Posted by: nancyisanders | March 2, 2011

Author Interview: Edith Hope Fine

Meet Author Edith Hope Fine!
Edith Hope Fine
Web sites:
Edith Hope Fine
Water, Weed & Wait
Armando and the Blue Tarp School
Grammar Patrol

Water, Weed, and Wait is teacher-turned-writer Edith Hope Fine’s fifteenth book. Her award-winning books include CryptoMania! Teleporting into Greek and Latin with the CryptoKids, Under the Lemon Moon, and Armando, and Armando and the Blue Tarp School, a California Young Reader Medal nominee.

Her two user-friendly grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar take a humorous look at grammar topics and feature cartoons such as Zits, The Far Side, and Drabble. She’s also written biographies of Gary Paulsen, Barbara McClintock, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks, science curriculum, and Can-Do Cursive, a handwriting workbook for students covering grammar, Greek and Latin roots, and writing.

A logophile and bibliophile, she belongs to two critique groups, and a book group. She’s active in the San Diego SCBWI and heads the Published Writers and Illustrators group. When her nose isn’t in a thesaurus or dictionary, Edith swims, walks, bakes, builds soup, watches old movies, hangs around the Encinitas Library, and plays with her four grandchildren.

Her “Baby Beanie” knitting group (with Knifty Knitter looms) has sent more than 6000 preemie baby caps to the Pakistan, Afghanistan, African countries, and Central America and now students are making hats, too. Veggies grow happily in the front yard, but raccoons have (temporarily?) put an end to her trench composting. She lives near San Diego.

Featured Book: Water, Weed, and Wait
by Edith Hope Fine and Angela Demos Halpin
Illustrated by Coleen Madden

Q: Describe a highlight for you personally while you were writing this book or books.
A: With my newest book, Water, Weed, and Wait (Tricycle Press), with co-author Angela Halpin, we were amazed and heartened by the many school gardens we visited and heard about across the country while writing. How great to see kids digging, planting, and learning in the great outdoors. Many students will get into the habit and be gardeners for life, even if it’s a tub of tomatoes on an apartment porch. We take note particularly of the dedicated teachers, staff, and volunteers who make gardening both intriguing and exciting.

With another book, a most amazing thing happened last spring with Armando and the Blue Tarp School, written with Judith Josephson. This Lee & Low picture book (we love Lee & Low) celebrates the work of teacher David Lynch and his first school outdoors on a blue tarp at the Tijuana dump in 1980. Playwright Pat Lydersen and composer Wendy Woolf of The Park Dale Players turned Armando into a children’s musical. In eight performances, more than 2500 students and families saw the show with a remarkable cast of 26 young actors from third to ninth grade, all acting, singing, and dancing with panache.

And after each show, David spoke with the audience, bringing tears to the eyes of many. (View a mini-show on You Tube—key words, Blue Tarp School; see photos with the full cast at Click on Productions.) In 2010, David celebrated thirty years dedicated to teaching the children of the Tijuana dump. Judith and I were honored to have Armando nominated for a California Young Reader medal and to receive International Reading Association’s “Celebrate Literacy” Award from the Greater San Diego Reading Association. (

Q: How did you experience breakthrough to work with the big publishing houses?
One word. Persistence. Honestly, it’s all about not giving up. Taking any writing opportunity sharpens your skill (I’ve done newsletters, columns, articles and stories for newspapers and magazines). Writing from the heart is key. Under the Lemon Moon is about sharing and forgiveness. Cricket at the Manger is a different take on the Nativity story. CryptoMania Teleporting into Greek and Latin with the CryptoKids! is about curiosity—wondering about the world and how words work. “Carpe curiosity,” I tell kids on school visits. The two Nitty-Gritty Grammar books came about because we truly believe people can understand why it’s “a picture of George and ME” (not I) or “I feel bad” (not badly), and cartoons can lead the way, because humor is a way into subjects where folks feel rusty or uncertain. I’m especially happy to have had several books translated into Spanish. At schools, I always talk about the importance of learning languages as a gateway to better know and understand the people with whom we share this big blue marble.

Q: How do you land most of your speaking engagements?
As with a good plumber, this happens primarily by word of mouth. So I get calls like this: “I heard you at (fill in the blank) . . . and wondered . . .” Because I’m comfortable speaking to small or large groups, I’ve spoken at a wide variety of venues: Newcomers, service organizations like Rotary, libraries, bookstores, children’s literature classes, bookstores, reading fairs, author fairs, groups in private homes, book groups, and more. I’ve done many school presentations (it helps that I taught for years) and at conferences such as NCTE, CRA, IRA, CAG, ACL, SCBWI. That may look like alphabet soup, but if your book is curriculum-related or literature-related, you can create a presentation that will engage teachers, writers, and other professionals and encourage them to buy your books and share them with others. Think about radio, too—nationwide call-in shows have been great for Judith Josephson and me as the Grammar Patrol, and I’ve been on “These Days” on KPBS radio (NPR) here in San Diego several times, as well as on local TV with my biographies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. Be brave. Give it a go.

Q: Share one tip you’d like to tell an author who wants to make school visits.
Having taught for years, I concentrate on both interaction and action with audiences. That means including the audience with back-and-forth ideas and well as movement, especially for younger kids. (Can’t imagine myself sitting on a hard floor for forty minutes without standing up and wiggling at least once!)

With Water, Weed, and Wait, kids make a fist for a monocot like corn, or open their hands for a dicot like lima beans. We make motions for “water, weed, and wait,” grow like seeds into seedlings (there’s the standing up—but plants are ever so quiet, so no talking, just growing—it works every times),and kids can join in on the singing carrot’s song.

When I talk with school groups about my Under the Lemon Moon, we make butterflies with our hands, say “Gracias” on cue, say the first and last lines aloud together moving our hands to hear and “see” the rhythm, find the crocodile the artist René King Moreno hid on the mercado page, “brawk” like Rosalinda’s pet chicken Blanca, and more.

Spark interaction with humor. Using funny cartoons related to writing, illustrating, and grammar, or the topics of your specific books can help authors and illustrators set groups at ease, whether children or adults.

With CryptoMania! Teleporting into Greek and Latin with the CryptoKids, I use TPR—Total Physical Response. Kids make a wave with their hand for aqua/hydro (water), flap their arms for ptero (wing), and show numbers with their fingers for bi-, tri-, octo- (2, 3, 8). They put their hands to their foreheads for tele (far) and carry a pretend suitcase for port (carry), thus can move easily to understanding that a Teleporter will “carry them far.” I show students a “Create-a-Critter” spinner and they use three Greek or Latin roots to create their own creature—such as a Tricerapod or a Dinoctopterasaur like Alphy, my invented Microcyanosaurus. All fictional. All fun. They create histories for their creations—where they live, what they eat, their hobbies, size, likes and dislikes, and funny traits and habits, just the way we, as writers, work to create distinct book characters. (See kids’ created critters at

I like to wrap up presentations by reviewing my three lives, introduced at the beginning of my talks: the regular life, the reading life, and the writing life—because kids need adult models who are anchored in the joy of exploring words and literature.


  1. What a wonderful interview. I feel like I know Edith just from what you shared. I want to be her when I grow up as a writer. What talent. Thanks for sharing.

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