Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Can Your Book Club Help Mine?

Phew. I'm back from the fall rush. Now I'm in the middle of a book rush. It's a good place to be.

Monday I spoke at a lovely public middle school in New Jersey. It was well-appointed but not crazily so; the students were well-behaved, diverse, well-prepared, inquistive--everything you'd want in a school group. It was a pleasure to be with them.

As usual, I asked the librarian what percentage of the students get free or reduced-price school lunch. The librarian looked startled. "I'd guess hardly any," she said. Later I looked the school up on, and sure enough, it's listed as 1%.

In a perfect world, none of our schoolchildren will grow up in poverty.

Where I live--I just stopped to do some math with the stats on, because my town is divided into both Tennessee and Virginia sides, and has 9 elementary and 2 middle schools--in my hometown, 71% of the elementary students and 63% of the middle school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. That's 3000 students out of a little over 4000.

This is why I started the Appalachian Literacy Initiative. If you're struggling to feed your kids you're going to struggle to get them books.

If they don't have access to books, they don't learn to read as well.

Nationwide, of the students who get free and reduced-price lunch, only 22% read proficiently.

At ALI, we've enrolled 28 classrooms, 675 students, in this year's program. By the end of the year each teacher will have a classroom set of 28 new high-quality books and each child will have four brand-new books of their choice to keep. "I hate to say this," one teacher from Kentucky told me, "but you give some of my students one book and you've just increased by 100% the number of books in their home."

The books we give are interesting and age-appropriate and shiny bright. They are books designed to get kids hooked on reading.

They are not free or reduced-price books. (Though our partner, Parnassus Books, does give us a great discount.) And the truth is, we've committed to these kids, but we don't know yet how we're going to fund the whole year. We're working on it! We'll take all ideas.

Meanwhile, the librarian at that school in New Jersey had a suggestion that I'm going to pass onto all of you. If you're reading this, you probably enjoy reading.
If your reading this, you may belong to a book club.

If you belong to a book club, would your club sponsor ALI? Perhaps we could be your holiday project. For $40 you could sponsor a student. $210 will sponsor the teacher's classroom set. $1000 is an entire classroom for the year.

I know, at this time of year you've got a million worthy charities vying for your attention and your dollars. Can you still spare a moment for us? I believe so sincerely in this cause. I believe so sincerely that the right book can be a lifeline for a child.

If you’d like to support the work that we’re doing, you can mail a check to Appalachian Literacy Initiative at PO Box 3283, Bristol, TN 37625, or click here to purchase books on our wishlist from Parnassus Books, our preferred bookstore. You’ll receive 10% off with the code GIVEREADING, and Parnassus will ship the books to us free of charge. You can also purchase books from our Amazon wishlist by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Sitting in Sadness

This has been a seesaw time.

Some things have been wonderful and lovely. I spent a morning having coffee with a childhood friend, with whom I've reconnected via the internet. I think we could have talked for days. I had a fantastic visit home with my parents, and then I accepted the Indiana Author's Award at this big gala dinner in Indianapolis, at the downtown library, which I've always loved. Last weekend I watched my daughter sword-fight with gusto and tenacity and success. (College fencing.)

And at the same time there's a lot going wrong. Much of what is happening is not my story, or not entirely, but, once again, people I care about are struggling with big problems that won't be easily or quickly solved.

And then someone shot up the synagogue in Pittsburgh.

I'm heartbroken over it. I'm Catholic. For a week this spring I was part of a small, close-knit, loving Jewish community, a group of children's writers and illustrators traveling through Israel. The people on that trip--only one other person wasn't Jewish--shared their faith and culture with me all week, lovingly, openly, with joy. They showed me how many different ways it was possible to be Jewish. After the latest round of sexual abuse scandals rocked the Catholic Church this summer I struggled for awhile with whether I could remain part of that institution. What kept me Catholic was my Jewish friends, who'd taught me so respectfully that there is room for dissent and disagreement within a faith.

When the madman who'd murdered eleven people at prayer was taken to the hospital, wounded, he was still ranting that he wanted to kill all the Jews. The doctors who treated him were Jewish.

This hatred is insanity. There is no place for it here. There is no place for it anywhere.

Monday, October 22, 2018

In which I will be hanging out with KATHERINE PATERSON

I'm up early. It's a busy day. I'm going to be spending most of it with KATHERINE PATERSON.

You know her, right? Two-time Newbery winner, author of Bridge to Terebithia and Jacob I Have Loved and a whole bunch of other fantastic novels. I love Come Sing, Jimmy Jo and The Same Stuff as Stars and Lyddie, but it was her classic The Great Gilly Hopkins that changed my view of what children's literature could be.

Ah, yes. Here it is. I just now got up from my desk, shimmied around the floor loom that takes up a huge amount of space in my office, and looked for my copy of Gilly.

I read a lot of books. These days, I buy a lot of books. These days, I don't keep that many. I have a pretty good feeling for which books I might reread, and even then, I can always buy them again. So unless I think a book is going to be useful for research, or it was written by a friend, I will mostly pass it on after I'm finished reading it. Not always, but often. Between the Appalachian Literacy Initiative and the two Little Free Libraries I maintain, I've got a lot of places to donate books.

But I used to hold onto every book I ever got. When we moved into this house, nearly 17 years ago, I still had nearly all the books I'd ever owned, and I filled the shelves in my new office with them. Honestly, someday soon I'm going to weed those shelves like crazy. There are plenty of books on them I will not read again. But for now, they're something like a museum, the books I loved long ago.

Here's my copy of The Great Gilly Hopkins. Paperback. $3.95.  A Newbery Honor winner, which I hadn't realized. (It also won the National Book Award.) This paperback edition copyright 1987--in other words, the year I took the children's literature class that changed my life. I'm pretty sure this book was a required text for the class.

Let me find the passage I remember. Gilly gives a hand-written card to her teacher, who, unlike Gilly, is black:

They're saying, 'black is beautiful!' but best that I can figger, 
Is everyone who's saying so looks might like a 

And inside the card in tiny letters:

Person with a vested interest in maintaining that point of view.

I remember the shock of it. I howled with laughter. I laughed until I cried. (For the record, Gilly's teacher thanks her for the card, saying, "You and I are two of the angriest people I know.")

This was the voice of a damaged child. This told me, in children's literature, there was room for my voice, too.

So, yeah, I've got a little crush on Katherine Paterson. Have for a very long time.

I've met her once before, at a dinner at ALA, years ago. Her book The Same Stuff as Stars had just come out, as had my Halfway to the Sky. I was at ALA only because it was within driving distance and my husband wasn't on call and I wanted to see what the party was like. My editors invited me to some of the cocktail parties, and Penguin had an author's dinner after one of the parties. It was really nice, a pasta buffet. I sat down at a big round table, and was joined by Jane Yolen and Katherine Paterson and Patricia Lee Gauch and Lawrence Yep--and Gary Blackwood, a midlist author like myself. Gary and I were grinning like fools. It was a blast.

Katherine Paterson went to King University, a small school here in my hometown. My friend Martin puts together one of their speaker schedules. If you want me to say yes to an appearance, any time, any where, just put me on the same stage as Katherine Paterson.

I know lots of authors these days. I'm so glad they're my friends. But Katherine Paterson is a whole different level of awesomesauce. All week I've been shamelessly namedropping. "I'm not sure what I should wear at this event with Katherine Paterson." "Where do you think I should take Katherine Paterson to lunch?"

She's speaking this morning at chapel at King, 9:15, don't know if that's for students only or open to the public. (I'll be there--bells on). Then, tonight at 7:00 pm, we're on the stage together, me and Katherine Paterson, at Central Presbyterian Church on Euclid (across from St. Anne's.) That is open to the public, and I'm told there will be book sales and signing afterward. Please do come if you can.

Me and Katherine Paterson. I still don't know what I'll wear.

Friday, October 19, 2018

To Ada, Love Kim.

I’m in Allen, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, visiting author for a community reads program, and having a lovely time. The Friends of Allen Public Library could not be more hospitable; the students I’m visiting are engaged and engaging, and last night we had a great time at the public library.

After my talk I signed books. We ran out of books so I also signed bookplates, and the event flyers, and frankly I’m happy to sign just about anything. I’ve signed kids’ hands before, and hoped it wouldn’t make their parents angry. Last night’s signing, like the rest of the event, was well-run, and so every person who wanted their book personalized handed me a post-it with the name they wanted the book personalized to written on it. This helps immensely, because people spell their own names so many different ways. Kaitlin can be Caitlyn can be Katelynn. People can spell out loud all they want, and I’ll hear M-I-C-H-A-E-L, because that’s what I’m expecting, instead of M-I-C-A-H, and here’s Micah with his brand-new book personalized to some other dude. (There’s a reason most of my reading copies are personalized—it’s because when I screw up, I trade the person out with a book of my own.)

Anyhow, a child came through the line, patiently as it was a long one, and handed me a post-it, and right there, on the yellow square of paper, was everything about why I write for children and why I do events and sign books. It was all the reasons I love my work, distilled into four simple words.

To Kaitlin, it read, Love, Kim.

A presumption of love. That the person who wrote this book, which a child loved, must therefore also love the child who reads it.

Which of course is absolutely true.

To Kaitlin, I wrote. Love, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (because I always sign my full name.)

Monday, October 8, 2018

An Update From The Field

Boy howdy, what a week. I found myself in an incoherent a bit of a rage for four days straight from time to time. I was hard to live with.

I practiced good self-care. I rode my horse. I took baths. I reread favorite books. I stayed away from social media less than I should as much as I could.

Today, though. Today feels better because today is better. The initial classroom sets of books for ALI are heading out--not all of them have reached their schools yet, but some have, and already it feels like we're doing some good. Teachers are saying they're surprised at how excited their students are about being able to chose books to keep.

I'm not. I've put books into disadvantaged kids' hands before. I've seen what happens. I put a small library into a teen girls' group home once. After a few months of my popping by intermittently to add books to the shelves, one day I handed out little cards to all the girls. "Write down the title of a book you want for yourself, to keep," I said. "I'll get it for you."

These were girls I was told by the staff were not the least bit interested in reading. These were girls from very hard places. "Anything anybody can do to anyone," one of them told me, "has already been done to us."

They crowded around me, snatching the cards from my hands. They grabbed pens, scribbled titles on the cards, handed them back. "You can have time to think about it," I told them.

None of them needed to think about it.

Here's the problem with school book fairs, lovely though they are: if you're a kid whose parents can't or won't give you money to buy books, you start thinking, "Books aren't for me."

At ALI we're saying, "Books are for everyone."

So that's all true, and good, but what's really gotten me teared up today is the list our partner, Parnassus, just sent me of all the people who have donated books to ALI through our wish list so far. I don't feel right showing it without donors' permission, but I will say, if I printed the names, you would recognize some of them. Not one but two Newbery Award winners. Other kidlit writers. Friends of mine. And, even more awesomely, people I've never heard of before. Total strangers. Moved to kindness.

Which, God knows, we need more of right now.

If you’d like to support the work that we’re doing, you can mail a check to Appalachian Literacy Initiative at PO Box 3283, Bristol, TN 37625, or click here to purchase books on our wishlist from Parnassus Books, our preferred bookstore. You’ll receive 10% off with the code GIVEREADING, and Parnassus will ship the books to us free of charge. You can also purchase books from our Amazon wishlist by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Always, a Way Out

Yesterday I took most of the day off social media, cleaned stalls, and cobwebbed the entire barn. It was a useful way to spend the day in more ways than one. I'm going to try to remember that the next time I get the urge to Google anything about politics.

I have been reposting a lot of different things, and posting a few opinions solely my own, on both Facebook and Twitter. Some of them are angry. I'm angry about a few things right now. For myself, as a sexual violence survivor, the last few months have been rough; the last week particularly so.

I've had good friends ask me if we can still be friends, given that their political views are different than mine. As far as I'm concerned, absolutely--and I hope I behave in a manner where despite my beliefs they can still be friends with me. I've never required the people I care for to believe the same things, or give the same weight to different aspects of any story, as I do, any more than I require them to worship God exactly the same way I do (or at all) or dress the way I do, or love horses, or hate olives. If my friends don't like yoga, that's okay with me.

But there are certain lines I won't cross. Because I use social media in part to promote my books, I'm "friends" with a lot of people I don't personally know. Sunday someone had the--I can't even think of the word--insensate racist audacity comes to mind, but it was worse than that--someone suggested, seriously, that what's happening to Judge Brett Kavanaugh right now is the equivalent to what happened to Emmett Till. If you don't know what happened to Emmett Till, look him up. I'll wait. The comparison is beyond ignorant. It's willfully, deeply racist and inflammatory. For once words failed me. I responded by deleting the post and banning the poster from my page.

Most of us harbor some unconscious biases, whether we like to admit it or not. I hope my friends, like me, will continue to question themselves and work toward being better, more inclusive, less racist people. It's a slow ugly process but there's hope for most of us.

Here is something I know: just as there is not a single way to be assaulted, there is no single way to respond to an assault. Yesterday a friend of mine, a muscular Southern man who's usually armed and also usually open-minded, said, "If it really happened, why would she [Ford] ever go to a party again?"

Nope. We don't get to decide how Ford would have acted, based on how we imagine we might have acted were we in her shoes. We are not her; we are not wearing her shoes. Sexual assault is not one-size-fits-all.

Here's another thing I know: Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's house has two front doors. She first told her husband about the assault several years ago, when they were remodeling their house, and she wanted to put in another front door. He thought that was crazy, until he learned why.

Their house has two front doors.

I don't worry about front doors much. What can get my anxiety going is the position of the bedroom door relative to the bed I'm sleeping in. The worst is to have the door open near the head of the bed, and to be sleeping on that side--even typing that sentence makes me tense. The best is to have the door far away, at the foot of the bed, and be sleeping catty-corner across from it. Two doors, for me, would probably be worse than one door--two places from which to be attacked. But for Dr. Ford, it's the opposite--two ways to escape. Someone asked online why not use a back door. I don't know. Is her backyard fenced? The truth is that I'm equally safe in my bedroom no matter where I'm sleeping relative to the door. But I don't feel that way, even after all this time.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's house has two front doors.

Here is the final thing I know about this, and want to say: that the people she names as being present in the house where the assault occurred don't remember the occasion does not mean it didn't happen. They aren't refuting it; they simply aren't remembering it.

Several years ago I went to a funeral in my home town, and afterward to a large gathering that included a meal. My husband and I ended up at a table with a priest, Fr. Widman, who'd taught us in high school. (Because I've mentioned predatory priests who taught at my high school, I will say that Fr. Widman was not one of them, not according to my memory, and not according to the list just released by the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.) My husband and I were in the same religion class sophomore year. I think it was early church history, though I could be wrong. I remember Fr. Widman as someone without much of a sense of humor. He assigned me a paper on iconoclasm, which I'd never heard of but ended up finding interesting. My future husband and I were two of the best students in the class, getting top grades, sitting toward the front with shiny bright faces, and when we met Fr. Widman at the funeral, and told him who we were, we expected him to smile and say something polite about us. Look at you two! Married!

Fr. Widman had no idea who we were. He didn't remember us at all. Not our names, not our faces, not the A I'd gotten on my paper on iconclasm. "I'm sorry," he said, "I just don't."

It is absolutely true that I sat in his classroom--the corner classroom on the second floor--every day for a semester. It is absolutely true that I participated in class, did well on the tests, did my homework, talked to friends. It is absolutely true that 35 years later he didn't remember me at all.

I would prefer a Supreme Court Justice who interpreted the Constitution but didn't try to legislate from the bench. I am against abortion, but I think Roe v Wade is pretty far down on the list of things our government should be working on right now. (A Mormon mother of six wrote an essay cruising the internet about how, if we really wanted to end abortion, all we'd have to do is start castrating every man who causes an unintentional pregnancy. It's brilliant--because of its logic, not its conclusion. Worth your while to find and read.) I don't understand why the Republicans are clinging to a flawed nominee, who very clearly lied under oath at his hearing, several times, and who probably sexual assaulted more than one woman. Surely we have better candidates. Let's find them.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018


Writing is my job. I tell people that all the time when they gush about how inspired and creative and I-don't-know-how-you-do-it. "It's my job," I say. "I sit down and I do it." Which doesn't sound romantic but is the truth.

It's also more than my job; it's my vocation. I know that, too. Right now I'm in writer's limbo. I finished a draft of a historical novel. My editor hasn't yet gotten back to me with her thoughts. The best thing I can do for that book right now is ignore it, because I'll be in a better place to start revising if I've stayed away from it for awhile.

I've got other historical novels lined up in my mind like ships awaiting tugboats to pull them into harbor. I can't start them, because they need research, and because I know that it's hard for me to pull my mind from one historical setting to another.

The first few days after I've sent off a draft are usually vacation. I clean up my desk, at least a little. I read. I catch up on any reviews that are due--I usually have at least a few review books waiting. In recent months I've been traveling during these writing lulls.

But right now I'm not. I'm really glad to be home for several weeks in a row, but it's very odd not to be working on a manuscript. For the past few days I've been increasingly uneasy about it. I've written blog posts, but honestly, to me these feel like the scales I used to start my piano practice with. They're something that clears the way for more important work.

The news feed has been disturbing. A lot of my friends are suffering. It's been a hard week for many people I love. And I didn't have a novel to escape into.

Today I woke at 5:45 only because I have a puppy. She woke and had to go out. I'm the one that takes her out. My hard-working husband went to work and I'd had coffee and was wide awake. 6:30 in the morning. Yoga wasn't until 8. I went online and paged through the sites I follow, but that only took about ten minutes. I'm mostly caught up with online correspondence.

I didn't know what to do with myself. So I opened a new word document, set the font to Courier, and typed my name and address in the upper left-hand corner. It's how I've formatted manuscripts forever. I scrolled down, centered the title, and typed WHO KNOWS. by. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. And then I started writing. My new tattoo is covered by a band-aid but halfway through recess the band-aid falls off. I'm walking back to the fourth-grade classroom when my teacher, Ms. Davonte, gasps. "Della," she said, "is that a tattoo?"

And then I kept going for eleven pages of pure stream-of-consciousness writing. I skipped yoga. I've only stopped to riff off this scale, quickly, and because now I've got to go to Faith in Action.

I have no idea if this will turn into anything. I don't care. I am writing.