Yesterday, after recovering from a nasty flu, we marched.
It was cold and we were alone. I bought some balloons because, I don’t know, BALLOONS!! We talked about feminism and femininity. We talked about how we should be treated and how we should treat others. We talked about motherhood and education and creativity. We talked about the difference between God and government. We talked about respecting beliefs that are contrary to our own. We talked about not making fun of people, even when they make fun of us. We talked about the Statue of Liberty, refuges, mismatched socks, and why books are cheaper at the scholastic book fair (our march is not without its tangents). Most of this talk happened back in the truck, because dang it was cold, but the important thing is… we talked.
The snow in the pic says so much too. January is dreary and infinite. I’m distracted, triggered, and world-weary. On a good day, I remember to switch the clothes from the washer to the dryer, and on the hard days, I agonize over how I can possibly contribute as an everyday citizen. I’m so grateful for these little lights and the hope I feel from this quote: “Your success as a family… our success as a nation… depends not on what happens inside the White House, but on what happens inside your house.” ~Barbara Bush
No piñatas were harmed in the making of this family. Okay, one.
This was my favorite Commander in Cheese book to write. I know authors say that picking a favorite book is like picking children, but the truth is I like some books more than others, and sometimes I even like one kid more than their siblings. It’s okay if I say that because my family probably isn’t reading this. Our little secret, okay?
The beginning of THE BIRTHDAY SUIT tells the quick version of how James F. Squeakerton, the sorta-mouse president, proposed to his wife VIA PINATA. I based this on my own husband’s proposal, which involved family and all of our kids and a very
confused, weepy birthday girl. It was one of the most surreal and magical moments of my life. It was easy to pick my husband for this book’s dedication, and maybe every dedication from here on out because he’s just that decent and good. But I’ll spare you too much sap.
I never know which pieces of the story the brilliant AG Ford will pick to illustrate. I squeaked when the illustrations came back with this…
You’ll notice this isn’t a screenshot from the book. No, this is the actual illustration. You see, I told my editor Caroline how much joy this illustration brought me. So she thoughtfully asked AG Ford for this illustration, which she had framed and sent to me as a Christmas/book release present. It currently sits by my bedside while we finish building our home. I can’t wait to stare at it in my own office. It’s the second best gift I’ve ever received paying homage to the very first.
I think this illustration also illustrates (pun alert!) just how many people go into a book’s creation. #TEAMCOMMANDERINCHEESE (T-shirts available soon/please make your own) is made up of a wonderful illustrator, editor, agent, and publisher. Sure, my name is on the book. But they’re all working just as hard to make this series into something that early chapter book readers will love for a really long time. I hope this becomes a favorite. With sprinkles on top.
Logan being her cherubic, innocent, adventurous self
Last night, my daughter said this in our family prayer: “Please bless that Donald Trump won’t take over America.”
After we finished, I started to talk to her about how our republic works and that president’s don’t “Take Over.” But I didn’t really know what to say, and maybe I started to cry a little. When I tucked her in to bed, she wanted to plan her seven-year-old birthday party. We are thinking a trampoline park or maybe bowling.
Once Logan was asleep, I started writing. I tried to make my thoughts short, because although Logan is a great listener, at some point she would understandably rather talk about bowling. That said, I am also 5’10”. I don’t do short well. So if you are looking for something to start this conversation with your kids, pick what you like from here. And know I am so grateful for you, for this country, for our system of government, for diversity, for liberty. And, especially, for hope….
To my super cool, super smart, super SUPER elementary readers,
(And their parents. And their teachers. And their grandparents who buy books for Christmas presents),
In 2014, I had a conversation with my editor, Caroline. I wanted to write something my younger children could read. We came up with the early chapter book idea COMMANDER IN CHEESE, about a mouse family that lives in the White House. Caroline and I met up in Washington DC to discuss famous mice and famouser presidents. (Yes, I know famouser is not a word, but making up stuff is part of being an author).
I jumped right into presidential research. I’ve always loved being a writer, but now I got to mix in my love for American history. I could read about Air Force One and the Oval Office for hours and hours and call it all “work”. Also, I wore old yoga pants and ate lots of cookie dough while doing this. That doesn’t have much to do with our topic. I’m really just bragging about my job.
When I sold the series to my publisher, Random House, we did not know what the 2016 election would look like. When I made my president female (and named her after my editor, Caroline Abbey), I did not know Hilary Clinton would be the Democratic candidate. When I added Macey and Banks, the president’s young children, I did not know Donald Trump (who has a ten year-old son) would be the Republican candidate. The first two books came out in May 2016, before the Democratic and Republican conventions.
Elections are a historically tense time. The election of 2016 was especially hard on our country. People have not liked candidates before, but this election was dipped in mean. It wasn’t just beliefs that were attacked—it was people. People of color, people with disabilities, people of different religious backgrounds. I’m sure you know better than to tease or hate someone just because they are different than you. I think most people in our country know better than this, and although they may have voted for a candidate who promoted some ugly ideas, it does NOT make the voter a mean person. I’ve met Americans from all around the country–wonderful, good, smart people. They had to choose a candidate. Millions of Americans made a very hard choice.
Parents also had to decide what to discuss with their children. I started to watch one of the presidential debates with my kids but stopped because there were so many “adult conversations”. Readers, this is a little secret. A lot of adult conversations involve adults not really acting like adults. Maybe that’s why adults don’t want you to listen: Sometimes we are rude and unkind. We should set a stronger example for you. Many kids I know are actually better at thoughtful, mature conversations than their parents! One of those kids lives in my house. She knows who she is.
I’m sure you know at least one adult who is upset with the election results—a parent, an uncle, a teacher, a celebrity. Maybe you saw them cry. Maybe you heard them yell. Maybe they were that scary kind of quiet where you know better than to interrupt. Adults aren’t simply mad because the person they voted for lost. It’s not like we are cheering for a sports teams here (Go Giants!) They are not pouting or whining. This is different. People are grieving. They are worried that the country they want America to be is different than maybe the country their neighbor wants America to be. They likely do not like President-elect Trump, which is hard when we have had so many noble and good leaders in the past. Americans want to love their president.
But! (In posts like this, there is always a but. We all have butts.) We live in an amazing country. America didn’t stop being America overnight. The future is unclear, but that’s usually how futures are. YOU are part of that future, and kids are awesome. Really, all you have to do is STAY AWESOME. Stay awesome and know that everything will be okay. Even more, you can help to make things okay. Here’s how…
Government: Our government is a democratic republic. Some countries are ruled by one leader. Ours is not. We are more than our president. We have congressmen, senators, and governors. Our government has many branches. If the president wants to make a law a law, he doesn’t just wave a magic wand. There is a process. For much, much more on how our government works (and it does work), go here.
Could have done better, Johnson.
History: We have had many good presidents. We have also had bad presidents. Richard Nixon broke the law and had to resign. James Buchanan passed horrible pro-slavery policy. Andrew Johnson… don’t even get me started on Andrew Johnson. We have also disagreed before. In fact, many laws and amendments are shaped around our disagreements. We have won wars and lost wars. We have been a wealthy country, and we have lost oodles of American tax dollars. Our country is better now than when your grandparents were your age. We have rights that did not exist then. We have technology and opportunity that did not exist then. America’s goal has always been to progress and improve. Regardless of who are president may be, our goals remain the same.
Home: My family is building a house right now. We are painting it white. My kids think it’s cool that I will write books about the White House in my white house (actually, I’m the one who thinks it’s cool. My kids don’t really care about house colors—they just want a trampoline). A home is where we learn foundations of love. And I’m not talking about whether your parents are married or what they’ve taught you about this election. I’m talking about YOU—about your relationship with your siblings, with your parents, with your cousins, your neighbors. There will be times you do not like your family members. You will fight. But at the end of the day, they are still your family. Life is much easier if you can figure out a way to work together, despite your differences. Home is where we learn to share. Home is where we learn to compromise. Home is where we learn to love someone, even if we don’t LIKE our bratty little brother sometimes. Home is where we plant our love, so it can grow outside and beyond. As Barbara Bush said, “Your success as a family, our success as a society depends not what happens at the White House, but what happens inside YOUR house.”
Smart little mice and possibly future presidents…
I registered to vote a few weeks ago. While I waited for my papers at the clerk’s office, an older man walked in to drop off his ballot. He was very loud about who he was voting for. We were not voting for the same person. He said some negative things about the person I voted for. Honestly, my first reaction was to yell at him. I did not agree with him. At all. But. (More butts!) Yelling at him would not make him open his envelope and change his vote. Just like his loud boasts would in no way change my vote. There are other ways to stand up for what you believe is right. Listen. Learn. Educate. Recycle. Get to know your neighbors. Do work in your community. And again, love. When we walked out of the clerk’s office at the same time, I held the door open for Mr. Opposite Voter Guy. Even though we had different views, we can both still be good citizens. Hate has never been and never, ever will be the answer.
My very favorite quote of all time says this: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.
Service: Not very long ago, I went through a very hard time in my life. I felt like I could never know happiness again, that nothing good could possibly come from bad. I prayed, I cried, I struggled, I failed, I loved, and I tried tried tried. And on the dark days, I learned to serve. Service did not erase the bad things I had to face. But service always changed my point of view. It made the big things feel a little smaller. Service is the most powerful, meaningful way you can bring change. Look for moments to serve. Look for people who might not have the same chances in life you do—that maybe are treated wrong just because they are different. Those people are especially hurting right now. Hug them. Love them. Serve them. Our service will not SUBTRACT the bad. But our efforts will ADD to the good.
I want YOU for U.S. um… anything
YOU: We do not know yet what changes will happen in this country. Some will be good. Some will be bad. Some of these changes will have nothing to do with you. Some of these changes may impact your life. One thing that does not change is you are the youest you that ever youed. Boy or girl, black or white, Muslim or Christian—you can still grow up to be a president. Or a stand-up comedian. Or an accountant. Or a Target Cashier (my daughter’s dream job). Or actually, let’s not worry about what your job will be. Let’s think about what YOU will be. Will you be kind? Will you help others? Will you have courage? I think you will. And those traits are something you can start right now. You do not have to be an adult to make your country a better place. Build up your goodness, so when the time comes for you to have your adult conversations, you will speak with an open mind and listen with an open heart.
Today is Veteran’s Day. Please talk to your teachers, parents, and grandparents about what this day means. Learn about the people who have fought for this country. And know we will keep fighting for this country.
Being an adult does not mean we know everything. But it does mean we have certain responsibilities that are not your responsibility. Your responsibility is to grow and learn and enjoy childhood. You live in a country where you can decide who and what you want to be. Be kind. Be brave. Be clever.
Lindsey: Robin and I got together (well, internet together. Google docs together) to share our reactions to the cover for our next book, THE PAGES BETWEEN US: IN THE SPOTLIGHT
What’s that you say? You wrote another Pages Between Us book together?! Yep. LIKE YOU COULD STOP US.
Robin: The only thing that could stop us from writing another book is…wait…there’s nothing. We love doing this too much. And today is a big day. The cover for our second collaboration is ALIVE! It has a beating heart! And lungs! And wow, that got gross.
Lindsey: I think they call it going live, Robin. Not Alive. Also, you like personifying things, don’t you?
Robin: The cup of coffee I’m drinking is my best friend. So YES, I personify things.
Lindsey: I bet that cup of coffee is burning hot, too. I know you so well. Anyway, I’m presently on my balcony in the green mountains of Utah…
Robin: And I am sitting in a Starbucks overlooking a six-lane highway and a Shell gas station. Classy. So, Lindsey…let’s talk about our love for this cover. ….. Lindsey. Lindsey? You there? Are you nursing a baby bird back to health or something?? That’s what you do in the mountains of Utah, I’m assuming.
Lindsey: Sorry. No birds involved. Parenting moment. Had to settle my kids’ disagreement over a pair of socks. Ahhhh balance.
Robin: You’re my hero.
Lindsey: So, let’s open this email and behold this image in all it’s jpeg glory together, shall we?
Robin: Isn’t jpeg the BEST word ever? And this jpeg below is particularly darling.
Lindsey: Ahhhhhh! My eyes are tickling from the amazing. Can eyes tickle?
Robin: SO. MUCH. COVER. CUTENESS! Also, eyes totally tickle when they’re in the presence of things one can only describe as “adorbs.”
Lindsey: Here are three things I love about the cover.
That it shows both girls interests that are central to the story
The little Battle of the Books flyer. Fair readers–have you ever participated in your school’s Battle of the Books? You get to read AND discuss AND battle? We were so in love with the different Battles we watched as authors that we had to include one in this story
The colors. Doesn’t it look like Book #1 & #2 are BFFs?
Robin: Yes, book 1 & 2 are totally going to stay best friends all the way through college and chat on facebook when they’re adults. I was so excited to see the Battle of the Books flyer on the cover. Our artists came up with the idea to spear books with swords–darling! A quick side note about Battle of the Books: Lindsey and I have both participated as authors. But to write this book, we wanted to see other viewpoints. We met in a small mountain town in California and rented a quaint cabin to write the battle scenes. Luckily, Youtube is our best friend (besides each other) and there were tons of videos of schools across the country battling it out…over books. So, in summary, we watched videos in a remote cabin. It is as creepy as it sounds.
Lindsey: Not to give anything away! I mean, about the book. I fear we’ve already given away enough about ourselves, Robin.
Robin: My social security number is–
Robin: I’m going to go now. Time to nurse a baby bird back to health.
Lindsey: No, that’s me. You’re the one by the freeway.
Robin: Right. I meant to say ‘gotta go nurse a Slurpee.’
Lindsey: So IN THE SPOTLIGHT is available March 14, 2017 and is up for preorder here. In the meantime, read THE PAGES BETWEEN US and start a fun notebook with your bestie just like Olivia and Piper
Robin: If you pre-order, send one of us a message and we will mail you signed bookmarks and a bookplate! And possibly my social security number!* *Authors’ note: We are not sending you our social security numbers.
If you ask nearly any children’s/YA author the most common question they hear, 8 out of 10 will say it’s, “Where do you get your inspiration/where do you get your ideas?” (2 out of 10 get asked for their autograph a lot. All that fame is exhausting. Or so I imagine).
No one knows how to answer the Idea/Inspiration question. Rather, no one wants to answer this. And the reason for a lot of authors is the same: We don’t know.
We get our ideas from everywhere or from observation or living life. Each book comes about a different way, and we get so swept up in the dreaming and thinking and creating, we never paying much attention to how the thing came to be. It just is. Let’s not jinx the whole thing and talk about it too much, K?
For some odd reason, this answer isn’t satisfying for most folk. And so I make up an answer. I tell students that authors meet in a secret cave high up in the mountains. We’re often wearing battered bathrobes and faded yoga pants. We swap handshakes and chant until the Idea Spirit appears with Hollywood-worthy pitches.
Then we toast marshmallows.
I like this process much more than the truth: I stare at the computer screen. I write words. I erase some words. I write some more. I check in with my writing friends/agent/editor to make sure these words aren’t hogwash. Often they are. So then… wait for it… I write more.
I’ve worked with some really wonderful people in publishing. This isn’t always the case for authors, just like it isn’t always the case for teachers/librarians/plumbers/nurses/*insert any industry here*. I’ve sold books to 4 different publishing houses, and was blessed with stellar editors at all of these houses. One editor, Caroline Abbey, has been my editor for 7 books now. Caroline and I worked on my 3 teen books together at the wonderful publishing house, Bloomsbury. When she moved to another publishing house, I was, of course, sad for me but happy for her. I was sure we’d work on something together again, but had no idea what/where/when/why.
One day, I got an email from Caroline with the following :
If I had an idea (and I’m not 100% sure I do yet) would you be open to it? Or is now a bad time? If it’s not a good time, just ignore me. No need to send any kind of formal answer. I just thought I’d put it out there (because I miss working with you!!)
I replied very professionally:
WHY AREN’T YOU ON THE PHONE WITH ME PITCHING THIS RIGHT NOW?
Followed an impatient hour later with…
LIKE RIGHT NOW
And so we chatted. Caroline had the idea of mice living in the White House. She didn’t know yet who the mice were or what their story would be. As soon as she suggested this, my brain went berserk. I started asking all sorts of questions–How many mice? Were they a family? Did the humans know? What time period? What was the goal of the mice? Could I write about a brother and sister? Is this be an adventure story? Can i include some non-fiction? How many words? How long? When can I start? I remember Caroline laughing and saying, “It sounds like this is already your idea.”
And it was. And it wasn’t. Commander in Cheese quickly became a beautiful collaboration. I wrote the first chapter that very night. I had never written in the chapter book genre before. I wrote Caroline emails with subjects like AM I ALLOWED TO BE FUNNY? and HOW DO YOU FIGURE OUT READING LEVEL? and on and on. Caroline and I met up in Washington D.C for a research trip. I ran around memorials and museums like a 10-year-old on a field trip, pointing and exclaiming, “Oh, I have to write about this! Did you know about this? Take a picture of me here!”
(I take horrible selfies, which is not very millennial of me. It says COMMANDER IN CHIEF behind us)
(I’m eating the White House. Maybe it’s made out of cheese? See? Need to step up my selfie game)
(While I’m sharing DC pics, here I am with friends Israel and Tamara in front of Lincoln Memorial. I went to D.C. when I was 16 and wore a camo shirt, so I made sure I represented the camo again this go around)
I got to work on COMMANDER IN CHEESE. I read hundreds of chapter books, analyzing the timing, structure, vocabulary and pacing of other stories. The first book, THE BIG MOVE, took me 5 or 6 months to write and was one of the most humbling and enthralling writing experiences of my professional life. The second book took me 3 or 4. The third and fourth were closer to 1-2 months. The series became my baby, one that I rocked and fed and watched sleep in its little computer crib.
And then I lucked into another collaboration that I’d never experienced before…
I got illustrated.
(Photo from A.G Ford’s instagram. Go follow. He’s rad)
Before I got into publishing, I assumed that the author and illustrator knew each other and worked together from the beginning of a book’s creation. This is occasionally true, but more often than not the author writes a book, the publisher buys the book and then seeks out an illustrator that would be a good fit. The author and Illustrator don’t know each other. In fact, they probably won’t ever meet in person or even talk on the phone. As the author, you cross your fingers that you agree with the “good fit” decided upon by your publisher.
Well, clearly, I crossed my fingers hard. I also wished on stars and held my breath under bridges. And all that luck brought me A.G. Ford, the insanely talented illustrator for this series. A.G. brought so much humor and heart to the Squeakerton family. He would send sketches to my editor, I would send a few tweaks, and what resulted was a wonderful collaboration of picture and prose. My very favorite part of writing this whole series is the day A.G.’s sketches arrive.
So… there’s my sort of answer. I get my ideas from EVERYONE and EVERYWHERE and EVERYTHING. Caroline’s ideas are in this series. A.G.’s ideas are in there too. So are mine. It’s not quite a secret meeting in a mountain cave, but it’s pretty dang close. I hope you’ll share this book with your favorite 6-10 year-old reader. I would love to spend forever writing about this special family with this special team of collaborators.
And now, naturally, I’m off to celebrate with a cheese platter.