Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tamora Pierce on Readergirlz!

Join us at readergirlz tonight as we dish with the incomparable Tamora Pierce!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Enjoying Beauty Everywhere

Life has been super hectic lately. So I love to transport myself to my new all-time favorite urban garden...the one in New York--the one so beautifully captured in Peter Brown's picture book, THE CURIOUS GARDEN. I love how some guerilla gardeners took over this line of overhead railway, abandoned in the 40s. Over the summer, I took my kiddos there for a moment of reprieve. Just look at the furniture built on top of abandoned railroad tracks. These benches are on casters so they can MOVE. How cool is that?

Beautiful, yes?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

New Ben & Jerry's Flavor

My GIRL OVERBOARD book tour buddy, Hannah Teter, has her own Ben & Jerry's flavor created and named in her honor: Maple Blondie.

Enjoy it while you can!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Kerlan Collection

To my utter astonishment, the Curator for the distinguished Kerlan Collection of Children's Literature in the University of Minnesota contacted me. She asked for my manuscripts and notes. To be added to the collection along with the likes of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys!

So I sent one of my early drafts of GIRL OVERBOARD, the notes I took while studying up on snowboarding, and some signed first editions and galleys.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Blessings of the Unexpected Joy

It's with utter astonishment that on the heels of readergirlz picking up the National Book Award for Innovations in Reading, my editor emailed me twice...

Once, to let me know that NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL was named to the 2010 Texas Lone Star Reading List.

And then again, to tell me that Kirkus named it one of the Best Books of 2009. I encourage everyone who loves a good read to check out the list for fabulous titles, including Malinda Lo's ASH, Laurie Halse Anderson's WINTERGIRLS, Tanita Davis's MARE'S WAR, Kathleen Duey's SACRED SCARS, David Gill's SOUL ENCHILADA, KL Going's KING OF THE SCREW UPS, and Sara Zarr's ONCE WAS LOST.

Thank you ALL for your support.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Summer Vacation...Really are pictures from my summer vacation. Which I discovered on my camera when I began the annual scouring for a good Xmas card photo.

I'm telling myself that this summertime photo stash--so recently discovered--is the hidden benefit of procrastination. See. I've been a wee bit stressed and busy lately. And these photos were a mini-vacation for my frazzled psyche. A reminder of a slower time in the Hudson Valley. Where have I been all this time never to have visited the Hudson Valley?

Meet my best friend, Si, from second grade.That's right. Second grade. We spent a few days together, talking non-stop. Her poor husband. Even after 3 days together, we kicked him out of his own sunroom because we still had some catching up to do. And then...she pulled out the yearbooks from hell. Middle school. Some memories are best left collecting dust.

Si is a Major Foodie. You could not imagine the meals she fixed for me, my kiddos, and my mother-in-law. She took us to the CIA--the Culinary Institute of America--and to tell you the truth, I'd eat whatever Si prepares over any restaurant any day.

To good friends who nourish us with conversation, the food of the soul.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wowsa! Has it really been 2 months since I last posted? Lots of news of the readergirlz front.

First, there's the National Book Awards...where readergirlz is picking up an Innovation in Reading Award. That's in November and it's been fun to listen to the 2 divas who are going to represent us get all fussy about The Dress.

Next up, there's the rgz Teen Read Week press release over at the readergirlz blog.

Then, there's the banner, in small, medium, large, or side banner! Once again created by the awesome Holly Cupala...check out her debut novel book cover!

Teen Read Week,2009,YALSA

Next, there is the rgz Teen Read Week trailer...

Monday, July 20, 2009

David Gray: Fangirl Moment

Ohhhh...guess who is playing in town in a few weeks from now? David Gray!

Babylon! Babylon!

Now here's a guy who should be writing a YA novel.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sweet Memories of ALA

Thanks to my publisher for sending me to ALA where I had the privilege of signing in their booth... complete with my own sign. I still can't believe the number of people waiting in line, holding my books...

And thanks to Follett who hosted me in their booth as well where I signed another 100 copies of North of Beautiful. Thank you!

And then off to a dinner where I was starry-eyed over the amazing librarians who came out to hear debut novelists Malinda Lo and Sarah Ockler as well as me. I'm not sure I laughed so hard during all those conversations.

The Printz Awards? Phenomenal. It is absolutely inspiring to hear authors detail their journey and the back story to their novels. And even more when they take a stance publicly about young adult literature. The highlight of the evening though? When Jack Martin--he who is all things fashionable...and oh, yeah, a rock star librarian at NYPL--told me he loved my dress.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Hanging with 30,000 Librarians!

Sweet room looking out over the Chicago skyline and the water. Thank you, Little, Brown! My head is still reeling over last night's wonderful catch-up with Beth Yoke, executive director of YALSA, and Stevie--her PR person of much wonderosity. We're rolling out another very cool teen literacy project together...more soon.

Then, why oh why, have I not learned to keep some ideas to myself? Such as telling the YALSA president-elect (who kicked off this year's party with a Project Runway theme) that NEXT year, we should give people book covers, duct tape, and two hours to fashion an outfit. She stared at me (never a good sign), and said, "WE should have AUTHORS do that."


So today I'll be signing my books. If you're in Chicago, drop by the booths over at ALA:
10:30-11:30 Little, Brown Books
11:30-12:30 Follett booth

And then off for a dinner with some rock star librarians, finishing the evening over at the Printz Awards reception. I heard that Neil Gaiman gave an extraordinary speech last night at the Newbery Awards... I am SO disappointed that I missed it.

Yay, new day!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Move Over, Twilight

How sweet is The Dreamer Reader's review of NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL?

"Oh my freakin' goodness, what can I say about this book that hasn't been said before?! The characters are amazingly real, the writing is pitch-perfect, and it just resonated with me. It is truly awesome and even when I'm old and on my death bed, I will still remember this book."

On her death bed? Really? But my favorite line in The Dreamer Reader's book review:

"If Jacob from North of Beautiful and Jacob from Twilight (never heard of it? You're my type of person.) appeared on my doorstep I would just grab the Jacob from North of Beautiful and beg him to be mine while the other one can just suck it."

Take that, Jacob from Twilight! LOL.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Justina on The Talking Potatoes!

And now...I bring you my favorite interview of all. My "celebrity" spot on...The Talking Potatoes, a book blog run by two avid readers, both under four feet tall!

Monday, July 6, 2009


Two weeks ago, my friends, the DeVaans, surprised me with a full week's worth of meals when I started a new project. So when my writer-buddy Martha told me that her 79-year-old adventurer of a dad jumped off his ATV before it launched into a ravine in Tahiti (yes, you read that right) and critically injured himself, I thought I'd supply her family with a few meals, too.

Which sounds easier than it is. (Need I remind anyone about my crock pot adventure? Who knew that most crock pots don't survive stovetops?)

Lest I food poison my friend, I dropped off some FROZEN MEALS over the weekend and then trekked around Madrona. Martha took me along a fabulous secret path connecting a series of streets, wending through gardens, one chicken coop, a sliver thin house, and a unicycle mounted on a tree stump.

Which, of course, got us talking about miracles--and the miracle of surviving a near-fatal accident the way her dad did. Which led to Martha writing her dad a Nobituary--all the reasons why he had to stay alive.

I love that. However, I am not sure a Nobituary for my crock pot would have done much good.

Reading Recs over in Readergirlz-Land sweet is this? The postergirlz have selected NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL as a recommended read, accompanying Cecil Castelucci's featured graphic novel, THE PLAIN JANES.

From the readergirlz site:
Many thanks to our postergirlz for the recommends to join the divas' spotlight in July: The Plain Janes and Janes in Love. Every one of these works is a great compliment to the other. Welcome, esteemed authors!

The Opposite of Invisible by Liz Gallagher
A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell
Emiko Superstar by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Rolston
North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley
Same Difference by Siobhan Vivian

Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Chicago-Bound for ALA!

My peeps of wonderosity at Little, Brown Books have sent me my schedule for ALA (American Library Association). Fun times will be had in Chicago. So if you're in town (hello, Kathleen at Anderson's Books and Robin at Chicago Public Library), please drop by and keep me company:

Monday, July 13:
10:30 a.m.: Book signing at the LB Booth (#2212). (At TLA in April, I was told-ahem-that I chit chatted a bit too much with all the people who wanted a signed book. Me? Chit chat too much? I will henceforth keep all chatting to one quick quip per person, especially if I like your earrings. Or glasses.)

11:30 a.m.: Book signing at the Follett Booth (#4811). (I'm getting a wee bit anxious about finding this booth since, as we know, orienteering is not my strong suit. Especially with thousands of book-hungry librarians milling about a ginormous convention hall. Oh, dear. Will LB be supplying me with emergency flares in the event I get lost?)

And then my publisher is hosting a dinner for me along with debut novelists Malinda Lo (ASH) and Sarah Ockler (Twenty Boy Summer). Just wait until you read these new books; they are fabulous. As for me, I suspect I will probably start tearing up at the sight of Megan Fink (Charlotte Country Day) who asked me to keynote a multiculti conference for her two years in a row--what an honor--but scheduling this year isn't allowing me to make the trek to South Carolina. Disappointment doesn't even cover how I'm feeling.

8:00 p.m. Printz Awards reception, baby, over at the Sheraton! My publisher has promised mucho partying afterwards. So find me and we'll toast another year of very fine literature for young adults.

Friday, June 12, 2009

I Found a Garden

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know what I wrote in my last novel: Mother Nature trumps gardens. Well, I was wrong. Hello, Kathy Fries, the Picasso of gardens.

So yesterday my kids and I dropped by Kathy's house with a gift for her husband who helped me recently. (Ed is a legend in gaming!) What do you give a legend? Well, my friend, Ben Boos, autographed a copy of his beautiful book
for Ed and his family.

To say Ben autographed the book is a bit of an understatement. I sign my name and call it good. Ben? He drew an elaborate, detailed dragon...and then signed the book.

As a total unexpected treat, Kathy took me and the kids on a tour of her gardens, which have been featured in magazines and the book I've been coveting:

See, I love, love, love small homes and cozy sheds. I dream about having a tiny little shed dedicated as a writer's studio. Absolutely fantasize about walking a meandering path from my house to studio. Small and snug, it would have room for a desk and a chair and that's about it. So Kathy gave me a copy of her book, plus shared her homemade rhubarb sorbet with us. YUM.

Today I am just so grateful for all the cool, talented, generous people I am so lucky to meet. This is something I want my children to learn: every day, every day is a miracle waiting to unfold. There are magicians out there--whether gardeners or gamers or illustrators. You just have to look.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mrs. Magoo + North of Beautiful Contest

Pop on over to Mrs. Magoo Reads and enter her North of Beautiful contest. All you have to do is watch the trailer she made for my book and leave a comment on her blog!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My Books in Beijing! be called the modern-day Judy Blume is high praise. But to be called that from all the way over in utterly amazing. Here's an interview with me in this month's Beijing Kids Magazine.

Thanks to Eveline Chao, the wonderful reporter who asked fantastic questions.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Truth: I Heart Chicago Public Library

Oh, let's just get it out there: I will play favorites when it comes to the Chicago Public Library. This was one of the first library systems to get behind my debut novel in a big way--inviting me out to meet a bunch of their libraries, sending me to local schools, especially the ones in the inner city, asking me to speak at their conference where I proceeded to CRY onstage!

Anyhow, Chicago Public Library also has this amazing Teen Volume program where teens enact scenes from books. For the last couple of years, they've included Patty from NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (AND A FEW WHITE LIES). They just took her to a conference in the last week or so.

And then Mrs. Magoo just reviewed the book on her blog.

Today, I'm so grateful to people who are keeping my first novel alive and well. Thank you.

Friday, June 5, 2009


Nothing is stranger than being someone's homework assignment. Really. Nothing. Some authors are surprisingly blase about this: "Justina, you'll get used to it." I don't think so.

I am homework.
I am someone's grade.
This is weird.

A librarian sent me this student's work:

So, students, I promise to update the FAQ on my website this summer so that finding info is easier than ever. And remember: the picture of me getting my hair washed in China from an earlier blog post was purely for informative purposes. Not for reports. I will be horrified if anyone uses that photo in a report. HOR-RI-FIED.

Incidentally, to the above student: A+

Thursday, June 4, 2009

My Manuscripts in a Library Collection!

Holy guacamole! The University of Minnesota just asked for my manuscript materials to house in their Kerlan Collection. This is so extraordinary to me since I remember trolling the libraries at Stanford, looking at the manuscripts kept there. There was magic in those manuscripts; I could feel the novels taking shape, version after version.

While I can't imagine a single instance where a researcher would want to look at my research notes and scribbled upon manuscript pages, this is still so...surreal...and cool.

Today I am grateful for curators like Karen Nelson Hoyle who relish young adult novels. Thank you.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Love Letters to Authors

I continue to be amazed and heartened by all the readers who take the time to email me about NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL. The readers who review my work. The readers who buy my this economy. And the librarians! The librarians who are stocking my books in their stacks. Thank you.

Here is my fave quote this week:

"This book was one of the best books I have ever read."
--The Book Girl Reviews

That is a sentence every single writer out there deserves to hear about their work. That makes all the early, early mornings (my 4:00 a.m. stints for 6 weeks straight) and my late, late nights (editing at 1:00 a.m. is perilous) to work and rework Terra's story worth it.

Today, I am glad to mark the last weekend over and welcome the new week in on the wings of this sweet review.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Conference Mania!

Why, oh why, does my voice go all squeaky when I meet my rock star heroes of authors? All I can say is that SCBWI Washington can put on a fantastic conference, gathering together some of the very best of our industry! My head is still whirling with everybody I met and everything I learned. This past weekend, luminaries including my own agent (Steven Malk), Jon Scieszka--our U.S. Ambassador for Children's Lit, Adam Rex and my buddy Grace Lin descended onto Redmond.

Here we are at the Kid Lit Drink Night with our incomparable fleet of indie booksellers, Sue at Mockingbird and Rene at Third Place Books. And at the far right, meet Emily Whitman, a debut novelist.

Connie Hsu, the assistant editor who has worked on my books alongside Alvina Ling, and I popped out to the Borders where we stalked my books. I don't think we were technically supposed to take pictures inside the store, but when Connie found my books both on the main floor and up in the YA section, what could we do? YAY!

And then here are my girls: Sue, MaryJane Beaufrand (novelist AND bookseller and my running buddy), Rene, Janet Lee Carey (whose upcoming STEALING DEATH is going to be hot hot hot), Holly Cupala (ditto with her forthcoming WHAT WOULD XANDA DO) and Peggy King Anderson (my lovebug of a writer buddy whose faith and goodness have saved me these last few months).

I wish I had been able to get pix of everyone else: Laini Taylor and Jim Di Bartola, Katherine Grace Bond, Michael Stearns, Martha Brockenbrough, the entire Ad Com Committee that put on the conference, Nina Laden, Deb Lund, George Shannon, Kirby Larson... SEE? It was a fantastically wonderful and inspirational weekend filled with geniuses!

VOYA: North of Beautiful Review

This just in from my editor, a review of NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL from VOYA:

“Headley’s characters, both adult and teen, are complex, nuanced, and intriguingly intertwined. Particularly powerful is the depiction of Terra’s growing recognition of her own artistic drive and their deepening connection through her mother’s mirrored recognition of personal worth. The primary metaphors of maps, journeys, exploration, and art as a catalyst for expression and connection are meaningful and beautifully sustained.”


Monday, May 11, 2009

NYPL: Book Review!

All the reviews for my books make me tear up--and it's not just for critical reviews! Honestly. I find it amazing that people take the time to read and then write about my words with all the thousands of books available to them.

This review from the New York Public Library especially touched me because the review was posted on Mother's Day and noted that I had dedicated the book to my mom. My truly beautiful mom. She and my dad are about to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, which is an accomplishment by any standards. How lucky am I to have a wonderful mom and a wonderful mother-in-law?

Thank you, New York Public Library, for this review, which I will count as a Mother's Day gift to cherish and remember.

Friday, May 8, 2009

New Math

My friend, Peter Rinearson--he of the Pulitzer Prize!--sent me this wonderful link for New Math. I love it. Think concrete poetry in mathematical form.

This is why I must celebrate this site on Poetry Friday!

My favorite:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Hometown Heroes: Justina in TV-Land!

Catch readergirlz and me on the news today. Joyce Taylor, anchor for KING 5 news, interviewed me the day after my birthday for a profile piece in her series, HOMETOWN HEROES.

Chen Headley: Champion for Children.
There will be a short segment on the KING 5 Morning News during the 5AM and the 6AM hours to tease Home Team Heroes coming up on KONG.
Then the Long version (about 3-and-a-half minutes) should air sometime between 8:15 and 9:00 on KONG TV (That's channel 6 or Channel 16 in Seattle.)

The long story will air again on KING-5 News at NOON on channel 5 at about 12:45 - 1:00 pm.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Readergirlz wins an Innovation Prize from the National Book Foundation!

News of mucho fabulosity!

Readergirlz just won an Innovations in Reading Prize from the National Book Foundation!

National Book Foundation Announces Winners of its First

Innovations in Reading Prize:

Winners Include a Teacher, a Best-selling Author's Website,

a Reading Program in a Correctional Facility,

a Public Library System, and an Online Community for Teens

New York, NY, May 5, 2009 - The Board of the National Book Foundation has awarded its first Innovations in Reading Prizes to one individual and four organizations who are demonstrating passion, creativity, dedication, and leadership in the service of creating and sustaining a lifelong love of reading. The winners include: a teacher; an online resource created by best-selling author James Patterson and literary consultant Judy Freeman that helps identify books for kids; a program that allows inmates to read to their children via CDs that are mailed home bi-monthly; an online book community for teens girls that uses social networking; and a Dewey-less public library. The winners hail from Elroy Arizona, Gilbert, Arizona; Santa Fe, New Mexico; New York, NY; and Tacoma, Washington. Each winner will receive $2,500.00 and a framed certificate.

Leslie Shipman, Director of Programs for the National Book Foundation states, “The Innovations in Reading Prize is the National Book Foundation’s program to discover, promote, and, we hope, help replicate the innovative efforts of individuals and organizations who are sharing their passion for books and reading at the grassroots level, both in their communities and online. The enthusiasm and creativity shown by these five is remarkable. We hope other organizations across the country will be able to take these ideas and put them into practice in their own communities.” Innovations in Reading is supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation.

The Winners are:

Robert Wilder: Robert Wilder is both an elementary and high-school teacher in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the only individual to receive the prize. His creativity, commitment, and passion for sharing his love of books with his students are exceptional. He is a powerful example of the impact a single, devoted teacher can have on the lives of his students. “Books are my gesture toward a better life for anyone willing to turn some pages,” Bob says. “Like many teachers and writers, I find myriad ways to get good books into other people's hands, whether it's a kindergartner struggling over his first sentence, a high-school student trying to find her voice in the wilderness of adolescence, or an intellectually starved friend at a dinner party.”

James Patterson’s ReadKiddoRead: is a hassle-free online resource that helps parents, teachers, adults, and librarians identify books that kids will love. When Patterson found out that his son Jack did not share his passion for books, He took it upon himself to fix the situation by choosing books he knew his son would love. He even started writing books for kids to get Jack interested. The author's motivation led him to create “There are millions of kids who have never read a book they’ve liked. There are also thousands of children’s books out there. This site lists the ones they won’t be able to resist,” Patterson says. Children’s literature consultant Judy Freeman also works on the site, writing a bulk of the reviews. Even though the original target audience was to be grownups, kids are using the site as well. “We’re ecstatic over winning this recognition,” says Patterson. “The site is working. And with the National Book Foundation on our side, I hope many more adults will be inspired to take their kids’ reading habits into their own hands.”

Fathers Bridging the Miles: Fathers Bridging the Miles is a program of Read to Me International, a Hawaii-based non-profit devoted to children's literacy. The program provides children of incarcerated fathers in the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona, with a unique and meaningful way to develop a love of reading by recording inmates reading children’s books onto CDs. The recorded reading and a copy of the book are mailed to their children bimonthly. This program works on many levels. Incarcerated men maintain a strong bond with their children through books, as well as improve their reading skills. Their children are able to hear their fathers read stories to them, despite the miles between them. According to Pat Mizuno, the Program Director, “It is amazing to see the relationships between fathers and their children bloom over books and reading. The children enjoy getting the books in the mail and love listening to their fathers’ voices. We know our program is having an impact when we meet former program participants after being paroled and they are still reading to their children!”

Maricopa County Library District: Maricopa County Library District of Gilbert, Arizona, dropped the Dewey system two years ago to make their library more user-friendly. Based on customers' surveys, Maricopa decided that organizing the library into “neighborhoods,” the way bookstores are organized, was a better way to meet customers’ needs, and as a result, circulation has doubled. Maricopa has received national attention as well, from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and NPR, that has opened a serious discussion about how libraries can best serve the needs of the reading public. “The library is customer centric,” states Harry R. Courtright, the Director. “The Innovation in Reading Prize for the Dewey-less approach to organizing libraries may inspire other libraries to also try new ways to get people to read.”

readergirlz: readergirlz is an online book community for teen girls that is designed to make reading hip, compelling, and fun, as well as to promote teen literacy and leadership. Their mission is to get teens to read, reflect, and reach out. Using social networking sites, YouTube, and other online resources, teens are able to chat with their favorite Young Adult authors. readegirlz is led by five Young Adult authors: Dia Calhoun, Holly Cupala, Lorie Ann Grover, Justina Chen Headley, and Melissa Walker. When told that readergirlz was one of five winners, Dia Calhoun, author and co-founder, stated, “With this amazing and generous Innovations in Reading Prize, readergirlz can continue to find new ways to connect teens with the best authors in young adult literature, making reading hip and appealing using the latest technology.”

# # #

The Mission of the National Book Foundation is to celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of good writing in America.

About the National Book Awards
The nation’s most prestigious literary prize, the National Book Awards has a stellar record of identifying and rewarding quality writing. In 1950, William Carlos Williams was the first winner in Poetry, the following year William Faulkner was honored, and so on through the years. Many previous Winners of a National Book Award are now firmly established in the canon of American literature. On November 18th, the National Book Awards will be presented in the categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

And the Winner of the Find Beauty Challengeis...

The judges of the North of Beautiful: Find Beauty Challenge have spoken. Based on the criteria posted on my website, countless viewings of the video essays on YouTube, the winners are:

Grand prize winner of the iPod Touch is... Miss Erin for her Truly Beautiful, professional, and profound testament to Beauty.

1st prize winner of books is... Too Beautiful for Words.

2nd prize winner of books is... Grace Lin.

3rd prize winner of books is... Beauty Is...

Today I am thankful for each and every one of you who have taken your time to tell the world what you think True and Real Beauty means.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Best Friends in the World

Call me lucky. I have the best friends on the planet. On my birthday--Income Tax Day--I received quite possibly the meanest email of my entire life, and no, it wasn't from the IRS. A few days later, my girlfriends threw me a surprise party at Frenchy's: pedicures for all.

I walked into the spa, filled with my friends...and--duh!--it didn't occur to me that every single one of my StrataGem group was there...for ME I'm sure it was comical how stunned I was that my girls were all in one place, a miracle of champagne! And strawberries! And chocolates! And treats! And so, so, so much love.

Above are Cindy--little miss FBI. And Miss Molly, finance guru.

And Niki (TV producer!) and Julie (anchorwoman!) and Kim (graphic designer!). And there's me (stupefied!).

And then, on a very hard day, Martha Brockenbrough met me for a writing date, bought me tea and a little cakey birthday treat. And then let me write my heart out next to her until I felt better. Now, that's a friend.

Today, I feel grateful for women who are there when a friend needs them to be.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hometown Heroes: Rwanda Girls Initiative

Two of my friends, Soozi McGill and Shal Foster, are building a ground-breaking girls' secondary boarding school in Rwanda. How amazing is that? I've just been so impressed with how they conceived the idea and are making Rwanda Girls Initiative come true--30 acres of gorgeous land, architects who are donating time to draw the plans, partnerships with universities, doctors, experts to ensure that the school serves the whole girl.

Today, I had the privilege of working with them on their presentation. Not that they needed my help. These women are rock stars.

Aren't we all grateful for people in the world who see the Big Picture, who see challenge as exciting, who see the YES in other people's NO? I am!

Nikki Grimes: A Hurricane of Change

Meet one of my writer-mentors, Nikki Grimes, a NY Times bestselling author and Coretta Scott King award winner. She is brilliant and fierce and 100% heart.

She called me last night to check in on me, shored me up with some solid advice, and then told me her chilling story. Just nine days after speaking at a school in Arkansas, the entire town was leveled by a hurricane. "Cherish every day," she told me. "Every day."

Nikki is a woman after my own heart. She is singlehandedly spearheading her own Operation Teen Book Drop by trying to replenish that school's devastated collection of young adult titles. So if you didn't rock the readergirlz drop and still have YA books lying around that are in need of a good home, consider sending a few of them here:

Jimma Holder
Literacy Specialist
Mena Public Schools
501 Hickory
Mena, AR 71953
Today, I am grateful to be surrounded by friends who are changemakers. Who are forces of nature. Who live by their words and actions.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009

Shout Outs & Book Acknowledgments

I have been teased for my rather lengthy acknowledgments. As my editor said, "There will be other books, you know." Which is true. Acknowledgments aren't necessarily tied to a single book. I think of mine--all three of them--as a linked continuum of love. Anyway, since I listen to everything Alvina says, I made a decision with North of Beautiful to attempt to thank people who had not been included in my previous books aside from my family, publisher (that alone was a tome), agent, and mentors (Janet Carey, Janet Wong, and Nicole Ueland).

So at a birthday luncheon for my 90-year-old neighbor--who is as sharp and witty as they come--I gave her a copy of NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL and told her to skim the last paragraphs of the acknowledgments. She started to cry when she saw her name. My Lydia, a woman who keeps more than my keys.

And then there are my buddy, Linda Myrhvold. She was noted in GIRL OVERBOARD, but really, could have been included in NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL since she is Truly Gorgeous and Generous.

I was having a hard moment recently, and she told me to haul on over to her hotel to celebrate Easter together. Can I tell you how much I love this fiercely protective woman? And talk about witty. Linda is the female David Sedaris, only not at all dysfunctional. I just need her to sit still long enough to get her hilarious riffs into Word for the rest of the world to enjoy.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

North of Beautiful: Reviews

Awww...I'm just so touched by all the reviews North of Beautiful has been receiving. Thanks to everyone for reading my work--and spending your precious money in this economy on my book. Honestly! It's amazing.

Here are the two most recent reviews, including Story Siren who gave the book a Luminous Pearl Award. So sweet.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Operation TBD: Rocking the Drop!

Welcome to the Second Annual Operation Teen Book Drop, brought to teen patients in Children's Hospitals all around the country by readergirlz,

GuysLitWire, YALSA, and amazing publishers, including my own (Little, Brown Books!).

The morning started with an interview on KING 5 News. Egads, I hate TV and radio interviews. Anchorwoman, Joyce Taylor, wanted to do a short segment on me for her Hometown Heroes show. While flattering, it was also very awkward since while I am glad to be back in my Hometown, I am not feeling very heroic. I asked if she might want to shoot the Seattle-area divas dropping books off at our Children's Hospital. Thankfully, Joyce was interested. So I was flanked by my girls: Lorie Ann Grover, Holly Cupala, and Dia Calhoun. And we all very much missed our Melissa Walker.

Deep breath. Bright lipstick. And then Lorenzo the camera man started shooting every breath, um, and er as Joyce and I chatted about my books, community service (including the Find Beauty Challenge), and readergirlz.

Since I hate watching myself on TV, chances are I won't catch the feature story when it airs in 2-3 weeks. But for now, here's the crew:

Kira Haller (Children's Hospital), Holly Cupala, Dia Calhoun, Lorie Ann Grover, me, Joyce Taylor.

Photographs all captured beautifully by S.Y. Headley.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Birthday Thoughts

Today's my birthday! I used to consider it a bummer to share my big day with Income Tax Day. But now I know the twinning of those events is really a blessing in disguise because the people who truly love me can never forget April 15.

As those same peeps know, this has not been the best year of my life. I am grateful for my children, family, friends, readers, and the team or professionals who've become my surrogate family, assembling around me to guide me through these last 6 tumultuous months.

So as I blow out the many candles on my cake tonight, I won't be wishing or regretting, but thanking:

Thanks for being patient and gentle with me.
Thanks for emailing me when you've read my books and letting me know that my humble words have touched you.
Thanks for helping me see the beauty in everyday blessings.

We only have to look to find beauty. And sometimes, as I learned with the sea turtles on the Big Island this last week, we have to look behind us, too.

But today, I am looking forward, not behind, to a wonderful year of healing and adventures. And quite possibly both.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ben Boos: My New Hero!

One of my favorite parts of writing is doing the research. I love finding out about things I have no knowledge whatsoever about. So imagine my joy when I found the exact book I was looking for by none other than a legend in the gaming industry, Ben Boos (formerly of Blizzard).

There were a few swords in his fabulously rendered artist's devotion that intrigued me. So I emailed Ben...and he responded back with a ton of research notes. He actually sifted through his own research materials to find the answers for me. I still cannot believe how generous he was with his time and knowledge.

Swords is a Candlewick book. So you know it's beautiful. Check it out!

Today, I am just thankful for Ben. For people who help just because.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

TLA: More Thoughts

A few more pictures from my publicist, Rachel Wasdyke, from last week's TLA conference. One of my faves: Rachel and me after our dinner.

And here are the other authors at the Little, Brown dinner: Justin Somper (VAMPIRATES) and Sara Zarr (SWEETHEARTS).

Today and always, I am thankful for Rachel.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Remember the Alamo + the Kindness of Strangers

The Big Island of Hawaii is known to be the Healing Island, so it's apropos that I felt called to visit.

Healing Moment #1: Girlfriend time. I know, I know. You're not supposed to meet people in person who you find over Facebook and MySpace. However. There's Mia King, my FB and MS friend and writer-buddy. We finally got some real face time over a long, long lunch at Huli-Sue's in Waimea. Coconut curry with rice. Chocolate tart. Ice Tea. YUM. The sweetest part? Mia signed a copy of her last novel for me:

I couldn't sleep, so I finished her book off at 3:00 a.m. It's one of those reads where you say: wow, how did she know about my life?

Healing Moment #2: As I drove off after lunch, my jeep began lurching bumpily. Yup, flat tire. *sigh* This is not the healing moment.

However, I pulled into the first driveway, which happened to be the Keck Observatory--a place I wanted to visit anyway. There, I was taken under the wings of three amazing women (including the librarian!) who made sure I got a ride back to my condo. I'm having dinner with the CFO tonight!

Healing Moment Most Momentous: the Alamo car rental people? Nothing but wonderful and kindness from the moment I got my vehicle and the man gestured around the parking lot: choose whatever you want! Jasmine and Whitney in the Help-Me Department completely took care of everything. Everything. They worried that I was traveling alone. They worried that night was falling. They worried that the tire couldn't be changed. So what did they do? They had a new jeep delivered to me this morning. Free of charge. (Take note: Hertz. When I had a flat tire with that company in Nebraska, I had to pay for the tow truck and the replacement tire. Never to Hertz again.)

Today, I am just so thankful for the kindness of perfect strangers (and I do mean perfect).

Big Island: Hime Sushi

Meet my new obsession: Hime Sushi in Hilo.

Here's the Pink Lady roll. Avocado, crab, sweet gourd, pink tofu skin.

While the spam sushi at the Farmers' Market was surprisingly tasty (in Hawaii, eat what the Hawaiians do), this was more my style.


Today, I am thankful for sushi. I just am.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Big Island: Sea Turtles

According to the locals on the Big Island, Richardson State Park is the place in Hilo to find sea turtles. So guess where I went?

There I was, scanning the shoreline, the horizon. No sea turtles. I settled myself on a large hunk of lava rock and began writing my new novel. A teen girl asked what I was up to and I wailed, "Looking for sea turtles!"

She said: "They're right behind you."

Lo and behold, in the tide pool behind a hill of rocks...there they were...

my sleeping sea turtles disguised as boulders.

Just like beauty. Hidden right under my nose. All I had to do was look behind me.

Big Island: Farmer's Market

A few years ago, I interviewed a woman who led tours of Nepal for a book that has yet to be finished. She told me that you don't have to go farther than your backyard to have an adventure. I love that philosophy... To find the new, to experience the different, right where we live.

At a gallery yesterday, the artist and I struck up a conversation. Ira told me about the Farmers' Market in Hilo, a must-see, so he said. So today I took myself off the volcano and drove to town. The flowers at the market were absolutely, mind-blowingly beautiful. They're about as far from a fussy rose as you can imagine. Primordial in their beauty.

Soursops, bread fruit, watermelon papayas, apple bananas...and the world's largest avocados ever seen.

Today, I am just so thankful for the enomous variety of fruit produced on our planet.

Chilling--Doctor's Orders

You know it's time to take a vacation when five people who don't know you tell you to take one. When your sister (who happens to be studying for her nursing degree) cites one study after another about how stress takes its toll. Its fatal toll. Which implies that I might just keel over any second. (This just goes to show that too much knowledge can be too much knowledge.)

So nurse's orders: Go relax.

The weird thing is, I had a calling--that's exactly what it was--a calling to go to the Big Island in Hawaii. Airfare was cheap! I called up a girlfriend, Mia King (GOOD THINGS, SWEET LIFE), who happens to live on the Big Island. One phone call later, and she set me up with the most outrageously gorgeous place to stay.

Which leads me here. On a volcano:

That's the Kilauea Iki crater where I hiked yesterday morning, still steaming. Yes, you are allowed to walk across the volcanic floor. Traipse across it. Clomp across it. 24/7. I'm not joking.

After devastation, growth. That's how tenacious life is. Flowers thrive atop lava. Gorgeous.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Find Beauty Challenge: Let the Judging Begin!

Judging has begun for the Find Beauty Challenge on YouTube! It'll take my distinguished panel of judges a few days to view and rate all the videos.

Winners will be notified shortly!

Thanks to all who created a video AND those who watched them.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Fangirl: Gary Schmidt & Wednesday Wars

One of the best parts of attending librarian conferences has got to be meeting beloved authors. For me, this just doesn't get better than going to TLA and meeting Gary Schmidt who wrote two of my all-time favorite middle grade novels: The Wednesday Wars and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. Pitch perfect in humor and pathos, these books should be on everyone must-read list.
Pictured with me are Gary, Lorie Ann Grover, Lucy (librarian), Dia Calhoun.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Find Beauty Challenge: Another Beautiful Video!

Judging begins soon for the Find Beauty Challenge where one lucky winner will take home an iPod touch!

Declaring a winner is going to be so tough when all these testimonials on true beauty are so incredibly touching! So get in there and rate your favorite videos at the North of Beautiful YouTube channel here or

In the meantime, check this video essay out by our own readergirlz diva, Holly Cupala:

Friday, April 3, 2009

Texan Librarians Know How to Party!

All I can say is that Texan Librarians sure know how to make an author feel welcome. Yes, ma'am!

After spending 3 days in Houston at the legendary Texas Librarian Association with two of the other readergirlz co-founders (Dia Calhoun and Lorie Ann Grover), let me just say, I looooove Texans as much as I missed our other divas (Holly Cupala and Melissa Walker).

Trip Highlights in no particular order.

1. Toiling late at night with the divas on getting our swag bags ready for our presentation on Making Literacy Hip + Relevant for Teens. (This brought back memories of the early days where I spent hours upon hours hand-cutting and crafting hundreds of goody bags for various readergirlz events...)

2. Kibbitzing with amazing YA authors, including Meg Cabot,

Sara Zarr, Ally Carter, Justine Larbalestier, Margo Rabb, John Green, Scott Westerfeld (ooohhh...confirmed a readergirlz feature month with him!)--it was a veritable readergirlz reunion...LIVE! And then to top it off, I met some of the Brown Bookshelf co-founders! THAT was a thrill. My fleeting glimpse of Cynthia Leitich Smith made me so mad at myself for not snagging some time with her for a coffee. Next time.

3. Meeting the incredible editor-visionary Sharyn November! In person! I literally squealed. Vaguely embarrassing.

4. Oh! Oh! MAJOR highlight: Hanging out with my marvelous Little, Brown peeps--Victoria Stapleton and Zoe Luderitz (amazing library marketing dynamic duo), Kate Sullivan (watch for ASH!), and at last meeting Rachel Wasdyke (I teared up! She's my publicist!!).

I wish I had taken a photo of Victoria's sassy, HIGH patent heels. Oh, my! I had the honor of meeting Justin Somper (VAMPIRATES--also proud wearer of the most rocking pair of men's shoes I've seen. Ever.) and Svetlana (graphic novelist).

5. Meeting every single one of the Texan Professor Nana (my hero and the woman who kicked my behind to get readergirlz off the ground) and what must have been the entire TAYSHAS braintrust. You ladies are truly amazing.

6. All the teens and librarians who stood in line for me to sign my books. Wow, that's all I can say, WOW. Thank you.

7. Meeting with Loreine Roy(past president of ALA) and Beth Yoke (executive director of YALSA).

8. Spending a wonderful evening at the YART dinner with my dining companions. I now have a list of must-read Latina authors, which I am absolutely psyched about!

9. Walking the showroom floor and being absolutely wowed by the number of fantastic books I still have yet to read and showcase on readergirlz!

10. Looking out at a ballroom filled with librarians who rocked with readergirlz at our presentation... WHY, oh WHY, did I start to cry when the video trailers for Operation TBD rolled? Holly has done a spectacular job with them, for sure! But I also think it's because we at readergirlz move so fast from project to project that we don't celebrate enough!

AND that is what Texans know how to do: celebrate. In style.

Any time I get an invite to go to a book event in Texas where there will be librarians? I will so be there. Yes, Ma'am!