Sunday, November 8, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

I finally saw Where the Wild Things Are, the film. I thought it was outstanding. I want to buy it. (I don't buy many).
This will sound heretical, but I was not an early fan of Maurice Sendak's seminal children's book, Where the Wild Things Are.
I bought it, of course, because I was a conscientious young mom who tried to buy the great books. In the Scholastic Book Club flyers that came home from school with my kids I always searched out the Caldecott and Newbery winners. I remember telling my Aunt Marj that I bought those because those were the best books and I wanted to expose my kids to the best.
She said they're not always the best books.
This was distressing to hear. As a crazy-busy parent I wanted an easy, no-think method to as many things in life as possible, and here she was, poking a hole in my carefully-derived plan to expose my kids to only the best in literature and children's art.
Gradually I started to think for myself, and question the award winners, and buy on principle rather than on stickers.
Where the Wild Things Are is one of those books I bought because everyone was talking about it, and it looked fun.
I read it, and wasn't impressed. Maybe the kid in the book reminded me too much of my wild brothers.
Maybe I was afraid of the anger.
Maybe I just didn't "get" the point of the book.
I didn't dislike it; I read it to my family, and it wasn't their favorite, so it went back on the shelf.

I dragged it out of the bookshelf archives to create theme decorations for the baby shower of my brother's first child, no doubt a future Wild Thing.
The decorations were adorable.
I still have them -- I saved some of the monster pictures, and the little boy in the wolf costume (which I added heart buttons to, maybe to soften his anger?).
I hung the monsters on my studio walls and one on the window. They've been there for years. (Well, my niece is now 14) (and she isn't wild)
One of my friends bought me a Where The Wild Things Are t-shirt (sold at Target a while back) for my birthday, one year. I try not to wear it to writer events because I don't want someone reading my chest ("So that's where the wild things are, eh?") and making me blush.

Watching the movie reminded me that the book is scary (Sendak agrees) and that the monsters are not lovable and soft (my decorations are smiling monsters. Fangs, claws, but no indication they'd ever actually use them).

I wouldn't take a four-year-old to the movie. Well, not one of my four-year-olds (see aforementioned easy life desire).
I might take my almost-seven grandson; I think he could relate to hyperactive Max.
As an artist, I loved the film. It was inventive and a feast for the eyes.
As a kids' book writer/illustrator, I loved the film. It built the characters in ways the book was too short to do. It set up an expectation and exceeded it. It repeated worthy motifs and demonstrated wise foreshadowing.
As a parent, I was glad the kid at my side is 12. She fully "got" the story, the intention, the inventiveness, and -- bonus -- no nightmares for me to deal with later.
I loved the film.
Kudos to all involved: the screenwriters, the soundtrack developers (also outstanding), the costume and makeup people, the person who cast the kid (because he's believable, and I dislike films that star terrible kid actors). Kudos to all who took a risk on this film.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy Halloween!

I was at Libba Bray's blog (here) for the name of her book that got optioned for a movie (a dream probably every author harbors), because Charlie was talking about The Lovely Bones movie, and it made me think, I don't write on my blog much. I don't know who reads it. I don't know if it's fun to read when there's something there. I do know it's not fun to read when there's nothing there, and lately there's been a lot of nothing. I don't even publicize my upcoming author appearances. So that's changing...

Halloween usually sneaks up on me, but this year I was ready.
It helped that it fell on a Saturday. We had events all week, leading up to it, including Emily's haunted house in middle school (o0O0o.o0O0o, scary!).
It also helped that, despite massive quantities of vitamins and echinacea, I had a slight sore throat yesterday, and as a result had lowered expectations for my involvement in the holiday (read: I sat on the couch munching popcorn while watching tv, no guilt) (please don't tell me how corn translates to sugar in the bloodstream, and sugar is friend to infection and won't help me get healthy. I know this)

On Friday morning, no sore throat yet, I helped transport my grandson plus 24 fancy cupcakes and a gallon of orange juice to his 2nd grade classroom.
Charlie (husband & substitute teacher) and Emily (7th grader) took the car to the middle school. Oldest daughter had a meeting in the morning which left me to get her kid off to school. Enter my son, who was willing to leave his bride and warm bed to drive us to school. I think it also may have been raining.

At school I:
- balanced like a tightrope walker through crowded halls, delivered the gigantic box of cupcakes and juice and then ran out of the classroom before they could make me teach a game or bag cupcakes.
- decided to look in on a few of my teacher pals and found one who'd gotten stuck in traffic behind a jack-knifed semi for a half hour and missed her chance to set up for the classroom party before the kids arrived. I helped tape the Evil Twister game into place, and helped set up food. Another parent jumped in to help tape (evil tape) and I started thinking about a Halloween book in my head. If it comes to fruition you'll know this was the origin.
- took a prime position in the hallway and then raced over to the gym for two views of the costume parade. Wow, what great fun. My favorite costume: Captain Underpants. Obviously homemade (which I love) and this kid did not look happy to be in his undies, which sparked instant sympathy. How many times have I picked a costume in the quiet safety of my home, then regretted it the instant I stepped out in public? Too many times. Kudos to that kid for taking a risk. It's so much easier and so much less creative to buy a scary mask and dress all in black. (which, I've done that, too)
My friend Frank was dressed in a tablecloth dress and funny wig. He's always entertaining -- a book waiting to be written. Great parade.
- talked with some of the other parents about the middle school band concert the other night. We're in crisis over there. We had an outstanding, best-ever, top of the line, absolute greatest band teacher you could ever hope to meet, for two years, and due to budget cuts he was pink-slipped in June. He has found a new job in another state. (cue: wailing and gnashing of teeth) In his place they forced a young orchestra teacher who minored in music and doesn't know band.
It's outrageous, unfair, disheartening. At the concert the band played like they'd lost two years of instruction. They went from competitive to grade school in one season. I blame the school board and am voting to replace the non-responsive among them, hoping for a big change.
- chatted with my pals in the principal's office, hugs to the librarian Marty and the school secretary Cindy and the custodian, trouble-maker Mary, and a few of the teachers, some whom my kids were lucky to have and others whom I befriended over the years.
- noticed the morning was only half-over, and reluctantly headed to my grandson's classroom to experience the mayhem. I picked his teacher's brain (ew! there's a visual) a while about Ron Clark and outstanding teachers, and then offered to draw the class. Teachers at this school always seem to have a pen, paper and clipboard on hand in case a visiting illustrator happens by and offers to draw the class.
It was only mildly stressful: No compunction to draw every single kid, as there has been some years. I just drew various kids at the various centers of activity, a few games, crafts, cookie decoration.
Tip learned years ago from the kindergarten teacher: If you don't put too much detail into the art, several kids claim one drawing is them, and every kid feels represented. :)
Unfortunately I finished quickly which left time to bag the cupcakes, a messy job to the extreme. Those cupcakes were adorable in the box (picture this with a lot more frosting in colorful layers, as tall as an ice cream cone), but by the time they were squished into sandwich bags for the trip home they were sloppy and goopy. Some kids actually refused one pink-and-brown gloppy mess-in-a-bag until I scooped out some of the icing with a paper towel and made the insides of the bag a little prettier.
This is the kind of job I'd have loved as a kid: I'd have joyfully licked my hands in between each cupcake-into-the-bag maneuver, and had to go wash them two dozen times. For an adult, a far less enchanting task. And, racing against the clock, because NO WAY was I hauling that enormous box back home without a car, adorable leftovers notwithstanding.

We took the woods route home from school, instead of the boring sidewalk. Not everybody gets to walk in the woods on Halloween. It's a special spooky science lesson on foot.
Picture us: Me dressed in Halloweeny clothes and big cat eye glasses, my grandson dressed as a pterodactyl riding a horse (yes, you read right, and it was hilarious), picking our way carefully through the burrs ("The origin of Velcro!" I say to him each time) and spider webs (new appreciation for those ever since the golden orb spider tapestry debuted), and peeking between the trees to see how far off course we were, targeting my house behind the woods.

We discovered a big, long, ant-ish beetle.
We discussed the big drain -- a creek used to run there.
We noticed in the back part of our neighbor's yard, about 30 feet from where the creek used to be in the woods, we could clearly see the outline of a 25-foot wide ghostly building in the grass. It's been gone for 50 years. Maybe much longer. Weird how clearly we could see it. I told him about my husband's friend who, while visiting a while back, spotted the square footings of a house there, probably a log cabin from a hundred years ago. At the time I couldn't see it at all, but now I can.

Friday afternoon my daughter came early to pick up her kids and life quieted down quickly. Ahh, respite.

Friday night we drove to a local hangout for our friend's impromptu retirement impromptu party, where we got to talk with great friends and met a few more new friends who made us laugh hard. I took a homemade sketchbook to draw the event but -- and this is a first -- got so engrossed in the conversation and laughs that I forgot to draw.
I get so comfortable in my cave. So anti-people, so hibernatory. I'm fine that way. I enjoy it. And then someone forces me to get out of my brain and my studio and socialize and meet people, and I enjoy that very much also. It's a weird dichotomy which I try not to analyze.

On Saturday Emily made mummy hotdogs and bat biscuits. They were both cute and yummy. And since both mummies and hot dogs have a lot of preservatives in them, they were historically accurate. Nice.

Four of us went to see the latest Harry Potter movie (book 6, Half-Blood Prince, which I'd read but forgotten WHO the 1/2-blood guy was, so that was a nice re-surprise). Unfortunately we sat behind a young mom and three kids ages 7, 3 and 3. Way too young for that movie, way too disruptive. (Note to self: Examine surrounding seats before matinees) That was annoying, but the movie was OUTSTANDING. If you haven't seen it, go.
Charlie and I discussed the character development and various things we loved about the movie, for an hour, last night.

It's a longgg movie. We got home just in time to carve some pumpkins (one Ellie McDoodle, one Ben-Ben, and one little guy throwing up) quickly, scrounge for candles and get them set up before the first Trick-or-Treaters came.
Because of daylight savings time being pushed back a few weeks, it was still light outside. Trick-or-Treating in daylight is like wearing a seatbelt on a tricycle.
Charlie took Emily (pirate) out on the rounds. I stayed home handing out Kit Kats and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. Usually Charlie takes Em out for the first half, then brings her home and either takes over handing out candy or, if the candy's gone, goes with us.
This time her big sister Katie who's home from college took her out for the second half and my sore throat and round-the-clock infusion of vitamins and anti-cold remedies kept me inside. Stove-popped popcorn, a few episodes of The Office, both British original and the US version, evaluated Katie's outfit (Goldi-Goth and the 3 Bears) for her friend's party, and then we went to bed early because we had to get up early Sunday: Emily was invited to go to Cedar Point amusement park with her cool cousins. It's a bit of a drive. She was picked up at 7:30am.
Today's the last day of the season. It should be cold, windy, and a lot of fun.

While she's gone the rest of us will have Family Night (which is a daytime event, lately, but not as offensive as daytime Trick-or-Treating).
After the kids leave maybe I'll get a bit more done on the third Ellie McDoodle book. And I'm thinking I could definitely do a Halloween book out of all the crazy chaos that defines my house...
But for now, maybe it's time for a nap (I'm beating this cold!).


My next author event: Thursday Nov 19 at 7pm Barnes & Noble East Lansing on Grand River: Book fair for St. Martha's. Come chat, buy a book, support a good school!