Monday, April 14, 2014

If Mister Rogers had been a singer

If Urkel had been a been a rockabilly guitarist...

I gotta admit, corny as these videos are, it's impossible not to like Neil Sedaka. And as for the Collins Kids, who never had a hit record, they were pretty damn good! The kid could play a mean guitar for a 12-year-old, they had great voices, and let's face it, Lorrie was pretty hot, in a '50s cowgirl kinda way.

And thus concludes my entire weekend productivity.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Battle of the Newberys: Flora & Ulysses vs. The Year of Billy Miller


Tale of the Tape:
  • Flora and Ulysses is the 2014 Newbery Winner. The Year of Billy Miller is a 2014 Newbery Honoree.
  • Both are supposedly for ages 8-12/grade level 3-7. (More about that below.)
  • Both are terrific in different ways.
Flora and Ulysses is wacky-silly, with lots of physical humor involving a flying superhero squirrel. You have to suspend disbelief from the moment you open the book. Its gravitas comes from the fact that Flora's parents are divorced and her mom--a writer--seems to have abandoned her emotionally in favor of an antique lamp. So on a basic level you have a silly story about a superhero squirrel who can type poems on Flora's mom's typewriter--whatever that is. And on a deeper level you have a story about a girl who wants to be loved, and who longs for a life more magical than it is. Author Kate DiCamillo loves to mix the dark and light sides of life, generally by making her lead characters the victims of broken families. Hey, it seems to work: this is her third Newbery recognition.

The Year of Billy Miller is a simpler, sweeter book, reminiscent of Marc Brown's Arthur series. There are no flying superhero squirrels, and nothing that requires imaginative leaps of faith. It follows a boy named Billy through his second-grade year. (This would be an appropriate time to point out that this is really for 6-8-year-olds, unless your 8-12-year-old enjoys reading about second graders.) Two things make it unique. First, it has deep characters, including an emotionally unfulfilled dad, a pitch-perfect 3-year-old girl, and an insecure title character whom you can see growing up over the course of the year. Second, the book is broken into four parts: Billy's interaction with his teacher, his dad, his little sister, and his mom, allowing a deeper dive into each relationship.

And the winner is:

Both are wonderful books. I'm giving the nod to Flora and Ulysses. It's more off-the-wall, and has more of an emotional whomp: its highs are higher and its lows are lower. The Year of Billy Miller will make you smile and want to hug someone. Flora and Ulysses will make you laugh, then cry, then want to hug someone. Read Flora with your 4th grader and Billy with your 2nd grader, and everyone will be happy. And wistful. And want to hug someone.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Highlight of my day

I passed a mom on the sidewalk with a stroller. The toddler looked at me, smiled and said, "Da-Da!"

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

What rhymes with ninja?

My agent said no more ninja manuscripts. Two years ago there were no ninja-themed kids books, and I said, "This is an untapped market. This is a gold mine." Now you can't throw a ninja star in any direction without hitting a ninja kids book.

But I've been working on one final ninja-themed masterpiece for the past three months.

And I'm finished.

So I'm going to share my most creative rhymes with you. For free. Because that's just how I roll. Also, because they're now worthless, apparently.

Here goes:

Defend 'ya
Befriend 'ya

Whew. That was tough. You have to work pretty hard to work one of those into a story. I did, but I'm a genius. You may want to go for the plural:


I was on the subway when I thought of "hinges," and I blurted it out loud in a fit of ecstasy. Some of those toward the bottom of the list--yeah, I know, they don't technically rhyme, but sometimes that makes it more fun.

Good luck, ninja writers. Remember me in your acknowledgements.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Long Island weekend

We drove out to Riverhead, Long Island on Friday evening to join some friends from school for a night at the Hyatt.

We ate sushi and pizza, then the boys (four of them, woo-hoo) and I explored the pool while the rest of the adults were--well, who the hell knows or cares?

At the pool we were joined by three more girls, so we had quite a rocking pool party.

We compensated for the lack of a Jacuzzi by heating towels in the shower.

The next day the boys and I dropped $20 at a crappy arcade, then we stopped for ice cream on the way home. Oh, and we bypassed the barriers and snuck into the parking lot at the closed-for-the-season Splish Splash waterpark, just to say we did. I'm too old to want to attract the police, so that was as mischievous as we got.

I needed a little fun and distraction from the harsh realities of life.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Just me and Samuel

Pardon my cell-phone photography skills.

Jen and Ethan left yesterday for a weekend retreat in Long Island. Samuel and I are joining them tonight.

Last night Samuel and I had the city to ourselves, so we took advantage of it by having dinner at Shake Shack.

Samuel had a big presentation at school earlier in the day, which he said went well. He was tired from staying up so late. He said it is School Spirit Week, culminating today with some sort of athletic event in the gym, for which each class has to wear its own color. Sophomores are wearing green. I asked him if he even has a green shirt. He said yes, his Minecraft Creeper shirt.

Fair enough.

There's nothing like a Shake Shack burger and a boy you love.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Good news, bad news

The good news:

Feedback on the latest manuscript revision was good--the editor wanted a few more changes and additions. I made them. The new draft is going back this week.

My weight is down to 140 for the first time since 2011. It's been hovering around 144 for the past couple of years. I ran a 6:15 mile this weekend for the first time in a long time and felt okay. It feels good to have all the muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments cooperating. I used to take that for granted.

The bad news:

The Iowa Hawkeyes took fourth at the NCAA Wrestling Championships--fourth straight year without a title, and it was Penn State's fourth straight win. Why do I care about such things? I just do. I will always be a Hawkeye.

The worse news that I'm avoiding talking about:

I got laid off from my job. The one that pays the bills.

I don't take it (too) personally. Digital media is a tough business, which is also what makes it exciting--not to mention what makes good execs valuable.

I'm in a digital media exec group that meets for breakfast once a month; it's filled with extremely bright people with Harvard MBAs and impressive job titles. I think every person in the group has been laid off at some point during the past four years. Things always work out if you have marketable skills and a track record of not being a complete a-hole.

But it's not an enjoyable experience. It's stressful going through the process of finding a new job while the clock is ticking.

I'm not gonna brood over it. But it sucks.