travel journal part 2, food and books

First meal of the trip: In Melbourne, channeling Anthony Bourdain by having a bratwurst at Melbourne’s Queen Victoria market.


My favorite (er, ‘favourite’) meal in Australia was a fairly simple one–on the road, at Weller’s Inn & Pub, Kangaroo Ground, Victoria.


Squash soup, garnished with baby cilantro.


Toasts with spread assortment. Excellent toast. We had great toast all over Australia. This is not a small thing.

Having thus dined lightly, we attacked the desserts with unseemly fervor:


Rhubarb crumble with creme fraiche ice cream.


Fabulous sticky-toffee pudding, and on request they brought me a whole little jug of extra sauce!

In Indonesia:


Picnic prepared by our hotel, eaten in the mountains above Ubud in Bali. From bottom right, potato salad with bacon, assorted satay, barbecued pork ribs, vegetable tartlets, little fruit-sago puddings (wrapped in banana leaf), fresh fruit. All delicious.


Sumatran specialty: fish-head curry.


Sundanese food: rice flavored with fish and vegetables wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed.

In both Sydney and Jakarta, we ate at the Din Tai Fung dumpling house. Superb soup dumplings–filled with pork in Australia, with chicken in Jakarta. Deservedly popular, Din Tai Fung steams A LOT of dumplings….


Tower of steamer baskets at Din Tai Fung in Jakarta.

What I read while traveling:

*FINNIKIN OF THE ROCK, by Melina Marchetta. YA fantasy.
XO, by Jeffery Deaver. Adult mystery/thriller. (ebook)
*CRACKER!, by Cindy Kadohata. Middle-grade historical fiction, dog story.
THERE ARE NO SPIES, by Bill Granger. Adult thriller.
DRIVING FORCE, by Dick Francis. Adult mystery.

*highly recommended.

An odd selection this trip. I brought the first two books with me at the outset, and planned to buy titles for my Nook as needed. (I’m still mostly a Book reader, but I do use my Nook for ebooks when traveling.) I learned that you cannot download books onto your Nook when you are abroad, who knew? (Actually, it makes sense….) Fortunately, I was hanging out with librarians at that point: The last three titles were either borrowed from the library of the school in Jakarta, or from the paperback-swap shelves in their faculty lounges.

photojournal, Australia-Indonesia

So many photos. Hard to choose just a few. But here goes anyway…



In the Green Room, Melbourne Writers Festival, with fellow panelists Neil Grant, Majak Daw, and Debbie DeLaps.


Signing after another session with Carole Wilkinson.



Writers’ lunch in Sydney, with Justine Larbalestier, Deb Biancotti, Deb’s partner Chris, and Steven Dunbar. (Scott Westerfeld, Libby Gleeson, and Melina Marchetta had already departed. Margo Lanagan was bodily in Ireland, but with us in spirit.)



At the beautiful Queensland State Library, with the standard for the Brisbane Writers Festival–a heart made entirely of books!


A slew of Madelines? No–the booksigning queue, with Australian students in school uniform!


University of Queensland Press: my AWESOME Australian house! Kristina Schulz, children’s publisher, and Meredene Hill, marketing manager.

On to Indonesia:


At Jakarta International School (JIS), librarians Liz Smilie, Kate Hodgson, Leslie Henry, and Matt Schafer did an amazing job preparing for my visit–along with the staff, administration, and especially the teachers and students!


One of several banners made by the library staff.


Presenting to students at PIE/JIS Elementary School.


Librarian Leslie Henry, PEL/JIS Elementary, with the terrific wall of READ posters featuring individual students!


With the Creative Writing class at JIS High School.

Meanwhile, my husband was off on adventures of his own….


…touring a trashpickers’ community…


…playing a little soccer with the kids there… (with thanks to Adi Imanuddin for those two photos)


…and painting a room at the House of Hope orphanage.

A few last images of a magical trip:


Floral offering on Bali.


Boat kite from Bali, now hanging in our bathroom.

And finally…remember the welcome banner at the school? Go back and take another look at it. The librarians had it recycled–into a gift for me:



from Bali…

Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country, comprising thousands of islands. Last week was spent on the island of Java, where Jakarta is located. This weekend we’re on Bali, the only island in the entire archipelago which is Hindu, not Muslim. I will have to post more about this later, when I can get a faster internet connection, but wow, am I learning a lot!

I’m very fortunate that the person I’m traveling with likes to take photos. It seems that I get so wrapped up in the moment that I almost always forget! However, my camera is the only one that can be connected to the computer at this point, so here are a few feeble offerings, which will alas do little to convey the magic of this trip.

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‘Hideaway picnic’ in a gazebo in the mountains above Ubud, Bali, arranged by the Gangsa Villas in Sanur, where we’re staying. (HIGHLY recommended. The Gangsa is a giant step up from the kind of place we usually stay at…a special treat because we’re celebrating our 28th wedding anniversary on this trip!)

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View from the gazebo.

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Terraced rice fields, redefining my concept of the color green.

Tonight we fly back to Jakarta. Tomorrow I will begin another four days of work at Jakarta International School, this time with the middle- and high-school students. Looking forward to meeting them and their teachers!

For now, one final image from Bali:

Our villa has a pool. (A pool just for us…) It is flanked by plumeria trees, which drop their blossoms into the water.

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Happy down under

Australia has been magical so far. Four days at the Melbourne Writers Festival, then three days on the road driving from Melbourne to Sydney. It’s been a perfect mix of books and book people, young readers, great food, stunning scenery, friends and family. (Photos to come…)

Among many favorite moments:

At lunch on Sunday (a group of writerly types met up the Duck Inn Pub, organized by Steven Dunbar—thanks, Steven!), we asked for dinner recommendations. Justine Larbalestier and others recommended Din Tai Fung, a Hong-Kong based dumpling house. (Justine knows her food. If she recommends somewhere, you do not question. You go.)

There was quite a queue waiting when we arrived, but we had been forewarned, and the wait was only about fifteen minutes. You order while you wait, ticking off what you want on a typical paper dim-sum ticket. We were asked if we’d be willing to share a table, to get seated sooner, and we said yes.

When we were shown to our table, there were already two other parties: two women and two men. A few minutes after we sat down, one of the men accidentally knocked over his wine glass. The wine spilled all over my husband’s place setting, but did not run off the edge of the table: Not a drop anywhere on his clothes, so all was well. The guy and his partner were both mortified and offered repeated apologies. Then they gave us a glass of wine from their bottle, which was very nice of them.

After that little drama, we got down to business, eating fantastic soup dumplings (soup dumplings, MargoR!), noodle dishes, and the stereotypical sautéed green beans with pork, but better than we’ve ever had it before. A bit later, we chatted with the two guys. One of them was Spanish, studying to be an actuary; the other was American. We had a nice conversation about traveling in this part of the world, and then they left.

We finished our meal. At Din Tai Fung, you get up to pay the cashier. When I handed her our ticket, she told me that our meal had already been paid for. By the two guys. Because they felt so bad about the wine accident. About NOT spilling on my husband.

The kindness of strangers. . . the sort Blanche DuBois could only dream of.


At the 2012 SCBWI International Conference in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, the Saturday night Hippie Hop dance party featured a flash mob. It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done, and here’s how it happened:

1) early July: I get the idea of putting together a flashmob dance for the conference–less than three weeks away–as a surprise for SCBWI head honchos Steve Mooser and Lin Oliver. Write to Jolie Stekly, former Regional Advisor for the Western Washington chapter and a fitness instructor, for sanity check.

2) Jolie, unaware of what will be required of her, responds with enthusiasm.

3) Exchange e-mails with Jolie, who points out that the cha-cha zumba routine I originally chose would not be effective as a flash mob because it’s all legs, hardly any arms. Duh. Jolie suggests a ’60s song because the theme of the party is the Hippie Hop. Bigger duh.

4) Write to Chelsea Mooser in the SCBWI office for second sanity check. Chelsea also responds with enthusiasm.

5) Write to Sara Rutenberg, executive director of SCBWI, with query about the logistics of contacting all 1,234 attendees plus dozens of faculty. Sara does not point out that I am asking her to add yet another item to the 738,000 things she already has to do for the conference. Instead, she responds with enthusiasm.

6) Write to my niece, Ailish Dobbin, a dancer. Ailish choreographs a routine to ‘The Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In’ by the Fifth Dimension, and uploads the video to Youtube.

Ailish’s video:

7) Skype with Jolie to discuss the routine. Coerce / browbeat / sweet-talk her into making a second video of Ailish’s routine, tweaked slightly, adding captions and more instruction. Jolie gets this done IN ONE DAY.

(Tweaks include elimination of the shimmy. Ailish is 19 years old and shimmies beautifully. Jolie felt that the target audience might not be quite so keen.)

Jolie’s video:

8) Write letter to attendees explaining the plan and including a link to Jolie’s video. Send it to Sara, who forwards it to all attendees without Lin and Steve knowing.

9) Write to DJs. Write to Lisa Yee and Jim Averbeck to ask for help in recording the event on video. Lisa agrees but seems a little confused; it turns out she never received the above letter and has no idea what I’m talking about.

10) Spend the week nervously watching the views count for the video. The number looks encouraging, but in contrast, we receive a total of exactly 14 comments and e-mails on the subject, which does not seem promising. (Much later, Sara will mention that she received more than 200 messages about it, which would have been nice to know…)

11) Order 300 glow bracelets to be delivered to the hotel for mobbers to wear.

12) Jolie arrives in LA on the Thursday. Initial inquiries are gloomy: People seem very hesitant, unsure if they will take part. Then she attends the meeting of the RAs–regional advisors, the volunteer backbone of SCBWI. All 70+ practice the routine with her and promise to help generate buzz! Jolie leaves the meeting feeling much better and sends me an upbeat text.

13) I arrive in LA on Saturday, the day of the flashmob. Nerves jangling… Despite Jolie’s reassurance about the enthusiasm of the RAs, doubts persist: What if only seven people do this with us??

14) Dinner before the party with Jolie and Lisa, at Red Medicine. The food is weird enough to provide a good distraction.

15) Back to the hotel. Party has started. Begin passing out bracelets and encouraging people. Still hard to tell how this will come off. I have my fingers crossed for a hundred people–if we could get a hundred, it will probably look okay and not be too embarrassing.

16) Costume competition precedes flashmob. As usual, folks have been very creative and the costumes are great fun.

17) DJ Cazanova calls Lin and Steve to the stage. They look a little confused. ‘Cue’ song: the Monkees’ I’m a Believer, then the first notes of ‘Age of Aquarius.’ It’s showtime!

An estimated FOUR HUNDRED PEOPLE do the routine with us. Every one of them deserved to see what Jolie and I saw, from in front of the stage: Lin and Steve’s expressions, from puzzlement to stunned disbelief to joy and delight.

It was better than perfect.

Wonderful wizards of Oz…

…and Indonesia.

In a few days, I’ll be leaving home to go on a magical trip. Destinations: Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Jakarta. My incredible itinerary:

August 27-29 Melbourne Writers Festival

September 3 Events in Sydney (TBA)

September 5-8 Brisbane Writers Festival

September 11-23 Jakarta International School

A list of the wizards responsible for the magic:

Kristina Schulz, editor at University of Queensland Press, who has bought several of my titles for publication in Australia

Meredene Hill, Marketing & Publicity at UQP, who lobbied for my inclusion in the festivals

–Program Manager Mike Shuttleworth and Festival Director Steve Grimwade (Melbourne) and Festival Director Jane O’Hara (Brisbane), who extended the invitations

Sally Patrick (BWF), Molly Ward (BWF), and Bhakthi Puvanenthiran (MWF), who have helped with the (nightmarish) travel itinerary and my festival scheduling (XXL-size thanks to Sally!)

Steven Dunbar, who mapped out the route and days between Melbourne and Sydney for me, and will play host even though his better half Margo Lanagan has swanned off to Scotland

Liz Smilie at Jakarta International School, chief architect of my visit to the school, as well as Lesley Henry and Matt Schafer of JIS, for their helpful e-mails

I’m truly grateful for all the work these wizards have done in preparation for my visit, and more thanks to the festival workers and the teachers at JIS who are continuing that work at this very moment….

Recent reading (to prep for the trip!):

THE BROKEN SHORE, by Peter Temple and DRAGON MAN, by Garry Disher (adult mysteries set in Australia)

A BALI MURDER MOST FOUL, by Shamini Flint (adult mystery set in Bali. Did I mention that I’m going to Bali!??)

JELLICOE ROAD, by Melina Marchetta (YA set in Australia, Printz winner)

All good, except for the Marchetta–which was GREAT.

Currently reading (and loving): A MAP OF THE INVISIBLE WORLD, by Tash Aw. (Adult novel set in Indonesia)

Taking with me on the plane: Bill Bryson’s IN A SUNBURNED COUNTRY. Other suggestions welcome…

CAN’T WAIT to meet Australian readers, writers and other book people, and everyone at JIS–see you very soon!

On NPR ‘best ever teen novels’ list

Most visitors to this blog have probably heard by now of the recent NPR list of ‘best-ever’ teen novels. The link to that list is further down in this post, but first, a few comments.

The initial nominations were made by NPR listeners/readers. 1200 titles were proffered. A panel of judges narrowed the list to 235, and it was once again listeners/readers who voted for that top 100.

Anybody see a potential problem here?

I listen to NPR. I love it. It’s on permalock on my car radio. And I would wager that its demographic is: educated, middle-class or wealthier…and *mostly white.*

I have tremendous respect for the panel that narrowed the list; I have worked with some of them personally. But if NPR had been serious about that ‘very best’ label — as opposed to ‘very best if you’re white, educated, and middle-class’ — it should have attempted a vital corrective by selecting a panel that included at least one person of color.

People get tetchy about this. Of course white gatekeepers are capable of recognizing quality work by people of color–it happens ‘all the time’.


When we reflect on this question, our focus as a culture is almost always on the ‘creators’–grants and awards and media coverage for authors and illustrators of color. These efforts are essential and laudable.

But to me, what gets almost completely ignored is the absolute necessity of people of color in the gatekeeping roles. The editors & publishers. Reviewers, critics, commentators. Academics. Booksellers. Librarians. Um, panelists. We will NEVER achieve the diversity we seek in books for teens and younger readers until the gatekeepers themselves reflect that diversity.

To have more people of color in these roles would result in a paradigm shift: Not simply more books by and about people of color, but better and more diverse books for everyone.

Yes, BETTER. Why? Because the experiences of people of color and what they bring to the table questions and stretches and enriches the definition of what it means to be human. And expansion of the understanding of the human condition, for me = better.

A thoughtful post by a Minnesota teacher:

The list itself:

And in case anyone thinks this is about sour grapes–which it isn’t, but I guess you’ll just have to take my word for that–a link to Laurie Halse Anderson’s blog entry on the topic:

SCBWI International Conference, 2012

Oh how I love this conference. For me the best part every year is seeing many old friends and making a few new ones, and that alone would be reason enough to attend. But because Lin Oliver and Steve Mooser, aided by Sara Rutenberg and the SCBWI office staff, do such an amazing job putting it together, the conference has countless other highlights. This year I arrived Saturday at noon, which means I missed the first day and a half. And *still* the weekend was chockfull:

–keynotes by Ruta Sepetys and Gary Schmidt, who both hit it out of the park.
–the Hippie Hop party Saturday night, for which there will be a separate post in a few days (flashmob, anyone?) 😉
–Sunday’s Golden Kite luncheon, with great acceptance speeches from all the winners.
–my Monday writers’ intensive, titled SPITSHINE: Putting the final polish on your novel. 25 attentive and enthusiastic writers participated. I gave a lecture, presented revision techniques, and gave them exercises to do on the spot. I hope they had as much fun as I did!
–an interesting and productive Board meeting.

Of course, I was so busy learning and teaching and talking (and hot-tubbing…just once, though) that I almost always forgot to take photos. Here’s one taken at dinner on Saturday with Jolie Stekly and Lisa Yee:

Rice porridge with egg yolk and uni at Red Medicine. I wish I could eat this every week for the rest of my life.

It occurs to me that this dish is an apt metaphor for the conference: It was both exciting and supremely comforting.

Vermont College weekend

I spent a wonderful few days at Vermont College in Montpelier, as a lecturer for the Fine Arts / Writing for Children Alumni mini-residency weekend. Fifty-plus graduates of the VCFA master’s program reunited for lectures, workshops, meeting with editors and agents, and lots of conversation about books and writing in a beautiful New England setting. What’s not to love!?

In addition to two master-class lectures on writing and revision, I did a reading and an informal talk to the whole community, which included the current crop of students getting their degrees. That meant I got to hang out with them and their terrific faculty, including Tim Wynne-Jones, Martine Leavitt, Uma Krishnaswami, An Na, Sarah Ellis, Matt DelaPena, Rita Williams-Garcia, Mark Karlins, Sharon Darrow, and many others. I sat in on lectures by Matt and Sarah, and readings by Rita and Mark.

Marion Dane Bauer, founder of the program fifteen years ago, was presented with an honorary degree for which M.T. (Tobin) Anderson provided a great introduction. The next day, Marion gave a talk to the alumni group, and I felt so privileged to be able to hear it.

There was a dance Saturday night (I had fun dancing! with Erszi Deak and Deb Gonzalez and everyone else), the highlight of which I missed: One of the students actually GOT MARRIED at the dance! And on Sunday I played in the “basketball” game run by Alan Cumyn, a bizarre, ridiculous and riotous combination of H-O-R-S-E and charades. (To give an idea of how little basketball is actually involved: Na and I, 5’0″ and 5’2″ respectively, made the winning shots for our team….)

Many thanks to Janet Fox and Deb Gonzalez, who organized the alumni event, and to Ann Cardinal of VCFA who facilitated *everything*. All three of them, as well as everyone from students to faculty and staff, made me feel very welcome during my time there.

I was too busy having fun to take many photos, but here are a few:

Kekla Magoon and Tim Wynne-Jones.


Dot (left) and Tarquin, who own Tobin Anderson and his partner Nicole.


Tarq and Tobin.

While in Vermont I read:

ROOM, by Emma Donoghue. Adult fiction, library. Haunting. I found the first half stronger than the second, but overall a compelling read.

DOUBLE HELIX, by Nancy Werlin. YA thriller, purchased from the college bookstore. Fascinating scary-science stuff, from an author who never lets me down.

TWAIN’S FEAST, by Andrew Beahrs. Nonfiction, half-price from Bear Pond Books in Montpelier. Delightful exploration of Mark Twain’s favorite American foods, and what has happened to them more than a century later.

I’m glad to be home, but couldn’t have asked for a better time away.

A wonderful evening with Salva!

Last night I participated in a terrific event sponsored by Water for South Sudan: a presentation and booksigning with Salva Dut, the subject of my book A LONG WALK TO WATER. Salva is visiting from South Sudan, where he lives now. I’ve given dozens of presentations about the book, but this is the first time Salva and I were onstage together.

The turnout at the Downtown United Presbyterian Church in Rochester, NY, was terrific. Some people drove several hours to be there. The books sold out: a very special memento of the evening, copies signed by both me and Salva!

It is always so inspiring for me to have a chance to be in the same room as Salva, and clearly everyone there felt the same. He reported that WFSS had its most successful drilling season to date: 33 new wells drilled! And with the total count of wells now over 130, Salva estimates that the lives of about 9,000 children who would have died from water-borne disease have been saved. WOW.

The signing queue.

Pens at work all evening long!

Photos by Ben Dobbin

Many thanks to Chris Moore, who emceed the presentation; to Lynn Malooly and the WFSS board; to everyone who was there; and to the thousands of readers all over the U.S. and the world (I was able to display copies of the book from Italy, Australia, Japan, and Korea) who have read the book and embraced Salva’s story.