Archive for the ‘author visit’ Category:

Banned Again

I don’t know why I’m so bummed about it this time. Maybe I relished the challenge of approaching a controversial topic in a way that builds bridges rather than walls. And no, I won’t name the school, so don’t ask. I’m not mad at them. I understand the pressure they are under and they stood to lose a lot more than I would if some lawsuit-happy parent got their knickers in a knot.

But I’m still bummed.

Legend of the Valentine has religion in it. And not just any religion. Legend of the Valentine has Christianity in it. It also has the Civil Rights Movement, school integration, handling bullies, Valentine’s Day and a wise grandmother. Because of that, I’m sometimes invited to speak by people who don’t know about the Christianity part. So I make sure I tell them it’s there and discuss how I might present the book in a context appropriate for a public school setting.

What I was hoping for this time, was to bring up the topic of bullying on the basis of religion. I wanted to brainstorm various ways we divide ourselves up: race, language, nationality, money, gender… and religion. Inside the book is a story of religious persecution. And while I don’t know if anyone is being fed to the lions anymore (at least in this country), kids in school routinely experience bullying aimed at their religion–be it Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Pagan, Sikh, or something else. But religion has become the Great Unspeakable in the public square–most especially in public school.

Do I think it’s acceptable for an author to waltz into a public school and proselytize a captive audience of children for her particular religion? No. But the squeamishness that places religious references in a category of obscenity previously reserved for… well, obscenity, does a disservice to our kids–and to the culture as a whole.

I remember my daughter coming home from Kindergarten and telling me it was “against the rules” to talk about God at school. Of course, her school had no such rule, but the anxiety and discomfort of her teachers any time a child made a religious reference was evident to her. How many children begin to see their innocent faith, and the religions of their families as something shameful? Our kids are taught to speak openly about all manner of sensitive topics–most of which would have curled my grandmother’s hair (had it not already been curly.) But the topic of spirituality and faith elicits a “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” superciliousness among policymakers.

What this does is further isolate children of faith (and nonreligious children) from one another. And those children grow into adults who build fortresses around their belief communities because they have never been exposed to any other belief. From within these fortresses, the adults shoot arrows at the other fortresses. Fortress A must be defended against the alien “others” from Fortress B. The beliefs attributed to Fortress B are a caricature, created by Fortress A. Why? Because they never got around to talking openly with each other and trying to understand their common ground.

Do I blame teachers for this? Absolutely not! I am a teacher in a public school. And I am guarded about religious discussion in my own classroom. I know what the climate is in these times, and I can’t put my own school at risk.
So maybe I was a Pollyanna not to decline the invitation to speak in the first place, knowing how loaded it would be to read a book with the name “Jesus” in it.

But I wish that we would talk about this. There has to be another way.


Book Banning or "You Can’t Come to My Party" and other Awkward Moments

With the rescinding of Ellen Hopkins’ key to the Teen Lit Festival in Humble, Texas, some lively writer-chat has been taking place. Deemed too controversial AFTER she was asked to keynote, Ellen received an “Oops! Disregard that invite,” when a district librarian brought a handful of parental complaints to the superintendent. Following Ellen’s dis-invitation, authors Pete Hautman, Melissa de la Cruz, Matt de la Peña, and Tera Lynn Childs dis-invited themselves from the event in a show of solidarity.

Because I like Ellen (and her books), it’s been good to see her respond with strength and confidence. And it got me thinking about the time I was uninvited to a school visit. I told a writer friend about it during Banned Books Week one year. She was outraged for me. “You should tell everyone!” she said. “What was so offensive in your book that they didn’t want you there?”

I told her that the book, LEGEND OF THE VALENTINE, had religious content. And my friend said, “Katherine! Why are you trying to bring religion into the schools?”

It seems a fair question. I’d been invited by a teacher who loved my book. I wanted to go, but I was hesitant. What if they thought I was a “stealth” author determined to evangelize the children for my particular flavor of religion? So I wrote a letter to the coordinator of the event, explaining that there was this aspect of the book (It’s about the Civil Rights Movement, and also has the story of early Christian martyr St. Valentine, along with prayerful talk about loving one’s enemies). I planned to address religion as broadly as possible, given the diverse setting, and assured her it wouldn’t be a Sunday school lesson.

Nevertheless, she was uneasy and she asked me not to come. I suggested some other authors for her, and that was that.

Personally, I think we need to be less afraid about religion in the public arena than we are. If we can allow children to learn about and discuss spirituality and religions in a heterogenous environment, as if it is a normal part of life, we can go a long way towards diminishing the fearmongering that takes place — both among the religious and the non-religious.

But ideologies go crashing against each other when we bring up censorship and religion–specifically, Christianity–at the same time.In some quarters, censoring Christianity is okay censorship. And yes, I know that censoring and belittling other religions has been standard in this culture. I’m not for that, either.

And it’s never fun to be kicked out of the party.  

Why We LOVE Revision

I’ve heard it. I work with kids: “But I like my story the way it is. I don’t want to change it!” (And to tell you the truth, I may hear that even more from grownups than from kids!)
But the reason I love revision is that it allows me to write badly. Which, frankly, is the only reason I can write at all. If I have permission to write badly, then I can feel superior to all that badness by revising it.


So when I was at Snohomish Parent Partnership last month, I made sure to come armed with a REALLY BAD story. Here it is:

Dragon’s Orb

By Brandy Nuwrite


Once upon a time, a girl named Fireda found a dragon that had been attacking her village. She told the dragon to stop attacking her village, but the dragon didn’t want to.
Fireda used her magic orb to get the dragon to do what she wanted.
Then the dragon took the orb away and Fireda couldn’t find it. She was really mad. She then walked toward the cave that the dragon was staying in and secretly went inside. Then the dragon breathed fire on her, but Fireda used her magic shield to protect herself.
Machifa came and tried to find Fireda, but he could not find her. He thought about it and in his mind he said, “Where is Fireda?”
“I’m in here,” Fireda said.
“Where?” said Machifa.
The dragon didn’t like it that they were talking to each other because he wanted to keep Fireda prisoner.
One week later, Onchnu was riding up the mountain. He was all covered in vines so you couldn’t see him. He saw the cave. Then he went inside. Then he found Fireda and Machifa.
“Aha!” said Machifa, because he hated Onchnu since Onchnu was in love with Fireda.
He said that Fireda should come with him and then she did come with him, but the dragon tried to stop them.
Fortunately, they got away.


And here’s how the students of Snohomish Parent Partnership improved on it (note that each section of the story was written by a different group and no group knew what the others were writing.)

Dragon story
Dragon’s Orb

One cold and wet morning in northern Germany, Fireda was walking amongst her quaint village fetching some water from the town well. When she pulled the
bucket from the well, there was a blue and glittering orb, about the size of a baseball. Fireda did not know what it was. Then out of nowhere a dragon flew out of the sky and hit a nearby barn and ran up to her and took the orb.
She said, “Hey, that’s mine!” but the dragon said, “Yes! I’ve got
Then she said, “Give it back to me!” He said, “NO! I do not want to.”
As he started to fly away, she jumped on his back.

What is an orb? An orb is a golden glass ball that fits in the palm of your
hand, with a unique inscription. The inscription reveals numerous magical
powers that open portals to another world. If put into the wrong hands, all
mankind could be destroyed.
Fireda knew the power of the orb and combined it with her special abilities
to soften the dragon’s heart.

The tall green dragon shifted his triangle-shaped eyes and glared at
Fireda. He snatched her shiny blue orb from her hand. In the dark of the cave,
the dragon placed the orb high on his secret ledge. After the dragon fell
asleep, Fireda searched the dank cave for hours. She missed the secret ledge and
didn’t find her magic orb. By sunrise, Fireda was infuriated, enraged and

The dragon left footprints in the wet sand as he went to the cave, where he
fell asleep. Fireda, who felt scared inside, and began to turn pale, crept
toward the cave. She desperately wanted to get her orb back. As she entered the
cave, she accidentally kicked a rock, which echoed loudly, waking the dragon.
Her furious foe breathed fire on her, but Fireda used her magic shield to
protect herself.

Her friend Machifa came and tried desperately to find Fireda. He tried
vainly to find her. Machifa thought about where Fireda was and in his mind he
said, “Where is she?”
“I’m in the back of the cave,” Fireda exclaimed.
“Where?” Machifa asked.
The big, green dragon hated that they were talking because he wanted to
keep her prisoner.

One week later the traveling alpaca salesman Onchnu was riding his woolly
mammoth up a mountain on his way to a customer’s house, when he saw a cave and
went inside. In the cave he saw Machifa and Fireda eating a pizza.
“Aha!” said Machifa, as he pulled out his battle axe and ran towards
Onchnu yelled, “Waaaaiiiit,” as he ducked, barely dodging the blade of the

The red and orange fire-breathing dragon jumped over a cliff with lava. The
dragon spit fireballs and lava at Fireda, Machifa and Onchnu to try to stop
them. Fireda reached into her pocket and felt the magic orb. She ripped it from
the pocket and touched the dragon. The magic orb shrank the dragon and turned it
into a fly. Fireda, Machifa and Onchnu all took turns squishing the fly.

Be a Sweetheart for Orphaned Children in Africa

Songea Kids
From the New Day Africa website 

What a delightful time we had yesterday at our Valentine Party for New Day Africa, making valentines for the children of the Green Door Orphanage in Songea, Tanzania. These are kids who have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS.

Christine Tapert, the “founding mother” of this organization brought such a treasure of art supplies that we were all giddy — especially us grownups.
My husband, Fr. Andrew, loves to cut & paste


A friend and I play with ribbons & “punchy letters”
The lives of these African children have been changed forever. And now the vision of a mom halfway across the world has changed their lives forever again. People with a common vision came together and brought their background and expertise. Partnerships were formed with NGO’s and interested donors. Now the children have a well, they’re getting needed medical care, a new orphanage is being built and a brand new group of children is being helped. Christine says, “Now I know what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Christine Tapert, my new hero.


If you had to miss the party, there’s still a chance to help. Make a donation to New Day Africa in the amount of $20 or more by February 28. Then write to me at and let me know. Send your mailing address and I’ll send you a signed copy of Legend of the Valentine. Specify whether you prefer the hardcover (the complete version) or the board book (for kids under 5) .

Making Stories at Snohomish Parent Partnership Program


I’m having a blast with the students and parents of the Snohomish PPP where I’m doing a two-part workshop. This K-12 program is part of the Snohomish School district.



Because it’s “that time of year,” I got to read Legend of the Valentine. It feels good to be able to introduce this book to a new generation of readers.


Last Friday we began stories using characters from the Hero’s Journey.



I got to “interview” several of the characters.


And we did a little acting to help with the process.
This coming Friday we’ll revise. Yes, revision is fun! I promise.