105 Ways to Give a Book

Poetry Friday: Red Butterfly

Red ButterflyWhen a young Chinese princess is sent from her father’s kingdom to marry a king in a faraway land, she brings along the secret most treasured by her people. Red Butterfly: How a Princess Smuggled the Secret of Silk Out of China, by Deborah Noyes, brings the story to life with spare free verse, retold in the style of T’ang Dynasty poetry.
In my father’s kingdom
there are many splendors.
Most valued of all is silk.
Faraway rulers wish for China’s
wealth and call it
woven wind.

Silk, my red butterfly wings flapping,
is our people’s solemn secret,
thousands of moons old,
spun by a little worm that feeds
on the mulberry leaves
in Father’s gardens.
While I walk,
it whispers,
The text is lovely, if perhaps sometimes obscure for younger readers. The illustrations by Sophie Blackall are breathtaking, capturing a traditional Asian style and fusing it with an original interpretation. Months ago, the stunning cover of this book caught my eye, and the pages within did not disappoint. Simply a lovely book in art and word. It could be paired with The Silk Princess for a fuller story of one of China’s true gifts to the world.

Poetry Friday is hosted by Wild Rose Reader. Head over and see what else is in store for you there.

“All Roads Lead Away”

All Roads Lead AwayAt our screening last night we were able to show “All Roads Lead Away” in high definition — which looked awesome — and get lots of compliments from fellow filmmakers. Unfortunately, we did not take home any additional awards. While I am immensely proud of our film, I’ve learned not to be surprised by the judging. Sometimes a quirkier, but less sophisticated film wins. Sometimes it’s about “wow factor” — like if you have a team filming in Moscow while a crew films in DC. Impressive. Sometimes good acting seems particularly enhanced by the inclusion of many, many f-bombs.

Most importantly to us, Bill was excited about how many other directors and teams wanted to talk about our film, our story, and our process. It’s all good. We’ll continue to submit the movie to other competitions and make plans for the next film. I’ll bet that Bill will be putting up the winners with the links later at the Tohubohu blog if you want to see what won. Thanks to everyone for their support.

The Thursday Three XII

It’s still Thursday. Late, yes, but still Thursday.

Minji's SalonMinji’s Salon, by Eun-hee Choung
This book comes to Kane/Miller publishing from South Korea, but it could just as easily be set in any of the bustling Korean neighborhoods popping up in America. While her mother is getting her hair colored and styled, Minji follows suit with her own customer — a black dog — and in her own way. The child’s desire to do grown-up things is universal, and is captured well in this simply worded picture book. The illustrations are engaging, especially when capturing the expressions of Minji and her mom. Enjoyable, lovely book.

If Not for the Calico CatIf Not for the Calico Cat, written by Mary Blount Christian, illustrated by Sebastià Serra
A ship’s crew believes that a calico cat will bring them good luck on their sea journey. They load the silks, rice, tea, fans, vases, jade... and of course, a calico cat from the pier. But they may have picked the wrong cat. This fluffy pet just wants to find a nice place to rest, even if it means inadvertently causing chaos. There was a moment toward the conclusion of the book when I felt that it was going kind of dark, but all was okay in the end. At least for the cat. An interesting book on sea journeys and kitties with a little old Japanese flair thrown in for good measure.

The Silk PrincessThe Silk Princess, by Charles Santore
The Chinese legend of the discovery of silk is expanded in this picture book. A child sees a silkworm cocoon fall in hot tea and begin to unwind. She takes one end and walks away from her mother to see how far it stretches. She walks and walks and soon gets worn out and lies down. She continues her adventure, running away from a dragon and then meeting an old man who teaches her the way to use the silk. She takes the story — or dream — back to her mother and silk is introduced in China. The illustrations are beautiful and very detailed. There’s a lot of text, so a better story for older preschool or early school-age kids.

Fusion Stories

I’ve really blown this whole Asian Pacific Heritage Month thing. I started out well at work at least, updating a bibliography of newer kids’ books and setting up a display to highlight those titles. But on this blog here, bupkus. Not that there wasn’t great inspiration at Fusion Stories from some fellow bloggers. Not that I wasn’t reminded of Fusion Stories from Biblio File. Oh well. I’ll give it the last week of May, starting with a repeat of a post I did in February.

The Year of the RatIn Grace Lin’s book, The Year of the Rat, Pacy is celebrating Chinese New Year with her family and cousins and learning to expect a year of great changes. Unfortunately for Pacy, one of these changes will involve the loss of her best friend when Melody moves away. Pacy is distraught, and sees the new Chinese family that takes over Melody’s house as the enemy. It doesn’t help when the new boy, Dun-Wei, is instantly linked to her at school as the only other Asian kid there. She doesn’t want to like him and resents being thought of as friends just because they are both Chinese. Pacy also finds it hard to fall back into sync with her old friends, now that Melody is gone. How will she make it through this year of changes?

The Year of the Rat is as wonderful as Lin’s first book in this series, The Year of the Dog. The reader can identify with the childhood crisis of a best friend moving and can root for Pacy and Melody to keep up their friendship long distance. Lin weaves in elements of Taiwanese-American culture, including Pacy’s questions of identity as Chinese, Taiwanese, or American. For kids who want to learn more about customs — maybe after coming off a school-sponsored, Chinese New Year extravaganza — this book will take them far while being a pleasant journey all the way.

Our Movie ROCKS!

All Roads Lead AwayThe Best of the 48 Hour Film Project has been announced, and our movie, “All Roads Lead Away,” is among the finalists. We’ve known for a few days because they wanted to get the films in high definition (assuming they were shot that way). That means that we know — shhhh! — that we were actually among the top fourteen films selected.

Our movie will screen in the second group at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring. Tickets are available now, and will sell out. But if you’re nowhere near the DC area and are curious about the films in competition, Bill has found the films that are now viewable online. Watching even a few offers a real education about how hard it is to write, film, edit, and score a movie in two days. Check the list of finalists — with links to the films — at the Tohubohu Productions news blog. And if you haven’t watched “All Roads Lead Away” yet, written by Young Adult author Barry Lyga, well what are you waiting for? Go.

Poetry Friday: Dirt on My Shirt

BACAA Jeff Foxworthy poetry book? To the BACAmobile!!!

So Jeff Foxworthy wrote kid poetry. I don’t mean that he wrote poetry for kids — I mean that he wrote poetry like a kid. If you saw it on your child’s elementary school homework, you’d be mildly amused. But from an adult? Oh, not good. And there is no way on God’s green earth that the jacketflap should read, “In this hilarious collection of poems...” Folks, there’s nothing hilarious to see here. Move along.

Dirt on My ShirtDirt on My Shirt is a perfect example of a book that would have never, ever been published if not for the celebrity of the author. I find it particularly sad that it’s a book of poems — and I use that term loosely here — because parents don’t buy a lot of poetry books for their kids. So while the horrible Steve Martin ABC book will hopefully become a distant memory among the many other picture book choices, children may actually come away from Dirt on My Shirt with the idea that this is real poetry that, like, grown-ups write.

I couldn’t even find a favorite, or decide on the the worst of the batch to share. Grandparent’s day must be coming up soon, so I’ll go with these two selections.

It sounds kind of sappy, but it makes me happy
To sit in my granddaddy’s lap
He tickles, I giggles and wiggles like crazy
And sometimes we just like to nap


My grandma puts on lipstick
It’s bright red like a rose
Because she cannot see too well
It ends up on her nose!
By the way — no periods. That’s how all of the poems are. Apparently, they can end with an exclamation point or question mark, but not a period. Whatever. I give up.

The book is a freakin’ bestseller and the Amazon reviews are all good. A few people mention the poems as “simple” or “uninspired” but they don’t appear to see that as a problem. It breaks my heart that this piece of poetry crap will end up in the hands of readers instead of a dozen — a hundred other better choices. I guess Kelly’s right. It’s time for my own celebrity author blog. I’ll be Simon; anyone want to be Paula or Randy to balance my snark?

Poetry Friday Roundup is over at Becky’s Book Reviews. Head over to find some good poems.

The Thursday Three XI

All of today’s selections have a little Weird-Ass Picture Book (WAPB) going on, Not that being a WAPB is a bad thing necessarily, but it does mean a bit... different.

Ginger BearGinger Bear, by Mini Grey
A little boy makes a gingerbread bear, but doesn’t get a chance to eat her. So in the middle of the night, Ginger Bear wakes up and makes a whole bunch of decorated gingerbread friends and they have a gingerbread circus. But OH NO, a dog comes and eats and smashes all the friends in a gingerbready grisly scene. Ginger Bear decides to escape this place and be the star of the pastry shop display where she’ll never be eaten. It’s a totally bizarre story when you really think about it. Maybe even a WAPB for the story line.

Do Unto OttersDo Unto Otters: A Book About Manners, by Laurie Keller
The illustration style is not my favorite (bordering on WAPB), but I’d put that aside to say how much I liked this book. It is definitely a teaching book — in this case about manners — but it does so with so much humor that it’s fun for everyone. When a family of otters move in next to a rabbit, he’s all thrown off. “I don’t know anything about otters. What if we don’t get along?” But his friend has a old saying that helps: “Do Unto Otters as you would have otters do unto you.” As he explains it, “It simply means to treat otters the same way you’d like otters to treat you.” Of course, this includes being friendly, polite, honest, considerate, kind, cooperative, fair, and sharing. (Half of these are in the Girl Scout law, btw.) Each concept gets a funny example in the illustrations. Fun book for preschoolers and a bit above.

All Aboard!All Aboard! A Traveling Alphabet, by Bill Mayer
A WAPB illustration contender for 2008, bold and modern with the letters of the alphabet “hidden” in each picture. Some are easy to spot, some a little bit harder. The text and pictures relate to travel, transportation, and generally getting around. Sometimes it’s a bit of a stretch — E for Elephant? — but the visuals are always... um, interesting. Not my style, and I’m not sure how kid-friendly it is. I’ll be curious to hear other reactions to this book.

Kelly Bingham Interview: Shark Girl

I’m not usually a process person. I like a well-crafted book as much as the next book lover, but I don’t tend to dig into the details of the author’s work. But sometimes, I’m hit with a sense of wanting to know more. Shark Girl was one of those books where I wanted to know the how and why of it. Fortunately, there was a forum with the author on readergirlz. Unfortunately, I was unable to log in to ask my own questions. So I’ve asked Kelly Bingham some of my questions, and she answered them most honestly and graciously.

In the readergirlz forum, you mentioned that the attack on the Hawaiian surfer took place just as you finished your manuscript. What was that like for you and how did it affect your route to publication?

It was quite a shock. I couldn’t believe something had happened that I’d been writing about... something that seemed so freaky and random and “this would probably never happen in real life.”

I couldn’t see trying to sell my book so soon after Bethany Hamilton’s real-life loss and tragedy. So I put the book away. I wasn’t sure I’d ever do anything with it. A year later my teachers and writer friends urged me to get it out and send it off. I got it out, but felt it needed work. I spent a year revising it then mailed it off.

Even now I get people saying, “Oh, is that about that surfer girl? I read her book already.”

I want people to know this is fiction and not in any way an attempt to guess at what Bethany went through, and that it was written before her attack, and that the two stories are entirely unrelated. It’s one thing to make up a story like this, it’s another to actually live it, and I wouldn’t want to be disrespectful to Bethany.

You mentioned that you changed your style of writing for Shark Girl. What did you do differently and how did it change the book?

I began writing the story in prose, but found it difficult to get going. I couldn’t hear my character’s voice, and I felt too disconnected from her to really get rolling on the writing. My friend suggested I try writing it in poetry form and that was the answer!! Once I switched to poetry, the story came pouring out. Consequently, I feel I was better able to put more emotion into it than I would have if I’d continued plodding and poking, as I’d been doing.

I was impressed by the reactions of the people around Jane. You really presented a mini-universe of the many different ways that people respond when confronted with a terrible situation — and in showing that, gave readers a better understanding in a broader sense. Basically, that people are trying to help, even if it doesn’t always come out right. Can you tell us a little more about how you were able to relate to and capture that aspect of humanity for the book?

I think we’ve all been in situations where you want to help someone but don’t know what to say. So you say what comes from the heart... or maybe what you think you “should” say in some cases, and it seems to do no good, which is frustrating. Or you may inadvertently provoke a feeling of rejection from the person you are reaching out to. It’s a hard feeling to want to help and to mean well but feel that your help has done no good at all. I think that’s when we have to recognize not everything is about “us,” that sometimes, we can only give our heartfelt best, and then let it go. A person who is grieving should be allowed to grieve without having to make us feel better... and that may mean they aren’t receptive or quick to assure us that they appreciate what we’re trying to do. A time like that is really all about just being there for someone.

I learned this over time, and through personal loss of my own. Many years ago, I was expecting a baby, and I lost it. Many people reached out to help me with cards or phone calls. I have to admit, I was shocked at what some people said in an attempt to make me feel better. I heard reasons why I shouldn’t feel sad, why it was meant to be, how it wasn’t that big a deal since it was early, it happens to people all the time, and some pointed out that another baby would come along so not to worry.

They all meant well, of course. But those remarks only made me feel worse. The most meaningful, helpful words came from women who simply said, “I am sorry for your loss.” Or, “I am sorry for what you are going through, I know it must hurt.”

Afterwards, I did reflect on that quite a bit, and I guess it made its way to my book somewhat. People care, and they want to help. You have to to understand that if they say the wrong thing, it’s because in their mind, it’s not wrong. It’s helpful. They are sincerely trying to help.

Jane’s friends, and the public, they all want to help. But sometimes they address her situation from their own agenda, which is not necesarrily hers, or from their own point of view, which again, is not necessarily the same place in life that she is in.

I’ve thought about how everyone responds to tragedy in different ways. Some want to minimize it for you, others want to distance themselves, others want grim details... they seem drawn to it. Others want to just simply help if they can. In Jane’s case, one friend seemed to want to just change her enitrely and start over. But that was a misconception on Jane’s part... her friend wanted to help any way she could, and that was her way of doing so.

When did you start writing?

I always liked to write from a young age... I was a big creative writer all through elementary school and junior high and so on. I liked to make up stories and draw pictures, sometimes, to go with them. As an adult, I joined Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), went to conferences and workshops to learn more, and formed a writers’ group in my neighborhood. We’d critique each other’s work and inspire each other; it was lots of fun.

Where do you do your best thinking?

Usually when I am alone, like walking, grocery shopping, working out at the gym, taking a shower, things like that. Ideas tend to pop up when I’m doing something completely unrelated to writing. I’m grateful because I don’t do well when I sit down and try to solve a story problem on the spot. It’s like my brain works on it quietly without my knowledge and then after several days, boom, here comes the answer when (and where) I least expect it.

Who inspires you personally or professionally?

Good literature! I love a good book. And I guess I’m getting picky as I get older because it seems to me to be so much harder now to find books that I “just can’t put down,” whereas when I was younger, almost any book was fascinating.

Good stories inspire me, as do good films and poetic song lyrics and great music. And people, of course. There are so many inspirational people out there, if you just keep your eyes open you will run across many unsung heroes each day, or people behaving in ways you want to write about.

Why did you feel the need to write this book?

I don’t know. Once the idea came to me, it just seemed so compelling. I wanted to write about loss and suffering and coming out the other side in one piece. And once I started writing it in poetry form, I just wanted to keep going, I found it so enjoyable.

How does Shark Girl reflect your own life experiences?

I think we all know what it feels like to lose something, and to search for ourselves after such a loss. Finding out what we are made of, or redefining ourselves, seems to be a lifelong process. As far as Jane being an artist, that is something that naturally, I can relate to. I was a professional artist for many years before I decided to pursue writing full time.

A personalized, signed copy of Shark Girl will be part of the prize package for the 48 Hour Book Challenge, because I must get at least one more copy of this book out into the hands of a reader.

Kelly, thanks for coming by MotherReader and for your candid, honest answers. I’ll be looking forward to your next book.

Interview Alerts

May is my personal perfect storm, when all areas of my life need my complete attention. My obligations to kids, work, and home all collide with the force of a... well, something big. I find myself clinging to an internal checklist of events. 48 Hour Film Project? Check. Drama Club play? Check. Girl Scouts Awards ceremony? Check.

Sixth grader’s birthday? Almost check. Presents though, check. She’s getting some good stuff. Something electronic. A little Abercrombie — even though their email promotions creep me out. So much skin for a company selling clothes. A little jewelry — because what tween doesn’t need more earrings? And she’s getting a book she personally requested after reading the library copy. A book that she finished and immediately said, “We have got to buy this!” That book is The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex. I promise that soon we’ll be back with a co-review — or even a tri-review with my husband, who also loved the book.

You can win your own copy of The True Meaning of Smekday — with bonus Boov drawing — from the 48 Hour Book Challenge. Yes, it’s true: Adam Rex is donating two personalized books with an extra sketch for the prize packages. It’s enough to make my head explore. (That’s a “Smekday” joke.) There’s still time to sign up to participate, and also to donate prizes. (Sign up here and email me about prize contributions.)

For today, you can read his interview over at Fuse#8 as part of the Summer Blog Blast Tour, where dozens of authors visit blogs to talk about books.

Now as with most events, the ones who crash the party are like, totally the coolest. C’mon, we’ve all seen Wedding Crashers. So tomorrow you can check out my interview with Kelly Bingham, author of Shark Girl. Totally off the schedule, totally off the hook.

Comment, Connect, Create: How’s That Working Out for Me?

When I thought about resolutions at the beginning of the year, I came up with a mantra instead. Comment, Connect, Create. Now that it’s almost halfway through the year, how’s that working out for me?

Comment: I don’t do this every day, but I still go through my blogroll to visit different blogs, because I find I’m more likely to comment this way than when I browse through a blog reader. Time consuming? Yeah, but when I comment on a blog, I send a little message to the writer that I’m there and I care. Generally, I’ve done pretty well with this goal, even if there are periods when I’m less involved than other times. Since comments are down here, I’m thinking that I should comment more on my own blog.

Connect: I wanted to connect with the people who are on my Christmas card list. You know, the ones that you keep writing but never get around to seeing. Well, so far I haven’t seen mine either. I did make a good attempt in January to visit family and friends, but illness kept us home. I did take a trip to Las Vegas with my college girlfriends. Overall, I haven’t done as well as I thought I would in this area, so it’s good that I’m checking in on my goals so I can make some changes for the second half of the year.

Create: I wanted to write more, but also find opportunities to create in music and art and photography, and make it a priority. Other than my guest spot on Foreword, I haven’t done much writing. I’m hoping that the summer with its less busy schedule will open up some avenues for me. I have designed two photo books that I love — one for Niagara Falls and one for Las Vegas. I have dabbled in poetry with the help of Poetry Friday. I’ve been playing around with some artwork — not ready for prime time, but very fun. Oh, and I did help produce a short film. So, my verdict here is not bad, though I’m going to push some writing focus during the summer — Butt In Chair style.

Where are your goals taking you this year?
Category: 14 comments

Poetry Friday: My Dog May Be a Genius

My Dog May Be a GeniusJack Prelutsky is really milking this Children’s Poet Laureate thing for all it’s worth, don’t ya think? His new collection of poems, My Dog May Be a Genius has his new title and signature above the title. In fact the title looks like an afterthought. There’s also a big gold sticker from the Poetry Foundation on the book.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t crazy about the book. I’m not a big fan of nonsense poetry. I like the Shel Silverstein books as an exception, but I didn’t like his oldest (but now newest) book, Don’t Bump the Glump! for the same reason. It’s just wacky.

There’s an improv concept that everyone wants the sketch of the chicken in the bowling alley, but it’s actually harder to come up with something clever for the man in the office. The crazy jutxaposition of the elements is the joke, rather than the artist — improv or poet — adding insight and humor to the situation. So is the poem then funny or clever on its own merit, or is it more about thinking of the original oddity?

In this book, there aren’t enough of the more “normal” poems in the collection to keep it from going over the top. And when there is a nice, almost moving poem about having a place to go to inside yourself, it’s followed by “Burt the Burper,” which ruins the mood. But that’s probably the point. The only poem I really liked is the title poem. It’s more about an everyday thing. It also hits on an personal note, since I can’t understand anything that people spell.
My dog may be a genius,
and in fact, there’s little doubt.
He recognizes many words,
unless I spell them out.
If I so much as whisper “walk,”
he hurries off at once
to fetch his leash... it’s evident
my dog is not a dunce.

I can’t say “food” in front of him,
I spell f-o-o-d,
and he goes wild unless I spell
his t-r-e-a-t.
But recently this tactic
isn’t working out too well.
I think my d-o-g has learned
to s-p-e-l-l.
I know lots of people will like this book for its absurdity, and that’s okay. I just wish Prelutsky had taken the opportunity of his title and his talent to mix in a few more subtle poems and introduce children to a greater range of expression.

The Poetry Friday round-up is over at Two Writing Teachers.

The Thursday Three X

Tiger's StoryTiger’s Story, by Harriet Blackford and Manja Stojic
A gentle, storylike introduction to the life of a tiger. Lovely pictures (Manja Stojic, duh) in bright colors make the book a delight to look at. The text hovers between being a fact book and a story, conveying just enough information for younger readers. Can I mention the pretty pictures again?

Wolf's Coming!Wolf’s Coming! by Joe Kulka
There’s a sense of foreboding in the text and pictures as a wolf is getting closer and closer to the other animals. But kids can observe the hints that maybe all’s not what it seems. The end is a nice payoff, but maybe not enough to make the book great. It’s still a good storytime book for preschool-age kids. Oh, or a book in a preschool that could be read on someone’s special day. The book has received five stars from all eleven Amazon reviews, so it’s definitely working out for parents and kids.

Smash! Crash!Smash! Crash! written by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by David Shannon, Loren Long, David Gordon
From the jacket: “His work as an elementary school teacher and as founder of a literacy initiative for boys (www.guysread.com) drove him to create Trucktown, a crazy, fun action series for the youngest readers.” So I guess we can expect more titles if it’s a series at work. In this book two trucks, Jack Truck and Dump Truck Dan, are best friends and they like to SMASH and CRASH whenever they can. It’s not always the right time to SMASH and CRASH, and sometimes they leave things worse off for the other trucks, but at the end their skills come in perfectly. The book did nothing for me, but I’ll be interested to see how it plays with boys. With all the crashing and smashing, I suspect it will be a hit.

Brief Interruption

Worldwide, things have pretty much sucked lately. The cyclone and flooding in Burma. The devastating earthquake in China. The fierce tornados in the United States. The food crisis in many, many countries around the world. It’s overwhelming in its tragedy.

Then there are the racist incidents that Obama backers have faced on the campaign trail. The horrible treatment of immigrants in detention. And — let’s say it — gas prices.

It’s times like these that the stories on Yahoo’s “Featured” tab have got to get me out of my funk. Usually it’s the content that can break the mood — the Dancing with the Stars results or the live-action Fraggle Rock movie option — but I’m happiest when the headlines themselves bring it home. Because what says it better than this:

Vatican: Belief in aliens OK

I don’t even care what the article says — I could die happy with that phrase alone. But then add the picture, which looks oddly like the pope is holding off an invading horde of little green men. The ominous shadow was actually cropped out at Yahoo. Can’t imagine why.

And there’s still more! At the end of the feature, the little magnifying glass symbol to indicate searches implores us to “Find the Vatican’s new sins list.” Is this the Where’s Waldo for Catholics? Hey, I think I see genetic modification!

What’s lightening your heart these days?

Meme of Fives

I was tagged for a meme by Read, Read, Read, and the timing is perfect for me. I usually get tagged and then totally forget to do it until it feels more embarrassing to admit my procrastination than to totally ignore the tag. But today, I’m recovering from the two days of heavy rain, which has left me feeling all depressed and uninspired to write. But answer questions? I think I can handle that.
  1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.

  2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.

  3. At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read the player’s blog.
  4. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.
When I first saw this meme, or some variation thereof, all the answers were in fives. So I went back to that format.

What were you doing five years ago?
I was working at the public library, settling into my new house, raising two kids, and stepping a toe into the short film business. Speaking of which, please go see our new film, “All Roads Lead Away,” written by young adult author Barry Lyga. Did I mention that I filmed the first part on my own? Bill said it wouldn’t work, but I insisted that it wouldn’t take extra time and we might end up with some good footage to use. And so we did.
What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?
  1. Put the spring clothes in the kids’ rooms. (Picking outfits every day from the living room floor is getting old.)
  2. Clean the hamster cage — with the hamster’s nine-year-old owner.
  3. Answer some emails I keep not getting to. (See #1 bad habit below.)
  4. Sort out the Girl Scout badges for our upcoming ceremony.
  5. Buy cups, plates, and flowers for the Drama Club play tonight.

What are five snacks you enjoy?
  1. Cookies.
  2. More cookies.
  3. Brownies.
  4. Good chocolate. (Who am I kidding? Any chocolate.)
  5. Graham crackers with peanut butter and honey. Yum.
What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?
  1. Travel.

  2. Donate money to various places.
  3. Buy new houses for me, my mom, and my brother so we could live closer together.
  4. Hire an organizer to clean up my cluttered house (life?).
  5. Put money in a trust for my children, because you never know what will happen to today’s billions.

What are five of your bad habits?

  1. Procrastinating.
  2. Never exercising.
  3. Worrying.
  4. Being messy and disorganized.
  5. Getting cranky — like a small child.
What are five places where you have lived?
  1. Ramsey, New Jersey.
  2. Bridgewater, Virginia.

  3. Virginia Beach, Virginia.
  4. Williamsburg, Virginia.
  5. Springfield, Virginia.
(I’ve always kinda wished I had lived in Richmond so I could’ve hit all the major regions of my state.)

What are five jobs you have had?
  1. Hotel desk clerk.
  2. Waitress (for one unfortunate month).
  3. Psychiatric aide in hospital
  4. Law library assistant
  5. Children’s library assistant.
What five people do you want to tag?
I’m tagging some bloggers that I don’t visit enough, but that came up on my Technorati links recently. Let’s get to know each other — what do you say?
  1. Read. Imagine. Talk.
  2. Pink Me
  3. Errant Dreams
  4. Well Read Child
  5. No Want Decaf
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Grab Some Popcorn

All Roads Lead AwaySince I’ve got editorial privileges over here, I thought I’d stick in a little notice to let readers know that the latest short from Tohubohu Productions, “All Roads Lead Away,” is now available for viewing over at our official website. Written by Barry Lyga, directed by yours truly and produced by MotherReader herself, the film is a great little road movie about a couple struggling to move on with their lives after losing everything.

So many people worked to make this movie happen (well, about 17, but thay all worked really hard), but I think one’s worthy of special mention here. MR’s too modest to ever brag about her own contributions, but I suffer from no such compunction — in addition to keeping the ship running, she was instrumental in our final casting, working out music licensing (i.e., she did it all herself), stepping in front of the camera when we lost an actress (though — ruthless bastard that I am — I did end up cutting her part from the finished film), helping provide a fresh eye for editing decisions, and perhaps most importantly, being a positive voice when it seemed like all I could do was see all our little shortcomings. (And it’s also worth noting that if she hadn’t attended last year’s Kidlitosphere Conference, I never would have met Barry in the first place.)

And, of course, she was right — despite all my fears, the audience reception at Friday night’s premiere was phenomenal, and really gives me hope that we’ll make the “Best of the 48 Hour Film Project” screening on May 29th. (And we’ve already submitted the film for consideration to the DC Shorts film festival, one of the premiere short-film festivals in the nation. No guarantee that it’ll get in, of course — they receive hundreds of submissions each year — but I’ve got a good feeling about it.)

So sit back, grab a tub of popcorn (or maybe just a bag — it’s not all that long a film), and give it a viewing. And if you like it, don’t forget to let us know (and spread the word)!

2:00 a.m.

That’s when I caught the escaped hamster. 2:00 a.m. I am the most devoted mother ever, and one of the most tired. The hormonal soup of anxiety and adrenaline have left me physically wrecked, but I’ll take the day to recover and hit our 48 Hour Film Project screening tonight with full energy — and a caged hamster at home.

My Poetry Friday contribution is an original piece about my experience.
As a mother I expected diapers and crying.
Boo-boos and bee stings
Hurt knees and hurt feelings.
I was prepared for sick days, sleepless nights,
tantrums, homework, and sibling squabbles.
But there are times
When it comes down to moments
Of pure absurdity.
A grown woman stalking a hamster.
Staring in the dim light for hours
The taste of being a hero
Resting in the sweet smell of strawberry
in a tin can covered, finally, thankfully,
By the hand of a mom.
The Poetry Friday round-up is done by Writer2B. And in case I don’t get another chance to say it, Happy Mother’s Day!

Oh, No

Ohmigod, the hamster escaped. The hamster that my third grader has wanted for two years and was finally old enough to get. The hamster that made it through a brief bout of “the runs” that can be fatal for hamsters, but survived perhaps due to my sheer need for her to be okay. This morning we found that she had gotten out of a less-than-perfectly closed skycap viewing area. She must have worked and worked on unscrewing that thing. But, to reference Clemency Pogue and the Hobgoblin Proxy, “There was a principle at work here, an equal and opposite reaction for every action. The jar [top] was unscrewed, and Kenn [I] was quite the opposite.”

I’m physically sick about this. (Yes, Kelly, my stomach lurched and hasn’t stopped yet.) I’ve set out my hamster traps. I’ve prayed to Saint Anthony (“Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony, please come around. Something is lost that needs to be found.”) and I’m not even Catholic. I’m planning on staying up tonight when these little guys are active to see if I can catch her then. In the meantime, I’m fighting my anxiety and sicky stomach and cleaning up every place I can to search for a little sleeping Honey hamster. The problem is that the place is a mess, and therefore there are tons of places a little hamster could hide, and that fact is just making me feel sicker and more anxious.

Please send me your good hamster-finding energy. And if you have any good tricks, pass them along.

The Thursday Three IX

Hug TimeHug Time, by Patrick McDonnell
A kitten wants to hug the whole word, so he travels around the world to hug everybody. He does a pretty good job of it, too. But then he sails home to hug his person. Cute enough, but not as well done as some of the McDonnell’s other titles. This ending quote made me feel kinda warm and fuzzy inside: “The world’s so big, and yet so small, it’s time that we embrace it all. That’s something that we all can do, start with the one who’s closest to you.” Awwwww.

How Big Is the World?How Big Is the World? by Britta Techentrup
Little Mole asks his papa “How big is the world?” His papa suggests he go find out, so he heads out to ask other animals. Each animal names a bigger and bigger world (the spider’s world is her web, the mouse’s world is the field, etc.) But by riding on the back of the whale, the mole sees how big the world really is and how it never ends. When he misses his family, they head home and papa is waiting for him. “How big is the world?” whispers papa. “As big as you want it to be,” says Little Mole quietly. Other than the serious disconnect between exploring the entire world and getting home by bedtime, I liked the book a lot. The illustrations are engaging, and the story is a great introduction to variety in the world around us conveyed with a sense of awe and wonder.

City LullabyCity Lullaby, written by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Carll Cneut
A counting book set in the city, where a baby sleeps through all the noise and busyness around her/him. Bright and detailed pictures make this a fun counting book with city themes — dump trucks, taxi horns, and such. The art is on one side of the page, all lively and sometimes silly (notice the dog on the cell phone for nine annoying cell phones ringing.) On the other page, the text and a simple sketch of the baby’s sleeping face (line eyes with lashes, curved lines for nose and mouth, dots for freckles, and sometimes a curl). A fun title that would be especially perfect for city kids.

The Willoughbys

The WilloughbysIn college I saw a play that had a very surreal bent: Christopher Durang’s ’Dentity Crisis. It was extremely funny, but also left me feeling a bit weird with its absurd humor. The Willoughbys, by Lois Lowry, gave me the same feeling. Others have loved it for its satire of the old-fashioned book, but it just didn’t do it for me. And that surprises me, because in theory this sort of humor — the book is compared to Lemony Snicket’s titles — is right up my alley. What can I say?

The four Willoughby children realize that they should have been orphans, especially given that their parents don’t like them very much. About the same time, the parents realize that they want to get rid of the children themselves. It’s possible both things will be accomplished as the parents set off on a series of dangerous adventures, hiring a nanny to watch the children. Along the way, an abandoned baby, a grieving millionaire, a lederhosen-wearing boy, and a meticulous woman all feature in the strange story. Here’s a selection from early in the book that gives a sense of the tone.
“Oh, someone has left a beastly baby on our front steps,” Tim told her.

“My goodness, we don’t want a baby!” their mother said, coming forward to take a look. “I don’t like the feel of this at all.”

“I’d like to keep it,” Jane said in a small voice. “I think it’s cute.”

“No it’s not cute,” Barnaby A said, looking down at it.

“Not cute at all,” Barnaby B agreed.

“It has curls,” Jane pointed out.

Their mother peered at the baby and then reached toward the basket of beige knitting that she kept on a hall table. She removed a small pair of gold-plated scissors and snipped them open and closed several times, thoughtfully. Then she leaned over the basket and used the scissors.

“Now it doesn’t have curls,” she pointed out, and put the scissors away.

Jane stared at the baby. Suddenly it stopped crying and stared back at her with wide eyes. “Oh dear. It isn’t cute without curls,” Jane said. “I guess I don’t want it anymore.”

“Take it somplace else, children,” their mother said, turning back toward the kitchen. “Dispose of it. I’m busy with a meat loaf.”
In June I’ll join the conversation about this title at the DC Kid Lit Book Club. I’m curious to hear others reactions to the book, and maybe glean why I didn’t get the joke. I mean, I understood the satire, but it didn’t leave me laughing. And you know I love to laugh.

EDITED TO ADD: Kelly Fineman has a very thorough review of The Willoughbys today. She enjoyed it, so let's see what she had to say.

Brunkus and Bush

Oh, Denise. Why? Why? You’ve got the whole Junie B. thing going on, and the picture book Charlie Hits it Big was a great use of your talents. I don’t understand how you could do this.

Read All About It!I mean, really, the Bush book was the best thing coming down the pike? That just can’t be. And the book, Read All About It!, is kinda crap, you know. A boy doesn’t like books, until one day the librarian is reading and real things come alive from the books and a pig comes alive and then disappears when the book ends, so then it becomes another story about searching for the pig who disappeared and everyone is surprised that he’s in the library. Not good.

On the back of the book is a picture of Laura and Jenna Bush and a “touching” quote. “Discovering a good book can change our lives forever. [Well, it’s not going to be this one.] Books offer a world of adventure, new friends, and a lifetime of learning. [Gag.] We hope READ ALL ABOUT IT! will be a window into the power and magic of books! [I sincerely doubt it.]

It’s the end of a presidency, so a First Lady book is to be expected. I can’t even work up a BACA hissy fit about that. But Denise, you should have known better. Now I still love you, but I’m very disappointed in you. Don’t let this happen again, missy.

“All Roads Lead Away”

All Roads Lead AwayI’m still tired from the 48 Hour Film Project, and I wasn’t even that involved in yesterday’s work. The experience of making a film in two days is so intense that it takes a lot out of you. Our script by Barry Lyga was ambitious, and our filming went from our Saturday 8:30 a.m. call time until almost midnight. It was a very long day for the crew and our two lead actors, who really carried the piece. Well, three lead actors if you include the beat-up car which we considered the third star of the movie.

Barry gave us an amazing script, dramatic and contemplative. Bill and I selected two strong actors (Jennifer Massey and Joe Hansard) who could pull off the emotion of the film. We got to test the new camera car mount, to the delight of the cameraman. I kept asking for reassurance that the expensive camera was not, was NOT, going to fall off the hood of the car. After a last-minute location change, I was slotted for a small part in the movie — which ended up on the cutting room floor in the interest of meeting our seven-minute running time requirement. I’m still in the background helping a customer, and my hair is in a later office scene. Oh, the glamour.

Bill spent Sunday editing the film at his workplace, while I searched for music at home. I found the piece that we ended up using within a few minutes. Unfortunately, I then spent almost two hours continuing to search for music, finding almost nothing, and deciding to stick with my first choice. After Bill was forced to make some difficult decisions about editing, he sent me the film online so I could look at it. With my fresh perspective — having not spent the last six hours putting it together — I was able to suggest different places to cut, allowing some great moments to fit back in (though not my scene, alas). For later festivals, we may look at putting in a lost scene where the couple fights outside the car. It was a crew favorite as Jennifer screamed, “GET IN THE CAR!!!” with pure fury.

Our screening is Friday at 9:30 at the AFI Silver Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland. We’re really proud of it, and I can’t wait to see it on the big screen. If you’re in the area, you can order tickets online — but do so soon, because the shows always sell out. If you can’t get to the show, the film — “All Roads Lead Away” — will be available on our website sometime after the screening.

Incidentally, now you can see the trailer for Bill’s production of “Number One With a Bullet,” a short film about getting your book published — at whatever the cost. Seems like that film may be of some interest to the MotherReader crowd, don’tcha think?

One Short Film, Two Days

Other than books and Girl Scouts and writing weak poetry, my other hobby is making short films. Actually it’s my husband’s hobby and I’ve been roped into it over the years. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

This weekend we’re back in the 48 Hour Film Project, the contest where you write, film, edit, and score a short film in two days. It’s madness, but it works for us. Last year we had the incredible Robin Brande to write our script and we produced the terribly sharp piece “You Pay Your Dues.” This year, Robin is in the middle of book writing, but her friend is between revisions. Her friend? Barry Lyga, author of The Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl and Boy Toy and all-around cool guy.

To keep the competing teams from coming in with completed scripts, each group picks a genre out of a hat and each city shares certain elements that have to be included in the film. We’ve drawn the Road Movie genre. The required elements are:
Character: Larry or Lori Gardner, designer
Prop: A sauce
Line: “I’ll be glad when he’s gone.”
Bill is on the phone with Barry as I write, and I’m heading out to the store momentarily to buy food for the cast and crew. Tomorrow my job is to prep the actors for the upcoming scenes and make sure that everything goes as smoothly as possible. And provide lunch. Think good film-making thoughts for us.

Poetry Friday: Search Poetry

I haven’t played in my StatCounter keyword analysis for a while, but it’s always so much fun. I found an older poem that I put together with some favorite searches in the Diamond form. I was originally inspired by the form of a OULIPO, a poetry challenge at Miss Rumphius. I think the searches are so funny, and yet so telling at the same time. That’s why I love ’em. The first one is from a while ago, the second one I created today.
Mo definitely
adult readers theatre
100 top grossing breads
funny story on being teachable
preschool books about boyfriends, girlfriends
teenage group personality quizzes
seven animals in one picture
Kadir Nelson knock off
BACA members

Yarn bugs
Pigeon pajamas
Attack of Literacy
Condescending forgotten poem
Stop dressing your daughter like a slut
Weird and wacky poems for kids
Land of Little Horses
Poems in spanis
Baca logo
My favorite searches are “Mo definitely” and “Condescending forgotten poem.” I can’t even imagine what that second one means, but the Mo definitely is right on target. Check out the Poetry Friday round-up at Big A, little a.

Reading Is Fundamental Update

Reading Is Fundamental has an update from the President of the organization. It’s good news! It had looked like the funding for this program was going under, but RIF put the word out and people passed on the request (here’s my online plea). And guess what? We made a difference! Here’s the statement from RIF:
Thank you to everyone who made RIF’s FY09 Dear Colleague Campaign a success!

RIF’s 5th annual Dear Colleague campaign was a success thanks to the overwhelming number of supporters who asked their members of Congress to sign the letter to appropriators to save RIF’s funding. The combination of more than 45,000 e-mails, phone calls, letters, and faxes from supporters across the nation bolstered our effort to highlight RIF’s services and accomplishments throughout this year’s campaign.

A notable achievement of this year’s campaign is the increase in the number of members of Congress who signed RIF’s funding letter. This year’s impressive increase can be attributed to all who gave their time to contact their members of Congress and voice their support for RIF. This ensured that members of Congress became educated about the important work RIF does in their districts and states and made a compelling argument for saving RIF’s funding. Whether your legislator is a new supporter or a continuing supporter, it is important to let them know that their work is appreciated. Please see if your member of Congress is on the co-signer list and take a moment to send a personalized thank you note.

Send your thank you letters to RIF’s Government Relations team, and they will hand deliver them to Congress to ensure the letters are received in a timely manner.

Mail to:
Reading Is Fundamental
C/O Government Relations
1825 Connecticut Avenue, Suite 400
Washington, DC 20009
Thank you for your continued support, and please visit RIF online to participate in our May children’s letter drive to Congress with easy to use instructions and templates.
Virginia’s senators signed — Wahoo! — how about yours?

The Thursday Three VIII: Bear Edition

Don't Worry BearDon’t Worry Bear, by Greg Foley
This is the second book following the less-than-originally-named Bear, and like the first book, Thank You Bear, is a simple book in words and illustration. When Caterpillar makes a cocoon, Bear worries about him. Caterpillar reassures Bear that he isn’t bothered by the wind or rain or snow. Snow? Well, whatever. In the end, Bear finds the empty cocoon and worries a lot, but finds that Caterpillar has turned into a silk moth. I have to wonder why Caterpillar didn’t just explain the situation to Bear. It seems like it would have helped Bear not worry so much. No matter; cute book and — hello! — cute author/illustrator. This is one of the few picture books I’ve seen with the author’s picture in the back — and one of still fewer where said photo’s inclusion was such a bonus. Where’s Fuse#8’s Hot Men of Children’s Literature when you need it?

Bear's PictureBear’s Picture, written by Daniel Pinkwater, illustrated by D.B. Johnson
Alert: WAPB illustration contender. Bear paints a picture and is enjoying himself, just as two proper gentlemen come by and try to ruin it for him. They insist that bears can’t paint pictures — and besides, nobody can tell what the picture is supposed to be. But bear can tell, and he is happy with himself and his art. This is like a self-help book in picture book form. There’s even a possible psychological element when you see the two men step into the colorful picture and get... well, drowned in the stream. Could the two men represent the our own inner critics? Read the book and you be the judge. Interesting book with an odd note to it.

Dog and Bear: Two's CompanyDog and Bear: Two’s Company, by Laura Vaccaro Seegar
I loved the first Dog and Bear book. A toy bear and a wiener dog has got to be the best pairing since Sonny and Cher (Justin and Britney? Mary Kate and Ashley?). This book contains three mini-stories of Dog and Bear’s days together. In one tale, Dog is mad and going to run away. Oh, but is that ice cream? In the next story it’s Bear’s birthday, and Dog can’t quite resist the cake he baked. In the third story, Bear helps Dog gets to sleep and gets worn out himself. They are all cute stories, and will be enjoyed with or without knowing the first book. Keep ’em coming, Seeger.