About Julia, Part II

About a year ago, I wrote about Julia, a new Muppet on Sesame Street, who is on the autism spectrum. The autism initiative included a web site (check it out; it’s got incredible videos and other assets: sesamestreet.org/autism) and a storybook, We’re Amazing, 1, 2, 3.   I wrote the storybook, basing many of Julia’s characteristics on my amazing son, who has autism. Especially her love for music and singing—music fills our house every day. And I gave the new muppet a form of my daughter’s middle name, as an homage to the amazing siblings in families like ours.

The response to Julia was huge. As a result, Julia is making her debut as an actual 3-D Muppet (as was announced on 60 Minutes, 3/19/17)—and she is absolutely adorable.  The script was written by Chrissy Ferraro. It’s true to life (in a Muppet-y kind of way!) and fun. The performer, Stacey Gordon (herself the mother of a son with autism), is perfect. As an author, I have to say that there’s nothing more thrilling than watching a character you wrote come to life. Of all the things I’ve done in my many years at Sesame Workshop, this is the one I’m proudest of. It was a labor of love for me, and for so many others in the remarkable team that has brought Julia to life.  I hope Julia makes many friends and helps grow an atmosphere of respect and acceptance for everyone.

March 2017  

Leslie Julia sm

Leslie Anne of Green Gables

I was completely besotted with Anne of Green Gables, growing up. There was one summer vacation, spent in Vermont, where I took out one book from the village library after another, tearing through every book in the series. Unlike the fictional Anne, I had always craved red hair (or, to give it Anne’s more romantic description, auburn). But nature had other ideas. So instead, as homage, I decided, like Anne, that “Anne with an e” is much more distinguished. I officially changed my middle name from Ann to Anne.

This summer I had the pleasure of finally visiting the Green Gables site on Prince Edward Island, in Canada. The whole island was absolutely lovely, but visiting Lucy Maude Montgomery’s birthplace, and the Green Gables house and other sites that inspired her stories was amazing. Even though I knew the stories were fictional, walking in “The Haunted Woods” or down “Lovers’ Lane” was a complete thrill.

Here’s me with one of the Anne’s the historic site hired this summer.

September 2016

Prize Cometh Before A Fall

I was thrilled recently to have my book, Everybody Says Shalom, named a Sydney Taylor Honor Book. These awards are given annually by the Association of Jewish Libraries to the children’s books that best portray the Jewish experience. I was especially excited because Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family series was such a big part of my childhood. The fact that the family in the story was Jewish and had a whole slew of sisters (five sisters to my family’s four) made me feel like I belonged in that family. Now our bond is even closer. If you look at the photo from an old book cover, I’m the girl in the upper left!

Anyway, it was a lovely conference, good company, and an enormous honor to receive the honor. Since the event was held in Charleston, which I’d never visited, I took the next day to see Fort Sumter (fascinating and fun) and walk around the lovely town.  All good. But as a clever friend quipped, “Prize cometh before a fall.” On the way back to my hotel to pick up my bags for the airport, I tripped on an uneven bit of sidewalk and broke my wrist. Now I’m in a cast for six weeks. I don’t remember this happening to any of the characters in the books.

 July 2016

About Julia

There’s a new Muppet on Sesame Street. Her name is Julia, and she has autism. She is part of a new community outreach initiative called See Amazing in All Children, designed to increase understanding of the one in sixty-eight children born in the United States that are being diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The focus of the initiative is not only to show some of the behaviors that may be displayed by young children with autism, but also to show the commonalities these children share with “neuro-typical” children. The idea is to make interactions between all kids easier and more fun. There are videos (both animated and live action), daily routine cards, a terrific “Amazing” song, and much much more, all available for free on the web site: sesamestreet.org/autism. So far Julia lives only in the outreach materials, but it's gratifying to see what a big welcome she has received.

Personally, I am very proud to have been involved in this project, brainstorming, troubleshooting, taping some video bits, and writing the storybook: We’re Amazing, 1, 2, 3. It was a labor of love every step of the way, exactly the kind of material I wish had been available back when my son was diagnosed, more than twenty years ago. At the very least, our family wouldn’t have felt so alone. If your life has been touched in any way by autism (and even if it hasn’t yet been), please visit online!

January 2016

Happy Birthday, E.B. White!

“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.” -- E. B. White

E.B. White was born 116 years ago, on July 11, 1899.

It may be a bit of a cliché to claim Charlotte’s Web as my favorite children’s book, but I can’t help it. From the moment I first read (and reread) it as a child to the dozens of times I shared it with my own children, it has never failed to move me to tears. The book is more than 60 years old, but is freshly beguiling on every read. And how can you resist a story that kills off one of its main characters, but still uplifts you, ending with (slightly abridged):

         [The barn] was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, the love of spiders, the smell of manure, and the glory of everything.

         Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. . . . She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.

Absolute perfection.

That’s not to pass over Stuart Little or the sometimes overlooked but beautiful homage to wilderness, The Trumpet of the Swan. What E. B. White gave me was an early appreciation for nature and the natural ebbs and flows of life—“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder,” he advised—and though I didn’t know it at the time, he probably planted the seeds that led to my becoming an author. His prose was witty, wise, and gorgeous; he always chose the right words—and just the right words, no wasted verbiage. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered White also wrote for adults. I still consult his Elements of Style (the newish version, with the bonus of illustrations by the great Maira Kalman). His story and poetry anthologies are a revelation.  “Natural History” is undoubtedly the most romantic poem ever written about a spider (E. B. White is a one-man PR marvel for spiders).

So have a piece of cake for E. B. White—or better yet, revisit one of his classics. Prepare to be utterly enchanted. He was SOME WRITER!

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