order of oddfish cover

The Order of Oddfish


“Kennedy leapt about the room”

One of the highlights of my Michigan visit was speaking at the Rochester Hills Public Library, when my aunt Sandee, her inamorato Frank, and my cousin Marissa dressed up as Aunt Lily, Colonel Korsakov, and Sefino from The Order of Odd-Fish. What the article above doesn’t mention is that, before the event started, all three of them scampered around the library in character, enthusiastically cajoling patrons to come to the reading!

Then, just as Kricket (the librarian on the right) was introducing me, the blast of Colonel Korsakov’s trumpet announced the arrival of Aunt Lily, prancing and flouncing in with great drama, reading one of her parts from the book. After Aunt Lily finished and we chatted for a bit, I sat her down, but then I was interrupted by the arrival of Sefino, fulminating about the tabloids. After a pleasant chat with the cockroach, I got down to my own reading. It was one of the most enjoyable events I’ve had; it was made even more enjoyable when, during the question-and-answer period, my father innocently asked where I got the idea for “the All-Devouring Mother.”

Of course none of this would be possible without the miraculous Kricket Hoekstra, the RHPL’s young adult services librarian. Thanks, Kricket! Afterwards, she and her librarian friends took me out to lunch. Below, clockwise from top left, are Lindsay, Kricket, Jody, and Sarah. (The same saucy librarians who interviewed me for Librarian Beat a couple weeks ago. Rowr!)

That weekend I also visited my old high school, Bishop Foley. What a surreal experience! Mrs. Molnar, who was my English teacher twice, is now the principal. Back in 1991 Mrs. Molnar gave me the first writing award I ever received, the delightfully named “Genevieve Wregglesworth Excellence in Writing Award.” Genevieve Wregglesworth!

Anyway, Mrs. Molnar hasn’t lost her taste for cracking the whip: she gave me an all-day schedule, doing six forty-minute sessions to 15-60 students at a time. But it was a hoot. Some of my old teachers came by, and some old friends from high school showed up too, all of which I very much appreciated. Even Mrs. Russell, the vice-principal in my day, who gave me more detentions that I care to mention, came to the event, bearing one of her dreaded pink slips.

Below, Mrs. Molnar giving me the Genevieve Wregglesworth Award in 1991; eighteen-odd years later, there’s me, Mrs. Molnar, and my old principal Mr. Gajewski:

Speaking of writing awards, I’d like to award my own personal Genevieve Wregglesworth to an
eighth grader named Libby who emailed me a marvelous two-voice poem inspired by Jo’s struggle with the Ichthala in The Order of Odd-Fish. (I’ve reprinted the poem below, with her permission.) I confess I wasn’t very familiar with multi-voice poems until quite recently, when my niece Freya introduced me to Laura Amy Schlitz’s delightful Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! After reading Libby’s poem about Jo and the Ichthala, all I have to say is that Schlitz had better watch her back, and her Newbery.

Take it away, Libby:

Jo The Ichthala
I can feel it, I can feel it,
welling up
I fight,
but I don’t know how much longer
I can last.
resisting me,
but she weakens.
Soon, I shall be in
total control.
I don’t want this!
I’m not a monster!
The world shall soon
suffer my wrath.
I need to tell someone,
blurt it all out,
just saying so will make me feel better.
But will I be treated the same?
Fear the All-Devouring Mother!
Down my throat
the universe will go,
for I am ravenous today!
There is only one thing I know
for certain:
No matter what,
I will fight. I will fight.

Awesome, Libby. Thanks a million!

Thanks, Mrs. Vivian’s Class!

A couple weeks ago I had the privilege of meeting the fifth grade of Simonds Elementary School in Madison Heights, Michigan. Their teacher is Mrs. Jennifer Vivian, but I will always remember her as Jenny Cupp, one of my friends from high school.

Check out the pictures below — the one on the left is from November 1987 (!!), when I had a bit part in the school play M*A*S*H. The picture on the right is in Jenny’s classroom, twenty-two years later!

When I came to Jenny’s (and her colleague Ms. Putnam’s) class, I thought I’d read a bit from The Order of Odd-Fish, answer some questions, and that would be that. But Jenny and her students had something much more interesting planned. They’d already read the first couple chapters of Odd-Fish, and the students did some amazing drawings from the book! Check out these great pictures of Aunt Lily, Sefino, Colonel Korsakov, and the ruby palace:

You can see a gallery of all the fantastic pictures at the bottom of this post. Great stuff!

Something odd struck me, though. When I was looking through the illustrations for the first time, I wondered why most students colored the hedgehog blue instead of brown.

Then I remembered: Sonic the Hedgehog! Thanks to Sega, blue is now the default color for hedgehogs.

I support this development. I mean, I’ve never seen a hedgehog, either, except by playing Sonic. For all I know, Sega has it right.

Here’s all the students’ hedgehogs–including the odd brown one.

It reminds me of something else that happened when I was back in Michigan. I was invited to speak to a class about young adult literature at Oakland University. The students asked a lot of great questions, but the question I will always remember was from an exchange student from China, who asked, “In your book, why didn’t your characters have blogs?”

At first, I was gobsmacked. I mean, why should my characters have blogs? It’s a fantasy novel, after all! But then I thought that perhaps, for some people, being on the Internet is a kind of default state of human experience. Just as blue is now the default color for hedgehogs. Hmmm.

Anyway, back to Jenny’s class. I had a great time reading to them, answering questions, and telling them how Odd-Fish came to be written. Some of them were particularly interested in The Strange Ship, the homemade book I had written and illustrated when I was seven years old, and recently posted on this blog. During lunch the other day, my friend Margaret Chapman suggested a great idea: that I post the childhood books of my friends, too.

So, if you’ve got a book you wrote as a child laying around — scan it and send it my way!

Below are the rest of the wonderful illustrations of Odd-Fish I got from the students. They had also illustrated my short story The Most Dangerous Beard In Town, bound the illustrations into a book, and gave it to me as a gift! It was a wonderful thing to receive. All you artists out there: if you’re stumped on what to give your writer friend for his or her birthday, do illustrations of your friend’s stories. You can’t go wrong.

Fifth graders of Simonds Elementary, you’re spectacular — and you too, Mrs. Vivian.

P.S. And thanks, Svetlana, for helping me scan these in!

Interviews Ahoy!

This Saturday (2/7) I’m going to be appearing at the Fantasy Festival at the Evanston Public Library! There will also be manga drawing, fantasy video gaming, and a screening of the almighty Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.

In preparation, I sat down with Sam, Zoe, Heather and Luke of the Evanston library’s Teen Advisory Board to answer their questions about The Order of Odd-Fish and writing in general. Hannah and Heather filmed the interview; you can watch it above. I was impressed by everyone’s smart, perceptive questions! We talked for about a good half hour and Heather edited it down to ten minutes. Enjoy!

A week or so ago, I went back to my hometown in Michigan and did some Odd-Fish events at my old high school, the local public library, a Borders, my friend’s fifth grade class, and a class at the local university. I had a fantastic time — though exhausting! There’s lots of pictures and anecdotes from the weekend I must sort through, but I promise to put it all up in a few days.

For now, I’ll leave you with two links.

The first is my interview with Veronica Bond in the Gapers Block Book Club, in which we discuss my enthusiasm for as Evelyn Waugh, G. K. Chesterton, and Douglas Adams, the exciting ways in which YA has changed lately, and why one should always write up, and never presume to write down, to one’s audience.

The second link is my profile in Librarian Beat, a tongue-in-cheek teenybopper blog for librarians, Tiger Beat style. I had lunch with these librarians after my gig at the Rochester Hills Public Library, and they were all absolutely charming (pictures to come!) Thanks, Librarian Beat!