Champion Tree Hunting

Novice Champion Tree Hunting

Earlier this month I visited Tyler Arboretum in Media, PA, and acquired a new hobby. I was with my kids so I spent nearly as much time in the gift shop as in the fabulous treehouses, and I picked up a copy of Big Trees of Pennsylvania. Tyler Arboretum is home to quit a few Champion Trees — the largest of their kind in Pennsylvania, including one of the largest PA trees of any kind — a mammoth tulip poplar (Liriondendron tulipifera) 133 feet tall.

I missed that tree while climbing Tyler’s gorgeous treehouses and coaxing my youngest daughter to keep walking, but now I’m planning to visit and document more of Pennsylvania’s biggest trees, as tracked by 

What makes a Champion Tree? Trees are tracked by species and accrue points as follows:

Trunk circumference: Measured 4.5 feed about the ground level, one point accorded per inch.

Height: One point per foot, measured with a clinometer, hand level, or range finder.

Crown spread: 1/4 point per foot of the average between the smallest and widest crown spread.

It’s hard to recognize a Champion just by looking because they are species-specific. The largest tree in Pennsylvania overall is a Mercersburg American Sycamore (Plantanus occidentalis) with a whopping 529 points, but the largest crabapple is only 84. So I’m not going to be identifying them, unless I get extremely lucky, but looking at them in their environment.

My daughter at the State Champion Red Oak at Haverford College

Visit my tree blog, for:

Champion trees »

Arborglyphs »

Trees that look like people »


    I Am Not My Books

    Sometimes both writers and readers forget that they and their books are not one and the same.

    Proof that I am not my books: We are often seen at the same place at the same time.

    I put a lot of myself into the books I write. The characters come out of my head — the protagonists, antagonists, comic relief, parents good and bad, the passerby on the street who only has one line. But they are not me.

    The dialogue comes from my head — philosophizing, wisecracking, both sides of an argument. But it’s not what I would say.

    The writing, rewriting, querying, submission, editing, and marketing of a book takes a lot of time, emotion, and thought. There is a lot of my life and myself in my books. I have a creative vision, and it comes out in my books. But they are not me.

    Read the whole post on Project Mayhem >>


      Nothing Just Happen to Be

      This post appeared as part of Middle Grade Month on Diversity in YA, a blog founded by YA authors Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon in 2011 to support diverse literature.

      Deadwood, my middle-grade mystery, takes place in a diverse town, like communities I based it on and where I’ve always lived. Culture is not central to the story, which is about two seventh graders who must lift a curse on a tree to save their town from growing disaster, but I wanted to include diverse characters to reflect the reality I pictured.

      Still, I was intimidated about writing someone from another culture, so I decided to hedge a little. When I began the novel, the main character of Martin had a Puerto Rican dad but was raised by his white mother and grandmother. I thought if he was raised in my own culture, I had the right to write him.

      The story is not about the ethnic background, and it’s been said that Martin “just happens to be” Puerto Rican. But it didn’t just happen to him, just as my other main character, Hannah, doesn’t “just happen to be” white. I decided that these would be the characters, and I grew their voices, personalities, and backgrounds. It didn’t just happen.

      Read the full post on Diversity in YA >>


        Silver Moonbeam award

        When I was a kid, I won a lot of awards. Now that I’m a grownup, I’ve found that trophies don’t get handed out just for showing up. Being honored for work is a feeling I nearly forgot. Thus this award for Deadwood means a lot — the silver Moonbeam Children’s Book Award for Pre-teen Fiction – Mystery. The Moonbeams are given by the Jenkins Group and Independent Publisher, recognizing books from smaller publishers. My publisher, Spencer Hill Press, made a great showing this year — great company to be in.

        Here’s the full list of winners >>


          Middle Grade Month on Diversity in YA

          It’s Middle Grade Month on Diversity in YA, and I’ll be posting there with some amazing authors, like Jacqueline Woodson, Sarwat Chadda, Crystal Chan, Coe Booth, Sharon Flake, Varsha Bajaj, and more! Thanks to Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo for inviting me to participate.

          The posts

          Leaving Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosín
          Our Diversity, Our Connectedness by Crystal Chan
          My Multicolored Heroes by Sarwat Chadda
          Inspiration from Unexpected Places by Sharon Flake
          Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj
          Getting Understanding by Jacqueline Woodson
          Growing Grayson by Ami Polonsky

          Enter now to win books! >>



            What Writing Picture Books Taught Me About Novels

            I am a middle-grade writer first, but not only.

            I read so many picture books when my children were young that I wanted to write one. Finally an idea hit me, and the story flowed out in a sitting. But that was the beginning — that story required many, many more sittings, drafts, and subsequent stories that improved on my first effort. As simple as a picture book manuscript looks, it’s hard to write one.

            Switching gears between middle grade and picture books creates challenges, but it has its lessons. Here’s what I’ve taken into my middle-grade fiction from my efforts to write for younger readers.

            Read the rest of the post on Project Mayhem >>


              Review from Foreword Magazine

              Super pleased by a new review for Deadwood from Foreword Magazine! Here’s one of my favorite parts (it’s but hard to choose!):

              “…these two strong characters — both of them sporty and clever, with diverse backgrounds — can hold their own. Short chapters amp up the pace and hold attention, bolstering the story’s wild suspense.”

              Foreword review DEADWOOD



                Review in School Library Journal

                Deadwood is reviewed in the August 2014 issue of School Library Journal, and it’s a good one! I’m so happy to be included.

                “…the story is fun and engaging, and the characters have enough depth to make them interesting… budding tree huggers will love the sweet bond that forms between the kids and this unusual personification of Mother Nature.”

                Read the whole SLJ review >>