Jacqueline Briggs Martin

I hear this week from Jacqueline Briggs Martin, author of On Sand Island, illustrated by David A. Johnson (Houghton Mifflin, 2003), a Golden Kite honor winner.

She sends her “irregular” newsletter, republished here with permission.

Booktalk from Second Avenue

When I sent out the first of these notes in August, 2003, I imagined I might do them quarterly. Oh foolish, foolish me. Fifteen months later I have both time and energy to share some news and ponderings about reading and writing with children.


If you are receiving this note it is because you are in some way involved with children’s books, possibly a teacher, librarian, writer, bookseller.

I want to thank you for what you do to bring children and books together.

Though we don’t often hear much about the value of imagination in our popular culture, I believe the work we do to grow children’s imaginations, to help see the world from inside the heads of others will enable them to live more reflective and empathic lives. And such students, as adults, will be a yeasty counter to close-minded “us-them” thinking that only makes problems worse. So thanks and thanks again. You are planting seeds when you bring children and books together. We do not know when the harvest will happen.


In the last year I have come across a wonderful book about writing with children–In the Company of Children by Joanne Hindley (Stenhouse, 1996). Hindley reminds us of the importance of having the right tools–a notebook that seems just for us and a pen or pencil that feels right to our hand.

A few years ago I worked on a journaling project with students in Burlington, Iowa. We provided 7×7 black composition notebooks for all the students at the school. But before they started writing we asked them to decorate the covers of the notebooks in a way that reflected their interests and tastes. Opening a notebook should feel like “coming home” to a special space, a space that’s comfortable, and waiting to be filled with observations, questions, imaginings, or word play.

Writers have long known of the importance of having the right tools. You have probably seen writers with special pens for book-signings. You may not have seen the variety of notebooks which writers use for journaling or first drafts, but many are sure that they don’t write as well if the notebook is not their own special kind. Children may not be as experienced at writing as older writers but they are equally deserving of this basic requirement.

If you are writing with a group of children I hope you will have the time to allow children to find or make a notebook which feels right for each of them.


Sometimes I read books which are so exciting to me I want to share them.

This year at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference I ran into several wonderful authors/illustrators and their books.

THE DIRTY COWBOY by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Adam Rex, (Farrar,Straus, & Giroux, 2003) is a wonderfully funny story about a cowboy and a dog. The cowboy decides to take his yearly bath and asks the dog to guard his clothes. When he finishes his bath he smells so different the dog does not recognize him and won’t give up the clothes. This book is a perfect blend of text and pictures and will be great fun whether in group read-aloud or one-by-one on the couch. This book received the Golden Kite Award for picture book text.

JUST A MINUTE BY Yuyi Morales (Chronicle, 2003 ) is a trickster counting tale about Grandma Beetle and the Grim Reaper (in the form of Senor Calderon). It is an affectionate and warm-hearted tale of a resourceful grandma. I want to see more of Grandma Beetle. This book received the Golden Kite Honor Award for picture book illustration. It also received the Pura Belpre Award from the American Library Association.

LEONARDO by Robert Byrd is a wonderfully illustrated and imaginatively told story of Leonardo’s life. This book received the Golden Kite Award for picture book illustrations.

APPLES TO OREGON by Deborah Hopkinson is another of my favorites this fall. Hopkinson’s narrator has a folksy way of telling us about her family’s trip from Iowa to Oregon with hundreds of fruit trees. It’s a story of pluck, humor, and history and a great read with a crisp apple.

Reader and Writer Dialogue

As your students are reading my books and visiting my Web site ( they may come up with questions which the website doesn’t answer. I will try to answer e-mailed questions which are sent to me. I would love to hear from readers of all ages, but, as adults, I hope you will help your young readers to search the Web site for answers before sending questions.


I’m excited about some forthcoming books. One–BANJO GRANNY (written with my daughter Sarah, who lives in California with her husband and son, Owen) is very close to my heart. This book will be illustrated by Barry Root and published by Houghton Mifflin in 2006. It is the story of a Granny who misses her grandson so much that “she puts on her thousand mile shoes” and sets out from the midwest to see her faraway grandson who goes “wiggly,jiggly and all-around giggly for bluegrass music.”

CHICKEN JOY ON REDBEAN ROAD (illustrated by Melissa Sweet and published by Houghton Mifflin, 2007) is a tall tale about friendship in the chicken yard and the healing power of Louisiana music.

I’ve also been working on a book for teachers and students about writing. It will be called JACQUELINE BRIGGS MARTIN AND YOU. It is part of Libraries Unlimited “Author and You” series and will be published in 2005.

It covers many topics, including getting started with journaling, writing about a favorite person or place, writing and revising a fictional story, and ways of sharing student writing.

Book News:

THE WATER GIFT AND THE PIG OF THE PIG was named the Lupine Award Winner by the Maine Library Association; ON SAND ISLAND was named the Golden Kite Honor Book for Picture Book Text by the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

I hope this season, with its clouds and conflicts, also offers you some joys–the joy of family fun, the joy of good work done. And I hope to hear from you.

Thank you, Jackie, and congratulations on your many honors and accomplishments! Keep up the good work!