Author Archives: Michele Weber Hurwitz

A favorite author for Friday the 13th

Several different stories exist about the origin of why Friday the 13th is a superstitious and unlucky day. But what is known is that this day and the number 13 affect millions of people worldwide. Many buildings don’t have a thirteenth floor and airports don’t have a Gate 13. Some people won’t get married on the 13th and others won’t seat 13 people at a dinner table. The fear even has a name — friggatriskaidekaphobia!

Frigg is for the Norse goddess after whom Friday is named, triskaideka is a Greek word meaning thirteen, and phobia is, of course, fear.

Today being Friday the 13th, I’d like to celebrate my favorite author of spine-chilling ghost stories and spooky mysteries — Mary Downing Hahn.

Hahn, a former children’s librarian, has been writing books for almost 40 years and is a perennial favorite with young readers. Her books have stood the test of time for several generations. Hahn’s classic Wait Till Helen Comes has been in print and selling steadily since 1986!

My daughter discovered The Doll in the Garden when she was around 11 and was completely riveted by the story of a girl who finds an old doll in the garden of her new home. The doll’s owner —  a ghost — wants the doll back, even though she died 70 years ago. My daughter is now 24 and the book still is on her bookshelf. I imagine the same is true for many of Hahn’s readers.

What I love about Hahn’s stories is they’re definitely spooky but aren’t overly frightening to kids. In fact, Kirkus Reviews once said that Hahn mastered the art of the “not too creepy ghost story.”

Some of my other favorites of Hahn’s include The Old Willis Place and Stepping on the Cracks.

When asked in interviews why she wrote ghost stories, Hahn said she believes that having a ghost in a story makes things happen. A ghost, she said, can give a character insight or empathy and offer a deeper understanding of her own nature and the world in which she lives.

A little known fact about Hahn is that she didn’t publish her first novel until age 41. Although she’s won numerous state and national awards, she’s said that writing has always been a journey of discovery and each book started with only a character or situation and a vague idea of what would happen. In fact, she often worried she wouldn’t be able to complete each book or her editor would reject them!

Not only do I love reading Hahn’s books, but her words about the struggles of writing give me inspiration in my own days of doubt. I hope they inspire you too. Beware of black cats and ladders today, and happy Friday the 13th!

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days and Calli Be Gold (both Penguin Random House) and Ethan Marcus Stands Up, coming August 2017 from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin Books. Find her at micheleweberhurwitz.com.

Tips for Successful Out-of-Town School Visits

Because one of my books is nominated for the 2017 Sunshine State Youth Reading Award, I traveled to Florida for a week in November to do author visits at schools throughout the state. While I’d done many school visits in my area in the past, I’d never arranged a solid week of back-to-back visits in another state. I was part visiting author, part travel agent. It was a terrific (and exhausting) experience and I wanted to share some tips for successful out-of-town school visits.

1. Plan, plan, plan. Okay, yes, I’m a planner kind of person anyway but this skill was essential when putting together a week of visits that took me from one end of the state to another. I wasn’t super familiar with Florida so I researched everything from hotels close to the schools I was visiting to the best driving routes to tourist attractions I could check out in my downtime.

2. Prepare. I put together a detailed itinerary that included notes on each school I was visiting — a large or small group, the venue, which grade(s), and whether I was having lunch or autographing in addition to my presentation. I noted hotel check-in/checkout times, driving distances, and the name, cell phone, and email of each school contact, as well as the amount that was due for my visit fee. I emailed myself a copy of the itinerary and kept a paper version with me as well. I must’ve checked it a hundred times during the week! Having all the info in one place was key.

3. Confirm. The week before I left, I emailed confirmations to each contact, making sure I had the correct school address and none of the details or timing had changed. I went over everything so we were on the same page and I hopefully wouldn’t have any surprises.

4. Tech check. I carried two flash drives with my Power Point, just in case, and had emailed it to myself as well. Tech fails are always my biggest fear! I asked each school to have a laptop set up and connected to the projector but brought my own laptop as a backup.

5. Engage, share, connect. This goes for any school visit, of course, not just out-of-town ones. I engage the students with lots of questions instead of talking straight for an hour. Sounds like a no-brainer, but I’ve seen authors talk and talk, losing the kids’ attention. I like to share tidbits of my childhood and personal life (kids love seeing pics of your own kids or pet). And, I try to connect with kids on their level, for example by talking about how editing a book is actually sort of similar to revising an essay for Language Arts. I also wove in some observations and questions about Florida.

fl-gainesville-wms-106. Be flexible. Lots can happen! Thankfully, this didn’t happen to me, but I’ve heard of schools forgetting an author was coming, Power Points not working, and microphones failing. I did speak in one auditorium that was set up for the holiday play and I kept having to step around props and parts of the set. And one of the schools I visited flipped around the order of events. Plus, I was prepared for any kind of weather since I was traveling from north to south Florida.

7. Post-its for book signing. I love Post-its for numerous reasons, but they’re lifesavers when it comes to signing books. There must be ten different ways to spell a name like Allie (Ally, Alli, Ali, etc.) so having each kid write their name on a Post-it on top of their book is so helpful when signing lots of copies. I always make sure to bring along my favorite pen and Sharpie, too.

fl-gainesville-wms-78. Have extra books on hand. At schools where I was signing pre-ordered books, I made sure to pack a few extra copies in my tote bag for the one or two kids who’d forgotten to order and were invariably sad to miss out. And it happened!

9. Take pics on your phone. I made sure to have teachers snap a few pics of my presentation on my phone so I could post them on social media that day instead of waiting for them to email me photos they’d taken. I took lots of selfies with the kids too. They loved it and I felt like a celebrity 🙂

10. Follow up. After I returned home, I spent some time emailing the teachers and librarians I’d met, thanking them and following up on any requests I’d received.

I was honored to meet so many enthusiastic readers in Florida and I’d visit again in a heartbeat!

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days and Calli Be Gold (both from Penguin Random House). Her new middle grade novel, Ethan Marcus Stands Up, is coming in August 2017 from Aladdin Books. Find her online at micheleweberhurwitz.com.

 

Taking a kindness cue from kids

The election is finally over. Whether or not the candidate you supported came out victorious, I sincerely hope that we, as a nation, can move forward. Not only move forward, but heal.  Somehow become less divisive and more unified. And realize that our differences may not be as great as they seem.

This campaign was not only like no other in history, it also took a dramatic toll on many Americans’ mental health. In October, the American Psychological Association found in a survey that 52 percent of American adults found the election to be a “very” or “somewhat significant” source of stress. Adding to the stress, the survey found, was social media. Arguments, stories, video, comments, and images on social media that ranged from factual to hostile to inflammatory heightened people’s concerns and frustrations. A common theme emerged around the country — therapists reported that their patients felt more worried and less safe.

As a middle grade author, I couldn’t help thinking throughout the campaign: what about our kids? What are they hearing, seeing, and taking in? How is it affecting them? What are we showing them and teaching them, with our words and our behavior? What will they remember? And how will they act when they become adults…and voters?

I visit many schools and I honestly can’t think of one that didn’t have some type of kindness effort in place. Jars in classrooms to write a “put up” or “shout out” about a classmate. A wall of kids’ names who were observed doing random acts of kindness. A mural where kids wrote their wishes for a better world. Kindness Week. “It’s Cool to Be Kind.” The Great RAK Challenge. Kind words in chalk on a playground sidewalk or adorning posters in hallways. The message is clear in schools: Be kind, act kind, do kind things. This is the KIND of person you should be.

marian-hs-omaha-ne I even recently read about a girl who designed an app for use in a school cafeteria so everyone could find a seat at lunch and no one would have to sit alone.

Amazing, right?

When I observe these efforts at schools and see how they impact kids, I’m always blown away by the positive and hopeful messages. And I can’t help thinking that many adults need to take a cue from kids, and schools, for that matter.

michigan-girl-scouts-7-ypsilanti-eventSeems to me like there’s a really confusing dichotomy. Kids are taught to be kind and helpful and never to bully or tease. Then the exact opposite behavior is displayed by some (not all) people during the campaign — insults swapped back and forth, raging arguments on social media, fights during rallies. It got ugly. And sad. How could kids possibly make sense of this? They couldn’t. No one could.

That’s why I hope we can move forward from this moment and be better. Be kinder to each other. Listen more, talk less. Certainly argue less. Next time you’re in a school, read some of those kindness walls and posters. If our kids grow up with these messages ingrained in their heads, we’ll have nowhere to go but up.

And on a personal note, because I live in Chicago, I’ll add my tearful joy to the chorus of my city on the Cubs World Series win. They brought a ray of optimism to a year when many of us couldn’t find a lot to be joyful about. The grittiness and “never give up” attitude was a balm to heal our nation’s soul. Go Cubs!

gty-world-series-game7-end-25-jrl-161102_16x9_992Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days (Penguin Random House) and Calli Be Gold (Penguin Random House). She has a new middle grade novel coming fall 2017 from Aladdin Books. Connect with her online at micheleweberhurwitz.com.