order of oddfish cover

The Order of Oddfish

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Triumph of the Hornschemeier

On Monday I got back from a dizzying five days at the American Library Association conference in New Orleans. I will talk about it in a future post, but in the meantime here is a book―and a man―you must know more about.

Paul Hornschemeier is a good friend and, lucky for me, the cover artist of the paperback version of The Order of Odd-Fish. But what he’s really known for are his fantastic graphic novels such as Mother Come Home and The Three Paradoxes:

Paul’s latest, Life With Mr. Dangerous, just came out and it’s my favorite thing he’s done―and that’s saying something, because I was a fan of Paul’s even before I met him. The story is about the vaguely dissatisfied, sometimes infuriatingly passive, yet instantly likeable and utterly recognizable Amy Breis, who is floating along in boredom and isolation in her dead-end world: crappy job, unsympathetic boyfriend, awkward dates, nagging mother. The only thing that seems to consistently fire her enthusiasm is “Mr. Dangerous,” a surreal TV show.

A feisty, resourceful heroine Amy is not. But the appeal of the book comes from how Paul catches the awkward gaps in conversation, the hidden indignities of everyday life, how people miss each others’ meaning, get on each others’ nerves, and jockey for status in a million small ways. There’s something relentless about its appetite for diagnosing the mild paralysis and deadening melancholy of the everyday. The ennui is broken up by little escapades from the world of Mr. Dangerous, or catalogues of Amy’s romantic past, or surreal interludes (my favorite was the one of Amy eating ice cream, and in turn being devoured by it).

Near the end, when Amy begins to wake up from her stasis and take action in her life again, even though the actions are small―they’re realistic and bold in her own way, and it feels like an earned victory. The art, as always with Paul, is dead-pan, dead-on, sometimes depressingly realistic, yet somehow adventurous and bold and emotionally generous. I loved Life With Mr. Dangerous.

But don’t take my word for it: Life With Mr. Dangerous has already been selected by Amazon.com as one of their Best Books of the Year So Far, and has even made it onto the The New York Times Bestseller list. The kid is going places!

Paul will be at the Book Cellar (4736 N. Lincoln Ave in Chicago) tonight, Thursday June 30, from 7:30-9:00 pm, for an author discussion and signing of the book. I will be there. So should you!

See you at ALA! Plus: The Foote School’s 90-Second Newberys

Yup, those are my two daughters: Lucy and Ingrid! Two years old and one month old. I am so lucky and happy!

Will you be in New Orleans this weekend? I’ll be there this for the American Library Association conference. I’m speaking about “reluctant readers” at the YALSA preconference on Friday with Jay Asher, Sarah Dessen, Carolyn Mackler, Chris Grabenstein, and Julie Halpern. On Saturday I’m signing The Order of Odd-Fish at the Random House booth (#1215) from 11 am-12 pm, and I’ll be at the Random House Children’s Books Cocktail party at the St. Louis Hotel from 6:00-7:30 pm. On Sunday I’ll be at the YA Author Coffee Klatsch from 9-10 am, and that evening I will attend the Newbery award banquet. With any luck, Laurie Halse Anderson won’t threaten to shoot me with a shotgun like she did last year.

I received a lot of 90-Second Newbery entries while I was on hiatus! (If you don’t know what our 90-Second Newbery film festival is, here’s the details.) It will take me a while to post them all, but I want to start with this batch: 7 different delicious movies from the fifth graders at The Foote School in New Haven, CT. They all did a fantastic job! It’s too unwieldy to stick them all in one post, so I made up a page for all 7 videos here. Congratulations to The Foote School for a job very well done!

To give you a taste of what The Foote School is up to, here’s their version of Holes by Louis Sachar. I appreciated the loving attention paid to sound and audio cues. I especially enjoyed the decision to blare hot-jazz music, for some reason, every time the cops talk. This movie also features the quickest recovery from vomiting I’ve ever witnessed. And the perfunctory brevity of its final cut is quite funny!

You can see the all 7 of The Foote School’s 90-Second Newberys here. Thanks so much! Your films were awesome. This is what the 90-Second Newbery is all about!

I’m Back! Also: Ramona Quimby, Age 8 90-Second Newbery

I’ll be speaking at the Glen Ellyn Book Fest this Saturday, June 18, at the Tap House Grill, 411 North Main, Glen Ellyn. 2:30 – 3:30 pm. Details here.

I know, I know―I haven’t touched this blog for a month. But with a brand-new baby daughter, I have a good excuse, right?

Actually, no. Good friends Betsy Bird and Matt Bird just had their own beautiful baby girl days ago, and already they’re back at the blogging mill! I stand shamed. In particular, Matt’s series this week on how the last four Harry Potter books could be improved is a must-read (admit it; those last four aren’t perfect.).

Bonus: if you check out the comments to his post about Book 7, you can see how I, James Kennedy, would have ended Rowling’s series. Talk about self-indulgence . . .

But I haven’t exactly been idle, either! Last week I spoke with cartoonist Lars Martinson (Tonoharu) and David Fernandez (Rising Sunsets) at an event sponsored by the Japan American Society of Chicago and the JETAA Chicago Chapter. We were all ex-JETs who went on to publish books. I haven’t yet read David’s book, but Lars’ Tonoharu (there’s a frame above) is a bleak, hilarious graphic novel about being a JET in Japan that is quickly gathering a reputation as a classic. It was great to meet him; I’ve admired his work for a while. (Don’t know what the JET Programme is? It was one the best experiences of my life. More information here.)

Speaking of work I admire . . . At Chicago’s Printers Row book festival, I read from The Order of Odd-Fish and did a presentation about its awesome fan art. I also moderated a panel of YA writers Veronica Roth (the bestselling dystopic-Chicago Divergent), Katie Crouch (the Southern-gothic-paranormal-romance The Magnolia League), and Daniel Kraus (father-son graverobbing epic Rotters).

Now, Roth and Crouch don’t need my ballyhoo; they’re both New York Times bestsellers. So I want to focus here and emphasize that anyone who reads this blog would love Daniel Kraus’ Rotters.

Rotters is a grisly, ambitious, demented yarn about a secret subculture of modern-day graverobbers. It’s also a surprisingly emotional father-and-son story, strangely touching without ever being sentimental (I gave it to my father for his birthday). To be sure, Rotters is stomach-turning in its hideous detail, and not for the faint of heart. But it’s a masterfully told tale, relentlessly paced and clasically structured―until the last hundred pages, in which Kraus goes delightfully nuts, piling up shocking climaxes and over-the-top grotesqueries so fast and furious your brain will quietly melt in baffled ecstasy and dribble out your ears. Don’t believe me? Cory Doctorow just posted a glowing review of Rotters on Boing Boing. (Full disclosure: Daniel Kraus and I are both members of The Brothers Delacorte).

Other topics! In the past month, I’ve received DOZENS of 90-Second Newbery videos for our film festival in November! (For those of you who don’t know what the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is, details here.). I’ll have a lot to share in the next few weeks, but for now, let’s enjoy this 90-second version of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby, Age 8 (Newbery Honor, 1982) by 11-year-old Marissa Nevills of Ohio:

First of all, even though all the performances are good, the girl who played Ramona there is a flat-out star. What sass! What verve! I liked the scene where she smashed what she thought was a hard-boiled egg over her head and it turned out to be a raw egg. They packed a surprisingly large amount of plot into just under two minutes! Great job, and I hope to see more!

And to cap off my welcome-back-to-the-world post, here’s a delicious piece of Order of Odd-Fish fan art that I discovered―an illustration of Jo in her Aznath-the-Silver-Kitten-of-Deceit armor, riding around her flying ostrich in the Dome of Doom, with one of her traditional Eldritch City insults inscribed in the upper-left hand corner! It’s by the talented NudgieBudgie on DeviantArt. I particularly like the Joust-like aesthetic, and how there’s a monster peeking out of the water below. There wasn’t a monster in the Dome of Doom in Odd-Fish, but now I realize there absolutely should have been. I mean, duh.

It feels good to be back!