Saturday, January 31, 2009

Seeing Old Friends and Paul Blart, Mall Cop

Tonight was the annual cocktail party for
children's book folk hosted by the SCBWI.
It was fun to see friends, but I wish they
were still my colleagues. (I was laid off
from my job as a kids book editor a month ago.)

On Monday, the big book awards were announced--
the Newbery and the Caldecott (
That always makes kids book people feel crazed.
Especially now, when publishers are struggling
to sell anything. You can see them here:

The Newbery was won by Neil Gaiman. If you want to
know more about him, check out his performance on
The Moth. You can download it for free.

On Wednesday two children's book librarians from
Greenwich, CT. were killed in a drunk driving
accident on their way to the airport in Denver
heading home from the American Library Association
Conference. They were Kate McClelland and Kathy
Krasniewicz. If there was one librarian to know, it
was Kate. She was beloved and outspoken and if
memory serves, she loved chicken jokes. I never
met Kathy, but I wish I had. Some people may not know,
but librarians are celebrities in the book world.
They judge prize committees. They make things happen.

On a happier note, I took my boys to see Paul Blart,
Mall Cop--and I laughed a lot, especially at the
choice of cheesy oldies on the soundtrack. I fell in
love with the funny scooter Paul Blart rode around on.
What are those called? He could really move on that thing.

I must go to bed, and I didn't read to the kids tonight,
so I have no right to blog. Though I must admit
after seeing old friends who wondered how I was doing in
my state of unemployment, I truly felt like I had "extra

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

RIP John Updike, Crash, How to Steal a Dog, Movies

Today John Updike died. This man was very busy. He must have
been very very disciplined. I wish I could say I'd read
his books, but I can't.

So . . . I guess I am starting to understand why kids
enjoy reading fantasy. Reading fantasy lets you
admit/believe/realize that lots of crazy problems exist,
but fantasy lets you think they exist only in OTHER WORLDS!
How comforting, right?
In school, Gus is reading Crash by Jerry Spinelli.
The unit is "realistic fiction." He calls it re-fi.
Btw, historical fiction is known as hi-fi.
This kind of fiction makes kids face things that
happen in real life--which is fine when you're a
book editor--you're paid to think: Yes, kids!
Face the facts. Life is harsh. Life hurts.
Bad stuff happens. Read on!

But when it is your child, you think:
Oh, honey, let's read about fairies.
That will give you nice dreams.
The truth is they like both and they need both.
Right? They do need to escape into worlds that
don't correspond to every day life,
but they also need to feel things that are real.

In Crash (have not read, but dipped in) the Grandpa,
Scooter, has a stroke after his grandson Crash tackles
him in a football game. Is it Crash's fault? It certainly could be.
(I will have Gus review the book for the blog later this week!)
But what child will not feel to blame for something tragic
that's happened some time in their childhood?
They will. We all did.
I wonder how Gus feels when he reads this,
if he relates at all. He is very literal,
so he probably doesn't see himself at all.
But I wonder if he relates to another
character in the book.
I'll ask him tomorrow and let you know . . . .

Each night we have been reading a few chapters from a
wonderful novel called How to Steal a Dog.
Looking at the cover, you'd think it was light and funny,
and though parts of it are, it's actually about a girl
and her little brother (and their mom) who are living in a car.
We are about six chapters in, and both kids (mine)
are feeling what it might be like to be ashamed of your life,
to have to try and hide the truth from your friends,
and to want something so badly you're willing to do
something crazy, like steal a dog...only to try and
find it in order to get the reward.
It just makes you think. Sure there is an evil villain,
a Voldemort--but he's nothing more than an absent
father. So there are no battles to fight or spells to cast.
The kids have to figure out how to feel about sadness that can't be named.
Hmmm. It's the same in picture books--but the novels take time and sink in.
I would love to have a book club for kids.
Even if it was just to allow them to tell their stories.

Last weekend I saw four movies in two days,
and I warn you--there is a danger. I now have so many
people's points of view and stories in my head,
that whenever a friend tells me something,
I instantly compare it to a character I met in one of these films.
A friend having a hard time taking care of an ailing
father was compared to the father/daughter relationship in
The Wrestler. Another friend mentioned the burden
of taking care of both child and husband, and my
response wasn't: "Oh, it's so hard." Nope--
instead I said," Yup, that's why Kate Blanchett
knew she couldn't take care of her own child plus Benjamin Button!"

In any case, all four films--The Reader,
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Wrestler,

and Last Chance Harvey--all gave me
plenty to think about. The oddest thing being that Last Chance Harvey and
The Wrestler had A LOT more in common than one might expect . . . . really . . . the themes of feeling like a man without a family, feeling like a has-been, and especially (spoiler alert) heart ailments! (One big difference, however were the physical incarnations of the respective love interests: It's hard enough comparing a sixtyish fairly-odd smirky DustinHoffman with a skanky stapled plastic-faced Mickey Rourke, but a naked stripper version of Marisa Tomei with nipple rings vs. the wholesome Londoner with pony tail and a scrunchy from the 80s, Emma Thompson? Gulp.)

My friend Babette told me today that in Greek, the work hysteria
means wandering womb because Greek women were supposed to be happy
all the time, especially taking care of kids. But that when they
acted "hysterical" it was because the womb was traveling around
taking control of other parts of the body.

Good night. By the way, to comment on the blog, you have to LOG IN.
Sorry about that. It's something to do with spam comments that feature viagra!!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Harry and Bill

Obama's in the White House, my kids are off to bed, all's right with the world.
My friend Vincent and I always write to each other like this.
One sentence per line.
It's less jumbly.
He does it always.
I only do it with him.
He wrote a book, but I am going to talk about his book in a few days.
You can visit him at
He is currenly into all recipes having to do with Obama. I love that.
Today he sent one for sangria!

Remember in college when you'd take two seemingly unrelated courses?
Then something would come up and you'd realize they had so much in common?
This happened today with two books.
I read a biography of Bill Gates written by Marc Aronson.
Yes, it's for kids--but believe me, it's for eveyone!
He did something really cool.
He made the book sort of interactive by structuring it as a HOW-TO.
I am not sure I can explain it, but basically, the idea is that he tells all about Bill Gates'
childhood, personality and everything else you'd want to know--
but he structures it in terms of the principles Bill Gates used
to accomplish his dreams, which were: 1) To computerize the world and 2) to get rich.
The book is terrific and any kid would love it--especially a nerd or geek,
many of whom I know and now want to give this book to!
But it's also about how he made himself seem like the best, strongest, etc.
even when there was nothing behind what he was saying.
The mere thought of competition would make Bill Gates
say he could do something better. Then he'd do it.
I wondered how we could apply this better to book publishing.

I read this book because I was asked to write a review for it.
Not really a review, but some catalog copy for my nice
friend Susan at the Junior Library Guild.
Don't ask me to explain.
One word: Freelance!

Well, like I said--a great book. But then it was time to read to Gus and Henry.
Gus was in bed reading his favorite type of book: an illustrated Simpson's book.
Gus is currently obsessed with any flow chart that is funny. I am not kidding.
Henry was reading Night Shift by Jessie Hartland,
which is the perfect book for a six-year-old beginning reader.
It's all about the jobs that are done at night.
Each job is linked to the next and the book features
my favorite job of all--window dresser! (How did I not get that job?)
Jessie Hartland was once a window dresser. So was Vincent Kirsch.
See? S e e m i n g l y unrelated and YET!
Visit Jessie at
She is fabulous.

So, I pulled a graphic novel off the shelf. I had never read it.
It was Houdini: The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi.
Brought to us by the Center for Cartoon Studies via Hyperion.
The book is about 88 pages, and the boys loved it.
At first Henry was worried it looked too long--and some of the language isn't for kids his age--
but he got into it and I explained some of the references.
In it, Houdini refers to the fact that in those days some people thought Jews had horns.
This made no sense to Henry.
Maybe if they had said Jews have lice, it would have made sense.
The entire book is about one handcuff escape that took place
in Boston in 1908 in Cambridge on the Harvard Bridge.
Great suspense, lots of credit given to his wife Bess, and the entire book is in black and blue ink.
Gives you that cold feeling when Houdini is in the water in the middle of winter.
Kind of like last week in the Hudson River!

As I was reading and thinking about Houdini,
and how concerned he was with what everyone thought of him--
and how he thrived on risk--I thought of Bill Gates.
Okay, so it's not that profound, but if you read both books,
you will see the similarities.
So much is smoke and mirrors.
So much is REALLY about the marketing.
It's fascinating. Isn't it??

Now I have to go and put all the jackets of the books on for you to see the books,
so this might take a while.
If I don't return tonight, adieux!

BTW--Thanks for the nice comments on my first blog entry,
especially the comments about my mother's comment asking
me not to reveal to much or overcommit myself.
That received "the most mail!"
Moms!! You gotta love them, right?

Wait--I already added the book jackets (Sorry, no Simpsons)
so I just have to say one thing:
I now know how Dav Pilkey came up with Captain Underpants,
because just tonight, Henry ran into the bathroom wearing
three pairs of underpants OVER his footsy pajamas
and as he ripped each pair off he got more and more hysterical--
very VERY pleased with his own antics.
Everyone should have their own Captain Underpants--
even if it's just you putting them on.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Henry's Freedom Box

A book I talk about in my first blog entry! See below!

I'm Not a Baby

I am trying to put in a picture of the book jacket.
Please have patience...

The accidental BLOG

My name is Jill Davis.
I am starting a blog.
I know--I am the last person to start one, but that's okay.
It was an accident.
My husband Eric told me to do this.
I'm not usually so late--but I am no techno-wizard.

I live in an apartment in NYC.
I have two boys and no pets.
I work in the big wide WONDERFUL disfunctional world of children's books.
I work at home since publishing is a mess.
I just unpacked 12 boxes of book and I feel as though
I should start a book group for four-year-olds.
Does anyone want to come? I will serve cookies and juice.
I can even water it down!

Tonight I read two great books to my kids.
Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, which is
the story of the slave Henry "Box" Brown who mails himself to freedom.
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson, it is an eye-opener for kids.
It is stunning and clever and an important piece of history.
Ellen is a great storyteller. The book brought up the quandary
of how to explain the Underground Railroad--which was in literal terms
neither underground nor was it a railroad.

Then we read I'm Not a Baby by the fabuloso Jill McElmurry--
even though Gus (older) wanted another one like Henry's Freedom Box.
I felt I would lose the younger one if we stayed so serious.
He was leafing through a Laura Vaccaro Seeger book
( BLACK WHITE DAY NIGHT) and wanted more fun, less fact!

I'm Not a Baby is the definition of quirky, and as often happnens
when I read a picture book to Gus and Henry (9 and 7)
they get rambunctious, riled up--and begin to speak in loud British accents,
cracking themselves up--as I have taught by example--
until they fall asleep unwillingly. It's the story of a little boy who
remains a baby in his family's eyes (bonnet and romper!) until the every end of the book
when his family finally notices and exclaims: THE BABY'S HAD A BABY!
This is a hilarious crowd pleaser. My crowd is only two--
but it's a great one to read in the classroom, too!

Jill is illustrating a book I signed up--written by Ruthie
Knapp (a first time picture book author) about
when the Mona Lisa was stolen in 1911. It's going to be fantastic
and coming in 2011 from Bloomsbury, where I once worked as an editor.

Blogging is fun. I think I will do it again. Until then, good night!