Thursday, December 27, 2007

In the Coop with MJ & Herm Auch

We are VERY excited today to welcome two of our finest feathered friends to the Coop! MJ & Herm Auch are the king and queen of funny in our book. Well, actually, in their books! And they have SO MANY!

From Chickerella to Peeping Beauty to Beauty and the Beaks (and many, many more), the Auchs have delighted us with their talents.

Chick out their website and while you're there, take a look at MJs wonderful novels. (We especially love WING NUT and ASHES FOR ROSES.)

Welcome to the coop, MJ & Herm!

When you create a book, do the pictures or story come to you first?

MJ: The story always comes first, but sometimes I visualize an illustration that sends the plot in a different direction. I had finished writing CHICKERELLA, when I pictured a fashion show with hens strutting down the runway as models. I couldn’t shake that image, so I changed the ending to have the prince and Chickerella start a fashion business instead of getting married.

How closely do you and Herm work at different stages of a book?

Herm: Not very. We have a two-story studio and work on separate floors. That’s why we get along so well.

MJ: We’re each better at different parts of the process. I write the story, and then hand it over to Herm.

Herm: I pace the story, plan page turns, and sketch the dummy. My most important job is to bug MJ to keep working and trying something new.

MJ: Yes, he’s a real pain sometimes. I develop the characters either in paint or sculpture, depending on which style we choose for the book.

Herm: I scan MJ’s painted characters, or photograph her 3-D mannequins and put everything together in the computer.

MJ: We work independently but enjoy surprising each other at the end of the day with our results.

How do you know when what you write/illustrate is funny??

MJ: Herm and I need to hit each other’s funny bones. That’s what I meant by surprising each other. We’re each aiming to get a laugh. In the reviews for Beauty and the Beaks, Herm got more mention for his titles for articles in the hens’ magazines than I got for the story!

You obviously love chickens and we love you for loving chickens, but why chickens?

MJ: When I was a kid, both of my grandmothers and our next-door neighbor had flocks of chickens. It seemed natural to me to hang around chickens and watch them interact. They had the same personalities you’d find in humans – the shy one, the diva, the bully, and the busybody.

Do you have any tips for writing funny books?

MJ: I think humor flows from your natural way of thinking and talking. It helps if you have a weird way of looking at things. In writing novels, I like to combine humor with some sad scenes because they enhance each other.

Do you have any tips for illustrating funny books?

MJ: We try to do the unexpected and combine things that wouldn’t occur together in real life. That’s why I put chickens in high heels. It’s hard not to laugh at a hen in a strappy sandal.

Herm: Facial expressions are important, especially with animals. We like to exaggerate the emotion to make sure it comes across.

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

MJ: Thinking I was being funny got me into trouble as a kid. I loved practical jokes and they often backfired. I’ve always found that humor helps defuse most sticky situations, though.

Herm: All I know is, when you write funny chicken books, you shouldn’t order a chicken sandwich for lunch at a school visit. The kids get mad at you.

What are some of your favorite funny books?????

MJ: Vivian Vandevelde’s Never Trust a Dead Man

Bruce Coville’s Thor’s Wedding Day

Peggy Rathman’s Officer Buckle and Gloria

Suzanne Bloom’s A Splendid Friend Indeed

Herm: Mark Teague’s Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School

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

Herm: One-Handed Catch because I did live in it. MJ would definitely want to live in Chickerella because she wants the clothes!

MJ: That’s true. Well, maybe not the stepmother’s leopard print spandex unitard, but I want the sparkly gown she wears to the Fowl Ball. I also want the gown with the jewel-encrusted bodice that Chickerella wears to the fashion show. I have a real thing for sparklies, and so few occasions to wear them now that I’m no longer singing in Sweet Adelines, which was sequin heaven. One of my old quartet costumes, a red sequin tube top, is worn by Penny Pullet, the soloist for the Rock Island Reds. And I made Chickerella’s ball gown from my daughter’s junior prom dress. I’d like to wear that one, too.

Do you prefer The Marx Bros or Three Stooges?

MJ: Neither one, although I enjoyed Groucho on the TV show, You Bet Your Life, where he was being spontaneous. I think the funniest moments happen in real life, not scripted comedies. We’re lucky to have a lot of funny friends. There’s nothing better than just hanging out and having the one-liners crackle around the room.

Herm: Neither Marx or Stooges. I’m a Bob and Ray fan.

What was your best Halloween costume ever?

MJ: My Halloween costumes were real duds. I was the same stupid Blue Fairy every Halloween. I wore a rubber Wonder Woman mask that smelled a little worse each year.

Herm: I once went to a party as a pile of leaves. I thought nobody would recognize me, but my green and yellow sneakers sticking out from under my leaf-covered sheet gave me away.

What is your Dream Job for a Day?

MJ: Back up singer. You get to sing great harmony, but the star takes the blame if the gig turns out to be a bomb.

Herm: Play quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys.

Clown V. Mime Deathmatch.? Pick your winner.

MJ: I don’t care who wins. Can’t stand either one.

Funniest dead person you'd like to meet??

MJ: Lucille Ball

Herm: Ray Goulding

Do you have real chickens? If you do, can you tell us about them?

We had a flock of chickens on our farm when our children were growing up. They laid colored eggs. Well, not red or orange, but every shade of blue and green you could imagine. One hen always laid a lavender egg with pink spots. They gradually stopped laying eggs and all died of old age.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Iggy Peck Architect and Time Magazine Top 10!

Time to break out the braggy pants!

We're doing the chicken dance here at the coop to celebrate some really amazing news. And it's about time. TIME MAGAZINE that is!

IGGY PECK, ARCHITECT has been named one of the Time Magazine top 10 best kids' books of 2007! Go Iggy!

And not to be outdone, the Today Show listed Iggy in its great books for kids gift guide for 2007.

And then, Just One More Book (our favorite podcasters in the universe) have even added Iggy to their Desert Island Survival list. And it's a great list! Chick it out and let Mark and Andrea know what your top 10 survival books would be!

Hurray and Hurrah! Cheese doodles, guacamole and bean dip all around!!!! Come join in the Chicken Dance!

For those of you who are Chicken Dance Challenged. Here's an instructional video that can help!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Waltur Paints Himself Into a Corner

Waltur Paints Himself Into a Corner and Other Stories
by Barbara Gregorich
illustrated by Kristin Sorra
Houghton Mifflin
ISBN-13: 978-0618747962

Looking for those ever-elusive early chapter books that are sweet, funny and educational all at the same time? Have we got a delicious duo of books for you. In Waltur Buys a Pig in a Poke and Waltur Paints Himself Into a Corner, Gregorich and Sorra present a trio of friends - Waltur, Matilda, and Darwin - whose humorous exploits serve to illustrate the meaning of popular idioms, such as "putting the cart before the horse" and "letting sleeping dogs lie."

Our favorite escapade involves Waltur painting the floor and trying so hard not to "paint himself into a corner" that he winds up painting himself into the middle of the room instead. Believe us, we three chicks have done that any number of times, so we can relate to Waltur's predicament. Fortunately, we and Waltur are lucky enough to have good friends to help us out whenever we goof up. And that's the true heart of these stories: the power of friendship. Hands down the best thing since sliced bread! (Idiom intended.)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Such a Prince

Written by Dan Bar-el
Illustrated by John Manders
Clarion Books, 2007
ISBN 9780618714681

Libby Gaborchick, local fairy, suggests to the king that all his sick daughter, Princess Vera, really needs is to eat three perfect peaches. That's all--nothing too fancy. "As fairies, go, I'm not the flashy kind," says Libby. "Glass slippers and pumpkin carriages are just not my style."

The classic tale of "The Three Perfect Peaches" is given a smart and funny twist in this telling by Bar-el, who uses the witty Libby Gaborchick as the narrator. Poor skinny Marvin tries his best to marry the lovesick Princess Vera. The pesky king, though, keeps foiling Marvin's plans. But no matter, Marvin has Libby on his side, and together they outsmart the king and queen and win the princess's hand. Like the cover promises, "Happy Ending Inside!"

Storyteller Bar-el lends a wry tone to this first person narrative that simply begs to be read aloud. The wild and woolly John Manders is at his best here, too, with plenty of crazy rabbits and doleful donkeys to keep readers laughing (we especially love the close-up of the queen's ample derriere). We think this book is absolutely perfect for Reader's Theater, but we're sure clever teachers and librarians can think of many more activities. Peach pie, anyone?