Monday, September 21, 2009


Why do we love Halloween?

At Halloween we can be playful AND spooky without being too serious. We can play with our darker impulses during the holiday without acting on them. We can bring our shadows into light.

Books are a good place to grapple with the shadow. Peter Pan had his shadow. When he lost it, he returned to Wendy so she could sew it back on. GOOSEBUMPS has long been a series favorite. Now vampire tomes for teens and young adults flood the market. Our cultural shadow continues to morph and each generation draws its outline differently.

I have always enjoyed Halloween. I loved dressing up in costumes and looting neighborhood candy bowls. “Arghhh. Hand over your Snickers, Matey!” One Halloween I dressed up as "Laura" from LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE in a sunbonnet and gingham dress. Another year I was a hobo. More creative costumes usually involved wearing a painted cardboard box.

In retrospect, my favorite costume was the one my Mom made 5 minutes before my bus came.

“Mom--- Mom---Mom. I have a Halloween parade at school today. I need a costume.”

Mom headed to the linen closet. She grabbed a white sheet and her pinking shears. She cut out eyeholes, threw the sheet over my head, tied a red yarn ribbon around my neck and pushed me out the door.

“There, you’re a ghost. Go catch your bus.”

“But, Mom, I don’t wanna be a ghost,” I whined.

Slam. Door shut, case closed.

“Yay. Boo.” I said as I dragged my dingy gray Chuck Taylors to the bus stop wearing my sad little ghost costume.

Mom never had a problem with her shadow.

(Photo credit: "Halloween in Sleepy Hollow, 1978", by Emilie Spaulding)

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Hokey Pokey: What I Learned at the 2009 NC Literary Festival at UNC

Kids love funny. They love spooky. Kids love characters that make them laugh and shriek. If it’s going to be spooky – it better be funny spooky.

The two rock stars of the Children’s tent on Saturday at the 2009 NC Literary Festival were R.L. Stine and Judy Schachner – the authors of the Goosebumps and Skippyjon Jones series respectively.

Both were amazing presenters. They were highly interactive with their audience and involved the children in the telling of their stories. They had their programs well-rehearsed. They were playful, spontaneous and professional. They had the mastery of an unruly crowd that rivaled that of any elementary school teacher.

One author did highly personalized dedications and the line extended and snaked on at the book signing for over two hours. Now that’s the way to create a buzz. Everyone who passed asked, “What’s the line for?” like they were ready to jump on it – whether for winter boots or ice cream sandwiches.

It was totally worth the wait, because this author is a talented, lovely, and magnetic creative genius. I noticed, however, that the 12:00 noon hour for book-signings was torture for hungry and hot toddlers who have the patience of three-year-olds. Or for me.

The other author did not do personalized dedications, but simply signed, and took pictures with adoring fans. There was a two book maximum for signings and the crowd moved much more quickly through the book-signing process. We felt equally happy and attended to.

What I couldn’t get over was how darn nice and talented these authors are. Their patience and good-humor bordered on saint-like. Maybe the most important thing I learned from watching them work the crowd and do their thing is that, above all, they knew that children want to laugh, or shriek, and be entertained. These authors are great entertainers – on paper and in person.

Both authors voiced their belief that when a kid falls in love with a book or a character, that kid wants to read more and more – and that’s what it’s all about.

SHOUT OUT: Clay Carmichael read from her YA book, WILD THINGS. Zoe, her 12-year-old protagonist, has the sassy charm of Tatum O’Neal’s “Addie” in Paper Moon; she says those things you’d wished you’d thought of and is made for the silver screen. Catch WILD THINGS at a local bookstore near you…before Zoe goes Hollywood on us.