Interview with a Hamster: Humphrey & Betty Birney


A certain HAMSTER took over my blog while I was interviewing my writer pal, BETTY BIRNEY.

Betty Birneyheadshot 3 X 3 300 dpi (2)

Don’t believe me? Read on…

It started out innocently enough with a few questions for Betty:

(Check out the full bio of this Emmy/Children’s Choice/Humanitas award winner on her web site.)

Q 1. Where did Humphrey get his name? 

Betty Birney: “Right here:”

Betty Birney Humphrey street“My parents grew up on Humphrey Street in St. Louis two houses away from each other and were best friends from the age of nine, so it’s an important place with extremely warm memories of my childhood.”

 Q 2. Which of the following quotes best describes your path as an author? (or your revision process?) 

a. “Sometimes you have to look-look-look to find the perfect book.”                                          SECRETS ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY

b. “I don’t know what color I’ll be when I come back.”                                                            ADVENTURE ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY

c. “If you think you are too small to make a difference, you have never been in a dark room with a mosquito.”          Betty Birney

d. “My imagination’s flying!” IMAGINATION ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY

ImaginationHumphrey_JK_2P2 (1)

BB: “d. Humphrey’s latest book, IMAGINATION ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY, is really all about the writing process. This little rhyme Humphrey writes in his notebook sums up my path and my revision process. Just keep trying over and over again.”

I tried and tried again

and then I  kept on trying

And now I am so happy:

My imagination’s flying!

Q 3. Did you base Room 26, Longfellow School on any school in particular?  Reavis perhaps?

BB: “I think most writers picture something familiar when they write. Reavis School, which I attended, is in my mind when I write about Humphrey, even though it doesn’t exist anymore. However, I am aware of how things have changed over the years (desks vs tables, for instance).”

Q 4. Since you also write for television, can you tell us how this process compares to that of writing children’s books? 

BB: “On the one hand, there’s little difference. A story is a story and there are many ways to tell it. Print or TV: you’re still telling a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.

“That being said, there are lots of differences. The challenges in writing for television or film is the fact that it’s difficult (and awkward) to get directly into a character’s head. Characters can only reveal what they’re thinking by stating it out loud to another character, using voice-over or talking to themselves (something I dislike in film and consider amateurish). Everything is action. The action can’t stop for explanation or backstory. Film and TV are also made up of connected scenes and each scene has a beginning, a middle and an end. I still talk of writing books in terms of scenes. People tell me that my books read like a movie.

“I still find television easier to write than literary fiction because there are great shortcuts: a cut, a dissolve – the passage of time doesn’t have to be stated out loud. It’s easier in a book to make great leaps of time and place. I love writing both mediums and they present different challenges. For television, the ultimate challenge is the length. Because a show is a very specific length, a script can’t be one page too long or too short. It doesn’t work. However, once you write a lot of television, you learn to have the sense of where you are in the story and how much time you have left and you adjust as you write, which is a fascinating process.”





Q 5. What was the most surprising fact or discovery you’ve made while writing this series?

BB: “I have learned a lot about hamsters from research and from fans. In the first book, I said they were nocturnal, which is what my research told me. It turns out they are crepuscular, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. The funny thing is, I get up at the crack of dawn and get an energy burst late in the afternoon. So I think I’m crepuscular, too!

Q 6.  Which character is most like you? Lower-your-voice AJ? Speak-up Sayeh? Mrs. Brisbane, Mrs. Wright, Garth, Seth, Humphrey? (Or another?)

“Without a doubt, Humphrey is more like me than any character I’ve ever written. He’s curious, excitable, a dreamer and he likes to help other people (he’s much better at it than I ever was). And we both write our thoughts and ideas in a notebook. Little known fact: Humphrey loves crunchy raw veggies and so do I.”


Q 7. Given that Humphrey has tried his paw at poetry for the Valentine’s Day Festival, and I notice you mention that he took over writing the World of Humphrey books after book #3, do you think he’ll ever write his memoirs? If so, what might he “tell all” about?

1 World newest cover

BB: “Since he is very young at the start of THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY and he grows in understanding throughout the series, I think the According to Humphrey books are his memoirs. And he does tell all, including his inner conflicts and deepest feelings. He’s one honest hamster.

Q 8. What would you like readers to know–about you? HUMPHREY? Life?

BB: “Many people already know this but I don’t have a hamster and have never had a hamster. But I don’t need to own a hamster to write the Humphrey books, because



humphrey (1)


BB: “I may not look like one, but in order for me to write the books from Humphrey’s point of view, I’ve had to learn to think, act, feel and write like a hamster. And when I am writing one of the Humphrey books, I really do feel like a little hamster. Sometimes when I’m writing one of Humphrey’s big adventures outside of his cage, I feel really tired, as if I were a tiny hamster doing big things.”


Q 9. HUMPHREY books are celebrating their eleventh year in print (Congrats!), not only in the U.S. but the U.K, as well as translations in Polish, Spanish, and Dutch. Are there any other countries your books have landed?


“Germany, Hungary and soon in Vietnam and mainland China. And in the UK and the U.S., there’s a new-ish series of HUMPHREY’S TINY TALES, which are shorter, illustrated chapter books:

Creepy Crawly Cover

Unlike the According to Humphrey books, they don’t follow in order and that was a nice break for me. There are three out now in the U.S. and two more coming next year.”

Q 10. Since it’s November and almost Thanksgiving, what are you and/or HUMPHREY thankful for this year? 

BB: “I will always be grateful to my editor, Susan Kochan, for publishing the first book and sticking with Humphrey and me. I am eternally grateful to Humphrey’s loyal, fun-loving, enthusiastic fans and to the teachers and librarians who have introduced their students to the series.

HUMPHREY (Come on–We KNOW it’s you!) “Teachers and librarians are the people who supported the books in the beginning and continue to support them today, so all I can say is:



Both Betty Birney and I agree with Humphrey’s wish for you:

“I hope they all get an extra piece of pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top!”


WAIT! Antoinette Portis on #kidlit and her creative process.

FIVE starred reviews!

FIVE starred reviews!

The WAIT! is over, my friends.

Meet the fabulous NYT bestselling author/illustrator Antoinette Portis.

Portis and her editor Neal Porter of Neal Porter Books. Roaring Brook/Macmillan

Portis and her editor Neal Porter–of Neal Porter Books–Roaring Brook/Macmillan

Her amazing books include WAIT! as well as


FroodleNOT A BOX

Not a BoxNYT Best Illustrated Book and a 2007 Theodore Seuss Geisel Honor Book,

NOT A STICK, A PENGUIN STORY (also chosen as a NYT Best Illustrated Book),

KINDERGARTEN DIARY, plus two forthcoming titles,


and NOW.

Portis takes word-play to new heights–to the delight of children and adult readers alike–and I am in awe of her ability to make every word count.

Thank you Antoinette, for the fun and informative interview!

Q.  As an author/illustrator–which comes first: thumbnails and quick-sketches or a rough draft of text?
Antoinette: I usually start with text. If I can’t come up with a beginning, middle and end, then an idea is probably not worth pursuing. Endings are hard! I’m good at coming up with ideas that are all middle.

     Sometimes I sketch a character or a scene while I’m still writing—kind of a key image that cements the mood of the book for me. Once the text seems to work, I storyboard it to work out the pagination and composition and then a make a full-size dummy. I revise and tinker all along the way. I make many, many versions of each dummy.

Q. Which of your many wonderful books could be a metaphor for your process or journey as an author/illustrator?
Not a Box
Not a Stick
A Penguin Story
Princess Super Kitty

Antoinette: Most of my books are about aspects of the creative process as I experience them.

     NOT A BOX is an ode to the joy of creating. I remember the bliss I felt making up a fantasy scenario that completely entertained me, and the neighborhood kids, too. Imagination is a super power all children possess—and it’s one power they can exercise freely. I can’t stop wanting to celebrate that!

     I can look at FROODLE as a metaphor for facing down my inner critic, the voice that tries to shut me down.

     My next two books I’ve written and illustrated, BEST FRINTS IN THE WHOLE UNIVERSE and NOW, are the first two I’ve done that don’t address the theme of creativity. But I wouldn’t be surprised if that theme shows up again.

Q. When you were growing up, what was one of the hardest things to wait for? A holiday? special birthday? the school bus? a sibling? the bell to ring? your driver’s license? graduation? How about now–as an author/illustrator?

Antoinette: I loved the build-up to Easter and Christmas. The wishing and hoping and preparing were the best parts. And no present was ever as wonderful as the fantasy of it.

Finishing up art for a book and then a waiting a year for the book to come out is unbearable. At first I feel like I’ll explode with impatience. Then, by the time the book does come out, I’ve finished art for another and my mind is in a whole different space. I have to make friends with last year’s work all over again. It’s a weird process. I was used to the world of graphic design where everything happens fast.

Michael PortisQ. Since your husband Michael Portis is an author too (Forthcoming titles:PINKY GOT OUT & PINKY GOT OUT AGAIN) do you two share an office? Work at opposite ends of the house? Brainstorm ideas? Throw paper airplanes at each other?

Antoinette: We both have studios in the house—at opposite ends. Our house is like a picture book bio-dome. We’re always there and we’re always working. We give each other advice and feedback–sometimes solicited, sometimes not. There’s always a lot to talk about. We met in art school, and this new life (both of us making picture books) is a continuation of that connection. We’ve made 6-hour drives to San Francisco from LA, talking picture books the whole way.

Q. Where did the idea for WAIT! come from?

Antoinette: It’s based on a little moment I observed sitting in a café. A toddler and mom walked by, but he broke away from her to come over and peer at a bug on the windowsill right in front of me. His mom came back, grabbed his hand and trotted him off down the street—clearly in a rush. I thought, “Thanks for the book idea.” I identified with the little boy, of course, not the mom. I thought how frustrating little kids’ lives can be—no control over the pace or destination in their daily journeying.

Wait_IceCreamTruck     As I’ve been talking about WAIT, I’ve been thinking about my own experience of being a working mom with a toddler. The times I slowed down to my daughter’s pace and we rambled around the neighborhood or the park, collecting leaves or interesting stuff to use making collages, were some of my favorite times ever. Her curiosity and appreciation of everything around her re-opened my artist’s eyes. The book’s ending is a tribute to those moments when the child becomes your teacher.

Visit to find out more.

Here’s to listening to the children around us,

and our inner child as well.

Happy beginning, middle, and ends to all!

Hurray for GOLDIE LOCKS HAS CHICKEN POX! And finger puppets for your students : )

LOOK how cute these are! And easy to make.

LOOK how cute these are! And easy to make.

Hurray for GOLDIE!

I came home from teaching at Fine Arts Camp in July and found this from my wonderful editor at Atheneum:

Goldie 2015 reprintGOLDIE LOCKS HAS CHICKEN POX has been reprinted again.

Soooo…in celebration (and because teacher pals have been asking me to put this on Pinterest), I’m posting these CCSS finger puppet activities based on the wonderful illustrations by HANAKO WAKIYAMA.

PLUS  —>  Grade 2: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.2.6 Acknowledge differences in the points of view of characters, including by speaking in a different voice for each character when reading dialogue aloud.

Directions: Print these GOLDIE LOCKS HAS CHICKEN POX Finger Puppets CCSS

The puppet templates are on pages 2-3 of the PDF. Cut them out and add Popsicle sticks and let your students pick a character:

Mom and Mama Bear puppetsThe fun begins when they create a dialog with another character. What voice will they use? What would these characters say to each other?

Easy-peasy, right?

Have fun and send me pics of your class with their puppets.

Twitter: @ErinDealey

And remember my favorite Zen poem, dear teacher pals:

A wise person does not teach the end.

She teaches THEY WAY,

And she is not too serious about that.


I hope it’s a fabulous year for you.

3 Questions and a #YA Giveaway: THE ONE THING by debut author Marci Lyn Curtis

That YA novel you can’t put down?

The one you wish you had written?

The one that couldn’t possibly be by a debut YA author because Curtis seamlessly combines genuine imperfectly-passionate characters, best-made soccer plans, that guy with the guitar, and a spark of magic you’d expect from Sarah Dessen or Stephanie Perkins?

THIS BOOK, my friends.

my friends.

I received an arc of THE ONE THING (Disney/Hyperion) by Marci Lyn Curtis at an SCBWI conference a few months ago, where I happened to sit next to her agent (Shout out to Kathleen Rushall of  Marsal Lyon Literary Agency!) and instantly fell in love with characters Maggie, Ben, and Mason–as well as the intriguing premise. And let me just say that Curtis fully delivers.

FYI--Marci Lyn Curtis is not my little sister, or my daughter, my neighbor (although she did grow up in northern California), or my best friend. We are Twitter pals ( @Marci_Curtis ), but really all I know about Curtis I’ve learned from her bio:

She attended college in California and “met an amazing guy in a military uniform. Two college-aged kids and one dachshund later, she lives in Maryland, where she laughs too loudly and eats peanut butter off spoons.”

What YOU need to know is that she wrote a kick-a#& YA novel.

But don’t take my word for it:

“Funny, sweet, and hopeful.”-Kirkus Reviews

“Sometimes lost things are not truly lost, we just have to look for them in new places. The One Thing hits this important note, and the music is beautiful.”—Courtney C. Stevens, author of Faking Normal, The Blue-haired Boy, and The Lies About Truth. 

“The Thing about The One Thing is that the fresh voice, laugh out loud humor, and characters who cling to your heart make it unforgettable.” –Kristin Rae, author of Wish You Were Italian

 “The One Thing is heart-burstingly good. So smart and funny and tender and romantic! I wish I wrote this book.”– Sharon Huss Roat, author of Between the Notes.

Click here to read a synopsis.

(No spoilers, I promise.)

You might also like the playlist posted on HER BOOK THOUGHTS: AUTHOR TAKEOVER.


AND….in celebration of the fact that THE ONE THING releases Sept. 8, 2015, via Disney-Hyperion, I asked Curtis three questions…

(See below for the GIVEAWAY!)

1. What was the most surprising discovery you made while writing this novel?

This: I’m not a writer.

Probably that sounds weird, seeing that I wrote The One Thing. But here’s the deal—I don’t actually feel as though I wrote it. I feel like the story wrote itself. And whenever I got in the way of that process, whenever I tried to strong-arm the story or nudge it in a different direction, that’s when I ran into problems. So my biggest realization? I didn’t have to write; I just had to listen.

2. Which character is most like you? Mason, Ben, Maggie, Clarissa, Hilda or Mrs. Milton?

Oh, wow. There’s a little bit of me in all those characters. I wish I could say I’m exactly like Ben, because how great would that be? Ben is so…Ben. But in reality, I’d have to say I’m probably half-Maggie, half-Mason.

I know, I know. That’s cheating.

Still, though. Still.

It’s true. I’m split right down the middle: partly the quick-witted, determined Maggie, and partly the devoted, creatively minded Mason.

3.What was the most difficult scene to write?

The hardest scene for me, with every book, is always the opening scene. Dear God: that opening scene. I don’t know why, but until I have it absolutely perfect, I can’t continue on with the rest of the story. So I will spend weeks (okay, months) on it, obsessing until it’s flawless.

It’s a disease, this first-scene thing.

Now, there were some super easy scenes to write, scenes that had been with me, literally, since day one. (Yes, Marci, let’s start discussing this entirely different topic…) The scene where Maggie walks into her room the first time since she lost her sight? That one? That scene had been part of me for so long while the story built in my head that it felt like my own memory. Same thing with the beach scene—the mirror, the stars, the kiss, the crying, the everything—I couldn’t get it all on the page quickly enough.


Huge thanks to Marci for taking time for this interview. I love THE ONE THING so much, I’d loan you my arc but my daughter’s friends are devouring it now.

Instead–RT this post on Twitter by midnight, August 5th with the hashtag #TheOneThingGIVEAWAY @erindealey @Marci_Curtis to be eligible for an International/US GIVEAWAY of Marci’s very last arc. 

OR hey–purchase THE ONE THING at Barnes & Noble or  Indiebound or Amazon. 

East Coast peeps mark your calendars to help celebrate THE ONE THING’s September launch:

Saturday, September 12th, 6-8 P.M.
Barnes & Noble, Bel Air, MD.
Launch party for The One Thing.

Sunday, September 27th, time forthcoming.
Bel Air Library in Bel Air, MD.
YA panel at the Just Write. Writers Conference.

Saturday, October 24th, 5pm.
Hooray for Books! in Alexandria, VA.
YA panel with Cordelia Jensen, Sharon Huss Roat, and Jenn Marie Thorne.

Whatever you do, read slowly.

Because you won’t want it to end.

Because “circumstances don’t change us, They reveal us.”

Why I LOVE Skype & YOU Might Too.

Skype with Miss Zapp's 2ndsI’ve just returned from visiting 22 schools all over the world in twelve days.

1,000+ kids–all levels and cultures–and boy did we have fun!

IMG_1886 It was not the most direct route, mind you. 

California (Los Altos Hills) –> Illinois –> New Hampshire –> Texas (Fort Worth) –>

Malaysia –> Pakistan –>

U.A.E /Dubai (Kinders and then 5th) –> Connecticut –>

California (Santa Cruz)  –> Maryland –> Texas (San Antonio) –>

California (Orange –> Paso Robles –>  Sacramento –> San Gabriel) –>

Malaysia –> Florida –> Australia –> Ohio –> Pennsylvania –> Texas (Houston) –>

and I NEVER left home!

skype map My #WRAD15 turned into a World Read Aloud MARATHON!


Let me count the ways….

  • Not just because the teachers who Skype are curious, innovative, and LOVE offering  a variety of learning adventures to their students.
  •  Not just because today’s children are CITIZENS OF THE WORLD and it’s thrilling to be a part of their lives.
  • Not just because it’s a remarkable way to share my love of words, and writing, and books.

It’s because: (All of the above, plus–)


IMG_1888Kids ask wonderful questions!

Amy Bright's classAnd our love of words makes a difference.

“[One of my students] was a reluctant writer until we hit poetry where his creative side just took off. He was clearly excited to meet you and this drips through his blog post…”   IS Kuala Lumpur

Amy Bright 3“Thanks for taking the time to share your passion and love of writing/reading with the young people. It’s such an important investment that we do as a community to raise these kids.

You were so engaging and interactive with the vocab game. I hope you continue to spread this joy of Reading to everyone!”        Mr. Pham / USA

Why do I love Skype?

What’s not to love?

THANK YOU to all the teachers who helped make my adventure possible.


@SkypeClassroom. for helping to connect kids with WORDS,

and to Mrs. Morgan’s class for the cool video!

You’re the best!