JENNIFER DONNELLY    
     
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Lost in a Book is out Jan 31!

CALENDAR (details):

June 16-17, 2017
Mare di Libri Book Festival in Rimini, Italy

August 4
Hotchkiss Library in Sharon, CT

August 5
Clinton Community Library in Rhinebeck, NY

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NEWSLETTER


September 2004

Dear Readers,

It's September, at last! Okay, it's mid-September. I'm terminally behind these days, but nonetheless, I love this month. I've always thought New Year's Day should be celebrated on September 1st instead of January 1st. There is such a feeling of things ending properly in this, the ninth month. And beginning again brilliantly.

My favorite September ending, glutton that I am, is the harvest that appears at my local farmers' market. Growers from the Hudson Valley and New Jersey bring truckloads of fragrant, beautiful fruits and vegetables to sell, and the tomatoes alone could make me cry with happiness. There are hills of fat beefsteaks, stripey, cat-faced heirlooms, and pendulous plums – all waiting to be simmered with a handful of basil into a late summer sauce. Last week, one of the farmers, a weatherbeaten man with hands like the roots of a cypress, offered me a husk tomato. I'd never had one before. It's a tiny thing, smaller than a grape, and it hides itself inside a delicate paper shell. "It's an old variety," the farmer said. "I'm trying to bring it back." I peeled the husk away, bit into the tomato, and was delighted by its sweet, fruity taste.

I bought some to take home – planning to have them for lunch, but on the way I actually stopped thinking about my stomach for two minutes and started thinking about my stories. Like me, my characters like to eat, and as a writer of historical fiction, I'm very interested in the history of food. I wondered, as I walked, if husk tomatoes were common a century ago. Or two. In Europe? The New World? Who ate them? And how? With work-roughened fingers out of earthenware bowls? Or with perfumed hands off silver and porcelain? Before I knew it, I was cooking up not a sauce, but a scene, and as I arrived home, I felt a profound sense of gratitude to the farmer for his gift of inspiration.

For me, this summer has been an amazing ride. It began a bit early – in April at the L.A. Times Book Prizes ceremony where A Northern Light was awarded the prize for Young Adult Fiction, and ended at the Edinburgh Book Festival in late August. Along the way, I met incredible people and wherever I went – Orlando, London, Los Angeles, Edinburgh, the Adirondacks – I saw how important stories and ideas – whether they're written or sung or painted or filmed – are to us all. That, too, was inspiring. Incredibly so. And I'd just like to take a few lines here and say Thank You.

Thank You to the readers who came to L.A.and Carlisle and Huddersfield and Old Forge and Edinburgh and London to listen to me yak about A Northern Light. To the literary judges who dedicated many long hours of their lives to the reading and discussion of children's books. To the editors who gave space in their newspapers and magazines to children's books. To the journalists who write about kidss books with care and thought, and the booksellers who read them and know them and recommend them. To the book festival organizers who work so hard to bring writers and readers together. And to my fellow writers who take my breath away with their work.

My Reading

Speaking of fellow writers….after a season spent meeting the likes of Pete Dexter, Anthony Hecht, Richard Peck, Kevin Henkes, Celia Rees, and Michael Morpurgo, all I wanted to do was read. Simply standing in the same room and breathing the same air as these folks is inspiring.

I had the great honor of meeting Michael Morpurgo, Britain's Children's Laureate, in Edinburgh last month at a launch for the paperback edition of his novel, Private Peaceful. The book, about two brothers on the battlefields of the first World War, is heartfelt, heartbreaking and just beautifully written. Michael himself is a merry force of nature, a force for good, and very much the sort of person I'd like to be when I grow up. In addition to writing amazing books, he and his wife run an eductional charity called Farms for City Children, which offers city kids in the UK and the US a week on a farm during which they are encouraged to discover the joys of the natural world, pursue creative interests and learn the rewards of teamwork. For more info on Michael and his work, visit www.childrenslaureate.com and www.farmsforcitychildren.org.

I also enjoyed The Fire Eater by David Almond, a really exciting writer whose work is always original and inventive. It's about a young British boy who, with his family and neighbors, experiences the Cuban missile crisis. Almond's Skellig is one of my all-time favorite reads.

At the Sign of the Sugared Plum, by Mary Hooper, is great fun, and a bit harrowing, too. It follows the adventures of a young woman named Hannah as she arrives in London fresh from the country to help her sister Sarah in Sarah's sweetmeats shop. The year is 1666 and the plague is about to strike the city. Hooper is a wonderful guide and makes us the sights and sounds feel real. I was turning the pages of this one very quickly, and will be starting on the sequel, Petals in the Ashes, shortly.

Haven't had time to read a lot of non-kids titles lately, but I did pick up a very nice volume of poetry in Edinburgh titled Staying Alive, Real Poems for Unreal Times. I used to read poetry a lot when I was younger, but haven't for many years. I think it's because at some stage I became intimated by poets and poetry. I really do think that poets – the good ones – are favorites of the gods. They show us to ourselves with the merest handful of words. My poetry fears receded a bit this year. At the L.A. Times Book Prizes, a very distinguished poet named Anthony Hecht won for his book Collected Later Poems. Hecht taught poetry at the University of Rochester while I was an undergrad there. He cut an imposing figure in the corridors of Morey Hall, and I was too intimated to take his course. Hearing the poetry presenter quote some of his beautiful words made me want to stop my Chicken Little nonsense and introduce myself after the ceremony. So I did. Professor Hecht was lovely and gracious and afterwards, I felt full of regrets for not taking his course when I had the chance. Can't go back, but I can forward. And I am. Armed with Staying Alive and Collected Later Poems.

That's about if for my summer reading. I bought Pete Dexter's Train. My husband took it. He loves it. I also bought Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. My mother took it. She loves it. She took Jerry Spinelli's Milkweed, too, which she also loves. I'd like to tell you if I love them. If I ever get them back, I will.

Daisy's Reading

My trips to the UK gave me the chance to scoop up two more books in Jane Simmons' wonderful series about Daisy, the little duck with big feet. Come Along, Daisy, in which Daisy is too busy to heed Mamma Duck's warning to stay close and finds herself alone on the riverbank, was an instant favorite with my own duckling, as was Shout, Daisy, Shout! which features Daisy and her cousin, Pip, as they learn when it's good to be quiet, and when it's good to be noisy.

Two other big hits are Quentin Blake's Fantastic Daisy Artichoke, about – you guessed it! – a fantastic girl named Daisy Artichoke, and Mr. Magnolia, who has only one boot. The rhymes are simple and fun and they show the author's great affection for the non-conformists among us. The illustrations are exuberant and full of scatty Bohemian joy. Stoves smoke, bikes break, things are continually misplaced, but both Daisy and Mr. Magnolia still have a jolly good time of it as they juggle, swim, and handspring through life.

One of my Daisy's best loved boardbooks is First Book of Sushi, which I wrote about in an earlier newsletter. She's so taken by it, that I got her three more books it the series, Hola Jalapeno, Let's Nosh and Yum Yum Dim Sum, all by Amy Wilson Sanger. They're as visually striking, and as much fun to read, as Sushi is, and a wonderful way to introduce kids to new foods and different cultures.
That's it for now. I hope you've all had a delightful summer – full of inspiration and tomatoes – and I wish you a wonderful start to the fall.

Happy reading!

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