Newbery award winner and New York Times bestselling author

Posts tagged ‘Tuckahoe Area Public Library’

My December reading list

I did some holiday shopping today, but to treat myself kindly (and to avoid becoming a lunatic by Noche Buena), I made a pit stop at my favorite public library. That’s the Tuckahoe Area library in Henrico, VA, where the librarians make me feel like family and don’t mind walking me around to the different shelves like a lost puppy.

These days I’m on the hunt for books at every age group that really dazzle me for their appeal for girls. (All suggestions welcome.) You might remember that I’m half the brains behind Girls of Summer with my friend, Gigi Amateau. We are spending this winter and spring discovering new writers and dreaming of what will make our Must Reads for 2012.

Vicky Smith at Kirkus recently posted a nifty list of best books for 2011, so naturally I got curious. Very helpful, as it’s divided by categories. I picked up Inside and Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai and The Fires Beneath the Sea by Lydia Millet on her recommendation.

Then, because I’m a browser, I grabbed How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr (Nat’l Book Award finalist for Story of a Girl) and Mary Hooper’s Fallen Grace, which the Times of London compared to Philip Pullman’s work on Victorian life.

Finally, I took a drive to my closest indie bookstore, bbgb, where a team of design “elves” were making snowflakes and other store decorations. I picked up Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. If you follow Shelf Awareness, you know that NPR’s BackSeat Book Club is reading it this month. Michele Norris will be doing an author/reader  segment on All Things Considered.

Who knows what I’ll love and what I won’t. But when I despair at the early nights of winter, I’ll be thinking, “ooh, let me read a while….”

It’s Hispanic Heritage Month. Let’s eat!

September ushers in the strangely straddled Hispanic Heritage month (Sept 15 – Oct. 15). I’ll be doing lots of appearances around town to celebrate, but this month I thought I’d share some Latin magic through my kitchen.

Here’s Arroz con Pollo – chicken and yellow rice. It’s one of those dishes that every Latin cook aspires to make well, the kind women fight about and secretly criticize behind each other’s backs. There are a million recipes, but here’s mine.


Olive oil (about 5 T)

1 whole chicken cut up or (better) a collection of thighs and legs

2 T red wine vinegar

1 T dried oregano

½ pound medium grain white rice

1 small red pepper, finely chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

3 cloves of garlic mashed

1 small tomato, seeded and chopped

¼ cup pimento-stuffed olives (I cut these in half)

1 T tomato paste

1 beer

2 ½ c water

1 c white cooking wine

salt to taste

Also, the following spices you’ll have to borrow from me or pick up at the International Food aisle:

  • Bijol

    To dye your rice

  • Sazón Accent con azafrán (comes in a box)

    a spice packet that gives it that little magic


You’ll need a pot that’s not too deep. I have a nifty pan for this, see? It’s large, but a little shallow. A dutch oven works fine, too.

Put your chicken pieces, vinegar, salt and oregano in a gallon-size ziplock bag. Squish around to coat. Let marinate for at least an hour.

Pat each piece dry. Using half your olive oil, brown chicken about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to a platter.

In the same pot, add remaining oil and sauté onions, garlic, and red pepper, about 4 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook for another couple of minutes. (Basically, we call this a sofrito.)

Place chicken pieces back in the pot, right on top of the sofrito.

Add olives, water, beer, wine, tomato paste and one envelope of Sazon accent con azafrán. Add a little salt, about the size of a quarter. (Sorry, this is how my grandmother measures.) Get mixture to boil, reduce heat to simmer. Cook covered for 30 minutes.

The beer gives a terrific taste. You can't skip this.

When you have about 10 minutes left to go on the chicken, measure out your rice and rinse it several times until the water is clear.

Using about 5 or 6 shakes of Bijol, dye the rice yellow. (Don’t go overboard. A little goes a long way.)

That's enough to make the whole bowl of rice amarillo.

When your chicken mixture has cooked, add the rice directly into the pot. Swirl it in until it disappears. Cover and set your timer for 20 minutes.

The rice will soak up the tomato mixture. Turn the rice over slowly when the 20 minutes are up. If it is still soupy, keep cooking. Sometimes, you can put a paper towel between the cover and the pan to help soak up the moisture. This rice tends to be on the moist and sticky side, but it shouldn’t drip.

You can decorate the finished product with petite peas (which my family hates). Many people also decorate with pimentos cut into strips. (Also boycotted at my place.)

¡Que rico!

Serve with a nice bread, salad, and a chilled wine. ¡Buen provecho!

Catch me at Tuckahoe Area Public Library this Saturday, September 10, 2 pm, for a reading of Tia Isa Wants a Car and arts and crafts afterward. One lucky visitor wins a school visit and a signed copy of Tia Isa for their school library.

A love letter to librarians

Tomorrow is National Library Worker’s Day. How are you celebrating?

By happy coincidence, I’ll be speaking at the spring conference of the Richmond Area Reading Council. RARC is a group of Virginia book lovers banded together across sixteen counties to celebrate books and get people reading. Naturally, librarians and teachers will make up most of the mix. Nice!

Hands down, there’s no edgier group than librarians. For a relatively new author like me, they’re my lifeline in a sea of splashy commercial titles. When they’re not battling censorship from the foolish, they’re figuring out how to stretch their measly budgets to bring living, breathing authors – big time and small — into the lives of kids.

To Lucinda Whitehurst and Shelly Dean. To Janet Craft and Cindy Ford. To Sue Van Tassell and all the rockin’ librarians who love books, writers and readers. To all of you who have so generously helped me get started, gracias.

So, how to celebrate? Let’s laugh. Here’s Betty White’s interpretation of the stereotype from The Middle. (If only BW made friends with a librarian, all her techno woes might be over!)