for the book here.

To celebrate this great occasion, the publisher and two great local bookstores are throwing us two fun-filled launch parties, one in Jamaica Plain and one in Wellesley. Both events will feature:

*An art activity for kids (make your own hollyhock doll)
*Curriculum guides for teachers who wish to use the book in their classroom
*A short presentation by both the author and myself about how we made this book
*Original artwork and sketches/process work on display

Plus snacks and good cheer for all of course!

Here are the details:

February 9th at 1:00 pm
The Wellesley Booksmith
82 Central St
Wellesley, MA 02482
(781) 431-1160

February 16th at 3:00 pm
Jamaicaway Books
676 Centre Street
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
(617) 983-3204

Feel free to pass along the invitation, all are welcome!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

I'm off to China...

Grace and I are going to Beijing and Shanghai with a few friends for about two weeks. I'm leaving for the airport in a few minutes, and since I missed my day to post last week, and I'm not sure if I'll be able to post next week while in China, I thought I'd just drop a quick note.

Grace has made a commitment to herself to post from China every day, so check her personal blog for updates. I'll try to post as much as possible as well from my blog.

And now, I'll leave you with some picture from my new office. As you loyal blog readers know, my company moved into a new building last Spring, and the new building has an internal atrium that's quite cool. My office has a window to the atrium. Anna was visiting a week ago and helped me take a few pictures:

Saturday, January 12, 2008

An image for my book on Seabiscuit...

Roald Dahl's list plus one

Here's what Roald Dahl thinks you need to be a fiction writer:

1. You should have a lively imagination.

2. You should be able to write well. By that I mean you should be able to make a scene come alive in the reader's mind. Not everybody has this ability. It is a gift, and you either have it or you don't.

3. You must have stamina. In other words, you must be able to stick to what you are doing and never give up, for hour after hour, day after day, week after week, and month after month.

4. You must be a perfectionist. That means you must never be satisfied with what you have written until you have rewritten it again and again, making it as good as you possibly can.

5. You must have strong self-discipline. You are working alone. No one is employing you. No one is around to fire you if you don't turn up for work, or tick you off if you start slacking.

6. It helps a lot if you have a keen sense of humor. This is not essential when writing for grown-ups, but for children, it's vital.

7. You must have a degree of humility. The writer who thinks that his work is marvelous is heading for trouble.

#8. (from Libby) Luck.

He doesn't mention # 8 -- maybe because he wasn't talking about getting published, only writing novels; or maybe he thought it was obvious. The list was in an essay called A LUCKY BREAK, which tells how HE started writing and got published: they happened for him at the same time, in the same lucky break.

So, adding luck (and remembering its importance in getting published, which is a pretty good way to keep from getting a swelled head), I think I agree with him -- even about #2. What do you think?

Friday, January 11, 2008

POETRY FRIDAY: A Taste of Poetry

I know most people don’t share my passion for poetry. Fortunately, there are some of you who do—people who enjoy the taste of a well-written poem. I think poetry’s delicious! How about you?

For this Poetry Friday, I give you two poems about eating poetry. The poem by Eve Merriam is one I used to share often with my elementary students.

by Eve Merriam

Don't be polite.
Bite in.
Pick it up with your fingers and lick the juice that
may run down your chin.
It is ready and ripe now, whenever you are.

Click here to read the rest of the poem.

by Mark Strand

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

Click here to read the rest of the poem.

At Wild Rose Reader I have four original poems about winter.
The Poetry Friday Roundup is at The Book Mine Set today.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

top 30 key word searches for my website this month

1 strong man
2 16 6.84% megan mccarthy
3 13 5.56% meghan mccarthy
4 9 3.85% aliens are coming
5 6 2.56% aleins
6 4 1.71% ugly dogs
7 3 1.28% free keychains
8 3 1.28% kaila
9 2 0.85% 80s step box
10 2 0.85% aliens sesame street
11 2 0.85% animals hiding
12 2 0.85% bermuda triangle
13 2 0.85% bus sketches
14 2 0.85% carpet dents caused by chairs
15 2 0.85% childrens book article
16 2 0.85% cream on her face
17 2 0.85% cute dogs pictures
18 2 0.85% i saw my sister naked
19 2 0.85% kill robots
20 2 0.85% laika space
21 2 0.85% major events in nicaragua
22 2 0.85% meaghan mccarthy
23 2 0.85% messy papers
24 2 0.85% old man nursing home
25 2 0.85% red hot chili peppers tell me baby
26 2 0.85% rousseau painting with animals
27 2 0.85% seabiscuit
28 2 0.85% seabiscuit vs. war admiral
29 2 0.85% words used back in the 1600s
30 1 0.43% %22baby out with the bath water%22

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


As the new year came and left I found myself counting my publishing years; and to my horror I realized that I have been in this industry for now over 10 years--I signed my first picture book contract in 1997. So the time of me being a fresh face or a promising new talent is over.

But I'm not old pro, a master guru with pearls of wisdom either. In fact, many a times, even after ten years, I feel pretty much the same as I did when I began-- I think that of feeling floating aimlessly, hoping that there is a buoy somewhere never really leaves. But I've gotten a lot better at pretending to swim. So this is what I think I have garnered in my 10 years:

1. Creating a book is personal, publishing it is not.
2. Talent is nothing if passion, perseverance and discipline does not accompany it.
3. Making books makes you gain weight. It's all that sitting.
4. You know you have to make changes in your career when you realize you are talking more about making books (ie school visit, promotion) than you are actually making books.
5. The allure of a large advance is intoxicating, but like getting drunk, perhaps not good for your career's overall health. Especially on the first date.
6. No one understands that when you are staring into outer space, you are working.
7. Getting caught up in "making it" is perhaps the stupidest thing in the world. There will always be someone more talented, who makes more money and gets more publicity. Jealousy is poison. Cut it out as much as possible, tourniquet if necessary.
8. Sometimes good is enough. Great is better, but not even Barry Bonds hits a homerun every time. And he had steroids to help him.
9. Agents are good, but before you let someone else clean your house you should know what is in it.
10. Books only have value when they are read.

Here's to hoping I have another ten years!

Monday, January 07, 2008

A sea of spots

At long last I finished my deadline last Friday, all the art save the jacket is completed for What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe?, my poetry/recycling/craft book! I am very excited. The project was a massive undertaking: I wrote poetry for the first time, wrote step-by-step instructions for green art activities, and painted about a million tiny, tiny, tiny spots of art.

At first I thought doing a book full of spots would be less work than a regular picture book, since there was less paper to cover, but ultimately doing such tiny, detailed illustrations was pretty demanding. But I am happy with the result and can't wait to do recycling oriented presentations and workshops around the book.

Here is how everything looked spread out on my floor. I like to look at everything at once before I turn in a book, it gives me a sense of accomplishment. Although sometimes it also feels bizarre to think that such a relatively small amount of paper demanded so much attention and obsession...

These are some of my favorites from the stack... Jack the bunny who recycles his worn out blanket:

Andrea the cat who makes planters out of her shoes:

Jon the cat who makes a re-usable calender:

And Peter the bear who makes tin can lanterns:

Saturday, January 05, 2008

for the new year...

As I'd said before, I want to paint more... and when I say paint I don't mean do work for my books, I mean other stuff. Non-related stuff.

So that is what I've come up with--an all new page.

I painted the candy, dice, and thumbtack tonight, after I got off of work.

Do I have other things I need to do? Yes. Do I want to do those other things? No.

Perhaps at some point I'll sell some of the little object studies. Ebay anyone?


Friday, January 04, 2008

POETRY FRIDAY: Relearning Winter

I love living in New England. I love the changing seasons. Autumn—when the leaves turn color—is my favorite. The cool, crisp air invigorates me. I also enjoy winter—especially when snow falls softly and covers the roofs, the cars, the trees, the yards with white. The world seems to quiet. Everything looks so different, so beautiful.

I just returned from the White Mountains of New Hampshire yesterday. When we awoke Thursday morning, it was 24 degrees below zero! I can’t say that I love weather that cold—but we were warm and cozy inside.

Here is the poem I selected for the first Poetry Friday of 2008:

by Mark Svenvold

Hello Winter, hello flanneled
blanket of clouds, clouds
fueled by more clouds, hello again.

Hello afternoons,
off to the west, that silver
of sunset, rust-colored
and gone too soon.

And night (I admit to a short memory)
you climb back in with chilly fingers
and clocks, and there is no refusal:
ice cracks the water main, the garden hose
stiffens, the bladed leaves of the rhododendron
shine in the fog of a huge moon.

Click here to read the rest of the poem.

At Wild Rose Reader, I have a link to a list poem that will appear in Falling Down the Page, an anthology edited by Georgia Heard. The book will be published by Roaring Brook Press and will be released in March.

Franki and Mary Lee have the Poetry Friday Roundup at A Year of Reading.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

a new year

Howdy all,

I hope everyone had a great holiday! Mine was nice and relaxing. I stayed at my new parents' house, which is gorgeous. While there I got some painting done for my book Seabiscuit (I'll show a few finishes soon) and I also took some photographs. Go to - to see the new series.

So I've been thinking about what I'd like to improve upon, change, etc., for the new year. I think for the most part I'm pretty happy with the way my book career has been going. I can't say that I'd do anything differently thus far. I would like to force myself (yes, FORCE is the only way it's gonna happen) to do a few school visits... but I have done a lot of readings/signings lately so I think I've put in some effort.

Some things I'd like to do are get more organized (I am organized but I slack off a lot) so I suppose I should say STAY organized... and find the time to paint more.

Below are two paintings that I'd like to create a series on -- food items and toilets. (I'm serious).

Lastly, if you are brave enough to watch Underdog in its entirety then you may see one or two (can't find the second as of yet) of my paintings hanging on one of the walls. It's fun... like playing Where's Waldo! (only you have to endure a bad move instead of flipping through a colorful book).


p.s you will shortly be able to read my book Show Dog in its entirety (only part is up) online here

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


As a new tradition, the blue rose girls decided to make New Year's resolutions together. Making resolutions via committee is a revealing experience. Initially, each of us writing ten goals was rather daunting, but as we began to share our wishes more and more seemed attainable. The one resolution that I know won't be broken is one that we didn't write down--supporting each other to help make 2008 the best year for all.