Like librarians, Marissa Moss wants kids to read --- and she'll be in
Lamorinda to help make it happen
By Lou Fancher
Welcome to the wondrous world of author, illustrator and small imprint publisher Marissa Moss, where dogs talk, girls rock, boys draw, sheep "baa," and history roars to life.
A magical blend of time-travel, highly researched facts, spirited young heroes, writing competitions and investigative scavenger hunting takes place throughout September as the "Lamorinda Kids Read" program plays host to the Berkeley-based Moss and her new release, "Mira's Diary: Bombs Over London."
Officially kicking off the one-month jamboree with workshops on Sept. 9 (4 p.m., Moraga Library) and Sept. 11 (Lafayette Library 6:30 p.m.), Moss in an interview promises to show kids how to make "juicy sentences and colored pencil and marker art." An activity guide, a journal-making craft day, movies ("Back to the Future" and "Wrinkle in Time") and a code cracking workshop" round out the month's planned activities.
In advance of and during her visit to the Lamorinda libraries, 100 free copies of the third installment in her series about Mira, a young girl who time-travels to be with her mother, will be available. Having been to Rome and Paris, the new book has Mira exploring World War I London, encountering famous suffragists, writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Zimmerman Telegram that arguably propelled America into the war. Mira's fears about altering history while finding her place in a world not always friendly to females adds vigor to adventure: trademarks of Moss's writing and literary appetites.
"I'm really impressed with what the Lamorinda libraries are doing," Moss said.
Creston Books, the imprint she launched in 2013 that this fall will boast 12 books riding on a wave of glowing reviews from the industry, attracted the attention of local librarians. "They've been supportive and want a small press to thrive," Moss said.
Like librarians, Moss wants kids to read.
"History is exciting because it's true," Moss exclaimed, revealing the still-there 9-year-old girl who long ago wrote about an owl's tea party and continues a near-daily writing regime. "What's better than a story that actually happens?" she asked.
The answer might be "whatever story a young person chooses to write," because the focus of this year's Lamorinda Kids Read is definitely on writing. In a universe exploding with digital platforms, skilled writing--putting abstract concepts into words -- is crucial.
"Not only is writing more important than ever, but visual literacy is vital," Moss said. "We don't teach enough design, art, visual things. We have to recognize what we're seeing. It matters, if you send someone a cluttered design. It matters more than ever."
A marathon researcher, Moss was delighted to discover little-known local facts while working on the Mira book. Lothar Witzke, a German saboteur, helped plan the March 1917 explosion at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo. Spending months learning about the World War I era raised her awareness of the women's suffrage movement in Europe and in this country. "I learned about things in my own backyard," she marveled. "My problem is stopping research and writing the book."
At the workshops, Moss will explain how a writer's "tidbits" have to be restricted. "It has to move the plot forward or develop character. If not, it just has to go," she said.
And forget trying to write a bestseller. "You write, hoping to write a good book, that's it," she advised.
At Creston Books (she's nearly a one-woman band, with one contract employee doing layouts and a publicist her only assists), Moss looks for strong, gorgeous writing and illustrations. "I have to live with a manuscript for nine months," she explained, "so there has to be commitment." In the next five years, she'd like to continue putting out four books for both of the literary world's two, annual seasons while continuing to write and illustrate her own books. Prone to evaluations like "Writing is hard, hard work; that's just the way it is," Moss isn't afraid to dream. She'd like to see one of her Creston books win a Newbery Award, an annual medal given to an author by the Association for Library Service to Children that honors excellence in children's literature.
In the meantime, Moss is happy to help Lamorinda's young people become tomorrow's best, unbeatably imaginative writers.