Sunday, June 24, 2007

In the Coop with Dori Chaconas

Author Dori Chaconas won our fluffy hearts long ago with sweet, comforting picture books like On a Wintry Morning, One Little Mouse, and Christmas Mouseling. More recently she's been showing off her silly streak with When Cows Come Home for Christmas, Cork and Fuzz, and our personal favorite (for obvious reasons), Coriander the Contrary Hen. Silly or sweet, Dori's books are a treat and so is she! We are honored to have her with us in the coop today.

How do you know when what you write is funny?

I'm never absolutely sure, but when a piece of dialogue or scene comes into my head and cracks me up, I feel pretty confident it's funny. That's why I write in private. It's embarrassing to sit in a quiet coffee shop and suddenly bark a loud guffaw. But it's only when I read the material aloud to someone else that I know if the material is honestly funny or if it only appeals to my misguided sense of humor.

Do you have any tips for writing funny books?

For me, humor is magnified when it takes place in a non-humorous situation. If every line in a story is a funny one, the whole thing feels diluted because the funny lines compete against each other. But if you can have a handful of funny lines or situations scattered throughout a story that has some serious or soft tones, the humor stands out like a giggle during a stuffy speech. Comic relief.

Has being funny ever gotten you into or out of trouble?

I can't think of a single example of one or the other. I've never been considered a funny person, but that's mainly because what people see of my controlled outside doesn't necessarily let on to the silliness that's inside. But I have a few friends who know me to the core, and when we're together, I can get them laughing pretty hard, often helped along by a bottle or two of wine. So there you have it. I'm a straight-faced, wine drinking humorist.

What are some of your favorite funny books?

I love Sara Pennypacker's CLEMENTINE, and Peggy Rathman's OFFICER BUCKLE AND GLORIA. I love anything by Lisa Wheeler. My classic favorites are A. A. Milne's WINNIE THE POOH books – 'the bear of little brain.' There's a sweet innocence about Pooh and his friends, and I love the illogical way in which they think and speak.

If you could live in one of your books, which one would you choose?

Probably the Cork and Fuzz books. Their world is practically ideal. They have no parents telling them what to do or how to behave. They don't have to work for a living, or pay bills. They don't have to bother with shaving their legs or putting on makeup. They always seem to have plenty to eat. The biggest problems they face are dealing with each other. Sounds good to me.

Who do you like more, The Marx Bros or Three Stooges?

Hmmmm… Can I pick the Smother's Brothers? I prefer whacky humor to slappy humor.

What was your best Halloween costume?

Several years ago I worked the reception desk at a busy health clinic and the staff was encouraged to wear costumes on Halloween. I decided not to go in costume, but to go incognito –like a detective who disguises himself to look like a different person. I borrowed my mom's polyester zig-zag print dress, which was much too short, but so perfect because you could see the hem of my slip and the tops of my knee highs. I wore a wig, reshaped my lips with too-red lipstick and my eyebrows with too-black pencil. After a little more makeup work, no one—not even my closest co-workers—recognized me.

The thing I never expected was that when you look like a person with no sense of fashion, no idea how to apply makeup, and are not even close to being attractive, people avoid eye contact with you. I must have checked in over 100 people that day, and NOT ONE person would look me straight in the eye. I looked too weird—too ugly. By the end of the day I felt invisible, as if I didn't exist, I didn't belong in their pretty world, and I didn't matter as a person.

Sometimes a thing can start out funny and end up sad.

What is your Dream Job for a Day?

I'd work for the City Planning Department and be the person who named all the new streets. Not tired, safe names like Maple Lane or Elm Street, nor after aunts and uncles, like Louie Lane or Betty Ann Boulevard. I'd make up names like Kerfuffle Court, and Squeegee Square. But my identity would have to be kept secret or those people who had to live on those streets would be out to get me.

Clown V. Mime Deathmatch. Pick your winner.

Definitely a mime. A clown is too 'in your face.' A mime draws the audience into the act by making them use their imaginations to figure out what the heck he's doing.

Funniest dead person you'd like to meet?

I haven't met a funny dead person yet.

You've written stories featuring a host of funny critters (muskrat, possum, hen, cows, etc.). Which creature from the Animal Kingdom do you most identify with?

The creature I would most like to be identified with is the tiger, for its beauty, grace, and sense of power. But more appropriately, I'd probably be identified with the ostrich. I don't like conflict and sometimes wish I could bury my head in the sand until the conflict went away. But then that would put me in an embarrassing position of having my fat butt stick up in the air.

I'll have to rethink this one.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bossy Bear

Bossy Bear
by David Horvath
ISBN: 142310336x

Bossy Bear is indeed very bossy. So bossy he yells "Faster!" to a struggling snail and "What do you mean, don't walk?!" to a traffic light. He has perfected the art of shouting "GIMME" and is not shy about ordering Santa around. But when he pushes his friends too far he finds himself all alone with only his cape and his crown for company. Could it be he's bossed one boss too many?

The short, simple text and whimsical illustrations are reminiscent of Mo Willems' Pigeon books. The author-illustrator, David Horvath, is the creator of the popular Uglydolls, and there is a slight hint of Uglidollness in Bear. His many fans won't be disappointed by his latest creation, which is sure to elicit giggles from both toddlers and their grown-ups. The ending suggests that there might be a sequel---we can only hope!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Chick Alert! And a Contest!

by Julia Durango
Illustrated by Kurt Cyrus
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
ISBN-10: 0689855699

It's here! It's here! PEST FEST, the wonderful new picture book by Julia Durango, is here!

Oh that talented Silly Chick! How we do love her!

In her funny, new rhyming book, the creepy, crawly, buzzy, and buggy critters among us hold a talent show.

"Pest Fest! Pest Fest!" the Carpet Beetle barked.
"The talent show is set to go.
The best are placed; come on, make haste!
Let's start the annual Pest Fest!"

So begins the call to all bugs far and wide to show off their best talents. Who will win? The beautiful butterfly? The lovely ladybug? The Queen Bee? Or possibly the lowly little fly? Surely not!

Kurt Cyrus captures the fun in his slightly creepy, very pesky, and simply beautiful illustrations. Kids who love bugs will be overjoyed by this book. Kids who hate bugs will be drawn like moths to it!

Just thinking about a critter contest makes us want to have one of our own!

So . . .

We are having a contest! (And boy is it an easy one!)

Tell us your favorite (or not so favorite) bug** and we'll put your name in a drawing to win an autographed copy of PEST FEST! (We don't need real names, just enough info to contact you.)

On July 1, we'll post 2 winners here in the coop!

Congrats and thanks to Julia and Kurt for this wonderfully buggy book!

** Here at the Silly Chicks, we are aware that the word "Bugs" in fact refers to a limited number of insects from the order Hemiptera which includes cicadas, aphids, and other "true bugs." (We know this because one of us accidentally spent 4 years in college studying biology.)

However, we prefer to use the Kindergarten definition which means anything that crawls and makes your mother scream if it touches her foot. Though we reserve the right to omit from this definition the following: snakes, furry critters, and Mick Jagger.

Good luck!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Who Is Driving?

Who Is Driving?
by Leo Timmers
Bloomsbury USA
ISBN: 978-1599900216

Who is driving? With gas prices these days, it's high time for the pogo stick to make a comeback. But sometimes a chick needs her wheels, and it's no different for the parade of critters in this green gem of a book.

Timmers' guessing game format is delightfully simple and sweet. On the left hand page are four different animals decked out in various attire -- for example, alligator in a red leather biker suit, cat in a Jackie O. ensemble, mole in a mail carrier uniform, mouse in blue jeans -- all with their car keys out and at the ready. On the right hand page is a vehicle. Who is driving...the fancy car? Observant and traditionally-schooled youngsters will correctly guess the fancy-clad Cat, of course. Other young deviants may ask why the leather-clad alligator wouldn't just eat the other animals and hijack the ride for himself. (We recommend boarding school for such children.) Either way, this book is an excellent read aloud, with plenty of visual humor to sustain interest over repeated readings. Who Is Driving? is one sweet ride!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown

That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown
By Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton
ISBN 978-142310645-6

Emily Brown loves Stanley and Stanley loves Emily Brown. Emily is a little girl and Stanley is an old gray rabbit. They are best friends. Best adventurers. Best EVERYTHING. Life is great for this pair until the Queen “kindly” notices Stanley and decides she must have him for her own. She tries to bribe Emily Brown with a teddy bear, talking dolls, rocking horses, and all the toys Emily could ever desire. Emily will have none of it and when that spoiled, greedy Queen goes too far and kidnaps Stanley, Emily marches right back to the castle to get him back. Nobody steals Stanley and gets away with it!

Layton combines a mix of art styles using childlike illustrations and photos of the jungle, sea and sky to bring us into Emily and Stanley’s world. Emily’s fierce devotion and loyalty to Stanley in this delightful book will ring true with anyone who ever had a rabbit (or teddy bear or stuffed cat or . . .) of their own.