Thursday, September 30, 2010

From the Jacqui's Room Office for Outer Space Affairs

My Thursday News of the Absurd Will Someone Please Write This Book Inspirational Moment (TNoftheAWSPWTBIM) news this week turned out to be a hoax!

I was disappointed to hear that, contrary to many media sources (all of whom should be really embarrassed for repeating it without doing any fact-checking), the U.N. did not actually appoint someone Earth's official "first contact" with alien life forms. Apparently, there is not someone in an office in Malaysia whose job is to wait for aliens to contact us.

This is very disappointing because one of you was going to write me a hilarious picture book about the bored bureaucrat sitting filing her nails, cracking gum and fielding the alien phone calls. ("Hello, Department of Earth's First ExtraTerrestrial Contact. How may I direct your call?") The official first contact was Malaysian, but I was picturing her from Jersey. And of course she was unfazable, regardless of what crazy aliens came in. "I'm sorry sir. There are no further openings for attempted invasion and take over of New York City this month. Please fill out Form P-2987 and submit it with November's application fee. Next."

Mostly, I'm disappointed nobody has to answer me this: it's all fine and well for US to know who the first contact is. But who's going to explain it to the aliens?

Oh well. At least U.N.O.O.S.A.* really exists. That's enough to feed the imagination for a while.

* the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tink, on Roald Dahl

This week, Tink is reading George's Marvelous Medicine. It, like many Roald Dahl books, has been challenged from time to time by concerned parents. So I sat Tink down for a Jacqui Reads her Children Books That Are SURE to RUIN Them FOREVER discussion.

ME: Tink?
TINK: (reads)
ME: Tink?
TINK: (reads)
TINK: (reads)
ME: I notice you're reading George's Marvelous Medicine.
TINK: It's my Accelerated Reader book. (reads)
ME: Well, you know about Banned Books Week --
TINK: (deep sigh) And this is one of them.
ME: Well, sort of. What do you think?
TINK: (reads)
ME: Tink!
TINK: (blows bangs off face by spewing air with lower lip stuck out) Here's what I think: Yes, it's maybe not so appropriate in some places. But people! It's Roald Dahl. What did you expect? (returns to reading, turning back on me)
ME: (ponders several things, including how else to celebrate Banned Books Week)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Jacqui Reads Her Children Books That Are SURE To RUIN Them FOREVER

It's Banned Books Week!

Two years ago, I celebrated with Jacqui Reads Her Children Books That Other People Think Are Bad For Them. Last year I read them Even More Books That Other People Think Are Bad For Them. We've read a ton of terrible, child-harming evil, and yet, miraculously, my children's moral fiber remains frustratingly intact. So THIS year, I decided to condense the exposure AND to hit them with the biggies. I present to you:

Jacqui Reads Her Children Books That Are SURE to RUIN Them FOREVER

We started this weekend with these:

Heather Has Two Mommies
by Lesléa Newman, illus. Diana Souza

Daddy's Roommate
by Michael Willhoite

Nothing subtle there, eh? My kids were sure to be doomed.

We ran into trouble immediately. Destructo couldn't have cared less how many mommies Heather had. He was mainly worried that on the cover of her book, it looks like Heather is about to be EATEN BY A WOLF.*

Heather's story is very straightforward. Two is her favorite number; she has two hands, two eyes, and two mommies, both of whom she loves best. When Heather starts a playgroup, though, the kids talk about their daddies. Heather doesn't have a daddy and gets sad until the other kids in the class talk about how all their families are different and the teacher delivers a speech on love.

This is an important book, and a very lovey and reassuring book. It is not subtle though, and not particularly informative for modern kids with 21st century mindsets. BUT it becomes VERY interesting, terrifying even, if you think Heather's pet dog is a CHILD-EATING WOLF.

Punchy, but undeterred, we moved on to Daddy's Roommate. In the book, a little boy's parents are divorced and his dad has moved in with another man. The book is all about the fun the boy has with Daddy and his roommate.

First, check out that fantastic mustache! Thor had total facial hair envy.

Second, regardless of your politics, you have to respect an author who isn't afraid to speak his true thoughts on his book (and his whole lifestyle) being challenged.

But to the actual story. This book does not beat around the bush. It has illustrations of the men hugging in bed, it talks about their love for each other, it says they sleep together. As I read, I was thinking how red in the face Daddy's Roommate must make closed-minded book haters. But then Tink spoke up, on the page where they're at the beach.

"I know why some people think we shouldn't read this book," she said, pointing to the picture of Daddy's roommate in a Speedo-style bathing suit. "He's almost naked!"

Hmm. Later, she decided that what the book-banners didn't like must be the picture of the men wearing Red Sox hats. Because nobody should cheer for the Red Sox, I guess.

In the next episode: Underwear, the Sex Pistols, and Tink on Roald Dahl. Stay tuned.

* This is not to knock Ms. Souza; the illustrations within are cute. But you can see why he thought that.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Who is the author?

Today's Thursday inspiration comes from Tink, who had this idea:

"What if you didn't know who the author of the book was and the book was like a mystery where you had to find out?"

I am fascinated by this. You could write it as a scavenger hunt through the internet or even, gasp, the real world, where you had to figure out what historical figure was supposedly the author.

But I want fiction. A middle grade mystery with changing points of view, one of whom has written the book but doesn't admit it. In the story, a certain book has powers of some sort. Something important* hinges on who the author is, but nobody knows. After a few chapters, we realize the book in question is the one we're holding and WE have to figure out who wrote it. I want it sort of terrifying, like if we don't figure it out before the book is over something dreadful might happen to us in REAL LIFE.

I want a smart mystery with a brand-new structure and definite chills. Who will write me this book?

* No, I don't know what powers or what hinges. And this is why YOU are going to write the book.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Which means fear of the blank paper.*

I don't have a fear of the blank page. I love a good blank page, a whole blank journal even. It's so full of potential. Imagine all the fantastic, beautiful, hilarious things that could end up on there!

No, I have a fear of a half-filled page of bad writing. Call it vacansocrapurosophobia. The flip side of that blank page full of potential is a scribbled-on piece of garbage that I'm embarrassed to recycle without shredding it first. That's what haunts me.

I have a new book idea. It might be my favorite book idea ever. It's so pretty right now, so hilarious and yet touching, so unique and yet universal. And so completely unwritten, and therefore so fraught with the looming specter of total, heart-breaking failure to carry it off in a way that is at all close to my beloved vision for it.

This is the writer's dilemma: I have to be madly in love with an idea in order to even consider starting, given the amount of time and sweat (well, mental sweat) and energy I know it's going to take. But if I'm too in love with it, I'm terrified of blowing it.

This summer, though, I got a wonderful piece of advice: Redefine failure. As in, whenever you find yourself not trying something for fear you'll fail, redefine what "failure" will mean in that situation. For me, for any writer but in particular for those of you who have "always wanted to, but...", maybe failure shouldn't mean "unpublished" or "not as perfect as I hoped." Maybe failure should mean "never tried." And there's one obvious way to make sure that doesn't happen.

Excuse me, I have a book to go start.

* Also the title of an 826michigan student publication of just the kind you'd be supporting if you'd already signed on to force me to dress up like a robot and dance on the Jumbotron.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Help kids, humiliate Jacqui*

Things Jacqui Has Been Doing Instead of Blogging, part 1

Here are two things I love:

And here is 826michigan, one of my favorite non-profits, which is dedicated entirely to teaching kids to write. You will not find another organization making writing as fun, as creative, as appealing to all kids (even reluctant writers), or as cool as 826 makes writing. We have a ROBOT STORE, for goodness sake.

You can learn more about all the 826 outfits here. This is something I believe in whole-heartedly. I'm on the board. I work in the robot store. Last year I spent all day every Friday volunteering during writing workshops at an elementary school in Ypsilanti. And sometimes, I humiliate myself. For example, this picture of me dressed as Brutus killing Robot Julius Caesar.

Now, here are two things I hate:
asking for money

So I figured, why not combine them?

The Big House Big Heart is a 5K race that runs through downtown Ann Arbor, into the University of Michigan stadium, down the middle of the field and across the 50 yard line, where finishers are videotaped stumbling along and projected, giant-sized, onto the field's Jumbotron, for all to see.

And on October 3, with your help, it is possible I will run the Big House Big Heart Race and breakdance robot-style across the finish line while being projected giant-sized onto the Jumbotron. All while dressed in a full body robot costume.

Total humiliation. How can you make this happen? Help me raise $826 for 826michigan.

Yup. For a meager $826, I am going to line up with 10,000 other people, in broad daylight, with dryer vent tubes on my arms and a sign that says, "I get my fix at Liberty Street Robot Supply and Repair."** And I am going to post pictures of the whole thing. Online, for all to see and mock.

Here's how you can contribute to the Help Kids, Humiliate Jacqui plan:

1. Click HERE to be directed to the 826michigan race page. Then click on my name to go to PayPal.

2. Mail a check or cash to 826michigan, 115 E. Liberty Street, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109. Put "I want Jacqui red-faced on the Jumbotron" or something similarly evil in the memo.

3. Toss cash at me as I run past you in the race. This is, of course, less effective.

And then either sit back and pat yourself on the back for doing good and helping kids learn to write, or sit back and giggle maniacally at how embarrassed I am going to be out there. You know who you are.

* a blog title that shows the importance of carefully placed punctuation.
** or something else equally mortifying

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

School has started...

... and there is not a person in my house who isn't thrilled about it.

Everyone started new schools and everyone is in love with the new places. Though yesterday Destructo was upset because:

"We were learning to wash our hands and I saw a giant X marks the spot on the floor and it could be real pirate treasure and NONE of my teachers would GET ME A SHOVEL!"

It is also possible he insisted to his Sunday School teachers that his name is "Buzz."

Methinks it could be a long year...

Tink's new school uses the Accelerated Reader program: "MOM! Can you believe my HOMEWORK is to READ A BOOK?! Like I get extra credit for reading a book! Reading! For HOMEWORK. Like it's hard" (shakes head, chuckles to self, and disappears into armchair for hours).

As for me, in the last two weeks I had Tink's birthday (complete with Black and White themed almost sleepover), the first day of new schools for both Tink and Destructo, Rosh Hashanah, my birthday, Thor's 40th birthday (for which I planned a surprise weekend away with 10 friends), minor household crises (everyone is fine), an unintentionally thawed refrigerator, a barfing cat, minimal child care, house guests, a total of nearly 80 miles run, mysterious lights on in the car,

And yet, as part of my new "no excuses" policy, I will be sending everything my agent wanted by Thursday to her. Today. Yup, two days early. And yup, I am crowing about it.

So lemme just finish formatting this one thing. And then I will be back in Jacqui's Room to tell you all about it.