{we did it! don’t miss the announcement of the 2021 Neustadt NSK Laureate!}


Laurel Snyder ♦ Cynthia Leitich Smith ♦ Mitali Perkins ♦ Laurie Halse Anderson ♦ Jason Reynolds ♦ Alex Wheatle ♦ Meg Medina ♦ Eric Gansworth ♦ Linda Sue Park

The discussions were tough – passionate, emotional, and meaningful. There wasn’t a way we could have made a bad choice — and you’ll find out tonight where we ended up. I was gratified and moved to serve with such brilliant writers – and I’m thrilled with our recipient. Tune in to the Neustadt Lit Fest for closing ceremonies to hear the announcement, or check it out on LitHub. Make sure you pick up a book from any of these brilliant authors – especially those who may be new to you.

Now, excuse me while I lie down.

{a running list of events}

Welcome to my running Author PSA to remind myself what’s going on this month, and drag you along for the ride:


FYI: the naani poetry form was created by Indian poet and retired professor Dr. N Gopi. Naani is a short form, like haiku or senryu, with a set line- and syllable-count: 4-lines with 20 syllables total. Unlike haiku, naani poems are typically written about people, or on the human condition.

{pf: poetry peeps ponder… the hippo}

Oh, September.

So much has weighed so heavily this month that the word ‘ponderous,’ which was intended as a sort of light-hearted take on feeling dragged low by the end of summertime has a much, much greater weight to it now.

There’s much, as always, for which to be grateful – for today, the air is clear, the fires are closer to reaching containment, there’s been minimal damage from any earthquakes, and while we’ve lost our Justice, a new one hasn’t been forced upon us just yet. Just for a moment, let’s take a hard turn away from the ponderous news cycle and our very literal feelings of heaviness, and concentrate on something happier… like hippos.

Of the Poetry Peeps, Laura’s usually the animal poem person, but I have had a soft heart toward hippos since seeing Disney’s Fantasia as a kid. I always cheer on the underdog, and Hyacinth Hippo was …meant to be comedic, in her ungainly grace, with her less than sylph-like size – but just like the ostriches who began the dance, she was also earnestly, beautifully dancing her best.

When Fiona, the hippo born six weeks prematurely at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, became a YouTube star, I think everyone’s love of hippos skyrocketed. Fiona is adorably full of personality, and her fans find hippos just the sweetest, hugest, splooshiest… water cows, ever. (The Afrikaans word for hippo is seekoei, which literally means sea cow… which makes sense, if their closest relative is the whale.) And, finally, I have to love hippos because I was leaping around, pretend ballet-dancing after school when I was about ten, and got called a hippo, because …Middle School.

Y’know, not everyone is a graceful seahorse. We sea cows may as well own it.

Für Fiona

Never cutting through the river
like an arrow, swift and clean –
Never poised and leaping lightly,
Not a sylph-like figurine.
Comical with weighty wallow,
In a pod they’re called a …BLOAT!
River horse, cow of the water
Amphibious anecdote.

Always barrel-shaped and ponderous
but their bite can snap canoes.
Always outclassed as a runner –
(Those jaws need no running shoes.)
Munching eighty pounds of grasses,
They cause crocs to think again
Confidence their superpower,
Hail the whale’s more deadly kin.

(I couldn’t decide if the last lines should be, They make crocodiles think twice/Though they’re graceful in the water/Mess with them, and pay the price, but I like both conclusions equally: the hippo is the deadliest land-animal in Africa, and we should be so lucky to be called a hippo.)


Want to see what our other Poetry Peeps have done this week? Liz was relieved to write about hippos instead of, say, the presidency. Tricia’s pondering hippos, while Laura’s are stepping high. Ponder Sara’s wordplay here. Check out Carol’s seaside poem here, and Cousin Mary Lee is exploring ponderous thoughts here. Stay tuned as other poets check in with their hippo-ponderous poetry throughout the day.

Poetry Friday is hosted today at Jone McCulloch’s blog, where we’re invited to be both brave and mathematical. Thanks, Jone!


The finalists for the 2021 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature are:

・Laurie Halse Anderson
・Eric Gansworth
・Meg Medina
・Linda Sue Park
・Mitali Perkins
・Jason Reynolds
・Cynthia Leitich Smith
・Laurel Snyder
・Alex Wheatle

The 2021 prizewinner will be announced on Oct. 20, the second night of the 2020 Neustadt Festival, which runs Oct. 19–21. Though traditionally, this Festival is held on the campus of the University of Oklahoma, this year, you’re invited to join us online! Hope to see you there!

{pf: imagine winning}

V’ahavta

– Aurora Levins Morales

Say these words when you lie down and when you rise up,
when you go out and when you return. In times of mourning
and in times of joy. Inscribe them on your doorposts,
embroider them on your garments, tattoo them on your shoulders,
teach them to your children, your neighbors, your enemies,
recite them in your sleep, here in the cruel shadow of empire:
Another world is possible.

imagine winning. This is your sacred task.
This is your power. Imagine
every detail of winning, the exact smell of the summer streets
in which no one has been shot, the muscles you have never
unclenched from worry, gone soft as newborn skin,
the sparkling taste of food when we know
that no one on earth is hungry, that the beggars are fed,
that the old man under the bridge and the woman
wrapping herself in thin sheets in the back seat of a car,
and the children who suck on stones,
nest under a flock of roofs that keep multiplying their shelter.
Lean with all your being towards that day
when the poor of the world shake down a rain of good fortune
out of the heavy clouds, and justice rolls down like waters.

When you inhale and when you exhale
breathe the possibility of another world
into the 37.2 trillion cells of your body
until it shines with hope.
Then imagine more.

Hold hands. Share water. Keep imagining.
So that we, and the children of our children’s children
may live


Read the rest of this poem here. Poetry Friday is hosted today at Whispers From the Ridge.

{pf poetry peeps: hindsight is a golden shovel}

Last week, poet Carol V. so loved the Bach invention poem I found that she used a stanza of it for a golden shovel. That seemed as good a reason as any to revisit the golden shovel form from 2017 for this month’s hindsight challenge, and remember the particular challenges of that form. Our task this month is to either revise a poem, or write a poem in concert with a poem we’ve written before, and after these last couple of weeks, I think a golden shovel will serve nicely as a complimentary complex and chaotic form (for me – YMMV). Through a crippling heatwave, massive thunderstorms, multiple lightning-sparked wildfires, days of gray skies and breath-stealing smoke, rolling power blackouts, more humidity than I am generally prepared to deal with, AND A COMPLICATED NOVEL REVISION, August has been A Month, and I certainly need more words than mine to describe it.

And yet it’s somewhat startling to discover that it’s nearly September. I’m definitely over August, but September seems… a guest come too soon. Schools are open, faculty are stumbling into the new normal, and somewhere, some eejit is muttering already about Ugg boots pumpkin spice. And yet, it feels like this wild summer cannot possibly be finished with us yet. Too much has happened. Too many continued conflagrations spark from all corners of the world. What next? Who knows. There’s no way to engage our much valued foresight – and in 2020, our hindsight is wholly broken.

I saved this image from the graphic design journal, Print (which folded in 2017) years ago. Like the 17th century English proverb, “Enough is as good as a feast,” this particular quote has inspired me for a long time. Regardless of the David Pearson’s flowing graphic design, and his quirky title – “Fortune Cookie,” the words themselves are simple and a bit stark. The most we can do is our best. There’s literally nothing else – at all – that we can do. And while so many struggle against the changes this virus has wrought in the world, reeling from continued disappointments and discomfort, giving in to depression, the truth remains: the most we can do is our best, and not a single thing more. If you’re doing your best? Take a breath. You’ve done what you can. You’re doing all right.

The science writer for The Atlantic, Ed Yong was on NPR’s Code Switch this week, and said something else which resonated and informed my golden shovel thoughts. He said, “Throughout much of the year, people have asked themselves, how can we get back to normal? And I think radial introspection begins with understanding that ‘normal’ wasn’t so great for everyone.” Beneath the strictures of a suddenly shifted society, where the change is impersonal – and permanent – there is room only for acquiescence and acceptance. It is what it is – and the most we can do is our best to take what was and sift from it what should never have been and make what we have better than what went before. Tall order, that. But can we do anything else? Do we have any other choice?


the fortune

it dins and rattles on. the
year a scything saw blade, felling most
of normalcy. the things we
held, befouled, bereft, bereaved. how can
we amend ‘grieve’ to do?
adjust acceptance to what is?
the past imperfect, gone – our
present, tense. come, future, be our best.


Roll call for the poetry peeps! Many of our student and educator friends are treading pretty deep waters this month with the reprise of digital/distance learning, and haven’t quite made it back to poetry yet – we salute them and we’ll see them next month. Meanwhile, writing to our challenge this month is Laura’s, whose poem is here, and Michelle, whose leap into foresight is here. Carol is revisiting a firefly poem here. A very busy Sara alighted briefly here, while Tricia is here. Stay tuned for other poets checking in.

Graciously hosting Poetry Friday at My Juicy Little Universe, Heidi is remembering the other September when so much changed we thought we would never find “normal” again.

If you could have anything in the World that you wanted to put there, what would you add? I know what I’d want – you. We need you in this strange new reality in which we find ourselves. Rest up this weekend – we’ve all got a lot to do to remake a more just society. Just don’t forget – only try to carry what fits into your arms. Take a breath – and you may find the first step is easier.


TECH SUPPORT NOTES: Several of you have contacted me about various weirdnesses involved in you commenting on these blog posts – you should in theory be able to comment now, even if you log in from a WordPress.com site instead of .org; as always, updates and fixes are ongoing. Thank you for your patience!