105 Ways to Give a Book

Happy Halloween

I like Halloween. I really, really do. The concept is so pure. Kids dress up. Kids say trick-or-treat. Kids get candy. The end.

But what the hell has happened in the last few years?

I’m okay with the store-bought costumes. Busy parents don’t have time to make a robot out of a box. I’m okay with the buttload of candy that is pushed in the stores, because when it is all left over on their shelves after two weeks I buy it at 90% off and bring it to work instead of pumpkin bread. But when did it become such a thing to decorate for Halloween? You used to just buy a couple of pumpkins, carve them, and put them on the porch. Maybe, if you want to go for that spooky feel for trick-or-treaters, you put some fake webs on the bushes or a Halloween picture on the door.

But now there are the gravestones, and the skeletons, and creepy bloody hands. There are orange blinking lights and ghost lights. You can go scary Halloween or cutesy Halloween or silly Halloween. There are towels for the bathroom and decorations for all inside the house. There are the shirts and the socks and the month-long marathon of Halloween shows on Nickelodeon.

This used to be the easy holiday. One day. Two costumes. Three bags of candy. Four pumpkins. Five hours of fun. Done.

I’m bitching, but I really do like Halloween, and we’ve kept it simple. We carved our pumpkins on Sunday, because it was so warm outside. We’ll get dressed about 5:30 and stop at a couple of neighbors’ houses. Then we’ll head to our old neighborhood to trick-or-treat with our friends. It’s a townhouse development, so the kids come home with tons of candy — which we dole out as their after-dinner treat for months. After they’ve made the rounds, we go back to a friend’s house where the kids watch movies and count their stash. The adults sit around a fire pit and drink beer and eat chili. For a few years, we had neighbors who would do a fire-eating show. I kid you not. After it all, we come home way too late and way too full. And it’s awesome.

In school today, my fifth grader will have nothing special going on. Maybe a spooky story. The second-grade teachers have come up with a great way to celebrate the day, without actually doing a Halloween party — which is now quite taboo in our safe, politically correct schools. Since the second grade studies bugs as part of their curriculum, October 31st is Bug Day. The kids come in bug costumes. They play bug games. They have bug crafts and snacks. They do bug math. And they have a great time. I went this morning to help out with the crafts and it was the cutest things to see all the creative costumes. You won’t find many store-bought bug costumes other than butterflies, so there were interesting spiders, ladybugs, beetles, and bees.

The Hallo-wienerI usually read to the class around Halloween, but I just didn’t get around to arranging it. I did give the teacher two books to read during the day, and she was happy to take them. One is a favorite of many librarians and teachers, The Hallo-wiener by Dav Pilkey. It’s the story of a dachshund who is always teased by his doggie classmates, but especially after his well-meaning mother gives him a hot-dog costume for Halloween. But when his doggie friends are spooked by a ghoul, it’s the little dog who saves the day. It’s a funny book, but you can add a little spooky suspense when the ghoul comes into the picture.

The Ugly PumpkinThe other book that I suggested is The Ugly Pumpkin by Dave Horowitz. It’s about a pumpkin that isn’t picked for Halloween because he looks so strange. As he travels through November, he comes upon more like him and realizes that he’s not a pumpkin at all. He’s a squash! And he’s just in time for Thanksgiving! Cute twist on the ugly duckling story with a nice transition to the next holiday on the calendar.

Speaking of transitions, let me transition my way off the computer and into the real world, where it’s sunny and 72 degrees outside. I think I might have time to read a book before I get the girls from school. Have a Happy Halloween with full-sized Kit-Kat bars and chilled Coronas. And if you’re lucky — really lucky — maybe even fire-eaters.

“Machinations”: The Movie

MachinationsYesterday was supposed to wind up my week of responses to the Five Interesting Things meme, but I was too wiped out to deal with postings. It is Sunday morning on the U.S. East Coast, and perhaps is still Saturday somewhere. I never did understand that International Date Line. I’m struggling with “spring forward, fall back” and will be for about a week as I change clocks and watches and try to remember what time it is.

Anyway, on Friday night we showed our film to the cast and crew. While Bill and I have seen it dozens of times as he adjusted music, color, editing, sound effects, and about twenty other things I don’t understand, no one else had seen it. While not everyone was able to make it, many of the cast and crew came to lend their support and see the final product. I think it is safe to say that everyone was pleased, if not impressed, by what we were able to put together. Sure, there were some small things that could have been done better, but not within our three-day window (with just one day of filming).

I think it’s the best thing we’ve done so far. And it’s up on the web now for your viewing pleasure. Pop by Tohubohu Productions for our new title, “Machinations.”

This film was done as part of the National Film Challenge. Our assigned genre was Science Fiction and the required elements were a character — Bobbie Soxer (candidate) — a prop — oil — and a line of dialogue — “If it doesn’t work, give it a shake.” We would love to do a non-competition film, but don’t have a script. So, if writers out there would like to send us something to look at, please do. We won’t actually pay you, because we’re not making any money ourselves, but still.

And the last from my 100 Things About Me list (have I convinced any of you to do your own yet?)
57. I’ve seen 90 of the 100 top-grossing movies.
And for my last tag of this meme, I pass it to my editor, my director, my friend, my gravy-train, my lawn-care guy, my sperm-donor, my husband, Bill.

Grabbing The Nearest Book

From Chicken Spaghetti (who, incidently has someone interesting running for office in her town), and being passed along alllll through the book-loving world:
  1. Grab the nearest book.
  2. Open to page 123.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the text of the next four sentences on your blog along with these instructions.
  5. Don’t you dare dig around for that “cool” or “intellectual” book on your shelves. (I know you were thinking about it.) Just pick up whatever is closest.
The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure ClubJoanne had gotten married, had a son, lived within two miles of my house, and liked being a housewife because she could smoke all day and watch TV. My rival had also gotten married, moved to Ventura, gotten divorced, hated her job as a special-ed high school teacher, and had to borrow a cotton floral number to wear to the occasion. Her life was still “really great,” though. She also had some girlie freak-out idea that she and I were soul sisters during high school. The only reason I might have liked her then was because she had a butt bigger than mine, and, standing next to her, I was a dish.

From a very funny book, The Idiot Girls’ Action-Adventure Club, by Laurie Notaro. I had wanted to read this book after reading a later book of hers, I Love Everybody (And Other Atrocious Lies), but my library didn’t have this title. I put it on my Amazon wish list, but no one bought it for me. Then one day, it showed up in our library’s book sale. Hurray! I bought it, brought it downstairs for my mom to look at on her visit, and never finished it. But what I did read, and have read before from Ms. Notaro, is hilarious.
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Poetry Friday: Hugging the Rock

Today brings us part four of my five-post response to the Five Interesting Things meme. Pulling this from my 100 Things About Me list is especially on-target for today’s book review.
  1. In college, I was a psychology major.
  2. I used my major after college for one year.
  3. Unless you include counseling my crazy family.
My childhood as the last hippie child was fairly stable, but there did seem to be such a strong emotional current to everything. Now, as my parents have gotten older, I’ve noticed the current being more like actual waves, and in the case of their divorce, one might call it a tsunami. Sometimes I look back at childhood now with a much more adult perspective and wonder about all the stuff that was going on while I was worrying about friends, and later about boys.

Hugging the RockSusan Taylor Brown has tackled the angst of a girl in a dysfunctional family in her book, Hugging the Rock. Rachel watches her mom pack the car to go away. She’s heartbroken by the idea, the reality of her mother leaving her. What’s more, her mom is leaving her alone with her father, who has never had much to say to Rachel. Now trapped together and miserable, they must each find a way to regroup and recover. What makes it even harder for both of them is their own awareness of the mother’s troubles. Rachel has known for years that her mom needs her medicine to be close to normal, and sometimes even the medicine doesn’t work. Dad has his own secrets and pain he’s been hiding, but in the end it all needs to come to the light.

The book is told in verse form, which — don’t argue with me here — qualifies its inclusion in Poetry Friday. It will have to count, because after carrying this book around for two weeks to make time to read it and then to write about it, I’ve misplaced it in this disaster of a house. You’ll have to trust me that the poems are lovely and moving.

And continuing with the Five Interesting/Little-Known Things About You Meme, I tag the author at Susan Writes.

Literary Elections

Count Olaf Sign 1Also in the post about the ridiculous commercialization of the Nobel Prize for literature was a reference to a fun contest for book-lover types. Do you know any? Anyway, the writer behind the blog Defective Yeti proposed a contest for putting literary figures in political posters for funny results. He invited the world at large to make their own posters, place them on the street, and send him pictures. Well, I couldn’t resist the opportunity, especially given how much enjoyment I get out of his blog on a daily basis. He does have some overlap with books if you consider his coverage of the Nobel Prize or his post on Bush, punctuation, and the Iraq War. Now, he is a top-level blog with like 100,000 hits a day and I am... well, not that. But in keeping with the theme of the week I’ll have to tag Defective Yeti with the Five Interesting Things meme. (But it’s okay if he doesn’t do it, because me even asking him is like asking Tom Cruise to the prom. I mean, Tom Cruise before he went insane.) Either way, I’m sending in my pictures, but for you fine folks, I’m including them here.
Count Olaf Sign 2
And continuing to dole out Five Interesting Things from my 100 Things About Me List is today’s list addendum:

101. I’m pretty much a left-wing liberal.
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The Edge of The Forest: Back With The Funny

Today, in a continuation of the Things About Me meme, I expand on this statement:
2. Some people think I’m funny.
I’ll bet that more than half of the people I know through work, the kids’ school, and Girl Scouts would not think of me as funny. Or really amusing in any way. I don’t always put forth that persona, I guess. Or if my sense of humor doesn’t click with them, I don’t even try. I’d like to think that I am thought of as funny here in the blogging world. And I suspect the people who know me think I’m a crack-up. So, only some people think I’m funny. And. That’s. Okay.

Now I’ve turned my power of humor to good and produced another “Bring On The Funny” list, this time for ages eight to twelve. You’ll find it — along with many other great articles and interviews — at The Edge of The Forest.

And since I can’t tag the wonderful editor of the online journal, given that she tagged me, I’ll instead turn the attention to someone else. This special someone routinely comments on my posts, especially noting when I write something funny. I like that about her. She’s done a couple of contests to get us all up and moving, and this new one captures my attention with the search for the funniest lines in children’s literature. She’s a poet on this wonderful journey that we call life; I tag Journey Woman.

It’s All About Connections

On Sunday my blogfriend at Big A, little a tagged me for a Five Interesting Things About You meme. Now, there is nothing I love more than talking about myself; however, I have done this meme before in the form of a biography. I’ve also written a lovely, if somewhat cryptic, list of 100 Things About Me during that trend. (Btw, I highly recommend putting together your own list of 100 Things, as it’s a great exercise in bringing out who you are with small snippets of information.) So, in response to Big A’s tag, I’m going to pull an item from my 100 Things list, relate it to a book or blog, and tag that blogger. It’s another crazy theme week here at MotherReader!

(If you’re thinking “Um, another?” I just closed out Teen Read Week, which incidentally began with this wonderful post that no one responded to because everyone was all wrapped up in that new kidlitosphere phenomenon, The Cybils. I’m way on board for The Cybils, but you missed my “Pinter tea lights” line. So sad. Oh, and I did a whole week on the National Book Festival. And most of a week on my first Mo Willems meeting. And... no, that may be it.)

From the 100 Things List:
86. I wish I appreciated poetry more than I do.
87. I have written seven poems.
88. And two haiku.
I’ve been trying to really get poetry. I generally participate in Poetry Friday, even if in odd ways. I like the idea of poetry, it just doesn’t do that much for me. But I try. Oh, Lord I try.

If Not for the CatBut one book in recent times that just floored me with its poems and illustrations was the picture book (or poetry book, if you prefer) If Not for the Cat, by Jack Prelutsky (though you’d never guess it). The poems were simple and lovely. The pictures by Ted Rand were gorgeous. My daughters and I spent a lot of time with this book, reading the poems and then taking turns saying what they meant. There were some difficult words in there, but that was some of the joy of sharing this book with a kid. I could take the opportunity to ask what they thought the word meant based on the animal pictured and the context. Like here:
Boneless, translucent,
We undulate, undulate,
We could talk about why the author chose to use the word undulate with the jellyfish. Fantastic book for a variety of ages.

Which leads me to my blog connection. She’s been mentioned here before for her ability to capture the nature of a book in three lines. She should be on my blogroll, but I’ve been too lazy to update it. I love her concise and often funny reviews. Hailing from small town surburbia, Massachusetts, I tag Emily Reads.
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They’ll Love It At Sundance

MachinationsThe first time you produce a short film, you’re so stoked. Afterwards, it’s all old hat.

Okay, not really.

This weekend, Tohubohu Productions participated in the National Film Challenge. Actually, I should say is participating, since we (we meaning my husband) will be tweaking the movie all day tomorrow. While the 48 Hour Film Project gives you, well, 48 hours, the National Film Challenge gives you one extra day. Imagine the luxury of writing, filming, editing, and scoring a movie in three days. I don’t know why we didn’t get two films done.

We got our genre and the group’s character/prop/line on Friday at 7:00. In the National Film Challenge, the required character/prop/line is divided by area (at least I assume that is still the case). Our genre was Science Fiction. The required elements for the East Coast were Bobbie Soxer (Candidate)/oil/“If it doesn’t work, give it a shake.”

Bill and I worked with the other producer and our writer to brainstorm the plot. When we felt like we had a good start with Act 1, our writer worked it up while we took care of other movie-making business. Then we talked about the changes we wanted, and he wrote out the next parts. More changes, finishing up at 3:30 in the morning. Bill added the scene headings and some other notes to the script at home and went to bed after 4:00.

Alarm goes off at 7:00. That was a lovely three hours of sleep we had. Or didn’t have, since we were both too worked up to sleep well. We gathered our supplies, loaded the car with equipment, and headed for the creative team’s call at 8:00. Or 8:00ish, since we, along with our camera guy, represented 3 out of 5 of the creative team — and one was at the Metro. We went over the script in general and then met the crew at 9:00 at the location.

A good friend of ours had volunteered the use of his shop for the filming. Since they design upscale kitchens, we had some great places to film to keep the background interesting. There was the showroom, with several different mock kitchens, and a warehouse with high ceilings. We also used the front, side, and back of the building. We would probably have gone under the building if we could have figured out how to do it.

The filming went great. A little rocky in the beginning, with the combination of a tough camera setup and some missing cast members. Next time we will stagger the call times and start with a simpler shot, so lesson learned in any case. But other than getting a slow start, everything went extremely well. The actors were all fantastic in the characters we had assigned them. They had a lot to contribute to the dialogue and to the charaterization. Excellent cast. Our crew was totally on the ball, getting things done quickly and accurately. I worked mostly with the Assistant Director, preparing actors for the next scene while Bill was filming the current scene. Our prep work saved a lot of time, since Bill didn’t have to rehearse the actors, but still could change things that didn’t work for him. We finished filming about 8:30 and were packed up and out by 9:00.

Today I’ve been home while Bill edits the film and adds the music and graphics (we had people working on both as we were filming). I’ve seen the rough cut, and it looks pretty good. There are some shots we could have done better if we had more time, but that’s the “challenge” part of the National Film Challenge.

I’ll let you know when it’s up on our site, in case anyone is interested. I think we did a good job with it, but most importantly — clichéd as it is — we had a great time.

By the way, if any of you writers are interested in putting together a short film script, we’d be happy to give it a look. We’ve wanted to do a non-competition film (i.e., a film not thrown together in one weekend), but don’t have any script ideas. We won’t, y’know, pay you for it, but it could hit it big in the indie market. You never know.

Teen Read Week Goes Sixties

I can’t tell you how much I wanted to have a review of John Green’s Abundance of Katherines. The book came into my library yesterday, and I was drooling over the possiblity of reading it today and posting a review. But instead I have spent the day alternately chasing down parents to get Girl Scout permission forms, looking up hotels in New York City that won’t cost an arm and a leg, and preparing to abandon my real life for two days to make a little movie.

King of the CreepsSo no John Green today. But I do have a very funny book by Steven Banks called King of the Creeps.

On the worst day of his life, Tommy is going to jump off of the George Washington bridge, but then Bob Dylan saves him. Not the actual Bob Dylan, mind you, but seeing Bob Dylan on the cover of an album with a beautiful woman makes him reconsider. Especially when he hears the two prettiest girls in the class saying they would “go all the way” with Bob Dylan and that the pretty woman on the album cover is his girlfriend. If that ugly guy with the strange voice can get girls, then certainly Tommy can. He decides to get a guitar and become a folk singer.

He hears about a place to get a guitar in New York City, and spends his birthday money on it. He immediately runs into a series of incidents involving the police, a girl, a bunch of Japanese tourists, a photographer, and Ed Sullivan. It could never happen this way, but it doesn’t matter. It’s funny and unpredictable all the way. It is also a great take on the beginning of the sixties, with references to Kennedy’s death, beehive hairdos, and the arrival of folk music on the scene.

I only take up arms at this line:
She looked kind of old, but she was trying to look like a sexpot. She had a ton of makeup on and real bright red hair. If you saw her across the street you’d get excited and think she was really sexy, but up close you could see she was pretty old, like thirty-five or maybe even forty.
Hey now!

While the rest of you read or write or do laundry, I’ll be making a short film for the National Film Challenge. Three sleepless days for an eight-minute movie. Yeah, that makes sense.

Teen Read Week: One For The Boys

I’ve come to count on Will Hobbs as the Gary Paulsen of YA. There is a great scene in Wild Man Island (terrible title, btw) where Andy is paralyzed by eating a poisonous shellfish and he lies on the ground feeling the rain falling in his open eyes, hoping the birds won’t believe him dead and start tearing him to pieces. Just read that page out loud to stop the talking in a room of eighty seventh graders. Yes, it can be done.

Crossing the WireWith his new book, Crossing the Wire, Will Hobbs has taken on an adventure story that happens dozens, hundreds of times every day in this country. Victor, in a act of desperation to save his family, attempts to cross over into the United States from Mexico. There is drama, danger, and drug-dealing. It’s gritty and real. And it happens all the time.

Will Hobbs is careful with his treatment of the Border Patrol as people doing their jobs. They appear firm and strong, but not mean or vengeful. He also tells more about the situations that have led up to the flood of immigrants — falling corn prices due to our subsidized corn, increased vigilance after 9/11, less chance to grow crops in Mexico due to deforestization — in a conversational way, that may have more meaning and relevance for adults than kids. In fact, maybe more adults should read this book and soon.

With the changes along the border and the changing politics of the issue of illegal immigration, more people are trying to cross the border in more dangerous ways — leading to more deaths. Will Hobbs makes us look at this issue seriously, while still presenting an adventure book in its own right.

More for Teen Read Week

Bass Ackwards and Belly UpI was so intrigued by the title of Bass Ackwards and Belly Up because it seemed so original. But as it turns out ,the book is basically Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants with new high school graduates. The girls are friends forever, even though they are very different types. They end up going off to have all different types of adventures. But they keep in touch by phone and email, so they stay connected and there for each other.

Harper started the mess. She didn’t get into NYU, but rather than tell everyone from the beginning, she waited until the night before Becca is going off to Middlebury. Then Harper tells the group that she is not going to college so she can follow her dream to be a writer. This announcement inspires Sophie to blow off college in Boulder to go to Los Angeles and become an actress. Kate was headed for Harvard, but decides that she needs to find her dream and heads on a European tour instead. Becca goes to college, as her dream is to go to college and ski, but is instructed by the girls to fall in love.

There are all sorts of adventures, with some alcohol episodes and some sexual episodes (not discussed in much detail). It’s a fun book, but not as stellar as I had thought it was going to be. The book is also definitely older YA, which brings up the whole “YA or adult?” issue. I see it more as a nostalgic adult novel. A sequel is planned for May 2007, and while I’ll want to find out what happens next, I won’t be counting down the days until publication.

Yeah! Teen Read Week

How to Be PopularWith all of the initial buzz about How To Be Popular and the tie-in to Clinique, I was interested to read it. I read The Princess Diaries and... no, hold it — that’s all I’ve read by Meg Cabot, come to think of it. Not that there’s anything wrong with her books, but if I’m going to read chick lit, I’ll read chick lit — not teen chick lit.

Anyway, I wasn’t all that put out by the connection with Clinique — not happy, but not unhappy — until an actual Clinique postcard ad fell out of the book, and then I thought ewww. Because it feels wrong to have an ad fall out of your book. Your Glamour, your Cosmopolitan, your Playgirl, fine. But not a book. Thankfully for all the other borrowers of this book, I’ve “lost” the ad, so they will not be faced with this ick factor.

The book itself is cute enough. Ever since Steph spilled a drink on the popular girl’s skirt, her name has been synonymous with “screw-up.” As in, “Way to pull a Steph Landry.” She’s determined to become popular this year, thus removing the stain from her name forever more. Her inspiration for the plan is an old book she found titled, “How To Be Popular,” which, though dated, offers her advice along the way. Complicating matters is her relationship with her two best friends — one of whom is a cute booooy — and her crush on the most popular boy in school.

Fun book. I’m not sure where the Clinique connection fits in, since it isn’t mentioned in the book at all, but, y’know, like, whatever.

The Great, Big, Blogging, Kid Book Awards

The whole kidlitosphere is buzzing with the news, but on the off chance that you, the reader, are interested in children’s literature — and yet MotherReader is the only blog you frequent — I say the following:

What’s wrong with you?

I’m sorry — I meant to say that there is a great, big, blogging, kid book awards coming up, lacking in name, but not enthusiasm. You’ll find all the details at Big A, little a, including how to get yourself on one of the nominating or judging committees. Many different blogs are overseeing the various categories of book awards, including Fuse#8 for middle grade, Jen Robinson for Young Adult, and Wands and Worlds for Science Fiction/Fantasy. And then a bunch of categories that don’t much interest me. (Kidding. The complete list is at Big A, little a.)

I will most likely serve on the Picture Book committee through Big A, little a. I love middle-grade books and YA, but in my job I see more picture books than anything. Plus, ummm... they’re really short, so you can read them quickly and be done with your part in the whole thing faster. But you didn’t just read that.

If you want to contribute a clever name for the award, head over to Book Buds. Bonus points for a cute acronym.
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Look Away!

I am so very unprepared.

It’s Teen Read Week, and I haven’t even taken down the Nobel Prize decorations yet.

I think it was said best at Defective Yeti about the hype and tension of the Nobel Prize for Literature. And I have to agree. I mean, it used to be that you didn’t even hear about the Nobel Prize for Literature until the week before it happened. Even the chocolates with the faces of Naipaul and Morrison were only available on the day of the announcements. But now the coverage of the event is just insane, and I can’t even pass a Hallmark without seeing the Pinter tea light holders left over from last year.

But I promise some teen book reviews this week, just give me a bit to pull them out my... files.

In the meantime, let’s keep up the Lemony Snicket love with Fuse#8’s post on The End party and reading, because I guess it is possible that someone is coming here that isn’t going to her marvelous blog. And then you can hop over to the Unfortunate Events Forum where my blog was mentioned as a source of information on upcoming books from Mr. Snicket. I feel like such a fraud.

Back already? Then head over to an article by the blogger of Defective Yeti. It’s a contest that will interest all the literary types, and gives me an excellent opportunity to point out his funny, insightful blog without going completely off-topic, which I am so loath to do. Now if only Mamarazzi could do something book-related so that I could link to them. Too bad.
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The End

The EndI had promised my daughter that after school today, we would make a special trip to the bookstore to pick up the last book in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. But then I saw the book displayed at Target and couldn’t justify a separate trip for a book that I could get while also purchasing a long-sleeve shirt to wear under my new haiku T-shirt and four bags of discounted M&M’s.

And could I really be blamed when I went to get my car inspected and found the book to be the only reading material I had in the car? And really, after giving so much to my family and my work all week long, shouldn’t I rest by taking out some time for me? Say, by reading?

And if the girls are going to go downstairs to play video games, leaving me along with the book, shouldn’t it be expected that I would finish it?

I read the Washington Post review, which I thought was on base in some ways, but not others. The End does not resolve the many loose ends that have been planted throughout the series. Most questions are left unanswered. The author focuses on a review of what has brought us all to this point and on an entirely new Unfortunate Event. Little time is even left to wrap up the story. But he doesn’t intend to give us closure, but to point out how untidy life is, and how many of our own mysteries are left unsolved. The Post reviewer thought this was a cop-out, but I disagree.

Lemony Snicket has given us another whole story, plus the book equivalent of a sitcom clip show. We’re reminded throughout the book of all the other adventures the Baudelaires have experienced. Some mysteries are solved, but most are not. And I, for one, am okay with that.

His writing and storytelling remains strong. His humor catches one off guard, as in this sentence:
Some believe that everyone is born with a moral compass already inside them, like an appendix, or a fear of worms.
And as usual, he sometimes refers vaguely to his questionable past:
Thinking about something is like picking up a stone when taking a walk, either while skipping rocks on the beach, for example, or looking for a way to shatter the glass doors of a museum.
Readers will still have many questions that may find some resolution in the upcoming projects of the author. From the interview in the Toronto Star, a 14-year-old girl, Maggie, is entrusted with some of the interview.
Next May will bring another Snicket title. “Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid” is billed as Snicket snippets taken from “personal papers, conversations at dinner parties and anarchist rallies.”

Trust Maggie to tease out the news that more full-blown Snicket novels might be ahead:

“I already find your interest on such topics to be quite unhealthy. But I do admit that Mr. Snicket has expressed interest in some other cases that may have some overlap with the Baudelaires. But I don’t think you should read them and so I think you should forget that I ever said that.”
There you have it. It’s not over until Lemony Snicket says it’s over.
Bluto: Over? Did you say “over”? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!
Otter: Germans?
Boon: Forget it, he’s rolling.
Bluto: And it ain’t over now. ’Cause when the goin’ gets tough... the tough get goin’! Who’s with me? Let’s go!
Sorry, that quote got away from me a bit. I don’t want to give away any of the story or the mysteries of the book. I just want to reassure readers that it’s another great chapter, but perhaps not as final a chapter as we may have expected.
Category: 4 comments

Poetry Friday: T-Shirt Edition

Poetry Friday Haiku
Thanks to [BB-Blog] for today’s Poetry Friday entry.

I’m ordering this shirt today.

So Maybe I Do Some Negative Reviews

Gail, from Original Content, suggested in the comments that perhaps too much weight has been put on the term “negative” in respect to reviews. She says:
To try to do a balanced... response... to a book in which you discuss what you see as weaknesses in writing technique, logic, what have you, just isn’t seriously “negative.” Reviewing, criticism just shouldn’t be a love-her or hate-her thing. It’s not a “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” situation.

Think about writers’ groups. Writers’ groups in which the criticism is all “positive” are useless.

So-called “negative” material in reviews just should be phrased in a respectful way, the way it would be phrased in a writing group.
Yeah, I’ve blown the repectful part. Repeatedly.

But it was interesting to me in that I don’t think of the writer as a reason for my review. I write about books for my own records. I write about books to share with other readers. I even could say that I write about books to let librarians know what to purchase. But it is interesting to think of the review in context of a writers’ group.

In many reviews, I’ve told why I didn’t like a book, but acknowleged why others would like it. Let’s call this the Nick & Norah. I know that lots of people loved this interesting, exciting, edgy book. It didn’t do it for me, and I explained why. It’s more of a personal thing.

In some reviews, I’ve told why I didn’t like a book and pointed out some intrinsic flaws. Let’s call this the Day The Dinosaurs Died. I don’t think that the graphic death of the dinosaurs needs to be brought into easy-reader format. Horn Book disagrees with me, but I think a fundamental flaw of the book is making lurid prose and illustrations for first graders.

In the rarest reviews, I hate a book beyond words. Or it takes me so long to get my words together that I don’t write a thorough review and maybe even make a jab at the author (which I feel a little bad about now). Let’s call this the Tulane. Honestly, I shouldn’t even link there.

Now in a writing group, I might ask David Levithan if it’s really necessary to have the character of Nick say the f-word 26 times on one page — considering that one third of the page is blank. If that page is any indication, David Levithan might say to me, “Who the f*** do you think you are, you sorry f***? Don’t you f***ing think I might know how to f***ing write a f***ing book better than you, MotherF*****!” My point being that while he knows what he’s doing in writing it that way, it’s just not to my taste — not that I don’t love the f-word. But other readers may want to consider the profanity in their reading and/or purchasing of the book.

In a writing group, I’d be tempted to ask the author of The Day the Dinosaur Died if perhaps the book was a little... much for young readers. If the violence of the book is any indication, she would throw me into a flaming volcano. (Make sure you pay attention to where you hold your writing group sessions.)

In a writing group, I’d take Kate DiCamillo’s hand and nicely — very nicely — ask if she wanted to talk about what was wrong, thereby allowing her to rid herself of her demons so that they will no longer take over her lovely writing and give us another Tulane.

But it’s not a writing group. The books are written, and I have no influence over the author’s process anymore. I can only record my own reactions — and in doing so, perhaps influence the readers’ choices. But were I to give up negative reviews, I’d be giving up such lines as:
The worst thing about this book is the title, which implies that this is one of many books about Ham and Pickles. How unfortunate.
Mean? Yeah, maybe. But, it’s my blog and I’ll snark if I want to.

You would snark too if you read what I do.
Category: 7 comments

I Got Your Reviews Right Here

I hate being left out.

While I was busy writing about the National Book Festival — and then busy recovering from writing so damned much about the National Book Festival — other bloggers were writing about positive and negative book reviews and the quality of review writing.

I had thought about this issue weeks ago when a reader asked Esme (on her blog called... umm, Ask Esme) why she only gave positive reviews. I read her “Ask Esme” answer, and while some of it was true to me, not all of it was. Finding Wonderland did a post on it, and I responded in the comments there as to why the choice to post only positive reviews might work for her, but not for others. I was all ready to post about the concept myself, and then... I just didn’t feel like it.

But gosh, now I’ve seen a similar vein picked up in Chasing Ray, then Blog from The Windowsill, then Jen Robinson, Original Content, Fuse#8, Big A, little a, A Chair..., and then back to Chasing Ray and back to Blog from the Windowsill. Holy cow! I’ve commented here and there along the way, and now finally feel compelled to put down some thoughts here.

Especially because it seems that I am going against the grain in being in favor of negative reviews. Where do I think the negativity comes from?

First of all, while some bloggers read many books and choose which ones to put forward, some reviewers are given books to review. If the reviewer doesn’t like it, that is a fair assessment. That explains many of the bloggers who have been given ARCs specifically to review.

Second of all, when you focus on younger books and you’ve hated one, it is easier to wave away the ten minutes of your life you’ll never get back. But many reviewers read teen books and older elementary books — and when you’ve spent three hours reading a book, you might need to say something about it, even if it’s not good.

Third of all, you can choose to run a site that is just suggestions, but other bloggers use their sites to chronicle what they are reading. And if the book turns out to be less than good... well, that is what we might choose to share.

And lastly, while some people say that readers don’t need to know what not to read, I disagree. People who buy books for themselves or for their libraries may want to know if a book isn’t all that. If they can buy one new going-to-school book, should they buy this new hot title or not? Sometimes the answer is “or not.” And that’s okay.

I think all of the above situations describe me. If I am sent a book to review, I’ll review it — good or bad. If I spent three hours reading a book, you can bet someone is going to hear about it. Great if it is a recommendation, and great if I can give someone else a heads-ups about a possible loser. And that “possible loser” is the most important part of my review. Because if I am panning a book, then the reader of the review needs to know why, so she can make her own decision about the book. I do use this blog to chronicle my reading, and I do appreciate knowing which books to skip.

Most relevant to me by far is the purpose of your blog as a whole. If you choose to have a blog of recommendations, then that’s great. If you choose to have a blog about mostly crap — funny crap — with the occasional gem, do that. Some bloggers review what they have requested from publishers. Some bloggers review the things they come across along the way. Some bloggers chronicle what they are reading and what they thought about it. Some bloggers fall into more then one of these categories.

For me, I want to read what I feel like reading, and write about it. I write more when I have strong feelings either way, love or hate. I haven’t written about half of the books I’ve read this year because I didn’t feel inspired to write about them. Actually, my reviews are more like written booktalks then anything else. By stopping by, you are asking, “Whatcha reading lately?” I’m saying, “Dude, I just read the best book. Let me tell you about it,” or sometimes, “Man, I just wasted so much time on this stupid book.”

Now in the second round of this conversation, Blog from the Windowsill posted that she thought the conversation went off track from where she thought it would go. Hey, I hear dat. I, for example, thought the comments on my National Book Festival would all be about how well written the pieces were and how very lovely I am in the photo. Actually, maybe that’s not what you meant by going off on a tangent. Anyway, she wished there was more conversation about the art of the review. Seeing the review as creative writing.

I keep up this blog to exercise my creative writing and maybe some of that seeps into my reviews. Some reviews more than others. I know that there are reviews that are splendid in their own right. Fuse#8 writes consistently incredible reviews. Other bloggers write more scholarly reviews, like... umm, Scholar’s Blog. Personally, I shy away from those type of reviews because I don’t want that kind of depth in my reviews. I just want to know whether to give the book a shot or not, and so much of that relies on how much I agree with the blogger’s choices in general. I’d read anything Fuse#8 recommends, because I think we have the same taste. I love Bookshelves of Doom and I go there every day to see what she’s reading, but we don’t always have the same taste and I’ll skip her vampire suggestions. Know your fellow blogger.

One more thing and then I’ll stop. It’s easier to make negative stuff funny. Jay Leno’s monologue isn’t about heaping praise, and we know Jon Stewart takes people to task. What’s the blog that everyone loves? Miss Snark, who tears apart the hapless letters of aspiring writers. I don’t go all negative on a book for the point of being funny, but I do think of it as a nice little bonus.
Category: 6 comments

The National Book Festival: The Dénouement

Now, it may surprise some of you — the some of you who haven’t been paying attention along the course of my saga — that I didn’t see Mo Willems’ presentation. Those of you who have been paying attention know that I was squeezing in the National Book Festival before I went to my high school reunion, and I therefore had to leave by 2:00. My good buddy spoke at 3:30. Without bending the space-time continuum, I didn’t know how to see his session — which I knew would be wonderful.

But here is the beauty of the Internet. His talk is already up at the Library of Congress National Book Festival site, along with all those other people who spoke. You can get to Mo’s talk here — just click on the tiny little word under his name that says webcast. If you haven’t seen his lecture before, make time to watch this. Mo is an incredible speaker, along with being a great guy, great illustrator, great author, and great sport.

And a Hot Man of Children’s Literature. Don’t forget that honor. I can prove it, ’cause I’ve got a picture.

After my one-picture photo session, the family and I visited the PBS tent, where the girls got free Maya dolls from the show Maya and Miguel. We saw a bit of Louis Sachar’s talk, but it was so packed we were outside in the rain. Not being that dedicated, we moved on to drier pastures. We spent the rest of the time in the State tent where the various states’ libraries had tables with handouts and occasional swag. The kids were encouraged to take around a map and get each state stamped as they visited. Honestly, I’m not sure what this accomplished for any of us, but the kids seemed to enjoy the process and getting the occasional free pencil or ruler.

And as the clock struck two (somewhere it did, I suppose), we booked it (ha ha) to the car. We did stop to grab a street vendor hot dog and pretzel — because yes, we were that hungry.

Thanks for joining me on this reflective journey of the National Book Festival. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a video to watch.

The National Book Festival: The Payoff

After meeting Mo and his family, the girls and I returned to the children’s tent, where the Kadir Nelson session was already in progress. If you are unfamiliar with his name, you may know his work as an illustrator of books such as Just the Two of Us, Please, Puppy, Please and most recently Moses. Along with being a incredible artist, he also a certified Hot Man of Children’s Literature.

Given that I love his work and he is... well, hot, I should have been in rapt attention through his session. But through the whole thing, I couldn’t stop thinking about how totally wild it was that I should run into Mo. I mean, what are the chances? So, unfortunately, I missed most of what Kadir Nelson said. And since his new book wasn’t at my library today, I can’t review that for you either. And I can’t include a picture given that I STILL DIDN’T HAVE BATTERIES IN MY CAMERA!

When the session ended, my crankiness kicked in. I had not heard from Bill yet, and was ready to bag the whole thing. I called my husband to say as much, but he had finally found parking and was bringing batteries TWO HOURS after dropping us off. With Kadir Nelson talking to fans at the tent, there was still a chance to get a Hot Man’s picture on this page.

“How far away are you?” I asked.

“Maybe five minutes’ walk,” he replied.

“What if you run?” I threw back.

And run he did, because he is that wonderful. And because he knew from my tone that I was on my last nerve. But as he made his scampering way across the grounds of the Smithsonian Castle, I saw something that made Kadir Nelson fade away. It couldn’t be, and yet it was.

Mo and family stopped in conversation outside the children’s tent. No freakin’ way.

As my breathless husband arrived, batteries held out like a baton in the Olympics relay, I pointed out the amazing second appearance of my favorite children’s author/illustrator. And, as if on cue, my seven-year-old took off in his direction to say hi to his daughter.

“Do you have a question for me?” he politely asked my daughter — who I can only imagine was staring up at him with a Cheshire-cat grin.

“I think she’s stalling so I could meet you.” said my husband, who introduced himself.

I was a minute behind this lovely scene, having been loading my camera — FINALLY — with new batteries.

We all talked for a few minutes. His wife told a great story about how Mo has gotten very popular in the neighborhood. So popular in fact, that one day she was out walking the dog and heard a little boy tell his mom, “Look! That’s Mo Willems’s dog.” But it was clear that his daughter was worn out and ready to go back to the hotel for a little break... but not before I could get a picture.

MotherReader and MoMy only decent picture of the festival. In fact, either I somehow left the camera on after the festival or the sheer power of Mo’s... Mo-ness killed my batteries, because when I went to use the camera that night at my high school reunion... yup, dead batteries. Unbelievable.

The National Book Festival: Now We’re Talking

I promised a review of the new book by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin, but let’s keep it short. Yes, even shorter than usual.

I liked Dooby Dooby Moo better than Giggle, Giggle, Quack and less than Click, Clack, Moo.

Short enough for you?

Maybe a little more for the kids in the cheap seats. The illustrations are, of course, perfect — except for one picture of Farmer Brown’s face that fell into the gutter. Which is ironic, since at the National Book Festival, Betsy Lewin specifically explained how she draws a picture to take into account that nothing falls in the gutter. The story involves the farm animals secretly entering a talent show to win a trampoline. The sound effects of the animals will make this a fun read-aloud, and it’s a cute story.

But back to me and the National Book Festival.

After Betsy Lewin’s presentation ended, and I found out that my husband was still looking for parking — an hour after dropping us off — I panicked. Yet another illustrator was due to appear on this stage in a mere ten minutes, and I still couldn’t take a picture. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

I had my girls wait in their seats under the eye of a nice school librarian while I went on a frantic battery search. I knew I had seen a building that looked like it might sell tourist needs — like film and batteries. I speed-walked over there to find out that it was just food. If only my camera took mini-pizzas instead of double-As. I looked around and saw nothing that could help me. Giving up, I speed-walked back to the tent where the Kadir Nelson session was certainly beginning.

And as I walked, I caught a familiar face out of the corner of my eye. It was impossible... but yet...

“Mo?” I said.

“Yes?” Mo said.

I introduced myself, as I was clearly not a familiar face, though fortunately was a familiar name. At least as MotherReader. He introduced his wife and five-year-old daughter, and I explained about my hunt for batteries. He told me about the behind-the-scenes events they had gone to for his daughter. I told them about the authors/illustrators I had seen so far. I said I planned to ask Kadir Nelson how it felt to be Spike Lee’s beeyotch. Mo mentioned some of Kadir’s non-Spike Lee work and how he preferred it. I promised to take a look at Moses when it hit my library branch.

I asked Mo and family if they would mind waiting while I got my kids, as I knew they would want to meet him. They were very nice about it, and stayed put — but probably were having this conversation:
Mo: “It is strange that she ran into us, but she doesn’t look like a nutcase. Do you think?”

Mo’s wife: “If she comes out of there with two Cabbage Patch dolls, I am so outta here.”
My daughters were very excited to meet Mo and his family. I am pretty sure my seven-year-old would have taken his five-year-old on a Mall-wide romp. My ten-year-old was more poised, asking first if “maybe blue jays could drive the bus” (her little joke) then asking if he was working on another book. He told her that he was working on a sequel to Knuffle Bunny where Trixie is in preschool. He also talked about how his whole family got to be the voices for the animated cartoon movie of Knuffle Bunny that would be coming out soon.

He and his wife were very nice and very patient, but their daughter was ready to move on. To the carousel, to be specific. As they headed off, we said our “nice to meet yous” and went back to the Kadir Nelson session, already in progress.

So, in case you missed it, let me make this clear: My camera needed batteries. I went on a desperate hunt for them. A hunt that put me in the path of Mo Willems and his family. At the seven-block-long National Book Festival. With thousands of people there. And I run into the one person I really wanted to see. If that isn’t destiny, I don’t know what is.

Tomorrow: Where the hell is Bill? and Yes, it could get a little better.

The National Book Festival: For Want of a Battery

With Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type on the list as one of my favorite children’s books of all time, I was pretty excited to see Betsy Lewin. I convinced my kids to be pretty excited, too.

“Can you believe it, girls? The woman who did the pictures for Click, Clack, Moo is going to be up on stage and talking to us any minute now! Wow, isn’t this incredible?”

I had them going, because I am that good.

She came to the stage, looking every bit like the nicest lady you’d ever want to meet. And since we had moved up to the third row, I was in a great position to take a picture. You know, if my camera had working batteries. And if my husband could manage to park the car and bring me new batteries.

We’ll get back to that.

Betsy Lewin told the audience that we would work on a book together, and she asked for an animal. Someone suggested a pig. She drew a pig going on safari and then gave us a sneaky lion in the bushes. But then a gorilla comes along and saves the pig... or does he? It was very engaging. So much so that twenty minutes later my seven-year-old still wanted to know what happened to the pig. I wish I had let her ask.

Ms. Lewin talked a little bit about her new book, Dooby Dooby Moo, and honored us with a little song to suggest the plot. But she didn’t want to give anything away, so she cut herself off. She did talk more about Click, Clack, Moo, and how the book was passed over by the original publisher, and then took a year to find a new publisher. But it was an instant success, going into its third printing in no time at all.

After talking to the adults in this way, she went back to the kids, asking for ideas for another picture. A cheetah and a chipmunk were suggested this time. And as she drew she would let us know how she would convey characteristics on the page. She asked the audience questions about the cheetah, and my ten-year-old got to answer one. In fact, she was the only one who knew that cheetahs don’t have retractable claws. So good for her.

Would have been a great photo, actually.

As the session ended, and my husband (and the camera batteries) were still nowhere in sight, I realized it was time to take action. And for want of a battery, I would find myself with something better than I could have ever expected.

Tomorrow: Dooby Dooby Moo review and a date with destiny.
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The National Book Festival: A Saga in Three (or Four) Parts

I said I’d be back on Monday, and technically, it’s still Monday.

Okay, so the National Book Festival. I had big plans for the National Book Festival. Having never attended a book festival before, the possible mix of literature and funnel cakes was altogether intriguing to me. Attending would be a challenge in and of itself, given that I needed to be at my high school reunion that night and had to work that day. I pushed off my reunion appearance until the last possible time, skipping the afternoon picnic. As for work, I begged, pleaded, and finally bribed someone to work next Saturday instead. My point being that I was pretty invested in this event.

I brought my whole family along for the ride and in doing so, made us later than I had planned. While I am able to get out the door pretty well on my own, when everyone becomes involved, it gets a little... well, involved. So, we arrived about twenty minutes after the thing had started. This would not have normally been a problem, especially as my husband dropped the kids and I off and went to park the car, but today...

We’ll get back to that.

The girls and I ended up at the far end from where we needed to be — the Children’s tent, of course. We got there just in time to hear the last part of Tony DiTerlizzi’s session.

Why did I not know what a snazzy dresser he is?

As we crammed ourselves into the full tent, he was challenging the audience to give him some words with which to make up a rhyme. I believe a toilet was involved. He wrote a funny little poem on the spot and then asked the audience what the monster in the poem looked like. He drew that with the audience’s ideas as well. Then he did a little Q-and-A session. It was mostly children that asked the questions. One asked about his favorite book that he had written, and he said that while it was less known, he really liked his picture book Ted. Someone asked about The Spiderwick Chronicles, and he mentioned that the movie was currently being filmed. He mentioned an actor that was going to be in the movie and specifically mentioned that we could go home and put it on our blogs, but of course that was when my daughter decided to ask me where Daddy was, so I didn’t hear it. Sorry.

Now you’re also wondering, where was Daddy? He was looking for a parking place, thirty minutes after he had dropped us off. We’ll get back to that.

As Tony DiTerlizzi’s session was wrapping up, I had been able to move into the tent enough to take a picture. I took one shot, and then the camera died. But no problem, since I had brought along extra batteries. Which apparently were uncharged. But no worries, since the author certainly wouldn’t be hanging around so people could take pictures. Except he was. So I missed it. He has great photos on his elaborate website. Go there.

There were more authors and illustrators to come. I’d need those batteries. I called my husband to ask him to buy some after he parked the car.

After he parked the car. If only I knew then how silly that phrase was.

Tomorrow: Betsy Lewin talks about her new book, and MotherReader and Mo’s destined meeting is on the horizon.
Category: 2 comments