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.