Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day

It's Christmas morning. Not too cold outside, no snow, no rain. Typical December day in Virginia. Winchester, are you awake?

[yawn]. Yeah. The Writer is still in bed. And she went to bed early last light, like always.

She was tired of chasing you away from the old village houses and bottle-brush trees and celluloid reindeer on the sideboard. That's The Writer's favorite display--she's particular about it because the decorations are so old.

I have a fondness for one particular reindeer. He's tiny and cute. Can I help it I knock other stuff down while I'm batting the little reindeer off the sideboard? Anyway, she missed our talk.

She misses it every year. It's funny because she knows that animals can talk for an hour on Christmas Eve--I mean, so humans can hear them. She doesn't know stuffed animals can talk, too.

Her loss. We sorted out the world's problems. She could have taken notes and given our ideas to the new president. Is there something for me in this suitcase? Hark! I smell a bag of Party Mix, my favorite favorite treat! There is a Santa Claws. Merry Christmas, Ellie.

Merry Christmas, Winchester. And Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ellsworth's Christmas Eve

At last, all the hustle and bustle in this house is finished. Not a cat is stirring . . . Winchester is conked out on The Writer's afghan on the bed, someplace he is not supposed to sleep. But a lot is forgiven during the holiday season.

The Writer has had Christmas music playing since Thanksgiving Day. Not like her--she usually rails against "too much Christmas." But maybe she's mellowing in her old age.

As for me, I'm enjoying my spot under the Christmas tree in the pink glow of the lights. It makes everything seem rosy . . . soon The Writer's husband will be home and they'll have dinner here in the dining room. Winchester, who can hear a knife scrape against a plate in Iceland, will trip down the stairs, hoping for the "ham-and-turkey-that-falls-from-the-ceiling" miracle (The Writer's Husband throwing him bits).

Instead of wrapping the presents, The Writer put them in these vintage suitcases, one for her, one for her husband. I hope there's something in one of them for me.

Do I hear jingle bells? No, it's just Winchester, coming down the stairs and hitting the stocking tied to the newel post. But I do hear the garage door . . . Christmas Eve is about to begin. 'Night!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Vintage Thursday: Christmas in the Barn

The Writer absolutely loves all things Margaret Wise Brown. She is pleased to be a "Hollins Girl" like Margaret (and Margaret's mother)--

She's pretty old to be any kind of girl. And that's a terrible picture!

Once you graduate from Hollins University, you are a Hollins girl, no matter what your age. Anyway, before The Writer went to Hollins, she earned her M.F.A. in writing for children at Vermont College. For graduation, she asked for--and received--ten vintage Margaret Wise Brown books. Christmas in the Barn is one of them.

The Nativity story is told in rhyme: "In a big warm barn in an ancient field/The oxen lowed,/The donkey squealed,/the horses stomped,/The cattle sighed,/And quietly the daylight died/In the sunset of the west./And a star rose/Brighter than all stars in the sky." Barbara Cooney's scratchboard illustrations, alternating color and black and white, show a New England barn and blanket-covered horses hitched to sleighs parked in the snow. The "two people who had lost their way" are wearing coats, boots, and cloaks. The scene with the wise men show kings kneeling before the baby's basket, their crowns removed.

By removing the Christmas story from Bethlehem, Brown shows that miracles can happen anywhere. Cooney's illustrations in mustard, red and blue give an earthiness to the event. The book was published in 1952, the year The Writer was born and the year Margaret Wise Brown died, at the age of 42.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Vintage Wednesday: The Little Match Girl

In our house, Gustaf Tenggren's The Little Match Girl is displayed on the coffee table in the den, a place of honor. I'm surprised because The Writer doesn't really like Tenggren that much. Like most kids from the 50s, she grew up on Golden Books, including the famous The Poky Little Puppy andThe Shy Little Kitten. She liked the stories, but not the illustrations.

The mole, particularly its feet, in The Shy Little Kitten bothered her. And she didn't like the wrinkled back of the puppy in The Poky Little Puppy. She also had one of the fairy tale books by Tenggren and she was quite disturbed by the big sausage feet of the giants.

Oh, The Writer is quite disturbed all right.

Well . . . you know. Anyway, she loves The Little Match Girl. It was published by Grosset in 1944 and has a softer look than Tenggren's early work. After Tenggren went to work for Disney, his style changed. He worked on "Snow White," "Bambi," and "Pinocchio" and the Golden Books.

There are two ways to end The Little Match Girl--the original Andersen ending with the girl dying, or a weasely ending in which she lives. In Tenggren's version she is rescued and taken to a nice home . . . possibly. The ending is a bit ambiguous. The dusky blues, maroons, and golden browns in Tenggren's palette keeps the story from being too sweet. But The Writer is still a little freaked by the feet of the headless goose "with a fork stuck in it," as it appears to walk off the plate.

She skips that page, right?


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Vintage Tuesday

We are way behind on vintage books, so I'm going to catch up this week with Vintage Tuesday, Vintage Wednesday, and Vintage Thursday.

Other people set out candles and hang holly wreaths--The Writer decorates with books. I've been looking over her vintage Christmas books. Today we'll talk about The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell, illustated by Katherine Evans.

The Writer remembers having the watered-down Golden Book version of this story, which she read to make herself feel sad--

Why would a kid want to feel sad on purpose?

You have to remember The Writer was writing stories . . . and she was a little weird. Anyway, she was bothered by the little boy angel because to be an angel meant you were dead. The Writer wondered what happened to him, did he get hit by a car? And then he had all that trouble up in Heaven.

In the story, the Littlest Angel, who has a hard time adjusting to Heaven's rules, is sent to the Understanding Angel. The boy says he'd be happier if he could have the box of treasures under his bed on earth. He gets his box with its robin's eggshell, the collar of his deceased dog, white stones from the creek. Then the Son of God is born and all the angels give Him gifts. The Littlest Angel only has his rough box, which looks very out of place among the glittering gifts. Yet God is most pleased by his gift because it represents Earth and man.

Charles Tazewell wrote the story originally for radio in 1937. Famous theater actress Helen Hayes would read it on the radio at Christmas time. Another actress, Loretta Young, recorded it for Decca records. In 1946, Children's Press published the story with art by Katherine Evans. Tazewell wrote a few other children's holiday books, including The Littlest Snowman.

The Writer started her own box of earthly treasures, with a robin's eggshell, feathers, and pretty stones, that she kept under her bed in case she got hit by a car and had to go to Heaven. She'd ask to take her box, too.

You know, The Littlest Angel Cat would make a much better story. I think I'll write it . . .

Just don't use yourself as a model.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Winchester's Kibbles and Bits: The Christmas Portrait

Saturday I was taking a long afternoon nap. I was having visions of Mousies in my head when somebody rudely snatched me up from my nice warm spot and hauled me into the dining room.

"Picture time!" The Writer said. She proceeded to tie a wide pink ribbon around my neck, then stood me on the dining room table--a place I am NEVER allowed to be--and said, "Look lively!"

The Writer had posed me by an arrangement of old ornaments in an old cut-glass bowl. I was sleepy and my mouth felt like the bottom of a birdcage. I kept sinking down with my chin on the bowl.

"Sit up!" The Writer barked. "Look lively! Don't smell the ornaments! Stand up! Look at me! Turn your head a little so your bow shows! Stop sagging! Sit up!"

I wasn't sleepy any more but I was mad. Who did she think she was talking to?

"Why don't you take good pictures any more?" The Writer wailed. "You used to be so cute. Now you don't even look up. I'm going to trade you in for two kittens. They look cute without even trying."

Kittens? Was this a real threat? I'd heard The Writer say she would love to get a kitten instead of having all these grown cats come live with them. But, she always added, the problem with a kitten is that it grows up into a cat.

Then the real blow hit. I'm not cute any more? When did that happen? I've always been cute--it's my trademark, like my white spats and fantastically long whiskers. But maybe my cuteness is fading . . .
So here's my Christmas portrait. Yes, those are worry lines between my eyes. I'm fretting over losing my cuteness. Do you suppose they give Botox to cats?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ellsworth's Dare

Look, it snowed last night. Our first snow of the year.

A half inch. Still, it's pretty. The Writer opened the window. She does that sometimes to air out the bedroom.

Yeah . . . I smell me some squirrels!

Hmmm. The screen latches are loose. Help me push the screen up. There! How brave are you?

I swiped The Writer's Husband's chicken leg off the table last night. The Writer said I was cruising. That was pretty brave. What are you thinking?

Go outside, Winchester. You've always wanted to. Step out the window. You'll be in the snow!

And on the roof! Are you crazy?

Dare you.

Never let it be said I turned down a dare. Okay . . . one paw is out. Wow!! This stuff is COLD! The other paw . . . my left hind foot . . . Whoa! Ellie! I'm sliding down the roof!

Grab my hand! Don't pull me outside--you're back safe and sound.

I nearly slid off the roof! And this is a two-story house! Satisfied I can take a dare?

Yeah. But you looked so funny scrambling around out there.

Next time I'll think up a dare for you. My feet are freezing. I'm going to sit by the heater.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Winchester's New Column: Kibbles and Bits

Hello, devoted followers. You finally have your wish--I have my very own column. The Writer started a second blog, so boring old Writing Mondays are gone. Be prepared for witty, thought-provoking posts, sprinkled with wisdom, topped by sparkling photos of Yours Truly.

Gag! Is this what your column is going to be like? One long, toot-your-own-horn?

What are you doing here, Ellsworth?

Giving you a taste of your own medicine. You're forever butting in my posts.

Only because your stories are so dull. They need the Winchester Touch.

Is this what we can expect in the way of "sparkling photos?" Where are you anyway?

I'm in the second bunk of my cat tree in The Writer's office. The Writer's Husband bought me this wonderful fluffy, puffy warm bed. It's a little big, though . . .

Because it's a dog bed. You're sleeping in a dog bed. Hee-hee!

A dog bed! Now I have the topic for this first post. Why are there no fluffy, puffy cat beds? Have you been to the pet store lately? The best products are for dogs. We cats should demand equal beds! And . . .


I'll think of some more stuff after my nap. All this column business has made me tired.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Writer's New Blog: Book! Book!

Years after she originally set it up, The Writer has finally activated her LiveJournal account. She told me she wants to say things herself and so she has her own blog.

What about us?

Just wait . . . The new blog is called "Book! Book!", a term used in Appalachia in the olden days. Teachers would stand at the door of their one-room schoolhouse and call, "Book! Book!" until they got a bell.

Book! Book! will be more personal and more writerly, as she says. The column "Writing Monday" on our blog will be discontinued and--are you ready, Winchester?--will be replaced with "Winchester's Kibbles and Bits."

My very own column! Oh, boy! I'm going to get busy right now on my new op-ed!

And you can find The Writer's new blog on LiveJournal. But don't forget most of the action still takes place here.

Dear cats of America . . . remember the Million Mom March a few years ago? Well, suppose we got a million cats to go to DC . . .

Friday, November 21, 2008

Winchester's National Book Awards Protest

Why are we crammed under the bed? What is this about?

We're protesting the National Book Awards results. The judging wasn't fair.

I know we were rooting for The Writer's friend's Kathi Appelt's book The Underneath. And we're really disappointed. But how can we say the judging wasn't fair?

Because they didn't have a cat on the jury! The Underneath is an animal story. It's got a dog and cats in it. The committee was biased--they didn't have a cat or even a dog as one of the judges!

Hmmm. That's a good point. I think you're on to something, Winchester. If a book is nominated with a horse in it, one of the judges should be a horse. If a book has a stuffed animal in it, well, it's only logical I should be one of the judges.

There you go! Now . . . while I have you all gathered here, here is my Christmas list . . .

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Winchester's Thanksgiving Panic

Ellie! The Writer's calendar is still turned to October!

I know. She's behind, as usual.

She doesn't know that Thanksgiving is a week from today! Next week! The stores are all full of fixings and trimmings and those great big really good chickens. What are we going to do? She's going to miss the whole holiday. We'll be the only family in the world eating corned beef hash and eggs or something!

Well, for one thing, only Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on the third Thursday in November--

Don't get all encyclopedic on me! This is tragic! I wait all year for The Writer to turn the oven on and bake that great big really good chicken. If we miss it this year, we'll have to wait another 365 days!

When The Writer came back from Texas, she actually figured out that the holidays are coming. In fact, she thought Thanksgiving was today. So she went out and bought all the fixings and trimmings and the great big really good chick--I mean, turkey. See? There it is in the freezer.

Look at that great big really good chicken . . . come to mama. Hey, Ellie! Let's tell The Writer that today really is Thanksgiving and she'll cook the dinner and then she'll have to cook another big dinner next week!

Give The Writer a little credit and be thankful she's cooking at all.

That's right. Last night she undercooked the pasta because she was reading and The Writer's Husband had to fix a frozen spaghetti dinner--

Don't tell all the family secrets.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Report from TSRA

The Writer had a great time at the Texas State Reading Association conference in Austin. She always enjoys meeting reading teachers and getting their ideas and views. The weather was lovely and everyone was so nice. Texas is one friendly state! The best part of these conferences is that everyone has the same goal: helping children read.

This time, though, The Writer experienced an undercurrent of concern, of something wrong. A girls' basketball tournament was going on in town and the teams were staying at the hotel. One morning The Writer rode the elevator down with a group of young girls. They were all reading--their cellphones.

One of the speakers, Dr. David Chard, talked about the New Media reader, the kids who do most of their reading on the Internet and cellphones. Parents and teachers used to say, when kids read comic books or series books, "Well, at least they are reading," and it was true. Often they moved on to more challenging literature.

But readers of cellphones and the Internet are reading fragments. They aren't likely to move on to books where they can't select the content as easily. So now the challenge is to help readers at the very beginning levels, to hook them early on books. Hmmm. While The Writer was skimming across TV channels (she does not have TV at home), she saw a commercial for a hand-held computer for the youngest children, to help them "learn." It seems as if new products--shiny and dazzling and techy--spring up constantly to undercut the already difficult job of getting kids to enjoy reading.

Another speaker mentioned the inspirational book Three Cups of Tea, about a young man who began building schools in remote areas of the world. The Writer was reminded that there are still places in the world where people can't read, where they want to learn, where they don't have books.

The Writer had a fleeting thought that reaching our children today is almost like going to remote villages and teaching people to read. The difference is, the villagers are willing to put down their tools and pick up books. Will our kids be so willing to put down their techy toys and pick up a book?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Vintage Wednesday: Foxy Squirrel in the Garden

This time of year the squirrels in our yard are extra-busy, scurrying and hurrying to bury nuts from our hickory tree.

Did you like writing that sentence? It's very showy.

There's nothing wrong with writing a poetic sentence now and then. I found a book on The Writer's bookshelf that goes nicely with the hustle and bustle outside. It's called Foxy Squirrel in the Garden, by Clara Ingram Judson, illustated by Frances Beem. The book was originally written in 1921, but The Writer has a 1935 edition with an inscription, From Your Teacher, Miss Martha Brubaker, Xmas 1935. (The Writer loves books with inscriptions).

Lots of people know about the Little Golden Books, first published in 1942, but other companies jumped on the inexpensive children's book bandwagon, too. Golden Book expert Steve Santi has a new guide to those other publishers like Whitman, Rand McNally, and others. Rand McNally's Elf Books first appeared in 1947.

The Writer's book doesn't look like the Elf books from her childhood. The story is much longer, 64 pages, with black and white decorations and three-color illustrations and very small type. On the copyright page is a stamp(colophon?): a picture of an elf reading a book, with the words "R Mc Book-Elf." Maybe this storybook was a forerunner of those later Elf books, which were easier to read and had lots of full-color illustrations.

Foxy Squirrel is similar to the animal books of Thornton W. Burgess. The characters talk but don't interact with humans. Foxy and his wife have just built the perfect home when a man chops down the tree. The squirrels hunt for a safer place to live the first half of the book. They find a perfect garden and the rest of the book is about the adventures of other birds and animals who also live in the garden. The story may be uneven, but the illustrations are wonderful, rendered in gold, dark green, and orange.

Winchester, what's out the window? Your tail is thrashing and you're making that weird chattering sound.

That squirrel is making a face at me! If I could get outdoors, I'd show him a thing or two!

I have sad news for you, Winchester. You're way too big to run up a tree. The squirrels around here are quite safe.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Writing Monday: Thinking About Audience

This week The Writer goes to the Texas State Reading Association conference in Austin. She'll give a speech and present on transitional readers. Transitional readers have learned to read but haven't yet crossed the bridge to fluent independent reading. The Writer wrote Time Spies and other books for 7 to 10 year olds to help those readers cross the bridge. Most of the time she has her audience in mind when writing a new book.

Years ago, she was friends with a well-known (now deceased) writer of humorous fantasy. He told her once that he wrote only for himself, never read other children's books, and, for fun, read his own published books. The Writer wasn't sure which of those statements floored her more.

Reading her own books. Obviously. Why else does she keep her old books out of sight?

The Writer believes some audiences need books specifically for their needs. She's glad to be going to TSRA. As much as she loves attending IRA conventions, the real work is accomplished at the state-level conferences. She's looking forward to meeting the Texas reading teachers and learning about the problems they face. After all, teachers, librarians, and children's writers share the same goal.

What, pray tell, does all this have to do with that swan picture?

Mute swans carry their babies on their backs to protect them. The Writer thinks of herself as a protector of young readers--

Oh, please! Even you don't believe that!

Okay, The Writer finally learned basic Photoshop last night. She practiced on this picture her husband took of these beautiful swans on the Potomac River. She corrected the lighting and cropped it--

Photoshop! At long last! Does this have anything to do with the picture she had taken for one of her webpages?

She's still looking for a tool or brush that will give her a neck.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Poetry Friday: Rachel Field

Rachel Field is one of The Writer's favorite children's poets. She will pay tribute to Ms. Field's work this November. Field is best known for her 1930 Newbery-winning book Hitty, Her First Hundred Years. Rachel Lyman Field was born in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, educated at Radcliffe, then split her year between New York and Maine.
Those are the facts, but Rachel Field was a joyous spirit who wrote poetry, children's books, and books for adults. She even illustrated, with cut-outs, a little book of poetry called The Pointed People.

The Writer wishes she could have known Rachel Field. She believes they would have been good friends. Here is a poem The Writer found in a children's reader, Friendly Stories, a Work-Play Book (1930--The Writer is convinced those older children's readers were more about play than work and were much more interesting than her Dick and Jane books).

Elf Buttons
by Rachel Field

If ever I should find
An Elf button bright,
I'd sew it on my coat
With strong thread and tight,
I wouldn't take it off--
Not even at night,
For there'd be no telling
When that wee Elf might
Come for to whisk it
Out of my sight.
But if he did,
I'd tell him true--
"Wherever that button goes

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Vintage Wednesday: The Wonderful Land of Up

Among The Writer's collection of old children's books is an odd book that she values more than anything--The Wonderful Land of Up by Olive Roberts Barton with illustrations by Neely McCoy. It was published by Doran in 1918, the year her mother and stepfather were born.

Olive Roberts Barton was a school teacher in Massachusetts who wrote several children's books (if you happen to find the rare Cloud Stories (1917) with illustrations by Milo Winter, snap it up!) and, in the 1930s, contributed articles to the Fitchburg Sentinel and Lowell Sun on subjects like children of divorce and getting children ready for school after an idle summer.

The Writer's book is orange with a paste-down illustration on the front of a richly-dressed boy and girl watching two balloons sail in the sky. The line-work is delicate, the palette is orange, gray and black with lots of white. Did I mention the gray cat?

So many of these odd, early books are awful, usually too sugary or too simple, but here's the first paragraph of Chapter One, "The Apple Tree Elevator":

Rose, Dick and Jim Dandy had run off, that is, Rose and Dick had run off and Jim Dandy followed. Jim Dandy was a cat, a great grey creature with a tail as large as a fox's, long soft fur that you wanted to rub your cheek against, solemn blue eyes, white whiskers, and a tiny bunch of white hair on his chin (if cats have chins) which made him look more solemn than ever. It may seem queer for a cat to have long hair and blue eyes, but Jim Dandy was a Persian cat, whose real name would almost reach around the world it was so long, at least it would takek kup a line on my typewriter, I'm sure; but as nobody has any time to waste these days he was called Jim Dandy for sure--sometimes just Dandy.

The Writer didn't buy this book. She wasn't sure how she got it, but it came into her hands many years ago. It was the only book owned by her stepfather, the man who raised her and, as she will tell anyone, saved her life. Inside the cover in fine penmanship reads this inscription:

"Howard Lightfoot, from his teacher Lilian W. Millan, as a reward for attendance & scholarship, Legato, May 18, 1928." Turn the page and there is a second inscription: "Samuel Howard Lightfoot, from his teacher Lilian W. Millan as his reward". . . it's obvious that 10-year-old Howard wrote the second inscription, correcting his name, practicing his own penmanship, and reliving words he seldom heard, "as his reward."

Years later at her first secretarial job, The Writer stood in the window of the 15th floor of the Fairfax County government building and watched the old one-room Legato School slowly and carefully brought down the road on a huge flatbed truck to its new site next door. She was glad her stepfather's old school had been saved.

Samuel Howard Lightfoot was a hard-working man with little education. Yet he taught The Writer about birds and trees and wild things and that cats were much more than they appeared. He has been gone more than 20 years now. The Writer is sure he is in The Wonderful Land of Up with all of the old cats they had loved.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Winchester Goes Trick or Treating

Oh, boy! Isn't all spooky out here?

It's five-thirty. Still daylight.

Yeah, but it's Halloween...and we have on matching hats, almost. You can't pull off the orange hair like I can.

Orange clashes with my complexion. Pick a house and ring the doorbell.

We have to do this scientifically. According to this article I read, you can tell by some houses what you'll get.

What do you mean?

Like that house over there. They've got a nice old-fashioned jack o'lantern in the window. They probably give out fruit roll-ups or bags of sunflower seeds. You want a house that'll dish out great goodies.

What about that one? They have plastic pumpkins on the porch, flashing pumpkin lights, ghost webs in the trees, and a big spider over the front door.

Good scouting, Ellie. They're really into the tacky side of Halloween so they'll probably give out the best stuff! [rings doorbell] Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat!

Where'd you learn that?

The Internet. Hold your bag open. Here it comes! Wait a minute! What's this junk?

Hershey bars, milk and dark chocolate. And those new caramel apple Hershey's Kisses. Yum.

You mean yuck! Where's the Fancy Feast kibble? Where are the super-size bags of Pounce? I've been robbed!

Where'd you learn that?

From this old Charlie Brown TV show. This is the last time I'm going trick or--

Happy Halloween, everybody!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Winchester's Halloween

What's with you? You look down in the dumps.

I broke The Writer's Husband's coffee maker last night.

I know. Glass everywhere and right at dinner time too.

I didn't mean to do it. I was playing with the cord and pulled it right off the counter. It made a terrific noise, didn't it?

I doubt you're filled with remorse. So why the long whiskers?

The Writer can't take me treat-or-treating tomorrow night. She has to go to Wal-Mart and get another coffee maker.

Winchester . . . you have never gone trick-or-treating in your life.

I want to go this year! Will you take me? Please?

I'm 54. A little old to go trick-or-treating.

You were 54 last year. Don't you ever get any older?

It's more convenient to stay one age.

Pleeeze take me, Ellie! I'll be good. I promise!

All right. But I'll probably turn 154 before the night is over.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Seeing Sky Blue Pink Nominee

The Writer has just learned that her novel, Seeing Sky-Blue Pink, is on the Master List for the William Allen White Award in the grade 3 to 5 category.

This award was created in 1952, the year The Writer was born. She is thrilled to be on the list.

The old thrilled-to-be-nominated thing again?

All the schoolchildren in grades 3 to 5 are required to read Seeing Sky-Blue Pink. That's a pretty big deal! So The Writer is thrilled!

Hey, I just remembered! There's a cat in that book--a big black cat like me who can predict the weather. I'm keeping my paws crossed that our book wins. Then people will ask if they can meet that cat and I'll give out paw-to-graphs.

I knew you'd have The Writer's best interests at heart.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Writing Monday: World's Most Fun Writing Contest

Last spring, The Writer agreed to be a judge in a writing nationwide writing competition called Book Arts Bash. Homeschooled children in all grades entered work in such categories as original legend, blog post, comic book, short stories, poetry, fable, fractured fairy tale, abc book, pop-up book, skit, novel cover art, and more.

The Writer agreed to judge the original picture book category for grades 3 through 6. The finalists' entries arrived last week. The Writer spent the weekend reading each one carefully and joyfully. She has never, she declared to anyone who would listen, had more fun. All of the entries were wonderful and it was really hard to chose one winner.

As far as The Writer is concerned, all the young author/illustrators are winners. They wrote original stories, illustrated them, made well-bound books, and sent off their creations with hearts brimming with hope. It's not easy risking original work to the eyes of the outside world.

Wouldn't it be great if even one of the entrants in this year's Book Arts Bash continues his or her journey on the path to becoming a writer and/or illustrator of children's books?

I entered my epic story, The Great Catsby, but I didn't even make it to the finals.

The Great Catsby is one word, "the!" It is not a story!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Poetry Friday

The Writer's favorite holiday was Halloween. She checked out this book over and over, Heigh Ho for Halloween by Elizabeth Hough Sechrist, with illustrations by Guy Fry (1948). The book is an anthology of stories, plays, poems, games, and parties.

The Writer longed to give a Jack O'Lantern Party with homemade invitations, and games like Name the Jack O'Lantern, Race the Raisins, the Peanut Hunt, and the Jack O'Lantern Dance. But she never could because--

--she didn't have any friends. All right, already. Get on with the poem.

This is one of Miss Sechrist's own scribblings. And thanks Becky for hosting Poetry Friday!

Poor Ghost!

What a lonely ghost is he,
Wandering where he cannot see,
Wanting, weary, to recline,
Craving desperately to dine,
Longing to be friend, too--
But none of these things can he do.

He is just a shade, you see,
No matter what he tries to be.
Apparition on the wall--
Just as shadow, that is all.

Elizabeth Hough Sechrist
I know just how he feels . . . craving desperately to dine.
You just ate breakfast!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

First Meeting of Ellsworth's and Winchester's Literary Society

It's the first meeting of the Fishbone Literary and Olive Loaf Celery Flake Tuna Kibble Delight Society--whew! what a mouthful! Maybe we should just call it Book Club.

No! You told me I could name it like the literary society in that book you raved about so much.

All right. I have chosen our first book.

Wait a minute! How come I didn't get any say in this?
You got to name our club; I get to pick the first book. It's only fair.

Yeah. In Ellsworth-world. So what's the book?

It's perfect for you. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

Is it about a handsome black and white cat? Whoa! Look at all those pages! Look at that teeny tiny print! I can't read this book in a million years. Will you read it to me, Ellie? Please?

Only if you quit calling me Ellie. "Chapter One. My father's name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be known as Pip . . ." Winchester? Are you nodding off?

Wake me when it's time to have our Olive Loaf Celery Flake Tuna Kibble Delight . . . yawn.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Vintage Wednesday

When The Writer was little, she used to read her sister's textbooks. Her favorite was Five in the Family, a health book. The stories imparted gentle health lessons, such as standing up straight, or little psychological tips, like the story where Sue, who is sick, is all grumpy and her friends hold a puppet show outside her window to cheer her up.

The Writer has a few health textbooks from the 40s. She has always envied kids from that period who went to the shoe store and had their feet x-rayed in a special machine. You stood in the machine and looked through the scope and saw the bones in your feet.

Today's book is dated 1905. What a difference 40 years makes! The Safety Hill of Health looks promising--the cover shows a boy on a hill flying a kite. The two-color illustrations are charming, framed vignettes in black and orange. Most of the stories feature Boy White and Boy Red. Boy White isn't good and Boy Red the bad kid, like you'd think. Boy White wears a white sailor suit and Boy Red's sailor suit is red. They're both nauseatingly good.

Here are two pages of the text so you can see how awful the stories are. The best character in the book is Weeny Rat, who drinks coffee and eats toast. Of course he is tired and doesn't grow much and his fur is rough. Sometimes he cried. Teeny Rat is the goody-goody, eating milk and oatmeal. Fortunately the book is short, so the poor kids in 1905 didn't have to suffer long.

I like Weeny Rat myself. I bet he'd make a tasty morsel. But The Writer's scans are making me seasick!
I know. I'll speak to her about it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ellsworth's and Winchester's Literary Society, the Food Part

At last I get to create a dish that will be the name part of our new literary society. And it won't be any old potato peel pie either.

The potato peel pie in that book represented the hardships the people on Geurnsey Island faced during World War II. They didn't have much food. Making a pie out of potatoes and using the peelings for a crust showed their ingenuity in the face of adversity.

Did you swallow a dictionary for breakfast? We haven't had one meeting of our literary club yet and already I can't understand you. Okay, let's get this baby cooking. Sauce pan. Check. Frying pan. Check. Salt and pepper. Check. Pot holder. Check. Milk. Check.

I brought some stuff from the refrigerator and the pantry. Chives. A can of beets. Garlic. Olive loaf leftover from The Writer's husband's lunch--

Beets? Are you kidding me? How am I going to make a fabu dish with beets? Where's that olive loaf? I'll stir some tuna in, add a pinch of celery flakes, a handful of kibble for variety--

You eat that stuff five times a day. Some variety.

--and viola! Our literary society dish!

Looks horrible. What's it called?

Olive Loaf Celery Flake Tuna Kibble Delight.

Rolls right off the tongue. Are you eating from the pan? I don't think you're ready for any society.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Writing Monday: The Old Days, Part II

Last week, The Writer talked about how she missed the art of letter writing. Today her rant will be about the loss of grace. Grace is an undervalued trait. Most people don't miss it because they don't know what it is. Grace in publishing (and other businesses) means tending to the niceties. It's not just about being courteous. It's how people present themselves in general.

I can see this is going to be tedious. What does this have to do with writing?

Here's an example. In the old days if someone wanted The Writer to come speak, she would call. The Writer could either come or not. Either way it was a pleasant exchange with The Writer saying she was flattered to be asked and the other person saying maybe they could work out a visit at a later date. Flash forward to 2008: The Writer gets an e-mail from someone, asking if The Writer is available for a certain date. The Writer writes a courteous response, expressing her regrets if she isn't able to come on that day, but is willing to try for another date. No response to her response. No small reply thanking The Writer for considering the visit or whatever.

Lack of grace isn't limited to people asking The Writer to come speak. It's across the field: editors, salespeople, bookstores, agents . . . people are too busy to take an extra two seconds to finish a conversation properly, to wrap up a transaction or event.

If everybody did that, they'd keep writing emails forever, never "wrapping it up."

You know what I mean. A simple "thank you" is all that's needed.

Are you through now?


Next week on Writing Monday, The Writer will revise the Miss Manners column--

Thank you!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Poetry Friday

October is The Writer's favorite month, so all of our Poetry Friday offerings for the next few weeks will reflect fall-ish, witch-y, pumpkin-y, ghostie things.

Brraa-aah, aah, aah!

That's a pretty feeble monster imitation.

What do you expect? I had to use my purring muscles.

This week's poem is by Walter de la Mare who once said, "Only the rarest kind of best in anything can be good enough for the young." His poetry is widely appreciated by grown-ups, too.

The Hare

by Walter de la Mare

In the black furrow of a field
I saw an old witch-hare this night;
And she cocked a lissome ear,
And she eyed the moon so bright,
And she nibbled of the green;
And I whispered, "Whsst! witch-hare,"
Away like a ghostie o'er the field
She fled and left the moonlight there.

The gorgeous art is a mixed media piece by Carry Akroyd. Anastasia Suen is serving up all the wonderful Poetry Friday fare at Picture Book of the Day.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ellsworth's and Winchester's Literary Society

The days are getting cooler and shorter. It's a good time to start our literary group. We'll read good books and talk about them. I can't wait.

You said I could name our club, remember? I want it to have an animal island name and a food name, just like that book you read.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. That was such a great book!

Yeah, that one. Let's cook up something for the food name. Last one to the stove is a rotten egg!

Let's do this in order. Come up with the "animal island" name first. The island has to be in Virginia. That's the rule.

Sometimes, Ellsworth, you are so stuffy. All right. I'll look for an island in Virginia. Here's one--"Hogg Island."

Sounds like someplace you ought to live. You can do better than that.

Anything to get to the food part . . . spin the globe. Whee!

Winchester, this globe doesn't spin. And watch stepping all over The Writer's old National Geographic magazines. You know how persnickety she is.

I found it! "Fishbone Island!" See? This teeny little speck near Tangier Island?

That's a great name!

Now let's get to the cooking part. What do you think about Tuna Kibble Truffle Peel Pie?

I think you need to lower your sights.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Vintage Wednesday

The first old children's book The Writer bought, many years ago, is called The Giant Scissors (1895). She thought the title was weird--the cover shows a red scissors medallion on top of imposing gates. The Giant Scissors was written by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931), author of the popular "Little Colonel" series. There were 13 Little Colonel books in all, the first made into a movie starring Shirley Temple and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.

The novel is about a young girl named Joyce who goes to France with her stylish Cousin Kate to improve her French. All of Johnston's books were in the Ye Olde Southern style, so it wasn't unusual for a girl to go to a little town where they speak "the purest French." There is a mysterious chateau nearby with a high wall and gates topped with the scissors medallion. Joyce wants to learn more about M. Ciseaux, the man who built the house long ago.

The best part of the story is the fairy tale about the Giant Scissors Joyce's Aunt Kate tells her. A prince goes on a quest armed with only a pair of rusty scissors, but he learns the scissors act when spoken to in rhyme: "Giant scissors, serve me well, And save me from the Witch's spell." The fairy tale is as good as anything by Anderson, in my opinion.

The rest of the book is about typical period melodrama: children forced to work, poor houses, the master of the mansion returning at a crucial moment, and Joyce engineering it all (you have to wonder if Frances Hodgson Burnett read this book--The Secret Garden was published in 1911). The Giant Scissors is online, if you'd like to read it.

And who would want to, in my opinion? It sounds a frightful bore.

"Giant scissors, rise in power! Grant me my heart's desire this hour!" Darn. Winchester is still here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Writing Monday: The Old Days, Part I

The Writer came home from her trip and finished reading The Geurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which she loved. I did, too. The best part of the book, The Writer says, is that it's mostly written in the form of letters. The letters are funny, sad, poignant, and even shocking. It's no secret The Writer loathes this century because so many wonderful things have been lost. Like letter writing.

Yesterday she read a Wall Street Journal review of the collected letters of Thornton Wilder. He wrote more than 10,000 letters! The Writer supposes people of today may compose 10,000 emails and text messages in their lifetime, but what legacy are they leaving? Who will collect--if there are any paper copies--a person's two-sentence e-mails? Imagine reading a book of "Meeting pushed back to 10. Bring my Starbucks fave!" or, even worse, a text message that consists of hieroglyphics like "OMG" and the overused "LOL", plus emoticons.

The Writer isn't the first--and won't be the last--person to lament the lost art of writing letters, of taking the time to sit down and write thoughtful, funny, sad, poignant, even shocking letters. The Writer has made a decision. Instead of writing an annual Christmas letter, which goes to a lot of friends, relatives, and colleagues--

All five of them.

--she will write real letters to people she doesn't generally communicate with on a regular basis. Each letter will be different. She doesn't expect a letter back, but at least she will have revived a lost art for a short time, in her small way.

The Writer is really letting this education thing go to her head. I wish she'd never gotten that last master's degree. First she's reading grown-up books. Now she's reading the Wall Street Journal! I think she should go back to Winnie-the-Pooh. LOL.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Ellsworth and Winchester Form a Literary Society

Whacha doin'?

Reading one of The Writer's library books. She's off on a speaking visit the next few days and she left her book here. It's a grown-up book.

The Writer is reading a book for grown-ups? I think I'm going to faint.

Don't faint, the floor might break.

Ha-ha. What's the book called?

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It's really good.

How can a book about a cow and pig food be good?

It's about the island, not the cow. People on Guernsey Island, which is near the coast of France, formed a book club during World War II. They didn't have much to eat so one of the members made up this special pie from pototo peelings. Their meetings helped them cope with the war and they also helped each other.

All because of reading a bunch of books? Hey, Ellie, why don't we form our own literary society?

Don't call me Ellie. Actually that's not a bad idea. We could read uplifting books and discuss them.

And eat! Don't forget the eating part. We won't have awful stuff like potato peel pie, either. Plus I get to name our club. Okay? I get to name it, right? Okay, Ellie? Okay?

I think I need to get my reading glasses changed. I feel a headache coming on.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Vintage Wednesday

My favorite day of the week! Today I've chosen one of my favorite books because it's so weird, in a wonderful way. The Writer stumbled (well, ripped out of the hands of the person she was Vintage Binge-ing with) on this book. It's called The Cat Whose Whiskers Slipped, by Ruth Campbell. It's a collection of strange stories like the title story, plus "The Lamb Who Loaned His Baa," "The Firefly Who Scattered Sparks," "The Squirrel Who Cracked His Chatter," "The Robin Who Lost His Song," and "The Dog Who Lost His Wag."

The Writer's copy is in terrible shape. The title and copyright pages are missing. But with a little research I found the book was published in 1925 (The Writer's favorite year!) by Volland Publishing. Volland was based in Chicago, beginning in 1908. The owner aspired to publish fine but affordable calendars, greeting cards, and books for adults and children. The children's books were by far the most successful. Ruth Campbell wrote several books for Volland--her illustrator was often V Elizabeth Cadie, who did the pictures for The Cat Whose Whiskers Slipped.

The biggest "star" of Volland was Johnny Gruelle of the Raggedy-Ann books. Volland did well until the crash of '29. Even Gruelle's name couldn't keep the company afloat and Gruelle's work was sold to another publisher. Today, Volland books are highly collectible and are known for their beautiful Art Deco illustrations. The Writer prizes this book, even though her copy is falling apart.

If you ask me, that book is a very scary book for little children. And for certain cats.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Writing Monday: The Writer's New Article

The Writer has an article published in the Fall 2008 issue of Creative Home magazine. The article is called "Thoreau's Bathroom" and is about her exploits redecorating the powder room in her house earlier this spring. The Writer has never picked up a paintbrush before, but she vowed she would do all the work herself with no help from The Husband.
It was quite an escapade. Let's just say cats were involved.

The Winter 2008 issue of Creative Home is just appearing on the newsstands now, but you can still find the Fall issue. Creative Home added an online feature link to The Writer's article. Here is one of the photographs (clearly taken by The Writer, who had no idea her crummy little photos would be splashed all over the Net--goodbye, chance to be a designer on HGTV.

This picture of Winchester shows the bathroom before--one of his finer moments. Tee-hee!

I'll get you for this, Ellsworth. I'll find a picture of you in some humiliating pose and post it!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Poetry Friday - Original

Today The Writer wants to submit an original poem. She rarely writes poetry, but she used to write quite a bit of it when she was a teenager.

It was all the angst-filled stuff, wasn't it?

Yes, she wrote a lot of melancholy poetry about the world coming to an end and so forth. In fact, her earliest published work was poetry. She had a poem published in an anthology at the age of 16. And another poem published in another anthology when she was 18. She was very proud, even though she had to pay for the books, which turned out to be poorly-bound and brimming with the worst poetry imaginable. It was a hard lesson to learn, that a "publisher" will accept any dreck and take people's money.

In one of the anthologies, The Writer discovered a distant cousin. The cousin was elderly and her poem, like so many (including The Writer's) was terrible, but The Writer connected with her and they corresponded for a while. The Writer realized that all those poets had earnest dreams like hers.

This is The Writer's poem for today's Poetry Friday. It may still not be very good, but it is earnest and heartfelt.

"September 2008"

You want to marry a man who grows sunflowers,
who believes the Constitution
constitutes beach reading
and there is life
on other stars.

He should have long-fingered hands
that reach C to C
plus two black keys,
that fix cars and gentle wary cats.

Look for a man who carries a flashlight--
he will never leave you
in the dark.

Find one who works hard
math problems for fun
and skims Radio-Electric Transmission Fundamentals
because it's "good."

Hang on to a man
who holds you tight
through sickness so ugly you can't bear
to stay in this world,
who helps with the dishes,
who always
puts you first.

If you marry a man who grows sunflowers
you can't go wrong.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ellsworth and Winchester Dine Out

Is this the restaurant? The Swampwater Grill? Doesn't sound very swanky to me.

All the chi-chi places have awful names. Makes them even more chi-chi. The understated decor fools you, too. I'm starved!

You're always starved. Is this little blackboard thing the menu?

I'll start with smoked Isle of Skye wood pigeon with quail eggs. Next I'll have pheasant under glass with hothouse white asparagus. For my second course, I believe I'll have medallions of rabbit wrapped in prosciutto. And for dessert, checkerboard terrine of pistaschio and white chocolate ice cream with raspberry sauce.

Winchester, none of those things are even on the menu.

Darn. I had my mouth all set for pheasant, too.

Oh, hello, wait-person. I'll have macaroni and cheese.

Macaroni and cheese! We could have had that at home. Oh, well, I guess I'll have a Caesar salad with extra anchovies. And be quick about it!

Wow! That was fast. How is your salad?

The lettuce is black! Looks like they got it out of the dumpster. And I couldn't crack these croutons with a jackhammer.

My macaroni and cheese doesn't have much cheese, either.

My oyster fork is dirty! Garcon! Where is that guy? They bring the food and you never see them again until check time. Well, I'll just pay and we can go. Forty dollars! Are they kidding me?

Food is so expensive these days. It wouldn't be so bad if you got good food.

I know where we can go. They always have good food and it's affordable.

The Golden Arches!
This post is dedicated to Frank, who'd like a decent meal out sometime

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Vintage Wednesday

Wednesday again and that means a fresh old book. I found this on the bottom shelf of one of The Writer's bookcases. Since it's still September and going back to school is a fairly new experience, I want to share The Magic Bus. It's a Wonder Book "With Washable Covers"--an antiseptic answer to Golden Books. The Writer had a lot of inexpensive books when she was a kid: Golden Books, Wonder Books, Elf Books, Tell-a-Tale Books, usually begged for--and purchased at--People's Drug Store or Grand Union grocery store.

The Magic Bus has a bright blue green cover with a rubbery-looking bus sailing above the clouds. Its passengers look excited and who wouldn't be? The story was written by Maurice Dolbier and published in 1948. The delightful illustrations were rendered by Tibor Gergely. Jenny, the old-fashioned bus, happily drives passengers from Boston to New York. Then bigger and faster buses put Jenny out to pasture. One day all the big fast buses are filled and Jenny is called into service. A curious boy pushes a gold button on the dashboard that Jenny's driver had never seen before. And the bus is off on a magical adventure!

There is nothing old-fashioned about The Magic Bus. Any child of today would enjoy the story and Gergely's illustrations. Too bad little books like these aren't being published any more.

Look at you, using words like "antiseptic" and "rendered." Aren't we Miss Smarty Pants?

Anyone can read the dictionary.

Can I pick out the Wednesday book sometimes?

Maybe. If you're good.

So much for that idea.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ellsworth Missed Her Blogaversary

Oh, no!

Wha--? You woke me up from a good dream. I was just about to catch this mouse--

Look at the calendar. It's September 23!

So? It's the day after the first day of fall. Did we miss a leaf dropping or something?

Yes! We missed my blogaversary! On August 12, 2007, I created this blog and wrote my first post. Since then I've written over 200 posts. And we didn't celebrate!

We still can.


Let's go out to dinner. I know just the place. Very swanky.

How are we going to get there? Take a taxi?

I can spring for a fancy dinner but not a taxi, too. I know! We'll ride the school bus. It stops right in front of this restaurant. With all those kids, who'll notice a stuffed elephant and a cat?

But the school bus runs at 3:30 in the afternoon. Who eats dinner at that hour?

I know, it's tres declasse, but what can you do? We'll go Thursday. It's a date!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Writing Monday: Cybils 2008!

Guess what? The Writer is a judge in this year's Cybils Awards! She's one of the judges for her favorite genre--nonfiction picture books. She's very excited.

What does the winner get? A bag of kibble? Is it too late for me to write a nonfiction picture book?

You could write twenty nonfiction picture books. They have to be published this year to qualify.

Where's that old printing press? I saw it just the other day . . .

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Award Time!

We've won an award! Becky of Becky's Book Reviews has nominated our blog for an award!

At last I'm on the red carpet where I rightfully belong. "Over here, Mr. Winchester!" "Winchester, look this way!" So many photographers . . . I hardly know where to look.

There's only one photographer and she's not very good. Let's tell people about the "I *Heart* Your Blog" award and make our own nominations.

Four score and seven years ago--

You're not supposed to make a speech!

Why not? Every one does when they win something. Friends, Romans, and countrymen--

Here are rules: 1) Add the logo of the award to your blog, 2) add the link of the person who awarded it to you to your blog, 3) nominate at least 7 other blogs, 4) add links to those blogs to your blog, 5) leave a nice warm message for each of your nominees!

Ladies and jellybeans, I stand here before you to sit behind you to tell you something I know nothing about--

I bet you have a little speech all ready, don't you?

Well . . . you like me! You really like me!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Poetry Friday

The Writer was feeling "September-ish" this morning. The nights are cool and the days are in the mid-70s. Black-eyed Susans flourish along the roadsides. The light is golden because the sun is slanting a different way now. Because everything seems yellow, the Writer planted yellow mums around our mailbox. (I helped.)

She chose a poem by Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885), a writer who was friends with Emily Dickinson. Jackson is best known for a novel, Ramona, about the plight of the Native Americans. She hoped her book would be as successful as Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Jackson also wrote lovely poetry. Here is one of her best:

by Helen Hunt Jackson

The goldenrod is yellow;
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bending down.

The gentian's bluest fringes
Are curling in the sun;
In dusty pods the milkweed
Its hidden silk has spun.

The sedges flaunt their harvest
In every meadow nook;
And asters by the brook-side
Make asters in the brook.

From dewy lanes at morning
The grapes' sweet odors rise;
At noon the roads all flutter
With yellow butterflies.

By all these lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer's best of weather,
And autumn's best of cheer.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Winchester Auditions for Chickin' Lickin'

Well, here I am at the ad-person's place. Where's the truckload of crispy crackly chicken? How do I get it?

You have to audition first.

Audition? For what?

The role of the Chickin' Lickin' mascot. Put on this chicken costume.

A cat in a chicken costume? You must be kidding.

You wore a mouse costume once. It's a well-known fact you have no pride when it comes to food.

I feel like an idiot. Look at all these bozos.

You look very . . . chickenish. Don't forget you have to act like a chicken. Cluck. Scratch in the dirt.

Could this be more humiliating? What do I get if I'm picked as mascot?

All the Chickin' Lickin' you can eat. This is where The Writer and Her Husband buy buckets of that crispy crackly chicken you love so much.

Get out of the way, you imposters! Cluck, cluck, cluck! Scritch, scratch, scritch!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Vintage Wednesday

It's Wednesday and that means a new book from The Writer's collection of old children's books. Today I chose one of The Writer's absolute favorite books. She checked it out of her little school library so many times, only her name was written on the check-out card. The book is The Burgess Bird Book for Children, by Thornton W. Burgess, a well-known nature writer in the early to mid-20th century. He wrote 150 children's books, all on nature, and 15,000 children's newspaper stories. He and the illustrator he most worked with, Harrison Cady, collaborated for 50 years.

However, The Burgess Bird Book and its companion, The Burgess Animal Book (another book The Writer wore the print off of), were both illustrated by the famous naturalist painter, Louis Agassiz Fuertes. When The Writer was 10, she used to run around saying she was going to be a bird artist like Louis Agassis Fur-teez.

Here is the opening of the Burgess Bird Book:

Lipperty-lipperty-lip scampered Peter Rabbit behind the tumble-down stone wall along one side of theh Old Orchard. It was early in the morning, very early in the morning. In fact, jolly, bright Mr. Sun had hardly begun his daily climb up the blue, blue sky--

Jolly Mr. Sun? Lipperty-lipperty-lip? You're kidding, aren't you?

I knew you'd say that just like I knew you'd butt in my column. Okay, the first part is a little sweet, but remember the book was written in 1919. Children's books were different then. There were a lot of books about fairies because children still believed in fairies.

I'd believe in fairies sooner than Jolly Mr. Sun. No wonder The Writer's name was the only one on the library check-out card.

You have to stick with this book. Very quickly it gets good. Jenny Wren, who has just returned to the Old Orchard from wintering in the south, notices Peter Rabbit (no relation to that other Peter Rabbit) is interested in birds. She starts a sort of school. In each chapter, a different bird is discussed, usually in the same bird family. The bird itself shows up, if it's indigenious to New England. The Writer learned more about birds in this book than in ten bird guides. It's readable and friendly and comforting. She still wants to live in the Old Orchard.

I'm very interested in birds myself. Maybe I'll give The Burgess Bird Book for Children a whirl.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Winchester Falls Out with His Food

Your dinner has been sitting there at least four seconds. How come you haven't scarfed it up?

I don't want it.

What? Am I hearing right? It's Cluck-A-Doodle, your favorite.

Not any more. I want real chicken, like The Writer and Her Husband have. You know, with bones and crispy crackly skin. My food is just goopy.

I know a way you can get that kind of chicken.

Really? How?

I saw an ad in today's newspaper.

An ad? Is somebody giving away a truckload of real chicken?

No. You have to do what the ad person wants for the chicken.

If it gets me real chicken with bones and crispy crackly skin, I'll do anything.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Writing Monday: The Perfect Day

The Writer wrote a novel called Seeing Sky-Blue Pink in which Maddie, the main character, had Perfect Days with her mother. They would go the library and when they crossed the park, Maddie would rub the left hoof of the horse statue for luck. They topped off The Perfect Day with a maple walnut sundae at Rudy's diner.

That's a Perfect Day? Those people didn't aim their sights very high.

In a magazine, The Writer read about a woman who described her perfect day: she would go to Venice, photograph the beautiful furniture in hotel lobbies, and relax with wine, pasta, and cappuccinos. When The Writer read this, she thought about her own Perfect Day.

She would go to Beatrix Potter's home, Hill Top, in the Lake District and would not have a timed entry ticket. She'd sail right in with the whole place to herself and nobody hovering to get her to buy things in the gift shop. Then a freckle-faced little girl in a white pinafore would hand her a picnic basket with tea sandwiches, little iced cakes, and a carafe of Earl Grey tea. In the meadow with only sheep for company, The Writer would take out her Windsor and Newton paint box and journal and would magically be able to capture her day in elegant prose and watercolor sketches.

I hope she's downwind of the sheep.

The point is that creating an imaginary Perfect Day can be a jumping off point to start the Perfect Writing Day. What would your Perfect Day be?

I'd tour the Friskie's Cat Food factory. A man in a white jacket would hand me a golden spoon and let me sample all the different kinds of cat food. To cleanse my palate between tastings, I'd swirl Devonshire cream in a balloon goblet--

I thought so.

What would your Perfect Day be?


Friday, September 12, 2008

Poetry Friday

Hello, Everyone! Welcome to Poetry Friday (both of you)!

Eh-hem. Haven't you seen the "Journal Readers" thingie on our blog? You have exactly one reader.

Well . . . welcome, Heidi! Here is our first offering for Poetry Friday. I plan to select older and forgotten children's poets. The Writer believes Robert Louis Stevenson is the finest poet for children. I like him too and will choose a poem from A Child's Garden of Verses now and then. This is The Writer's very favorite poem--she loves the way the rhythm speeds up, just like a train.

"From a Railway Carriage"

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle,
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.

Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And there is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart run away in the road
Lumping along with a man and load;
And here is a mill and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone forever!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Scanner is Up!

The Writer has finally set up her brand-new scanner and yesterday she began scanning stuff. Look!

What the heck is that?
It's one of her old book covers she scanned.
There's white space on one side and the light bounces off it.

Okay, she doesn't know how to do it perfectly. Give her time. She'll figure out how to get rid of the weird margin.

Yeah, Rome wasn't built in a day and all that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Vintage Wednesday

Hello, everybody (both of you)! Welcome to my new column, Vintage Wednesday. Every Wednesday (well, maybe I'll miss a few--life does get in the way), I'll review a vintage children's book: picture books, storybooks, fiction, nonfiction, and even old books on children's literature.

Today we're going to look at a new series The Writer has recently discovered: Lolly Pop Books.

These books are 3" x 4," a little bigger than the miniature Golden Books (2" x 2") and cute as a speckled pup. They are just the right size for me! They were published by John Martin's House in Kenosha, WI. The Writer has 7 of these little gems and at $10 a pop, she won't be collecting them all. One title has a plain paper spine, but the others have a red paper spine sprinkled with little lollipops.

The stories are charming, with text on the left side and illustrations on the other. No credit to author or illustrator. This is the opening from Some Day:

Some day I'll ride the escalators till the escalators stop.
Some day my sister Jane and I will own a candy store
and when we eat up all our stock, why then we'll make some more.

The Writer wrote to Steve Santi, author of several guides on Golden Books and other popular children's books such as Rand McNally, Whitman, and Treasure books. Steve offered little information about the Lolly Pop books other than they were published from about 1948 to 1950. And there are a lot of them! The Writer will never be able to track down, much less afford, all of the Lolly Pops, but she will acquire as many of these cute little books as she can. Here are some sample titles:

Billy Brownie and Spotty
Blue Bird's Story
Bossy The Calf
Bounce The Puppy
Busy Mrs. Bunny and Her Children
The Children Had a Party
Down Near the Rabbit Hole
Happy Holidays
Mrs. Ducks Family
On the Chug Chug Train
Poor, Poor Puffy
They Came to the Farm
Three Little Kittens
Tick Tock The Little Duck
Bobby Had Three Pennies

What a minute . . . that's a photograph. Hasn't The Writer set up her scanner yet?

No, but she's working on it. Well, she took it out of the box. Anyway, there are no good pictures of these little books on the web. (It should be noted that Winchester was locked in the closet during this photo shoot. He thought he was supposed to be in it--for the food, you know.)

I resemble that remark!

You're not supposed to be in this column anyway! Beat it!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Winchester Goes Back to the Vet

Hee-hee! Look at you! It took The Writer and her husband all their might to push you in the carrier.

That's because I'm the strongest cat in the world.

No, it's because you barely fit in the carrier. You wouldn't be in this fix if you'd stopped sneezing like I told you.

How can you stop sneezing? You got a sneeze inside--it has to come out, you dumb sack of stuffing.

You're just grumpy because you have to go to the vet. Your vet is very nice. She knows what's best for you.

Yeah, like that thermometer . . .

The Writer says you have blackheads on your chin!! Just like a teenager. She'll have to get Stridex pads and Clearasil.

Can I help it I have raging hormones? I'm still a teenager.

According to the people/cat age chart you're 44!

You got a pair of wirecutters? I'm out of here!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Writing Monday: Converting Books

Why is the blog up so late? Monday is almost over!

Shhh. The Writer isn't feeling well again. She had a bad weekend.

What is with her? I'm going to trade her in for a new Person. One that's younger and not so puny... and richer so she can buy me all the kibble I want.

Never mind. She told me what she wanted to talk about today--and it is still Monday. She talked to her students this summer about finding the right genre. Sometimes the decision is obvious. You wouldn't want to write about a serial killer for a preschool picture book. Other times the decision isn't so clear-cut.

Years ago The Writer wrote a picture book called "The Walnut Man's Granddaughter." It was a fine story, but seemed to be burdened with too many themes and plotlines. A friend suggested turning it into two picture books. The Writer liked that idea, but when she started to take it apart, the story wouldn't cooperate. She decided to write episodic short stories that would add up to a whole. That flopped too. By working backwards, The Writer wrote a novel called Finding Day's Bottom, which she considers her finest work.

Yeah, it's all downhill now.

Now The Writer is facing a similar problem. Once she wrote what she calls an "edgy" easy reader. It has all the right elements: good length, good sentence structure, humor, engaging characters, fun plot. And yet, and yet, something isn't quite right. The Writer is going to revise the book. But every time she looks at it she sees a perfect easy reader! She thinks, What is wrong with those editors! Can't they see perfection when it's under their nose?

And yet, and yet, something isn't quite right. The Writer realized the format is wrong. It's not an easy reader but a chapter book. It's not that simple to slam an easy reader into a chapter book. So The Writer did what she always does: she went back to basics. She found some chapter books and typed out not one or two chapters, but the entire book! She could read the book, mark it up, make notes. But by typing it out, she spotted things that wouldn't be evident analyzing the story as a reader. She analyzed it as a writer by becoming the writer of that book.

Next time you have to convert a book from one form to another, try "becoming" the writer. You might be able to pinpoint the troublespots.

Zzzzzzz. Wha? Are we done? Finally!