The Thickety Book Tour 2015: Doylestown, PA!

After my day in Milwaukee I flew back east, where some unexpected snow on the first day of spring (!?) wreaked havoc on a few of my events. Still, I was able to visit two schools in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, which was doubly fun since I’m sort of obsessed with that town. It has an old-fashioned movie theater, quite a few cafes, the great Doylestown Bookshop as well as two used bookstores, ice cream shops galore—basically everything I need for a happy existence.   I visited two Doylestown schools and the kids were particularly enthusiastic and gracious. One of the really cool things about this second book tour is that I’ve been meeting kids who have read The Thickety: A Path Begins and are really excited about the sequel, as opposed to the first tour, which was mostly, “Your book has only been out for three days—who the heck are you?” It’s nice to get good reviews and all, but nothing beats an actual kid telling me he or she finished a book of mine in a single day, or has read it more than once.

Cold Spring Elementary School
Linden Elementary School


Snow cancelled my signing at the Doylestown Bookshop, which was unfortunate but not the end of the world—I figured we would just re-schedule. And then I received a text that evening about a girl who had come all the way from Washington D.C. for the event and had not gotten word it was cancelled. She had even made a special costume for the occasion. NOOOO!!! Luckily, the awesome Krisy of Doylestown Bookshop was able to schedule a time at the store that this enthusiastic reader and I could meet before she had to head back home. (If you wanted a demonstration of the personal care that independent bookstores give their customers…ta-da!) The next morning, I got to meet Grace (yup—that was her name) in person, and she was wearing this incredible one-eyed bird costume with eyes that actually changed colors—which she had made herself! I had the privilege of hanging out with her for a while and chatting, and it was fantastic fun.

And now, for the final Which is Scarier?  Totals, with the winners in bold:

abandoned mall vs. dark forest (3-7)

shark vs. giant squid (4-6)

heights vs. thunderstorms (8-2)

haunted house vs. haunted school (0-10)

(For the record, I agree with all of these!)


The Thickety Book Tour 2015: Milwaukee, WI

I arrived in Milwaukee about 5PM, or maybe 4PM, or possibly 8PM. (I totally don’t understand time zone changes, and I think anyone who says they do is flat-out lying.) My driver gave me a mini-tour of the city, including the historic Pfister Hotel, which is apparently so haunted that visiting athletes refuse to stay there. He told me of a time he received a call from a prestigious client who requested to be picked up at 2:45 AM from the Pfister because he had just seen an old man wearing clothes from the 19th century. As soon as I got to my hotel—which was, unfortunately, ghostless—I had to see if he was just pulling a New Jersey guy’s leg. He wasn’t:


It was still pretty early, so I took a walk and found a mall that featured a fruit stand, a coffee roaster, and a used bookstore. Then I ate a big bowl of pasta. I decided that I liked Milwaukee.

yummy pasta MI

I woke up early the next morning, knowing that I had a crazy day in front of me: three school visits, a library visit, and a reading/signing at Boswell Books. To be honest, the whole day was sort of a blur. Not a bad sort of blur, mind you, more of a it’s-Christmas-morning-and-did-we-really-just-open-all-the-presents-that-fast? sorta blur.  At Pleasant View Elementary, I was floored by the amazing drawing of the Thickety cover waiting for me. I figured maybe it was an art teacher who had done it, but it was actually three students!   My next stop was Wisconsin Hills Middle School, where I had a little extra time to talk to some of the staff before my event. I’ve spoken many times about how cool it is to meet all these kids, but it’s also neat to meet such awesome teachers and librarians. I was, without exception, greeted with warmth and humor and made to feel welcome in their schools. Next, at Craig Montessori School, I spoke to an energetic group that had been extremely well prepped for my arrival—as the book trailer to A Path Begins played, one boy was mouthing the words of the narrator!

Pleasant View pic Pleasant View pic2

After my school visits, we changed gears and visited the beautiful Elm Grove Library. This was such a fun crowd!   Since I was unable to visit their school due to the jam-packed day, two teachers from a private school drove a large group of girls to the event. I was totally amazed by the dedication of these teachers, and the students were unbelievably smart, enthusiastic…and quite hilarious.

And then, at last, was Boswell Book Company, a beautiful independent bookstore that had organized the day’s events.   I could have spent hours browsing there if I hadn’t had to talk to people and stuff. Another fantastic crowd (is everyone in Milwaukee this polite?), and a great way to end the day.


The Thickety Book Tour 2015: San Francisco, CA

I spent five nights in San Francisco, the longest stay of my tour by far. My wife Yeeshing was able to come and meet me over the weekend, so we had a blast doing touristy things. We explored Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, checked out City Lights (a landmark bookstore), took a ferry ride past the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset, and spent half a day in Japan Town, where I had the best sushi of my life. My media escort Kevin was also kind enough to bring me to Borderlands, a hip fantasy/science fiction/horror bookshop that’s like Disney World for geeky bibliophiles like me. One of the owners of the shop let me come behind the counter and hold some of their rare books, included a signed first edition of Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Pretty sweet.

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My school visits were coordinated by the marvelous Lara of Kepler’s Books, who also introduced me to the world’s greatest mocha shake and then, on a different day, the world’s greatest chocolate croissant. (If I cannot fit into any of my old clothes when I return to New Jersey—it’s Lara’s fault.)

I was initially supposed to visit Costano Elementary School at 9AM but the time was changed to 10AM due to an unforeseen conflict. It was only when I arrived at the school that I learned the exact reason: students at Costano Elementary had won a competition sponsored by Khan Academy, earning new Chromebook carts for all their classes. This was a REALLY huge deal (and rightfully so). There were balloons, cheerleaders, a television crew—even a DJ! The students had been sitting/dancing in the bleachers all morning, and while I’m not usually prone to any sort of stage fright, I have to admit I was a little nervous to follow such an amazing event. I needn’t have worried, however; the students were amazing! And, best of all, the DJ stuck around so I could make my entrance to the tune of “Thriller.” What can top that?

Costano Elementary School
Which is scarier? (Their choices are in bold, with the totals of all schools in parentheses.)

abandoned mall vs. dark forest (1-2)

shark vs. giant squid (2-1)

heights vs. thunderstorms (2-1)

haunted house vs. haunted school (0-3)

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After a yummy lunch that included the aforementioned mocha shake, we hit our second event of the day, Lawson Middle School. Like all the other California schools I saw, this one was set up as a campus of small, one-story buildings rather than the single structures I’ve grown used to in New Jersey. Hundreds of students sat on the floor of a massive gym, which was pretty cool because it gave me a lot of space to pace back and forth and gesticulate wildly. Even though it was Friday at 2PM, the students could not have been more attentive, and their questions were highly entertaining.

A really strange thing happened at the end of my presentation, though.

When we play the “Which is Scarier?” game I show students a slide with two photographs on it, such as a shark and a squid, and the kids either raise their left or right hand to indicate which of the choices they find more frightening. When I got to the final slide—haunted houses vs. haunted schools—the photo that usually accompanies haunted schools was nowhere to be found. I was totally flummoxed. The students though it was part of the show—“Look! The picture of the haunted school has vanished! Bwah-ha-ha!”—but I finally convinced them that something strange had happened. When I checked my computer at the hotel that night the photograph was back in place, and everything worked fine at the schools on Monday.

I have no explanation. It was just…weird.

Lawson Middle School
Which is scarier? (Their choices are in bold, with the totals of all schools in parentheses.)

abandoned mall vs. dark forest (1-3)

shark vs. giant squid (2-2)

heights vs. thunderstorms (3-1)

haunted house vs. haunted school (0-4)

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On Monday, Kevin picked me up bright and early, and after a stop at Peets for coffee and oatmeal we pulled into Blach Intermediate School. Here I met a smaller group of students in the library, which was a nice change. In addition to eight grade students, this group included two classes who were taking creative writing as an elective. As a result, their questions were far more specific than usual, dealing with everything from revision methods to writing good dialogue to how royalties work. It definitely kept me on my toes!

Blach Intermediate School
Which is scarier? (Their choices are in bold, with the totals of all schools in parentheses.)

abandoned mall vs. dark forest (1-4)

shark vs. giant squid (2-3)

heights vs. thunderstorms (4-1)

haunted house vs. haunted school (0-5)

My last San Francisco stop was North Shoreview Montessori. No gym or library—this time 80 or so kids packed themselves into a large classroom. I loved this intimate setting because it felt no different than teaching a regular lesson at my school back home. For whatever reason—maybe because of the massive amounts of caffeine I had been drinking all day—I talked even faster than usual and sprinkled a lot more jokes into the presentation.   The students and teachers asked a bunch of questions that related to the type of writing they were doing in class, which I thought was really cool. It was such a warm and inviting place; I could have spent all day there!

North Shoreview Montessori
Which is scarier? (Their choices are in bold, with the totals of all schools in parentheses.)

abandoned mall vs. dark forest (2-4)

shark vs. giant squid (2-4)

heights vs. thunderstorms (5-1)

haunted house vs. haunted school (0-6)

An early flight tomorrow will take me to Milwaukee, and then the following day is SUPER BUSY—three schools, a library, and a bookstore, all in a row! I am both very excited and a tiny bit afraid.


The Thickety Book Tour 2015: Huntington Beach, CA

Although I have an extreme phobia when it comes to making my flights (I like to be at least two hours early), I’m not at all scared of flying.   Good thing, because the flight to California was as turbulent as a trackless roller coaster. Actually, I guess a trackless roller coaster would mostly just not move at all, so never mind. How about this? My plane ride was as bumpy as a camel with an acne problem.

Wow. I really hope my book similes are better than my blog post similes.
On the plus side, I had the whole entire row to myself, so I stretched out, read a little of the new Dennis Lehane novel, and played my Vita. (Final Fantasy X and Grim Fandango—retro games rule!)

My school stop the next day was at Patrick Henry School. I’m always intrigued by school architecture, and their campus was totally different than anything I’d ever seen. Instead of a single structure it was a series of smaller buildings with a lot of open space between them. My wonderful media escort for the day, Adrienne, told me that this was because in California a lot of teaching was done outside. This totally made sense and blew my mind at the same time. In New Jersey, winters are spent nostalgically remembering “outside” as that place we used to visit when we were all much younger.

Back at Patrick Henry School, a very large group of fifth through eighth graders packed the auditorium, some of them sitting on the floor. They were an enthusiastic audience and it was a ton of fun! I’ve noticed that students are very interested in how I come up with the names for the different creatures in my books, so I figured I’d share that here. With fantasy novels it can be tricky, because there’s a very thin line between “original” (Bilbo) and “silly” (Zoofie’bo). Here’s my technique. I make up a name, usually from a list of five to ten possibilities, and give it a “test drive” for a few chapters. After that, it either feels right, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, I use the search and replace feature on Word and try something new!

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I also did my “Which is scarier?” game with the students. Apparently children in New Jersey and California have very different fears!

Patrick Henry School, Huntington Beach, CA
Which is scarier? (Their choices are in bold, with the totals of all schools in parentheses.)

abandoned mall vs. dark forest (1-1)

shark vs. giant squid (1-1)

heights vs. thunderstorms (1-1)

haunted house vs. haunted school (0-2, I have a funny feeling this is going to be very one-sided)

After the school visit, Adrienne was kind enough to drop by A Whale of a Tale, a beautiful children’s bookshop run by Alex Uhl. I got to chat with Alex for a little while, which was lovely, and I also purchased A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd and El Deafo by Cece Bell. I have heard such amazing things about these books and I can’t wait to check them out and share them with my children.

photo 5 photo 3

The Huntington Beach Barnes and Nobles was huge! It was a really interesting crowd, including a former student from Ridgewood Avenue School (the place where I teach) who had moved to California, and a man visiting from Australia whose girlfriend is a teacher there and asked him to get some signed books for her classroom!

I was a little worried about making my evening flight since President Obama was in town and traffic was a mess, but Adrienne got me to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I arrived in San Francisco at 1AM, somewhat befuddled and groggy but eager to visit a new school first thing in the morning!


The Thickety Book Tour 2015: Ridgewood Avenue School/New Brunswick Barnes and Noble

Just like last year, my first official book tour stop was at Ridgewood Avenue School in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, where I teach third grade! Originally I was supposed to do my author visit on Monday, the day before The Whispering Trees was released, but due to a horrifying combination of snow storms and standardized testing the assembly was moved to Friday. All the same to me—I’m there every day anyway!

My class got to sit in the first two rows (that only seemed fair) and the students and teachers were as supportive and enthusiastic as always.   Since this was my second “visit” to RAS I couldn’t do the same presentation as last time, so I talked a little about my writing method and how you can complete an overwhelming task—such as writing a long novel—by breaking it into smaller parts and focusing on one task at a time. But mostly I just made jokes.


I also re-introduced something I did last year when I went on tour. The idea is that I’m always looking for new ways to frighten children (which is sorta true), and that the students can help me by casting their vote in a “Which is scarier?” debate. We had a lot of fun with it. I’ll do this for each school as I wander from city to city, and tabulate the votes in this blog.

Ridgewood Avenue School, Glen Ridge, NJ
Which is scarier? (Their choices are in bold.)

abandoned mall vs. dark forest

shark vs. giant squid

heights vs. thunderstorm

haunted house vs. haunted school


I’m sad to leave my students for nearly two weeks, but they are in the very capable hands of the man who was my student teacher earlier in the year, so things could not have worked out better!

On Tuesday night I had my first official bookstore appearance at the Barnes and Noble in East Brunswick, New Jersey. Bookseller extraordinaire Ashley once again did a fantastic job, as did everyone else who works at this remarkable store, which has the friendly vibe of an independent bookstore. There were snacks, raffles, balloons, and bingo—with prizes like cupcakes and gift cards. How cool is that? A lot of my friends came out to support me, as well as a few incredible kids from my son’s middle school, and even a former student of mine who is now a junior in college! All in all, it was an amazing opening to my book tour!

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Next up: Huntington Beach, California!