wherein I answer 2 of Barry’s 5 questions.

Barry Lyga has written several books for children and young adults, including The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Gothgirl, Hero-type, and Boy Toy. Barry  is coming to Chicago soon, so I thought I’d welcome him warmly (and satisfy my own curiosity) by answering five questions he had about Chicago and asking him five questions about his writing. As my guest, Barry gets some of his questions answered first:

What is the one thing that I — as a visitor to your city — should be sure to do/experience while in Chicago?

Chicago is a city with something for everyone, so it really depends on what you’re interested in. If you like whackadoodle sculptures with goofy names, you should definitely go to Millenium Park and take a picture of your reflection in the “cloud gate“–what we Chicagoans affectioderisively call “the bean”. I like to think of it as a space fetus/egg, and wait patiently for the day Valentine Michael Smith or some other such space creature will emerge and teach us about love and grokking.

As a writer for children and young adults, you might want to stop by Oz park and loudly sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” while holding onto one of the sculptures of Oz’s most famous citizens. This will also help you experience and participate in one of Chicago’s oldest and best loved traditions (second only to setting things on fire via farm animal), the public exhibition of weirdness. We have an entire public space dedicated to it, called Bughouse Square; although, really, any place in Chicago is perfect for railing against the guvmint, space aliens, and the eff bee eye.

If you like meat-y type things, you’ll want to get in line at Hot Doug’s to enjoy some delicious encased meats with themed names. If you’re impatient like I am, you might forego the line and go to Super Dawg instead, which makes up in anthropomorphic hot dogs what it lacks in cute, topical names for its food. It also has a slogan, “From the bottom of my pure beef heart,” that makes absolutely no sense, yet it still makes you feel all warm and beefy inside. There’s also Kuma’s Corner, land of the heavy metal burgers. They make you wait in line, too, which I don’t care for; but if you’re the kind of person who can eat hamburgers for breakfast/brunch, you might not have to wait terribly long.

You asked for ONE thing, though (have I mentioned before that I am really, really bad at math?) In that  case, go to the Gallery Cabaret in Bucktown. You’ll get the public weirdness, sculptures & art (there’s a six foot long pencil adorning one wall, as well as a portrait of Ringo Starr made entirely of stars), home-grown music of every genre, and the owner, Kenny, can tell you more tales of historic Chicago than you can shake a stick at (and I don’t suggest shaking a stick at Kenny; he doesn’t suffer fools gladly, unless they tip really, really well).

Yet even with all that rambling, we haven’t even touched upon a quarter of what Chicago has to offer the intrepid explorer. When planning future visits (which you really should, because Chicago is also a hell of a town for writers), I’d suggest using the Not For Tourists guide to Chicago, as well as Walking Chicago, to walk off all of the meat you’ll be indulging in.

Chicago is known for sausage, so I must ask: Links or patties?

See above, and you’ll realize we don’t truck much in those pansy breakfast sausages. We prefer our sausages big and on a bun and buried under many toppings.

In our next installment I’ll post Barry’s response to my comparing him to Stephen King and a [there will be a ] discussion of villains (the bad guys, not the poetry).


On the radio yesterday John Wray was talking about one of his favorite novels, Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban. I’d never heard of it before, but after listening to the description of it, I ordered it through interlibrary loan as soon as I could, and I can’t wait to have it in my hot little hands. (I’m interested to see if it might not end up being a suitable read alike to offer to Hunger Games fans.)

I’m not overly familiar with Hoban’s writings, but I do know a couple of his works rather well. I love, love, love the Frances books he wrote with Lillian. If you want to know what I was like as a child (and I know you all do), then look to Frances. Like Frances, I made up songs when I was a child; like Frances, I had a pesky younger sibling; like Frances, I sometimes had a really hard time doing the right thing; and like Frances, I usually survived my adventures fairly unscathed. 

The Mouse and His Child was one of my favorite movies as a kid. I unfortunately never read the book until I was an adult.* I came across a copy at the Printer’s Row Book Fair a couple of years ago, and recognized the movie on the cover. I enjoyed reading it, but I felt a bit of a pang of regret that I hadn’t discovered it as a child. I’d love to read it aloud for some grade-schoolers at my library, though; I think that would be tremendous fun.

Finally, I JUST NOW learned that Tana Hoban and Russell Hoban are brother and sister. Tana Hoban sadly passed away in 2006, while Russell is still with us and still writing (and on Facebook).

Tana Hoban’s photographs may look dated to some, but I find them timeless. 26 Letters and 99 cents is one of the most awesome concept books ever, and her black and white board books are still perfect first books for young babies. Also, if you’re ever feeling blue, get a copy of Hoban’s Is it Red? Is it Yellow? Is it Blue? and find the spread with box girl. If that doesn’t lift your spirits, or at least distract you from your woes, then nothing can help you.  No, I will not explain that statement any further; if you want to know the joy of box girl, you have to earn it.

*I essentially went right from The Monster at the End of this Book and No Flying in the House to my mother’s Stephen King collection.

teaser post.

Here’s what is forthcoming for you, dear readers:

  1. impressions of the Anderson’s Children’s Literature Breakfast
  2. a series of questions and answers with author Barry Lyga, wherein I answer questions about Chicago (he will be visiting soon) and he answers questions about his books
  3. brief review-lets of Caudill and Monarch books, because I am attending the NIU Literature conference where the winners will be announced
  4. & I’ll probably gnash my teeth about this completely wack-a-doodle post about libraries.

another post affirming that librarians and libraries smell.

Jessica of Jessica Hearts Libraries (AWWWW) has written a neat little post about libraries, rules, and everyone’s favorite, SIGNAGE.*

A couple of my favorite parts:

You’ve lost touch with reality when you think over-signage will stop the bathroom questions, and you’ve completely lost your mind once you insist the precious number two pencils be kept in the locked drawer. And really, will the library go bankrupt if the last stapler disappears off the reference desk?


Remember, these aren’t just your patrons or “customers”; these are your neighbors, your fellow man. The library, for better or for worse, is your home. We should live up to our notorious reputation for sharing, and welcome our twisted and sometimes smelly world into our home.

I think anyone who works in a service industry has the ability and the tendency to dehumanize the people they serve, which is a coping mechanism because sometimes? People are awful. They can be cruel, unreasonable, filthy, and sometimes even dangerous. Yet when you’re in a service profession–which librarianship is, for better or for worse–you have to do your best to actually serve, and do it with grace, humor, and kindness. Not an easy task, and it is something I think all library workers struggle with on a continual basis.

*I grew up on a farm. When it came time to fatten up the cattle for slaughter (yes, lovely, I know), we would round them all up, put them in a tiny pen, and force feed them a concotion called “silage” for weeks and weeks until it was time to load them up and sell them. Silage is damp, fermented, gross, and used only to bloat an animal into fattness to be eaten.

The word signage makes me think of silage. Draw all other comparisons at your own risk.

grizzly murder in [redacted]

When I was still in junior high, that was a headline in my local newspaper. I read the article eagerly, because I was so excited to read about the poor person who’d been mauled to death by a g.d. bear–in my hometown!

As I read, I slowly began to realize that no, no one had been eaten by a bear. It was just the “journalists” in my home town did not know the difference between grizzly and grisly. It was quite the moment in my youth, realizing that at fourteen I knew more than the adults who were working at the town newspaper. (Were you one of those kids? One of the smart kids, but not smart in an IMSA way, but still, too smart for your teachers?)

I always have to look them up to remember which is which, but I love homophones and homonyms (I believe grizzly and grisly are homophones, but feel free to correct me in a pleasant manner if I am wrong). I love looking things up, too, because then I get caught up in the wikipedia article on the topic, and find myself led to read about eggcorns, oronyms, and Thomas’s Under Milkwood.*

Now, I don’t fancy myself a genius, not by a long shot. But I am a reader. Any success I have had or will have is tied to this fact. I didn’t learn how to write a research paper in high school (rather, I wasn’t taught to), but since I was such a voracious reader I had enough of a grasp of how to write that I quickly turned my freshman English comp course papers from failing works marked all over in red pen to papers that garnered comments such as “I do believe you are the nascent creative writer in this course.” I loved that my professor used the word nascent, which I didn’t know, and had the chance to look up. If I wasn’t a reader, I wouldn’t have managed to get into college much less graduated.

I think about this sort of thing when kids limit their reading to the AR list, or when parents force their children to read what they think they should be reading rather than what the kid wants to read. I wish for these kids the freedom to read with abandon, and joy, and choice, so that they, too, can some day feel superior to a small town journalist who doesn’t know about homophones.

I feel like I’ve wandered far afield. That will happen sometimes.

* Here’s my favorite quote from Under Milkwood:

Alone until she dies, Bessie Bighead, hired help, born in the workhouse, smelling of the cowshed, snores bass and gruff on a couch of straw in a loft in Salt Lake Farm and picks a posy of daisies in Sunday Meadow to put on the grave of Gomer Owen who kissed her once by the pig-sty when she wasn’t looking and never kissed her again although she was looking all the time.

Isn’t that just absolutely heartachingly beautiful??



On March 13th, Barry Lyga is going to be in the Chicago area as part of LitWorks: A Teen READ Workshop. He’s one of eight ya authors that will spend the day speaking, presenting, and signing books. Since I am very much a fangirl when it comes to Barry’s work, I got up the nerve to ask him if he’d like to answer a few questions leading up to his visit, and in return he could ask me a few about Chicago.

Well, Barry asked me his questions ages ago (in internet time, about a week), and I still haven’t gotten mine together for him. So I kindly ask if you, dear readers, will help me out with my self-imposed assignment?

Here’s the deal– I have five questions to ask Barry. Now, I think I can come up with four on my own, so I need my readers to help me out with the fifth. Go look about Barry’s website, and definitely read his books, and then come back here and leave a question for Barry in the comments. I’ll choose one to add to my four, and that makes….yes…five!

I’d like to have my questions ready by the end of this week, so keep that in mind.


it’s no easy feat, getting that telephone smell just right.

Did you know there is a YA author who is the second coming of John Kennedy O’Toole?

Read this post, and tell me I am wrong.

He also rather reminds me of Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Further, his description of librarians is spot on:

One is naturally hesitant to associate with librarians. One may be as “tolerant” as one likes in the settled security of one’s own drawing-room, but as soon as one ventures into the street and comes face-to-face with an actual librarian—with their telltale supernumerary fingers, their unnaturally sharp teeth, the giggling shrieks they use to “communicate,” their chronic dishonesty, their inability to distinguish right from wrong, their conniving sidelong lope whenever they sense danger, the infuriatingly affected way they presume to wear human clothes, their unappetizing habit, wherever they go, of smelling public telephones—well, one finds one’s armchair liberalism rather strained.

Funny stuff to make your Thursday more chuckleful, and to, you know, explain that…odor.