Unabridged: a Charlesbridge Children's Book Blog

The Great Maybe

The Great Maybe 6

By Carmella Van Vleet


She hates it.

Okay. Fine. So my agent might have said it wasn’t quite there yet - or something equally as gentle. There was probably some encouraging stuff in her email, too. But inside my head, all I heard was She hates it.

My debut picture book about astronaut Dr. Kathy Sullivan, To the Stars, has been a real labor of love. Translation: the kind of book that causes you to curl up in a ball and wonder if you’ve chosen the right profession. Lest you think my daughter-the-actor got her dramatic flair from her mother, allow me to share this tidbit with you: from idea to publication, To the Stars took me twelve years!

The finished product sits atop years of drafts

I’m gonna pause for a moment and let that sink in. Twelve years. According to Google, 2004 was the year Friends ended and Facebook started. Mean Girls was released as well as, um, a certain part of Janet Jackson’s anatomy.

I worked on the book so long that, at one point, my own mother suggested it was time to let it go. And you know it’s bad when your mom is telling you to throw in the towel.

But I believed deeply in the story. I knew it would work; I’d find the right angle eventually. So I’d pull it out of the drawer every once in a while and work on it. I wrote and published other books in the mean time, of course. And after my agent sold my middle grade novel, I got a burst of confidence and dusted off my “astronaut story” for the millionth time. (By then, I was certain my co-author, Kathy Sullivan herself, had given up on me or any hope of her story ever seeing the light of day.) I asked my critique group to help me polish it up. And then I sent it off to my agent. It was brilliant! It was going to be snatched right up!

It was...still not quite working.


I did what I always do when I’ve hit a creative wall. I threw a tantrum complete with crying and whining and the eating of donuts. But a funny thing happened on the way through Tim Horton’s drive-thru. I was complaining about how everyone seemed to want me to write about Kathy’s life at NASA and I just wanted to write about Kathy’s childhood. And my daughter said, “But Mom. She was an astronaut. You can’t skip the space stuff.”

And suddenly two images popped into my head: Kathy dangling her feet in the Breezy (an open-frame airplane she took a ride in as a teenager) and Kathy looking down at Venezuela between her boots as she did her space walk. Kathy had described this latter experience as reminiscent of dangling from your knees on a tree branch as a kid.

From there, I began matching up scenes from Kathy’s childhood to Kathy’s experience as a space pioneer. (She was one of the six women chosen for the first space shuttle class and the first American women to walk in space.) And it quickly became clear this back-and-forth storytelling format was the perfect way to express what Kathy and I had wanted to all along - that what you love as a kid can translate into life-long passions. And you shouldn’t worry about what you’re going to do “when you grow up” because your job may not even be invented yet!

Once I made this connection, the story shifted into place. It was like finally seeing all the colors match up in a Rubric’s cube. (Not that I’ve ever personally experienced this….stupid 1980’s puzzle.)

The point is, we never really know how close we are to finding that one, final piece that’s going to click everything into place. We have to stay open to the great Maybe.

MAYBE this approach will be the right one.

MAYBE this new reader will be able to see what I keep missing.

MAYBE down the road I’ll be a better writer and ready to tackle this project.

MAYBE I’m not being stubborn by sticking by this story. MAYBE I’m actually on to something.

MAYBE this time when I open an email from my agent it’ll say, “You nailed it!” Or better yet, MAYBE this time the phone will ring with great news.

I bet you have a “labor of love” story, too. Most writers do. Is it time to put it aside for a while? Or is it time to dig deep and keep writing? I wish I had a crystal ball so I could tell you. But here’s what I’ve learned by sticking with my “astronaut story” all these years: you already know what will happen if you give up. What you can’t know is what will happen if you don’t.

My office



Carmella Van Vleet is the author of To the Stars! The First American Woman to Walk in Space

Eat More Chickpeas 3

ChickpeasWe tried these recipes from Chickpeas: Sweet and Savory Recipes from Hummus to Dessert and they were so good we wanted to share them. The Spinach & Chickpea Quiche redefines brunch (and breakfast, and snack time). And, the Chocolate Brownies with Ganâche are so good they'll hurt your feelings.

We invite you try these recipes with your friends and family. Then, come back here and tell us what you think of them. Share them on Twitter with the hashtag #ChickpeasatCharlesbridge and be sure to send folks to this post with the URL www.charlesbridge.com/blog/Chickpeas. And you can find more amazing recipes with chickpeas in Chickpeas!


Spinach & Chickpea Quiche

Ingredients (Makes one 9-inch tart)


 1 ¼ cups wheat flour, sifted, plus more dusting ½ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes 2 tablespoons ice cold water or milk (if needed)
½ teaspoon salt


 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil ½ pound spinach leaves 3 large eggs
2 onions, cut into small dice ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg Cooking spray, for greasing
1 red bell pepper, sliced Salt and freshly ground black pepper 1 ½ cups thickly grated Gruyere cheese
 2 cups heavy cream
1 cup cooked chickpeas or half a 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed


  1. ChickpeasPrepare the crust: In the bowl of a food processor, sift together the flour and salt. Add the butter, and pulse until course crumbs form. Mix in the egg, until a dough forms. If the mixture is too dry, add just enough water to form a dough.
  2. Shape the dough into  disk, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  3. Prepare the filling: In a large pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, red pepper, chickpeas, spinach, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Saute for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables soften and the liquids are almost evaporated.
  4. Pour in the cream, and cook on low heat for about 5 minutes, until the mixture thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and whisk in the eggs, and then set aside.
  5. Grease a 9-inch fluted tart pan with cooking spray Lightly dust your work surface with flour, or place the chilled dough between 2 pieces of parchment paper. Roll out the dough and cut a 13-inch round.
  6. Tuck the round into the tart pan, gently pressing it into the edges and up the sides. Transfer to the freezer and chill for about 10 minutes.
  7. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Remove the shell from the freezer and trim the edges, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Line the shell with parchment paper, fill with pie weights or dried beans, and bake for 15 minutes.
  8. Remove the partially baked shell from the oven, and remove the pie weights and parchment paper  Distribute ½ cup of the cheese evenly into the shell. Top with the vegetable mixture, and then top with the rest of the cheese.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the filling sets and the top is golden. Serve warm or at room temperature. May be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.Chickpeas

Chocolate Brownies with Ganâche

Ingredients (Makes sixteen 2-inch brownies)


 Cooking spray, for greasing 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups cooked chickpeas or one 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed 1 tablespoon canola oil 2 tablespoons almond flour
4 large eggs 3 tablespoons cocoa powder ⅛ teaspoon salt
 ½ cup white sugar ½  cup chocolate chips


½  cup heavy cream ½  cup chocolate chips


  1. Prepare the brownies: Preheat oven to 350° F and line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with a parchment paper or grease with cooking spray.
  2. In a blender or food processor, pulse the chickpeas until smooth. 
  3. Transfer the chickpeas to a large bowl, and mix in the eggs, vanilla extract and oil, until blended. 
  4. In another bowl, mix the cocoa, sugar, baking powder, flour and salt. Combine with the chickpea mixture, and then fold in the chocolate chips.
  5. Pour into the pan and bake for 20 minutes until toothpick, inserted into the middle, comes out with a few crumbs on it. Set aside to cool slightly.
  6. Prepare the ganâche: Pour the cream into a small saucepan and heat just until boiling. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate chips, stirring until smooth and glossy.
  7. Cut the brownies into 16-equal pieces and then top each piece with chocolate ganâche. Serve warm.


Enjoy! And don't forget to come back and tell us what you think!

  • Donna Spurlock

Chanukah begins at sunset on Sunday, December 6 0

Chanukah is the eight-day Jewish festival of lights and takes place in winter. The holiday celebrates the victory of Judah and the Maccabees against the Syrian army when they fought to defend their right to practice Judaism. When the Jewish people took back the temple in Jerusalem, they lit the eternal light using the tiny bit of oil left. While the messenger sent to get more oil was gone, a miracle happened. The tiny bit of oil lasted for eight days and nights until the messenger returned. Each evening during Chanukah, an additional candle is lit in the menorah to remember each night the oil lasted. People eat potato pancakes, called latkes, which are fried in oil and served with sour cream and applesauce.


The Three Goldwasser Girls’ Crispy Potato Latkes

Preparation time: 30 minutes. Cooking time: 20 minutes. Makes 12-14 latkes.
This recipe should be made with adult assistance and supervision.

4 large potatoes
1 small onion
1 egg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup olive oil for frying

1. Peel and grate the potatoes.
2. Wrap the potato gratings in cheesecloth, and press to remove most of the liquid.
3. Chop the onion.
4. Mix grated potato with chopped onion, egg, salt, pepper, flour, and baking powder in a bowl until a batter forms.
5. Heat oil in frying pan on medium heat.
6. Spoon batter into hot oil, spreading to form 3-inch pancakes.
7. Fry until edges are browned.
8. Lift the latkes out with a spatula, and place them on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil.


From Rabbi Benjamin's Buttons, by Alice B. McGinty and illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt.

  • Stephanie Pessolano

ALA Midwinter Meeting Author Events * Booth 1921 0

Saturday, January 9

10:00 AM  Kristen Remenar and Matt Faulkner sign Groundhog's Dilemma

10:30 - 11:15 at the Book Buzz Stage    Illustrators Tell Their Side of the Story

                      Including: Gareth Hinds, David Hyde Costello, Jef Czekaj, and Nicole Wong

11:30 AM  Jef Czekaj signs A Call For a New Alphabet 

1:00 PM  Gareth Hinds signs Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune

2:00 PM  David Hyde Costello and Megan Dowd Lambert sign A Crow of His Own

3:00 PM Nicole Wong signs To the Stars!

4:00 PM Nancy Bo Flood signs ARCs of Soldier Sister, Fly Home

Sunday, January 10

10:00 AM  Megan Dowd Lambert signs Reading Picture Books with Children

11:00 AM  Nancy Bo Flood signs ARCs of Soldier Sister, Fly Home

1:00 PM  Peter & Paul Reynolds sign Sydney & Simon GO GREEN!

2:00 PM Jane Sutcliffe signs Will's Words: How Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk

3:00 PM  Hazel Mitchell signs Kenya's Art

4:00 PM Jeannie Brett signs Wild About Bears

Monday, January 11

10:00 AM  Anne Sibley O'Brien signs I'm New Here

11:00 AM David Biedrzycki signs Breaking News: Bear Alert

See you in Boston in January!

  • Donna Spurlock