Sunday, April 24, 2011


This week, THE TEXAS SWEETHEARTS & SCOUNDRELS are thrilled to be featuring librarian Ryan Fennell!

Short Bio (according to Ryan):

Ryan is a Young Adult Librarian for Harris County in Houston, Texas. Before becoming a librarian, he taught school overseas and in the States. According to him, despite his (alleged) lack of talent, he's always looking for ways to express his creativity. His wife keeps him grounded, and his two-year-old daughter is already smarter than he is.

TXS&S: Can you tell us a little about what you do and what or who inspires you?

RF: People who inspire me are the ones who make a living doing what they love.

TXS&S: What projects are you excited about?

RF: I'm excited about all of my projects. I have a really amazing group of volunteers who share the same goal of promoting libraries through the arts. We always have about three projects we are working on at one time. We just finished our art book cart, which you will be able to see at this year's Houston Art Car Parade. Right now we are collecting video of authors sharing what they would be doing if they weren't writing. Thanks to TXS&S for participating in that by the way.

TXS&S: How do you see reading changing for teens in the next couple of years? What challenges do you see for readers?

RF: If you can believe it, teens are going to have even more opportunities to read. Current technology has already sent chances to read into orbit, and right now there are a bunch of brilliant people developing things I could never imagine that will boost opportunities even higher. The only challenge I see for readers is them not having enough encouragement in their lives to pursue reading.

TXS&S: If you weren't a young adult librarian, what would you do instead?

RF: Why? Are you hiring? Seriously, as long as I am allowed to be creative, I'm fine with whatever. If I had my choice though I would just spend every second with my wife and daughter.

TXS&S: Would your friends and fellow staff members consider you a Sweetheart or Scoundrel, and why?

RF: My friends and fellow staff members would consider me a scoundrel, which makes perfect sense. They're a bunch of scoundrels themselves.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Libraries of Love—A Great Update!

Last October, we brought you an interview with fabulous Austin librarian Trudy Marshall who started the whole Libraries of Love program to build libraries for kids in Uganda. I wanted to share with you a recent update from Trudy about this year's program.


Our Libraries of Love shipment has arrived at one of our schools in Mbale, Uganda. It was an interesting weekend trying to clear it through customs at the Kenyan/Ugandan border. Every year their requirements change. This year they stated that our customs fees would be $1,300, and if we didn't produce their latest new document requirement, they would hold the container at a charge of $100 a day. Also, since it was Saturday, the earliest clearing would be Monday.

That same day, I requested a Ugandan friend, Wilberforce Okumu, (whom most of your children have met - at our school), to travel to the border to see if we could settle the problem. Later in the day, I received an email saying the truck had been cleared and already arrived at our Mbale school, as it is only about an hour from the border. Not only did it clear on Saturday, it was done with no customs fees, the first time that has happened in our seven years of shipping. Cheers!

Young men unloading the truck. In the container were over 900 boxes, weighting between 30 - 60 pounds. We used forklifts and a shipping dock. They unloaded by hand and carried the boxes on their heads!

Included in the shipment:
  • Reading textbooks for 15,000 students
  • 24,000 library books to complete four new, large libraries
  • sports balls (mostly soccer) for the new schools, and some of the previous ones.
  • Paperback books so every student can choose a book to keep (approx. 5,000)
  • 15 World Globes
  • 15 World (wall) Maps
  • 15 Maps of Africa (wall maps)

Your help over the past seven years has been an inspiration to the Libraries of Love team. Your endless kind words, inquiries about the status of the next libraries, funding through the Readathon, donation of books, and volunteer hours worked, make finding meaningful words to truly express our gratitude difficult. Just know that together we have made an enormous difference in thousands of children's lives. Over 25,00 children are now reading, with approximately 5,000 receiving new Laurel libraries this summer.

This year $7, 564 was raised through Readathon, and over 700 hours of reading took place - truly amazing! Again - 100% of your funding goes directly into the creation of Laurel Libraries. Simply - many, many thanks sent your way for your kindness and support.

A book is a handshake of friendship.

-Trudy Marshall

Sunday, April 10, 2011

I went to the Rio Grande Valley and all I brought you was this blog post

You guys! It's me, Kari! I know you probably thought I'd been abducted by aliens and enslaved on a ship with a bunch of other writers forced to write exceedingly high quality children's books for the kids of planet xl932, but that is UNTRUE.

I have been working on my very own books, trying to finish up a new one, work on some other new ones, and still maintain the facade that I am a present and attentive parent.


But ALSO, I have been gallivanting around Texas visiting with librarians and teachers and students. Earlier this week, I spent three amazing days in the Rio Grande Valley as part of the Texas Book Festival's Reading Rock Stars program.

Gwen Zepeda is on the left, holding her book I KICK THE BALL, and that's me with MIKE STELLAR.

The program brings authors to economically disadvantaged public schools in the state of Texas. And not just that, each child at a participating school receives a signed copy of the author's book. During this latest visit, over 4,000 books were handed out!

I joined forces with authors from New York and Seattle and cities all over Texas. Split up between us, we visited 6 elementary schools in the Valley. My schools were Clinton Elementary in Penitas, TX and Kika de la Garza Elementary in Mission, TX.

It was very exciting to visit a school named after Bill Clinton!

Bill Clinton was the first president I was old enough to vote for.

At Clinton, Gwen Zepeda spoke to the Pre-K through 2nd grade kids about her picture book, I KICK THE BALL and then I spoke to 3rd-5th graders about MIKE STELLAR.

Those kiddos could not have welcomed us more graciously if we were JK Rowling and Dr. Suess.

The kids at Kika de la Garza held up signs!

Amazing Mike Stellar artwork by 4th grade students at Clinton

Kika de la Garza, I had the pleasure of visiting the school with author Samantha Vamos. She spoke to the younger students about her picture book, THE CAZUELA THAT THE FARM MAIDEN STIRRED, and the older kids got a crash course on space adventures from me.

Samantha Vamos and I are posing with the Kika de la Garza Millionaire Readers - kids who have read a million words or more. Check out the beauty queen sashes they made for us. AWESOME.

During these school visits I had some of the most rewarding, exciting and emotional encounters with students I have ever experienced. When the kids learned they'd each get a book, the excitement in the room was electric with cheers and squeals. I haven't given so many hugs and posed for so many pictures since my own wedding, I think!

Presenting to a very attentive audience. Check out the posters on stage!

One very special moment of the trip occurred while I was passing out books. The students line up, and it's a bit of an assembly line, trying to hand out 300-400 books in a short amount of time. One little guy stopped, though, and handed me a note. He'd been paying close attention when I spoke about my own kids, and told them that my youngest son, Isaac, has a scar on his forehead just like Harry Potter.

"Hi my name is Isaac and I have four scares on my head"

He grinned at me as I read his note, and then I told him it looked like my Isaac wasn't the only Isaac with a Harry Potter head! Big smiles all around.

I am just so touched to have had this opportunity, and for that I thank Clay Smith of the Texas Book Festival and Blair Newberry, the outreach coordinator for TBF, who organizes the author visits for the Reading Rock Stars program. I also want to thank the amazing and gracious English department at UTPA. Not only are they partners with TBF in bringing authors to the Valley schools, they were wonderful hosts, who drove us around the towns and took care of anything little thing we could think of.

(Special shoutout here to Amy Cummins, of UTPA, who took me and Samantha fourwheeling in her Camry in order to avoid a road closure that would have made us late to our breakfast with the millionaire readers at Kika. She drove us over a yard and through a ditch to get around a wreck. A BEAST behind the wheel, that Amy Cummins.)

And, of course, I want to thank the students and faculty of WJ Clinton Elementary and Kika de la Garza Elementary. YOU GUYS ROCK.

Kids, books, new friends - and of course breakfast tacos. I don't think a children's book author could ask for anything better.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

An Evening with Former First Lady Laura Bush

While I wouldn’t describe myself as Young or Haute, I couldn’t have been more thrilled when I was asked to join the “Top Ten Haute Young Authors” party at the SMU 11th Annual Tables of Content fundraiser.

It was truly a delight to meet the other featured authors during the cocktail reception:

Carrie Fountain

Alec Greven (who was accompanied by his lovely mother)

Callan Harrison

After the reception, we were ushered inside for a warm welcome and the presentation of the 2nd Annual Literati Award to former First Lady Laura Bush (which was followed by an interview). She revealed she plowed through the writing of her book, Spoken from the Heart, so her internal editor wouldn’t take over. Several archivists sat at my dinner table who were directly involved in researching materials for the book.

I cheered when the Former First Lady shared her love of children’s literature, and feel appreciative for all that she has done to promote literacy and the love of reading (such as creating the Texas Book Festival and the National Book Festival). What an incredible woman, and what an incredible evening! Thank you so very much, Colophon/Friends of the SMU libraries!


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Featured Sweetheart--Pat Mora

Fifteen years ago poet, writer, and literacy advocate Pat Mora started a celebration of bilingual literacy called El día de los niños/El día de los libros. Generally celebrated by libraries and the education community around April 30, the celebration of bilingual literacy--in any combination of languages--celebrates its quinceañera this year. A native Texan and a real sweetheart, we are proud to feature Pat and honor her work on behalf of all children.

TXS&S: How did you get started in writing generally, and specifically, how did you get started writing for young people?

PM: My mom, my children and I were all born in El Paso. I became interested in children’s books when I was sharing picture books with my three little ones years ago. Those children’s books look so easy, don’t they? Not that many words and then the illustrators do so much of the work. Problem is thousands reach the same conclusion and submit and submit manuscripts.

TXS&S: Tell us a bit about El día de los niños/El día de los libros and
why you started this celebration. What plans are in the works for the 15th anniversary of Día?

PM: I’ve written that I was zapped by “Día,” as we call it. In 1996, while visiting Tucson, I learned of the Mexican tradition of El día del niño (The Day of the Child) celebrated on April 30th. What a great notion, I thought, adding Children’s Day to our popular and important annual celebrations, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Immediately, I also thought, and what about combining the idea of celebrating children with connecting them with books? I’m going to be in Tucson for Día’s 15th Anniversary this April 30th, thanks to ALSC, and I hope to go back to the spot on the U of A campus where I was zapped.

Día, now housed at ALSC, a division of ALA, is a community-based, family literacy commitment whose goal is to connect all children with books, languages and cultures day by day, día por día. Culminating celebrations are held across the country in April.

Let me add that my friend and a great Día supporter, Jeanette Larson, quickly volunteered to help years ago and quickly got Día on the Web. Even her husband Jim helped by designing some art for a first Día booklet produced by Jeanette. This spring, she’s publishing a book on Día. Thanks, Jeanette!

TXS&S: Do you have a favorite or two from among the many books you have written?
PM: Audiences of all ages ask this question. I always answer, “My next book.” Right now, my daughter Libby, a lawyer, and I are revising a picture book about a special aunt of ours, the star of my first book, A BIRTHDAY BASKET FOR TÍA. This is our first collaboration. Such fun!

TXS&S: What is your relationship, if any, like with the people who illustrate your books?

PM: In the U.S., publishers keep authors and illustrators apart from one another. You know what terribly pushy people authors can be—right? After all, I’m a full five feet three inches. I’ve always enjoyed meeting the illustrators--post-publication. I’m deeply grateful to them of course.

TXS&S: Explain bookjoy and tell us where you find your own bookjoy.

PM: Thanks for asking! I coined the term years ago and have written and spoken about it. It’s also the theme of my blog, Readers immediately smile when I use the term bookjoy since they experience the private pleasure that makes us readers.

Thanks to my wonderful mom and to teachers and librarians in my life, I’ve always been a reader. I have wonderful childhood memories of reading in bed, of going to the Summer Reading Club. A favorite part of my day is the evening when I stretch out on the living room sofa and read. I do try to read in bed after that, but I’m usually asleep in five minutes. My youngest, Cissy, used I say I was going to be knocked out by a book.

TXS&S: Your website is quite extensive and you also host a blog. What do you hope to accomplish with these tools and what challenges have you faced with them?

PM: A wonderful team helps me with the site, blog and e-newsletter or I couldn’t have this Web presence since Día is a very time-consuming initiative. We recently re-designed the blog and are in the process of re-designing the site. At this time in my life and because of the literacy advocacy to which I am committed, I have a particular desire to reach out to educators—teachers, librarians, and professors which is why I wrote my last book, ZING! SEVEN CREATIVITY PRACTICES FOR EDUCATORS AND STUDENTS. We’ll be hosting our second annual Díapalooza on the blog in April. In May, I’m changing the focus more toward creativity and will write more about my work and interview people around the country doing creative work.

TXS&S: How do you see reading changing for children in the next couple of years? What challenges do you see for readers?

PM: I’d be naive if I didn’t realize that media entertainment, or should I say distraction, makes it harder to lure non-readers and even indifferent readers to create the quiet and the habit of daily reading. When we started Día, we were focused on the children, but we quickly realized that we need to promote reading families. If everyone is watching TV or playing video games, how likely is it that children, teens—and even adults—will choose quiet, a necessary aspect of becoming and remaining a reader. Thanks to the amazing educators including librarians that I have the privilege of meeting and hearing from, I remain full of hope that together we can creatively share bookjoy. What’s at stake? Only a true democracy. Children’s books are great fun. They’re also serious business.

Pat Mora will be signing at the Texas Library Association on Wednesday, April 13 from 10:15 a.m.-11:00 a.m. in the author autographing area.