Algún Día Volaremos

“No tengo las manos limpias completamente hasta que me las he lavado doce veces, una por cada año de mi vida…”

So begins the Spanish translation of The Someday Birds. It launches in November, in a special gift edition with new, original illustrations created just for this version.

Deepest thanks to Libros de Seda, Barcelona. Ofrezco mis más profundas gracias for the care and attention they have given la historia de Charlie. I cannot wait until November!

Globalism v Nationalism

My husband is French. Soon-to-be daughter-in-law is Australian. Sister-in-law Korean. Other son’s love, from the Philippines. Each connection has cast beautiful threads out across the map of the world for me.

A radio commentator just said: “Globalism vs nationalism. That’s the struggle of our time.”

I don’t pretend to know the answers to anything. But I do think the world needs more beautiful threads.

School’s out… but I’m thinking about school.

The cover reveal of JOHN LOCKDOWN IS IN THE BUILDING! (see previous blog post, below this one) has got me thinking. What do I want people to know about this book? How do I describe it?

For extremely sensitive students, school emergency and active-shooter drills can become a source of stress. For some kids, they lead to a feeling that the worst possible thing can happen at any moment at all. At any moment at all.

I was the kind of kid who lived with that sort of fear. There was no such thing as a school shooting when I was young — I managed to squeeze my childhood in between the Cold War “duck and cover” drills and the Columbine active-shooter ones. But still. I know the low-level hum of fear and anxiety all too well.

This new book treads lightly, but the depth of it touches upon childhood anxiety from living in this flawed, violent, bully-ridden modern age. I’m sort of trying to bring the dread up into the sunlight, for examination and demystification. To try and acknowledge, then calm down, that low-level hum.

By the way, there have been 270 shootings at schools since Columbine, according to ABC News.

What on earth is wrong with us, as a society, that this type of problem is allowed to persist?
I will never be able to understand it.

John Lockdown Cover Reveal!

The cover reveal of JOHN LOCKDOWN IS IN THE BUILDING happened today!

You can read a little bit about it here, on Mr Schu’s amazing blog:

Cover Reveal on Mr Schu Reads

The book will hit the shelves on Feb 6 2018. It’s about Stanley Fortinbras, an extremely anxious kid who totally hates the scary, over-the-top safety drills in his giant new middle school. Stanley’s also a comics fanatic, and he enters this wild comics trivia treasure-hunt, thinking it will make him appear cooler to his drifting-away best friend Joon… But things don’t exactly turn out as expected. I mean, do they ever?

Anyhow, here’s the cover of Stanley’s book. Illustrations on cover – and of some comics, inside! – by the amazing Steve Wolfhard, who is also a storyboard artist on Adventure Time on Cartoon Network.

Can’t wait for Feb 6, 2018!

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A wonderful letter

This just in:

Message:

Hi my name is A. I’m a third grader in New Hampshire and I just finished your book The Someday Birds. I got the book at my library in school. I love it and some parts really mean a lot to me because my dad is in the air force and when he leaves for Afghanistan I get kind of sad. I really liked the words and phrases you put into the book it’s really inspiring. I don’t want to take all your time but I only need to ask one more question. Do you enjoy being a author? I really love reading and writing and when I grow up I hope to be an author and give books to kids who do not have any. Thank you for your time.

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Dear A.,

How wonderful, to receive your note just now! I’m so moved and grateful that you enjoyed Charlie’s story! Receiving a note like yours is just about the best part of being an author. You are so awesome! Thank you!

And to answer your question: I do love being a writer. It is like a dream come true, to be able to write what’s really in my heart, and create stories that connect me to others (like you!). I am so excited to hear that you want to be an author, too. Are you working on any writing project, right now? The best thing to do is just keep reading and writing. Read whatever you love — and sometimes, stop to think about the *how* — how it is structured and put together, how it’s written…

I’m so moved to hear that your dad goes to Afghanistan too, and that you connected with Charlie and his father because of that.
I am wishing your dad, and all your family, all the best wishes in the world.

Thank you so much again for writing to me.
Your friend,
Sally

Another word from Dr. Tiberius Shaw, PhD

Greetings.
Dr. Tiberius Shaw here, legendary ornithologist, sculptor, writer, and mysterious bird guru. I am writing to you from my secret campsite, far from the bustling world.

Here are some more deep thoughts about what birds can teach us. KEEP OBSERVING THEM!….

1. See these small ducklings? They may seem cute and defenseless, but there is something strong as steel about them. And that is their courage, in daring to explore the unknown world for the first time – despite the dangers, they know they must. The life force is strong within them.
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Their lesson to us, dear readers, is to try and do something that scares us a little, every day. This is how we grow as humans. I told Charlie this advice in THE SOMEDAY BIRDS, and I firmly hold it to be a personal truth.

2. When we think of the Bald Eagle, what comes to mind? Power. Might and Majesty. Honor.

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That is the myth of the Bald Eagle. In reality, Bald Eagles are not always so majestic in their behavior. They will steal food from other birds, and they can be lazy and mean. They like to hang around landfills.

It’s important to remember that there are symbols, which are like myths. And then there is the observable reality. And that there is often a big difference.

3. This is a photo of the Superb Fairy Wren:

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He is a lovely little fellow, native to Australia. These birds are among my favorite for their altruistic nature. They will watch each other’s nests, babysit each other’s broods. Males and females cooperate and share all tasks of survival equally, and with little fuss or squabble. A truly noble little bird, indeed.

The Superb Fairy Wren reminds us of the value in community. In helping others, we ALL do better.

That’s it for today… More birds to come!

And now, a word from Dr. Tiberius Shaw, Ph.D.

Greetings.

I, as you may know, am Dr. Tiberius Shaw, PhD, legendary ornithologist, sculptor, writer, and mysterious bird guru. I am writing to you today from a secret campsite, tucked far away from the bustling world.

Because you are a keen observer with an inquiring mind — I will let you in on some observations of my own…

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Crows and ravens are part of a family of birds known as corvids, and their intelligence, memory, and persistence is legendary. Some corvids have an intelligence on a par with the great apes. They have long memories. They have theory of mind. They can shape small tools to help them get to food, and are tremendously resourceful and patient. I’ve watched a crow try for an hour, one method after another, try to crack open an oyster. He succeeded, naturally.

And so, here is my advice:

Be like the corvid — be smart. Be persistent. Try new and different approaches to problem-solving.

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And now, then… What can we learn from the beautiful Trumpeter Swan?

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The lesson, here, is simple. Try to attain to the swan’s level of beautiful calm — even though you may be frantically paddling, underneath.

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Remember, when things are a turmoil: Fake it till you make it.
Appear calm.
Breathe.

turkey vulture

Ah, the turkey vulture, poor maligned creature. Yet without him, dead, decaying animals would fester on the land, breeding disease. Luckily, the turkey vulture ingests and neutralizes carrion through its digestive tract, which kills all bacteria! Amazingly, disease-ridden roadkill comes out the other end of the vulture as sterile poop. Yes, it does.

And so the vulture’s message is clear: Do the hard, needed, important work. Do the dirty job. Even though it may be distasteful. Because the world needs it.

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Thank you, dear friends, for tuning in today. But the sun is slowly sinking, and I must build a small fire and set up my tent before dusk.

I promise more bird entries soon — perhaps when I reach the next stopping point in my wandering journey through the back marshes and estuaries of our great nation.

Until then, peace be upon you.

TS

“Kids Deserve It!”

I spoke with Todd and Adam of “Kids Deserve It!” about The Someday Birds — you can watch the short interview right here:

Wayfinding and Sensemaking, Part One.

This is me at 12 or 13. Middle-school-aged me.

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I barely spoke, back then, except to one close friend, and to my brother. Interacting with others or being in the world was like watching some kind of confusing, complicated show from behind thick glass. I faked it as best I could, but I felt like I was acting. I felt bewildered a lot of the time.

The word ‘bewildered’ is interesting: “be” + “wildered.” Lost somewhere in the wild.

The irony, there, is that I loved the woods behind our house in Connecticut. I felt safe in the wild, where I knew the locations of the trees and the little frog pond. I’d venture out with pockets of snacks and a good book, and pretend I didn’t ever have to come back.

But… things were about to get complicated. Because I was, well, 12 or 13. You know how THAT goes.

Chicken Nuggets, Comfy Prisons, and the Family Road Trip

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The summer my sons were nine, ten, and twelve, my husband Fred got the Griswold Family Vacation bug—you know, like in those old National Lampoon movies with Chevy Chase. He wanted us to go on a classic, calamitous, old-fashioned, family road-trip. All five of us in our old minivan, hitting the open road of adventure, Yellowstone to Washington, D.C.

“It’ll be great!” he said, waving brochures around. “And educational, too!”

Me, I wasn’t convinced.

In fact, I was nervous as heck, highly anxious about how a trip would affect my autistic middle son. He was such a homebody! He needed his routines so much! A picky eater, he subsisted mainly on chicken nuggets, applesauce, and frozen peas served in separate dishes, and I felt like the whole fragile fabrication of my peaceful existence depended upon providing these routines. How was I going to provide them on the road?
And my boy had major freak-out meltdowns if his big blue blanket so much as touched the floor. On the road, how was I going to wash his blanket? How would he handle a thousand miles of rolling change and disruption to his routine? And he also had sensory processing disorder—everything felt too loud, too tight, too hard, too bright.

“He can’t handle it,” I fretted.

“YOU can’t handle it,” my husband said. “It’ll be fine. All you have to do is get in and go.”

Ha!

A hundred miles into the trip, there was already carsickness, puking, and tears. All coming from me. As for the boys, they had pillow fights, kicking fights, and endless ridiculous squabbles. “Don’t make me reach back there, you maniacs!” my husband would say, fishing for a part of someone to grab in his vice-like grip, and they would shriek with laughter, scrambling their legs away.
The big blue blanket touched the floor. There were unacceptable, gag-worthy food items that led to public tantrums. I fought with my husband. It rained. The boys refused to write in the perfectly lovely journals I’d bought! Imagine! And I had a minor nervous breakdown one afternoon, sobbing on a bench outside a nice restaurant we’d basically gotten kicked out of.

Parts of this trip were hell.

Other parts were not.

The boys saw bison in Yellowstone, bald eagles on the Mississippi. They rode horseback in Jackson Hole, peered down cracks in the earth in the Badlands. They developed a rating system for the grossness of public bathrooms. We had arm-wrestling contests that left us laughing. I spent some nice quiet moments in the motel with my middle son, when the sensory stuff got too much. The boys learned to read maps, and struck their own pacts for backseat peace.

Ultimately, it worked out, more or less. Towards the end, while grabbing dinner somewhere, my middle son made an interesting observation. “You know what?” he announced. “I figure I can pretty much survive anything, now—as long as I can order the chicken nuggets.”

We laughed, because it was a pretty unique life philosophy. “Dude, you should write a travel guide,” my oldest said. “Of every place where you ate chicken nuggets on this trip.”
A travel guide! I tucked away that idea in my brain, just in case I ever got brave, and tried to write about some of this myself.

Autism. Anxiety. Life. Family. Fear. Chicken nuggets.

It took me ten years until I felt ready to start. Before I understood what I had to say. I knew I wanted to write about discovering your resilience—a neuro-diverse travel log, of sorts, on “how to survive pretty much anything,” as my son put it. At first, I called it Chicken Nuggets Across America. Eventually, the story grew, took flight, and became The Someday Birds.

My middle son, now a young man, wrote me this, when I told him I was stressing (in typical mom fashion) about writing this article:

“Every trial-by-fire stressful road-trip moment, Mom, every bout of anxiety – it pushes you further towards knowing who you are, and who others are. It’s a force that does more than just “temper” you or make you more resilient. It does other stuff that you can probably write about profoundly enough if you tried. I don’t know, whatever.”

That boy.

The thing is, there are other boys. And girls. Other young people out there, right now, who are like him—I feel it! Kids who may prefer their soothing routines. Who haven’t confronted their fears, who don’t yet know what they’re capable of, whether because of neurological differences, or personality differences. I wanted to write, still want to write, about needing to push past personal fear. About the joy of learning you can become more at ease. Life is hard, but there are amazing people, kind people. And there is the joy of self-acceptance.

In the end, our family road trip did what I dreaded it would, back when I was full of worry, and my husband was all National Lampoon gung-ho. It busted open the comfy prison we’d both chosen to live inside, both my son, and I. It pushed us past our fears.

That’s what stories can do, too. Stories, like road-trips, are travel opportunities. They take us on mental journeys that shake us out of our routines, out of those comfy prisons. They show us new ways of experiencing this wide, weird, wonderful world.

All we have to do is get in and go.
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(This post originally appeared on the HarperCollins Facebook site HERE.)

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