Pablo and Birdy


McGhee’s tender tale of the search for home, belonging, and identity smoothly incorporates elements of magical realism and powerful allusions to the refugee experience. Publisher’s Weekly, starred review.

A quiet, memorable, fantastical tale beautifully complemented by Juan’s illustrations. Kirkus, starred review.

Friends and future friends, please welcome Pablo and Birdy, my brand-new novel for children and anyone who used to be a child, to the world. 

The novel is about Pablo, who lives with Emmanuel, his adoptive father, and Birdy, his beloved parrot, in Isla, a Key West-like town of fisherpeople and shopkeepers.

Pablo doesn’t know who or where he came from, and the unanswered questions of his past hurt him to think about.

But local legend tells of a mysterious Seafaring parrot –whose existence has never been verified– a parrot who holds within itself all the sounds ever made in the world, and who can reproduce those sounds under special circumstances. 

Is the legend true? If it is, would a Seafarer be able to tell Pablo where he came from? If he had a family before he arrived in Isla?

And if he did, did that family . . . love him? 

Twin Citians, I hereby invite you to a launch party at the wonderful Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul on August 23rd at 6:30. I’d love to see you there.

I’ll be making additional appearances (listed below) in New York City, Mississippi, Georgia, South Dakota, Vermont and Massachusetts this fall, and I’d love to meet some of you at the readings. 

August 19, Jackson, MS. The Mississippi Book Festival. Panel presentation on middle-grade fiction, followed by a book signing for Pablo and Birdy, 9:30-11:30 am

August 23, St. Paul, MN. The Red Balloon Bookshop. Launch party, reading, discussion and signing for Pablo and Birdy, 6:30 pm

September 2, Decatur, GA. Presentation on Pablo and Birdy at the Decatur Book Festival, 3:15-3:45 pm

October 27, Barneveld, NY. Unity Hall. Free public reading, discussion and signing featuring both Pablo and Birdy and Never Coming Back, 7 pm.

October 28, Liverpool, NY. Barnes and Noble. Public reading, signing and events for both Pablo and Birdy and Never Coming Back.

October 29, Chelsea, New York City. Books of Wonder. Panel presentation, reading and signing for Pablo and Birdy.

November 2, Shelburne, VT. Flying Pig Bookstore. Back-to-back readings, discussion and signings for Pablo and Birdy and Never Coming Back. (Come for the children’s novel, stay for the adult!)

November 4, Plainville, MA. An Unlikely Story. Back-to-back readings, discussion and signings for Pablo and Birdy and Never Coming Back. (Come for the children’s novel, stay for the adult!) 4 pm.

Please send me your immigrant or refugee stories

Friends, my new novel for children, Pablo and Birdy, will be out in August. Publishers Weekly just gave it a starred review, calling it “a tender tale of the search for hopablo-and-birdy-9781481470261_hrme, belonging, and identity (that) smoothly incorporates elements of magical realism and powerful allusions to the refugee experience.” 

That reference to the refugee experience is why I’m posting here today. I’d love to hear from you if you have a personal immigrant or refugee story to share with me. I hope to publish one story per day on my blog this August, similar to the tattoo stories and dog stories I did in celebration of Tell Me a Tattoo Story and Percy, Dog of Destiny.

If you’d like to be included in the line-up, please email me your story and a photo (of you or something related to your experience) if you wish.


I greatly look forward to hearing from you. Thanks!

“Maybe a Fox”

Maybe a FoxMy lovely friend Kathi Appelt and I wrote a novel together, Maybe a Fox, here on Indiebound and here on Amazon, which was published last week. It began as a lark (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase, so thank you for letting me do so here), sparked by our friendship and a poem we both loved, but it took us one helluva long time to write it, as you will see if you read the below post we wrote about the process. The book has so far gotten a bunch of starred reviews, which makes us happy, given that at a few points we were close to throwing in the towel (on the book, not our friendship).

Maybe a Fox has also just been published in audio form. For better and for worse, I did the recording. Click here for a sample of the audio version. Recording a book on audio is weird and fascinating. The booth is silent and you have to sit perfectly still. You have to physically place your hands where you want them before you say a word, for example, because the sound mics are so sensitive that the tiny touch of your finger on your jeans will sound like wind. You can see the producer and the sound engineer beyond the soundproof window, chatting and drinking coffee and eating malted milk balls, but everything’s silent where you are. This was such a cool experience.

How in the world do you write a novel with another person? Kathi and I just jumped in and figured it out as we went along (and along and along and along and along).

The collaboration that would become Maybe a Fox began many years ago in a freezing and dingy dorm at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where we were new both to the faculty and to each other. Alison’s roller bag had gone missing at the airport, and she remembers Kathi tilting her head in sympathy and offering, in that beautiful Texas accent of hers, to lend her a pair of pajamas. Kathi doesn’t remember that, but she does remember breakfast the next day, when the two of us loaded up our trays and scuttled to sit together at a small table between two huge pillars in the drafty dining hall, a table we sat at every day, three times a day, for each of the residencies we shared.

It was friend-love at first sight, and it was that very first week, when we were eating one of the many meals we ate together Between the Pillars, that Kathi suggested we write a book together.

“What kind of book?” Alison said.

“A book about two sisters,” Kathi answered.

Both of us had many other projects that occupied us, and the idea was tabled, although one of us would occasionally bring it up over the years. Then, about five years ago, Alison sent out a poem about a small red fox in snow as her Poem of the Week. Something about that little fox ignited both of us, and we decided to take the plunge and begin our book.

The ground rules:

  1. The book would be about two sisters who were somehow separated, and it would also contain a small red fox.
  2. Each of us would take on a new challenge in the writing, something she’d never done before as a writer.
  3. We would each write in a separate viewpoint, with chapters alternating between those viewpoints.

After considering the sister possibilities –twins separated at birth? Sisters each living with one parent? One sister in prison and the other not? One sister alive and the other not?—we left it vague. Sisters, separated somehow. We figured the fox would appear on its own terms, when the time was right, so we didn’t worry about that. As for the personal writing challenge, Kathi decided to write in first person, since she hadn’t before, and Alison decided to write in the voice of the fox, since up until then she’d stayed strictly with humans.

We began the book by trading chapters weekly, sometimes more often if the muse struck. We worked wildly fast, most of the time, and the story gathered ground and impetus week by week. Kathi was fascinated by the fact that some rare rivers disappear underground. Alison was fascinated by the idea of an animal that could sense things from a world beyond this one. We tossed ideas back and forth, tried them out week by week, abandoned them if they were dead ends, followed them as far as we could if they felt powerful.

Eventually we realized that we were writing a book about maybes, about the way we as human beings try to answer unanswerable questions –what happens when we die? What happens with grief too big to stand? What happens when you can’t find the answers to what you most need to know?—and that sense, of both possibility and heartbroken wonder, became the core of the novel.

We wrote an entire, unwieldy mess of a draft in half a year. With the ongoing help of our wonderful agent and the massive efforts of our beloved editor Caitlyn Dlouhy, we rewrote that mess of a draft countless (literally, we have no idea at this point how many times we rewrote that book) times over the next four years. What began as an alternating-chapter, alternating-point of view method turned into a we’ll-work-on-the-whole-thing-together method. Where Alison once was the sole writer of the fox chapters, and Kathi the sole writer of the Jules chapters, we can no longer point to any voice or passage or chapter as belonging to either of us. We moved from emailed chapters to simultaneous Google doc revisions to taking turns separately revising the entire book (over and over).

At one point early on, Kathi flew up from Texas and we sat on Alison’s porch in Minneapolis and took turns reading chapters out loud to each other, pencils in hands, marking up places to revise. We laughed. We cried. We talked through every aspect of plot and character. We never once, strangely enough, argued. Kathi flew back to Texas and the rewrites continued for another three years. At some point along the way we began sending each other fox totems: a fox necklace, a framed fox photograph, a felt basket with a fox on it, fox notecards. Alison now sees foxes wherever she goes; like the characters in Maybe a Fox, she considers them good luck.

Maybe a Fox is so much a part of our hearts and souls at this point that we privately admit to each other we have no idea if it’s any good or not; it just is. We do know that we still, each of us, cry when we read the ending. Just like Jules and Sylvie in Maybe a Fox, we consider ourselves sisters. Sister Kathi, Sister Alison. Our book is made out of wonder and longing and struggle and love. We hope it finds a good place in the world.

Bookstore visits, March 7-10

Maybe a Fox

Greetings, anyone and everyone who lives within driving distance of the below bookshops! My lovely, funny, talented friend and novel-writing collaborator Kathi Appelt and I are embarking on a whirlwind tour next week, visiting bookstores to read from Maybe a Fox and chitchat with y’all (I’m channeling Kathi’s Texas drawl, can you tell?) about books and reading and your favorite cocktail (kidding) (but not really – I’m always on the lookout for a tasty new cocktail).

Maybe a Fox has gotten a bunch of starred reviews and great press and those who’ve read advance copies seem to be fans. It’s a book about two sisters, one of them gone forever, and how their lives intertwine with a baby girl fox. Set in Vermont, in the woods by a rushing river, it’s also a story about grief, memory, love, hope and wonderment. We would LOVE to see you next week if you’re around. We’ll also be appearing in Los Angeles (both of us), Texas again (Kathi) and Dubai (Alison) next month, so check for updates if you’re interested.

Monday, March 7—Milwaukee, WI

Oak Creek Public Library—6:30 p.m.

Tuesday, March 8—Naperville, IL

Anderson’s Bookshop—6:00 p.m.

Wednesday, March 9—Houston, TX

Blue Willow Bookshop—5 p.m.

Thursday, March 10—College Station, TX

Jacque’s Toys and Books—5:30 p.m.

Saturday, March 20–Tustin, CA (Alison only)

Once Upon a Storybook, 11 a.m.

Hope to see you there!


The Conjuring of "Firefly Hollow"

Firefly Hollow coverMy new novel for children, Firefly Hollow, with its enchanting illustrations by Christopher Denise, has been in the world for one week as of today. Except not really, seeing as it took a good six years to conjure itself.  (This book is evidence that someone born fast, impatient and jumpy can, over many years, learn the art of patience. Lord love a duck, this thing took its own sweet time.)

The final version was written with a little wooden cricket, a poem (Spring and Fall, to a Young Child), and the film adaptation of “Where the Wild Things Are” propped next to me on the table. Since I long ago trained myself out of both superstition and muse-invoking rituals, you know it had to be a tough slog.

For the inside scoop on the process, please click here.

I will be touring around this fall, giving readings and doing signings, and I would truly love to meet any of you who can make any of the dates. Here they are so far, and I’ll update as necessary.

Sunday, August 30: The Toadstool Bookstore in Peterborough, NH, signing copies, 10 am-noon

Sat, October 3 – Northshire Bookstore, Manchester, VT, reading and signing, 4:00 PM

Sun, October 4 – Flying Pig Bookstore, Shelburne, VT, time TBA

Mon, October 5 – Flying Pig school events in Shelburne, VT

Sunday, October 11: Copperfield’s Books, Petaluma, CA, reading and signing, 2 PM

Monday, October 12: Books Inc., San Francisco, school events

Tuesday, October 13: Book Passage, San Francisco, reading, 10 AM, and school event, 12:30 pm

Monday, October 19: Anderson’s Bookstore, Chicago, reading and signing, 7:00 PM

Tuesday, October 20: The Bookstall, Chicago, school events, morning and afternoon

Friday, October 23: Whale of a Tale, Los Angeles, school events, morning and afternoon

Saturday, October 24: Southern California Independent Booksellers Association conference, North Hollywood, 6 pm appearance

Sunday, November 1: Westport Public Library, Westport, CT, I’m giving a talk, “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer,” to kick off National Novel Writing Month, 2-3 pm

The story behind the picture book

She was tall, especially when you were a child. She was a big woman of girth and substance, with heavy legs of which she was ashamed all her long life. In her closet hung a neat row of size 22 flowered polyester dresses. Below them, a row of size 12 lace-up shoes.

It took her twenty minutes to roll on her orange support hose, but you never once saw her wear pants. She smelled of talcum powder and a perfume the name of which you can’t recall. She had her hair done once a week at the beauty parlor, soft blue-ish white waves.

She did not drink, ever, but you remember twice at weddings she took a sip of champagne. Each time her button nose turned bright red and she hid her face in her hands and laughed.

You have written about her before. You always want to write about her. You have to stop yourself from writing about her more than you do, and also from talking about her more than you already do. Look at you, a full-grown woman of middle age, still talking about your grandmother?

But there you have it. She was one of the great loves of your life. You still miss her. You still talk to her. Out loud, sometimes. You say things like, “What do you think I should do, Christine?” and then you picture her and wait for her to answer.

Usually she just shakes her head in that way she had, and laughs the way she did.

“Oh, I don’t know, Alison.”

And then she reaches out and touches your arm and keeps looking at you, smiling, until you smile back at her. She knows that you’ll be all right.

In her presence you always were all right.There was nothing you couldn’t, or didn’t, tell her. You told her things you’d done, heartbreaking things, and she would furrow her brow and tilt her head and nod. And reach out and touch your arm. And ask you questions, but only so that you could keep talking if you needed to.

And she would say how sorry she was that you had to go through that. That she knew you had done the only thing you could. That she herself just didn’t see any other way around it.

In her presence you relaxed. You let down. Things inside you gave way. You didn’t have to try so hard, around her. You didn’t have to try at all.

She is the story behind Making a Friend, that new picture book over there, the one with the pretty blue cover of the little boy and the snowman.

That little boy makes a snowman one day. He gives him arms and eyes and a nose and a mouth. He gives him his red hat, to keep him warm.

You were thinking about your grandmother the day you wrote down the first few words of that story in a notebook. You were thinking how lucky you were that she lived so long, that you were in your 30’s before you lost her.

Did you, though? Lose her?

When you really need her, you sit still and close your eyes. You picture her. There she is, sitting at the dining room table, head supported by one arm. She’s wearing a blue bathrobe. She’s smiling and shaking her head.

You sit there and wait until you feel her next to you. That if you open your eyes, right now, there she’ll be.

You open your eyes and they rest on the needlepoint cushion she made, the one with her initials –CM– in the corner.

You open your eyes and see a squirrel –her nickname– poised on the pine branch outside your window.

You go to the store and see that her favorite ice cream –butter pecan– is on sale.

That these are all ordinary things, things that happen on any ordinary day, means only that she is with you. It doesn’t take anything special to conjure her. She is like electricity, invisible and everywhere.

A few years ago you were in a drugstore when you smelled her, that particular kind of talcum-y perfume she used to wear. You followed your nose from aisle to aisle, searching her out, until you stood directly behind an old lady wearing a dark blue coat. She turned to look at you inquiringly.

What could you possibly say, other than that you liked her perfume?

You said nothing. You lifted your shoulders and shook your head helplessly. You smiled at her. You wanted to thank her for bringing your grandmother back to you, there in the paper goods aisle.

The little boy talks to his snowman every day of a long winter, until all that is left is his own red hat. Snowman, where did you go?

“What you love will always be with you.”

Add your name to the hat!

Greetings, friends, neighbors and farflung fellow citizens of this enormous world,

I’m giving away three copies of my just-about-to-be-published picture book, “Making a Friend.” Yes, it’s that pretty blue snowman book right over there. Written by me, illustrated by the wondrous Marc Rosenthal.

In order to have your name added to the hat, first click “Like” on my Facebook author page 

– and then add your name to the comments list underneath the “Making a Friend” post.

If you’re already a member of the author page, just add your name to the post.

Spread the word to your friends! Everyone who clicks “like” and then posts her/his name to the comments list will be added to the hat. The drawing will be held this Sunday night, October 2, and I’ll ship the books out next week.


So Many Days

so-many-days-coverA while ago, years probably, the way things are blurring together, someone gave you an idea for a picture book.

“Doorways,” was the idea, which was passed along to you in a three-degrees-of-separation kind of way.

That’s the kind of idea you like. A better word for it would probably be “challenge.” One word, nothing too specific, bedeviling in its abstraction.

Doorways. Look at it long enough and it looks weird, dour even, maybe because of that beginning DOOR.

You picture some of the doorways you’ve known in your life, the literal ones: the many-paned one that led from the kitchen to the dining/living room in the house you grew up in, the door that was never closed because the house was “heated” from the woodstove in the kitchen.

The small door that led to the tiny triangular bathroom in your first one-room apartment, the door that people who didn’t know you assumed led to the rest of the apartment,  the “real” apartment.

The doorless doorway of your friend’s childhood bedroom.

The doorway of your youngest child’s room, hung with beads.

The chained door that you’ve thrown yourself against more than once.

The door that you tried and tried to open, only to come away with the knob in your hand.

These are a few of the doors you’ve known. Passages from one place to another, doorways that you step through. Now you look down at your feet, those long feet that have walked you from one place to another all your life, some you wanted to go to, others that you didn’t but had no choice.

How do you write a picture book about doorways? What can you say? What does it even mean? Think of a song. Make up a little song. Make up the kind of song you used to make up when your children were babies.

“So many doors in all your days

So much to wonder about –

Who will you be and where will you go?

And how will you know?”

You didn’t think much about who you would be and where you would go, way back when. You wanted to go everywhere, and you were young, and you went far, and often alone.

The age you are now seemed unimaginable when you were young, but you don’t feel much different. You’re more patient now, not by nature but by necessity. You’ve let go of some of the things you wanted so fiercely, not by nature but by necessity.

You’ve gone places you longed to go – children and books and friends and loves – you’re lucky. You’ve gone places you never wanted to go, never would have chosen to go – funerals and heartbreak, loss that felt too painful to bear – you’re human. To be human is to love what is mortal.

How do you go from one place in life to another when you don’t know what’s coming? How do you keep going? How can you fit a lifetime of wonder and longing and heartbreak and love into 32 pages?

Can you?

You keep trying. You think of your own children. You don’t want them to hurt, to go through those sudden terrifying doorways that they, being human, will someday have to go through. Will they know that you are watching over them?

You imagine a bird, a kite, earth and sun, the unimaginable depths of that dark ocean. You keep returning to that refrain: How will you know? Sometimes you won’t, is the answer that comes back.

So many doors in all your days

So much to wonder about

Who will you be and where will you go?

And how will you know?

You think of your children again. Please, let them know that you will always be watching over them, no matter where you are, where you have gone.

You are loved more than you know.

And finally it’s a book.  “So Many Days,” illustrated by the quietly brilliant Taeeun Yoo, edited by the wonderful Caitlyn Dlouhy, due out next week from Atheneum. Up top there is the cover.