Thursday, August 25, 2011

Children's Author Jamie Michalak

Children’s book author Jamie Michalak visited our school this past spring. I sat in on her chats with the children every chance I could get! I thoroughly enjoyed her visit and wanted to follow up with a few more questions.   Find out more about Jamie at Candlewick Press. CLICK HERE for the link.

Peppermint Patti: On your website you list one of your oddest jobs-- dressing up as a large mouse at a mouse-themed restaurant. As a fellow costumed character, what do you miss most about being a giant mouse? What was your funniest giant mouse experience?

 Jamie Michalak: I miss the fame that comes with being a giant mouse at a mouse-themed restaurant. Whenever I entered the room, I was immediately surrounded by cheering children.

On the down side, the mouse costume was made for a big and tall man. I had to shuffle to keep the feet on and could barely see out of the mask’s eyeholes. Because I could neither walk nor see, two servers had to escort me out to the dining area, where most children would hug me, but others would poke at me and shout things like “You’re not real!” (Always a little alarming when you can’t see your attackers.) Thankfully, the costume was padded. Did I mention that the inside of the costume was also super stinky? I would not recommend a career as a giant mouse impersonator.

PP: Do you have any exciting news regarding your writing career?

JM: Joe and Sparky, Superstars! the follow-up to Joe and Sparky Get New Wheels, released in March to excellent reviews. Teachers and librarians can find a free Joe and Sparky activity kit on my website, and students can take an “Are You a Joe or a Sparky?” personality quiz.

My first picture book, The Coziest Place illustrated by John Davis, will be published in Fall 2013.

Vincent: What inspired you to write in the first place?

JM: When I was in elementary school, my mother gave me a diary. Because I could be shy, writing down my thoughts became the easiest way to express myself. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to write. I also read a lot, which inspired me to make up my own stories. One of the books I read was Harriet the Spy, a story about a girl who made writing seem exciting, cool, even dangerous. I was hooked.

Gigi: What did you want to be when you (grew up) were a kid?

JM: Co-host of the Today show.

Gigi: What do you like to do besides write?

JM: Read, go to the beach, swim, try to surf, play with my sons, try to cook, watch movies, and sing loudly in the car. (You don’t want to be sitting next to me at a red light.)

Gigi: What is the book you are most proud of?

JM: Joe and Sparky Get New Wheels will always be dearest to my heart because I wrote the first draft with my sister, Julie, who was ill at the time. Since she couldn’t do much more than lay in my bed, I wrote the story to entertain her as she threw out ideas. Writing stories together is something we did as kids, too. Julie and I didn’t write Joe and Sparky Get New Wheels to get published; we wrote it to crack each other up. So the eventual publication and everything that came after has been the most incredible, happy surprise.

Gigi: What is your real name?

JM: Jamie Michalak. It’s pronounced Mc-Cal-ick (rhymes with “metallic”). I sometimes write under another name for movie and TV show adaptations.

Gigi: Did you like school when you were younger?

JM: Yes, although I liked some classes more than others. I loved all of the subjects that encouraged creativity--reading, writing, and art. I also liked gym, except for volleyball. The ball always managed to find my nose. Bonk! There’s no hiding on a volleyball court.

Gigi: What is your favorite color?

JM: Blue. And white, if that counts as a color.

Emma: How many books have you written?

JM: 18 with one on the way (7 original stories and 12 TV show or movie adaptations).

Emma: Who are your [favorite] characters?

JM: Joe and Sparky. For me, the stories usually start with the characters. Then I let them go wild and see what sorts of sticky situations they find themselves in.

Jackie: How many times on average do you rewrite a book before it is approved by an editor?

JM: It’s always different, but I can rewrite a story up to twenty times or more. I want every word to be included for a reason. I don’t send a manuscript to my editor until I can read the whole story without stopping at a word or sentence that seems off. I also wait for my critique group and my sons to give me the thumbs up. Sometimes when you look at your own story for so long, you become blind to its strengths and weaknesses. Hearing what others think can give you a fresh eye.

Hailey: Where do you get your ideas?

JM: EVERYWHERE! Eavesdropping, observing things my children do and say, remembering my own childhood, stumbling upon an imagination-sparking tidbit in an article... Students I’ve met at school visits always offer brilliant ideas for new stories, too. Like Harriet the spy, I always keep a notebook on me to write down the interesting things I see and hear.

Thanks, Patti, to you and your students for the smart questions! Enjoy the new school year!

Thank YOU Jamie!  Hey everybody--CLICK HERE to visit Jamie's way cool website!  CLICK HERE to take the  “Are You a Joe or a Sparky?” personality quiz and post your results.  Can you guess which one Peppermint Patti is?  Leave a comment soon.  I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

De-stressing With Meditation not Medication

My doctor has “prescribed” meditation for me because my blood pressure runs a little high and I’m overweight. So after our daughter moved out I converted her old bedroom into my “Zen Room.” My husband and I hung a photo mural of a tropical sunrise on one wall. I took one of the sky colors from the mural—a periwinkle blue, and painted that on the other walls. Window treatments came next and there is a plan for an area rug—probably an imitation Oriental—as well as some mirrors for the wall.

After seeing a meditation garden in a magazine I thought I would like to create one in my yard! So for the past three summers I have been working on this relaxing outdoor space. It’s almost done—I’ve got stepping stones to put down for my pathways and some edging to install. All in good time…

Anyway, the result is two nice relaxing spaces to meditate and practice yoga. Now I start and end each day with “Five Good Minutes” and some relaxing yoga. I’m still overweight—oops, but I’m definitely less stressed and my doctor is very pleased with my healthy lifestyle efforts.

So…I thought: what effect would meditation have on my students? I did notice that when the physical education teacher was in the midst of the yoga unit the class was much calmer and nicer to one another. Could a daily dose of meditation help as well? 

After some “arm-chair research” on the Internet, I came up with some interesting information. Read my “Guidance for Grownups” and “Pointers” blogs to find out more. I plan to incorporate some meditation into my students’ daily school experience this year. I’ll let you know how it goes…

What do you do to de-stress? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Don't Depend on Spellcheck

I’ve noticed recently that proper spelling has become a thing of the past. I’m not just talking about everyday people and their correspondence, I’m talking about professionals; people who make a living out of using the English language. In my opinion, they’ve gotten sloppy. 

 Now, I realize the English language is one of the more difficult languages to learn. In fact, “Mark Pagel, an expert on language diversity at the University of Reading, acknowledges the irony that despite being the international lingua franca, English is the most difficult to learn.” CLICK HERE  to read more about this topic. (In case you’re wondering, lingua franca means a language used for communication among people of different mother tongues. This definition is from

It stands to reason that if English is the most difficult language to learn to read, it will also be a language quite difficult to learn to write. That is why I hold the “professionals” up to a higher standard. Those writing copy for advertisements, billboards, signs, etc. should not only have an exceptional working knowledge of the usage of the English language, they should also know how to edit, self-correct and utilize resources when their language knowledge is lacking.

I cringe when I see McDonald’s ® “i’m lovin’ it” ad campaign. I worked all last year trying to get one of my students to capitalize the pronoun I with no luck. If that’s what children are seeing in their environment, that’s what they’re going to do. But wait, there’s more: a company down the street from my house has a sign out front that says one of their services is “bookeeping.” A teacher-friend of mine gets such a kick out of it she wants to mail them an envelope full of boos in need of keeping. Do you think they’ll get it? 

Reading the newspaper can also be frustrating for me as I see more and more evidence of the use of spellcheck with no regard for careful proofreading. I understand budgets are tight but don’t get rid of all the editors! They are the last line of defense against misspelled words and incorrect grammar.

While reading a local free paper this morning I read a headline: “Can you unstick a stuck tire cap for left than 71 bucks?” and an advertisement: “Bring in this coupon for an additional 5% more.” Argh!

I’ll close now so I can carefully proofread and edit my words.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Good DJ!

While at a party this past weekend I had the opportunity to clown around while listening to some nice, appropriate children’s music.  You’re probably thinking, big deal this must happen to you a lot.  On the contrary, in my 35 plus years of clowning around, the music choices of the various DJs have been, shall we say, rather disgusting.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love music.  Music is an important part of my everyday life in the classroom, in the pool/gym, in the car, and at home. Music boosts your energy and your mood.  Howard Gardner even includes music in his eight categories of intelligence.  Click HERE for more information. 
What I object to is the choice of music often played at children’s parties.  I perform at birthday parties where the DJ must think he is at a night club.  Sometimes I happen to catch the lyrics and I find them downright embarrassing.  They include profanity—words I wouldn’t say in front of my mom—as well as narration that describes women as worthless beings to be treated in unmentionable ways.  Even worse—the children sing along!  I ask them if they know what the song is about.  I even ask the grownups if perhaps the music might be inappropriate for the young audience. No one, except for me, seems concerned.
This recent party was a refreshing change.  The DJ played all of the traditional favorite children’s songs:  “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” “The Hokey Pokey,” and more.  It was loud and I had to read the children’s lips to see what balloon they wanted me to make for them but we all had a good time singing along.
Do you have a favorite childhood song?  Do you think the Hokey Pokey is what it’s all about?  Leave me a comment.  I’d love to hear from you!