Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Lesson You Can Digest

The kids had a snow day on Friday. Well, actually it was a Sleet Day and while Nev was working from home, I needed to keep the kids occupied, preferably on the second level of our house. They endured the grocery store and a slew of other errands and then after lunch, we all hopped in the Big Bed (that's code for mom and dad's king) and watched Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Well, I was working on the PTO newsletter but I watched as well.

Now, I'm embarrased to say I've never read Judith Barrett's tale. I'm not sure how i've missed it but I have. So, I am unsure how it is similar or different from the movie. But, have you guys? Have you seen the movie?

While I love any story that is creative, original and fun, I also enjoy kids' stories that have a lesson. This one is not to subtle and yet it works without being preachy.

It reflects our glutinous society, particularly American society with our believe that we deserve everything exactly when we want it. Without reference to whether we can afford it or should have it. One of the biggest problems in America which has led us to all kinds of bad behavior and is now affecting our economy as well as the environment.

The main character accidently invents a way to create food from rain for his small island town who has always had only sardines to eat. The townspeople are at first thrilled, then demanding, then before you know it, the Mayor has become a rotund, corrupt eating machine. It seems he's walked into McDonalds and decided he is unable to eat anything that's not super sized.

While watching, I'm wondering how the writer keeps that balance between fun and theme. To an adult, the lesson is obvious but then I realize to a kid, it is subtle. The demands for specific foods starts off small, escalates until the townspeople are beating down the inventor's door. The mayor's girth continues to grow as does his thirst for power.

The reason it works, is because it makes sense. The story is not interrupted by these points. Instead it intensifies the conflict and pushes to the resolution. That's the key. It simply fits. As I've read in countless articles on children's lit, if a lesson comes from the story then it will work. If it is pushed, it will not.

I pointed out to my kids (afterwards of course) how the movie is similar to our own society and what that means. But, simply put, the movie was fun to watch with the kids. They enjoyed it as entertainment. I enjoyed it as research as well as entertainment. And, I felt like the school day was a waste.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Book and Movie Reviews

Contrasting pictures. And yet, this novel and movie have the same theme.

Since I signed up for the 2009 SCBWI conference I attended in November, I have been making my way through Patricia Reilly Giff's collection of novels. And, I have enjoyed each and every one.

I just finished Nory Ryan's Song, which is a tribute to Ms. Giff's ancestors who weathered the famine in Ireland. While a historical novel can always teach us something, it can also inspire us. But very few times have I gotten choked up while reading a novel, particularly a children's book. But Nory's sacrifices for her family led me to finishing the book late one night while my husband groaned because my light was keeping him awake. Usually something I try to avoid but totally incomprehensible to me that evening. The ending was somewhat happy but heartbreakingly real.

From the persecution of the Irish by the English, my husband and I moved onto the persecution of aliens by humans. Yep! You heard me right. Nev is on top of the movie scene. Most often, I retrieve a movie from my mailbox that I've never heard of. As parents of young kids, watching movies at home is one of our most popular activities. I appreciate my husband's efforts to choose interesting atypical movies.

District 9 was not your beat the aliens movie we've seen for decades. Knowing it was produced by Peter Jackson (who made the Lord of the Rings movies), I had hopes it wouldn't be just any alien movie. I'm not into alien movies. I would have chosen Julia and Julie last night over the aliens but opted to have a little faith in Nev(and Peter).

From the first scene, I was in. Not only was it a completely different take on aliens, it was good. All the way until the last scene. And, the theme was the age old idea of treat your neighbor how you would want to be treated. No matter their color, religion, political affiliation, or whether they have skin or scales.

Give one, or both, a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

No More Sagging for Me!

This is the gingerbread house the kids and I made before Christmas. We dubbed it the Sagging Shack. I added too much water to the icing and well, it made the doors and windows droop.

Instead of being upset, we thought it was funny. Apparently, an old lady lives in this little cottage and everything on her body sags including her skin.

For the past two months, I felt like I was the Droopy Dame. No, I’m not talking about needing Botox (ew). More like a writing intervention.

Beginning around Thanksgiving, I began to experience writer’s block. Actually, I wouldn’t call it the official Writer’s Block. It was more like the lack of writing eventually caused the block. Thanksgiving interrupted my schedule with its requirements for baking rolls, making side dishes, pies, cleaning the silver and ironing the good linens. All of this I enjoy but this year I felt it a burden so by the official day, I was over it. In a big way.

Then came the onset of Christmas. The first week of December required my daughter, and therefore me as one of the backstage moms, to be at ballet rehearsal to prepare for the Nutcracker performance every night for hours. This not only interrupted my schedule but my kids’ and my husband's. I thought perhaps Macy might be preparing for a production by The New York City Ballet so intense were the practices.

Then came the bustle of preparing for the holiday itself. These are not unusual occurances. All of you went through similar situations and managed to keep writing. I, however, had by this point let my writing slipped and my creativity was zapped.

It was as if a Christmas Wizard came down and took it away for almost two months. The worst part being that once you stop writing for even a small amount of time like a week, it is so much harder to get back into it. That is the point I wanted to discuss.

For Christmas, my terrific husband heard the pleas I have been making for a while, and gave me a netbook; a perfectly tiny laptop that I can literally slip into my oversized purse.

Finally, I can write some where other than the computer/playroom. How liberating. I love my yellow legal pad and a good pencil but I admit, there is something all together wonderful about typing it once instead of writing and inputting. Plus, the gift tag attached to this little gem said, “To my honey, get those books finished!”.

That’s what I needed. A push to get back into the swing of things. A literary facelift. Still a few droops in places but I'm pinning and tucking.

Happy New Year!