Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wanna Buy Some Picture Books as Presents? Try These.

Tara Lazar asked me to name my top three picture books of 2009 for her Best Picture Books of 2009 list. She ended up with a great list (go check it out), but I was all, "Really, Tara? Three?! Why don't I also pick my favorite two toes and one doughnut flavor, while I'm at it?"

So for my own list, I'm cheating. I'm doing five, including the three I gave Tara and two other favorites, any of which could have made the top three.

Here goes:

1. Two of a Kind
story by me
art by Matt Phelan

Let's get the shameless self-love out of the way: I would be lying if I didn't pick Two of a Kind. Michael Sussman refrained from mentioning Otto Grows Down, citing modesty. But let's be honest. 1. I am not that modest, and 2. I'd like to be cool enough to pretend I didn't dance like a four year-old fairy girl whenever I turn to the page with my name on it. But I'm not. And I do. More than that, though, I still love the story and the way it makes kids nod in recognition.

2. Duck! Rabbit!
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Tom Lichtenheld

I was smitten with this book from the start. The concept is simple: is it a duck or a rabbit? Two voices argue. Giggling ensues. As I blogged in July, we get extra giggling in our house because Destructo does not have the cognitive ability to see it both ways and so he thinks the point of the book is that some poor dope thinks that bunny's a duck.

3. A Book
by Mordecai Gerstein

Kirkus called it "Metafiction for the picture-book set." A young girl who lives in the book with her family struggles to find her story, trying on different genres and marveling at the giant mushy faces (that's us) looking in on her. It's funny, it's smart, and it is truly unique. Plus, we read it five hundred times in the first month we had it and I never tired of it.

4. Thunder Boomer
by Shutta Crum, illus. Carol Thompson

I just searched my blog and I only briefly recommended this book to you. This is a big mistake. The only reason this wasn't on my top three list is that I thought I'd already blabbed enough about it all over the intrawebs. If you have a kid or are a kid or want to write picture books or if you are afraid of storms or if you love storms or if you think underwear is funny and kittens are cute, you should GO BUY THIS BOOK TODAY. Shutta Crum writes simply beautiful prose-poetry, the illustrations are gorgeous, and the story of the family, the storm that hits their farm, and the surprise they find afterwards is lovely. Don't take my word for it: School Library Journal and the Smithsonian both chose it as one of the best books of the year.

5. You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!
by Jonah Winter, André Carrilho

I totally forgot this one was from this year!. The text below is stolen from my original post about it.

Why you must love it: Because you must love Sandy Koufax, who struggled and overcame and stood up for his beliefs and retired on top. And was a good guy, it seems. The voice is perfect and the story has what I consider the perfect level of information for a picture book biography.*

Caveat: The illustrations. I like them and they're very cool, but the faces are warped and it freaked Destructo out quite a bit: "Why he YOOK yike dat? He really yook yike dat?"

There it is. That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it. Unless I see something else I forgot about that's awesome. Or someone offers doughnuts.

So, what are YOUR top three (or five) picture books of 2009? Discuss.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Buzzard in My Buick

It's been too long since we had a good Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM). And then in flew, er, walked this.

From Yahoo!News/AP:

Big bird gets talon caught in DC Metro escalator

That's a big bird, not THE Big Bird, who clearly is talon-free and rich enough to take taxis. Apparently, some kind of large bird of prey that nobody could identify (Really? Nobody had an iPhone and an image search?! Strong reporting there, AP) tried to walk onto the escalator down into the subway and got his talon caught. Rescuers from the fire department were able to "remove a portion of the escalator" and free the bird, who then spent several hours atop a nearby gas station.

Onlookers were puzzled by the bird's behavior. I am not puzzled. Obviously, he is trying to get somewhere. You can't get a cab in DC in bad weather. The subway was a humiliating failure, so now he's at the gas station, hoping to thumb a ride. Talon a ride.

There's a book in the question of where he's going. But I want the picture book story of the ride he thumbs.

Stevie's grandmother isn't supposed to drive anywhere because she can barely see. But she does it anyway. And she's too good-hearted to turn down the hitchhiker she picks up at the gas station, no matter how much he smells of road kill. Now he and Stevie are strapped into car seats in the back of her Buick, sucking at sippy cups and tossing each other goldfish.

You can go two ways here: either it's the story of Stevie's new friendship (called The Buzzard in My Buick, of course) or it's a hilarious tale of all the indignations the bird suffers on his trip: stuck in the subway, back of the Buick, trapped at the back of the plane beside a family on their way home from Disney World, cringing while the other birds circling the air balloon mocking him...

Wait! Maybe he's AFRAID OF HEIGHTS. Possibilities abound.

Who will write me this book?

Monday, December 14, 2009

December is looking up

How could it not be, with surprise reviews popping up to make me smile?

Check out the kind, kind words about Two of a Kind at 100 Scope Notes and The HappyNappyBookseller.

Friday, December 11, 2009

How We Celebrate Hanukkah At My House

an original blog play in three acts

Act I: Why I Want To Growl At People Who Ask My Jewish Kids If Santa Is Coming
Destructo awakes, rubs his sleepy eyes, and looks out the window.
JACQUI: Yes, it's snowing. Hurrah!
DESTRUCTO: Santa come today!
DESTRUCTO: Santa come when it snows.
JACQUI: Well, kind of. He comes on Christmas.
DESTRUCTO: It Kissmas!
JACQUI: It's almost Christmas. But today is a special holiday too. Do you know what?
JACQUI: No, it's HANUKKAH. And you know what that means?
DESTRUCTO: Santa comes!
JACQUI: No. We get to have a Hanukkah party. In fact, we get to have a party every night for the next eight nights.
DESTRUCTO: (warming to the idea) Wif treats?
JACQUI: Yup. And games and prizes and chocolate coins!
JACQUI: And tonight, you get to open a present --
DESTRUCTO: From Santa!
JACQUI: (bangs head on menorah)

Act II: Things Tink Is Not Getting For Hanukkah
JACQUI: So, Tink, anything special you want for Hanukkah?
TINK: A dog.
JACQUI: Ha! I mean, um, maybe. Anything else?
TINK: A guinea pig. Or a hamster. Something in that family.
JACQUI: Is that the small rodents that smell family?
TINK: Guinea pigs don't smell.
JACQUI: Rarely have less true words been spoken.
TINK: What?
JACQUI: Nothing. What else?
TINK: A snake.
THOR: No way.*
TINK: A lizard, a turtle, a tree frog.
JACQUI: Tink, what do you want for Hanukkah that isn't alive?
TINK: Nothing. How about a cat?
JACQUI: We have two cats. You can have them.
TINK: But I want a new cat.
JACQUI: I tell you what. I'll get them groomed and bathed and you can start being in charge of them.
TINK: They'll be my cats?
JACQUI: They'll be your cats.
TINK: I get to rename them.
And that is how my twelve year-old cats, who thought they couldn't fall any further into cat purgatory, got new names. Meet "Shimmer"

and "Hairball." The look on Shimmer's face should sum up his feelings on this matter.

* Note: Thor has an abiding and unmanly fear of snakes.

Act III: Peace on Earth, Donut to All

TINK: Mama, we talked about "Shalom" at Hebrew School today. It's cool how it means peace and hello and goodbye.
JACQUI: Yeah. It's like you're wishing people peace every time you say hello.
TINK: Donut.
TINK: I want a donut.
JACQUI: Oh, I thought you were wishing me donut.
TINK: Hee hee. I was wishing me donut.
JACQUI: Well, donut to you too. Oh, that felt good. I am definitely doing this from now on.
TINK: Me too. Nice talking to you. Donut.
(they crack up)
So, throughout this holiday season, Tink and I will be saying "donut" instead of hello or goodbye or peace. Because we can all use more donut in the world.

Happy Hanukkah, and donut to all of you.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why baking cookies is like writing my book

I made cookies yesterday with Destructo. The directions said, "Grease two baking sheets." So when the recipe was all measured and mixed and ready, I tried to divide the dough into a reasonable number of cookies to fit onto two cookie sheets. Then I looked at the recipe. "Makes six dozen cookies," it said.

Hmm, I thought. Six dozen cookies are unlikely to fit on the two cookie sheets they told me to grease. Probably, I should make these much smaller. But then they won't fit on two cookie sheets. Well, I could get more cookie sheets. I could do several batches. I could freeze the leftover dough for another day. I could do a lot of reasonable things, all of which require energy and also the acceptance of moving in what feels like a backwards direction.

Or, I could leave the cookies as they are and bake them. Which is what I did. And, of course, the cookies all ran into one another and the edges got much more done and the cookies are hexagonal where I had to use a spatula to separate them. They are fine. They taste fine. But they're probably not as great as they could have been if I weren't so lazy.

So then I went to critique group. I brought my new book, the one I'm so in love with. They liked it. A lot. But they raised a concern, a big one. The same concern Tink had when she read it. To address it, I'll need to go back do a lot of rewriting and trashing of what I've already written. Which requires a lot of energy and also the acceptance of moving in what feels like a backwards direction.

Probably, it'll be fine the way it is. But unlike cookies, I'm not willing to settle for "fine." So I must overcome this "get things accomplished" instinct, this desire to fast draft, to cross things off my to do list, to feel "productive." The truth is that writing isn't a linear activity. It's a swirling and stopping, fits and starts, jags of genius/weeks of drivel rollercoaster that does not always even move forwards. Type type type...delete delete delete.

So today, I am back to the beginning.

Ah, well. At least I have cookies.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Best Writing Tool I Have...

... is these.

I don't even listen to music. I just wear them.

Because the fact is this: when I was a teacher, I was in my classroom unable to be reached all day. Nobody ever said, "I know you're working, but..." or "Do you have to teach the WHOLE day?"

Nobody ever asks a surgeon to make a quick run to the airport an hour away.

But people ignore the fact that I'm writing -- that I'm a writer -- all. the. time.

And here is a secret: I am not always strong enough to say, "No, I can't. I am writing." Because of course a surgeon's patients will die if he runs off to the airport. Nobody's going to die if my paragraph goes unfinished.

But that doesn't mean it's fair to ask me. And it doesn't mean I should say yes. Nobody in the world will respect my writing time, if I can't.

So, I have the earphones. And the basement office where the phone can't reach.

And some advice for this December: love your family and friends. Spend time with them and do nice things for them. Be excited to celebrate whatever you celebrate.

But, when it's time, DO NOT FEEL BAD about announcing, "I have to go write." Do not let anyone talk you out of it. Leave the drama and the guilt and the wrapping paper where they are and escape into your story.

And bring your earphones.

Monday, November 30, 2009

It's the last day...

... of NaNoWriMo, and I only have ONE MILLION words to go in my novel.

How about you?

Monday, November 23, 2009

This Week's Library Haul

Here is an unintended trend this week: authors writing books about things that clearly actually happened to those authors as adults.

The Bear Upstairs
by Shirley Mozelle, illus. Doug Cushman

The writer bear downstairs is upset when a VERY LOUD BEAR moves in upstairs and interrupts her quiet life of tea and typing. Fortunately, he owns her book and wins her over her with omelets.

Destructo didn't really understand the joke here that the downstairs bear is charmed by the upstairs bear being a fan, or that she's pleased he'll be gone at work all day starting the next week. Tink got it and kind of giggled. Mainly, though, the fun is in reading out loud -- VERY LOUD -- the noises the upstairs bear makes.

The Great Gracie Chase

by Cynthia Rylant, illus. Mark Teague

Gracie (like the upstairs bear) likes a quiet life. When the painters come and make a ton of noise and put her outside, she runs away. The whole town chases her. When they collapse, tuckered out, she goes home. At the end of the book, the author bio reveals that Cynthia Rylant has a dog named Gracie.

The illustrations of Gracie in this book are so darn cute that I had to like it. Also, I love how simply it explains the quintessential dog act of taking off running and then, seemingly with no reason, turning around and coming home. Gracie had to run, Rylant tells us. People were chasing her.

Parental bragging moment: Tinkerbell pointed out that most of the book is from Gracie's point of view (though it's written in 3rd person). However, the text twice says, "Silly little dog," which bothered Tink because "Gracie would never call herself silly." She's a GENIUS, I tell you. Seriously, I wish most adults who write for kids could understand that subtle difference.

And then there's the authors writing about things that clearly happen to real children, over and over and over...

Sheila Rae, the Brave
by Kevin Henkes

Sheila Rae is not afraid of anything, but her sister Louise is a scaredy-cat. Er, scaredy-mouse. Anyway, one day Sheila Rae gets lost and Louise gets to be the brave one and rescue her.

I love me some Kevin Henkes. This despite the fact that EVERY SINGLE one of his books breaks rule #8 of Jacqui's Cardinal Rules for Picture Books: "the kid must solve his own problem." Whenever I talk about #8 in a workshop, someone says, "But what about Kevin Henkes?!" Well, what about him? The man is a picture book making genius and if you can make books like Kevin Henkes you have my permission to break nine of my rules. The rule you may not break is #6, on not talking down to kids and not moralizing to them, because this is what makes Henkes so great: he ALWAYS writes from the kid's point of view and never trivializes their concerns.

In any case, my kids loved this book.

One For Me, One For You
by C.C. Cameron, illus. Grace Lin*

This is my favorite book of the week. Two animals have a playdate. They do okay sharing four cookies, but then there are only three trucks. Tears, pulling, and time-outs ensue.

This book is in rhyme, with maybe 10-15 words on a page. The text is sparse ("If I take three, it's fine with me, but..."), yet Destructo and I knew exactly what was going on. And what was going on is near and dear to the two/three year old soul.

Richard Scarry's the Great Pie Robbery and Other Mysteries

Destructo loves mysteries. This is entirely because Tinkerbell is making her way through all my old Nancy Drew books and all the Encyclopedia Browns in the library. So when we saw a Busytown book with mysteries, it was a must have.

The first time I picked up a Richard Scarry book with my own kids, I wanted to scoff. The mom is always in the kitchen, etc. But when I opened it, my heart went "Oh. Aw. I remember that." and filled with warm. The illustration details are hilarious. The stories are fun. And the mysteries in this one are just solvable enough to be interesting for preschoolers. We have read it seven million times.

Rainbow Fairies (assorted Pet Fairies and Weather Fairies)
No author listed, which should tell you something.

Tink had these recommended to her by a friend who hates to read but loves these books. I am all for her friend, who would not read otherwise, reading them. But Tink refusing to read the genius that is Karen Hesse's Sable because she is reading about Shannon the Ocean Fairy is like, like, well, I don't know what it's like, but it makes me want to BANG MY HEAD. Hard.

* links to websites for artist and author not working

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bits of yumminess

1. I had two great critique groups this week and now I am even more excited about my new love affair. Writing, writing, writing... I love it when it's like this.

2. The Winter Blog Blast Tour ends today (boo hoo). You can find the whole week's worth of awesome at Chasing Ray's Master Schedule. Truly, there is some fantasticness and inspiration to be found. Today, you can go see:

Lisa Schroeder at Writing & Ruminating
Alan DeNiro at Shaken & Stirred
Joan Holub at Bildungsroman
Pam Bachorz at MotherReader
Sheba Karim at Finding Wonderland
Robin LaFevers at HipWriterMama

3. I don't know what you heard, but nobody around here is taking the rest of the day off to do anything having to do anything with this. Nope. No sirree Bob.

Mmm. It's like doughnuts for your brain.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Day in the Life

I recently read Annie Dillard's The Writing Life, in which she describes the daily schedules of herself and other prolific, well-known authors. It's remarkable how similar MY daily schedule is to hers. Here, for example, is Wednesday's schedule:

6:00 am Get off red-eye flight on Atheneum jet home from Bildungsroman.
6:30 am Yoga, quiet meditation
7:30 am Pensive walk through woods behind house
8:15 am Chop firewood, make coffee, 100% organic whole wheat banana pancakes
8:45 am Kiss children (who have quietly prepared themselves for the school day) off to school
9:00 am Write 1,700 words.
11:00 am Stop at local independent bookstore to pick up Thor's manifesto on Faust. Be mobbed by adoring fans.
12:00 pm Luncheon with two of smartest women I know. Discuss educational philosophy and the gifted student, transcendental characters in literary theory, and Dante.
1:00 pm Write 1,700 more words.
3:00 pm Soup kitchen
4:30 pm Pick children up from school. Serve homemade organic blueberry muffins with 2 pounds spinach (from our hydroponic greenhouse!) blended into batter.
5:00 pm Work with children to thresh wheat, harvest squash, etc. for hand-rolled gnocchi with fall vegetables.
6:00 pm Family volunteer night at local animal shelter
7:00 pm Family dinner. Discuss highlights and lowlights of everyone's day in calm, non-combative atmosphere. Brainstorm together possible solutions for individual difficulties. End by linking arms and singing Kumbaya.
8:00 pm Family read aloud from classics in children's literature
8:30 pm Children sleeping peacefully. Romantic dessert with Thor.
9:15 pm Write 1,700 more words. Also, re-tile master bathroom and plant 150 tulip bulbs.
10:00 pm Make tomorrow's lunches, pick tomorrow's outfits, clean house, get breakfast ready to go, brush cats, hang "reminder" notes for kids.
10:15 pm Yoga, floss, 15 minutes organic avocado anti-aging mask
10:35 pm Read this year's dense but rewarding Booker/Nobel/Pulitzer Prize winner.
11:00 pm Fall soundly asleep. Dream plot to best-selling and literary masterpiece.

What? You don't believe me? But who would read a writing book that tells the truth about the daily schedule...

6:00 am Give up trying to get toddler back to sleep. Get up.
6:30 am Have already said, "Don't touch that" 15 times. Hear toddler wake up sister.
6:31 am "What was that?!" "She hit me!" "Did not! Besides, he woke me up!"
7:30 am Everyone downstairs for breakfast of frozen waffles. Make lunches, locate coats, hates, and one glove each, give up on lost library book. Forget to feed cats.
8:15 am Discover green booger-like slime ball in container of soy milk. Do not vomit.
8:17 am Announce, "We are leaving NOW."
8:35 am Leave.
8:45 am Kiss daughter. Throw her in general vicinity of school.
9:00 am Stop at local independent bookstore to pick up Thor's book on the NBA. Try to keep son from eating books in front of proprietor.
11:00 am Storyhour at library.
12:00 pm Luncheon with two of smartest women I know. Discuss educational philosophy and the gifted student, transcendental characters in literary theory, and snot.
1:00 pm Pick daughter up early from school for the big "buy a new fish" adventure.
1:15 pm To PetCo. Choose new fish. Return home.
1:45 pm Wash rocks for fish tank. Son falls while climbing. Try to determine if that is actually a missing chunk of tongue he has bitten off.
2:00 pm Flood daughter's dresser with overflowed fish water.
2:30 pm Son consumes mouthful of dried fish flakes.
3:00 pm Blue's Clues. Attempt to write.
4:30 pm Release fish into tank of water. Assure children fish are acclimated.
5:00 pm Realize dinner of salmon was risky choice given the new pets. Assure children that salmon eat zebrafish and that zebrafish will be thrilled we have turned the tables.
5:30 pm Make chicken nuggets.
6:00 pm Family dinner. At no point will all four members of family be seated, nor will anyone be allowed to finish a sentence. End by checking on fish, who seem sluggish. Assure children fish are adjusting to new home.
8:00 pm Family read aloud from Richard Scarry's Busytown Mysteries. Again.
8:30 pm Twitter.
9:15 pm Fall asleep writing own story.
9:30 pm Brush teeth. Sort of.
10:00 pm Read Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally).
11:00 pm Fall asleep. Dream brilliant solution to thorny plot problems. Forget it immediately.

7:00 am Flush dead fish.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Five Reasons Why...

...you must love Little Willow.

1. She created my totally awesome and other adjectives of praise sweet new website! Go check it out. Fabulous, eh? I am in love with the little stars.

2. During the making of said website (did you go look yet? Why not?!), she was unfazed by my multiple mind-changings, lengthy delays in response, and failure to deliver certain copy, like, ever.

3. She made The New Girl...And Me one her of "best books of September 2009," so you know she has great taste.

4. She reads A LOT of young adult books, reviews them intelligently and fairly, and believes in the power they have to help kids beyond the pages of the book. To wit: her list of YA books that deal with tough issues teens face, categorized by issue.

5. She interviews fantastic people like...ME. Yup, I'm over at Bildungsroman today as part of the Winter Blog Blast Tour. PLEASE come by and say hi, okay?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Winter Blog Blast Tour

The Winter Blog Blast Tour is here! What's a Winter Blog Blast Tour? It's an invention of Chasing Ray's. It's a series of author interviews. It's a traveling conversation about writing and books. It's a party.

And I am much excited to be a part of it. I'll be over at Bildungsroman on Wednesday, talking picture books with Little Willow. Check out the whole week of fun at Chasing Ray. Here's today's line-up.

Megan Whalen Turner at Hip Writer Mama: "As much as I love short stories, they come rarely—like little presents left on the doorstep. There's no ordering them online with guaranteed delivery, no matter how much I save up for it."

Frances Hardinge at Fuse Number 8: "Expect kidnaps, betrayal, chocolate, moonlit chases, traps within traps, consequences, fire from above, death-defying chimney incidents and an extremely important radish."

Jim Ottaviani at Chasing Ray: "So the notion that heroes are defined by the strength of their opposition couldn't be more true in this case and I wanted to show the Russian engineers and cosmonauts as the formidable competition that they were. And, as I hope the book showed out, they really were competitors, not enemies."

Courtney Sheinmel at Bildungsroman: "I'm definitely more afraid of dying than speaking in public, but I still get nervous when I have to do it...."

Derek Landy at Finding Wonderland

Mary E. Pearson at Miss Erin

Saturday, November 14, 2009


In which I answer your most pressing questions.

1. What is PiBoIdMo?
It's Picture Book Idea Month, the picture book lover's alternative to NaNoWriMo, in which you think of a picture book idea every day for a month.

2. Cool. I'll try it. So, what should I write about today?
Funny you should ask! I am guest blogging over at Tara Lazar's blog today! Come on by and be inspired. And check out Tara's brilliant PiBoIdMo contest; you could have an agent check out five of your favorite picture book ideas.

3. Wait! I was already over at Tara's. That's how I got here. Now what?
Welcome to Jacqui's Room! Come on in and have a look around. Ideas for getting started are to your left under "New to Jacqui's Room? Try these." If you are doing PiBoIdMo, you may especially like the Thursday News of the Absurd Inspirational Moments. And come back again soon!

4, What are some bad puns you made up that didn't fit anywhere in this post?
Why, I'm so glad you asked. I was just going to cook some pumpkin PiBoIdMo.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Least You Need to Know: I Wrote a Book. Now What?

Jacqui's Advice on Getting Started

1. Ask yourself: who is the audience for this story? People get caught up in the mystique of being published, of being on book store shelves. But not every book has to be published to be a success. If you wrote a story for your daughter and she loved it and you print it out and she illustrates it, it may be the most special book in her library. My own kids have plenty of books like this. That doesn't mean they'll be special to every kid. It also doesn't mean they're worth less than a book that sells in a store. So ask yourself, who is the audience for this story? Or, a harder question, if I heard someone else wrote this story would I buy it?

2. If you decide to forge ahead with publishing, your first step is to wait. Wait until the story is distant enough that you can sit down and read it and be surprised. This may be a few weeks or a few months or even years. Then re-read and revise accordingly.

3. Read your story to some kids who don't love you. Your own kids will love it because you wrote it. So will your niece. You need an objective audience. Better yet: get another adult to read it to them while you watch. Pay attention. Take notes. Do they laugh in the right places? Do they yawn? Do they shrug and say, "It was good" at the end, or do they want to hear it again? Revise accordingly.

4. Get some other people's opinions. Find a critique group, online or in person. Join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). You don't have to be published to join and they are a wealth of information and resources. Your local chapter may be able to refer you to a local critique group. After your critiquers comment, revise accordingly.

5. But don't ask me. I'm sorry. I can't offer to read your book for you. I get a lot of requests and I barely have enough time to do my own writing, so my agent has forbidden me to read anyone else's work, outside my critique groups. Unfortunately, this is true of most authors.

6. Instead, go and look at the Jacqui's Room Rules for Picture Books. Revise accordingly.

7. Do your research before you submit. Children's Writers and Illustrators Market (CWIM) is a great place to start. The SCBWI site has good articles on getting started. Editor Harold Underdown's site has great information on the basics, as does his Complete Idiot's Guide to Children's Publishing. Write4kids.com's "How Do I Get Started As A Children's Writer" is good too. All of these resources will help you choose the best editor, publishing house, etc. for your specific story.

8. Follow the rules. Publishers and editors have individual requirements for submissions. Follow them.

9. But what about an agent? Yes. Having an agent makes things much, much easier. Agents are hard to snag, though, and most of them are looking for clients with a body of work that goes beyond one book. If you decide to go agent hunting, step 7 still applies, except now you are looking for someone who is a good fit both for your work and for you.

10. Go write another book. Don't sit around and wait to hear and waste away. Children's publishing moves very, very slowly. Use your time to keep moving ahead. And good luck!

This is a follow-up to The Least You Need to Know: How to Write a Picture Book.

The Least You Need to Know: How to Write a Picture Book

Lately, I've had a ton of questions about picture books from people who are just starting to write them. I realized this: I have very strong opinions on what makes a good picture book. Here they are...

Jacqui's Rules/Suggestions/Thoughts

1. Read 100 first.
Immerse yourself in the great picture books that are already written. Start with
Fuse #8’s list of the Top 100 Picture Books of All Time.Check out the Jacqui's Room top ten list. Ask your local librarian. Ask a five year old. Read them all. Study what you like and don't like. Eavesdrop on story time and hear what kids like. Then go write, but don't try to sound like a picture book. Write something totally different.

2. Picture books have 500-700 words. Or fewer.
When the act of sounding out each word is hard for readers, you need to make every word count. Plus, you don't want to be that book parents hide because it's too long for bedtime.

3. Picture books are 32 pages long.
1 half page to start, 14 two page spreads, and 1 half page to end.

Don't think about this while you write your story, or when you format it for publishers (if you do). But when you're done, make a "dummy" version of the book where you split the text into pages and imagine the art for each page. If your story won't fit the format, you may need to revise.

4. Each page much have something newly illustratable.
Nobody wants to read a book where ten pictures in a row show the grandma and kid talking. Something new has to happen on each page.

5. The text of your story must stand alone.
Don't write with art directions or explanations. Use your words to draw the pictures in your reader's head. If you have to explain the story, figure out a way to make those things clear in the text.

6. Don't talk down to children or moralize to them.
On talking down: Kids are young; they are not stupid. In fact, they are much harder to write for than adults. Kids' problems may seem small or cute to you, but to the kids they are everything. Don't write "top down." Put yourself in their shoes.

On moralising: I am guessing you never got really excited about a book because someone told you, "This is going to teach you about compassion!" Focus on a story, not a lesson.

7. Your story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Good stories do.

8. Your story must have a conflict or a problem, and that problem must be solved by the kid.
Without a problem, it's hard to have a story where I care what happens. And if the kid doesn't solve it, how can kids feel great about it?

9. Show, don't tell.
I want the juicy details. Don't tell me how she feels; put me in her shoes.

10. If you write in rhyme, your rhyme and meter must be perfect.
Absolutely perfect. If I am six years old and I try to sound out your book letter by painstaking letter, I rely on your rhyme and meter to help me read. If I'm a parent, I am far more likely to read your book if it makes my mouth happy to do so.

If you are writing in rhyme,
Make it rhyme all of the time,
Don't let your meter get wonky,
And put too many syllables in your not-really-rhyming pay-off line.

11. Forget numbers 2-10 until your story is written. Just start writing. Worry about the rules later.
And have fun.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Why Do Fools Fall in Love?

You know that friend you have, who's in love with someone new every eight months? Who keeps saying, "Oh, that's over. But this new guy/girl..." Three months later all she can do is complain about how badly it's going. Six months later she's heartbroken. Seven months later she has sworn off love forever.

"Never again," she vows, shaking a fist. And then, at eight months, "This NEW one..."

So, I started this new book. And this NEW one...is going to be the best book ever.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Dear Tinkerbell,

I don't care how many times you have read Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. You must stop referring to your brother as "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."

In addition:

1. It is not okay to hide jars of "potion" in the corners of the basement, particularly if said potion contains large quantities of vermin-attracting fruit juice.

2. I know what the "Petrificus Totalus" spell does and I do not appreciate having you shout it at me during lectures on your behavioral faults.

3. You cannot invent magic words. Specifically, if your father asks, "What's the magic word?" when you rudely demand something, you may not answer, "Monkey bars." Further, you may not then use "monkey bars" in the place of "please" in making requests, as in "Get my homework folder, monkey bars."

Lastly, for the 100th time, no, the book I am writing is not as good as Harry Potter. Yes, I wish it were too. Thanks for the tip about the juicy details. I'll work on it.

Your Mother

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What Kids Want

Or, Why I Love My Local Indie Book Store

Hey! You know what makes a great gift for any holiday you might celebrate? A signed, personalized copy of TWO OF A KIND!

"I wish!" you exclaim. "But how can I get one?"

Well, you're in luck, because Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor rocks. Here's what they're doing for us:

If you order Two of a Kind (or The New Girl...And Me) online through Nicola's,
specify in your order that you want it signed,
and then email me and tell me what you want the dedication to say,
Nicola and I will sign, wrap, and ship it for you.
If you order by December 10, you can have it in time for Xmas.

Don't the kids in your life deserve a great book? Don't they deserve ten or twenty copies each? Think how cool you'll seem when they're signed and personalized!

Now, go buy one million copies.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Catch a Falling Leaf, part 2

Long time visitors to Jacqui's Room will remember that every fall I try to catch a falling leaf* for luck. I haven't gotten to it this year, mainly because the weather went from summer to winter with just a breath of fall in between, followed by a few days of fall, some spring rain, and today is strangely, spookily still. All of this is, of course, prelude to Michigan winter, which fills my soul with dread and my attic with frozen beasts. Remind me again why I live in Michigan?

In any case, this week Tinkerbell came home from school and asked me to close my eyes and hold out my hands. When I did, she put a small, curved brown leaf on my palm.

"I caught it for you. Because it's shaped like a J and I knew you didn't have one yet."

And here I thought it couldn't get better than catching one myself. Winter? Bring it on.

* And if you're new, the leaf post is one of my favorites, and you should try it.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Have you read Operation Yes, by Sara Lewis Holmes yet?

Why not?

Full disclosure: I love Sara. She is funny and smart and if you don't visit her blog Read Write Believe regularly, you are missing out. Her first book, Letters From Rapunzel, was lovely, too, so I was not surprised to enjoy this book.

I was surprised, however, to read something that is so wonderfully different from other books out there.

There are funny middle grade books. And there are deep or timely middle grade books. And there are middle grade books with madcap adventures, wacky teachers, and crazy plans in which the kids show the adults what up. But there are very few that are so well-written or that feel so completely realistic in terms of the child character's emotions; at every step along the way, I believed these characters, I felt with them what they felt, and I giggled and choked up and delighted.

And so will you, so go get it.

But if you don't believe me, read what Booklist had to say here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Carpet Parking

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

On the walk to Tink's school today, cutting through undergraduate student housing, I saw this:

In case you can't tell, that's bike parking, and it's holding a bike, a bike, a bike, a carpet, a bike, and a bike.

Other people speculated that the carpet had been washed and was set there to dry. Muggles, all of them.

Because it's clearly magic. You can't just park those things anywhere, you know.

What I didn't understand, though, is why it wasn't locked. I mean, I know it's a beige Stainmaster cheapie and not an elaborate oriental, but won't someone steal it?

And then it occurred to me: someone already has.

Who will write me this book?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Try this. Now.

Today is the National Day on Writing. You can go here to see testimonials from writers on why they write or here to join the fun and submit your own writing.

Or, you can do this:

Do not read ahead in these directions.

1. Get a pen or pencil or crayon and some paper or cardboard or parchment. Don't pick them up yet. Just leave them in reach.

2. Check the time. Give yourself 15 minutes. What's 15 minutes?! You'll do your daily 15 minute "Man, I worship Jacqui" dance twice tomorrow.

3. Now, think of that story you've always thought about writing. I don't care if you're not a writer. We all have a story to tell. Plus, you're not going to write the great American novel in 15 minutes, so who cares? If you are a writer, I know there's one in there that scares you because it's not your genre or it's too personal or too hard to pull off. Don't worry about all of that. Just think of the story.

4. Imagine this: the story is already written. You already did all the work. I have it here, in front of me. Doesn't that feel good. I look at it. I read the first line. Hmm. What is the first line? Write it down. Don't think about it. I don't care if it stinks. We are going to shred this and hide it under the coffee grounds in the trash when you're done. C'mon, it's ONE sentence. Write it.

5. Oh, that's intriguing. I must know more. What are the next two sentences? Write them down. What's that? You don't know what to say. Yes, you do. The first line's already written. Just tell me what comes next. Don't worry about craft; remember the coffee grounds.

6. Keep writing. Don't lift your pen from the paper until those 15 minutes are up. I don't care if you think your spelling or your handwriting stinks or if you haven't written anything but checks since high school. I don't care if you write the worst story ever written in the history of stories. Just keep writing. Don't read #7 until 15 minutes are done.

7. When 15 minutes are over, stop. Shred the paper and hide it under the coffee grounds. Or maybe don't. Maybe save it and tomorrow, write for 15 more minutes. Maybe hide a secret notebook that you carry on your person so nobody can find it. Write while you wait in the car line at your kid's school, when you get to the dryer and it still has five more minutes, and while you're waiting for your prescription -- all of a sudden you have 15 minutes a day. Don't think about publishing it or what the audience is or if it meets certain standards. Just write it like you used to write your diary. Write "Do Not Read This Even If I Die! I Mean It!" on the cover. That's what mine says, anyway.

No, seriously. Just try it. And happy National Day on Writing.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bad Kitty Gets a Bath

I am still writing writing writing. I finished my notebook and moved to the next one (yes, I write everything longhand first) and it's going very well.

Whenever I am writing quickly like this, I start to wish I could draw. I think if I could draw I could come closer to getting exactly what I envision in my head down on paper. I know that if I were an illustrator, it would still be frustrating; I am sure artists feel jealous that writers have words to use sometimes. But sometimes a picture really is worth 1,000, you know?

For example, have you read Nick Bruel's Bad Kitty Gets a Bath?
A friend got it for Tink and it is the funniest thing I have read all month. It's in graphic novel format and the words are hilarious but the pictures! I could write humor for weeks and not get as funny as the pictures of Bad Kitty ridding himself of a hairball. I read it at bedtime (my own) and tried to make Thor read it with me and giggled aloud until he mocked me and then turned back to the front and read it again.

Apparently this is a series and I shall soon hunt down the rest. As should you, if you have elementary-aged readers. Or cats.

As for me, I must head back to the composition notebook and to the challenge of painting pictures with only words.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Psst! Wanna buy a granny?

Oh, happy is the Thursday when there is hilarity in the odd news. And even happier when said news is not obscene AND it would make, I think, an awesome middle grade chapter book.

This is your Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM).

From Reuters India
(Reporting by Paul Casciato; Editing by Steve Addison):

UK girl stopped from selling granny online

Apparently, 10 year old Zoe Pemberton tried this week to auction her grandmother off on Ebay. She described her grandma as "annoying and moaning a lot" but "cuddly." My favorite part? 27 people bid for her before Ebay reminded everyone that grandma trafficking is illegal.

There are two books here. First, you have a comedy about Zoe's efforts to get rid of her grandmother. Selling her on Ebay is only the tip of the iceberg. She also tries to marry her off to their neighbor Sheldon, attempting to get the senile old man to say "I do" before her grandmother figures out what is going on. She scatters ElderTour brochures around the house and fiddles with the GPS on Granny's wheelchair.

OR, and this is the one I want, what if it went through? What if you bought yourself a grandma on Ebay? You order her, save up, send all the money you saved plus some you stole from the change jar on dad's dresser, and ten days later, there's a knock at the door. Mom answers, and in walks Granny. Turns out she's thrilled to escape the brat who sold her and refuses to leave. So, like the stray dog you brought home in second grade, they let you keep her, but you have to take care of her. And turns out she is just as cuddly, but also just as annoying and moaning as advertised.

For some reason, I am picturing this in journal form. No! It's letters to the grandma whom Granny Ebay is replacing (she had a late life need for adventure and is off disabling land mines in Laos).

Poor Granny Ebay. Who will write me this book?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

This Week's Library Haul

We have taken ten million books out of the library since last installment. But all this linking and cover-finding takes time I do not have. Also, some of our haul includes I Spy: Spooky Things That No Kid Could Find* and the such. So here are my two favorites.

The Mine-o-saur
by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, illus. David Clark

"It's mine!" screams the Mine-o-saur about everything, until none of the other dinosaurs will play with him. Now he's got all the toys, but (surprise) it's not much fun. So he returns the toys and wins back his friends. The book has some rhyming verse, some prose, which gives it a nice rhythm but keeps it from becoming sing-song.

At first, I thought, "Oh, this is cute." Then we read it. "Again," said Destructo. So we read it the next night. "Again," said Destructo. So we read it the next night. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And I didn't get tired of it, which is saying A LOT.

Then, the other day, we were in the sand box, making spaghetti with rockballs in the dump truck as usual, when a little boy came over and screamed, "Mine!" He grabbed the dump truck/sauce pan. I expected fireworks. But Destructo just smiled and looked at me. "Dat the Mine-o-saur," he said. See that people? Books in life!

P.S. He still snatched the truck back from the other kid.

by Emily Gravett

"Idolize" is not too strong a word for how I feel about Emily Gravett. You've heard about the snuggly fun that Monkey & Me has brought my house. And now I find this. Nobody else plays around with the picture book format like this.

A rabbit borrows a book about wolves from the library. As he reads, a wolf peels off the pages of the book. Tink giggled herself silly at the rabbit's oblivion, as he continues to read even while standing amidst the fleas on the wolf's back. At the end of the book, yes, the wolf eats him, leaving only a fur tuft on the page. The best part: Gravett adds an ending for more "sensitive" readers in which the wolf turns out to be vegetarian and shares a jam sandwich with the rabbit (and they are illustrated as taped back together, rescued from the carnage of the previous page).

It was a little scary for Destructo ("Mama, I don't YIKE wooves.") but Tink and I loved it. And every picture book writer should read it, if only to see the possibilities in the format.

* not the real title

Friday, October 2, 2009

All we can do

I had a plan. In honor of the last day of Banned Books Week, I thought, "I will read my kids THE MOST challenged book of the year!" But it turns out the most challenged book of the year is And Tango Makes Three, which Tink reviewed here last year and which we read at least twice a month in my house.*

Instead, I decided to try something different. I tried to see it from the point of view of the parents challenging these books. I thought, "What if it were something that stood diametrically opposed to something I believe? What if there were a well-written, adorable picture book that, say, supported the idea that the Holocaust is a myth?" Would I want it gone from my kids' library? Or what if Tink's librarian started making YAs available to second graders to take out and Tink let slip one day that she was reading Forever at DEAR time?

But for every example I invented, there was the same answer: I would talk to Tink about it. The fact is: we can't control the world; all we can do is prepare our children for it. We can't control other people's opinions, no matter how crazy we think they are. All we can do is raise children strong enough and smart enough to think for themselves. And honestly, we can't really control who our children turn out to be. All we can do is show them that we are there to discuss the confusing parts and to answer questions and to calm their fears, and to promise them that we will love them, no matter what life choices they make.

And as writers, all we can do is keep writing books that show kids that no matter who they are or where they come from, somewhere someone understands.

Happy Banned Books week, everyone.

P.S. For a much better, deeper post on this, read this librarian's response to a parent's concerns (thanks cath c, for the link).

* really people? Really? The absolute scariest, most inappropriate for children thing in print out there right now is a true story about two male penguins who raise an adorable baby? For real? Because I have read some books with my kids this year that were so insipid that I could look into my kids' ears while they read and see their brains rotting noticeably.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ellen Hopkins, E. Lockhart ... And Me

I trolled Lee Wind's blog, I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? long before I discovered what a great guy he is in person.  This summer at SCBWI-LA, I told him the story of the ridiculous challenge to the anti-bullying curriculum in which The New Girl...And Me was included and the ensuing hoo-hah over my book (if you missed this story, go read it here).

Well, now Lee has been kind enough to interview little old me along with the likes of Ellen Hopkins, E. Lockhart, Frank Portman, Jo Knowles, and Sarah Brannen, on the occasion of Banned Books Week.  You can read Part One of So Your Book Has Been Challenged here.

I'll be honest: I feel a little silly being there.  As I said in the interview, it's not like I wrote something brave.  It wasn't even my book that got people all in a kerfluffle.  I almost begged out of the interview.  But then I realized that the story about people not wanting kindergartners to read The New Girl...And Me is important precisely because it is so stupid and ignorant and completely and totally unrelated to the book.  Just as, I believe, the debate over whether or not schools should have Uncle Bobby's Wedding is more about the challengers' own discomfort than about what's "good" or "appropriate" for children.  We put ourselves in danger when we let other people tell us what to read, and what to think, and the way the information about my book got all twisted is a perfect example (again, really, if you didn't hear the story of how I apparently wrote a kindergarten manual for gay sex, click here).

So go and read, and check out the rest of Lee's blog while you're there.  And come back Friday for the exciting conclusion of the Jacqui Reads Her Children Even More Books Other People Think Are Bad For Them project.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Writing on empty

I love to run, most of the time. Lately, I am training for a half-marathon. In three weeks, I will try to run to Canada and back. Very exciting. The long runs for this, though, have been less fun. Yesterday, for example, I ran 12 miles that seemed uphill the whole way, with rainy wind in my face, and while fasting for Yom Kippur.

While I was running, I was thinking about writing. I do this a lot, especially since reading Haruki Murakami's memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I love Murakami's fiction and I love his parallels between running and writing (which you can read about here).

So yesterday, I was thinking, "How come it's so easy to make myself go running, even when I know it's going to be hard? How come I don't think about a day of running that isn't a race as lost time, but I think of a day of writing that I don't eventually use as a failure? How come I can't treat writing more like running?"

And this morning, it hit me, along with a pulled muscle and a bad case of chills. The reason is this: I ran 12 miles yesterday. It's over. Done. Nobody cares how well I did it. I don't have to look at a video tape and go back and run the bad parts over again. I don't have to re-run chapter three the third mile fifteen more times until I get it right. And I don't have to spend this whole morning staring at three or four words steps of the run, totally unable to figure out how to make them work.

Of course, on the other hand, nobody yesterday told me her daughter actually sleeps with a copy of one of my runs.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

This is My Space

Not MySpace. My space.

Remember my closet office last summer?

It looked like this.

At least, I think it did. I never really went in there, except to pry open the door, huck something inside, and slam it shut.

Then, I decided to "fix it up" and it looked like this:
Oh, I was so excited then. But eventually, everybody including me went back to using it as a dumping ground and every time I went in there I was assaulted by the mess and the visual reminders of the to do list and aak! Get me out of here!

But writing was like pulling teeth and I was getting to hate my coffee shop. Plus, it's not like the rest of the house wasn't a constant reminder of anything else I could or should be doing. I started dreaming of hotel retreats. I made plans to move into my friend Sharon's tree house. I Googled the (exorbitant) cost of sheds and wondered how to heat them in winter.

Instead, I went mad. I took everything out of my office that didn't have to do with writing. I put it all in the living room. I recycled and trashed a bunch of crap. Then I blew half my latest royalty check on The Chair I Have Been Coveting. And now, ladies and gentlemen, behold. My space.

This is the same view through the door as those other pictures. The desk is around the corner, like this:

I am in love.

Not coincidentally, I wrote many, many words this week.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ducks who bake

In which I ponder the feminist implications of embracing your sissitude.

Welcome to this week's Jacqui Reads Her Children Even More Books That Other People Think Are Bad For Them

For an explanation of my Banned Books Month project, click here.
For a far deeper and more eloquent post against book-banning, etc, read Laurie Halse Anderson's discussion here.

The Sissy Duckling
by Harvey Fierstein, illus. Henry Cole

Elmer the duckling likes to build things and paint and make believe. The other ducks tease him and call him "sissy" and beat the crap out of each other. Even Elmer's own dad can't take Elmer's sissy ways, so Elmer runs away to spare his family any more embarrassment. He sets himself up a nice little pad in a nearby tree. Elmer's mother and father leave with the rest of the flock to fly south for the winter, but hunters shoot his father down. Elmer rescues his father and they spend the winter bonding in Elmer's apartment. When the flock comes back, the family is reunited, Elmer's dad stands up for him, and Elmer declares himself sissy and proud.

This is a cute book. I love that Elmer doesn't have to change to be accepted. I love that he uses his own specific skills to survive the winter. And I love any book that shows how mean name-calling can be.

Now. This book was challenged on several occasions for being "gay themed." This fascinates me, because in order to see the book as having anything to do with anything gay, you have to buy hook, line and sinker the idea that men who like interior decorating are all gay and, of course, that all gay men are "sissies." I know people think like that. I'm just amazed that they're at home being so open about it. It's one thing to challenge a book about gay marriage because you believe it's a sin. It's another thing, in my mind, to challenge a book and to admit that the main character being at home with his own baking skills makes you unfathomably uncomfortable and don't you people know that liking to paint means you are gay gay gay! And, oh, good lord, our KIDS can't read this because what if OUR son should, GASP, take up baking! We all know what "good at baking" is a euphemism for, DON'T WE????

Of course, it is just this leap in logic on which Harvey Fierstein was banking when he wrote the book, I think. And I'm all for telling kids early on, before they ever start thinking about it, that they will be loved no matter who they love.

However, I do have one beef with The Sissy Duckling. At the end of the book, Elmer announces that he is a sissy and proud. This bugs me. Not because I don't want Elmer to feel good about himself, but because it reinforces the idea that a man who likes to do the things Elmer likes to do is a "sissy" in the first place. Which is an opinion that relies entirely on the idea that men and women should like to do different things AND that the things women purportedly like to do are weaker, less important, etc. I'd rather abolish the sissy concept all together. And "tomboy" too, while we're at it.

So, with all this in mind, we read it to our kids.

Yeah, they didn't notice any of that. They were way too caught up in the parents.

"They LEFT him?! Why did they LEAVE him?! They didn't even LOOK for him!!!"

"Hold it. The dad got SHOT?! Is he dying? Is he dead, Mama?"

"Does the mom come back? Is that her? Does he go live with them now? WHEN DOES HE SEE HIS MAMA?!?!?!"

And there you have it. To them, it was a horror story about a poor duck who nobody liked ("Those other ducks are BAD, Mama!"), whose dad yelled at him so bad that he ran away and his parents didn't even look for him before they flew south and abandoned him even though no duck has ever been known to survive a winter in the forest and then his dad gets shot by hunters and almost dies.

This is an important lesson, I think, in how hard it is, even for those of us who pride ourselves on it, to truly see things through a child's eyes, and also in the dangers of too much theory.

Meanwhile, Tink has been sneaking the light back on at night after I come downstairs so that she can see what happens to Harry, and honestly, I can't see giving her a hard time about it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pure silliness

Ever walk down the street and see something that is in no way supposed to be silly, but it strikes you in a punny way and makes you giggle? And then the rest of the day, you're thinking of silly puns and stories about it and giggling to yourself at inappropriate moments? No? Oh. Hmm.

Anyway, this week, while pondering the Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSWTBIM), I saw this:

And I thought, "Yes. I AM a giant, hardy mum." And I giggled. And then I thought of Hagrid, and his giant hardy mum. And then I wondered about the Hardy Boys, and what their mum was like.

And then I thought of the Hardy Boys being trapped somewhere, in danger, until the ceiling crashes open and their giant Hardy mum saves them.

And then I thought, "No, this is a picture book." Something along the lines of Liz Rosenberg & Stephen Gammell's Monster Mama, but even goofier. A crowd of giant, crime-fighting hardy mums who are also Boy Scout Troop leaders?

What do you think? Please tell me you don't just see flowers.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Book Beat (and Bears)

Oh, I am a fool who did not take a picture of the stuffed and labyrinthine fantasticness that is Book Beat, this week's new favorite book store. Suffice it to say I went up to sign 40 copies of TWO OF A KIND and THE NEW GIRL...AND ME -- yes, you read that correctly, so if you live near Oak Park, Michigan and you want a signed copy, or any other book, go get it at Book Beat, okay? -- and the trip turned into an hour long book-fondling expedition.

And I came away with this:

Bears in Chairs
by Shirley Parenteau, illus. David Walker

This is the sweetest book I have seen all year. Four grab-your-heart-adorable bears all climb onto four chairs until they are happily all seated, one to a chair so no one has to share. And then a big bear comes along. Sparse and cute but not saccharine. Destructo is going to eat it up.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

This Week's Library Haul

In which Destructo shows why books are good for kids.

1. No, David!
by David Shannon
David's mother always said, "No, David!"
David never listens and he makes a mess, but in the end, his mama loves him anyway. I love this book and the picture of David running away down the street naked always makes us laugh.

Recommended for: every child everywhere except the kids of the sneering lady behind me in the grocery store the other day because HER kids obviously never, say, try to eat one another's hair while trapped in the cart.

2. Strega Nona Takes a Vacation
by Tomie dePaola
When Strega Nona tries to take a vacation, her assistants Bambolona and Big Anthony screw up and make a big mess, but Strega Nona comes back and loves them anyway.

We have had to read this book every night. It's a true sequel, and better if you've read the original Strega Nona, where Big Anthony fills the town with pasta. It's best, though, if you get to hear it in my fabulous variety of Italian accents.

If you like Tomie dePaola, check out the birthday treat Jarrett Krosoczka made him at Three Kisses for Tomie.

3. several Curious George books, all of which have the same plot: Curious George tries to be a good little monkey but is too curious and so makes a mess and gets in trouble but it all turns out okay and everyone still loves him anyway.

Are you sensing a trend? Let's switch it up.

4. Bear Feels Scared
by Karma Wilson, illus. Jane Chapman
I'll be honest: we didn't take this book out. We took out Bear's New Friend, which is pretty good. But we heard Bear Feels Scared at story time and it's awesome. Bear, who you'd think would be a big, tough guy used to scaring others turns out to be a bowl full of chicken when he's left alone in the woods. Luckily, his friends find him and bring him back to his safe cave.

Let me repeat: Bear is a big boy who you'd think would be, um, destructive, but he really feels scared a lot of the time.

Recommended for: anyone who gets scared.

And then, tonight at bed time, after reading these for the 100th time, after I checked his room for monsters and hung the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door so no bad guys can get in, Destructo snuggled up next to me and told me about when Tinkerbell knocked him off the slide today.

"It was a mistake," I said. "Everybody makes them."

"Yeah," he said. "But you yuv me anyway."

Friday, September 18, 2009

Jacqui Reads Her Children Even More Books Other People Think Are Bad For Them

Week 3: Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone

In which I outwit my daughter for once, in the name of my Banned Books Week project.

Tinkerbell was dying to read the Harry Potter books when she was five. I wouldn't let her; I wanted her to appreciate them in all their glory and I knew she'd be terrified. Then everyone else she knew started hearing parents read them and raving about them and Tink, who hates to be told what she should like, rebelled.

"I don't even want to read the stupid Harry Potter books," she announced. "I am never going to read them."

I breathed into a paper bag and held my tongue.

Then, last week, after the Five Chinese Brothers disappointment, I casually mentioned that some people didn't think the Harry Potter books were good for her.

"Really? Why?" she asked.

"No good reason," I teased.


"Eh, because there's magic. And stuff like goblins and flying broomsticks and I guess some people don't think people should read about a SCHOOL FOR WIZARD KIDS WHO CAN DO REAL MAGIC."

It worked. We started this week. We're taking turns reading aloud* and she is totally hooked. As any good book lover should be.

I did go back and have another conversation in which I explained carefully why some people are opposed to books about witchcraft, etc. Tinkerbell pondered it.

"No," she said. "I can believe in magic and still believe in God," she announced. "Now, keep reading."

* And let me tell you: it turns out I do a painfully bad fake British accent, so I have had to branch out to differentiate the book's, what, 3 million characters? Tink is going to be somewhat surprised when she sees the movie and Hagrid's "drawl" is not from West Virginia.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Are you what you do?

In which a chance comment sparks a No, Seriously. Just Try It story starter.

"Too often," someone told me this week. "We get caught up in defining ourselves by what we do, instead of who we are."

When she said it, I nodded, because I thought she meant "what we do" like "what our jobs are." But she didn't, it turned out. And I've been thinking about it ever since.

I am a writer, and specifically, I am a writer who believes strongly in showing, not telling. And so, in my mind, we ARE what we DO. Our actions define us as characters.

But then, because I am a writer, I had to ponder further. What I pondered is the deliciously powerful emotional space between who a character says he is and what he does. It can be hilarious* or tragic (think Lolita).

It's very real, this finding yourself unable to stop doing something that goes against everything you think about yourself. And it can drive us to do things which are even more out of character as we try to get back on what we consider our track to be.

This week, I am playing around with that moment when my characters find themselves looking down on the scene and thinking, "What am I doing??? This isn't me!" I am playing with the outrageous things they do to try to get back to themselves.

So. What kind of person does your character THINK she is? Now, what can she do that totally contradicts this? How does she get to that point? And when she realizes where she is, what does she do to escape?

No, Seriously. Just Try It.

*Like, say, you consider yourself a loving wife until you totally space The Mighty Thor's birthday today until he parades into the kids' room while you're in a good game of Pretend To Drown and says, "Ahem, how do I look, FOR 39???"

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Five Chinese Brothers

In which I attempt to incite my children to violence and they are underwhelmed.

Welcome back to Jacqui Reads Her Children Even More Books That Other People Think Are Bad For Them (explanation here).

Somebody asked me if I would feel differently if the books that people wanted to ban or challenge were things I truly thought were inappropriate for kids. She implied that it's easy for me to make fun of not wanting kids to read books about two daddies when I have no problem with someone having two daddies. So this week I decided to read something with which I might have a real problem. And in honor of today, and the violence associated with it, I decided to read something violent.

In The Five Chinese Brothers (by Claire Huchet Bishop, illus. Kurt Wiese) five brothers who look exactly alike have five different superpowers, each of which luckily corresponds to the five ways their town tries to execute criminals. When the first brother drowns a little greedy boy, the law comes after them and the brothers take turns pretending to be the first one and using their powers to escape justice. This book has the added bonus of having been challenged as promoting racial stereotypes* (I think because all five brothers are supposed to look exactly alike and the pictures are highly stylized). So there was going to be, I thought, lots of juicy conversation, lots of teachable moments, lots of good dirt for the blog.

I read it to Captain Destructo in the library. I cringed. I mean, a kid is drowned and never heard from again. Then the rest of the book is the town trying to kill the brothers by beheading, death by fire, drowning, and suffocation. Here I am reading it aloud to my two year old. But I refused to budge. I didn't change a word. Tink read it to herself and then I sat them down to discuss it.

DESTRUCTO: (happy and charmed) They get to see their mommy in the end!
JACQUI: Hello?
DESTRUCTO: Why you say "he-yo?"
JACQUI: What did you think?
TINK: Pbbltt.
JACQUI: You didn't like it?
TINK: Nah.
JACQUI: Because it was violent?
TINK: No, because it was boring.
DESTRUCTO: Yeah. It bo-ying.
TINK: Can we go have breakfast now?
JACQUI: But --
DESTRUCTO: Yet's go! (exit, pursued by sister)

And that, ladies and gentleman, is all I got. At least you know I'm not making this stuff up.

* It has been challenged both for the racial stereotypes and the violence.