Saturday, June 18, 2016

Greenhorn by Anna Olswanger Now A Movie

I read and reviewed the book Greenhorn a couple of years ago so I was intrigued to see how the story translated to film. My verdict: brilliantly!


The film begins in 1981 at a medical center in Jerusalem. Two old friends are seeing each other for the first time in thirty-five years. One is a doctor; the other a rabbi. The rabbi asks a haunting question, "What about the box?"

The film transitions back to Brooklyn in 1946 when the two old friends were young students. Aaron's teacher tells the class that twenty boys will be arriving from Poland. The boys are refugees, displaced by the horrors of WWII. For the classroom full of American boys the war is over. It didn't really affect them, but not so for Daniel, the boy they taunt as a "Greenhorn."

Daniel carries a tin box with him everywhere he goes. One of his fellow students compares it to the way his three-year-old sister carries around her security blanket. Most of the other students torment Daniel, not in a sophisticated way, but in a way typical of middle school. They call him names and point out that he's different, but Daniel is not the only boy they bully. Aaron, a boy who stutters, is also a target. He's called "Gravelmouth."

The film and the book are about the friendship that develops between the Greenhorn and the Gravelmouth. Aaron, the stutterer, finds his voice and sticks up for his friend. We learn what is in the box: soap. It's all Daniel has left of his family. They were murdered by the Nazis and the fat from their bodies turned into soap.

The horror of that revelation brings us back to the beginning of the film, when the rabbi asks the doctor, "What about the box?" I highly recommend you watch the film to find out!


Saturday, May 21, 2016

TeacherTube: Student Book Trailer of RUBY LEE & ME

Savannah Thompson in Mrs. Rodgers's class made a book trailer for RUBY LEE & ME. It's available for viewing on TeacherTube:



Thanks, Savannah! You made my day.



Wednesday, May 4, 2016

RUBY LEE & ME Celebrates Teacher Appreciation Week!

When I found out "A Mighty Girl" had selected RUBY LEE & ME as one of twenty books to celebrate teacher appreciation week, I was honored. When I saw my book cover beside Patricia Polacco's THANK YOU, MR. FALKER, I was gobsmacked! That book is a classic, and to see RUBY LEE & ME beside it…well, words cannot describe my elation!


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Nerdy Book Club--RUBY LEE & ME

I have written a blog post called, "The Teacher Who Inspired RUBY LEE AND ME." You can read it by clicking on the Nerdy Book Club.

In other news, I'll be presenting to a Middle Grade book club on April 25th at Inkwood Books! Mark your calendars for book club at 6:30, with a signing for the general public at 7:00 pm. The address is 216 S. Armenia Avenue, Tampa, FL.


And I've finally ordered bookmarks! Don't they look spiffy? Contact me if you'd like one!


Monday, March 7, 2016

Saying Goodbye--A Eulogy for Daddy's Funeral


            I was reading Facebook and Phyllis Adams had this to say about my dad, “He always had a smile on his face and always made me laugh.” We used that line in his obituary. Thanks, Phyllis. And when I read it, I thought, that’s perfect—I can’t sum up my dad any better than that. Daddy had been really sick for several months, yet when I’d ask him how he was doing, he’d laugh and say, “I’ve been a whole lot better, but I was a whole lot younger.” He never lost his sense of humor.

            I’d like to share several memories that show what kind of a father he was. The first happened when I was in first grade, learning to tell time. He took a big clock off the living room wall and spent an entire morning, turning the hands to 12:00, 1:15, 3:30, and on and on. You wouldn’t think that about him, but when he set out to teach you something, he had a world of patience.

            Fast forward to when I was fifteen years old and learning to drive a car. Our family owned an old station wagon. It wasn’t quite yellow; it wasn’t quite green. It was just ugly. Dad drove that car into the middle of a plowed field and said, “You can’t hurt a plowed field, and you sure can’t hurt this old car, so take off.” As those of you who have taught a teenager to drive know, it takes nerves of steel.

            And then I remember Daddy on my wedding day. We were standing in the back of this church waiting on the wedding march. Sue North and Jennifer Wiseman were playing. Dad turned to me and said, “Are you sure about this? My truck is parked right outside and we can still take off.” He didn’t care two hoots what people would think about it, or that he’d already paid for the wedding. He wanted to be sure I was happy. I told him that I was sure, and we proceeded down the aisle.




            No conversation about my dad would be complete without talking about love. My parents met when he was sixteen and she was fourteen. They’ve been together ever since. I never had any doubt my parents belonged together, and the way Mama took care of him during his illness is my definition of true love.

            There were two other great loves in my dad’s life—our big crazy family and the land he was born on. Once David and I took my parents to New York City. They’d never been and we wanted them to see it. My dad walked around looking up at the skyscrapers. He pointed to one and said, “You see that building? I wouldn’t live there if you gave it to me.” As far as he was concerned, he lived in the best place on earth with the best people. My cousin Tracy says, “Ma Williams knit her boys tight.” My dad loved his brothers. He liked nothing better than going out to breakfast with them and telling big stories to whoever would listen.

            Perhaps the greatest joy of my dad’s life was being a grandpa. Not only to my son, but sort of an honorary grandpa to all the kids in our family. When Alex was little, it was hard to say which one of them enjoyed a trip to Toys R Us more. They wore matching Batman underwear, danced to The Jungle Book, and watched Scooby Doo. My dad was a big kid at heart. And after Alex was older, Daddy liked to give him life advice—mostly about women. Alex, your mom would never steer you wrong, and some of that advice should be taken with a huge grain of salt. My dad was an A Number One grandpa.


            Hands down the biggest sorrow of my dad’s life was when Robin died. It simply broke his heart. I guess none of us really knows what heaven is like, but I can tell you what I hope it was like for my dad, and it was the last words I ever spoke to him. “Robin is waiting for you. Give her a big hug from me.” Enjoy your family reunion, Daddy. We’ll meet you on the other side.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Celebrating Black History Month With RUBY LEE AND ME

I didn't set out to write about school integration. My intention was to pay a simple visit to Mrs. Pauline Porter, my school's first African-American teacher. I wanted her to know what an impact she had made on my life. The visit touched us both.



Mrs. Porter wasn't supposed to be my teacher. She taught first grade in the classroom beside mine, but every afternoon she changed classrooms with my teacher and worked with those of us who were struggling to read. My own teacher didn't have much patience, and so Mrs. Porter was a godsend. But at the time, Mrs. Porter didn't see it that way. She suspected our principal was checking up on her, by sending the white teacher into her classroom. That never occurred to me as a child, but as an adult, I understood her feelings. School integration was hard. By the end of my visit, Mrs. Porter and I weren't sure of the principal's true motive, but we both knew the children she taught had been helped.

My book, RUBY LEE AND ME was inspired by that visit. Over Christmas, I had the privilege to take Mrs. Porter's daughter a copy of my novel. LaVerne insisted on giving me this caroler that Mrs. Porter had painted in a ceramics class. It's sitting in my office as a reminder to write from the heart, to do good work, to make her proud.


Scholastic has compiled this list of new releases to celebrate Black History Month. I think Mrs. Porter would be pleased to see RUBY LEE AND ME on the list.


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Scholastic's Mother Daughter Book Club

Scholastic is featuring RUBY LEE & ME as a Mother Daughter Book Club Selection. They've posted discussion questions, a recipe for peach cobbler, and a drawing to win ten copies of the book. You can find more information by clicking here: