Sunday, March 29, 2009

100 days

The countdown begins.
I. am. so. excited.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Respect the Mighty Top Ten Picture Book List

Think you could list your top ten picture books ever written, in order? I didn't either. As I told a friend, when I read Fuse 8's call for our top ten lists, the very idea of narrowing down and classifying my love for all things picture book got me so sweaty with anxiety that I had to eat a box of Thin Mints instead.

But, like most things, when I actually sat down, it was kind of easy. Well begun is half done and all that. Here's what I wrote:

Okay, here is my list. I know I’d seem cooler if I had fewer classics and more obscurity, but these are the ones I love. Also, I did NOT include The New Girl…And Me or Two of a Kind, written by yours truly, even though they are clearly my favorites; this was not out of modesty, but because doing so would have required bumping Piggie Pie, which is so good to read aloud.

And darn you, Betsy Bird, for giving me nightmares in which Emily Gravett and Maurice Sendak haunt me chanting “Why not us?”

Jacqui’s Top Ten Picture Books

1. Goodnight Gorilla (Peggy Rathmann)

Goodnight Moon (Margaret Wise Brown)

Owl Moon (Jane Yolen) – To my mind, this is the most beautiful and poetic book ever, pictures or not. Every time I read it to a class, the whispers hush and the air tingles.

My Fierce Tiger (James Hepburn) – my very favorite book as a child, and just as good every time I read it now

Miss Rumphius (Barbara Cooney) – because I want my life to be summed up by seeing the world, coming home to live by the sea, and doing something to make the world more beautiful

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (Mo Willems)

Close Your Eyes (Kate Banks) – because “Dark is just the other side of light. It’s what comes before dreams.”

Harold and the Purple Crayon (Crockett Johnson)

Llama Llama Red Pajama (Anna Dewdney) – because it makes us all giggle every time, and because when he wakes up afraid in the middle of the night, my toddler calls, “MAMA! My hab llama drama!”

Piggie Pie (Margie Palatini)

So, dear visitors to Jacqui's Room, what's on your list? And do you have opinions on mine?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

You say tomato, I say, um, that's not a vegetable

In which I make fun of vegetables, New Jersey, students, and possibly some other things that don't deserve it.

I am posting this early, because I am going to spend Thursday writing writing writing (and waiting for animal control).

Welcome to this week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM). No, it is not this, though dearie me, Lord knows I was tempted. Instead...

From UPI:

Students say tomato should be N.J. veggie

Apparently, a group of eager yet ultimately misguided New Jersey students have started a campaign to make the tomato the state vegetable of New Jersey. They are even planning a trip to the state capital to push their case on April 6, which is "National Tomato Day."

All very fine and good, except that, um, a tomato is not a vegetable.

So the question is: did they know? Because if they didn't, it's a kind of sweet story about a group of kids finding their voice in all the wrong ways. But if they knew, and built the campaign anyway, it's an AWESOME story about a group of kids trying to make a laughingstock of New Jersey, its government, tomatoes, and the whole food pyramid.

I think there was a contest, between warring groups in the school. Each group had to pull a prank. One group filled the teacher's lounge with styrofoam peanuts. One group had the local high school mascot, the Ugly Ox, voted homecoming queen.

And one group was led by Finn, the otherwise quiet, always so well-behaved, never would have expected this from him Finn. Slightly overweight Finn who got tired of lectures about the food pyramid and tired of his older sister getting all the attention. Finn who had the fabulous idea to get a new law made, the most ridiculous law they could invent and get passed. Finn never thought it would go this far, but it has, and now he wants to (or has to) see it straight through to the National Tomato Day climax.

Who will write me this book?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A clarification

It has come to my attention* that I may have given you the impression that I hate animals. This is a falsehood. True, I spent a good ten minutes yesterday trying to assure that a mother raccoon laid her baby nest anywhere but in the insulation above my son's bed. True, I may have tried to accomplish this by banging on pots and pans every time I saw her until she retreated out of sight for the day.

But people, I love animals.

For example, I love snakes. It's true. I had a garter snake named Snakey in my classroom** and I spoiled that baby so rotten with live fish that he wouldn't take crickets and other things garter snakes love in the wild.

Wait, did that sound like I hate fish? I love fish. I used to want to BE a fish. Every time I went in the ocean from ages 3 to 15 now, I walked very slowly and deliberately in and then dove under because I had a secret hidden hope that I was really a mermaid and that THIS TIME, upon contact with my natural habitat, I would sprout fins and swim away. After hearing Michael Reisman talk about how much he loves his fish, I consulted him extensively and bought Tink her own goldfish and who do you think feeds Filly nightly and cleans/refills his tank weekly monthly biannually???

Here is a list of other animals I had as pets in my classroom at one time or another:
a Mexican red-kneed tarantula
baby opossums
a bearded dragon
leopard frogs
painted lady butterflies
an African pygmy hedgehog***

Oh, Hedgie. I loved Hedgie so much that when Hedgie got sick, I brought him home and tried to nurse him back to health on a diet of freshly steamed carrots and boiled chicken until Thor told me Hedgie was not welcome on the kitchen counter any more.

So there. See? I am an animal lover and anyone who thinks otherwise is -- What's that? Okay, I can see where this might mislead you into thinking I hate squirrels.



Yeah. I can't deny it. I do hate squirrels. Little squeaking flightless pigeons.

Edited to add: As I am reading the comments this afternoon, something is crawling around above me in a part of my house that HAS NO ATTIC. Whatever it is is scratching and biting and must be in my roof somehow and, yes, I admit, I hate it too, even if it is not a squirrel. Not to worry, my boyfriend from Animal Control is coming soon.

* Darn you, real life peanut gallery!
** To be more specific, I had Snakeys # 1 through 3.
*** yes, I know it's not legal to own hedgehogs in some states. Illinois isn't one of those states. All of these animals, in fact, were checked, etc., and okay to have. And they were very well cared for by grown-ups, not second graders.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Monday Math


2. Given that
d=10 and

a=approximate weight of pregnant raccoon in pounds
b=number of minutes Jacqui spent at her front door screaming, dancing, and banging on
c=number of pots, to try to scare the raccoon into not crossing the street, and
d= number of times Jacqui has written "Find hole squirrels where squirrels got in and fix it" and
e=number of times she found the hole and fixed it.

Then, if x=chances that Jacqui will not have raccoon babies in her attic by the end of the week,

then, sadly, I think x=0

3. A word problem:
Jacqui bought six boxes of Girl Scout cookies. She bought 2 boxes of Thin Mints, 2 boxes of Samoas, and 1 box each of Tagalongs and the shortbread ones nobody likes except dipped in tea. Jacqui has 3 other people in her family. 0 of those other people like Samoas. If Jacqui has had the boxes of cookies at her house for two weeks, and there are 20 cookies in each box, where the heck did all the Samoas go, oh my god, really? I ate them all?! None of you had a single one oh I feel sick.

4. 20 Samoas per box X 2 boxes = how many calories? For real? Oh crap. How many calories do you think I burned torturing the raccoon?

Cost per book to buy The New Girl...And Me: $16.95
Approximate royalty income to Jacqui from each book: seven peanuts
Payment to Jodi Reamer, Jacqui's agent: two peanuts
Validation of herself as a writer Jacqui gets every time a royalty check comes in the mail: priceless

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Everywhere Babies

In which I take a suggestion from the real world peanut gallery and begin recommending more picture books people might not know.

Everywhere Babies,
by Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee

As if I needed more of a reason to love Marla Frazee, a friend handed Destructo this book at the library today. The rhyme is simple and sweet, but the illustrations are what shine. Destructo and I read it before his nap. It took us forty minutes because he wanted to examine every baby and report back on whether "my bigger dat baby" or "dat baby hab diaper!" I was equally enthralled.

If you have a baby, or a toddler, or a recently-a-baby or recently-a-toddler, or, well, just go check it out, okay?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A cautionary tale

Today is my grandmother's birthday. She passed away several years ago and wasn't herself for years before that, so I can't celebrate with her, but I'm thinking about her.

My grandmother is the one I remember telling me stories. She had a carpet, our "magic" carpet, and we'd take trips, with her describing what we saw as we flew. She wrote me silly rhyming poems on my birthdays and stories about a little girl named Jacqui who had all kinds of amazing adventures. The New Girl...And Me is dedicated to her, but she never saw it or knew, really, that it was going to happen.

My grandmother, like all grandmothers, had a fascinating life. Even as her health deteriorated, we were learning secrets from her past, bits of a story that I will never be able to read in full. I bought my grandmother several journals. I begged her to let me interview her with a video camera, an audio tape, or at least a pen and paper. She was always going to write her own story; she had dreamed, as a child, of being a journalist, and in a different generation, with more resources at her disposal, she'd have been marvelous.

But, she said, she could never get it right. She worried it wouldn't be any good. She worried she couldn't do it. She'd start next year.

You know the end: for all her worrying about getting it right, she never got it written.

I wouldn't have cared if it weren't perfect, of course. I just wish I had the story.

And yes, that's me in the picture. I look like I'm pouting but I may be trying not to crack up. Nice bowl cut, eh? And the wallpaper! Gotta love the 70s. Amazingly, I rock my children to sleep on that rocking chair still.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The best part...

...about being a writer...

... is that sometimes you are stuck. You can't write a word. You have no words to write. You hate the novel and are absolutely sure it hates you back, possibly along with your agent, your editor, your family, and everyone you have ever met. You whine. You set your timer and you make yourself write, but it is like pulling teeth out of a cranky crocodile and what comes out is drivel. You blog a lot. You become convinced that your past successes were blips, that you will never again write or say anything worth repeating, let alone publishing. You wallow in self-hating wordlessness.

And then someone says something, one little thing, and you hit yourself in the forehead and think, "Of course. Of course that is what has to happen." You realize that the reason you were having such a hard time is not, in fact, because you suck, but because the story needed fixed and before it was fixed it could not be written. You have this amazing revelation of exactly what you need to do and you don't even have to set your timer because when it goes off, you knock it across the room with your left hand so your right hand can keep writing.

I asked Tinkerbell. Yeah, I asked a first grader. I was talking about it with Thor, who was looking around for something heavy and blunt with which to hit himself very sympathetic, and Tink asked me what we were talking about. So I told her: this is what's happened so far in my story and I'm having a hard time writing the rest. And she said, "He reads the note," which is EXACTLY what the character would do, but which I had missed entirely. "Of course," I said. And then I re-plotted the rest of the book and wrote two chapters this morning.

I should add that Tinkerbell went on to plot the rest of the novel in her head, including well set-up clues and a touching emotional ending. Then she said, "Is yours going to be that good?" and I was forced to admit that, no, it probably wasn't, but that I thought I'd write it anyway.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Five things Jacqui is not going to do to celebrate Friday the 13th

1. watch any of the Jason movies.

2. crash family Shabbat services at my temple wearing a hockey mask and screaming "The Hora! The Hora!"

3. sneak upstairs into Tinkerbell's room after she's sleeping, crawl under her bed, and whisper, "Mama lies. We are here. And we are coming for you," while throwing wet, cooked noodles onto the bed.

4. chomp the rest of the Hamentashen and sit in a sugar stupor pondering which is scarier: the idea of finishing my novel or the idea of never finishing my novel.

Oh, wait. I might do that one. Do over for #4.

4. stick my hand into the crack between the seat and the back rest in the back seat of my car and try to find whatever's growing there

5. put a giant mouse suit on Destructo and let him chase the cats

Okay, I might do that one too, if I had a mouse suit. Another do over.

5. cut the remarkably realistic hand off Destructo's plastic baby doll and float it in Thor's morning tea

How are you going to celebrate?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pouchèd Ninja, Hidden Sheep

In which I am silly and link a lot.

This week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM) is no laughing matter. Ever mindful of your well-being, we here in Jacqui's Room* have been tracking this story for months.

You are not safe in your home. All across the country, attacks are happening. But it wasn't until Kristi found this, that I knew it had to be more than random happenstance:

Kangaroo intruder terrorizes sleeping family**

Don't go read the article. It's not funny at all. These poor people were truly terrorized and violently so. BUT, the article led to a break-through in my investigations.

See, I knew about the moose and the buck, but I figured they were clear cut cases of game on hunter revenge break-ins. The sheep I pegged for a football fan; who hasn't wanted to butt her head through a window watching the Niners? But then I remembered the squirrels. And the wolves. And the antics of this clearly deranged evil beast are well-documented. It was a definite pattern. But what did it mean?

Then I read about the kangaroo, and the house's owner, who said:

My initial thought, when I was half awake, was it's a lunatic ninja coming through the window.

He convinced himself it was "only" a kangaroo. But we know the truth, don't we? It WAS a ninja. A nine foot ninja with a pouch. WHO HAD TO BE TRAINED SOMEWHERE.

"Where?" you may ask. It's not like these guys are around any more (Oh wait, they are. Really? Does anyone watch them? Huh.).

ANYWAY, where could a kangaroo go to learn the ways of the ninja?

No, not here, though oh sweet God how hilarious would it be if I got to go here and video it for you all, who's in?

Will you PLEASE stay on topic? The only place these animals could go to learn their mind-bogglingly sneaky ninja ways is...

Bernie the Badger's House of Beastly Ninjutsu. Of course.**

Where the embittered ancient badger from Joysey trains the young in the ninjaly*** arts and plots his rebellion against the race who reduced his reputation to this.

Covering such topics as "You are Prey, I am Predator, Let's Call the Whole Thing Off: interspecies cooperation against a common enemy" and "Zen and the Art of Not Stopping to Munch on the Furniture," Bernie takes his students on a crash course to revolution. And if you act now, you'll also get Bernie's Master Class DVD: Four Legs, One Door (Ninja masks with special ear holes not included).

Who will write me this book?

* Yeah. It's just me. But "we" sounds more official, eh?
** Known as Bernie the Badger's House of Mammalian Ninjutsu, before the armadillo uprising of 2007.
*** That is too a word. Stuff it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

My Status: A Morning in the Life

Jacqui is offline.
Jacqui is trying to sleep.
Jacqui's son posted a note: "MAMAMAMAMAMAMAMA!"
Jacqui is turning off the baby monitor.
Jacqui's cats have sent her a "pawful of litter to the face."
Jacqui is fine I'm up okay?!
Jacqui blocked the application "Morning Breath."
Jacqui is trying to pour milk into a sippy cup without opening her eyes.
Jacqui is reading Richard Scarry's THINGS THAT MOVE. Again.
Jacqui is no longer part of the group "People Who Shower Daily."
Jacqui is a fan of caffeine.
Jacqui wonders if kids can OD on frozen waffles.
Jacqui is even if they're organic?
Jacqui is no longer a fan of winter.
Jacqui refuses to accept responsibility for the fact that it's freezing and you have to wear a coat.
Jacqui's daughter posted the note: "25 Random Things I Have to Touch When I Am Supposed To Be Brushing My Teeth."
Jacqui should have left ten minutes ago.
Jacqui's children are no longer members of the group "People To Whom Jacqui Is Speaking Nicely."
Jacqui is pulling her son out of the driver's seat.
Jacqui's daughter is not attending the event "First Five Minutes of School."
Jacqui is snabblefrug.
Jacqui is a fan of day care.
Jacqui is wracked with guilt over that snabblefrug.
Jacqui is practicing deep breathing.
Jacqui should be writing.
Jacqui is the Queen of Text Twist.
Jacqui just has to do this one more thing.
Jacqui is staring at the blank page.
Jacqui has nothing to say.
Jacqui is no longer a fan of her novel.
Jacqui is fine just write something already you loser.
Jacqui wrote a whole page.
Jacqui wrote three more.
Jacqui is writing.

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Room of One's Own, part deux

Remember my office? Remember how I excited I was about it? How I promised to clean it up? Hmm. Let's just say it got to the point where I would just crack the door, toss junk inside, and slam the door before anything fell on me.

This week, though, it was suggested to me by the guy from that show Clean Sweep a very wise friend that clutter in one's work space is a sign that one is terrified of the novel one is supposed to be writing not taking one's work seriously. Obviously this person has access to my internet records doesn't know anything.

I worked and worked. I bribed Destructo with all the masking tape he could eat and we worked for two hours. And voila!

I know. But look at the clear desk top! I sat there for two hours today and wrote and wrote and wrote. Baby steps, people.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Putting your money where someone's mouth was

Welcome to this week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM).

From YahooNews:

Man claims he found 10 human teeth in new wallet

Apparently, some guy bought a wallet, unzipped the change compartment, and found ten human teeth, one of which had a filling.

Two things you should know when explaining this to me:

1. Walmart "believes this was an 'isolated incident'."* (Um, they're not sure? There might be other wallets full of teeth out there?)

2. They were adult teeth, so the tooth fairy was not involved.

So tell me: what happened?

And if that doesn't inspire you, can you explain why this woman needed McNuggets so darn bad?

*Again, how to punctuate that??

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Happy square root day

Fortunately, Jacqui's week off writing filled her mind with words and the "get back into it" mood.

Unfortunately, she cannot send her son to day care when he feels so cruddy that he walks around saying, "My feel bad! My feel sick in my mouf!"

Fortunately, Captain Destructo does not have strep throat.

Unfortunately, he does have "sick all night with fever that's resistant to Motrin and Tylenol only sleep on a parent barfs all over wakes up in the morning ready to play and not rest while Mama writes" virus.

Fortunately, I am willing to take little smiles where I can get them. And today is a Square Root Day. And yes, these are the kinds of mathgeeky things that make me smile. So happy square root day to you. I am going to watch Sesame Street.

Monday, March 2, 2009

What Jacqui Needs

Christy was playing on Google and it sounded like fun. The idea is to waste as much time as possible type your name and the word "needs" into your search engine and to list the first ten things Google thinks you need. It helps to share a name with the Home Secretary for the UK. Here are mine.

Jacqui needs
... to open her mouth and sing.
... to talk to the sisters.
... vitamin D.
... maximum friend time.
... to turn 13 or more or gain 305 more Werewolf points to reach the next level: Fire Werewolf! Jacqui should get out there and bite some people!
... to take a long hard look at herself in the mirror.*
... eye drops to help her vision.
... to get out more.
... someone to sing her praises.
... to be whacked.
... to feel herself at one with others, not just a reader of the small print but part of a whole which might include Hyde Park.

Obviously, one is much, much better than all the rest. From now on, you can all refer to me as "Fire Werewolf!" And yes, that includes the exclamation point.

* Interestingly, this one led to a blog called Novel Mum and a post by another Jacqui also screwing around on Google. Oh, the wonders of the internet. Do you think she'll be my friend?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Graveyard Post

In which I ask that you please read the whole post before saying, "WHAT?!" and flaming me.

A confession: I did not want to like Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book.


1. I hated American Gods. I thought it was a smarmier, longer, less timely knock-off of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Sort of. Or something. It wasn't a well thought-out criticism. Neil, if you are reading this, apologies. Please see above note about reading the whole post before hating me or feeling bad about yourself.

2. I thought maybe the Newbery committee had picked it as a "ha on you!" to all the people whining about recent award winners and popularity and blah blah we love to hear ourselves talk, wonder how many of us wouldn't give an eyetooth to win the Newbery blah blah blah.

3. The story-lady-in-training at my library read Gaiman's The Wolves in the Walls at preschool story hour this month. It's the story of a little girl who thinks she has wolves in her walls. Then it turns out, oh, she DOES have WOLVES IN HER WALLS and they kick her family out of the house to the street. Captain Destructo could be heard for days asking, "Wolves in walls?"

4. Bitter writerly envy.

Oh yes, I planned to hate it. But I had to read it, if only to gloat.

The book starts with a knife dripping with blood. By the end of the first chapter, the knife and the scary man holding it have brutally murdered an entire family except the toddler, who escapes to the graveyard.

REALLY?! And you people had a problem with "scrotum"??????

I was joyous. This was going to suck and I would be RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT.

And then I kept reading. And reading. And smiling.

Now Captain Destructo, as you might imagine, does not excel at staying asleep, or at falling back asleep once awakened. This is because these activities require being still, which is anathema to him. So the plan when sharing a room with him is this: sneak into the room well after he is sleeping, get to the bed without touching the floor, slide under the covers, and remain in whatever position you find yourself for the rest of the night without breathing, snoring, or adjusting no matter how numb you become.

Despite this, there I was, well after midnight, reading The Graveyard Book by nightlight, risking the sounds of pages turning and sighs of contentment.

Yeah, it's that good. It's so good I don't even hate it for not sucking. It's dark and delightful. It's a coming-of-age story that doesn't disrespect where the child's been. It's Dickensian in its characters and lovely in its language. You can find more detailed reviews here and everywhere, but my favorite is from emilyreads. And yes, the murder is scary, but it's also off screen and, well, I got over it and so will most kids.

When Tinkerbell is old enough, the first snow day she has, we're going to make cocoa and snuggle in bed and read the whole thing aloud together. I can't wait.