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Posts Tagged ‘events’

(sorry--no camera on hand)

(didn’t bring the camera)

Tollbooth fans, thank Colonel Lemuel Q Snoopnagle and Juster senior for Norton Juster’s particular brand of humor. Snoopnagle, on his radio program, specialized in spoonerisms (a play on words where two opening syllables are switched) while Juster senior, an architect, would greet his oblivious young son with puns every morning.

“You’re a good kid. I’d like to see you get ahead. You need one.”

Clearly, both influences rubbed off. Light dawned on marble head and Juster has been a gunny pie ever since.

As part of this year’s “Gateway to Reading” Lowell Lecture Series, Juster visited the Boston Public Library last week in an event moderated by Megan Lambert of Simmons college. While Lambert was on a mission to coax Juster into recounting for us some stories he had told her previously over coffee, Juster mostly read some passages from his famous book, The Phantom Tollbooth and shared some stories behind the story. The event was filmed and will be available on the BPL site, but in the meantime:

  • on his writing process: “I discovered as a writer I simply could not start here, end there. I could only do bits and pieces.” So he’d put all his pieces into a drawer and come back periodically to write more bits, until he had an entire story
  • while in the Navy, Juster began sketching, and he would hang his pictures all over the boat to dry. His captain chewed him out for drawing fairies and castles and elves.
  • Milo, of course, is Juster as a boy; Tock is the perfect mentor you can trust; and because life’s not like that, Juster threw in the Humbug
  • Feiffer's portrait of Juster

    Feiffer’s portrait of Juster

    on how Jules Feiffer, a cartoonist for The Village Voice, ended up illustrating Tollbooth: since they shared an apartment at one point, Feiffer was one of the first people to read Tollbooth. He liked it so much, he began drawing little scenes for fun

  • send in the cat cavalry: Feiffer was adamant about not drawing horses, so he begged Juster to put the armies of wisdom on cats instead. Juster said no. In fact, he went out of his way to describe impossible things to draw, for example, the Three Giants of Compromise
  • Feiffer’s revenge: the Whether Man is Feiffer’s portrait of Juster in a toga
  • the one little kid that got it: usually, kids want to know where his ideas come from, or how much he makes. At one school visit, though, a boy asked Juster what was the point of school, anyway, since all he did was memorize boring facts
  • Juster replied, to make connections between the facts–a life-long process
  • the boy: and then what?
  • Juster answered, and then you die.

Juster concluded the event with a Cinderella story ripe with spoonerisms. It ended with the kicker, “if the foo shits, wear it!” (Sigh. And that’s why spoonerisms have gone out of fashion.) Commented another little boy during the Q&A: what did that story mean? It made no sense.

If he had mentioned the lack of Rhyme and Reason, he would have brought down the house.

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3_9_BKTS_1RND_alljudgesThe Newbery Curse strikes again! Every year during SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books, we joke about how Newbery books always fare badly. And indeed, both Newbery-stickered books in this year’s tournament (The Doll Bones and Flora & Ulysses) were defeated in Round 1. I don’t think either has a chance of coming back from the dead (my bet is on Eleanor & Park or Rose Under Fire), so it looks like they’re out of the running for good.

What about previous years? I took a deep dive to study the Curse’s power:

In 2009, the event’s first year, The Graveyard Book (Newbery winner) and The Underneath (honor) lost in Round 1.

In 2010, the Newbery winner (When You Reach Me) and honor book Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice went down in Round 1. But The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate made it to Round 2 before being defeated by Charles and Emma. We have our first (semi) winner!

In 2011, the only Newbery book–One Crazy Summer–lost in Round 1 to The Odyssey.

In 2012, Dead End in Norvelt lost in Round 1, but Newbery honor book Inside Out and Back Again won once before being vanquished by Drawing From Memory in Round 2.

2013 is special, because all four Newbery-winning and honor books made it into the tournament (what eerie predictive powers you have, Battle Commanders). Three Times Lucky and The One and Only Ivan lost in Round 1. Surprisingly, Bomb and Splendors and Glooms made it to Round 3 before losing out–to The Fault in Our Stars and No Crystal Stair, respectively.

The verdict? No Newbery winner has ever made it past Round 1, or been selected as an Undead Winner. In that sense, the Newbery Curse is omnipotent (0/5). Once you consider the nine honor books, two made it to Round 2, and another two to Round 3. Not a great record, but far from a complete loss. Clearly the Curse has its weak spots. I wonder how the books would fare if BoB occurred before the ALA Youth Media Awards? Does the Newbery sticker create a subtle bias on the part of the judges, who want to highlight books that didn’t get Official Award recognition? I suspect there’s more at work, since the hallmark of BoB is to pit books in different categories against each other. It all comes down to the judges’ personal preferences, and that’s why we spend so much time scrutinizing their publishing history to search for clues. What do you think?

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On the eve of battle, here are my predictions for this year’s SLJ Battle of the Kids’ Books. I was amazingly lucky last year, getting 7/8 in round one. Let’s see if my luck holds:

boxers saintsRound One

All the Truth that’s In Me vs. The Animal Book

Boxers & Saints vs. A Corner of White: I’m counting on judge Yuri Morales’ illustrator background to give the graphic novel the edge.

Doll Bones vs. Eleanor & Park

Far Far Away vs. Flora & Ulysses: because I don’t want the Newbery Curse to rear its head this early in the game.

Hokey Pokey vs. March Book One

Midwinterblood vs. P.S. Be Eleven: given Chloe and the Lion, I think Mac Barnett would enjoy the nontraditional structure of Midwinterblood.

Rose Under Fire vs. The Thing About Luck

True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp vs. What the Heart Knows: everyone knows Mo LeBeau and Bingo and J’miah are kindred spirits.

Round Two

The Animal Book vs. Boxers & Saints

Eleanor & Park vs. Flora & Ulysses

March Book One vs. Midwinterblood

Rose Under Fire vs. True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

Round Three

Boxers & Saints vs. Eleanor & Park

March Book One vs. Rose Under Fire

Big Kahuna Round

Eleanor & Park comes back from the dead, facing off against Rose Under Fire and Boxers & Saints: while I would love to see Boxers and Saints walk off with the (virtual) medal, I predict Rose Under Fire will win–not that I’m complaining, of course! Rose’s “Rabbit” family reminds me so much of the large, scrappy families at the heart of Jenni Holm’s books.

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STATS 101 with Sondy

I’d like to share the stats lessons Sondy from Sonderbooks offered in response to my previous post regarding SLJ Battle Stats 101. They’re too good and geeky to be buried in the comments section. First, she caught my terminology snafu: intersection vs union.

You’re actually not finding the union of the events at the end, but the intersection. In other words, you’re finding the probability that you guess all matches right up to the semi-finals AND the probability you guess the last match correctly. They’re independent, so you multiply, as you did.

So to make sure I really understood (midterm in a week!), I made a diagram:

intersection (more…)

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battleI’m a few weeks into my statistics class and so far, it’s been a lot of “plug and chug.” But real mastery of statistics requires knowing when to use who’s test where…so for fun, I will attempt to analyze this year’s brackets for SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books, especially now that the Battle schematics are up! (Aside: please correct me if I get the math wrong. Better now than on my exam.)

Suppose you didn’t read any of the battle books, what’s the probability of randomly guessing the correct winners?

Now, there are 14 brackets leading up to and including the semi-finals, and the probability of guessing right per bracket is 0.5, since there are two contestants, but only one winner each time. Each guess is independent of the others, since you’re no more likely to correctly guess the outcome, say, of Boxers&Saints vs. A Corner of White after successfully predicting the previous match-up.

To solve this problem, the gut instinct thing to do would be to multiply 0.5 fourteen times, which equals 0.000061, to get the probability of guessing correctly all the way through the semi-finals. (more…)

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IMAG0923When moving from book medium to play medium, a good adaptation is just as important as good source material. Sadly, this was not the case for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. Based on Gary D. Schmidt’s depressing Newbery honor-winning book of the same name and adapted by Cheryl L. West, Emerson Stage’s production more often than not goes through the motions of playing Lizzie Bright without actually capturing the spirit of Lizzie Bright.

As in the book, young Turner Ernest Buckminster the Third, the preacher’s boy, feels like a fish out of water when his family moves against his will from Boston to Phippsburg, Maine. Unlike the book, his family consists of just him and his strict father, a widowed minister, since Turner’s mother was written out of existence. Unable to make friends with any of the Phippsburg boys, to the town and his father’s disapproval, Turner ends up befriending Lizzie Bright, a black girl his age who can throw and hit a baseball like no other. She lives on Malaga Island, just across the bay. Unfortunately, the town leaders see Malaga as an eyesore, especially if their plans to turn Phippsburg into a vacation resort are to move ahead.

Along the way, Turner bleeds all over his starched white shirts, looks into the eye of a whale, and is drafted as punishment into reading poetry and playing hymns for Mrs. Cobb–a crotchety old woman obsessed with documenting her last words. This leads up to a scene that’s as hilarious in person as it is on the page. If only the rest of the book’s nuance was retained as well. (more…)

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hobbit playAfter suffering through the first ponderous, overly epic Hobbit movie, it was a relief to attend last weekend’s performance of The Hobbit at the Wheelock Family Theater. The play had a whimsical, homemade quality and relied mostly on kid actors. It reminded me that The Hobbit is a children’s book written to entertain–not, as certain filmmakers would have us believe–created so bearded actors could monologue on fate and courage and whatnot.

The actors clearly had a lot of fun. Most of the dwarves were kids with (hilarious) fake beards who spoke in a mishmash of British accents. (One of the dwarves was so small she could fit into a barrel—and she did, which makes sense if you remember a certain detail from the plot). Bilbo, played by one of the few adult actors (Andrew Barbato), was quite convincing as the unexpected hero. But my vote for best actor goes to the Elven Queen (Monique Nicole McIntyre), who had more stage presence than anyone else, despite having just a few lines. She made the elves look dignified and respectable, which, given their abysmal costumes and drunkenness (more on that later), is quite a feat.

A lot of the fun came from seeing what the theater could do with a limited budget. They used stairs and lighting tricks to make the stage look bigger than it was, and the costumes were simply ingenious. Some highlights:

  • the Mirkwood spiders will surely inspire great Halloween costumes. They used stiff gray capes and dangling plastic legs, and fantastic headpieces with silver Christmas tree ornaments for eyes (eight of them per person).
  • furry hobbit feet were solved by stick-on yarn patches. I’m surprised no one’s foot hair fell off.
  • the dwarves sang songs from the book as they traveled. It helped set the scene for their quirky adventure, and made the small stage seem larger than it was.
  • playwright Patricia Gray kept the plot rolling along nicely. Instead of stopping in Rivendell so Elrond could decipher the moon letters, Gandalf does that at the beginning in Bag’s End. But fear not, instead of drunken elves in Rivendell, we get drunken elves in Mirkwood.
  • ah yes, those Mirkwood elves. As much as I admired most of the costumes, it really fell apart for these elves. They looked like cheetahs. Cheetahs in trees—skintight animal print clothing with green skirts and dresses. It was pretty hard to take them seriously, despite the whole locking-up-the-dwarves problem.
  • and Smaug? I won’t ruin the surprise, but it was impressive. He did tend to drown out Bilbo’s voice, which is a shame.

So, while I wasn’t exactly wowed by the acting, I had a good time. Besides, with a 1h45min running time, this play could teach Peter Jackson a lot about the virtues of a condensed script.

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