Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Things that make you go BLEAHHH!
Last weekend? Hey, me too!
I saw Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (aka P-Cab Three) and it was SO completely and totally horrendous that it rocketed to the top of my worst movies of all time list (bumping Casper starring Christina Ricci from the number one spot it has held for over a decade and shifting A.I. down to spot number three). Seriously, the movie was awful in every way. And for the record I liked P-Cab One and Two. And I'll watch pretty much anything with Johnny Depp, whose career I've championed since his 21 Jump Street days.
Anyone? 21 Jump Street?
Okay, now I feel old.
Anyhow, when I got home from the movies, I eagerly pulled out The New Yorker and the NY Times. I feel that the only thing that mitigates wasting time and money on bad things (entertainment, literature, meals) is reading that professional critics agree with me. That’s probably pretty universal – who doesn’t get a real charge out of having her contempt vindicated? It’s like when your friend dates some guy you can’t stand and then a mutual friend confesses that he annoys her to. It’s that feeling of thank you! I love it.
Well, no thank you! The New Yorker refused to weigh in. Well, at least it has so far… though I’m still holding out hope that Anthony Lane trashes it… he did such a fine job reviewing Pirates Two. But get this: The NYT actually kind of praised it. I mean, the praise was lukewarm, but they didn’t state the obvious: This Film Sucked. What’s more, the NYT followed up its review with a gushing article about how the film had pulled in more than $400 million dollars in less than a week.
That’s right: More than $400 million dollars in less than a week.
Apparently, tens of millions of people did not do as I did and call to warn their friends while still standing under the theatre marquis. It’s possible – difficult though it might be for me to fathom - that some of them might even have liked it.
Am I this out of sync with popular opinion?
Apparently, I am. At least when it comes to Hollywood blockbusters. But children’s books… hmmm… I like to think I have my finger on the pulse of quality or lack thereof in that arena.
Or do I?
To find out, I went straight to the source of all information. Google. As Gene Weingarten reported this week in his reliably hilarious Washington Post magazine column, there is very little that does not exist on the internet. My search term: I hate Rainbow Fish.
The news? People, I am not alone.
Yes, thank you!, it turns out that lots and lots of people hate Rainbow Fish as much as I do! Not perhaps as many people as hate Rachel Ray, but quite a few. As you probably know, The Rainbow Fish is a children’s book by Swiss author Marcus Pfister. It is about this fish with sparkly scales whose friends hate him for being pretty and bully him into giving away his scales until he looks like he has fin rot. I hate everything about it: the cheesy shiny art, the fact that it is a “message” book, the content of the message, the inept plot and, now that I am a published author, the fact that the author’s last name starts with a PF so the stupid Rainbow Fish swims right next to my books on many a shelf.
Here are some of the 173 Amazon reviews:
The book is so bad, destructive, immoral, and wrong that I have trouble figuring out where to start.
To give this 'book' to a child should be considered abuse.
Why isn't there a zero star option? (from a reviewer who gave it a single star out of a possible five)
It is unclear how this managed to get published in the first place.
Okay, thank you! Yes!
After reading negative review after negative review, with a few positive ones interspersed (hey, positive reviewers, have I got a movie for you!) I was feeling really great. Really, really vindicated.
Until I noticed something else on the Rainbow Fish’s Amazon page:
84% of people who viewed the page bought the book anyway.
Do you hate The Rainbow Fish? Did you also hate Pirates of the Caribbean Three? Omigod, we’re soulmates! Okay, all kidding aside, is there a kids’ book that you hate even though everyone else seems to love it? Give me your two cents. Or better yet, give me back the nine dollars and fifty cents I spent on P-Cab Three!
Monday, May 28, 2007
WE - Okay, HE - WON!!!
This is Mike Lester, better known as Rome, Georgia's beloved editorial cartoonist and even better known in certain circles as The Inspired Illustrator of my book, NINETY-THREE IN MY FAMILY. You know, the guy who drew all those wonderful wacky pictures of the penguin who wants to drive, the armadillos with the watches, the twenty-seven owls, Bernice the pygmy hippo, Ed the gerbil and all the other family members in my book.
Well, this past weekend, Mike got some well-deserved accolades for his work. He donned a penguin suit (see photo) and accepted a Reuben Award, bestowed annually by the National Cartoonists Society, for Best Illustrated Book. And the book that was named Best Illustrated Book was none other than NINETY-THREE IN MY FAMILY!
Yay, Mike! You totally deserved this honor. Your illustrations captured the book's spirit in ways I couldn't even have imagined. To this day, I can open the book and find new details I haven't noticed. Details that often make me laugh out loud. Details that excite and amuse pretty much every child in every school I visit with the book. Details that work so well with my words I can't believe we've only communicated by pen and keyboard.
I am one lucky author, that's for sure.
Monday, May 21, 2007
It Pays To Be "Nice."
In this photo, try to find my agent, Carrie Hannigan. Here's a hint: she's somewhere near the beautiful bouquet of peonies I sent her to say thanks for - ahem - SELLING MY FIRST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL, FOLLOWING THE NAIL!!!
Yup, Harcourt has acquired FOLLOWING THE NAIL, which is scheduled for a Spring 2009 pub date. (Hey, how cool. A book of the post-Bush era! Unless, god forbid, his idiot brother joins the race. Okay, let's not even go there.) Now, where was I?
Oh, yes. FOLLOWING THE NAIL. It's about a smart, sarcastic girl named Veronica who takes a summer job at a vintage clothing store - based on Cambridge, MA's fabulous store The Garment District, where I researched the book! - to avoid peers who persecute her and ends up drawn into an emotional tug of war between two cruel yet charismatic older girls and a very bizarre boy. It is a book about trusting others and trusting your own heart, and how terrifying this can be if you've been burned before. I really, really love it, but I confess I'm kind of biased.
Carrie also reported to me that Publishers Marketplace, the web-hive of book industry buzz, just made note of my book deal, reporting that Picture Book author Erica Perl sold her first Young Adult novel to Gretchen Hirsch at Harcourt in a nice deal. I liked this sound of that. It is a nice deal, I thought to myself happily! But then I realized that the phrase a nice deal sounded less like a compliment and more like industry code. I pressed Carrie to explain, so she did:
"Nice Deal" means under $50K; "Very Nice Deal" means $50K to $100K; "Good Deal" means $100K to $250K; "Significant Deal" means $250K to $500K; and last but by definition not least "Major Deal" means $500K and up.
Suddenly, I felt less "nice" and more "insignificant." In fact, I felt downright "minor."
So I made up my own amendments to the code. For future reference, "Not-so-bad deal" is $5K-10K, "Just okay deal" is $3K-$4.9K, "Mildly embarrassing deal" is $1.5-$2.9K and "Painful deal" is $1K-1.4K.
Oh yes, and I almost forgot "truly pathetic deal." That's when you pay them to publish your book (not to be confused with self-publishing, which is totally respectable in my book if your book is good enough... as is the case with my friend Rhoda Trooboff's delightful book Ben, The Bells and The Peacocks).
And in case you were wondering, Carrie is BEHIND the flowers! See?
Yeah, I told her not to quit her day job. She's a great agent but she's not ready to give Where's Waldo a run for his money.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Very Little Red Riding Hood, Even Less About The Wolf
Had the Times asked me - not that I'm bitter that they went to Neal first, mind you -they might have been surprised to find that I can rattle off several classic picture books that could benefit from a flourish of red pen. Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that these books be altered now. Heck, I scowl when they reissue classic children's books with new art, even good art. James and the Giant Peach comes to mind. It was reissued in two different editions, one with art by Lane Smith and another with art by Quentin Blake, despite the fact that the original art by Nancy Ekholm Burkert was sublime. But I digress...
Here's the point. Many of the so-called children's book classics practically beg parents to skip pages while reading aloud. Look no further than good old Curious George if you need an example. In Curious George Flies a Kite, there are baby bunnies, a fat guy fishing, and all sorts of irrelevant events before a kite even enters the narrative. The Poky Little Puppy? Good Lord. There are about ten extraneous dawdling trips home from the hill before Mama gets wise. And don't even get me started on Dr. Seuss. Many of his books are sheer perfection, it's true. And some are so charming that they are worth hanging in for even when the energizer bunny of children's books keeps going and going (e.g. The Sleep Book, my all-time Seuss favorite, and Horton Hears a Who). But if you want to see what I'm really talking about, take If I Ran the Circus or And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street out for a spin. You'll run out of gas looooong before the good doctor gets mid-way through these yarns.
I know I'm probably going to get a lot of grief for taking this position, especially about Dr. Seuss. The fourteen people who reviewed If I Ran The Circus on Amazon and who each gave it five stars - one guy claimed he read it aloud to his wife when his kids "begged him to stop" - will certainly disagree with me.
What can I say? I call 'em like I see 'em.
And now, so can you: What classic kids' books do YOU wish had a couple fewer pages? Or seem like their meandering plots went unchecked at press time?
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Hey Baybeeee... And Kid Expo!
I think this photo speaks volumes about my trip to York, PA to read and sign books at the Baby and Kid Expo. The cup on the right is the cup from my drive there and the cup on the left (Mr. Fry-head, trying to hit on Miss Mermaid) is from my drive back.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Happy Mother's Day!
I just want to take this opportunity to wish a Happy Mother's Day to my wonderful mom, Elly Perl. She (along with my dad, who'll have to wait until June to get his toast-of-a-post) has always been my biggest fan: of my creative work, my jokes, my kids... even my blog (early posts were written directly to her, since she was the only one who read it!). Call me a big sap, but I just gotta say, on this most Hallmark of days: I love you, Mom.
Happy Mother's Day, too, to the Other Mothers (and grandmothers) in my life. I'm blessed with quite a few: my husband's terrific mother, Maryann (now doesn't that sound better than "my mother-in-law"), my incredibly creative aunts, Emily (of Sesame Street fame!) and Sue (school art guru), my aptly named Grandma Dearie (grower of champion tomatoes, bridge wizard, and world-class collector of rubber bands), my husband's great-aunt Mary (painter and hand-sewer of toys and doll-clothes for my kids)... and there are more, lucky duck that I am in this particular department...
And then there's all the fabulous moms I hang out with... especially my oldest, dearest mommy pals. The ones I met in a new moms group when Franny was a tadpole, who tried hard not to hate me when I bragged about her wonderful early sleep habits... then proved themselves to be truly exceptional by never rubbing my face in it when Franny suddenly decided to become a terrible sleeper (which she still is to this day). Though my new(er) mom pals are pretty fabulous, too!
And I can't forget to mention Anna, my brother's wife and mom to my niece, the lovely Miss Ruthie (formerly known as Baby Ruth and pictured to the left of my girls).
So, pedicures and drinks all around, okay?
Friday, May 11, 2007
Chicken Hat Wearers, Unite!
Which is why I am always thrilled to learn that I Am Not Alone!
This photo comes to us all the way from Israel! My friends Jan and Ran (pronounced Ron, to avoid an overdose of rhyming cuteness) have a daughter called Omi (short for Naomi) and she apparently loves her chicken hat so much she wears it to the beach, the falafel stand, the kibbutz (okay, I'm grasping at straws here, as I'm not sure where she's toiling with her plastic wheelbarrow in this photo), everywhere!
Way to go, Omi! I'm crowing with pride!
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Bougie's Top Ten "Storytapes"
Tune in here, or on my new offsprung blog, Pajamazon, for future installments.
Kid Lit Konspiracy Kapers
Which is to say that the Book Club is sponsored by Scholastic and, hey, what a co-winky-dink, the first title selected is a Scholastic title! I was just going to keep my mouth shut about that and focus on Al Roker’s lack of kid book credentials and sudden Jenna-Bush-like desire to cannonball into the swimming pool of children’s literature because, like, it’s fun and, hey, look at me!
But I can keep silent in the face of conspiracy no longer.
Here’s why (see Exhibit A, above):
Yes, it’s a pair of kids’ pajamas bearing images from the children’s book ELLA THE ELEGANT ELEPHANT. They’re made by a company called Books To Bed for the catalog and online merchant cwdkids. When I saw them, doting parent and shrewd merchandiser that I am, I immediately called the company and got their buyer on the phone (no, I’m not that great at working my way up the chain of command. they seem to be an extremely small company, despite the fact that their catalog comes flying through our mailslot about every other day).
I pitched them my brilliant idea: Pajamas based on MY book, CHICKEN BEDTIME IS REALLY EARLY, which happens to have the perfect images printed on the book’s endpages… lovely little chickens, rabbits, sheep and frogs in nightcaps, all ready for bed. What child wouldn’t love these jammies? I offered to order two (heck, make it FOUR!) pairs on the spot, just to prove how successful these little numbers would be.
Politely, the buyer declined. I could send her my book, of course, and she’d take a look. But decisions about which books would be immortalized on flame-retardant cotton long johns would be based on book sales, primarily.
That’s great, I told her. CHICKEN BEDTIME is in its fifth printing now, and…
But it was clear she wasn’t listening any more. The conversation ended soon after she called me “a firecracker” (I think this was a compliment) and wished me well in my future endeavors. Come to think of it, she started to tune me out right around when I answered her question about the name of my publisher.
My publisher, which is not Scholastic.
The whole thing seemed a little fishy, so I dug a little deeper on the cwdkids website. Sure enough, three titles were chosen for pajamification: How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? (OK, Jane Yolen can do no wrong, and this one seems like bonafide pajama fodder, what with the words “dinosaur” and “good night” in the title, plus Mark Teague’s illustrations are terrific), Good Boy, Fergus (what exactly does this book have to do with bedtime? and did it really sell so great?) and the aforementioned Ella (ditto my Fergus grumblings). Hmmm? What do all these books have in common?
Terrific, adorable, kid-pleasing characters? Maybe…
Impressive sales figures? Perhaps…
Or, could it be…
Yup, they’re all published by Scholastic.
Just wait. By next fall, I have no doubt cwdkids will be unveiling a new pajama style. With images of yet another cuddly, kid-pleasing character brought to you by Scholastic:
Monday, May 07, 2007
Seven Year (Old) Itch
Franny: Mom? There's this kid at my school, named Phillip, I think? He had cancer and he lost all his hair? But it grew back and now it's all, like, golden and spiky?
Franny: Oh, wait. Not cancer. Lice.
Whither Thou Goes, Al Roker
When Neal Pollack (Mr. Alternadad himself) asked me to write a blog about children’s books (ones that I didn’t write) for the EXCITING NEW PARENTING WEBSITE offsprung.com, I was a little nervous. Okay, a lot nervous.
I mean, yeah, I guess I know a thing or two about children’s books. They’re my lifelong passion AND my bread and butter AND the main way I coax my increasingly wriggly kids back into my lap. But still, there are sooo many other folks already putting out excellent blogs about kids’ books (shelftalker, fuse # 8, seven impossible things before breakfast, book buds, planetesme, big a little a, librarianne… to name but a few)…. It’s a big book-blogging world after all. Who needs me?
But that was before Al Roker entered the kids’ literature scene.
Now, okay, I know this is shooting fish in a barrel (or, let’s see, what’s a good analogy… like getting a weatherman, um, wet?) but where does Al Roker get off proclaiming himself King of Kid Lit? I mean, Oprah, maybe. But Al Roker? I’m not even going to go off on the whole marketing-boondoggle-for-Scholastic aspect of the whole thing. I’m just wondering if someone over there couldn’t get LeVar Burton and just figured, well, maybe Al Roker is close enough? I mean, he’s an author, right? What child hasn’t read Al Roker’s Big Bad Book of Barbeque (spoiler alert: it ends badly for the three little pigs!).
But let’s back up for a second. Maybe I’m not being fair to Al. Apparently, two of his kids are five and eight, so he’s probably familiar with giving a certain pig a certain pancake and how much Little Nut-Brown Hare’s old man can one-up him before bedtime. I suppose there’s even a chance he’s read my books (and if he wants to feature them on his book club, well, then that’s too darned… gosh, do you think he might?!!) I recently read that he even toiled in obscurity as an illustrator before making it in his fall-back field of weathermanning. That’s (To-Think-That-I Saw-It-On-Mulberry-)street cred if I ever heard it. Plus, “Al” is a really classic children’s book name. Think A Girl Called Al, Al Capone Does My Shirts, and, of course, Andrew Clements’ Big Al.
So, I’m not going to predict (get it? like a weatherman!) whether Al Roker will shine or get soggy in his new role.
I’m just going to take a deep breath and say, if Al can do it, so can I.
And just to get all nutsy-boltsy about it, you can watch me do it here OR on offsprung.com (click on my blog, titled PAJAMAZON, and bookmark it too, while you're at it!). I'll also post some stand alone stuff here about stuff that is fascinating but perhaps is a bit too off topic. So check both places, okay?
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Will the real ERICA PERL please stand up?
Have you ever looked up at the sky, maybe while wearing your Mickey Mouse ears and sorcerer's apprentice hat, and wondered if somewhere else in the world, there might be another person JUST LIKE YOU?
Have you ever then gone to the computer, googled your name, and found out that, YES INDEED, there is another person with your very same name - same spelling and everything - living in the very same country as you? Okay, maybe that's not so thrilling if your name is Jane Smith, but if your name is ERICA PERL, it is pretty cool!
I wish I could say it happened to me. But it didn't. It happened to THE OTHER ERICA PERL!
That's right. Meet Erica J. Perl (we're pals now, so I can just call her "J"), age 8. She was quite surprised to learn that there was another ERICA PERL and that this other ERICA PERL (Erica S. Perl, that is: me) is a writer and author of kids' books.
Armed with this astonishing information, J summoned up her courage and sent me a charming e-mail (from her dad's e-mail account) and I rewarded this effort with an autographed copy of NINETY-THREE IN MY FAMILY. J received the book this weekend and wrote me another lovely note, thanking me and telling me that the book came to Sunday School and soccer with her (and helped her team win a 4-3 victory - nicely done!). She is looking forward to bringing it to school so her teacher, Mrs. Garn, can read it to the class. Hi, everyone in Mrs. Garn's class!
SO, if you are also a member of the highly exclusive MY NAME IS ERICA PERL club (remember, that's Erica with a "C" and Perl with no "A" or extra "E"), please send me a note and you too can join us in pen-pal-dom!
And if your name is Ericka Pearle or Eriqua Peel or Erikkuh Perool, write too because I might just make an exception and let you in anyway.
If it's okay with J, that is!
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Babies!
"Get ready, get set and crawl! Memorial Hospital is sponsoring its second annual Diaper Derby as part of the Baby and Kids Expo on Saturday, May 12 at the York Expo Center (Memorial Hall East).The Derby will begin at 11 a.m. During the Derby, children will compete by crawling from one end of a mat to the other. There will be co-ed heats of five to 10 children.The derby is open to children who are 13 months old or younger as of May 12 and are not yet walking.The winner will receive a $100 savings bond. Pre-registration is required and participation is limited to the first 100 children. The official rules and entry form can be found atwww.mhyork.org under the Baby and Kids Expo link."
Yup, a Diaper Derby, then me and my books. How very "Puppet Show and Spinal Tap" is that?
Of course, if anyone can loan me a baby, I'm game to enter. I mean, come on - a hundred dollar savings bond? That's worth pitting your youngster Pamper-to-Pamper, right?
And may the best bottom win!