Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday greetings

What a lovely email I got for the holiday, from a stranger.

Dear Karen,
I’ve been meaning to email you for months, but life has gotten in the way. During this holiday season, I’m trying to say thanks to people who have impacted my life in some way, so here I am finally emailing.

When I discovered your books I was so excited. I checked every one of them out of the library and read them with my kids (8 and 5). As a person who has lived and traveled in developing countries, your books touch on so many issues that are near and dear to my heart. They are the kind of books I try to write and aspire to have published some day. Thank you for being a role model for me.

Last summer, I posted about A Beach Tail on my blog. I thought you might like to read it. I’m sorry I didn’t send the link to you before now. http://michellecusolito.blogspot.com/2010/08/beach-tail.html Thank you for writing the lovely text that inspired Floyd Cooper’s wonderful art.

Happy Holidays.

Please do see her web page. And best wishes to everyone for the holidays and New Year.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Beatrice's Dream Pub Date in February

Just got my first copy of BEATRICE'S DREAM in the mail yesterday. It has been a long time coming. I worked on this book while I was in Kenya in 2003 with photographer Wendy Stone. I spent a week following Beatrice around the huge slum, Kibera. This is where she lives, goes to school and visits with her friends. But Beatrice has a dream and this lovely quiet girl is a young woman now on her way to making the dream come true.

Many thanks to Wendy who made this book happen and to Beatrice who shared her life. See Wendy's website, http://www.wendystone.com/ and watch my website, www.karenlynnwilliams.com and this blog for updates on Beatrice and more about the book with teacher guides to come.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fall on the Mesa

Well into autumn in Chinle with some warm sunny days and cold evenings and mornings with occasional wind storms that blow red dust across the land scape and leave me with grit in my teeth and eyes.   Dark comes early but the rose and indigo sunsets that fill the sky are worth the early nightfall.

Creation stories are told only in the winter but with snow on distant mountains it is time.  I went to a string story telling in the hospital hogan.  With a fire in the stove it was warm and toasty.  My "many stars" sting design still needs work.  Can't quite make my fingers work or remember the finger moves but I can see the appeal cosy and relaxing.

Autumn has also found me on the Hopi Mesa buying Kchina dolls, Standin' on the Corner in Winslow Arizona walking in the Little Painted Desert at sunset and watching a bull roping.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Sky is my Ocean

The sky is my ocean, the mesa my beach...... So the high dessert is becoming home.

But part of me will always be a beach person.  See what the blog Drawrite has to say about A BEACH TAIL:

Ages 3-6  Drawrite blog

I pick books the way most children would – by looking at the cover. Children are extremely perceptive. They notice, observe and pick up faster than most adults. I think books done for them have to be especially mindful and thoughtful.

One such book is ‘A Beach Tail’. It is about a little boy, Greg, who draws a tailless lion on a beach and calls it Sandy. With specific instructions from his dad to not go in the water and to not leave Sandy, he draws a tail. He draws and he draws. He circles a jellyfish and passes a sand castle; he zigzags around a horse shoe crab and around a tiny ghost crab; he writes his name and realizes that he has gone too far. Yet, he didn’t go in the water and he didn’t leave Sandy.

Written by Karen Lynn Williams and illustrated by Floyd Cooper, the spirit of the story is wonderful and the pictures, stellar. This is probably one of the best examples of pastels work I have ever seen!

 AND I WOULD ADD, I LOVE THE WAY FLOYD HAS CAPTURED THE FEEL OF THE BEACH.  SAND EVERYWHERE.  Oh yes the Beach.  Here in Chinle, red dust dances in little dervishes across the landscape.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Beach Tail from the Mesa

I am struck by the similarities this photo taken on the beach has to the Mesa, my new home.

And here is another great review for A Beach Tail.  From Libraryvoice.org.  I love that this review mentions they way Floyd captures the beach sand feel through out the book...you can feel the texture.

Book Review: A BEACH TAIL

A Beach Tail written by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Boyds Mills Press, 2010

Recommended for ages 3 to 5

Gregory and his dad are spending the day at the beach together.  Swish-swoosh, up lap the waves onto the sand.  Gregory draws a Sandy Lion, with a full mane, four chubby legs, a happy face.   His father gently reminds him of the beach rules; “Don’t go in the water and don’t leave Sandy.”  On the pages that follow, Greg draws in Sandy’s tail which leads him down the beach, past a purple jellyfish, a sandcastle, a horseshoe crab, and other amazing discoveries on the sand.  While getting further and further away from his father under the blue umbrella, Greg never goes in the water and the growing, twisting, curving tail ensures that he never leaves Sandy.

Cooper’s art is gorgeous.  Using pastels in beachy taupes, browns, soft purples and blues, he creates a textured effect that defines both the setting and the main character.  In this way, the environment and the boy are visually united.  Greg and his surroundings are rendered in a subtle soft-focus, which when combined with Cooper’s ability to create a breathtaking balance of shadow and light, lends the overall experience an almost tactile, sensual quality.

There is a double-page spread that features Greg leaning down to inspect a new creature.  His face tilts up to look toward the viewer.  Sunlight reflects off of the top of his head and is captured twinkling on grains of sand stuck to the side of his chin.  There is a slight blending between the borders of Greg and the sand around him, which reminded me of Peter McCarty’s luminous Hondo and Fabian books.

I loved how child-focus the story and art remained throughout A Beach Tail.  I know a mom who was initially concerned about a young child being portrayed as straying so far from his parent (and so close to the dangerous ocean.)  As a parent, that must be an unsettling, even terrifying, feeling.  For the child reader, however, this bit of brief independence and even slight mischievousness (Greg definitely knew he was pushing the limits of his father’s second rule) is where adventure happens.  It is only by breaking away from his dad that Greg can indulge his curiosity and discover remarkable creatures and objects on the beach.  And yet, he is still tied to the security of his father through Sandy’s tail.

This perfectly balanced depiction of independence and safety is exactly what so many preschoolers and kindergartner’s crave.  They want to be a big kid and have adventures.  But, it is still important to know that their grownup will be there at the end of the day to welcome them home and keep them safe.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Mesa Musings


More lists that could turn into writing:

What they say
They say don’t drink the water here.
They say the water is fine
They say there is recycling here.
They say do not drive after dark.
You could hit a cow.
They say it is fine to drive after dark
(just don’t hit a cow).
They say there is no recycling here.
They say there are rattle snakes
In the mesa where I walk in the evenings.
They say the weather is unusual for this time of year.
They say they have had a lot of rain.
They say it is much greener than usual.
They say they close Buffalo Pass in winter and
The snow is as deep as I am tall.
They might plow one side in the winter but the other side?
If they plow it, by nightfall it will be as slick like a slide.
They say it is always like this, this time of year cool evenings, hot days, but so clear, not like Phoenix.
They say to shop in Flagstaff, it is better there
Target, Trader Joes, New Frontier(just like whole foods).
They say to shop in Gallop it is closer,
Gallop is a dangerous place, they say.
They say that in the windy season
You will not be able to see to drive,
Like a blizzard and the red dust will
Creep in through the cracks around doors
And windows and pile this high
         (a hand to my waist).
         They say you can’t plant sage or rabbit plant
         In your yard but it grows all over the mesa and
         Lowlands too.  You can’t ever get enough root to make it
         Grow in burst of yellow in your yard that is pure flat
         Red dry dirt.
         They say we are lucky to have a plot of grass
         And now I feel guilty if it looks too dry
         They say everyone is envious of my grass.
I will probably kill it and feel guiltier so we have to mow it with a  weed whacker.   
There is not enough grass in our yard for a mower but we are lucky.
They say it is dry here but I see beer cans and bottles and more cans and bottles everywhere broken and whole on the flat and on the mesa.
They say those are not crows you see everywhere but ravens.
And it rained yesterday, poured in the desert
And the mudslides closed the road to Flagstaff, unearthed    a wrecked car, washed it down the mountain, no one even
knew it was there.
And today there are yellow flowers blooming around the apple tree in my yard (yes! We have an apple tree)
They call them sunflowers….very, very small sunflowers in the dessert.
They say you can hear the wind swishing through the trees in Buffalo Pass.  The trees are huge there, evergreen.
They say it is only 30 minutes away even though it takes us an hour.
And you can see Ship Rock from there.
And wild purple asters.

Mesa glass
They sell the vanilla here behind the counter with the cigarettes
Because people use it to get high.  And in the news paper reports  A man found dead in his holding cell at Crownpoint Detention center after consuming two bottles of hand sanitizer and some prescription medication.
And the signs in the parking lot at the grocery store say “Help our neighborhood.  Do not give to the panhandlers.”
And you must walk the gauntlet of beggars to get into the store and then you must walk it again to get out.  You with your full shopping cart, piled with bags.  But you can point to the sign and say “No I am not supposed to give you money.”
I have this necklace.  I need $20 gas money.  It is always for gas for the pick up to drink.
And even the man who works at the meat counter at Basha’s market tells the stumbling man who reeks of alcohol , YOU are not hungry.  You need to go home.
In the grocery store there is spam, aisles of spam piled high, so many different kinds of spam and my husband thinks of Monty Python and I think we used to eat spam when I was a kid.
And cow food and horse feed and goat food and sheep feed.
A bag of parrot food?  But no birdseed for my feeder.
And they sell empty burlap bags here and I like that, think I might buy one as soon as I know what I want it for or maybe just get it because I will find a use and my grandmother used to use them though I can’t remember what for. 
They call us Belegana (or that is what is sounds like) so I stand out with my full shopping cart, a foreigner.
I roll the name around on my tongue, not sure how I like it.  The sound is nice but I am not sure of the meaning yet.
Yes it is dry here and hot in the middle of the day but cool in the mornings and the evenings.
The moon is full now and the sky so clear.  Huge and blue by day and when the sun sets the Mesa is orange fire and cones of
White  sun stretch out across blue sky and you  know where the stylized designs for the sun come from in Native American Art.
And rainbows too reach across the sky.
I walk in the mesa after a day and night of pounding rain and I stoop to pick up  glass.  Smooth bits of glass like beach glass, mostly green bits and the smaller ones are smoother and I realize that the desert sand like the beach sand can smooth the glass, glass that comes from sand.  Even here in the dessert washed by rain and smoothed by sand and there is a connection for me who loves the beach here where there is no beach but perhaps there was once an ocean. I am learning the land.
And there another piece and another.  And I know the glass comes from bottles broken up here in the Mesa where they come to drink in this land that is dry.
But I collect the glass the tiniest pieces that are smooth and I have something I can begin to collect and something that is mine, something that is me.  Mesa glass like beach glass.
My pockets are full and my pants sag with bits of glass and rock until I am  startled by rattling sound and think Rattlesnake! when I realize it is the glass, mesa glass rattling in my pocket.
Makes me laugh.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

MY NAME IS SANGOEL still going Strong

Nice to see that there are discriminating young readers out there.  See the IRA Children's Choices for 2010.  October 2010 issue.  Little Sangoel holds his own with Ben Reothlisberger.  There are heroes and there are heroes!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Beach Tail gets Caldecott Hype!!!!

Check out this site.    Like they say a long shot but nice to dream....  Keeps a writer going to know that the work is being recognized.  I imagine it is great for the illustrator too.  I was delighted from the beginning of this project to know Floyd would be the illustrator.  My book When Africa Was Home was one of his early works.  Here is a shout out to Floyd and Beach Tail.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Getting here

After a week of traveling west, visiting friends old and new and hiking along the way we spent the last night before the movers came camped out on the floor in sleeping bags.

Our new Home and the things we carry with us

The things we carry with us (or not).

Dust form the old home.

Mouse poop???

The keys to the house of a good friend. 

The directions to the new garage door opener, the one in PA.

Fancy pants cloths and heels..for the dessert?

NO flyswatter.

Enough warm cloths? (who knew it got this cold in the dessert?)

And I can't find the spaghetti strainer anywhere.  A resourceful student suggests hammering nails into a plastic container to make holes.

And is it really possible to get lost in a three bedroom house all on one floor?  I walk around in circles.  And which shoes did I designate as indoor and which are for outdoor?    I give up and who cares if a little red dirt is all over the house.

The very biggest advice anyone can give us and most often given without soliciting advice:  DO NOT DRIVE AFTER DARK.  It seems everyone has hit a free range cow at least once.

It all seems very foreign and barren and beautiful all at once.  Much to discover and explore.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On the Move

We are in the crazy state of cleaning, sorting, throwing away and selling(big garage sale a success). AND PACKING.  

Steve and I move to Chinle Arizona on September 1.  We expect to arrive on September 7 and hope that are movers have arrived then too.

Our new contact info:


Mailing address: PO Box 1932 Chinle, AZ 86503

House Street #: 2085.1 Codetalker's Lane

House Phone #: 928 674 8296

I can still be reached at: kwilliams@chatham.edu and kwilliams@setonhill.edu.  I will continue to teach on line for these programs. 

Updates to come soon.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sangoel Does it again!

MY NAME IS SANGOEL has won the Carolyn W. Field honor award given by the Pennsylvania Library Association for 2010.  The announcement will be made at the PaLA conference in Lancaster, PA on MOnday October 25.

And check out this thoughtful review in Paper Tiger:

Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, illustrated by Catherine Stock,
My Name is Sangoel
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2009.

Ages 6-10

Sangoel has only his mother, younger sister, the clothes on his back and a mysterious package thrust into his hands by a friend as he leaves the refugee camp.  He must start over in a brand new place, America. And in this place, the “wise one” reassures him, “you will be Sangoel.” Sangoel is proud of his Dinka name, the name of his father (who was killed in the war) and of his grandfather before him.  He takes comfort knowing he will always be a Dinka and will always be Sangoel despite everything that may change.

A kind woman meets them at the airport and helps them get settled in their new apartment.  She brings clothes, teaches Sangoel’s mother to cook on the stove, shows Sangoel and his sister how television works and how to cross the street, but she cannot pronounce his name.  Neither can the doctor, his teacher or any of the children at school. 

Sangoel’s mother suggests he choose a new, American name, but Sangoel can’t imagine such a thing.  Eventually he comes up with a brilliant idea for teaching others how to pronounce his name and begins to settle into his new life while still preserving his cherished Dinka identity.

This lovely book, a second collaboration following on from Four Feet Two Sandals between Karen Lynn Williams, author of GalimotoTap-Tap and Circles of Hope, and Khadra Mohammed, executive director of the Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Refugee Center, is illustrated in warm watercolors by Catherine Stock. It imparts the emotional challenges of the refugee experience without dragging young readers too deeply through the horrors of war.  It illustrates that even those fortunate enough to be resettled must deal with their difficult pasts while navigating a new present and trying to maintain a sense of themselves as whole individuals.  Children will be impressed with Sangoel’s story and ingenuity.  It is clear that the family will not have an easy life, but with resilience and resourcefulness they will overcome their challenges.

Abigail Sawyer
August 2010

This is a great issue about refugee children.  Don't miss the entire journal at www.papertiger.org.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Back from Europe

It was an exciting month in France and Spain with friends and lots of art, adventure, great food and a little relaxation.  And to top it off a grandson, Ethan Jon born in Taiwan while we were away.  Hard to believe that Peter from When Africa Was Home is a dad.  Harder to believe I am a grandmother!

Ethan gets a bath and Grandma makes it to the top of the rock climbing course AND to the tope of the mountain in Spain.  An 8 hour hike to the peak was spectacular.

All that and a return to Pittsburgh with three weeks to pack for our move to the Navajo Reservation in Chinle Arizona.  Check back for more about our new home and life, new works in progress, new address and email.

Monday, July 5, 2010


With the BP disaster the thick black oil threatening beaches on the gulf coast of the US and beyond, I got to thinking.  Oceans around the world connect us all and so my latest  picture book, A Beach Tail, suggests a new theme in light of that notion

Does the same water that touches Cape Cod Massachusetts also touch the shores of Europe and Africa? Asia? Did those Pelicans that we see so many images of, confused as they struggle to move, covered in a slick black death, once migrate from continent to continent?  And so too with much other wild life affected by the worst disaster in oil drilling history, the fish and sea weed.  Do some of them touch distant shores as the water does?

A Beach Tail presents a small adventure in a relatively untouched example of a one of Earth’s most important ecosystems.    What will happen to the star fish, the horse shoe crab and the ghost crab featured in this book, the sea grasses and the jelly fish?   How far reaching will the devastation be?    And for how long?  How will the fragile ecosystem and our world be changed by the torture of our oceans and beaches?

BEACHES I HAVE KNOWN AROUND THE WORLD WHERE I HAVE TOUCHED THE OCEAN:  New England, Cape Cod, Maine, New Hampshire Georgia, New York, Maryland, Spain, Italy, France, Haiti, Kenya...