order of oddfish cover

The Order of Oddfish


I’m Back From the Delta. Next: Pennsylvania and DC!

April 1, 2012

The last time I checked in, I had just arrived in Indianola, Mississippi after a 12-hour drive from Chicago. I spent a wonderful three days in the Mississippi Delta, appearing at the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, and at the Drew Public Library, doing theatrical readings from The Order of Odd-Fish and leading a “Dome of Doom” writing hootenanny / costumed dance party freakout. I collected some pictures of the fun in the collage above. I loved the enthusiasm of the kids—they really got into the costumes, the writing exercise, and the dance-fighting. They made me feel so welcome! I’d go back to the Delta in a heartbeat!

And oh, oh, the food! Shrimp and grits! Catfish! The best steak I’ve ever had in my life at Doe’s Eat Place! My host and guide throughout my stay was Mary Ann Stone, whom I met at the American Library Association conference in New Orleans last year. When she floated the idea of me visiting the Delta, I leaped at the chance. I’d never been there before; I had no idea what to expect. She said I’d have the time of my life and she was right. There’s Mary Ann on the right, when we were hiking up some ancient burial mounds. On the left is me with a squirrel that she had nursed back to health.

When I texted the squirrel picture to Heather at home, she showed it to my daughter Lucy who said, “Why is that cheeky squirrel crawling on Daddy?” Cheeky? Where does she pick up such terms living in Chicago?

I never knew Jim Henson was from the Mississippi Delta. The beginning of The Muppet Movie, when Kermit is playing the banjo in the swamp, makes total sense now. I learned this and more when I got to go to the Jim Henson museum:

There was so much more: going to blues bars, meeting the hilarious and inquisitive kids, and long car rides which went by in a flash as Mary Ann told me stories (for instance, such as when the river flooded and her house was mostly underwater, and she had to take a boat to work.) I couldn’t have asked for a better guide or host.

Thanks, Mary Ann—and thanks to everyone in the Delta who made it so much fun! After Easter, I’m heading out east for another leg to my springtime author frolics—this time, to Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., and Charlottesville. Including the school at which I used to be a science teacher from 1995-96, St. Catherine Laboure! More to come . . .

I’m in the Mississippi Delta!

March 15, 2012

March 9 was my birthday. That makes me thirty-nine years old now. When I was a kid—say nine years old—what did I think I’d be like when I was thirty-nine? Honestly, I don’t remember. But I never suspected how happy it would make me when Heather and I had kids. I mean, I knew I’d be happy, but I’m unreasonably happy. There’s Lucy and me to the left, when she painted both our faces. And of course Heather and Ingrid to the right.

But right now I’m about 700 miles from them all! On Wednesday morning I jumped in the car and drove 12 hours, from Chicago to Indianola, Mississippi. Why? Because on Thursday I’m appearing at the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center as part of their “Spring Fling” program. I’ll be doing theatrical readings from The Order of Odd-Fish and leading a “Dome of Doom” writing hootenanny / costumed dance party freakout. Then on Friday I’ll do the same thing at the Drew Public Library in Drew, MS.

I’ve been visiting a lot of schools and libraries this spring. If I’m lucky, sometimes the students I speak to give me Order of Odd-Fish fan art like this one below from Alyssa. It’s of Sefino in full butler mode. Great job, Alyssa!

ITEM! Remember how the German translation of The Order of Odd-Fish came out last October? It’s called Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge (that literally translates as “The Order of Weird Nerds”) and it’s been fun reading the reviews. I can’t read German, so I just use Google translate, which comes out rather nuttier than perhaps intended. I loved this positive review from nahaufnahmen.ch, in which the reviewer has one reservation. Google Translate, take it away:

“The only thing that gives reason to frown, the author of the affinity for cats, or better, dead cats. Again and again it is important that kittens should be murdered or to have a villain, the blood of cats.”

Well, that’s a pretty fair assessment, actually. Here are other Google-translated German reviews from literaturemarkt.info and media-mania.de).

Speaking of the German edition: Sondra Eklund of the book blog Sonderbooks (who’d written a great review of Odd-Fish here) has started a strange and fascinating project: a line-by-line comparison of the English and German versions of Odd-Fish! This is intense. In each installment, Sondra unearths new delightful German phrases for us to learn while reading along in the book. Here’s the first installment, the second installment, the
third installment, and the fourth installment. Each Sunday she adds a new episode.

Click over to learn marvelous words like “Flusskrebs” (crawdad), “Schaltern und Schiebereglern” (dials and switches), or “Papperlapapp” (balderdash). Papperlapapp! Delicious. In some places the translator, Wolfgang Thon, even outdoes the original text: “dangerous companion” translates to “Gefährlichen Gefährtin,” and Sondra says “this is a case where the translation trumps the original by at least ten points.” I have to agree, that’s a lovely and quite Odd-Fishian phrase. But the best part is the discovery that the Belgian Prankster is translated as “der Belgische Scherzkeks.” Which basically “Belgian joke-cookie.” BELGIAN JOKE-COOKIE! I love it. Thanks for doing this, Sondra!

OK, I’ve been driving for 12 hours and I need to sleep before tomorrow’s hoo-hah. Good night!

90-Second Newbery Film Festival in Portland Recap

March 8, 2012

Last Saturday we screened the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival in Portland, OR at the Central Library in the Multnomah County Public Library System. It went off beautifully! And just as at our New York screening and Chicago screening, there was an overflow crowd (over 150 people!). But I think everyone who really wanted to get in, got in. I know all the young filmmakers did.

I couldn’t have done it without the fine folks at the library, such as Sarah Mead, Cynthia Strasfeld, and Violeta Garza (my old friend from my JET days). The whole thing was suggested by Alice McKee, who also got me in to speak at Laurelhurst School, whose classes did these delightful versions of The Witch of Blackbird Pond and When You Reach Me. Clown Heather Pearl helped out at the screening too, which I appreciated. My friends Joe Fusion and Madeleine Steele were kind enough to let me stay at their house for the week (only a few blocks from Klickitat Street of the Ramona books!). And thanks to Erin Fitzpatrick-Bjorn for taking all these pictures.

But the person I relied on most when I was onstage was my co-host, YA author Laini Taylor, who was always ready with a bit of Newbery trivia or embarrassing anecdote about my past to trip me up. She’s the one with the pink hair:

The afternoon was kicked off with librarian Joel Craft’s Newbery theme song, and there was some music in the show by teenaged Portland band The Great Train Robbery. Thanks, gentlemen!

Special thanks to Portland author Dale Basye, of the popular and amusing Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go series, who (along with this audience participant) brought the funny for our “$20,000 Newbery Pyramid” game show segment:

From Portland we received two versions of Lois Lowry’s 1994 Newbery Medal winner The Giver, from the Troutdale Library and the North Portland Teen Council, which I haven’t yet featured on the blog. The filmmakers were at the film festival in force, and the thing I like most about these videos is that they both seem to have endings that I don’t remember from the book: in Troutdale’s version, it ends by everyone suddenly getting their memories back and descending into a good ole fashioned community freakout, and in North Portland’s version, it looks like poor Jonas just freezes to death in the cold (actually, re-reading the ending, that’s a possible interpretation of what actually happens). First, Troutdale:

This is one of the more aggressively bonkers versions of The Giver I’ve received. The kid who plays the Giver is the most goofily lackadaisical, I-just-don’t-care Giver ever. “Figure it out.” Loved. It. All the actors were great, actually. Such joyous energy from everyone! But the best part was the insane ending. “Uh-oh, someone crossed the border! The memories!!! They’re back!!!!” And everyone shrieking and crying, “WHY WOULD THEY DO THIS?!?!” was off-the-rails, to-the-moon, what-the-who-the-hey madness.

Now, North Portland’s version:

Another winner! I liked how they switched from black and white to color . . . and, er, is there a Twilight reference with the way the apple is held? Poor Jonas: as I said, the ending kind of seems like he just dies somewhere in the snow! Maybe that’s how the book should’ve ended . . . ?

We also played the “Is it Snooki or is it Newbery?” game show again, as we had in New York and Chicago. But we didn’t realize until halfway through the game that our volunteer kid didn’t even know who Snooki was! (a revelation which inspired an actual cheer from the audience, along with someone roaring in the back, “That’s Portland!”):

All in all, another fun and satisfying (and exhausting!) 90-Second Newbery screening. Thanks, everyone, for coming out. And thanks especially to the young filmmakers who made it all possible!

I’m looking forward to coming back to Portland for another one next year!

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