The Boy on the Bookmobile

January 25, 2018

Bookmobile w: Steve WPhoto: Steve Weigle drives the bookmobile for Portland Public Library.

I read a book I loved and looked up the author. Big mistake. What? He was born a year after me and he’s published 50 books! Then I remembered: quantity wasn’t the important thing. I recalled what Nancy Werlin said in an interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith:

There’s a sort of fable I tell myself. I imagine that a single reader has picked up one of my books for free at the city dump. The book has lost its cover and front matter, so that there’s no sign of my name anywhere. The reader reads the book. The reader loves the book—for a while, it’s her favorite and her friend. She never knows who I am, and I never know about her. And let’s suppose further that this is the only reader there ever is, for that book. Let’s say that nobody else ever liked it. But for this one reader, for whatever reason, this was the book. In terms of my purpose in the world, this has to be enough.

I love that—the idea that if even one reader loved your book, that’s enough. And I’m lucky, because my books have been that book for some kids. The book. And I actually know about it, thanks to their grown-ups. One friend told me my first book was her granddaughter’s favorite, the one that helped her discover she liked reading. Another friend said my second book was his daughters’ go-to read-aloud.

And Steve Weigle, my coworker at Portland Public Library, told me about the boy on the bookmobile. Over and over, the boy climbs up the big steps of the bookmobile and asks for my third book, “The Waffler.” He’s already read it. But he wants to read it again.

Do I wish my books were best-sellers? Sure! But what if that wasn’t a choice? What if the only choice was between not being a writer, and writing a book that only one kid would read? But it would the book for that kid. Would I choose to do all that work for a single reader? One boy on a bookmobile?

In a single heartbeat.

Best day job for a writer?

October 3, 2017

PPL 06 exterior Robert Benson photographyEven though “She’s closing up the library!” was a dark fate best avoided in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” I think working at the Portland Public Library is pretty wonderful.

Photo by Robert Benson

Sorry I scavenged through your garbage, kid.

February 14, 2016

I don’t normally scavenge through other people’s garbage, but there was good reason to go through the bags my kid was throwing out: Money.

At $2.70 per bag in our city of Portland, it would cost some $16 to toss the half dozen bags she would put out after a big end-of-summer room cleaning.

I had my doubts that the bags actually contained what we call “garbage-garbage.” In fact, I was pretty sure that many of them were full of things we could put out for free in the recycling bin.

It might have been the boxy shapes clearly showing through the plastic bags that tipped me off. Boxy shapes that were, in fact, empty shoe boxes.

I began routinely going through the bags after these big cleans. Cardboard boxes were broken down and recycled, and schoolbooks (oh, the shame! But at least she was cleaning her room) got returned to the schools. And the notebooks got adopted by me.

Every fall we had dutifully bought notebooks for her classes. And every summer these partially-used notebooks, with varying amounts of perfectly good paper still left inside them, were thrown away. Apparently my kid hadn’t taken to heart her great-grandmother’s saying that, “every piece of paper has two sides,” a motto to live by if I ever heard one, along with my personal favorite, “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

I was happy to model these mottos by using the old notebooks. While I do much of my writing on the computer, I still like pen and paper for scribbling notes and first drafts.

It seemed especially apt that I should use my kid’s cast-off notebooks to draft my books because in some sense, my books are written for the reader she was.

Even though she had taught herself to read by leafing through picture books, she was a “reluctant reader.” Very few books grabbed her. She wasn’t going to ask for another chapter if the last one hadn’t ended with a darn good reason to turn the page.

Reading aloud to her, I became a better writer. Now I have three novels for elementary school-age readers published, and a fourth in the works.

But soon I’ll need a new source of paper. School is college now. The going-back-to-school room cleanings don’t yield as many garbage bags, and they aren’t filled with paper or cardboard anymore. Once I discovered that the bags were just full of “garbage-garbage,” I stopped going through them. And I guess this should make me happy. She’s recycling! She’s at college!

But as I near the end of the last notebook, I’m feeling sad. Her first name and last initial is on the front cover in permanent marker: Zora K.

I want to say, Thanks, Zora. Thanks for letting me read to you when you were young. Thanks for making me a better writer. Thanks for the treasures you left in unexpected places.

from the Maine Sunday Telegram



My Latest Crush

October 21, 2015


I’ve got all the signs. I can’t stop thinking about her. I neglect duties to spend time with her. I stay up past my bedtime to hear what she has to say. Yep, I’ve got it bad: an author crush.

Happily, I’m not crushing on a “debut novelist,” left wondering if she will write another book I like as well but on the well-published Maggie Stiefvater. I’ve only just discovered and sped through “The Raven Boys.” Now I’m beginning the next book in her Raven Cycle, knowing a third is ready and waiting and a fourth will be coming out in the spring of 2016.

A legend of a Welsh king, secrets, dreams, and prophecies are all woven together in Stiefvater’s fast-paced prose. Her equally strong male and female characters—four boys from a private school and a girl from a family of psychics—make this a story that can’t be reduced to a “girl book” or a “boy book,” but simply a great read.

No Fair!

April 8, 2015

crying faceThirty-odd hands waved in the air. They were the hands of Mr. Custeau’s and Ms. Butcher’s fourth-grade class at Hall Elementary, answering my question, “how many of you have seen a toddler crying at the top of their lungs?” Everybody. Next question: “how many have seen a grown-up doing the same thing?” No hands. Because somewhere along the way, we learn not to cry in public.

I write for young readers in-between the wailing toddler and the keeping-it-together adult, for seven to eleven-year-olds who feel deeply that sometimes life just isn’t fair! Because I remember how that felt. If you’ve ever felt that way, too, my books are for you.

Hello To New Readers In China

November 29, 2014










In Memory Of Gorfman T Frog, now available in Chinese!

Free To Good Home

July 9, 2014

MSBAlogoThe Waffler was selected for this year’s Maine Student Book Award list, and I’m celebrating with a book giveaway. So contact me via email, Facebook message or pony express! The first ten people are winners.