Archive for June 16, 2009

This Week’s Greatest Thing Ever . . . Awkward Family Photos

Just found this site: Awkward Family Photos. It is everything it purports to be — plus funny captions. Here’s five samples, sans captions, to wet your whistle. Alert readers will know that I put up this link last week, under “Random Pleasures.”

You’ll thank me later.

“Bystander” Reviewed, Sort of, by Author Andrew Smith

Author Andrew Smith, in addition to writing YA novels and teaching in a high school, writes a lively, informative, open-hearted blog. He’s nothing if not tireless. Though we’ve never met, Andrew and I seem to share a lot in common. We publish with Feiwel and Friends, have more than half-a-dozen brothers between us, blog regularly, love music — and we both share the (fading) dream of one day becoming catwalk models for Dolce & Gabbana.

Andrew’s debut book, Ghost Medicine, earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was listed as an ALA Best Books for Young Adults. But that’s nothing. VOYA said, “This book is a pitch-perfect coming-of-age tale destined to be held aloft alongside other classics of young adult literature. The story flows like stark, lovely poetry shared by best friends around a mountainside campfire.”

Great review. My only quibble is that whenever I’ve sat around a mountainside campfire with friends — which I did a few nights ago, in Vermont — the only things we shared that “flowed” came in cans, and it sure wasn’t “stark, lovely poetry.” (I must be hanging out with the wrong class of campers.)

His upcoming book is titled In the Path of Falling Objects (September, 2009). Man, I love that title. There it is, already a suggestion of menace, of trouble coming, violence. Yet at the same time, flat, even-handed, clear. Just a sign on the side of the road. First paragraph:

The only shade there is blackens a rectangle in the dirt beneath the overhang of the seller’s open stall. The girl stands there, behind a row of hanging wooden skeletons that dangle from the eaves.

Nice, right? The specificity and clarity of the language. The concreteness. A whiff of Cormac McCarthy there, don’t you think?

Anyway, last week Andrew blogged about my upcoming book, Bystander. He began by talking about his desire to highlight that rare, most misunderstood of creatures, the book for boys. While I don’t see Bystander as exclusively for boys — I sure hope it’s not, as compared to, say, Six Innings, which pretty much is — the book does center on the male variants of middle school bullying (with a crucial female character, Mary O’Malley, going through her own thorny friendship issues and cyber-struggles).

Andrew hopes to continue to feature books for boys in upcoming posts, so you may wish to bookmark his most excellent blog. He writes of Bystander:

If you’re a middle-school teacher, I think you should buy an entire class set of James Preller’s Bystander, a tense, suspenseful, fast-paced study of bullies, their victims, and the consequences involved with being a “bystander.”

Ultimately, bullying connects all of these players, whether they see themselves as intentional participants or not . . . . Every boy who’s gone through junior high and high school has found himself in these same situations that Preller sets down so clearly in Bystander. The real value for boys here, I think, is the no-nonsense realism of the plot: There are no tidy and clear-cut answers; and just being “good” isn’t always good enough.

Boys are going to love the fast-paced arc of this story. The first 20 pages build so much understated tension that it’s impossible to stop reading. Most importantly, Bystander is a powerful and valuable resource for any school looking for additional perspectives on educating kids about bullying.

Recommended for ages 10 and above.

Thanks, Andrew!

NOTE: I have to say this. I recognize that at its worst, the kidlitosphere is filled with back-slapping and suspect praise. A cynical reading would deduce that we all read each other’s books and blogs, and praise each other, so that we in turn will “earn” some praise, that we’re an inbred group, that we’re a “we” at all, and that it all amounts to a swirling vortex of sycophantical blather. I get that. I really do. And I guess you could submit all of the above as evidence of that crime. But, but, but. In the end, as my father would say, you have to consider the source. And judge for yourself. I now throw myself on the mercy of the court.

Hiccups for Elephant: The Play

On a recent school visit to Middleburgh Elementary, I was handed the day’s schedule by librarian Jeni Friedland. Besides time for lunch, book signings, and the usual author presentations for grades PreK-5, the schedule read:

2:00: Surprise!

I imagined all sorts of things, but real life often far exceeds our imaginings. A first grade class, under the direction of Mrs. Pat Carvin, was all set to put on a play based on my slim picture book, Hiccups for Elephant (Scholastic). It was expanded to include parts for every student, plus all sorts of bonus features — nonfiction elements! dance! song! — thrown in. The cuteness came free with the meal and was overflowing.

I wish I had photos, because it really was a sight to behold. The whole performance was so well done. The acting! The drama! With the permission of Mrs. Carvin, I’ve included the adapted text here. If you’ve got the energy, feel free to use it with your young students.

Just one more comment: Plays offers wonderful ways for students to learn expressive reading. And yet it feels like the classroom play is slowly disappearing. Too many standardized tests? Too much required curriculum for teachers to cover in the classroom? Overworked? Underpaid? I don’t know. But I do know that a good play provides so many positive, creative opportunities for young children. They speak publicly, memorize lines and movements or narrate off to the side, sing and dance, create costumes and scenery, or simply be a part of something fun and wonderful.

I’ve commented before that books are a beginning, not an end. In the hands of a good teacher or parent, a book can lead to remarkable conversations and educational activities. This was exactly such a case, when a fairly simple text served as a springboard for so much active learning. I was honored, touched, and impressed.

So with special thanks to Pat Carvin, and to all the kids in her fabulous 1st grade class, let’s shut off our cell phones, turn down the house lights, and enjoy the show.

* Play adapted from the book, Hiccups for Elephant, by James Preller.
*  Poem in play, and monkey speeches, based on the poem, “Hiccup,” by Jack Prelutsky, from the book, It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles (Greenwillow).
* There are 20 parts, one for each student.


NARRATOR 1:  Welcome to our play.  It is called “Hiccups for Elephant” by James Preller.  Before we start, I would like to tell you a little about hiccups.  Do you know why we get hiccups and what causes them?

NARRATOR 2:  Here’s what we know.  A hiccup is an unintentional movement (a spasm) of the diaphragm, the muscle at the base of the lungs.  The spasm is followed by quick closure of the vocal cord, which produces a distinctive sound.  Lots of things can cause hiccups.  A very full stomach can cause bouts of hiccups.  Eating too much food too quickly;  swallowing too much air; a sudden change in stomach temperature such as drinking a hot beverage; or emotional stress or excitement.  If you are able to stop the hiccup right away, great! But if you hiccup more than seven times you’d better settle in for the long haul.  Once a hiccup starts you typically hiccup 63 times or more.  The hiccup record, last time we checked, was 57 years.

NARRATOR 1:  Hope you will enjoy our play.  We had to change Mr. Preller’s story a little by adding a few extra characters and some common folk remedies people use to cure the hiccups.

NARRATOR 2: It was naptime.  All the animals were fast asleep except for Elephant.  He had the hiccups.


NARRATOR 2:  Chimp woke up.

CHIMP:  I can cure those hiccups.  Stand on your head and eat a banana.

NARRATOR 2:  Elephant gave it a try.  KA-BOOM!  It only made him dizzy.


NARRATOR 2:  Lion woke up.

LION:  I can cure those hiccups.  Drink lots of water very, very fast.

NARRATOR 2:  Elephant gave it a try.  He drank and drank and drank and drank.


NARRATOR 2:  Zebra woke up.

ZEBRA: I can cure those hiccups.  Hold your breath and count to 10 . . . BACKWARDS.

NARRATOR 2:  Elephant gave it a try.

ELEPHANT:  10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, …………HICCUP!

NARRATOR 2:  Parrot woke up.

PARROT:  I can cure those hiccups.  Put this sugar cube in your mouth and eat it!

NARRATOR 2:  Elephant gave it a try.


NARRATOR 2:  Hippo woke up.

HIPPO:  I can cure those hiccups.  Eat 1 teaspoon of peanut butter.  Yum Yum!

NARRATOR 2:  Elephant gave it a try.


NARRATOR 2:  Deer woke up.

DEER:  I can cure those hiccups.  Breathe in and out of this small paper bag.

NARRATOR 2:  Elephant gave it a try.


NARRATOR 2:  Frog woke up.

FROG:  I can cure those hiccups.  Suck this nice SOUR slice of lemon.

NARRATOR 2:  Elephant gave it a try.


NARRATOR 2: Rabbit woke up.

RABBIT:  I can cure those hiccups.  Take a few quick swallows of this pineapple juice.

NARRATOR 2: Elephant gave it a try.


NARRATOR 2:  Snake woke up.

SNAKESsssssss. I can cure those hiccups.  Let me SQUEEZE you around your stomach and diaphragm a couple of times.

NARRATOR 2:  Elephant (RELUCTANTLY) gave it a try.


NARRATOR 2:  Cheetah woke up.

CHEETAH:  I can cure your hiccups.  Try eating one teaspoon of delicious honey.

NARRATOR 2:  Elephant gave it a try.


I have hiccups,
I’ve had them all day.
They’re persistent (hiccup),
And won’t go away.
I’ve tried water, stood on my head,
Held my breath until (hiccup),
My face turned red.

MONKEY 1:  He’s tried every hiccup cure he could, but it hasn’t done any good.

MONKEY 2:  In fact, I think his hiccups are worse, and he may need a doctor or a nurse.

MONKEY 3:  He can feel those hiccups way down in his shoes.  I think he has the hiccup blues.

MONKEY 4:  I’m afraid his insides are going to pop.  Someone has got to get those hiccups to stop.

NARRATOR 2:  Mouse woke up.

MOUSE:  What’s all the noise?  I’m trying to sleep.

MONKEY 4:  Poor Elephant has the hiccups.

NARRATOR 2:  Mouse looked Elephant in the eye . . .


NARRATOR 2:  Everyone waited and waited…………. Silence.  There were no more hiccups.


MUSICAL INTERLUDE: The students sing the song “The Elephant,” words and music by Hap Palmer.

NARRATOR 2:  All the animals fell back to sleep.  Except for Elephant.

ELEPHANT:  La, La, La, La, La, AH_CHOO!  Oh No!!!!!!

NARRATOR 2:  The End!

Wild cheers, applause, but alas, no screams of “Author! Author!” All that remained was to congratulate the cast.


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Have a great weekend.

Pennsylvania Young Readers Choice Awards

Good news. I just stumbled across the fact that Six Innings was named to the Master List for the Pennsylvania Young Readers Choice Awards.

It’s a great feeling to see my name on a list that includes Jon Scieszka, Gordon Korman, Laurie Halse Anderson, Avi, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Barbara O’Conner, Andrew Clements, Sid Fleischman and more.

And while I don’t expect to actually “win” this thing, it truly is an honor just to have the work recognized and considered and, most of all, read.

Thank you, Pennsylvania!