To China, With Love

“Free Hugs,” by Serve the City Geneva

I am so sorry for your losses. I am even more sorry that people are saying unkind and racist things about your country and about Chinese people throughout the world, just because your country was unfortunate enough to experience first what we are all experiencing now. Even as some people blame you for this pandemic, you are mobilizing your country’s resources to help the world respond to something that is no one’s fault.

I am grateful to your government for sharing information with the rest of the world that can help us all through this, and for the way you swiftly mobilized all resources available to contain and respond the this health crisis, without. I am grateful to your health care workers for being on the front lines of designing a response to COVID19. I am grateful that you were able to do all this even without knowing what we now know about this virus. I am grateful to your scientists for working so hard to find out as much as we can about this coronavirus and how to survive and defeat it.

You may not have done everything perfectly. Perhaps you were slow to admit to yourselves and the world that we are facing a pandemic. But some people in our leadership have been every bit as much in denial and slow to take appropriate action, just as some people in our citizenry have willfully ignored advice to slow this virus.

You have already faced the worst of this, because you faced it first and alone. We are lucky to be following behind you, benefitting from your wisdom, learning from your mistakes. You shouldered the steepest learning curve bravely and with fortitude. Thank you.

I am sorry that when you were fighting this disease, we were not fighting alongside you. We were not sending whatever resources we could to help. We stood by and watched in fear and overconfidence.

We look to you even now, to learn how this disease will transform our families, our societies and our world. We look to you for the hope of recovery. And to all of you who have suffered and lost loved ones, I know I speak with the voice of many Americans when I offer you our deepest condolences.

I am so sorry for your losses.

#Plagueschooling Day 3

Due to the coronavirus epidemic and current shelter-in-place order, the Never Never School (of Witchcraft and Wizardry) has closed for the time being to keep its staff and students safe. 

We have sent home: the nurse, all the teachers (including Math, Writing, Reading, Science, Spanish, History/Social Studies, Poetry, Art, etc), the cafeteria staff, the librarian, the computer lab teacher, the cleaning staff and the Headmistress.

Students are still responsible for reading, writing about their reading, getting outside for exercise, using quiet voices inside the mansion, getting along with each other, being exceedingly polite to all elders, completing chores, CLEANING UP AFTER THEMSELVES and going to bed on time.

We will be in touch soon via email with an interminable flood of ongoing, exceedingly verbose and simultaneously obtuse communications providing further guidance as to the continuing education of your children during these challenging times. 

Life – CANCELLED, Blog – ON!

I am not an adaptable person. Not well-suited to keep up with hourly updates on world pandemics or the cancelation of LIFE AS WE KNOW IT.

I tried to keep things normal yesterday with green pee in the toilet for St. Patrick’s Day (CANCELLED), but it turns out that organic powder food dye ends up looking more like Leprechaun Leftovers.

If temperament assessments had been around when I was an infant, I would undoubtedly have been the baby with the rictus, red-faced scream at every change in air temperature or illumination. If my mother denies this and tells you I was a perfect baby, then that just means the damage occurred later, probably in middle school. I shouldn’t say damage. I wish I could claim to be a genius like Willow Chance who uses Counting by 7s to to center herself, meanwhile transforming the lives of everyone around her for the better. My adaptation strategies are much less mathematical and not at all inspirational. I match my underwear to my socks. I rewrite the same list over and over until I don’t have to use white-out tape. I make new rules for my kids to follow. My children now call me “Plague Mama.”

By Holly Goldberg Sloane (2014), cover art by —, sold by my favorite local independent children’s bookseller, Flashlight Books

Unprecedented times in Unpresidented times (YA biography by Martha Brokenbrough). I was already home from work, recovering from ACL reconstructive knee surgery and getting a pretty good hobble on. I took the cancellation of my kids’ school pretty well. Three-plus weeks of spring break?….Well, I’d already started a list of spring cleaning tasks, and having the kids around would only make the list longer. At the park with my kids playing the newly invented game of Eyeball Tag*, I managed not to jump when my phone blared with The Emergency Signal, alerting me to the imminent lockdown order for six Bay Area counties. But when they closed the Library, that was the last crack in my fragile (fake) equanimity. My fractured thinking shattered around one question: who have they got defining “Essential Services,” anyway?

Searing YA biography by Martha Brokenbrough, available at Flashlight Books online

So I have reverted to the one thing that can make sense of these crazy times. (Yes, you can be sure that my underwear matches my shirt or my socks or both – you’ll never not think about that now, but that’s not what I meant.) No, my lifesaver, my link, my sanity and my savior: The Newsletter.

My mom will tell you – and this is true – that when I boxed up all my possessions at age twenty to leave the country for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer (Peace Corps – CANCELED), I packed as though I would never return. I’m pretty sure I designated heirs for my journals (all that middle school ruination, documented). But before I left for the world I didn’t know, my mom and I set up one essential link to keep me tethered to the world I knew: the Newsletter Tree.

Made of trees, literally. Because it was printed on paper. Handwritten by me, on paper, one copy mailed by post to my mom. Who Xeroxed four copies (we all still said Xerox, then), and sent them on to four folks who diligently made their copies, and sent them on, and so on. And people wrote back. Eventually I came home. People I didn’t even know came up to talk to me about things I had written, having been participants in an ancient form of social media. Some of you still have the artifacts of that time, the actual newsletters. While I was gone, email was invented and stamps became a vanity item.

Now that it doesn’t involve handwriting and photocopying and envelope glue and trips to the post office, everyone has a newsletter. I guess they’re called “blogs” these days. So I’m back, the Mom Next Door, blogging and slogging my way through the latest alerts, announcements, closures and kid conflicts. Tomorrow we start the Never Never School (of Witchcraft and Wizardry), which my 13-year old son just calls, “No.” I’ll be keeping track of myself here, along with:

  • Updates on our family’s (mental) health and stories from a household spanning ages 10-72
  • Links for homeschooling, especially in writing, reading, poetry and music (my specialties)
  • Links to great book reviews for children’s literature of all ages
  • Latest scientific or practical information on COVID19 (How to Clean/Disinfect Your Home if someone there is sick)
  • Funny Times for funny times – belly laughs for boosting immunity
  • Good News – the best of humanity as we come together to survive and thrive
  • The Bright Side – counting our blessings in unusual times

Send me a link to your Newsletter – Let’s keep in touch!

*Eyeball Tag post coming soon.

The Stories We Need

Today is the last day to donate to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Indiegogo campaign (click here to contribute now), run by a powerhouse group of children’s book writers, illustrators, editors and agents dedicated to promoting diversity in children’s literature. Funds raised will  be used primarily as grants for authors/illustrators bringing diverse stories to the field of children’s publishing.

I am not one of the powerhouses. But I am here to tell you why we need diverse books. I grew up straddling a strange divide between the Haves and the Have-nots, a sort of Half-Star Sneetch on the beach. When my half-star caught the sun, it looked like the real thing. I was viewed and treated as a Star-Belly Sneetch by most of the others who had stars upon thars. But when I met up with the other Sneetches on the beach–the ones with no marshmallows or hotdogs–most of them accepted me as one of their own. They didn’t see my half star, but noticed instead my deeply tanned skin, my unusual eyes, the shape of my nose and lips. Look for yourself. You’ll see it if you’re paying attention.

I grew up as the daughter of a U.S.-born mother, four generations removed from her mixed European heritage. And also as the daughter of an apostate immigrant from Pakistan, a father who rejected his home country but never quite settled into his chosen one, either. When I was growing up, NO one was writing stories about my kind of family. Post-911, most people still aren’t.

I distinctly remember the first time I had a sense of self-recognition in relation to a work of art. I was a young adult working as a Spanish-bilingual teacher in the Mission District of San Francisco when the movie East is East (1999) came out. Set in England, the story of a Pakistani father, English mother and mixed-heritage children resonated deeply with me. I laughed and laughed and knew it for true. It grieves me to realize I did not know until just now that two sequels followed this movie–they did not make it past “mainstream” American media filters.

The second and only other time I have recognized myself in art was just last week. Offended by images of scantily-clothed and oversexed female superheroes in a Marvel Supergirl comic, I went in search of something more realistic. And this is what I found:

Ms. Marvel (a.ka. Kamala Khan)

The newest version of Ms. Marvel, written by G. Willow Wilson and especially as drawn by Adrian Alphona, tells the story of an immigrant’s daughter, a Pakistani teen from Jersey City who unexpectedly acquires shape-shifting powers. Once again, I encountered in fiction conversations and family relationships that mirrored my own experiences growing up.

Why is this so important? We read stories to make sense of our lives. Stories lay down pathways for us–how to be, how not to be–and give us the opportunity to rehearse living, in our imaginations where no harm can be done. What would we do in any given situation? And even more importantly, what could we do? What are the possibilities of our human life?

We need stories that mirror ALL of humanity for our children, not just images and stories of those in the most privileged groups, from their perspective. We need stories that demonstrate the inequities of oppression, and stories that illustrate the discomfort of privilege in the face of that inequity. We need stories about people in and out of the mainstream struggling with issues of power and institutionalized discrimination. We need stories showing how people can work together, how we can learn about each other, how we can bridges gaps of culture and power. And we also need stories of everyday life–of friendship, love, family, school–that feature ALL of our world’s children.

Sometimes when I get on this soapbox, I am accused of repeating the same, exhausted tirade about the world’s injustices. How can I hope to convince others, to make change in the world, if I keep repeating the same “failed” story? Here is what I say in response to that:

From my perspective as a first-generation, mixed-race Pakistani-American woman–The story is not failing. It is finally being told effectively for the first time. People of privilege have NEVER been eager to hear about the underside of their positions of power, and they never will. These people often put considerable personal and institutional effort into silencing the untold stories of the oppressed. But in spite of that, we are still speaking out, more loudly and numerously than ever. AND IT IS MAKING A DIFFERENCE.

From my perspective as an apparently “white,” educated, upper-middle class American citizen–As members of a privileged group becoming aware of the inequities of power and how we benefit from the systematic discrimination in place, we have a responsibility to listen to the stories of the oppressed. Disempowered people are telling these stories over and over because inequity and discrimination HURT them. Institutionalized “-isms” and stereotypes are DAMAGING and WOUNDING people. They have stories to tell, and we have an obligation to listen, because refusing to listen to the story–or even worse, discrediting it–in itself is an act of abuse. Refusing to allow ourselves to feel discomfort when we hear what it’s like to be alive while black, for example, keeps the horror of inequity and oppression away from us and pushes it back toward the people who have already been holding it too long.

What can you do?


Read more about the We Need Diverse Books campaign on:

Read a different kind of book! What I’m reading now:

The story of a thirteen-year old Palestinian Muslim girl living in the West Bank, who travels illegally to Jerusalem, believing that if she can return with a piece of her lost homeland, it will save her ailing grandmother.

Back to School, Back to Work!

Great ideas for self-employed artists (especially those of us with young kids)!


GUEST POST by Carrie Charley Brown

You’ve taken the first day of school pictures, posted them on Facebook,  and sent the kids back to school, backpacks and all.  YAY!  Some of you are rushing off to work yourselves. Then there are others, like me, who are working from home.  We all have our own sets of challenges.

Personally, I struggle with the early morning wake-up call.  When I #dragmybuttouttabed at 5:00 a.m., I’m not quite ready to tackle any goals.  I put on my parent hat and slurp my cup of coffee while barking out reminders to my three drowsy children. After delivering them to three different schools, it takes every part of my being to resist the urge to go back to sleep.   Enter the schedule.  I know, I know…a schedule alone could send you back to your dreamy soft pillow.  We’re taking baby steps here people.  It…

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99 problems (in my submission pile)

I’ll be pinning this list up on the bulletin board above my computer, and re-reading it every time I revise.

CK Webber Associates

  1. Query is for a book in a genre I don’t represent.
  2. Query is for a vampire book. Come back in 3-5 years.
  3. Query letter is addressed to “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.”
  4. Query letter is addressed to “Dear Agent.” My name is not Agent.
  5. Query letter is not addressed at all. It just begins, “Hi!”
  6. Query letter is addressed to Kristin Nelson. (This is not a problem if you’re actually sending your query letter to Kristin Nelson.)
  7. Query letter is 2 pages long.
  8. Query opens with a rhetorical question.
  9. Query opens with a tagline.
  10. Author has spent too much time constructing a one-sentence hook and not enough building the rest of the query.
  11. By the end of the query, I’ve learned more about the author than I have about the book. (Does not apply to nonfiction.)
  12. I can see that you’ve copied 100 other agents…

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