My parents were not ones to use bribes when I was growing up, however, there was one exception to that rule—and only one. I was a “reluctant reader”. I actually enjoyed books very much, but preferably if someone else was reading them to me. I could get absorbed in a good book if I had to read one, but I could always put it down again, even in the most exciting part. Why? I would rather be drawing pictures than doing pretty much anything else.

But, back to The Bribe. My parents are voracious readers. My little brother is a voracious reader. I was a voracious drawer. With so much reading going on in my house my parents were a little concerned about my lack of interest in reading. In fact they didn’t even think I could read more than a handful of words in one sitting. So my dad brought a book home after work one day. I think it was one of those Dick and Jane books if my memory serves correctly. But it was a LOOONG one, not one of the easy ones. He sat me down on the sofa and gave me the new book and said, “Jeremy, if you read this book to me I will take you to the toy store and buy you anything you want.”  “Really?” I said. I took the book, opened it and began to read. I read it unfalteringly and with confidence. I didn’t stumble over the hard words. I read the WHOLE BOOK to him. When I was finished my dad looked at my mom and said, “I didn’t know Jeremy could do that!” My mom looked at me and said, “I didn’t know you could do that!” I looked at my parents and said, “I’m in grade two, of course I can do that! Now let’s go to the toy store.” 
This is what I chose. It’s a beauty of a toy tractor. Solid metal, rubber tires, good paint.

The Tractor
I don’t think I read another book (not properly anyway) for a few more years. Of course I had to read the occasional one for school, but that doesn’t count.
Fast forward to 2004. Publishers began to take interest in my drawings. Serious interest. But there was a catch. They wanted me to write. Not just draw. WRITE. But wait a minute; you want the one guy who would do ANYTHING to avoid reading a book to write one? So I’m going to be a reluctant writer now too? I was in my early thirties and still a reluctant reader. Still loved books, but admired them from a distance—like a shy teenager at a high school dance who wants to ask the hottest girl if she’ll dance with me. That was books and me. Except that this was backwards—the hottest girl had just asked ME for a dance? I’m not stupid. I accepted.
I signed up for a writing class and started reading with a vengeance. I was thirty years behind on my reading. I had some catching up to do. But now it was like a challenge. In order to really impress the hottest girl at school I had to learn to do this thing. I read. I wrote. I read. I wrote. And somewhere in there I discovered that reading was the most wonderful thing and I had been missing out on it all these years.
I now take a book with me everywhere I go. I’ve still got some catching-up to do. In the words of my lovely daughter, “I’m a ferocious reader!” During negotiations for Grumpy Bird (my first picture book) Pippin decided to take me under their wing. I’m still amazed that the kid who had to be bribed to read gets to have his name on a list with the likes of William Steig (one of my heroes), Kate DiCamillo, Doreen Cronin, Kathi Appelt, David Small. Everyone really. They’re all amazing!
I phoned my parents the other day as I started to write this little piece and asked my dad about the bribe. He just laughed and said he learned his lesson, “I never bribed you again after that!” That tractor reminds me that rules are meant to be broken, that all good things come in time, and that I’m a late bloomer. I still think of that tractor when I crack open a new book and when I sit down at my drafting table to craft a new book of my own. It also reminds me that my books had better be good enough that kids don’t need to be bribed to read them!

Posted by elena at 12:12 PM Link to this post

When I first moved to Minneapolis, I took a job teaching Chinese at a big public city school. I was new to teaching, and teaching--especially grades K-12-- is wonderful but exhausting. I would power-teach three to four days a week and then ease into the weekend by reading aloud to my students for the last half hour of every class on Friday. I rationalized this activity by choosing only books--novels, memoirs, collections of stories and essays--that had something to do with China.

I had made a bunch of giant pillows out of corduroy and foam, and every Friday these big old teenagers--the hockey players, football players, cheerleaders, loud kids, shy kids, street kids, rich kids, kids who barely spoke English--would arrange themselves on the floor, and I would begin to read. There was never a sound in the room, but all eyes were on me and everyone was listening.

Those were peaceful, happy Fridays. I sat on my desk swinging my legs and reading. There were no windows in the room, and I had brought in lots of lamps so as to avoid the overhead fluorescence, and the lamplight pooled on my students' faces, which in that light and that time were beautiful, every one of them.

Later, I would see those same teenagers walking around in the halls carrying library copies or used paperback copies of the books I was reading to them.

My first baby was born not long after this, and at first he had a tough time being in the world. I sensed while he was still inside me that he wasn't ready to be born yet, and it proved to be true. Lights and sounds bothered him greatly, and so did scratchy tags and wool sweaters. He needed to be carried constantly or he would scream bloody murder, so carry him constantly I did, in a contraption I called The Red Thing.

I cooked with him in the Red Thing, cleaned house with him in the Red Thing, went to the bathroom with him in the Red Thing. The only time he was out of the Red Thing was when he was on my lap and I was reading picture books to him. Which I did for hours. Hours and hours and hours--years and years--of picture books. Me and my boy.

Take a minute and do something right now, will you? Close your eyes and go back in time as far as you can, to the first book you ever remember loving.

Maybe you don't remember the title or author. Maybe what you remember is opening it up and burying your face in it and smelling that picture book smell. Maybe you don't remember the book at all, in any way; maybe what you remember instead is the sensation of being read to, of sitting on the lap of someone who loves you, their arms around you.

Driven, impatient and high-strung person that I am, it is hard to slow myself, hard to find peace. But when I look back on my life, it is the memory of those hours reading--first to my students, and later to my baby boy--that brings me stillness, and solace, and warmth.

Writing for children is my way of welcoming them to this enormous world, anticipating the wonder and pain and delight of the lives that await them. It's about knowing that they will need to be brave and strong to live in this world, and that they will end up going places they never could have imagined they would go. It's about wanting solace for them, and warmth, and peace.

I write for children because I love them.
Posted by elena at 02:11 PM Link to this post

"'The key,' I told Rachel, 'is not to bet your heart.'"
-- Alec Soth, "Las Vegas Birthday Book"

"Patience is not very different from courage. It just takes longer."
-- James Richardson

Telling stories is hard work; the stories that I like, the ones that seem most powerful to me, have an ineffable quality of one word seeming to do the work of ten words. I don't know how to explain this, really. But what comes to mind is a huge piece of road machinery designed to drill deep holes. The machine has a long drill and when it swings into action, the drill goes down into the ground and the whole machine goes up, off the ground, so that its weight, all of it, rests on this one slender thing.

One word for ten.

How does a writer do that?
I think it has something to do with resting the full weight of your broken, battered, hopeful heart on every word of the story you are telling.

The key, then, is to bet your heart.
This takes courage. And patience.
And a great deal of foolhardiness, because, after all, you are taking a risk, exposing yourself, throwing your heart up into the air.

Every morning when I sit down to write, I say this prayer: please make me brave enough, patient enough, stupid enough to bet my heart one more time.
Posted by elena at 11:10 AM Link to this post

I have the distinct honor of being the author of the very first book Pippin Properties sold when it opened its doors back in 1998. How could I forget meeting Holly McGhee at a midtown restaurant for lunch twelve years ago? Immediately I liked her sly sense of humor and the fact that she was a Yankees fan, but it was when Holly conveyed her passion for creating evergreens, books that stand the test of time, that I was hooked. Right there at our meeting, arranged and attended by Kate McMullan, my former writing teacher and good friend, I signed on to become a Pippin. 
At that time, twelve years ago, there was no blogging or social networking, mobile phones were in their infancy and personal computers were primitive and slow. Ah, to go back to the good old slow days! 
Today, of course, we can communicate in ways that were completely unimaginable when Pippin was launched--video chatting, IM-ing, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to name a few. It's all fast, fast fast.
However, I am enjoying the best part of those "good old days" as an author represented by Pippin Properties. Holly and her team take time to nurture relationships with their authors and illustrators, encouraging them to take the time to produce their best work. Working with Pippin is like dining on a soul satisfying five-course meal, instead of gobbling up a Big Mac. While the agency is always expanding, changing, and staying relevant, Pippin's built-in filter is impervious to junk. 
I am constantly inspired and delighted by the quality of Pippin's authors and illustrators. How many times have I read Kate and Jim McMullan's I STINK! or Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin's CLICK, CLACK, MOO: COWS THAT TYPE and laughed out loud? I've devoured Kate DiCamillo's THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE on four different occasions and wept each time. 
In fact, seeing all of the authors' and illustrators' books on display at the Pippin office never fails to enlighten and encourage me. This is the office I've entered with firm (sometimes stubborn) ideas about my project and exited an hour or so later seeing my work in an entirely new light. It is where I've hatched a picture book, a nonfiction storybook and now a book for adult readers. Pippin is a place I call home. 

Posted by elena at 09:09 AM Link to this post

I'm Holly McGhee, the founder of Pippin Properties, Inc., and I'm incredibly excited to introduce our new web site to you. Pippin is twelve years old as I write this, and the authors and artists we represent, with their unwavering resolve for excellence, define our vision. Everything we undertake here at Pippin is reflected by these words: "The world owes you nothing—you owe the world your best work." *

Pippin Properties, Inc. is a small and distinguished literary agency located in New York City, and from month to month in this blog, you'll be hearing from our authors, artists, and other special guests—all sharing stories about whom and what has most influenced them in their creative lives. It's my hope that you find these stories inspiring and come back to visit again and again.  

My vision for Pippin is captured best by the cultivation of the bonsai tree—intense devotion to detail and beauty, with elegance and mystery taking precedence over size. And with fastidious care, the bonsai lives on through generation after generation. Someone I respect enormously once said to me, "you can go large, or you can focus." To this day Pippin remains focused on representing unparalleled work by the finest authors and artists writing and drawing today, be it picture books, middle-grade, young adult, or adult literature.

Pippin Properties, Inc.Early in my children’s book publishing career, I was given the chance to edit Zeke Pippin by William Steig. Zeke is a pig who runs away from home, only to discover he has a magical ability, which he learns to use prudently. And so when I went out on my own years later, I turned to Bill Steig for a logo—that’s why you see Zeke sitting behind a desk at the top of our letterhead —and that’s why we’re called Pippin.  As Bill said in his Caldecott speech for Sylvester and the Magic Pebble:
“Art has the power to make any spot on earth the living center of the universe; and unlike science, which often gives us the illusion of understanding things we really do not understand, it helps us to know life in a way that still keeps before us the mystery of things. It enhances the sense of wonder.  And wonder is respect for life.”


*(thank you, Alison McGhee.)
Posted by elena at 09:07 AM Link to this post
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