105 Ways to Give a Book

Book Reviews? What Are Book Reviews?

How about I, ummm, review some books for my book-reviewing blog.

Looking for a light read for your elementary crowd? Something so light that you may need to put a rock on the books whenever you set them down? Oh, then, have I got the books for you.

Dude, Where's My Spaceship?Dan Greenburg, author of the Zack Files, has come up with a new science fiction series. I’ve seen the first two books in the Weird Planet series, Dude, Where’s My Spaceship? and Lost in Las Vegas, and I approve. These books will not change the world, by any means, but they may be just the thing for a reluctant reader or a reader in need of a mental break. I know that my fourth-grader will go from Katie Kazoo to Dragon Rider in one sitting, proving that sometimes a kid just wants a quick, silly book.

Lost in Las VegasAnd silly is something the Weird Planet series has to offer. The reader is introduced to the characters, three kid aliens, as they are careening towards Earth in a runaway spaceship. Apparently, someone on board does not fly as well as he thought. They land on Earth safely, and make their spaceship invisible (note the title). However, the girl alien is captured by humans before she can chew her language gum and explain herself. Her brothers change shape and go to rescue her as she tries to use her thought-control to foster her own escape. Hilarity ensues.

The books are amusing, in that fish-out-of-water (alien-on-this-planet) way. My fourth-grader asked me to bring the next one home, so that is probably the best recommendation that I can offer. Well... and that I kind of want to read the next one too.

Mo? Is That You, Mo?

Did I forget to mention that Mo Willems wrote me back? Not that I was like, excited or anything. Just another day. Noooo, I was thrilled, but was right in the middle of setting up this 48 Hour Book Challenge, so I couldn’t post it. Plus, I wanted make sure it was all right to put his well-crafted letter online. I mean, he probably figured that I would, but I am nothing if not proper.

Our exchange for your (my) amusement:
Dear Ms. Reader,

I have, indeed, lurked around your site and have perused your copious notes on our recent meeting. I am uncertain whether to be flattered or frightened, so let me say that I am “flattened” by your coverage.

I must note, however, that your version of events mentions various twenty dollar bills, which mysteriously are not in my possession. Perhaps this is not the proper time to mention that my roof is currently being repaired in a most expensive manner.

Thank you for your support. If not for bloggers such as yourself, incessantly googling myself would be far less rewarding.

Your pal,

Mo

P.S.: My wife would like to ensure that I give your husband my best.

Mo Willems
www.mowillems.com

I wrote:
Oh, Mo,

Thank you very much for your response. If you have no objection, I will post it on my site, sans email info. Apparently, you left out the line “MotherReader is the funniest blog I have ever read. You need to write books!” so I will fix that before posting. ;-)

Perhaps I may have used a touch of exaggeration for comedic value — ’cause it’s all about the funny — but I truly am a fan. Your books are spot-on perfect, and you are a wonderful speaker. That said, please do not be frightened. I have not been issued a restraining order for three months now (a personal best!), so you and your lovely family are totally safe.

I hope that you’ll stop by my blog again for un-Mo-related material. It’s said in the biz (is there a blogger biz?) that I write some pretty witty stuff. Thanks for being a good sport.

Your pal (back at you),

MR

P.S.: My husband sends his regards to you as well. On the heels of my quasi-obsessive posts, he made a lovely little poster for our poker night of antes and blinds, titled “Don’t Let the Pigeon Play Poker.” I am sure he would be happy to send it your way. In fact, I’m not sure that I could stop him from doing so.

He replies:
Rock on, MotherReader.

Good luck on your 48 hr thingie.

Mo

P.S.: Final plug: Lane Smith just posted a cool vid of our 45 Minute Mural on his site.

Mo, my pal, for what it is worth from little ol’ me, consider it plugged.

The 48 Hour Book Challenge

48 Hour Book ChallengeSo, what did you do this weekend? Did you, for instance, challenge your fellow book bloggers to a 48-hour reading marathon?

It seems like I already have some people ready to play. And they’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on...

Let me set out the rules as I see them. I am open to suggestions if you’ve got them, or ask me questions so I can establish a related rule. Here goes:
  1. The weekend is June 16–18th, 2006. Read and blog for any 48-hour period within the Friday-to-Monday-morning window. Start no sooner than 7:00 a.m. on Friday the 15th and end no later than 7:00 a.m. Monday. So, go from 7:00 p.m. Friday to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday... or maybe 7:00 a.m. Saturday to 7:00 a.m. Monday works better for you. But the 48 hours do need to be in a row.

  2. The books should be about fourth-grade level and up. Adult books are fine, especially if any adult book bloggers want to play.

  3. It’s your call as to how much you want to put into it. If you want to skip sleep and showers to do this, go for it (but don’t stand next to me). If you want to be a bit more laid back, fine. But you have to put something into it or it’s not a challenge.

  4. The length of the reviews are not an issue. You can write a sentence, paragraph, or a full-length review.

  5. For promotion/solidarity purposes, let your readers know when you are starting the challenge with a specific entry on that day. When you write your final summary on Monday, let that be the last thing you write that day, so for one day, we’ll all be on the same page, so to speak.

  6. Your final summary should be posted online after 8:00 on Monday morning, even if you finished your 48 hours on Sunday. Include the number of books read, the approximate hours you spent reading, and any other comments you want to make on the experience.

  7. Sign up at the original post (unless you already have). Post the challenge on your site to catch the bloggers that come your way but don’t come mine. I don’t have a lot of links on my blogroll because I never get around to setting them up, but I would love it if some of the other bloggers join in. Point them to the original post to sign up.

I’ll work on some prizes for most books read, most hours spent, and probably something else. Make a suggestion.

I’ll post the rules again as we get closer, to incorporate suggestions or to answer questions that have come up. Should be fun, gang!

The Mother (Reader) of All Challenges

How many books do you think you could read and review in 48 hours? Four? Fourteen? Forty? What do you think, Big A little a, Blog from the Windowsill, BookMoot, Bookshelves of Doom, Chicken Spaghetti, Fuse#8, Jen Robinson... and that’s only the beginning of the alphabet.

Let me back up.

I have forty books stacked on my floor. Forty.

You see, in my large library system, we have big libraries and smaller libraries. The big libraries get the young adult books, the small libraries only get the graphic novels and the occasional YA book. Since I work at one of the smaller branches, whenever an actual teen novel came through that wasn’t a Gossip Girl special, I took it home to read.

Something has changed — in ordering, in our designation, in our demographics — and suddenly we are getting YA books like crazy. But I can’t stop my old practice of bringing home every YA book that interests me, which is like half of them. In three weeks, tops, I’ve managed to pile up quite a fair number.

With The 48 Hour Film Project still in my brain, I formed an idea. A terrible, wonderful, awful idea.

How many books could I read in 48 hours? But even more importantly, how many could you read in 48 hours?

48 Hour Book ChallengeThus I submit to the kids’ lit book bloggers at large, the Mother (Reader) of All Challenges. The 48 Hour Book Challenge.

Think about it. A bevy of book bloggers see what they can read and review in 48 hours. That will give you a little something to talk about at ALA. Who knows? Maybe we could get some press covering us for a change.

The weekend is June 16th, 2006. Read and blog for any 48 hours within the Friday to Monday morning window. Start no sooner then 7:00 a.m. on Friday the 15th and end no later then 7:00 a.m. Monday. So, maybe 7:00 p.m. Friday to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday is your thing, or maybe 7:00 a.m. Saturday to 7:00 a.m. Monday works better for you. But the 48 hours do need to be in a row.

Respond to this entry to sign up. Post the challenge on your site to catch the bloggers that come your way, but don’t come mine. I don’t have a lot of links out because I never get around to setting them up, but I would love it if some of the other bloggers join in. Point them to this entry to sign up.

So, come on! When was the last time you did something crazy, silly, inexplicable? Let’s turn the world of kids’ book reviewing on its ear.

Ode to Mo

I have never participated in Poetry Friday before, given that I don’t gravitate toward poetry books to review and don’t write poetry as a rule. But in keeping with Mo Willems Week (soon to become formalized by Congress — like National Dog Bite Prevention Week), here is a little poem of my own. In honor of GottaBook, it’s in Fib form. Or at least I hope that it is.

Oh
Mo,
You do
Taunt me so.
I’ll bet you’ve stopped by.
Don’t ask me why I guess such things,
But, instead, honor me with an email, a comment.
Would it help if I said that I liked Sheep in the Big City, penner of pigeon books?

All right, I know. Shameless. But you don’t get what you want by not asking. Or sometimes you do, but whatever.

For more on Poetry Friday, I’ll point you to Chicken Spaghetti, who generally keeps track of the participating blogs. As for me, after a week of Mo-related entries, I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog already in progress. Oh, one more thing. KIRIBATI!

The Mo Willems Experience Part II: The Speech

We left MotherReader as she walked away from the book-signing desk, two books in her hands and Mo Willems’ “Rock on,” ringing in her ears. Now, back to the story.

I returned to the dinner section for another can of Diet Pepsi (’cause I certainly wasn’t wired enough), when I noticed the progression of people leaving the area. Realizing that Mo (I feel like I can call him that at this point in our relationship) was going to be speaking in the auditorium, and not in the room in which I was currently sitting, I beat a path to the correct room.

After distracting a couple of women in front of me (“What’s Brad Pitt doing here?”), I dived for the front row seats for me and my few other library colleagues. I probably did not need to employ extreme measures to secure the well-positioned seat, as most of the audience seemed to think they were in a class of some sort and were positioning themselves towards the back. It’s strange, because I have never seen a public speaker employ a test at the end.

The director of something and the liaison from something else talked about something... and then they introduced the guest of honor. I was very polite and professional in my front-row seat, only winking at him three times during his speech. Though, in retrospect, perhaps holding up the I LOVE YOU MO!!! sign was a little over the top...

No, come on, I paid attention to his speech like all the normal people there. And he is a fantastic speaker, which didn’t really surprise me. He was funny, and warm, and interesting, and personal, and several more adjectives that fail me now. The presentation was for child care providers in the county, with the idea of encouraging them to read to the kids in their care. Mo talked about the partnership between the author and readers (we’re partners!) by which the reader needs to share the books with the child, and the author needs to write the books to be read. He encouraged the audience to “play your books.”

As an example for how to share a book (though he never said that), he read to us from Leonardo the Terrible Monster, Knuffle Bunny, and Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late. As he read, he pointed out some things on the pages. Sometimes it was what the kids might point out. Sometimes it was something he wanted to share, like how the pictures get progressively darker in Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late. It was amazing to hear him read his own books, with his inflections, his interpretations. Can you blame me for throwing my unmentionables on stage?

No, come on, I listened with rapt attention like everyone else — many of whom were hearing his books for the first time. It was inspiring and engaging, especially as a room full of adults yelled, “NO!” at the pigeon.

It was halfway through his presentation that I remembered that I might want to take a few notes for reference for the blog. Now, since I left college, I don’t take notes, like... ever. I don’t write my booktalks, I don’t jot things down in meetings, I don’t even make a grocery list. So my notes are a little... cryptic. A great writer would take these notes and weave them together in a cohesive piece bringing you along for the ride that is a Mo Willems speech. I will, however, say, “Umm, here they are.”

Knuffle Bunny
The K is pronounced as a hard K; it is not silent. Though Mo says you can read it however you want, he was surprised that we decided to leave the K sound out.

End pages mean something
I believe I meant to convey that the end pages of his books are part of his stories, even in Leonardo, where the end pages are dark. In that case, the pages are the darkened movie theater before the titles show on screen.

Best line in K written by wife
Quick — what’s the best line in Knuffle Bunny? For me, and many others, it is “She went boneless,” with the accompanying illustration. Mo told us that his wife wrote this line.

Series of easy readers
He is working on a series of easy readers for which he needs to use a controlled vocabulary. He uses words and phrases in his pictures books that may be more of a challenge for the children listening, but he doesn’t use a particular set of words in writing them.

Leave som for reade brin
This seems to have been “Leave something in the book for readers to bring to the experience,” but I tore off part of the page to give my address to a colleague. Mo talked about how he cuts his text down and down again, so that in using the minimum number of words needed, the reader can bring the maximum to the experience of the book. I think that is my phrasing, not Mo’s, but if you are reading, Mo, you are welcome to use it.

Cartoonists are athletes training muscles to draw
At the end of the presentation he encouraged us to “infringe on his copyright” by learning to draw the pigeon. He reminded us that everyone, every child can create art because art is never “wrong.” “You can sing wrong notes, but you can’t make wrong art,” he told us (I may be paraphrasing slightly). But getting better at drawing takes practice, and in that, cartoonists are athletes training their muscles to draw.

He also reminded us that all kids are authors, that every kid can tell a story. He gets story ideas all the time for his pigeon. His current favorite was from a talk in New Orleans, where he lived for a while: Don’t Let the Pigeon Run FEMA. Or alternatively, LET the Pigeon Run FEMA.

That’s what I can remember with any accuracy whatsoever. For more information about Mo Willems and his books, give his website a visit.

You will be proud to hear that, as we the audience left, I neither shouted out his name nor rushed the podium. I left most quietly, got in my car, and promptly got lost as I was thinking more about the evening then my driving.

I came home and told my husband about the event, even using the word “stoked” at one point, which just drives home exactly how “stoked” I must have been. When I told him about ambushing Mo Willems outside the restroom,
he said, “That is so you.”

“How is that me?” I asked.

“Remember when you met that guy from the video I did at work, and you told him that you thought you might be just a little bit in love with him?” he replied.

“Oh. Yeah. Well, I didn’t tell Mo Willems that I was a little bit in love with him,” I responded.

And as he turned away, I added, “... yet.

The Mo Willems Experience

Before we begin, please secure all personal items and keep your hands and feet inside the Mo Willems Experience at all times.

It came to pass that my very large and rich county put together an Early Literacy Resource Session for the family child care providers in the area — the idea being that they would be fed, would pick up some information about the county resources, would get some free books, and would listen to the speech of a famous children’s author. At the last minute, the department director extended the invitation to the public libraries. What an amazing opportunity.

I arrived at the venue like a teenager at a rock concert, though without the skintight pants or the beer hidden in my bag. I proceeded to explain to everyone who looked marginally official that I was there to hear Mo Willems and to get my books signed, my hope being that I would find the one person in charge who would be delighted to personally introduce me to the man of the hour and perhaps get the two of us cocktails while we talked.

This scenario was perhaps a little overly optimistic.

Mo Willems arrived and was greeted by the director, who would be the one person I had not personally regaled with my tale of admiration. I hung around nearby, with the idea that he would just know somehow that he should meet me. Or maybe he would turn and say, “Cute purse.” You never know.

Director lady whisked Mo away, and my chance for personal contact was gone. Might as well use the facilities before the dinner and speech. As I left the restroom, momentary disoriented as to the direction back to the conference room, I turned to see the man himself.

And boy, was he cute.

“You’re Mo Willems,” I said cleverly, since famous children’s book authors often forget their own names.

“I am,” he said, reaching over to shake my hand (what a gentleman).

“I’m Lois Lane [insert my real name there] and I am a big fan of yours,” I said.

“Thanks. Thanks a lot,” he said. (Okay, time to come up with something different, something that puts me on a different level.)

“So, how does it feel being named one of the hottest men in children’s literature?” I said (or something like that).

(No, no you didn’t, says Fuse#8. Oh yes I did, I say.)

He told me how he protested that designation, and I told him how I saw his return letter. He said something about another children’s author; I was busy thinking that he really was that hot, and can I say that? Then we arrived at the room where he was to be sequestered and director lady was shooting daggers at me with her eyes while simultaneously smiling. Ignoring her, I went in for the kill.

“I also have a blog on kids’ lit. MotherReader. Have you seen it?” I said, shamelessly.

“I don’t recall,” he said, “I do know about the blogs on kids books. Like Chicken Spaghetti?” (He knows your blog C.S.!)

“Yeah, we link to each other, just like Fuse#8. I reviewed your new book and mentioned that the first book was discount priced at Amazon.com for $5.99,” I said, shamelessly.

“That’s a bargain,” he said, getting herded into the waiting area by director lady.

“I’ll be in line to get my books signed. Nice talking to you [nice stalking you],” I said, shamelessly.

I left the hall to pick up some dinner for myself, giving the thumbs-up sign to the fourteen women I had blathered to about meeting Mo. As I was finishing, I realized that he was signing books upstairs. I grabbed my books and waited in line. He seemed very chatty with the people getting their books signed, which is even more sweet when you realize that before that evening, most of them didn’t know who he was. I got to the front of the line with my two books and the names of my two daughters on a post-it note, to make it easier for him to personalize the signature.

“Hi, could you sign one for each of my daughters please?” I said. “We just love your books.”

“Sure. Thanks,” he said.

“Do you mind if I take a picture for my blog while you sign?” I said, camera at the ready.

“Just as long as I don’t have to look up at the flash,” he said

Mo Willems!“No problem. Thanks,” I said, taking the picture quickly and putting away my camera.

“Oh, and in case you are interested, I wrote down my web address if you want to come by and check it out,” I said, shamelessly giving him a post-it note. This is where I may or may not have also passed him a twenty. It’s a little hazy.

“Oh, good. I think these blogs for children’s books are great,” he said, putting my post-it to the side of the not-being-thrown-out post-its, and perhaps pocketing the twenty. We’ll never know, will we?

“Well, thanks again,” I said, cheerfully. For I had two signed books with little hand-drawn pigeons, a photo in the camera, and I had given him my website. Brazen as a hussy. Yeah, pretty much, but I can live with that. Because there remains the chance that Mo Willems, children’s author extraordonaire, may visit my site. Maybe he’ll comment. Maybe he’ll see in my sharp writing and humorous style, a kindred spirit. He’ll throw an email my way. He come to the party for my first book on the children’s literature scene. And we’ll trace it all back to this moment.

Or I’ll have an amusing little story about how I accosted Mo Willems outside the restrooms, opened with the hot men line, and plugged my blog shamelessly. Shame. Less. Ly.

Tomorrow, The Mo Willems Speech as interpreted by the lady in the front row.

Blog Housekeeping

While you wait for the Mo Willems post (vote for your favorite opening, cause I’m waiting), peruse some ideas that I am tidying up.

Close QuartersIf you followed my entrance into the world of film — short, quickly-made film, that is — you may wonder about the results of the contest. Well, we were not chosen for the second screening of the Best of The 48 Hour Film Project. Bummer. However, we know of another good film that didn’t make it, and, as the contest coordinators tell us, judging art is subjective. We learned a lot in making our film, we had a great time, and it’s the process that’s important. Or so the losers would have you believe. If you would like to see our film, particularly if you have high-speed Internet, pop by Tohubohu Productions.

If you followed my angst over my first grader’s trouble in school, you may remember that I raved about her vocal and musical ability. She made up a little song that we recorded and you can listen to it and know that I am not just making this up. She could be the next American Idol. Junior.

If you read about The Sex Lives Of Cannibals, you may be interested to know that I had an actual visitor from the small islands of Kiribati after putting up my post. I can only assume that someone has their “my blogs” space set up to search for references to Kiribati so he/she can check them out. So, apparently, even in the middle of nowhere you can get Internet access. I am writing Kiribati three more times so my South Seas visitor will have to come back. Kiribati! Kiribati! Kiribati!

If you read about Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love, you’ll know that I loved the book. This fresh, funny book saved me from the doldrums of young adult books I had been reading. I liked it so much that I almost did another post about it (which I guess you could say I am doing now) complimenting the character development, the feel for kids’ language, and the use of New York City as more than just a backdrop. Usually when books take place in New York, it could be any city, but this author captures the flavor of living in New York and uses it for her story. She also linked to me in reviewing her book, and I think she called me funny... or entertaining... or I am just remembering it that way. The author has her own blog on her book and more, if you want to stop by with some virtual cookies.

If you read about my booktalking, for books like Lowji Discovers America, Sweet Tooth, Fashion Kitty, and The Liberation of Gabriel King, you may remember that I did these booktalks for the children’s staff of my library system. All over my county librarians are searching for these booktalks, finding my site, and leaving. I don’t think they realize that this is a blog of one of their own. So, if not: IT’S ME IT’S ME IT’S ME! I don’t list my name here, though it wouldn’t be hard to find with some of my links. Okay? Now come back already.

I Am Absolutely Shameless

How should I start the post describing my meeting with Mo Willems?

Perhaps with accosting the poor man outside the restrooms and opening with a reference to Fuse#8’s designation of him as a hot man of children’s literature (hey, Fusie, no one said that I couldn’t use it as an opener).

Perhaps with the description of the venue where I found myself with an astonishing number of people who were there to hear Mo Willems speak, yet probably didn’t know who Mo Willems was.

Perhaps with one of my more personal, rambling, stories whereby I describe how I got lost leaving said venue — a place I have been many times before — because I couldn’t stop thinking about how this would play on my blog.

Perhaps with giving him my website address as he signed my children’s books, and the possibility that I may have slipped him twenty bucks to stop by soon.

I know, say it with me, shameless.

I am going to let the evening gel in my mind. Feel free to vote on my potential openings and tomorrow I will present The Mo Willems Experience.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals, or What’s In a Title?

I am a sucker for a good title, as I have mentioned before.

Sometimes a good title really outlines the content of the book. This is the case with my favorite adult funny book, Things My Girlfriend And I Have Argued About.

Or for one of my favorite kids’ books, How I Became a Writer and Oggie Learned to Drive.

Or the official White House briefing, Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S. But that’s for another blog.

The Sex Lives of CannibalsI was compelled to pick up The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific based solely on the title alone. How could I resist? What wonderful luck that it also happened to be an incredibly interesting and — my highest praise — funny book. It’s just that the title doesn’t really have anything to do with the book. I know, because I meant to skim it so that I could verify that fact, but I ended up rereading the whole book (I think I first picked it up some time last year). And you know what? I am glad I did, because I found it just as funny, just as fascinating, the second time around.

Troost was twenty-six when he decided to join his girlfriend on an island in the Pacific. The island was Tarawa. Never heard of it, right? How about the larger country of Kiribati. Still no? Then you can understand just how isolated this island is from the rest of the world. The author’s girlfriend was there to help the government with the health of the natives on the island. He was there to write the great American novel, but instead found himself writing about his two years in the middle of nowhere.

Most travel writers wax poetic about the lovely natives and the beautiful land and the peaceful existence. Not Troost. This guy tells it like he sees it, as a young man on an island where there is trash and crap (literally) everywhere, because on a tiny island in the South Pacific there is nowhere for the trash and crap to go. The native I-Kiribati have their own cultural norms that stand directly against their own progress. For instance, the custom of bubuti, whereby an I-Kiribati will go up to another and say, “I bubuti you your goat,” and the person hands over their goat. Now the next day that person, presumably, could go to the first and bubuti his chicken. But you can see how no one wants to advance past their village friends because they would just have to give it away again. Fascinating. They live in some of the richest tuna fishing waters in the world, but their government has leased the fishing rights to other countries for a pittance. Amazing. Coconut trees are the only food-producing plant that grows on a coral atoll in the middle of nowhere, so the average I-Kiribati eats about 400 pounds of fish a year — which they generally catch without a fishing pole, but just a line and hook thrown in the ocean. Unbelievable.

Though Troost is often harsh in his description of his new, temporary home, he isn’t disrespectful of the people who live there or their history. He is more appalled, in fact, by what encroaching “civilization” has done to these poor islands. Troost does give tribute the the beauty of the islands, the impressive glory of the Pacific ocean, and the warmth of the people. Otherwise, the book would read as pretty snide. But he never shirks from reporting the deprivation and the challenges of living in this forgotten part of the world, and he does it, remarkably, with humor and style.

So, I’ve had a bad couple of days. My kid called home crying over something that doesn’t seem to be her fault. I’m feeling a bit unappreciated in my job. Then, my same kid gets sick on Friday night, making it impossible for her to go to the Baltimore aquarium with her Brownie troop — a trip she has looked forward to for six months. I was up all night with her that night, and then Saturday morning had a birthday party (on the down-low) for her sister. Then feeling a little sicky myself, I started on Sunday to prepare the oldest’s room to paint, only to find out that the border won’t just peel off like it did in her sister’s room. Oh, no. This one is going to take a chemical suitable for warfare to get this puppy off, and delay the beginning of the actual painting until 8:00 Sunday night. Did I mention that everything the oldest girl owns is piled in the room of the youngest girl, making it impossible for either girl to use their rooms until the painting is complete? I’m feeling a bit put upon.

My point being, if it feels like life is crashing down around you, what better way to break out of your funk then reading about people for whom electricity, clean water, food variety, and books — yes, even books — are luxuries.

Square Peg, Round Hole

I’ve been waiting for the funny to pop in about my original Bad Day. Hmmm. Not yet. Here goes anyway. I warn you, it is long, unamusing, and only marginally book/library related. Read at your own risk.

On Thursday morning while I was sitting down to write an entry for you lovely people — an entry sure to have rocked the world of children’s literature as we know it, but oh, well — I received a call from my daughter’s school. Actually, I should say I received a call from my daughter, a crying, sad little call of a first grader. She asked if I could bring a paper from home to school. Of course I could, but why, I asked. She couldn’t answer me. Her teacher got on the phone to say that she had warned my daughter that she needed to return her work to school and that she would have to call home if she forgot it again. The teacher informed me that my first grader had not been doing her work in class and this was really a problem. I told her I would bring the paper right over, even though it wasn’t finished.

I went over to the school, a lump in my throat. All year we have had a problem with our first grader getting her work done in class, and all year the teacher has turned it over to me to solve. That only being a problem because I am not in school with my daughter and thus am unable to help her. I have talked and talked to my youngest, to no avail, and had finally arrived at my own conclusions. One, that my daughter is immature for her age, and I would like to give her a little chance to catch up to her peers. Two, that the teacher seemed unable to work with her, so perhaps next year’s teacher would be more helpful. And three, that it seemed that the current teacher didn’t much like my daughter, and my daughter, being perceptive, could tell that, and that was now part of the problem. My decision, with one month left to go of school, was to get her through this year and start fresh in second grade. She knows the material, she isn’t disruptive, and she’s very bright. If the problems continue, we can look at Attention Deficit Disorder, but so many of the characteristics don’t fit her, that I am reluctant to label her as such.

If the class is working along together, she is fine. She can pay attention to storytime, art, music, or other activities. But if she is given thirty minutes to work on her journal or copy sentences off the board, she cannot do it. Unstructured time is impossible for her to handle. She is a little talkative, but not disruptive. She is a little silly, but tries very hard to behave. And something that will not be counted by any school system at all, she is an incredible singer. I mean, truly unbelievable. And she has a musical instinct for making up songs that blows my mind. If someone could write her lyrics, I swear, some of her tunes could be on pop stations today.

But this talented, sweet, bright little girl had to call me crying because she hadn’t finished her work in class like all the other kids. So, I went to school to turn in her work and asked to talk to the school counselor. She was unavailable. However, I found, if a mother looks like she is about to cry, the school counselor will call you at home almost immediately. She talked to the teacher, and we made an appointment for next week.

So, I went to work upset that somehow I had failed my daughter. I went to work on the heels of my lackluster review. And the two became connected in my mind in a very real way. We were, both of us, square pegs trying to fit in round holes.

My daughter is bright, creative, and kind. She cannot write her sentences down in the time allowed. She could probably sing her journal entries to the class in a way that would bring tears to the eyes of her teachers. She has an incredible amount to offer, but so far, this year, it can’t be recognized.

I am also bright, creative, and kind. I cannot always be on time. I also could probably sing my reference interviews in a way that would bring tears to the eyes of our patrons. I have an incredible amount to offer, but so far, this year, it can’t be recognized.

I could homeschool my daughter, but she would miss all the school setting has to offer.

I could quit my job, but I would miss all the library has to offer.

Or we can both muddle through the parts where we don’t fit in, try hard to remember the ways in which we are special, and hope that at some point schools and bureaucracies will be able to see the joys in being different.

What’s In a Name?

Yesterday was a Bad Day. I didn’t feel like writing until I was able to find the circumstances of that Bad Day amusing. That time has not yet come (at least not for all aspects of the Bad Day), but some parts are turning about for me.

On Wednesday, I received a lackluster job performance review. I love the word lackluster. Along with paradigm, trifecta, and juxtaposition, it is one of my favorite words to use — but I digress (I like digress too). It is hard to receive a lackluster review when you think of yourself as a children’s librarian extraordinaire. But there are things that matter to the library system, things like “punctuality” and “in-depth knowledge of library resources” that do not come naturally to me. The first because I have trouble always being exactly on time — though I do make up for it by always being available to cover for other people. The second is a problem because I haven’t been doing this job for ten years to acquire expert reference skills. I do have expert reader’s advisory skills, given that I read a couple hundred children’s literature books and like a thousand picture books a year. Shame that doesn’t seem so much to be included in the review.

Anyhow, this lackluster review contributed to my malaise yesterday (oh, I like malaise too) and made it hard to pull together books for my L program today. Every week we have a program on Friday focusing on a letter of the alphabet — the idea being that it is broad enough to be something experienced children’s librarians could do without a lot of fuss. Being experienced and well-read, I should have been able to pull my favorite L books together easily — except that I was in a funk and nothing appealed to me. Where was the challenge? Where was the fun?

Louie's GooseUntil I found Louie’s Goose, by H.M. Ehrlich. This is a cute, bright, picture book about a boy who loves a stuffed goose and takes it everywhere, even to the beach. But Louie forgets about Rosie (the goose) and she gets swept out to the ocean and then promptly — before the reader can even get scared — gets dropped on the shore. Mommy can’t fix the wet and soggy Rosie, but Louie can. He hugs her and lets her rest on the blanket, and the sun dries her out. All better.

So what is so special about this book to change my mood, to make me feel like going on in the library profession? It is all in the name. In finding this book, I realized that there were several books with Louie in the title, and that is all I am reading today. Your regular (some would say normal) children’s librarian would use today’s L theme to read about lions, or lambs, or ladybugs. All lovely topics. But this lady with the lackluster review is going to do a program all about Louie.

On today’s program you’ll find Louie’s Search, by Ezra Jack Keats, Little Louie the Baby Bloomer, by Robert Kraus, and Looking for Uncle Louie on the Fourth of July, by Kathy Whitehead (given the current immigration brouhaha, a very appropriate choice about Latino families in Texas celebrating the birth of America). For songs today we will use “Skip to my Lou” and “Louie” sung to the tune of “Bingo.” (Did you think I was going with “Louie, Louie”? I tried to make it work, really I did.)

Oh, keep your punctuality, your superior reference interview skills, your creative use of library resources... Hold it. Stop right there. If my “All Louie, All the Time” program doesn’t qualify for creative use of library resources, then I don’t know what does.

A Whole New Level of Creepy

Just recently I wrote about books that make you go Awwwww. Who can resist those cuddly, wuddly, baby animals? And sometimes you see a book that makes you go Ohhhh. The illustrations in The Magical, Mystical, Marvelous Coat garner that reaction from me. They are just that breathtaking. Hey, I’ve even seen some wonderful books about bugs, bats, or guts that have made me go Ewwwwww!

But this might be the first time a book has made me go Holy crap.

Looking for something a little different in the creepy, freaky vein? Maybe a little Nightmare Before Christmas meets Coraline. Maybe you fear that your children’s nightmares are just too unimaginative and you want to add some drama.

Thirteen O'ClockWell, then, have I got the book for you.

Thirteen O’Clock is James Stimson’s first book, having worked before on film animation (including James and the Giant Peach). He has put together a story of a little girl in a normal house... except that the clock in the house counts to thirteen o’clock. Apparently, when your clock counts to thirteen, all the little weirdo frights and ghoulies come out to scare everybody. Unfortunately for them, the little girl is too giggly to be scared, so they all go outside to play.

Throughout the book, the text is awkward, the rhymes and rhythms inconsistent, which makes it hard to read. But it’s the pictures, man, the pictures, that take my Weird-Ass Picture Books designation to a whole new level.

My Two Cents

I’m in a quandary. Do I read new books that no one has discussed so that I may register my humble opinion? Or do I read the books that everyone else is suggesting so that I may benefit from their experience?

Or do I read the books that everyone else is suggesting and yet register my humble opinion? There we go.

GossamerI read Gossamer, by Lois Lowry, after Fuse #8’s glowing review, and was determined to add my own voice to the discussion. But apparently not before Blog From the Windowsill decided to look at this book today. And The New York Times. I need to work faster. Anyhow, I also loved the book. Lowry combines the very real (the abuse and subsequent foster care of an angry young boy) and the unreal (the tiny little dream-givers and the horrid nightmare-givers) in an excellent read. I especially love how the foster mom never appears shocked at the boy’s angry statements. What an oasis of calm.

WeedflowerFuse #8 also pointed me toward Weedflower, by Cynthia Kadohata, and with her good review gave me permission to read it. I did not like Kira-Kira and wasn’t sure whether to start this new book, but I trusted Fuse #8’s tag line (“If you hated Kira-Kira, you’ll LOVE Weedflower!”). It was a wonderful book showing how Sumiko and her family lived at an internment camp during World War II. Using a camp set on an Indian reservation was a great choice for the author, allowing the reader to see not just the mistreatment of the Japanese at this time, but of the Native Americans as well. A book well worth your time.

RulesSome kids’ lit blogger reviewed Rules, by Cynthia Lord; I just don’t know who. If you would like to make yourself known in the comments section, be my guest. I was won over when I saw the cover with a rubber duck floating above a goldfish. It seems that Catherine’s brother David likes to put toys in the fish tank, even though Catherine has made it one of his rules to keep toys out of the fish tank. David is autistic and making rules for him makes things easier for Catherine. Their relationship is well developed, and I felt like I was getting a real look at this condition from an author who knows (one of her two children is autistic). This is a great and sensitive read.

My Favorite Mommy Books Of All Time

Without thinking about it, I started the mommy track yesterday when I wrote about cute animal babies and their mommies. With Mother’s Day just around the corner, let’s continue with my Favorite Mommy Books Of All Time. If you are used to my sense of humor and quirkiness, this selection may surprise you. Let’s hope I’ve prepared you by getting all squishy over those adorable little animals.

On the Day You Were BornIt should be mandatory, I believe, for every pregnant woman to receive a copy of On the Day You Were Born at her shower. Or for Mother’s Day, perhaps. I will go so far as to say that it may not be possible to fully appreciate this book until you are a mother or expectant mother (or an especially sensitive father). With bright pictures, Debra Frasier charts the everyday wonder around us that makes it possible for all of us to live on this earth. Maybe this will be enough to move you, but wait, there’s still more. Maybe it will be the line “While you waited in darkness, tiny knees curled to chin...” that chokes you up. Personally, I can’t get to the end without tearing up. I’ll give you the ending here so you will rush out and buy this book for every mom you have ever known.
“On the day you were born, the Earth turned, the Moon pulled, the Sun flared, and, then, with a push, you slipped out of the dark quiet where suddenly you could hear... a circle of people singing with voices familiar and clear.

‘Welcome to the spinning world,’ the people sang, as they washed your new tiny hands.

‘Welcome to the green Earth,’ the people sang, as they wrapped your wet, slippery body.

And as they held you close they whispered into your open, curving ear,
‘We are so glad you’ve come!’”

I got choked up just writing that. And so you can bring this book out even as your kids get older, the back pages tell about the science behind the pages — migrating animals, spinning earth, flaming sun — bringing a whole other level to this book. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

Oh My Baby, Little OneMy next favorite book is also kind of sappy, but again, will strike a chord in moms who have taken their child to day care. I’ve seen many books that address the first day of preschool or school, but the implication is that once the first day is over everything is hunky dory. If you have taken a child to day care, especially a young child, you will know that is not the case. For weeks at a time your honey bunny will go to day care/preschool without a glance back. And just as you are feeling comfortable, along comes a period of whining, begging, and crying. And that’s just you. Your toddler or preschooler is doing that and clinging to your leg with some kind of death grip. You pry your child off, hand her to the teacher, and feel guilty as you drive away to work. There is almost no worse moment of angst for a parent. Unless you include when you go to pick up the child from day care, and SHE DOESN’T WANT TO LEAVE! Kids will drive you crazy.

Kathi Appelt must know what we go through, because she has written the perfect book for toddlers, preschoolers, and their anguished parents. In Oh My Baby, Little One, the mother hen drops her chick off at day care, reminding him that her love is with him all through the day. We watch him go through the familiar routine of school, but knowing that mommy always loves him. Different from most books of this type, we also see mom at work and how the child’s love stays with her also. Then at the end, we find that the best part of her day is coming back together. The message is sweet, the pictures are lovely, and there’s a surprise. In every picture, there is a heart — sometimes hidden, sometimes obvious — and it is fun to read the book and find the hearts together. This book got me and my daughters through some tough stages, so it has my complete recommendation.

When Mommy Was MadAll right, with this last book recommendation you will feel like you know me again, because it is a little different, starting with the title, When Mommy Was Mad. Lynne Jonell really knows how to capture the feeling of frustration in a household when everyone is having a bad day. In her story, Mommy is in a grumpy mood, and the two brothers try to figure out what they did wrong. They try to fix it, but Mommy is still in a bad mood even when the youngest shows her a picture of a porcupine (borkupine) he made. He loses it with a tantrum and starts “borking” mom because he is a “borkupine.” She breaks out of her mood, “smoothes down the prickles,” and they all cuddle. I love the dual message in this book, that sometimes moms are just in a bad mood, and that moms need to remember that their bad moods affect their kids. What a great way to explain to kids that moms are actually just people who have good days and bad days. I read this book at my storytimes every chance I get.

So there, I have revealed that I am a big softy and given out three perfect books to share for Mother’s Day, or to give as a gift for that new/newish mom you love. I’ll spend my Mother’s Day reading grown-up books and avoiding all work related to the raising of children. Ironic, isn’t it.

More Things That Make You Go Awwwwwww

I had fully intended this set of books to be part of my earlier post. However, as I was writing that entry, I realized that all of my coworkers were leaving for our volunteer luncheon. Oops. I wrapped up quickly and zipped out the door, leaving behind these cutie, cutesie, cute books. And it truly looks like the baby seal on the front cover was very hurt by my abandonment. Sorry, little baby white seal.

Animal BabiesIf you can’t get enough of precious animal photos, consider the Animal Babies series. (I’m linking to the baby seal one there, because it is the sweetest cover, though I am partial to Animal Babies in Grasslands.) These books are for sharing with the youngest readers as they have very few words, and certainly no story. There is a description of the baby animal and the continual question “Who is my mommy?” On the next page we learn the proper name of the baby (“My mommy is an elephant and I am her calf.”) and something about the animal. Sometime the animal baby is very obvious (like an elephant), but sometimes not (like a tapir).

This would also be a nice series to share with a beginning reader, but pace yourself or you might just overdose on cuteness.

Books to Avoid

The Earth Dragon AwakesSome books should come with a warning: Avoid this book at all costs. Unfortunately, Laurence Yep has written such a book with The Earth Dragon Awakes.

While, in theory, it would be interesting to read about the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 with fictional characters to set up the story, in reality, the book stinks. Alternating chapters cover two families, one rich and white, one poor and Chinese. The Chinese family are servants to the rich family, but really they all care about each other so very much. Having two families in the story allows the author to show us the destruction from two sides of the city. However, since the families are connected only at the beginning and the end, it seems a bit contrived. There are chapters throughout the book that explain what was going on all around the city, but continuing to use the Chinese imagery (like the title, “Earth Dragons Awakes”) is not helpful nor does it set the mood. Another annoying aspect is the dramatic writing in these chapters. Example: “People have forgotten how bad they [earthquakes] can be. But they will soon remember.” Blech. For my vote, the most annoying aspect of the story was the mother’s obsession with bringing umbrellas everywhere and how that pathetic little idea gets played in the book over and over again.

Some story ideas are not meant to be expanded. Just look at any movie based on a Saturday Night Live skit if you need an example. Such is the case with the story of the ugly duckling. When you write it out this way it sounds cute:

A duckling is born that doesn’t look like the others. He is teased and called ugly. But he grows up to be the most beautiful creature of all, a swan.

There, didn’t that sound sweet? It’s a wonderful analogy for those times in childhood when we feel like we don’t fit in. What a wonderful idea that one day we may grow into something special.

UglyUnfortunately, when you expand the idea, like in Donna Napoli’s new book Ugly, it doesn’t sound so cute anymore. Actually, it has got a little Edward Tulane going on. (Wouldn’t you love it if “Tulane” caught on to represent an overload of hardships? Like, “That book pulled a total Tulane on me.”) In fact, at Amazon the book is paired with Edward Tulane, in case you want to totally depress your child one weekend.

Ugly the duckling is just about pecked to death by other ducks on the pond, putting the other ducklings in danger. Mother Duck feels she has no choice but to kick Ugly out of the nest to survive on his own. When he tries to chase after her the next day, he is attacked by other ducks who try to drown him. Nice. He escapes and finds himself face to face with an fighting wallaby (did I mention this is set in Tasmania?), who gives him a decent pounding before starting a friendship. That friendship is cut short as the wallaby is attacked in the night and most likely eaten. Ugly makes friends with a wombat, but can’t stand living in burrows, so he befriends some geese, who promptly get shot. And I’m not even done yet, but I’m too tired to go on. In the end, of course, he finally finds a family of sorts and becomes beautiful at last. If only I could say the same for this story.

Things That Make You Go Awwwwwwww

Remember when you could pull an all-nighter in college, go to a day full of classes, a kegger that night, and you felt just fine? Me neither. I am still a little off from my weekend without sleep, most noted by my lack of reading ability. I’m finding this week’s People magazine to be a little too deep.

A Pair of Polar BearsSo, picture books it is, folks. In this case the very cute book A Pair of Polar Bears: Twin Cubs Find a Home at the San Diego Zoo, by Joanne Ryder. The nonfiction story follows the pair of orphaned polar bears in their new home at the San Diego Zoo. The pictures are absolutely adorable. Let me hear you say Awwwwwwwww. But what I like best about this book are the two layers of text throughout. The most basic story is told in the bold text and the details are in smaller italic text. This wonderful invention gives parents the option of chosing at what level to read this book, depending on the age of their children or how much time is left before bedtime.

The same structure, and cute photos, were employed in the first book like this, Little Panda: The World Welcomes Hua Mei at the San Diego Zoo. I loved the idea then with a two- and a five-year-old, and I love it now five years later.

“Close Quarters”

Close QuartersHow was your weekend? Did you, for example, MAKE A MOVIE?

I will start at the beginning, for all those who wish to know how a group of ragtag cast and crew put together a short film in two days for the 48 Hour Film Project.

Bill (our director, not to mention my husband) and I went to the kickoff meeting at 7:00 on Friday night; a friend of ours (who had flown in from Chicago just to participate in this) met us there. When all the teams were present, we drew our genre out of a hat (literally). Each set of teams (ten to twelve per showing) drew a unique genre from a single group — so there would be one (and only one) of each kind during the screening. Each time “Musical or Western” was drawn, everyone cheered — either in support of the poor team that drew it, or in relief that it was now out of the hat for the rest of that set’s screening. As we talked during the drawing (we were in the “H” set), we talked about how the only one that would be really hard for us was “Drama.”

So, of course we drew Drama.

The “required elements” — all of which must appear in your finished film — for the D.C. contest were: A fire extinguisher (prop); “This is absolutely the last time.” (line); Tina or Tim Tate, Gay Glass Sculptor Extrordinaire (character). The audience groaned at that last one — the character is usually a little more conventional, like a photographer or rock star. We left the facility saying “What if it is the glass that’s gay, not the character? Like, ‘Doesn’t that glass sculpture look gay to you?’” Politically incorrect, perhaps, but probably no more so than sticking a caricature up on screen. We were off and running.

The three of us went to dinner, meeting up with another actor to write out the story. Unfortunately, our team had lost its original writer a few days before the event, so we had to team-write it.

Writing a seven-minute drama as a team is hard.

We were joined by another team member/actor at 11:00, and we were not nearly as far as we had hoped we would be. The five of us hashed out the story, and then the script until 4:00 in the morning. We went home to bed, only to get right back up at 7:00 to start filming at 9:00.

First problem Saturday morning: We were going to film the first scene outside, but there was loud construction going on two doors down. I made my first producer decision to film another scene inside and come back outside when the construction workers were at lunch. I walked over the construction site to confirm their lunch break. As soon as we finished that scene, I had everyone get set up outside and do run-throughs so we would be ready to go the minute the construction noise stopped. As our actors arrived, I briefed them on the scenes and background story, and I stood in for actors in scenes before they arrived. I went over their lines when they weren’t sure we were getting our point across. I made suggestions to the director about acting choices or additional lines (we were still rewriting on the fly). I kept track of which actors were arriving at what times and which actors needed to leave sooner. I made sure the sets were ready (we filmed in an actor’s townhouse and it needed some “girling up”). I kept us on schedule, making sure the actors were rehearsing their next scene while another scene was being filmed. And, of course, I did the only two jobs Bill was able to pin down for me as a producer — get the release forms signed and make sure we had lunch.

The previous paragraph was all about me (because I had shared my concern that I wouldn’t know what to do), but I don’t mean to imply that I was the only one keeping things together. Far from it. The actors were top-notch, bringing the emotion to the film that we needed from them — including some very hard... well, dramatic scenes. Our actors were incredible. Our crew was totally on the ball, knowing what we needed before we even realized that we needed it. Our director of photography had our vision in mind for every shot, and framed it all flawlessly. As we did different takes, our script supervisors made detailed notes, so that in editing we could just go back to the best take right away and/or incorporate excellent pieces from other takes. Our editor started logging and capturing footage the moment it was available, and even started cutting together preliminary versions of the scenes. And, of course, our director knew the vision from the start and gave the actors positive feedback and constructive suggestions to get the absolute best out of each scene.

Our long night in writing the script turned out to be a crucial investment in the filming the next day. With three of the six actors there for the writing, they knew exactly what to do when we started filming. They knew the back story. They knew the point each scene was trying to make. They had made up half the lines themselves. The actual filming, which we had thought could go late into Saturday night, was over by 8:00. The actors went home, the crew went home, and Bill went to the office to put together a rough cut of the film to have ready for the morning’s editing. As everyone left, some at different parts of the day, I was pleased and proud to hear every one of them say how much fun it was. Because it was fun. Given our limited filming time, things never seemed frantic. And while there were disagreements about dialogue, it never came to the point of real conflict. The whole thing was so calm and pleasant and fun.

On Sunday it was down to Bill and our editor to put the piece together. Oh, and add sound effects, music, credits, and a title. As Bill and I drove in, we worried that we had lost the storyline for one character (thanks to the continually evolving script) and that it might be difficult for an audience to know who everyone was. When some people turned up in Bill“ office (where we were doing the final edit) first thing that morning to actually work, we ran the film by them to get some opinions. People liked it, but weren’t nailing the relationships like we wanted them to. I suggested another scene that took place at the beginning, that would help set up the story and recreate a little of the lost storyline. Bill was afraid it was too obvious, but was willing to give it a try. So at 11:00 on Sunday morning, we scripted a new scene — that would also set up the so-far elusive title — and went out with two actors and the director of photography to shoot it. I was now, by default, a director.

(Just as I was directing my first scene, there was a little child-care crisis. Do you think Steven Spielberg has to put up with that crap? It was resolved, thanks to some very helpful friends, allowing me to see the film through to the very end.)

We added the new scene to the beginning, amidst some controversy among the team. It was a little “on the nose,” but in the end, we decided that was better then having the audience confused at the end of the movie. We realized that in a full-length drama, you have time to subtly establish the characters and back story. But in a seven-minute drama, not so much.

After the scene was filmed, my job was mostly supportive. Checking in on the process, looking at the cuts for a second opinion, and keeping track of the time. Most important was keeping track of the time. We had said that we were going to pretend the movie was due at 7:00 so we wouldn’t have a last minute rush, but we needed every minute and did end up making a last-minute rush to get the film turned in by 7:30. We made it, with a couple minutes to spare, and toasted each other with a beer before heading home to get some rest.

This morning, as I caught my reflection in the mirror, I realized two things. One, that my left eyebrow was a little over-plucked. But two, that I was looking at the face of a real producer. And it felt good.

The film is “Close Quarters” and will be available on the Tohubohu Productions website after the screening (at the AFI Silver Theatre) on Friday, May 12th. (Of course, if you’re in the area, and would like to see it sooner, you can always come out to the premiere itself — we screen as part of the 9:30 show. The more the merrier!)

I Don’t Know What I Am Doing

I ask your indulgence as I write to exorcise my demons. Actually, in my youth I thought that the word was “exercise,” as if one was going to take the demons out for a jog. I think I like that way better.

This weekend I will serve as the producer for our film team’s participation in the 48 Hour Film Project, and I don’t know what I am doing. And I don’t say that in that modest way some people have, like “I don’t know what I’m doing. I just let the art speak through me.” No, I mean it in the “My exact duties and responsibilities are as yet unknown to me” way. So that’s a little worrisome.

My qualifications for this position are as follows:
  1. I can corral children at birthday parties and other structured activities without breaking a sweat. Now this is untrue. I just sweat on the inside. If I can find a way to reproduce this effect on other people, I’ll be rich. Though I am still working on Advil to adopt my Preventative Advil method as a campaign, with no luck. It is possible, however, that taking charge of children and taking charge of actors is a pretty close fit. (Just kidding, actors)

  2. I’ve participated in almost all of the films so far. This is true, but not as helpful as it might seem. I have suggested scenes, dialogue, and editing choices. I have also acted in a few. I have also hosted the crew as they took over my house, the hungry parasites. (Just kidding, crew)

  3. I said that I would do it. By far the most important reason I am producer of this film, is my simple — some would say naive — willingness to do it. No one else wanted to, and so it fell to me. Most women when they marry expect to lose their husbands to golf or watching sports. But not me, no, my husband developed a penchant for making short films — and by making, I mean writing, filming, editing, and scoring — in two days. That iPod is feeling pretty well-deserved right about now. In fact, it seems like I was bought off rather cheaply. (Just kidding, Bill)
I’ll be off this weekend on this little adventure. This no-sleep, fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants adventure. Are we crazy? No. Bat-shit crazy? Oh, yeah.

Weird-Ass Picture Books Follow-Up

I have a new contender for Weird-Ass Picture Book of the Year (I am so going to make that a new award for January). You can even find it yourself. Try searching “giant imaginary fish” in Google. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Clara and AshaLet me guess. You found the Eric Rohmann book Clara and Asha. I have to say, these days you really have to work hard to find a phrase that will not be represented on the Internet at least a thousand times. It is quite a sign of how quirky your book is when the main describing phrase has been used by no one. Kudos.

Clara is a little girl with a big imagination, big enough to accommodate one giant fish. When it is time for bed she opens her window and waits for Asha. The text is simple, and for pages and pages, actually nonexistent. The story is simple — Clara and Asha just play and fly together. The pictures are extraordinary. Weird-ass, that’s for sure, but extraordinary. You would think Clara’s black bullet-hole eyes might creep me out a bit, since that is one of my issues, but they are softened by the painting and mostly I tried not to think about it. Now, if the Caldecotts had just waited, they could have awarded Eric Rothmann for this book and avoided the whole My Friend Rabbit Incident of 2003.

Sleeping BobbyAlso, Sleeping Bobby came into our library yesterday, reminding me of one of my favorite weird-ass illustrators. How could I forget Giselle Potter? I respect that she is expressing her style of art, and I respect that many people like it. I happen not to be one of those people. I will continue to try to appreciate her art, but I can’t imagine a day when I will be a convert. This book is the latest of Will Osborne and Mary Pope Osborne’s series (what is with Mary Pope Osborne and series?) of picture books that take fairy tales and give them a female protagonist. I am with them in concept. After all, why not have a strong female as the main character? It works. But I think it works better in some tales than others. I liked Kate and the Beanstalk. But this book left me cold. Sleeping Beauty is one of the weaker fairy tales anyway, I mean, the prince (or in this case princess) happens to try to enter the castle when the curse ends, so the thorns part and allow entry. Wow, that was hard. My other problem with Giselle Potter for this story, is that beauty is integral to the story — a beautiful princess and handsome prince — but she does not make beautiful illustrations, per se.

Giselle Potter also illustrated of one of the strangest picture books of all time: Trudi and Pia, which was taken from Ursula Hegi’s (German) book Stones from the River. The original adult book, about a dwarf child growing up in wartime Germany, was very good, but I would never in a million years have said, “They should make a picture book out of this material.” Very, very strange. One could even say weird-ass.

Girl, Girl, Girl

I wanted to start making my way through my young adult book pile by reading about girls. If I had tried, I couldn’t have picked up three books that were more different.

The Weight of the SkyThe Weight of the Sky is a book in verse written by Lisa Ann Sandell. Sarah is a high school junior living in Pennsylvania who feels isolated by her religion. When her parents offer her the opportunity to visit Israel to explore her Jewish roots, she accepts after finding a kibbutz is one of the options. At the kibbutz she acclimates to a life of hard farm work and fitting into a new social group. As she looks around a place where she finally feels at home, she finds many new challenges. The tone is serious, but lightened somewhat by her crushes on two of the boys she meets. I don’t think this book will have a huge appeal, but I enjoyed it.

Looking for Lucy BuickNot so with Looking for Lucy Buick, by Rita Murphy. Lucy was found as a baby in the back seat of a Buick her Italian uncles won gambling. She is taken into the family, and is doted on my her aunties, but treated like a commodity by her uncles. An accident allows her to leave the grip of her family and make a new life in the Midwest. The book has some quirky characters — quirkier sounding on the inside cover then in the text itself — and spiritual visits from the dead aunties. The book was strange and unappealing. I didn’t believe in any of characters, nor particularly care what happened to them. I felt like the book was trying too hard to be interesting, but just failing at every turn.

Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in LoveIt is lucky that Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love, by Maryrose Wood, was next on my list to pick me up. The writing is in the style of a ninth-grader, but a smart, sharp, funny, ninth-grader. Felicia and her friends go to the Manhattan Free Children’s School, a free-spirited school, where they learn in their own way and develop crushes on boys. But Felicia takes it to the next level by involving the object of her crush to participate with her on a science fair experiment about love. This book is a light read, and much more innocent then the title would have you believe. However, the title could reel in those teens and get them to actually read the book, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Odds and Ends, Only One Book-Related

I was bleary-eyed this morning in a haze from allergies and not having my cup of coffee, and saw a book review of Vulnerable in Hearts: A Memoir of Fathers, Sons and Contact Bridge. I never thought of bridge as a contact sport. What the hell? Oh, it’s contract bridge. Ohhhhhh.

But speaking of hell, driving to work today I saw one of those signs in front of a church. You know the kind, with something clever and wise to say. This one, however, said “Friends don’t let friends go to hell.” I almost stopped to let the clergy know that they had missed the point of both these adorable little boards and the quote itself. “You see,” I would say, “these cute signs are supposed to be funny, yet wise. This statement you have is neither funny nor wise. Also, it is an adaptation of the original ‘Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.’ That was a serious message. Then it was taken over by the parodies, like ‘Friends don’t let friends vote Republican.’ Hah. That one still cracks me up. So, you see how your parody of the original isn’t really funny. Disturbing, not funny.”

Speaking of funny, I noticed that security guards at Target are called Asset Protection Specialists. They look like police with badges and everything, but with a new odd little name. Are we supposed to be reassured by the name? They’re not guards, you see, they are specialists in protecting assets. I laughed my asset off.

Speaking of assets, apparently my uncleanliness has its merits. A new study noted in The Washington Post finds that children who live their early years around more dust have less of a chance of developing asthma. The article title is “Drop that Vacuum.” So, maybe I did better for my children vacuuming bees than dirt. Who knew?

Weird-Ass Picture Books

As I process the new children’s books for my library, I look at a lot of picture books. Most of them are just shelf filler from the McDonald’s idea of publishing — if we produce a ton of picture books, then parents will buy ours rather then go to Wendy’s... I mean, read another publisher’s books. But as these books are not generally harmful to children, I just ignore them and continue my search for the true gems in the bunch.

Every once in a while, I will read a book that is strange. Just off in some way I can’t really describe. With uncanny accuracy, I will say to myself (or sometimes out loud, because I am one of those people), “This is a translation, isn’t it?” And lo and behold, it usually is from France, Russia, China, Germany (they make some weird-ass picture books)... somewhere other than here. Let me restate: It’s not that the books are bad. But they are noticeably different.

How to Be a Good DogSo when I read How to Be a Good Dog, I snooped further to see where this book came from, and I didn’t believe it. Gail Page lives in Brooksville, Maine. Really? Because she’s written and illustrated one weird-ass book. But in a good way.

It’s not the text that is strange, and that is usually what tips me off to books by “dem foreigners.” The text is pretty simple, and I used the book as a reading exercise for my seven-year-old. The story focuses on a dog that has trouble being good and is sent to live in the doghouse outside. The cat misses the dog, reads a book on dog training, and teaches the dog new tricks. The dog still messes up, but redeems himself in Mrs. Birdhead’s eyes with his newly learned doggie tricks — that look a little different from what a person might expect. So the story is fine. It’s the illustrations that are odd — again, in a good way. The cat in the the story stands up, washes dishes (why can’t I get my cats to do that?), and reads a book. The pet owner, Mrs. Birdhead, has a bird living in a nest on her head. Why? I don’t know. The dog in question also stands on his hind legs and sprawls in a chair like a person. I liked the book. I thought it was clever and funny. I just also thought it was German.

Bebe Goes ShoppingWith Bebé Goes Shopping, I knew it wasn’t German. Y’know, because of the Spanish in the actual title. Plus I know and love Susan Middleton Elya. She has written some interesting picture books that incorporate Spanish words in the context of the story, and I come down in favor of that practice. I still believe in my heart of hearts, that reading these few Spanish words will suddenly make me adept at learning the language — something that three years of classes couldn’t do for me. Tall order. But even more important is that kids are exposed to the idea of other languages. It’s the very diversity of the books that appeal to me. This isn’t so much of an issue for me in the suburbs of D.C., where my children hear seven different languages when I just drag them to the neighborhood Safeway. But having come from a part of Virginia where being from New Jersey set me apart, I’m going to guess that there are lots of places in the country for whom Dora the Explorer is the only exposure they get to speakers of other languages. Not that I’m going to knock Dora, who is responsible for more toddlers saying “Cuidado” then could have ever been predicted.

Back to Bebé. I liked the text, but the illustrations were a little weird for me. Bright and cartoony with a fifties feel about them, they weren’t my thing. The characters have those black, bullet eyes like in Olive, the Other Reindeer, which I always find a little creepy. The artist in this book gave the eyes a pinprick of white to indicate reflection, which in turn indicates life. But sometimes the pinprick was so small that the eyes had a strange blank feeling. That said, I did like the book, but in a run-off, I would put my money on a previous book of Elya’s, Oh No, Gotta Go!, where the family driving in town on Sunday looks desperately for a bathroom for the little girl. G. Brian Karas illustrated that book, and he rarely creeps me out. With his pictures, I mean. Maybe personally he would, but let’s assume not.

Do YOU Have a Hat?And you would think that finding two picture books with odd pictures would be enough for one day, but no, I found a third on the very same day. Eileen Spinelli joins the club with her new book Do YOU Have a Hat? The short poems in this book talk about regular hats and famous-people hats. The inside covers list the famous people and what they did. The book is cute, fun and educational. It also sports some weird-ass pictures. When the characters are facing forward, they look fine, not my style, but fine. When they are turned in profile or semi-profile, creeeeeepppyyyy. In the interests of full disclosure, I will say that I have a very low creep-out threshold, but still.

When I write my picture book — oh, and I will — I’m going illustrate it with stick figures, clip art, and ummm, popsicle sticks. You want to see strange? Bring it on.