Saturday, January 30, 2010

Top Ten Chapter Books Ever

Remember when I agonized over Elizabeth Bird's call for our lists of the top ten picture books ever? Well, she's done me in good this time, that Fuse #8. Now she wants our top ten chapter books ever, ranked in order.

Picture books were easier. I barely remember reading picture books as a kid, with a few exceptions. But the chapter books? They were like old friends, read over and over. I kept saying, "Who can I leave off the list?"

I finally got my list in today. Here's what I sent:

1. Bridge to Terabithia – because it made me cry in fifth grade, and again in high school, and again and again and again. And because even at 38, I still dream of Terabithia. If this were a list of “best books ever, regardless of genre,” Bridge to Terabithia might still top my list.

2. The Westing Game

3. Charlotte’s Web – including the award for the best all time first line.

4. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret

5. Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone – Harry Potter is like Justin Timberlake: it’s so popular that I always want to think it’s junk, and then it constantly surprises me with how brilliant it is.

6. The Giver

7. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

8. The Black Cauldron

9. Harriet the Spy – because the kid emotions and interactions are perfect. Plus, who didn’t read this and then go around with a black composition notebook writing about people? Wait. I still do that. Huh.

10. Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great – because thirty-seven years later, Judy Blume still speaks straight to kids’ secret hearts

Your thoughts, wise visitors to Jacqui's Room? And you still have all day today and tomorrow to send your own list in to be tallied.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Her name was Lola...

... she was a Sinosauropteryx,
With colored feathers on her head
Stripes of black and white and red.

She would meringue
And feast on raw meat.
But while she watched the feathers grow
They were always just for show.

She'd stay up late at night,
Trying to take flight
While the T-Rexes and the raptors
All learned how to fight.

In the Cretaceous,
The hottest thing til the Sahara
In the Cretaceous,
Sharp claws and slashin' were the latest fashion
But feathers?
'head of her time.

Her name was Lola,
She was a Sinosauropteryx,
But that was 100 million years ago
Before the disco balls did glow.

Now it's a blingfest,
But not for Lola,
Still in her fossilized mud bed
Faded feathers on her head

She lays there all alone
And Idol never phones
In the age of rhinestones and sequins
She is left with bones.

In the Cretaceous,
Sharp claws and slashin' were the latest fashion
But feathers?
Go take a look.
You're on the hook.
Write me this book.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Rage - Goddess, sing the rage

of Peleus' son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls...

In which I remember not every book has to be a classic to be good.

Tink is a great reader. She can read anything she can get her hands on. And what does she pick?

Rainbow Magic Fairies.

It kills me. As I told a friend, every time she turns a page, a piece of my soul dies. But she's happy, and she's reading, and so, well, okay. I shut up.

And then yesterday she asked to go to the library. We returned the FIVE fairy books she got on Monday (because she had finished them by Monday night) and she got five more. I bit my tongue and tried to direct her towards some books whose strongest assets are not their glittery covers. Then she asked, "Where's nonfiction?"

I showed her the shelves (and gave her a mini-lesson in the Dewey Decimal System). She marched over to the books on Ancient Greece and began huffing, "Where is the ILIAD?"*

Bemused and marveling again at the power of a really good yarn to last for generations, I looked it up and we headed to section 883.

"These are all picture books," Tink complained. "I want the real Iliad."

"These are the real Iliad," I said. "It was written in Greek and people translate it. These are the real stories."

"The Iliad does not have pictures," she pointed out.

So we went upstairs to the adult poetry section and she took out this:

I decided that if I let her read Rainbow Fairy books without comment, I shouldn't say anything if she wants to try The Iliad.

"I'm going to read this," she announced.

"I believe it," I said.

"But sometimes I'm going to read these, like to relax," she said, holding up Evie the Mist Fairy.

Which is how it should be, I think.

We curled up on some cushions, Tink with her 683-page translation of The Iliad and me with The Friendship Ring: If You Only Knew, by Rachel Vail. Which is good too.

* They've been reading Trojan War stories in her reading group.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tick tock, the clock don't stop

This week's Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSWTBIM) happened this morning.

4:57am Destructo awakens, gets fully dressed, and heads downstairs. When confronted with "What are you doing?!" he falls to the floor screaming, "I HUNGY!" I bring Destructo milk and send Thor in to get him back to sleep.

5:00am Tink crawls into bed with me, falls back asleep, and steals all the covers.

6:00am Thor's alarm clock beeps. I reach over Tink and hit it blindly. It stops.

6:10am Alarm clock beeps again. I hit it harder. It stops.

6:15am Alarm clock beeps again. I get up and pound the darn thing. I press every button. It stops.

6:20am Alarm clock beeps again. I growl, beat on it again, rip the cord out of the socket, and toss the clock to the floor. It stops.

6:30am Alarm clock makes high-pitched shrieking sound. I shake it, yelling "WHAT THE HECK?!" I flip every switch, hit every button, and smack the display (which is dark, because the thing is UNPLUGGED). It stops.

6:35am Tink is giggling uncontrollably. "Mama's in a war with Dada's clock." We get up.

Time passes. We get dressed, make breakfast, etc.

7:15am The obviously haunted alarm clock STARTS BEEPING AGAIN. I yell, "GAH!" Tink cracks up. Destructo, thinking it's the fire alarm, tries to evacuate.

7:16am Thor comes downstairs and says, "What did you do to my clock?"

"It hates us," Tink says.

"It's going to chase us to school," I say, picturing the clock tipping back and forth on it's little "feet," beeping angrily.

"This is totally a book," she says.

And she's right. The angry alarm clock's revenge.

Or, maybe it's sad that I hit it, so it chases me all day beeping until I apologize.

Or...well, what do you think? And who will write me this book?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

ISO a good book

From the classifieds of the Jacqui's Room Tribune:

MWF ISO a good book. Recent literary relationships all disappointing. Looking for an intelligent book with humor, depth, and a gripping, complex plot. Age not important. Must not open with landscapes. Also, graphic violence, kidnapping of small children, and jokes that hurt people's feelings need not apply. Satisfying, yet surprising ending essential. Join me for curling up on long winter nights or walks on the beach.

Any good literary matchmakers out there have that somebook special for me?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ladies and Felines of the Jury

It happened again. I found a fabulous Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM) and, well, it's just too good a picture book not to give it a try myself. Now I am obsessed.

But this cracks me up.

From WHDH-TV news in Boston:

East Boston cat called to jury duty

Apparently Sal, the feline pet of the Esposito family, received a letter demanding that he appear for jury duty. His owner wrote to explain that he's, well, a cat, and to file for his disqualification of service. The verdict from the jury commissioner? DENIED. Now Sal has to have his day in court or face punishment.

I love this mostly because I love stories in which bureaucracy acts in idiotic ways but nobody's life is actually ruined. What is the jury commissioner thinking?! HE'S A CAT!

What if Sal shows up in court, expecting to be sent home immediately, and nothing happens? What if he's chosen for a jury? What if he falls in love with the legal system and decides to become a judge himself?

There's a book here. I don't know what it is, but maybe you do. Will someone please write it for me?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Writing truths by Tink

It is always amazing to me how kids can understand and articulate things about books that some adult writers NEVER GET. Tink has started a new series, called "Writers And How They Write." Here's the first installment:

Yup. Conflict and character motivation summed up in 34 words by a second grader.

Tink would like me to point out that she knows how to spell all those words, but "it's not really that important to get everything perfect in a first draft." Which is, of course, lesson number 2.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Every single year

I have raved about Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac here before, so it's no surprise he's the source on this too. If you're here after the 8th and you use the link above, you'll need to click "prev" until you find the one on Allende.

It's January 8, which means Isabel Allende is starting a new book. 29 years ago, she started The House of the Spirits (which is a wonderful book, and which a bunch of people are reading together in January over at Moonrat's if you're interested) (or, if you're lazy, you can see the movie, which is also beautiful and haunting). That turned out pretty well, so she decided to try it every year.

According to my research,* Allende goes down to her office in the morning, locks herself in, lights candles, meditates, and then writes for 10 straight hours. No outline. No ideas. No index cards. Then she writes 10 hours a day, six days a week until she finishes the book. Nobody reads it until it's done, not even her. When it's finished, she reads and then revises accordingly.

There's so much I want to say about this. Like "Oh, yeah, that's my daily schedule too." Like that I am amazed at her discipline. Like that when I'm older and nobody cares if I disappear for ten hours, I want to try it like that.

Mostly, it's a good reminder for the new year that in the end, it's the old butt in chair that does it: wanna write a book? Go write it. It won't be The House of Spirits, but writing is not like, say, running a four minute mile, which I could never do no matter how hard I trained. And even Isabel Allende has to go back and revise.

* Keillor's article, Google and Wikipedia

Monday, January 4, 2010

Jacqui's Room Topics You Missed Because You Don't Live in My Head

I had so many things to tell you while I was in Argentina. Turns out I CAN go ten days with no internet, no cell phone, no email, and no day care. What I CANNOT do is stop thinking of things about which to write. But, one of my new year's resolutions is to live in the present, so I'm not going to try to recapture the inspiration. Here's what you missed:

1. If You're Gonna Have Family Drama, There Might As Well Be Actual Wild Monkeys Around

2. The Power of Words: A lengthy discussion of how we trick ourselves into thinking the word we use for a thing is somehow infused with the essence of that thing so that someone who does not speak our language at all should somehow understand anyway if we just say the word loudly and expressively enough. Punctuated by examples from Tinkerbell and others and involving a joke about monkey bars.

3. Dear GuaranĂ­ People, So Sorry Your New Year's Day Purifying Dip in the IguazĂș Falls** Was Ruined By the Shrieks of My Son And If You Find the Piece of My Husband's Chin That He Bit Off, That's Okay, You Can Keep It.

4. Dulce de Leche, Nectar of the Gods. Includes references to Proust and the parallels between his experience with the madeleines and my tasting this caramel-like goodness for the first time since childhood. Also: elaborate fantasy involving dulce de leche crepes.

5. Why You Can Never Check Anything Off Your Parental To Do List/The Un-Power of Words. In which I have to explain the concept of death to Destructo for the fourth time in two months because he has heard "going to find Grandpa's dada's grave" as "going to find Grandpa's dada and bring him home with us." And other deep thoughts on family history, childhood, the random migration of people and families, and Brooklyn.

And, my favorite,

6. What Will Happen If Immigration Thinks You Are Accidentally Smuggling Diseased Horse Poop Into the U.S.

** At least, that's what I was told was going on; for all I know they were tourists from Duluth.