California Book Award Speech: “A Chance to Practice Being Human”

[On June 12, 2017, Cloud and Wallfish was awarded the California Book Award gold medal in the Juvenile category. The ceremony took place at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, and it was lovely! This was my speech….]

A Chance to Practice Being Human:
Books, History, and Learning to Breathe

Thank you to the Commonwealth Club and to everyone here for caring so much about books. And in particular, for caring about books for children. As I think you may remember, it is not actually easy to be a child–and especially not so easy when the grown-up world around you is fractured by anxiety and conflict and political tension. Which was the case when I was little and having nightmares about the Vietnam War, atom bombs, and Nixon, and of course is the case again today, although the nightmares have taken new shapes. It is the challenge of living in historical times.

Here’s the thing though: Books can help us all through. They tell us we’re not alone. In hard times, they give us ways to imagine things being Otherwise. They allow us to live many different lives, which is really a way of saying that they give us a chance to practice being human, again and again and again.

Because it turns out that being human is something we do have to practice, so that when history happens to us, we have already thought a bit about things like what we want to be true to–and what it even means to be “true.”

Noah, the main character of Cloud and Wallfish, is dragged off to East Germany in 1989 by parents who seem to have been keeping secrets from him all his life–parents who announce his name is not actually Noah, and his birthday isn’t really in March. Noah does have a book in his backpack, though, and fortunately for him, it’s a good one: Alice Through the Looking-Glass. The absurdities of the Red Queen can be helpful when dealing with governments obsessed with surveillance, border control, and Humpty-Dumptyish propaganda.

When Noah makes friends with Claudia, the lonely girl downstairs, he finds himself caught up in a mystery–what happened to her parents?–that is part of a larger mystery–what is happening to East Germany? He has to become part of history, and being part of history is sometimes scary and sometimes thrilling and also, by the way, the scary-thrilling place where today’s young readers find themselves right now: living in history.

There’s a lot of history in Cloud and Wallfish, and that’s by design and thanks to the spirit of adventure exhibited by my wonderful Candlewick editor, Kaylan Adair. If you are going to set a story for young readers in 1989 East Berlin, a time and place they will not have encountered in school, you have to let them in on a lot of cool secrets. When I talk to students in schools, I am inspired by their hunger for history. They think it’s pretty great that in 1989 I, like my character Noah, was actually living in East Germany. They want to know more about the world. They know, as Noah learns, that the only way to find out the truth is to keep asking questions–and then to keep asking more questions.

Books are necessary, like air. Reading and writing are a kind of breathing: we breathe the world in, it mixes with every part of us, it feeds us and energizes us, and then we exhale, and some of us travels out with that breath, with that story. When we hand children books, we are helping them learn to breathe. Probably there is nothing more important or more wonderful than that! Thank you all!

The Timeline of Books–Past, Present, and Future….

Here’s a photograph that makes me very happy. Can you guess why?
Version 2

It’s a picture of all my books since The Cabinet of Earths! And those three little notebooks at the right end of the photograph….?

Well, those are the notebooks in which I’ve been plotting/planning the next three books!

I’m exceedingly fond of little plotting notebooks. Each project has its own, from the very earliest days (and usually more than one, as I make my way through all those drafts). I try to pick out notebooks that suggest something (to me) about the story gestating inside:

green dinosaurs? = a farm town long ago, as war approaches!
contour maps of hills? = shenanigans in the silent film era! (I KNOW, I KNOW: the connection is OBSCURE! But it works for me…..)
deep blue ground speckled with bumpy patterns of dots? = constellations and danger!

Not every notebook turns into a beautiful published novel–but every notebook MIGHT, so I’m giving them their proper place here, on the part of the timeline that whispers hopefully about the future….

Order CLOUD AND WALLFISH by September 20! Get a Special Un-Birthday Present!

My middle-grade friendship-and-spying novel, CLOUD AND WALLFISH, will be coming out from Candlewick very, very soon: September 20, 2016, to be exact! [UPDATE: September 20 became September 2, so it is out in the world, but we are celebrating this book’s un-birthday all this week, until “September 20″!] [[for more on “un-birthdays” see my post over at the Middle-Grade Mayhem blog:]

CloudandWallfishHiResCoverThe story: “Noah Brown’s ordinary, everyday life is smashed to smithereens the day his parents tell him his name isn’t really Noah, his birthday isn’t really in March, and his new home is going to be East Berlin, on the other side of the Iron Curtain. It’s 1989, and everywhere all around countries are remaking themselves, but in East Germany the air is full of coal smoke, secrets, and lies. It’s not safe to say anything out loud in the apartment. It’s not safe to think too much about where you came from or who you used to be. It’s also about the least likely place in the world for a kid from America with a lot of secrets of his own (and an Astonishing Stutter) to make a friend. But then Noah meets Cloud-Claudia, the lonely girl who lives one floor down with her terrifying grandmother. Something has happened to her parents, but what? Armed with a half-imaginary map and a shared fondness for codes and puzzles, Noah and Cloud-Claudia have to find their way in a world where walls–and the Wall–are closing in.”

School Library Journal: “A great choice for those looking for a thrilling historical fiction or coming-of-age tale.”
Publisher’s Weekly: “[T]he story’s heart lies in the friendship between Claudia and Noah, and in the lengths loved ones will go to in order to break down even the most formidable walls.”
Cloud and Wallfish is also a Junior Library Guild selection.

But here’s the most important point of all: Cloud and Wallfish is a book I would love for you to read!

So I am collaborating with one of our wonderful Bay Area independent bookstores, Books Inc., to bring you a special UN-BIRTHDAY OFFER! All prepaid orders before September 20 of Cloud and Wallfish through Books Inc. will come to you signed by the author AND with a little custom puzzle based on a photo I took when living in East Berlin in 1989!

Click on this link to order through Books, Inc:
(Books Inc. can’t ship books abroad, though–sorry about that!)

P.S. Why a puzzle? Because it is over a jigsaw puzzle that Noah and Claudia become friends, at a moment when something unspeakably terrible has happened to Claudia’s parents. Sometimes, when words fail, a puzzle can “hold a small part of the chaos of the universe at bay, like a tent built well enough not to leak.” (See Secret File #12, “A Tip for Unspeakably Terrible Times.”)

P.P.S. Come to a launch party for Cloud and Wallfish if you can!
West Coast: Wednesday, September 28, 2016, at 6 p.m., at Books Inc. in Berkeley (on Shattuck Avenue).
East Coast: Friday, October 14, 2016, at 7 p.m., at Book Culture on Columbus (at 82nd Street) in New York City.

P.P.P.S. Thank you! :)


I’m excited to say the first ever Goodreads giveaway is running now for CLOUD AND WALLFISH, my middle-grade friendship-and-spying book set in East Berlin in 1989. The winner of this giveaway will receive a signed advance copy of the book, so go ahead and toss your hat into the ring (in other words: click the clicky thing)!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet

Cloud and Wallfish

by Anne Nesbet

Giveaway ends June 11, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

ROYALLY FUN READS Book Tour, Part 1: Berkeley, SF, Marin County, Los Angeles

WrinkledCrownAnneComboI am quite delighted to be going on book tour around California next week with two fabulous writers of books for kids, Kristen Kittscher,KittscherTiaraCombo author of THE WIG IN THE WINDOW and THE TIARA ON THE TERRACE, tween mysteries with heart and thrills galore, and Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, author of THE GUARDIAN HERD: STARFIRE and THE GUARDIAN HERD: STORMBOUND–adventures with flying horses, folks!AlvarezGuardianHerdStormbound And I, of course, will be talking about THE WRINKLED CROWN. We’re calling this the “Royally Fun Reads” tour because–you guessed it!–there’s a CROWN, and there’s a TIARA, and winged horses are just naturally ROYAL, and we promise this is going to be FUN.
Where & when, you ask?
1. On Wednesday, January 13th at 6 p.m., we’ll be at Pegasus On Solano​ –see event page here:

2. Then on Thursday, January 14th, at 6 p.m. we will be moving the party across the bay to the Books Inc. in Laurel Village in SF (3515 California Street, SF, (415) 221-3666.BooksIncLaurelVillage

3. Prefer a Marin County venue? Come to Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd, Corte Madera, CA 94925, on Friday, January 15, at 6 p.m.!

4. AND if you are in Los Angeles, please oh please come say hi to Kristen Kittscher and me when we appear on SUNDAY, January 17, at 4 p.m. at Chevalier’s Books, 126 N. Larchmont Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90004 (323) 465-1334.

Next month: PORTLAND!! Stay tuned!