Saturday, March 26, 2022

New decade, new author headshot

The day after I said goodbye to my forties, I embraced my new decade by getting my first new author headshot since 2015. 

Actually, I’ve used multiple photos across the internet, and while I do like “matching” the profile pic vibe with the platform (e.g. formal portrait for LinkedIn, picturesque travel shot for Instagram, playful pose for Facebook, etc.), I also see the value of a consistency in presence.

Here are the photos I am replacing (taken in the Washington DC area unless otherwise noted):

(Milwaukee, WI)


(Machu Picchu, Peru)


(Taj Mahal, India)


(Washington State)

The “main” author photo, which I used for sites including Google and Amazon

The new author photo

Thank you again to Karen London for my previous author photo, and National Geographic shutterbug Rebecca Hale for my new one (and for your graciousness in trying various locales).

Thursday, March 24, 2022

#KidlitForUkraine: timeline of a benefit—conceived to streamed in three weeks

On 2/24/22, Russia attacked Ukraine. Less than a month later, on 3/22/22, 28 authors of books for young readers shared stories of hope in a virtual benefit to raise money for children of Ukraine (via Save the Children).

In my initial talk with the two people who would partner with me on this (see below), I advocated for the show to air as soon as possible; I was nervous to do this because it would mean asking a lot of them within a limited time frame. But the crisis was new and raw and I knew it would be easier to secure donations while the invasion was in the news daily. 

Luckily, those two people saw it the same way.

How did so much happen so fast?


  • inspired in part by a 9/11 TV benefit called America: A Tribute to Heroes, I reached out to Rocco Staino, who had covered past efforts I’ve been involved in, to ask for suggestions on how to produce such an event


  • Rocco said Julie Gribble at KidLit TV was interested; I did not know Julie nor had I ever done anything with KidLit TV, but she seemed reliable and I could instantly tell that she knew her stuff


  • Julie, Rocco, and I Zoomed and began to map out details, many of which remained in place till the end (e.g. the concept of a series of authors each sharing a true story of hope in under three minutes, the hashtag #KidlitForUkraine); at first I suggested that we keep most of the cast secret to build excitement when promoting, but then flipped that when I realized that announcing with (most of the) participant names would likely draw a bigger crowd


  • sent first invitation to an author (who declined)


  • reached out to other authors to explain the event, detail video parameters (e.g. do not introduce yourself, simply start telling the story), provide video tips, and ask for participation; gave submission deadline of 3/14; within an hour I got the first yes; I spent the next few days trying to create a lineup of at least 25 authors


  • first video submitted—which made it start to feel more real
  • reached out to a Ukrainian publisher to ask if they could suggest any Ukrainian authors of children’s books to approach (knowing full well they likely had many other priorities)
  • the first author of Ukrainian heritage signed on (found separately from the publisher)


  • asked Mike Curato if he’d design a logo


  • the Ukrainian publisher sent names/emails for three Ukrainian children’s authors interested in participating (though only one ended up being able to submit)


  • Mike sent a logo which became the logo
  • contacted Save the Children to find out how fundraising for them works
  • 16 authors expressed interest so far, but only four had sent videos 
  • (throughout the video-gathering process: had to ask authors to reshoot if wasn’t horizontal, wasn’t a story, sound too low, video too long)


  • Julie created graphics for promotion on social media
  • named the event Stories of Hope
  • Julie and I agreed to post the show online for no charge at some point after the event, primarily for educational use


  • revealed logo to participating authors and potential authors as enticement
  • the 2022 Newbery recipient signed on
  • a high-profile author I really wanted said yes if she could submit video later than deadline, I said yes
  • wrote copy about event for KidLit TV site
  • suggested we use on-screen to identify authors, and only by name (no book titles or other info) 


  • …but only 10 videos in so far
  • the 2022 Caldecott recipient signed on
  • told a Ukrainian author who didn’t think she could make a video in time that she could speak in Ukrainian if it would help—and she did
  • created and published the event on Eventbrite; until the event, all donations would go via this platform
  • set up a Team on Save the Children for donations after the event
  • despite Julie and Rocco’s kind nudge that I make a video, I said I was planning on staying behind-the-scenes


  • Julie designed the lower third (the on-screen graphic that would ID everyone)
  • suggested we start and end with a Ukrainian and mix up the rest (i.e. not run them in alpha order because the uncertainty—including the promise of surprise guests—would build more suspense)
  • the author who got a video extension backed out with regret
  • all but one of the announced cast’s videos had been submitted
  • began announcing on social media
  • the first post-announcement author signed on (I figured once we went public, we would hear from other authors who wanted to contribute, and sure enough we did)
  • proposed the order for authors to appear in the show
  • announced to kidlit press
  • raised $2,000


  • email blast to my kidlit network
  • educators and others asked if program will be available after its initial stream for those who couldn’t watch the scheduled event
  • volunteer translated the video spoken in Ukrainian into English
  • announced on my neighborhood list serv
  • Rocco wrote a proposed intro for the show
  • it was again suggested that I do a video
  • only one of what would eventually be seven surprise guests had submitted video 


  • Jack Gantos, one of the surprise guests, made a video (shot by a student) while visiting an international school in Jordan
  • School Library Journal covered the event
  • used the English translation to create subtitles for the Ukrainian-language video
  • compiled list of people to thank in the credits
  • sent all participants a comp ticket (had to be done one at a time; Eventbrite, please make it possible to enter all comp tickets at once!)
  • announced via the newsletter of my son’s middle school


  • decided to do—and late at night, filmed—a video
  • changed a line in the promotional copy from “Storytellers subject to change. Surprises are likely” to “Surprises are guaranteed” (because we’d received videos from authors who had not been announced)
  • edited out intros (i.e. “My name is…and I’m the author of…”) from 10 of the author videos so each video starts with the start of the story
  • raised $3,500


  • Children’s Book Guild of Washington DC announced to its membership 


  • Julie created lower thirds for all participants
  • raised $5,000


  • Julie announced to KidLit TV mailing list
  • second email blast to my kidlit network
  • Horn Book, Publishers Weekly covered the event
  • Julie created a first draft of the show
  • last video submitted (file under “nick of time”): Peter Reynolds
  • raised $10,000


  • Julie whipped up countdown graphics two hours before the show started
  • at showtime, had raised almost $15,000

As breakneck a pace as this was, it was surprisingly low-stress. Julie was a dream partner—collaborative, responsive, proactive—and the authors were (no surprise) team players. People went out of their way to pitch in. As a result, we delivered on what I envisioned: entertainment + empathy.

Thank you again to all involved.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

#KidlitForUkraine benefit raised nearly $15,000 for children

At 7 pm EST on 3/22/22, from multiple continents, for an hour and ten minutes, 28 award-winning and otherwise notable authors of books for young people each told a short story of hope as part of a virtual benefit to raise money for young people of Ukraine. 

#KidlitForUkraine: Stories of Hope took place less than a month after Russia invaded Ukraine—an event over 20 days in the making!

The cost of admission to this unprecedented fundraiser was whatever amount a person wished to donate. Every dollar helps!

Number of tickets sold: 356.

Total raised as of showtime: $14,524

This will be distributed by Save the Children. 

You can still donate. (As of 4/24/22, this post-show effort raised $1,270 more.)

Thank you yet again to the brave participants (special bow/hug to the Ukrainian authors), the generous donors, the countless social media supporters, and KidLit TV for making it possible. Another special bow/hug to Julie Gribble and Rocco Staino for saying yes to my proposal—and the unforgiving time crunch that went with it.

The cast (in order of appearance):

  1. Adrianna Bamber | Адріянна Бамбер
  2. Neal Shusterman
  3. Carmen Agra Deedy
  4. Kathi Appelt
  5. Dan Gutman
  6. Dan Stewart, Head of News, Save the Children UK
  7. Donna Barba Higuera
  8. Rita Williams-Garcia
  9. Jarrett Lerner
  10. Victoria Amelina | Вікторія Амеліна (6/27/23 killed in Ukraine)
  11. Jason Chin
  12. Katherine Marsh
  13. Peter Reynolds
  14. Samantha Berger
  15. Padma Venkatraman
  16. Nick Bruel
  17. K.A. Holt
  18. Richard Michelson
  19. Charles R. Smith Jr.
  20. Tara Lazar
  21. Minh Lê
  22. Roxie Munro
  23. Duncan Tonatiuh
  24. Nikki Grimes
  25. Jack Gantos
  26. Jane Breskin Zalben
  27. Kate Messner
  28. Marc Tyler Nobleman
  29. Olha Kupriyan | Ольга Купріян

Bold names were not announced in advance (i.e. surprise guests).

Special thanks:

  • Steven Colucci
  • Oksana Ziobro at Old Lion Publishing House in Ukraine
  • Sarah McLoughlin at Save the Children
  • Courtney Nields at Save the Children
  • Mike Curato (who designed the lovely logo)
  • Dr. Oleh Kotsyuba at the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University
  • Lidia Wolanskyj (translator)
  • Allyson Hickey at booked 
  • Uliana Hlynchak at the Ukrainian Canadian Art Foundation
  • Lisa DiSarro
  • Samantha Berger
  • Aurielle Kuehl


мир для України.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

#KidlitForUkraine: Stories of Hope—virtual author benefit

The day Russia invaded Ukraine (2/24/22), I was moved to try to throw together a virtual benefit for children of Ukraine. My simple vision: an evening of diverse, beloved authors sharing short stories of hope, open to anyone who makes a donation to Save the Children’s efforts for Ukraine. 

Entertainment + empathy.

While I have organized other small events (like the author variety show for the students of Sandy Hook Elementary held two months after the tragic shooting), I had no experience arranging online events, so I reached out to Rocco Staino, who connected me with Julie Gribble and KidLit TV. I was instantly in good hands.
On 3/2/22, the three of us met over Zoom. To their credit, they were willing to take on this effort despite the many moving parts and tight deadline. At first we discussed aiming to air in mid-April, but that felt too far off, so even though it would mean a more breakneck pace, we agreed that a sooner date was a) better and b) doable. Nervously, I floated the insanely imminent date of 3/22/22—and they did not hang up on me.

We decided to make the donations open-ended—any amount will help, and any amount will earn admission to the live stream program. People will also be able to donate during and after the event via a link we will provide during the program and afterward on social media. 

On 3/4/22, I hit the ground bolting, reaching out to Save the Children to set up the fundraiser and to a diverse group of authors to build the cast, which ended up including both the Newbery and Caldecott 2022 recipients. We also needed to fast-track a logo (courtesy of Mike Curato), a platform for registration (Eventbrite), marketing, and a ton of technical details from designing on screen graphics to translating videos in Ukrainian for English subtitles.

Luckily we have received heartening volunteer support, press coverage from School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, and enthusiasm on social media. On the day we announced (3/15/22), we raised close to $2,000. 

Hosted by Rocco, the event features an all-star lineup of 21 award-winning storytellers, including three Ukrainian authors…plus surprises. 


Victoria Amelina | Вікторія Амеліна
Kathi Appelt
Adrianna Bamber | Адріянна Бамбер
Samantha Berger
Nick Bruel
Jason Chin
Carmen Agra Deedy
Nikki Grimes
Donna Barba Higuera
K.A. Holt
Olha Kupriyan | Ольга Купріян
Tara Lazar
Minh Lê
Jarrett Lerner
Kate Messner
Roxie Munro
Neal Shusterman
Charles R. Smith Jr.
Duncan Tonatiuh
Padma Venkatraman
Rita Williams-Garcia

The stories the authors will share are not necessarily taken from their books. I encouraged them to tell personal stories or stories they have encountered in their travels. The stories did not have to be explicitly about Ukraine but rather for Ukraine, though of course the Ukrainian authors do tie in that connection in a highly emotional way, as do some of the American authors.

Ukrainian Embassy, 3/15/22

Julie Gribble at KidLit TV has been a dream partner: collaborative, responsive, efficient, and connected, not to mention downright nice. She has endured a barrage of emails from me that would flatten even the stronger among us.

If this goes well, I hope to do more events like it—for Afghans, for Syrians, for whoever we can.

If you are reading this before 3/22/22, please spread the word…and please attend!

To that end, here is a tweet you can copy and paste:

#KidlitForUkraine: 3/22/22 7 pm EST

Virtual benefit for children of Ukraine: all-star lineup of American + Ukrainian children's authors sharing stories of hope. To watch, pls donate:; 100% of proceeds go directly to @SavetheChildren. Hosted @KidLitTV_NYC.

Ukrainian flag over embassy, as seen from canal trail 
behind building

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Michigan, take three

In October 2019, I keynoted the MAME conference in Michigan and after, I booked a potpourri of school visits in the state for March 2020 and beyond.

You might remember what else happened in March 2020.

So one group of schools, in St. Joseph, MI (on the shore of Lake Michigan) rescheduled me for 2021…and then when 2021 revealed itself, the schools rescheduled me again for 2022. 

This trip finally took place the week of 3/7/22…and was more than worth the wait. Students and staff were sweet as cherries. (The sweet kind.)

In an effort to be more environmentally responsible, I now tote a reusable water bottle to visits rather than accept one-time-use plastic bottles. Tip: do not fill your bottle in your layover airport, put it back in your backpack, and stash it sideways in the overhead bin. 

Also not fun: when the car rental company doesn’t know the number of the space where your car is parked and asks you to find it by wandering the lot while pushing the unlock button on the remote till a car’s lights blink/horn honks. Detracting more from the fun: when it’s dark and snowing, and the car is on the far side of the lot, and the car doesn’t blink/honk because (at first unbeknownst to you) one of the rear doors is not quite closed.

But it was all uphill from there. After two invigorating days on the western side of the state, I drove three hours east to visit a middle school in a Detroit suburb. 

A few notable moments there:

Two questions I’d never been asked after a presentation: 

  • May I have $20? 
  • Where do babies come from? 

(You can guess my answers.) 

Though teachers were mortified, I didn’t mind. Both questions, of course, got a laugh from other kids—and there’s value in that. And both kids came up to me to apologize (likely due to an adult’s prodding). One of the two then asked not one but several thoughtful questions.

My favorite moment was during the 7th grade assembly. As I usually do, I said that Bill Finger’s son Fred was gay. Sometimes that fact triggers a reaction that is intolerant by way of ignorance

The school produced Bill Finger pins for all 6th graders. Most wore the pin on their shirt...but not Finn.

This school was the first time a group of kids cheered and applauded it. I read the looks on their faces—it was genuine, not mocking. They were jubilant. I was overjoyed. Hope springs eternal again.

Special thank you to Jamie Culver (west; in following photo, on right) and Maureen Watson (east) for taking lead!

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Every which way to zoom

I spent the week in Las Vegas, speaking at eight schools for Nevada Reading Week.

The last time I was here was in January 2020…AKA shortly before the world screeched to a halt. So it felt almost poetic that one of my first author trips since author trips have resumed was back here.

One positive of the pandemic is that it forced authors to diversify (and, to trot out an overused word of the COVID era, pivot). Before the pandemic, I’d spoken in schools (indoors). Now:

  • I’ve spoken at schools outdoors. 
  • I’ve spoken via Zoom to kids who were distance learning (i.e. all of us were home). 
  • I’ve spoken via Zoom to kids who were in school (i.e. one screen for each class).
  • I’ve spoken at schools where some kids were in the room with me while others were on Zoom from elsewhere in the building. 

And as of this week, I’ve now spoken at a school where all the kids were on Zoom from elsewhere in the building and the librarian and I were alone in the library. 

Sandra Abston Elementary

Next: I will be alone in the school and all the kids will Zoom from my house.

Thank you to all the kind librarians who hosted me. Extra special good vibes to Jen Jiron at Kenneth Divich Elementary, who coordinated all eight schools/eleven talks—a task that can be stressful at any time and is even more admirable during a pandemic!

with Nikki Bylina-Streets at Abston

with my excellent host Jen Jiron (narwhal costume for 
“Dress as a Childrens Book Character Day”)