Josephine's Dream Reading

Josephine's Dream Reading
Trying to look like Josephine Baker - and failing miserably!

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls
Conquering the Beast

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Jewish Seniors Alliance

I'm going to be writing for the Jewish Seniors Alliance in Vancouver. You can find it online. My column is under Book Reviews. I'll review children's books (old and new) and give tips on reading to children. I might also include some of my unpublished stories. Even though the site is for Seniors, it will be suitable for anyone who is interested in children's stories. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

PJ Library

It stands for Pajama library. PJ Library gives books to families who want to read Jewish bedtime stories together. I just found out that they've chosen 'Can Hens Give Milk?' as one of the books they'll be giving away to families in North America. What I didn't know, until I checked their website, was that they'd already chosen my earlier book 'The Kugel Valley Klezmer Band,' quite a while ago! It was the U.S. edition and somehow I never got the information. In Canada the title of the softcover version of that book was changed to 'Shira's Hanukkah Gift.' Confusing to everyone, even me - ESPECIALLY me. But I feel honoured to have had two books chosen for this project.
Keep on writing!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Reading and Writing and Re-Writing

And I suppose I could have said re-reading too. First of all One Dog and His Boy was a beautiful book. It was written for children but I couldn't put it down, and we all know I'm not a child anymore. Why couldn't I put it down? Because it's a good story well written. It has humour, emotions, adventure, loyalty, a good cast of characters and some great dogs. I hope that Eva Ibbotson knew what a beautiful book she had written. And reading it reminded me to aim higher myself - to make sure my stories are everything I want them to be so that readers will enjoy reading them.

The re-writing I'm doing right now is on my musical Hanukkah in Chelm. Yes, Kol Halev is re-mounting it in December, but we have a few new cast members and I've changed the script a little bit here and there, and added a new song. I wrote a couple of monologues for the auditions and one monologue was funny enough to convince me to put it into the script. Of course this script is not the only re-writing that I'm doing. There's a pile or two of stories waiting for some heavy re-writes and some subtle tweaks.

Re-read all your work, over and over again. But also re-read some of your favourite books. A good book is a friend you want to keep visiting. So what are you waiting for? Visit.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

One Boy and His Dog

I have just started reading Eva Ibbotson's final book. She had only just finished correcting the proofs when she died in her sleep aged 85. From what I've read so far, and also from the reviews this book has garnered, I'd say she died on top of her game. I'll tell you more when I've finished reading it.

Then repeat all of the above a few more times.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bert, Ernie and Rubber Ducky.

There's a petition going the rounds to have Bert and Ernie get married on Sesame Street. Some people might not approve, but it seems to me that anyone getting married should have a song, especially someone on Sesame Street. I decided to write a duet for Bert and Ernie, just in case.

Bert:'You and me and rubber ducky/Ernie we are oh so lucky/Always together in all kinds of weather/We were meant to be.'

Ernie: 'You and me and rubber ducky/Bert, you're right, we're oh so lucky/We're getting married 'cos we're feeling plucky/We were meant to be - You, Rubber Ducky and me.'

I know, it might sound like a threesome, but it's not. Rubber Ducky is only their toy, not a real living breathing puppet.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Kids Can Figure Things Out For Themselves! Really!

Why do so many publishers underestimate the intelligence and intuition of children? When a book is set in another time and/or another place it's very jarring to suddenly read a modern phrase or sentence structure that propels you back into the here and/or now. In England it's common to say 'out of the window' and 'at the back of the house,' not 'out the window' or 'in back of the house.' A child will understand the difference or figure it out. 'Sidewalk' is North American and 'pavement' is English. The context will make the meaning clear. Please don't insult the child by assuming you need to translate! With more difficult words or concepts there's nothing wrong with a footnote. I'm reading a very good book for young readers which takes place in Victorian London. Unfortunately, now and then, a word appears out of time and place. The narrator uses the word 'bangs' to describe her hairdo but the word is 'fringe' in England. Even without an explanation the meaning of the word 'fringe' is easy to figure out. So editors, please don't talk down to the kids. They want a challenge.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Open Auditions for Kol Halev: Monday June 27 6:30pm to 9:30pm

'Hanukkah in Chelm' is being mounted again this year. There'll be two performances - one on sunday Dec. 11th at the Arts Club and the second on Sunday Dec. 18 at Performance Works. Rehearsals begin in September. Audition location is Vancouver Tap Dance Society, 2775 East Hastings St. Vancouver. We want adults and children from age 10 and older. Be prepared to do a cold reading.
Dancers of all skill levels with experience in folk, jazz, musical theatre body percussion, tap. Bring your dance shoes.
Singers, adult and children, come prepared to sing a capella. Please prepare 16 bars of Broadway style musical theatre songs, one ballad and one uptempo.
Bring a resume and head shot if you have one.
If you have an unusual performance skill that you'd like to audition please call and enquire. We are looking for speciality acts.
I wrote the show and lyrics, Dave Ivaz and John Maas wrote the music. Teryl Rothery will direct, Shel Piercy and Sue Cohene will produce.
Call 604 263 6844 to confirm your attendance, or email at

Monday, June 13, 2011

Merchant of Venice

The play is on Broadway and at Vancouver's Bard on the Beach, and you'd think that by now someone would have taken the leap to a new and yet obvious level of interpretation. But no. So without further ado, and with no explanation necessary, here is a partial list of the ideal cast which should really speak for itself:

James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman - Shylock
Halle Berry - Jessica
Gwyneth Paltrow - Portia
Neil Patrick Harris - Bassanio
Brad Pitt - Antonio

Okay, maybe a little explanation. Shylock is the only major character who doesn't want to be someone or something else. Everyone else is trying to 'pass.' Bassanio and Antonio want each other, but have to pretend otherwise. Portia wants to be a man so she can be free to do what she wants (be a lawyer?), Jessica yearns to cast off the constraints of the Ghetto and step into the life Portia has (but would like to leave)and pass as a White Christian - not because of any spiritual 'epiphany' or even love. If there are any gutsy, imaginative directors out there please feel free to use this information and all I want is a footnote mention in the programme.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Roswell New Mexico Has My Latest Book

The Roswell Public Library has 'Can Hens Give Milk?' When I found this out my immediate reaction was, 'Are aliens reading my book?' How wonderful. Well, I welcome all children, alien or otherwise, to read my books. I also urge you to visit your local library and enjoy the treasures therein. And that means you!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Kate Atkinson - and Me!

Have you ever stepped into the pages of a book and didn't want to climb back out again? I've probably mentioned this before, but sometimes you just feel as if you are a character in the novel you are reading, and that happened with 'Case Histories' by Kate Atkinson. I just finished reading the book yesterday. I couldn't put it down! I read it all the way to Bowen Island and back, only looking up now and then to admire the beautiful view of mountains and mist in the trees, and the wake of the ferry as we headed back to Vancouver. Atkinson seems to know people very well, and how we think and feel, which is often different from how we say we think and feel. And she captures the simple straightforwardness of children as few other writers can. 'Case Histories' is not a kid's book, but many book-loving teenagers would enjoy it.
And now for ME!
The book launch for 'Can Hens Give Milk?' went very well. There were seven writers - not just the six as previously advertised - launching eight books. I want to thank everyone who showed up to listen to our short speeches, nibble the food and buy copies of the books. I bought three books! Vancouver Kidsbooks' Phyllis Simon is a wonderful host and supporter of children's literature - in fact of all literature. I often buy my grown up books there (including Kate Atkinson novels).

Friday, May 6, 2011

Massachusetts Children's Book Award Nominee, And No One Told Me.

Because I'm a bit self centred I often Google my name. That's how I discovered that 'Honey Cake' had been nominated for yet another award - which it didn't win, but that's not the point. The award originated with Salem State University and it's a readers' choice award. The winners were announced around April 27th, 2011, but I didn't even have a chance to say, 'Oh, I'm just happy to be nominated,' or 'It's wonderful to be included on such an illustrious list of authors.' Which it is, by the way.
I feel as if I'd arrived at a party after all the guests had left. Never mind. It is an honour to have been nominated for another award.
The winner is: '11 Birthdays' by Wendy Mass
Honor books are: 'No Talking!' by Andrew Clements
'Savvy' by Ingrid Law
'The Magic Half' by Annie Barrows
'The Other Side of the Island' by Allegra Goodman
Congratulations to one and all.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Joy of Re-Writing

Yes, it can be joy - sometimes. I find it joyful if it comes from me rather than a publisher or editor. I suddenly thought of changes (for the better) that I could make to a story I first wrote many years ago, back in the 1980s. It's been through quite a few changes since then but this week I put it through a total transformation and then some re-writes. It actually gave me a little thrill to read it over. I'll leave it to ripen a bit more before I re-read and then send it somewhere.
I've also taken a deep breath, decided not to panic, and just work on different stories as the inspiration hits me. For, lo and behold, I read a few scenes from two of the stories I have not looked at for quite some time, and I thought, 'How brilliant? Who could possibly have written such gripping prose? ... Why, bless my soul, 'tis I!'

Tuesday, April 19, 2011




Thursday, March 31, 2011

Can Hens Give Milk Has Been Reviewed.

Please check out the reviews in the latest Publishers Weekly and the University of Manitoba's CM Magazine, April 1, 2011, as well as Kirkus Review for the same date. Thank you lovely reviewers. I'd toast you all with a cup of coffee, but I'm not in Italy anymore (great coffee over there). I can, however, toast you with my favourite drink - hot, strong, tea with a dollop of honey.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Travel is Always an Inspiration

My husband and I recently returned from a short - too short - trip to Italy. I took that sketchbook I told you about and used it as an illustrated notebook (Tom: 'Why do you always draw me with only three little hairs on top of my head?') I'm not so good with journals because I don't get into a lot of detail unless the mood hits me - and it sometimes does - but I like to jot down the daily events along with feelings I might have about something I see, or an observation or two about a piece of art or architecture. What I also do is jot down ideas for stories. It's quite surprising how a street, a view or a bit of local history can spark an idea. In Venice I learned some social history I hadn't known before that would add colour and authenticity to a work of fiction. And, of course, we had adventures - small ones, I admit - but an adventure is an adventure. It's all material for a story. The question is, which story?

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Right/Write Kind of Notebook - Help!

A few years ago a friend of mine gave me a wonderful little gift. It was a small, hardcover notebook with a difference. The size of a diary it had pages that were blank on the top half - suitable for drawing, sketching, cartooning etc. - and lined on the bottom half - suitable for writing witty bon mots or diary entries. I held on to it for about a year, then took it on a trip. It turned out to be the perfect book in which to jot down my adventures, and attempt to illustrate them at the same time. As I've said before, I'm not an artist, but I enjoy scribbling, in a cartoon sort of way, with bubbles for comment and dialogue. At the end of the trip I even used this notebook for photos and theatre tickets and cards from restaurants etc.
BUT ... I can't find another like it! Moleskin puts out lots of lined or plain notebooks, but not both. I've tried stationers and bookstores and found a lot of spiral bound (which would be perfect) lined or plain notebooks. Again, none has both. I tend to need lines because I don't write in a straight line. If anyone sees what I'm looking for in Vancouver please let me know. Otherwise I'll have to go with the blank page notebook and make an effort to write in straight lines. Thanks one and all.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Graphic Novels Might be For You.

I attended an annual event of the Vancouver Children's Lit. Roundtable, called Serendipity, and this year the theme was The Graphic Novel. It was an eye opener and an inspiration. And as the first speaker began to describe his childhood and the writing and illustrating collaboration he has with his sister, I got an idea! That's right, an idea for a short graphic novel. I admit, it could be a picture book, but it would be quite different in tone as a graphic novel, and that's how I see it. I'm not an artist, but I did some scribbles and captions in squares and it started to feel possible. The story was based on an incident from my childhood, but grew much bigger from that little seed. (The seed was actually an old photograph)
So here are two ideas for you. Read some graphic novels - or comics - and see if this is your kind of genre in which to write.
Pay attention when you are listening to any kind of lecture or talk, because a word, a sentence or just an idea might light a little flame in your mind that will grow into something bigger. Pluck what you need out of the presentation, or pay attention when it waves a flag at you!
Happy discovering!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Lot is Two Words

That's right, there's no such thing as 'alot.'** And while I've got your attention 'there's' is singular, as in 'There's a small hotel, by a wishing well.' As opposed to 'There're wishing wells, by some small hotels.' (plural). You'll rarely see 'there're' anymore, and I think that's a tragedy of small proportions (compared with all the serious problems of the world, I mean). I still say and write it, however.
Maybe I've said some of this before, but in the newspapers and on Facebook and on t.v. and in the classrooms of the nation, they don't seem to understand.

** I know some of you don't believe me, so look at it this way. You wouldn't say 'abunch' of flowers or 'apile' of laundry or 'aheap' of trouble. So you wouldn't say 'alot' of homework.

Keep trying. We all have trouble with the language. English is not easy, even for those of us who grew up with it.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Quick and Dirty Grammar Tips

No, alas, this probably won't help with our eternal spelling problems or my fast fading memory for the names of simple household objects (yesterday, for example I couldn't remember 'fuse box.') I'm sure there are plenty of 64 year olds with minds like sharp tacks, but I'm not one of them. Anyway, this isn't about my sad brain cells but about grammar! I recently wanted to know two things. When to use WHO and WHOM and also ... why do I keep seeing 'that' where I used to see 'who?' I became so confused that I would interchange them just to be on the safe side. When I finally broke down and Googled these life and death questions I came upon the attached link. You might have to actually type it in, but if you type your question followed by 'quick and dirty grammar tips,' or something like that, you'll probably get the site, and your question will be answered with speedy simplicity. Go for it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Can You Ever Have Too Many Re-Writes?

Apparently not. The story that no one will publish - the brilliantly witty story - grew from a 2000 word 'book' to a 6000+ word 'book.' Not the first time I've done that. It's had more re-writes than 'War and Peace' probably had, and I still find typos. Learn this valuable lesson - and not just about typos - that two sets of eyes are better than one. Remember, I've been working on this story and sending it away and getting it back (the boomerang syndrome)for years. And I mean years. But still - my dear friend Cynthia (writer, artist) who probably wishes to remain surnameless in this article - found a few 'bits' that need tweaking. The problem is - as usual - that I know what I see in my mind's eye, and I know what I mean, but the reader won't unless I make a few things clearer. Cynthia certainly didn't know what I meant in a couple of spots. Only someone who hasn't a clue what's in my mind would be able to spot a blockage in the flow, preventing the story from rushing headlong through the artery (Sorry. Got carried away there. Only someone who has had a heart attack would use that kind of imagery. It even makes me cringe when I read it over.) And no one ever knows what's inside your head except for you, unless you tell them, and even then you have to be telling the truth. And even THEN ... there are some things that are unknowable. But we must do what we can to connect. And so we must edit, proofread, and get a hawk-eyed pal to read it over and comment. I can't emphasize this enough (obviously!) In fact, even last week the editor of my next book spotted a slight inconsistency. Don't worry though. By the time you buy your ten copies of it (I need those royalties) all will be as perfect as is possible.

Graphic Novel Anyone?

It's taken a while but I've started to think seriously about the graphic novel. Writing one, I mean. Certainly not illustrating one. I am not an artist, which is the understatement of the year. I'm probably going to sign up to attend the Vancouver Children's Literature Roundtable Graphic Novel Event at the end of February, in order to learn more about this genre. I've attended a couple of talks, but this is an all day intensive so I'm hoping for inspiration. If any of you have the good fortune to possess both writing and illustrating talents you're a step ahead, but I think the key to a good graphic novel is combining the writing and the graphics like a recipe with measured ingredients. Now usually when I write the text of a picture book I have almost no power over the illustrations - though the publisher usually keeps me in the loop. That's as it should be. I often don't get to meet the artist, who might even live in another province. But I suspect that with a graphic novel the writer and artist have to work together as a tight-knit team.
So I keep thinking about the story of mine that publishers always love, but don't want to touch, because they can't figure out who to market it to (neither can I, only how about 'anyone of any age that actually finds it funny?') I know that it would work as a graphic novel. I feel it in my bones - unless that's just the osteo-arthritis acting up - but there's a problem. The language of that story is so important. Not to hold myself on the same level of greatness as Oscar Wilde, but it would be like creating a graphic novel from 'The Importance of Being Ernest.' I could, however, see two versions. The witty, wordy version and the graphic version. I'm talking about my story and Wilde's play, by the way.
What do you think? Maybe get together with an artist friend and see if you can come up with a graphic novel or short story (read Irene Watts' graphic version of her novel 'Goodbye Marianne.' Then read the novel. Check the differences). I think it would be very creative if your school combined an art class and an English/creative writing class and teamed up kids to create graphic novels.
I'll get back to you with more on the subject after February. Meanwhile, keep on writing.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Writing Year - 2011

When I'm writing about such things as the weather I'm hampered by not being able to really understand how it works. As we are driving around town my husband tries to explain to me about cold fronts and westerly winds and different cloud types, but then I forget. Maybe I need to take a beginner course in meteorology. Having said that I can't help noticing that the weather people on t.v. - no matter how attractive and well dressed and articulate they are, and no matter how well they point to things on the blue screen as if they could actually see what we see - they still seem to get it wrong. For the past two weeks they've predicted snow in Vancouver - and then they take it back. Not that I'm about to complain about the lack of snow, because whilst there are floods and blizzards back East we in Vancouver have the oddest but prettiest weather. It's frosty, the temperature is 0 celsius as I write (11:37am on Sunday January 2nd) and the sun is so bright that I've had to wear sun glasses along with my wool hat, hand-knitted scarf (my hand, by the way) and mittens. Last night the sunset was like a blood orange bursting in the turquoise sky. If only I could come up with a story to put it in!
Wishing you all a creative and fulfilling year.