Book News and Bottle Trees

How did it get to be January 9 already? I'll swan, give a girl a chance to hunker in at home, and she starts baking her famous homemade granola that she hasn't made in five years (travel, travel), she roasts hazelnuts and puts them up in saved olive jars, she eats well and sleeps well,

and she hires her friend Jim Williams to enclose the carport and turn it into a gathering room, following her desire to implement pattern 182 of A PATTERN LANGUAGE by Christopher Alexander (who knows this book? I'm using it like a Bible as I work on this house...

...I'm investigating Pools of Light (252), Warm Colours (250), Different Chairs (251), as well as Communal Eating (147) and Family of Entrances (102), Entrance Transition (112), Car Connection (113),
and more, but that will do for now. Ha!)

Oh, and she plans to build a bottle tree. (This is a photo of Felder Rushing's blue bottle tree in Jackson, Mississippi. I love Felder and I want a fire bowl like his, but I digress.)

She also opens the mail that has been piling up since the last ice age. And just look what's in the mail! EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS is still cutting a rug on the book world's dance floor. First news is that LITTLE BIRD has won the Alabama Book Award as the Young People's Book of the Year from the Alabama Library Association! Joy and Happy Day! RUBY won this award in 2004, and I know how special it is, both because I've seen how wonderful this conference is (I've met those wonderful Alabama librarians!) and because I was born in Alabama, so coming back is like going home. But the best thing about this award is that LITTLE BIRD finds its way into the hands of more young readers in Alabama. I'm so glad. Thank you so much, ALLA! (And Tim Berry, I'm trying to email you, but your email keeps bouncing...)

As if Alabama -- and the United States -- weren't enough, here comes news, too, from IBBY -- the International Board on Books for Young People -- that LITTLE BIRD "has been nominated by the U.S. Section of IBBY for the IBBY Honour List 2008 for the quality of its writing."

Be still my heart. IBBY! One of IBBY's objectives is to encourage international understanding through children's literature. Sharon Deeds, chair of USBBY's Hans Christian Andersen committee (the U.S. Section of IBBY) wrote me some months ago, but it wasn't public news until now, and I wasn't sure I believed it, but now I have official confirmation. Sharon had written me: "Each section... nominates three honor books: one for writing, one for illustration and one for translation. The Honour List began in 1956. The books are chosen to represent the best in U.S. publishing in the previous two years."

I'm floored, I'm honored, I'm humbled. And may I throw in delighted... I am. Readers! LITTLE BIRD will have international readers... what a thrill. The entire Honour List from around the world will be part of a traveling exhibition in Japan, the U.S., and Bologna. Then, according to my Official Letter, these books "will be kept as permanent deposits at the International Youth Library in Munich and other research collections in Belgium, Russia, Japan, Slovakia, Switzerland, and the USA."

I knew it. I knew it all along, that everything is connected (as Uncle Edisto says in LITTLE BIRD), that we are more alike than we are different, that we exist in community, through our stories, on this planet. This lovely IBBY award is confirmation and validation of that fact -- just imagine these books, written in many different languages, traveling together next year. Just imagine the kinds of stories they tell individually. Imagine the story they will tell together, of their journey.

Oh, thank you, USBBY committee members, for honoring Comfort Snowberger's story, she who has been to 247 funerals and thinks she knows all about death, only to find out that life is about to take some turns she can't anticipate, and that the most important thing to know about death is that it is part... of life.

There is so much life going on at my house right now, on a warm January day. The carport area rings with hammering and the stapling of screens to the framing. Husband Jim's music wafts up from his basement studio, where he is practicing. The cats want in and out every fifteen minutes. The granola is finished and sits in 12 sweet, squatty little Mason jars, ready for ribbons. The hazelnuts in their jars are standing tall next to the granola. The crepe myrtles that needed to come down (talk about death... sob!) so a new driveway can be built, have been cut and deposited on my back porch so I can gather the most earnest, most enthusiastic branches for my bottle tree.

In the book I'm working on now, a character named Partheny, who is old, wise, and superstitious, makes a bottle tree for her front yard, to ward off evil spirits. I want to make the tree that Partheny would make.
So I've got my branches now. I've been collecting my bottles. I need the just-right bucket and some cement, I think. Let me see what I can do, gathering these elements that you wouldn't naturally find together, and making something brand new out of them. Sort of like the IBBY award. Sort of like stories. Sort of like life.

My notebook is getting a workout with LISTS these days. Lists of projects I want to do, lists of supplies needed, lists of administrative tasks that need to be tackled, grocery lists, lists of stories I'm working on or want to work on this year. In January I list. (Well, I list all the time, but in January, especially, I list for myself: what would you like to accomplish this year? How might you make that happen? I start with a fresh notebook for my lists. I know that I'll fill up several notebooks this year, but this is the first for a new year, with lists, including, this year, lists of what I eat each day, how far I walk (I've walked over 25 miles so far this year), lists of my weekly WW's numbers (11.3 pounds so far -- who's still with me? I'm so serious about this...).

Looking at all these lists, I see patterns, too -- it's the same every year; I bring many disparate elements together to create a life. Kind of like my Southern serial-story-turned-into-full-fledged novel, THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS... so many elements and so many characters fairly seething with their wants and needs and aspirations, conspiring separately but finding out that together they make one movement out of whole cloth. You do it, too, don't you? You are interested in so many things, just as I am, you make your lists, either in your head or on paper, and you pull together a life. In doing so, you see how different you are from every other human being on this earth... how different your family is from every other family, how different is your home, your mind! And yet. We are also so alike, wanting to love and be loved, to belong, to achieve something worthwhile, to understand how the world (and each heart) works, to have purpose.

Each of us individually, AND together, makes up the symphony true.