Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Some Schools go All Out!

It's not necessary to decorate your entire school to look like Africa or Haiti when I come. But some schools have done just that and more.

Early this month I visited
New Wilmington Elementary School tucked away behind the high school and the middle school in an Amish community in New Wilmington, PA.

Check out the amazing mural that greeted me as I walked in the door. The rays of sun and the green stalks of grass are formed from handprints of every student and teacher in the school. If you could see the tiny print you would know that every member of the school community also has their name on this amazing work of art inspired by several of my books.

But these teachers and students went beyond Africa. They recognized that the theme of several of my books has to do with recycling so everything used to make this unique work of art is recycled...I especially like the use of cereal boxes cut up for tusks and grass.

But that was not all! Look what greeted me on the stage where I was speaking in the all purpose room: A nearly life sized tap-tap with heads of the riders made out of paper bags. The wheels are vinyl...that's right the kind that some of us used to spin on record players.
Every classroom door was decorated around a theme or title from one of my books.
There were Galimotos made from all kinds of recycled and found objects all over the school.

It's not necessary but these dedicated teachers, administrators, librarians and parents know that you get so much more out of an author visit, the more you put into it.

At least one student proclaimed it would be an awesome day.
And it was!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Little Ol' Me! Tucson book Festival in March!

I have often asked myself, how did a nice girl like me end up in a place like this( think changing diapers by kerosene lamp in 110 degree heat while pregnant living at the end of a dirt road in Malawi). On the other hand I sometimes wonder Wow! How did little ol' me( think shy and withdrawn, afraid of my shadow) get HERE?

In two weeks I will have the honor to present at the Tucson festival of books with authors like Jack Gantos, Megan Mc Donald, Kadir Nelson, R.L Stine, Monica Brown, Jon Scieska and many others.

I will be speaking at area schools and at a mini conference at the University of Arizona. Check it all out at:


Little ol' me. If you live nearby(out west that means four hours away) come check it out.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Four Kids...Four Continents

When I used to tell my children I could be a rich and famous author if I didn't have so many kids, they would roll their eyes. "Mom, without us you wouldn't have anything to write about." They told friends, "Watch what you say. It can and will be used in a book."

Now my four children are all in different time zones. I don't even know what day they are living, forget what time it is. Their phone numbers are 12 digits long.

That curly-haired blond who does not believe home could be anywhere but Africa can only be Peter, the star of When Africa Was Home. He lives in Taiwan and my only grandchild, Ethan, is there too.

When I wrote First Grade King, Christopher said, "Mom! You can't steal my ideas like that!"
Chris was born in the Peace Corps in Malawi, the child who said he did not belong in this family "I don't do all this living abroad stuff." He currently lives with his wife Laurie in Mozambique. THEY are in the Peace Corps. I like the circle of life theme.

Rachel currently holds down the fort in Pittsburgh. But she knows for certain who the star of One Thing I'm Good At Is. I don't expect her to be there forever but it's nice to have one kid who is only two hours off my time. If I could only remember two hours which way.

Jon keeps asking when that book about him will come out. Editors are slow to snap that one up. In the meantime I keep writing. There's that first chapter with the the kid locked in the bathroom in high school. Problem is now he is down under in New Zealand. It is already tomorrow there.

All this makes things feel a little upside down for this writer mom. Am I really loosing all my material?

Of course I live in the Navajo Nation now...BTW, the rest of Arizona is in a different time zone than the rez. There is much to write about here but it is not going to make me rich or famous either.

Talk about leaving the nest. My chicks are migrating. For now the world is home. But it seems I got more writing done with four kids underfoot than I do when most of them are on the other side of the world.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Why I Write: Kids appreciate a good book

Ok so maybe the teacher assigns the thank you note. But kids are honest and they tell you what they like and don't like.

I recently visited Chinle Middle School on the Navajo Reservation.

You know you have made an impression when a student takes out pencil and paper and begins to draw, inspired by your presentation, before you even leave the classroom.
Even when the thank you is a group effort you know the book was appreciated and the effort of a school visit worth every minute.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Beatrice Inspires

"Picture me" a photo workshop for adolescent girls in Nairobi Kenya starts with my book Beatrice's Dream.

Photographer Wendy Stone who did the photographs for Beatrice's Dream, helps you girls use their photographs to tell their own stories.

See more at Wendy's blog:

It is exciting and gratifying to see one of your books go places you never expected. Maybe more dreams will come true.
Photos by Wendy Stone

Friday, February 10, 2012

Beatrice's Dream chosen by USBBY for 2012 outstanding international book list

Beatrice's Dream

Beatrice does it again with another nice recognition. Check out Beatrie's Dream and others on the 2012 USBBY site here

And for more about USBBY and the Outstanding International Books list go to:


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Undocumented Immigrants and one little book

In early December I went to El Paso to the Mexican Border to research my picture book, Facing Fear(working title) about Enrique, the child of undocumented parents. It is fiction and it is a difficult story to capture. My original manuscript was 1500 words. I have manage to cut to 850 words.

Those 850 words represent interviews with the FBI, reporters who regularly cross into war zones controlled by drug cartels in Jurez, teachers, children, and a social worker who works with children who are undocumented. It has meant reading many books, fiction and non-fiction and watching a number of films, reading news articles and journeying the internet for any thing from the Spanish word for run to facts about border patrol to personal stories from immigrants.

The story of undocumented immigrants is complex and compelling. I hope I can do it justice. The day after I sent the manuscript. to an editor who expressed an interest in this kind of material for children, this opt-ed piece appeared in the NY Times. It is worth a read. Honest and compelling, it captures all that I have tried to put into a picture book.


It is interesting to note that as I was working on the book, this last month the Tucson school district was forced to eliminate a very successful program teaching Latino history and several books related to that program have been banned from the school system. This is a symptom of a larger problem we currently face in Arizona and other states creating and enforcing laws that work to discriminate against immigrants instead of to help solve the complicated immigration problems we face today.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Why I Write: to connect with one reader

One Great Teacher Doing Great Things.

It is more and more difficult with the publishing world in the state it is today to find the courage to write and the faith that your book will find a home in a publishing house that will bring it out to readers who might read and relate to your book.

Then you get a letter like this and you know you cannot stop writing. Thanks Laurel for the work you do and for sharing.

Hello Karen,

My name is Laurel Conran. I am an ESOL Teacher. Recently, our community received many refugees from Burma. I orchestrated many programs for teachers, parents and community members to help teach the refugee families English. My passion is writing a children's book about my experiences. As I was looking for children's books for my refugee students to relate to, I found your books and teacher resources! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences! My favorite book is, "My Name is Sangoal.

May I share a story with you?

Today, I had a wonderful opportunity to read to a 2nd grade class. I co-teach the social studies class with the classroom teacher, I have many of my refugee students in her class. I am trying to teach the English speaking children HOW to help the refugees speak English and assimilate into their new country and school. I read your book, "My Name is Sangoal." I had the students find Sudan on the map. Next, I had students define "immigrant." One student said they saw a similar word to "migrate." Next, I asked students what they thought was an "immigrant." Responses varied, "a person living in Antartica, a person that is not supposed to be there or live there, etc..."

After discussing the correct definition, I introduced the word, "refugee." Again, a student saw the word similar to "refuse!" We discussed the meaning. I read the book with the students. They were very attentive. We stopped every 2-3 pages for a comprehension check...and to share Sangoal's feelings and how the children began to feel for Sangoal, not having any friends and no one being able to pronounce his name. The class felt sad for Sangoal and could relate to his feelings. some of the students became teary-eyed, especially my refugees and immigrants as they were making personal connections to the story. As a class the students came up with ways to help Sangoal feel more comfortable at his new school.

How did you ever come up with , Sangoal drawing pictures to help the classmates say his name??? That was ingenious and it was the class' favorite part!. The students applauded and said this was the best book they've ever read!!!

Thank you so much for sharing that story...it touched their young lives and mine!!! It was hard to read without tearing up!

I am writing and editing my first book about my experiences teaching refugees. I read in your bio that you were part of a writing club. I like that idea. I will look for one. This book is important for me to write. Need to get the message across to teachers and children how they can help!

Recently, I was interviewed by the Washington Post and VOA about the program I wrote, ""English Speaking Partners." Click below for my story!

VOA (Voice of America)YouTube

VOA (Voice of America) aired around the world:

WASHPOST Article: Teaching Burmese Chin Refugees

Thanks so much for reading my long email! Looking forward to hearing from you!


Laurel Conran

If you have not read the book:
My Name is Sangoel

Sangoel is a refugee. Leaving behind his homeland of Sudan, where his father died in the war, he has little to call his own other than his name, a Dinka name handed down, proudly from his father and grandfather before him.

When Sangoel and his mother and sister are resettled in America, things are supposed to be better but life in their new home is strange and lonely. The refugee camp seems better than this place where no one can pronounce his name and some even make jokes about it. Sangoel quietly endures the homesickness and ignores his mother’s suggestion that he might want to take an American name. He finally comes up with and ingenious solution to this problem and in the process begins to make friends and perhaps feel a little at home.

Co-authored with Khadra Mohammed and Illustrated by Catherine Stock in bright detailed scenes this is a poignant story of identity and belonging that will help young readers understand the plight of many children around the world as well as in their own neighborhoods.