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.