Friday, December 18, 2009

Moving to the Reservation-the writing life continues

In mid December Steve and I took a world wind trip criss-crossing the Navajo reservation in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado.  It was a short but amazing adventure to visit several sites to choose where we will live and work beginning September 2010.  After wonderful receptions at Chinle, Fort Defiance, Ship Rock and Crown Point we have chosen to move out to Chinle Arizona. This is an exciting change we are looking forward to that will allow us to keep our home in Pittsburgh and maintain connections here as we explore new territory and put down roots in a new world. 

Pretty barren and isolated...not much there. 


Unless you look for it.

And some pretty amazing natural sculptures now and then.

I am thinking this might be my writing hang out.  Wonder if they have internet?

My garden might look like this.

Some Free Range Friends.

And who can beat this?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sangoel goes to Yemen

Co-author Khadra Mohammed took my MY NAME IS SANGOEL on her visit to refugee camps in Yemen.

Here is what she wrote in the email with the image:

This little boy is 10 years old.  His mom drowned when the the boat they were smuggled in capsized. He is an orphan and UNHCR is caring for him under their unaccompanied minors program, his big smile melted my heart.  His name is Hussain my new friend in the camp. He has been in the camp only for 6 months!
Karen he loves his book;) 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Poem in the Post Gazette and Autumn inspires

Published in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ode To the Apple

Oh pome of evil, of knowledge, of sin
plump and curved as a baby's buttocks.

Stolen from Greek myth
planted in Eden,
unnamed fruit of the Bible,
stuck in Adam's throat.

The lump
in my geeky boyfriend's neck, when I was a teen
made me want to touch the curious appendage
bobbed up and down
run my finger over it --

Fleshy pomaceous fruit of ripened ovary,
you propagate asexually,
you are self incompatible.
Who knew? The complications of a simple fruit.

Your pale pink flower turns virgin white
just before it falls,
you fall,
the fall of the human race to the ground under my neighbor's tree.
She wants to hack it down for the mess
of rotting fruit
in Autumn the crow flies
drops an apple from his beak into the lap of a king
brings forth a child

Fruit of fertility
or are you fruit of eternal youth?
Food for the dead?
A cure for cancer? The common cold?
An apple a day.

Cox's orange Pippin
Honey crisp, Braeburn, Erli Blaze, Granny Smith
Golden Delicious, Red delicious, delicious, crisp
sweet, juicy, tart delicious runs down my chin.

My son will eat the core and seeds,
lick his fingers clean.
Was it Macintosh, Fuji, Albany or Empire
Erwin Bauer or Gala that gave us
Gravity with a fall from the tree?

And which did my grandmother use?
forced through a sieve to make her sauce
that I have
never been able to recreate. The secret is
we ate it warm placed gobs on our upper lip and
licked it with tongues stretched to the nose.

Oh, fruit of the universe
waxy red polished to a scarlet shine
picked, bagged trucked year 'round
rows of red and green and yellow
line grocery shelves.

I prefer your golden skin flecked with brown
russety and pock marked,
textured and true
plucked from my neighbors tree in fall.

A gray squirrel scurries one away
leaves it in the corner on my window sill next to stolen tulip bulbs,
fallen green tomatoes from my garden,
he comes back for a nibble now and then.
Does he think I cannot see him?
Does he know the torment of the neighbor's cat below?
Tail twitching like a serpent. Oh!

The joy of forbidden fruit.

-- Karen Lynn Williams

And this lovely email from a reader makes it all worthwhile:

My husband and I were sitting at the table Satursday morning enjoying a guiet and relaxing time.  I was reading the paper and my eye caught your poem.  I do not read much, but I read your entire poem out loud to my husband and we discussed it at lengh.  I never did that before.  Poems have always been very difficult for me to understand, but I found by reading out loud and discussing each section, how easy it was to understand.  It was enjoyable -- never though I would say that about a poen!  I may read more poems from now on.  I have broadened my horizon one little bit today.  Thank you.

Autumn inspires my muse more than any other season; long rays of golden light filtered through orange and rust, deepening color and deepening life, prepare to give back.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sangoel Makes Debut

On Sunday October 24 Khadra and I signed books at my home.  Many friends and community members were there to celebrate, buy books and meet Sangoel.

Thanks to those of you who were able to make the event.  And for those of you who could not be there, we plan more books signings so keep up to date on this blog or by contacting the Pittsburgh Refugee center.  

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Armadil-i-moto sited on St Simons Island

This armadillo "walking" down the sidewalk in the village on St. Simons Island reminded me that the concept of Galimtos as sculptures made from wire, tin cans and other found objects can lead the imagination anywhere.

See my book Glimoto and then take a look around and see what you find in the trash heap that captures your imagination.

And look around you and
see what others have created from tin cans and old bicycle parts for instance.   There are no limits to the concept of a galimoto if it is made from discarded material.

Gotta love the whimsy!

Keeps you going on the Bike Trail in Rockland, PA and in Life.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

First review for Sangoel!

Great to Have a Review in School Library Journal!

Here's an excerpt:

When eight-year-old Sangoel comes to the United States from war-torn Sudan, everyone mispronounces his Dinka name until he has the bright idea to make a rebus of a sun and a soccer goal on his T-shirt.  This simple story puts a child-friendly spin on a common immigrant experience as the child's classmates respond with similar puzzle pictures of their own names....

The diversity of the boy's schoolmates is evident in Stock's skillfully detailed watercolor and collage illustrations...

This picture book by the authors of Four Feet, Two Sandals is an excellent addition to the growing body of immigration stories for young readers.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What's In A Name?

MY NAME IS SANGOEL chosen as Colfax School Principal's  Book of the Month as the school year opens!

Dear Colfax Families:


“What’s in a name?...a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  Have you heard that before?  It’s from William Shakespeare’s famous play, Romeo and Juliet.  When Juliet says these words, she is telling Romeo that his name does not matter to her.  Do names really matter? 


As the school year begins, we are learning many new names.  Sometimes we feel embarrassed when our names are mispronounced.  If someone laughs or makes fun of our names, our feelings are hurt.  It feels good when people remember our names.  Names are personal.  They are part of us.  In many ways, they do matter.


Our first Principal’s Book of the Month for this school year is My Name is Sangoel, by local authors Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed.  This is the team who wrote last year’s Principal’s Book of the Month, Four Feet, Two Sandals.  Again, this book brings us the story of a refugee, this time a boy from Sudan.  Sangoel has lost his father and his home in the war.  When he and his mother are relocated to the United States, he finds that no one can pronounce – or remember - his name.  Others suggest that he change his name to something more “American”, but he is reluctant to do so.  His name is all he has left from his father.  How can he let it go?


Sangoel comes up with the perfect solution.  If you are meeting new people who have names that are unfamiliar to you, you could use Sangoel’s idea to help you pronounce and remember them.  Find out how Sangoel solves his problem in My Name is Sangoel, and think about what your name means to you.  But most of all…Read, Respond and Enjoy! 

 And here is a great idea.  Colfax librarian is using Kevin Henke's book CRYSANTHEMUM along with Sangoel.  It seems that little character runs into problems with her name as school begins and the other children tease her about the name she knows is special.  Our names are important!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Galimotos Still Going Strong

On a recent trip to Malawi, my husband brought me back these photos of my favorite toys.  I was pleased that children in Malawi are still as creative as I remember and my book Galimoto is still relevant today.   Take a look at what a child can do with a little wire and some scraps of cardboard and found objects, a little time without TVs and computers and a lot of creativity, dexterity and perseverance!   

And take a look at the giant galimoto built by the art teacher and students at a school I visited this past Spring!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Where I Write Now

I began writing, really writing, at the dining table in Malawi.  I wrote the first few drafts of each project out in long hand in ink on Malawi secondary school copy books and typed the final draft on an orange typewriter.  I bought it used from a Japanese volunteer who was headed home.  It was lightweight and small, missing the e-key, it did feature the symbol for the yen!  My typing skills were poor and the process was painful but I had lots of free time in Malawi and plenty of inspiration. 

When we returned to the US I still wrote at a table that doubled as dining room and kitchen table.  It was also the drawing table and game table for my children.   I wrote when the children napped(or that was the plan).

We moved to a larger house and I had an office for a while until we had more children and the office turned into a bedroom and I moved up to the third floor craft space and shared an office space with the sewing machine and sat back to back with my husband.  He shared that "office" as well but couldn't stand to look at the distraction that was my writing space.    During this time my husband decided I needed a real typewriter and he dragged me kicking and screaming into what was then the world of technology.  He gave me an electric typewriter.  I hated it.  It moved too fast and the touch was too light.  But I learned to appreciate it and began to feel like I was sailing instead of paddling through my writing time.

In Haiti I had a desk in the living/dining room where I could see my youngest out the window as he played in the dirt with the Haitian street children and chased the pigs out of the yard.  By then we had a desktop computer but I still wrote out first drafts by hand.  The desktop doubled as the only game computer for the expatriat children on the hospital compound where we lived.  My material was sometimes accidentally deleted by me or the kids.  The computer was grounded by a wire that ran to a wet cloth on the polished cement floor.  Still it sometimes gave me shock and I don't mean the writing.

Back in the US, the nursery turned into a teen's room and when he went to college it was the guest room.  But when another child left home, we spread out a little more and the guest room, a closet size space, is now my office.  I write on a laptop and I like the set up just fine, mostly.  

But the distractions at my desk-phone, email and a clutter of work papers for teaching and writing and household tasks can inhibit my muse.  An afternoon at a local coffee shop does not provide the distance I need.  When I can work it into my schedule I go off for a few days to a bed and breakfast.  My favorite place for B and B's is about an hour away in Confluence, PA.  The rooms are cheap and comfortable and the only way to get a signal on my cell phone is to drive up a two mile hill, and park in the church parking lot.   Free of everyday distractions, the tension falls away, nature inspires and the muse returns full force.  I can sit all day on a wrap- around porch overlooking a river lined with wild flowers and write.   If I write enough I promise myself a bike ride in the evening and I begin the day with a walk down country roads.

I have also been lucky enough to have my sister-in-law offer me her cottage on St. Simon's Island when she was away.  I went there with a writing friend.  We had ten days to enjoy the Island and write.   Compatable travelers and writing partners we gave each other space during the day and shared our writing in the evenings.  I took long beach walks in the early morning.  Sharon biked in the late afternoon.   Sometimes we worked at the same table, laptops back to back.  The Palm Coast Coffee shop, once a slave cabin, in the village was a welcome change of scenery too.  There we could write and munch if we felt like it.  Local shark taggers on the pier, at night, taught us that most sharks are not bad and about the need to help keep them from extinction, more fodder for the muse.

Closer to home, I have on occasion headed north of Pittsburgh for the day to New Wilmington, PA.  Mugsies is a coffee house that is NOT Starbucks and if I sit facing the window I am enchanted by the passing Amish buggies.  A drive through the countryside on the way is a good way to enhance the writing too.    The beauty of farm country and the Amish blues invite a flow of creativity.

Recently I have found I do not have to leave home to find the same quiet inspiring writing space that I have at Mugsies or Ohiophyle or St. Simons Island.  I took the huge black grill off of our tiny back porch and replaced it with a bistro table.  Covered with a flowered table cloth, it brings me back to France.  Seated at the table I overlook my garden and I write.  Oddly, though this space is only one floor down from and exactly below my office, it is a whole new world where I find the peace and inspiration to write with the chaos of my office overhead.  That’s where I write from now. 

Soon I intend to check out the picnic tables along the trails in the lush, cool park near my home.  I walk there daily and the writing begins in my head.  I can only imagine what will happen if a take a few hours there with my laptop and let the muse wander and get the writing up on the screen.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

GALIMOTO Still Inspires

I was invited to visit Nature Camp at the Frick Park Environmental Center in Pittsburgh this summer.  
Galimoto was the inspiration for much fun and creativity as second grade campers thought about ways to recycle plastic bags, wires, bottle caps, soda can tabs, bicycle wheels and scraps from nature into toys. 

In the book, Kondi uses wire to build his special toy car.  But he has other things in his own box of toys including a dancing man puppet made from dry cornstalks.  A child in Africa might also have a yoyo made out of a bottle cap, a toy made from the sticky clay-like dirt of a termite mound, or a rag ball made of plastic bags. 

The Campers at Frick Park came up with their own ideas for jewelry, kite and even a hobo stick.  And games.  Who can throw their rag ball the farthest?  

Some of the comments I heard:  "It didn't know Camp would be this fun."  "Do we have to stop now?  No?  Good I want to keep doing this all day."  "I like this the best."  "I want to make lots for gifts."  "I want to make one of each."  

Frick Park Flowers Make Me Smile!