Tag Archive for Pop Candy

Congratulations, Jackson Murphy: Kid Movie Critic Is Set to Appear on “The Tonight Show”

In the Acknowledgements section of my 2010 book for middle-grade readers, Justin Fisher Declares War!, I credited an inspiring young man for, well, inspiring me:

The boy’s name was Jackson Murphy.

Maybe you’ve seen him on television.

Long story short: I first spied Jackson while on a school visit. I had met his father previously, so on this day a preternaturally poised, articulate, very sweet fifth-grade boy came up and introduced himself to me. I was aware that Jackson had done some movie reviews on local television. I didn’t realize that his career as the next Roger Ebert was about to blow up. We spoke for a while, then I got back to my job that day as dancing monkey guest author.

An observer might have thought that Jackson was meeting me, the famous author. Turns out that I was meeting him! I should have asked for an autograph.

Months later, I returned to research the student Talent Show the school put on that year. Two energetic organizers of the program, Ms. Jackson and Ms. Zapka, kindly sat down with me to answer my many questions about the show: how they organized it, how they selected talent, any humorous observations, etc.  I knew right away that I wanted to use the idea for my half-finished book. They told me about one boy in particular who served as the show’s Master of Ceremonies. A preternaturally poised, articulate, very sweet fifth-grade boy named . . . Jackson Murphy.

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I loved all of it, especially how a troublesome student — not the real Jackson, but my fictional character, Justin — might experience success on the stage before an audience. A kid who struggled everywhere else in school, finally finding a place where he could shine. I even stole a couple of jokes that Jackson used that night at Red Mill Elementary.

I say all this because the real Jackson has become something of a Big Deal. He will be appearing on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno this Friday night. You see, Jackson bills himself as “America’s #1 Kid Critic,” and goes as “Lights-Camera-Jackson” professionally, and has appeared on local and national television many times over the past few years. He’s met Seth Myers, Regis Philbin, Barbara Walters, Wile E. Coyote and many more.

In 2010, Jackson became the youngest person to win a New York Emmy Award for his movie review segments.

Not bad for a little peanut. Jackson is a good kid enjoying some incredible experiences. And so far, by all reports, he’s got both feet firmly on the ground. Congratulations, Jackson, I’m proud of you — and I’ll be watching.

Hat Tip to my favorite pop culture site, Pop Candy, for the heads up. Whitney Matheson rocks.

Here’s a scene from Chapter Eleven, when Justin auditions for the Talent Show:

“Do you need any props, or a table?” Ms. Lobel asked. “I see that you’re trying out as a magician.”

“Well, no, not exactly,” Justin said.


“I hope it’s not a problem,” he said, looking at both teachers. “It’s just that I had . . . another idea. Last night. When I was lying in bed. Freaking out about the audition.”

People laughed. Ms. Lobel smiled. Justin felt that familiar happiness — laughter always made him feel good.

Earl Watkins called out, “He’s really good at falling off chairs!”

Justin grinned, sheepish. “It’s true,” he confessed. “I fall down a lot, but I always get back up again.” Justin swallowed hard, then blurted it out, the plan he had come up with the night before. “I want to be . . . you.”

Mrs. Mooney looked confused. “I don’t –“

“I want to be the MC,” Justin explained. “You know, introduce the acts, tell jokes, maybe wear a nice jacket and tie, comb my hair, like on the Academy Awards.”

“Oh,” Mrs. Mooney said. There was cold water in her voice.


Ends & Odds & All Sorts of Crazy Good Times

I’m headed off across the wild tundra for three days of school visits in the vast, icy wasteland of Westchester, NY. You’ll have to find somewhere else to kill your valuable time. And to that end, I thought I’d offer some help:

* This year, I’ve teamed up with the fabulous Kerri McPhail at Children’s Authors’ Ally. Kerri helps coordinate author visits for me and many others. So if you are interested in an author visit, from me or perhaps somebody even better (!), follow the link and Kerri will work hard to meet the needs of your school and your students.

* To be perfectly honest, I’ve never read anything Nicole Krauss, but I enjoyed the description of her creative process. Here’s the first few opening lines from her brief essay, “On Doubt,” originally featured at Cory Doctorow’s great site, Boing Boing:

I begin my novels without ideas. I don’t have a plot, or themes, or a sense of the book’s form. Often I don’t even have a specific character in mind. I begin with a single sentence of no great importance; it almost certainly will be thrown away later. To that sentence I add another, and then another. A little riff emerges. If it’s going well–and it’s hard for me to say exactly what going well means, beyond the writing feeling authentic enough not to require immediate erasure–I’ll continue this sort of aimless unspooling.

The message I get from those words, and from Nicole, is basically: Just start writing. And let the writing itself lead the way. I’m not saying she’s right or wrong, or even right for me, just that I liked her message. For me, it’s easy to get stuck in the beginning, when I’m not sure what I’m doing next. Nicole’s approach sounds liberating. And again: There are no rules.

* I wish I had a baby to dress up this Halloween. Gallagher, anyone?

No? How about a chicken . . . inhabited by an alien? Cute, right?

* Canadian icon Gordon Pinsent reads excepts from the new book by author Justin Bieber. “Yes, I wore a white shirt. Yes, I got spaghetti.”

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* A personal library kit . . . made just for kids.

* Thank you, Reading Junky, for this nice review of Justin Fisher Declares War!

Author James Preller describes fifth grade to a tee in JUSTIN FISHER DECLARES WAR!  Every class has a Justin, and at some point, every class begins to object to the disruption caused by a chronic goof-off.  Preller’s novel offers excellent read-a-loud potential with ample opportunity for discussion about behavior and its consequences.  I’ll definitely be recommending this one to both students and teachers in middle grade classrooms.

* There’s something addictive and pure about looking at all these Thermos lunchboxes through the years.

* In the right classroom, with the right teacher, I think this could make a challenging writing exercise — narrating videos for the visually impaired. As Shana describes it:

I write and do voiceover narration for a company that audio-describes TV. It enriches the viewing experience for the blind in the same way that closed-captioning helps the hearing impaired.

The descriptive video writer’s job is to describe the unspoken action in the scene without distracting the viewer from the story, or stepping on the actors’ lines. It’s almost like rewriting a screenplay without the dialogue; I’m describing what’s going on in between that dialogue.

Be sure to use the link to view the brief samples of her work. Thanks, as always, to Whitney at Pop Candy for the link.

* I can’t read this stuff, but maybe you can stand it.

* Does your school kill creativity? Sir Ken Robinson suspects that it might.

* LASTLY, I still need your help. I need many, many more photos of men reading books for my upcoming FATHER’S READ blog.  I’ve gotten some great shots so far, of all sorts, but I need more. This small, worthy cause can’t work without your help.

Please submit your photos via email to: Jamespreller@aol.com with the subject heading, FATHERS READ.

Here’s a lovely one from my pal Nan, of her husband Stephen:

Celebrating 40 Years of Sesame Street: Muppet Dopplegangers

I’m just passing this along. You’ll have to click here for the full megillah.

But here’s a few samples of Muppet Dopplegangers . . .

Thanks for the tip from Whitney at my favorite pop culture site, Pop Candy.

What It Is: The Lynda Barry “Distraction”

I think it’s time we talked about the supreme awesomeness of Lynda Barry . . .

. . . and maybe a little bit about why I love her most recent book, What It Is.

I’m not practiced at writing reviews, but fortunately there’s already a ton of great material out there. I’ll bust out the links as we go, and you can get distracted just like me.

Let me back up for a minute. Here I am, okay, it’s Monday and I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me. I’m trying to figure out a new book, so I started the day determined to FOCUS and CONCENTRATE (two excellent candidates for 2009 OLWs, if you haven’t grabbed one already). But here am I, DISTRACTED by Lynda Barry. Rather than resist it, however, I’m thinking maybe that’s the entire point of her book, of creativity itself. Or at least an aspect of it: That you can’t always direct creativity. And that maybe it’s absolutely the worst thing you could do, like attempting to “master” nature, when what you need to do is ride that wave.

If I had a motto, it would be this: Follow Your Enthusiasms. Take that walk into the deep dark woods. And trust your instincts, even if you don’t know where you are going. So today it’s Lynda Barry. I can’t shake her out of my mind and I’m thinking that it’s wrong to try, like trying to push away a dream.

My distraction — this impulse I have today to “deal” with Lynda Barry’s work — to read her, watch her on youtube (genius clip beow!), to think and read and write about her, may be feeding my soul. It might even be, strangely, helping me work on this unwritten book. It may be exactly what I need, because really, who knows what we need? Or how “work” works? We only know what we want, or think we need, and often that may be the opposite of Need.

I mean to ask, is this UNPRODUCTIVE?

All I know is that I have to answer it, this tug. I am compelled to respond. I can’t and won’t push it away. And at the same time, I know that by doing this, writing about it, I will be able to get back to where I once belonged, start doing what I “need” to do.

It is a dance between conscious motivation and the wellspring of unconsciousness. No matter how busy you are, it’s seriously bad Mojo to push away the things that inspire you.

So I’m loving Lynda Barry’s most recent book, What It Is. Douglas Wolk wrote an excellent review of it at Salon. Here’s an excerpt:

Every page of Lynda Barry’s book demands to be stared at lingeringly and lovingly. What It Is is nominally a book about writing rather than cartooning; it’s jumbled and digressive, occasionally vague on the details. Even so, it’s likely to be useful and even inspiring to anyone who wants to make comics, or any kind of narrative art, for that matter, because what it’s meant to serve isn’t the mechanics of creative work but the creative impulse itself.

To give you a feeling for the book, check out these screen captures (some of these borrowed from the Pop Candy blog):

And on and on it goes. One amazing page after another. (Visually, it reminds me of what Vera B. Williams did with More More More Said the Baby, the way she felt compelled to fill each inch of every page with paint, had to pour everything into it.)

As a reader, and a writer, I’ve often sought out books that will feed my imagination. Books that inspire me. Books that I can use. And at the same time, when I’m writing, there are so many books that could get in the way, could stop me cold. Which is why a lot of writers don’t read novels when they are deep into working on a book. For example, I’m writing a school based-story, so I absolutely can’t go near anything by Andrew Clements.

But this book, What It Is, well, that’s just food. It sustains me, urges me forward. It is not a “how to” book but, come to think of it, a “Do” book (which aligns nicely with my OLW for 2009). A book you want to close after reading dreaming through a few pages. A book that goads you into action.

Lynda Barry also teaches workshops, “Writing the Unthinkable.” Her Myspace page is a revelation, staggeringly good. I’m stunned by how much I don’t know about this woman, though I’ve read her comics, it seems, all my life:

Now check out this three-minute clip from a bookstore talk. Isn’t she great? Don’t you love her? Aren’t you distracted and inspired and happy? I am.

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POSTSCRIPT: For more Lynda Barry goodness, click like crazy right here!