Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The diCamillo Code

The Miraculous Journey of Edwardy Tulane
by Kate diCamillo

While we're busy cracking The dePaola Code, if anyone feels like searching for clues in the works of Kate diCamillo, feel free to take over The diCamillo Code.

We've tried, but we're having a hard time finding any religious symbolism in her stories.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The dePaola Code: Strega

Strega Nona, upon first glance, seems like a typical tale about greed. But this is The dePaola Code...where nothing is as it seems. Strega owns a cooking pot that can make pasta appear out of thin air. She warns Big Anthony never to touch her pot, but does he listen? Noooooooo. And once Mr. Big gets the noodles going, he can’t figure out how to stop them. The town is soon engulfed by noodles (which might not sound that bad, but everyone in this town is watching their carbs).

So what metaphor has Mr. dePaola hidden within his most cherished picturebook? We call it: Strega Nona’s Overpopulation Prophecy.

Three animals play key roles in this story. A rabbit, a peacock, and a goat. And there’s only one scene where all three animals meet with Strega, Anthony, and the pot. Which means this scene overflows with Code material.

As Strega warns Anthony about touching her pot, standing behind Tony are the rabbit and the peacock--common symbols of fertility. Throughout the rest of the book, as the pot continues to produce pasta, the rabbit and peacock appear.

Sitting between Strega and Anthony, as a sort of buffer between the two, is a goat--a popular symbol for the devil. The devil, of course, is the source of Anthony’s disobedience and greed (for a list of six additional deadly sins, look them up yourself…we’re too lazy). But unlike the fertile peacock and the fuzzy widdle wabbit, once Anthony disobeys, the goat is never seen again. Why? Because his job is done.

Okay, so we have two symbols of fertility (because you might overlook just one) and a symbol for the devil. Stop! We know what you’re thinking. The overpopulation metaphor only works if the pot producing the pasta is a symbol for the human race. Good! You’re catching on. Strega refers to her cooking container as a “pot of clay.” And what does the Bible use as a metaphor for humans? Right. Jars of clay! So a big jar (the pot) represents all of us. And Strega’s chant which stops the overproduction of noodles can likewise be seen as instructions to control our own overpopulation. “So simmer down my pot of clay.”

In the end, what advice does Tomie appear to offer to help us stabilize the world’s population? It’s rather simple. “Keep your noodles under control!”

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Second Critique -- Jay

NOTE: At the bottom of this post is a clue to our third dePaola Code...to be deciphered very soon!

I love my fellow Disco Mermaids. They’re always trying to outdo each other; trying to get their name mentioned first in the acknowledgements. Robin read all 249 pages of my manuscript in just two days…so, of course, Eve had to read it in one.

I wasn’t quite as nervous going into this critique because Robin helped improve my manuscript so much with her critique (especially the ending). But I was worried the story wouldn’t get the same emotional response from Eve since she was well aware that it made Robin cry. When you expect tears, they’re always harder to produce. But she did cry! And I am so flippin’ happy, once again!

The scene that made them both cry was interesting to edit. There were a few things that needed tweaking early on in the chapter, based on Robin’s critique. The hard part was figuring out how to tweak it without taking away the tension. Since I've been working on this manuscript (off and on) for three years, it's so hard to feel where the suspense is coming from anymore.

So now my wife has the manuscript, which is both good and bad. It’s good because she’s out of town till Saturday, and that means I have at least three free days before I'll start editing again (compared to Robin’s two days and Eve’s one). But it’s bad because it hurts so much more when my wife finds something wrong with my manuscripts. In my dreams, she’s taken aback by my writing prowess and says things like, “It’s flawless. Don’t change a single word. You impressed me so much. And guess what, honey? It even made me cry.”

- Jay

CLUE: The fertility of...Strega Nona!!!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The dePaola Code: Clown

He often incorporates religious symbols
in his illustrations...
- from Tomie's bio in The Holy Twins: Benedict & Scholastica -
Welcome back for another round of...The dePaola Code!
Tomie dePaola's The Clown of God is a similar story to The Little Drummer Boy. How can Giovanni express his love for God when his only talent is juggling? To paraphrase a couple of monks walking by, "Duh! Juggling makes people happy, and that's awesome!"
Flip through your copy of The Clown of God and what do you notice? Yes, yes, Mr. dePaola is a genius. But what else? Something repetitive...something almost too coincidental. And remember, in the hands of a master artist, nothing is coincidental. In multiple scenes near the beginning of the book, there's a lone orange at Giovanni's feet...and how often do you find a lone orange at your feet? The orange is even seen without Gio around--all by itself--a few times. It's almost like Mr. deP. wants us to Notice the Orange.
For our first clue, rearrange the letters in Notice the Orange. What did you get? Neo Genetic Torah? So did we! Neo...New. Genetic...Living. Torah...Bible. The New Living Bible.
He's talking 'bout Jesus, people!
But wait, there's more...
In later scenes, the orange ball at Gio's feet is replaced by a golden ball. It's almost like Tomie's telling us, "Notice, the orange and gold balls are interchangeable." For his grand finale, Gio tosses the gold ball into the air and says, "And now for the Sun in the Heavens!" Hmm... Sun in the Heavens. Or Son in the Heavens? Again, we're talking 'bout Jesus, people!
So what do we have?
- some Italian clown juggling for Jesus
- Tomie makes us Notice the Orange by isolating it
- Notice the Orange = Neo Gentetic Torah = Jesus, people!
- the orange and gold balls are interchangeable
- Jesus = Son in the Heavens
Not convinced? Fine. Turn your book over...or just look at the top of this Code. There's a white bird staring at the Holy Citrus. Now, let's finish the quote we started with:
[Tomie] often incorporates religious symbols
in his illustrations,
most often the white bird,
the symbol of the Holy Spirit.
What does this mean? Let's just say the Disco Mermaids are popping Vitamin C pills like there's no tomorrow.
Stay tuned for our next installment of...The dePaola Code!!!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Bike Aisle -- Robin

NOTE: at the bottom of this post is a clue to our second dePaola Code...to be deciphered very soon!

Brand new bikes for 14 cents? Here I come!

That is the reason I was recently shopping at Wal-Mart with my three-year old, hoping to buy him his first bicycle. I say ‘hoping’ because I never got to buy him that bike. While I was tugging on his leg, testing to see which bike was the perfect size, someone walked by my cart and snatched my purse.

Security was called and the underpaid employees went into Mission: Impossible mode...profiling subjects and sniffing out packages. Within a few minutes, they found my purse--ditched on the Barbie aisle. But the wallet was gone.

The police were called and I had to give a statement to the officer. Which brings us to the silver lining of this story. The police officer...was...GORGEOUS! The officer, who I will now refer to as Officer Dreamboat, asked me simple, direct questions. I blushed and rambled.

“Ummm...yes, officer, see, I was shopping, or something, and, then, wow...is it hot in here?”

“Just the facts, ma’am,” Officer Dreamboat said through his perfectly shaped mouth.

During all my rambling, my three-year old (who is now wearing Officer Dreamboat’s handcuffs) reached into my purse and pulled out my vitamin pill. One of those calcium supplements that comes in a powdered form.

“What’s dis, Mommy?” my son said as he pulled the pill apart. White powder dusted my son, my purse and the officer’s hand.

“That white powder isn’t what it looks like Occifer! It’s just a pill...I mean, a vitamin...I mean, I’m not the kind of girl who...it’s just that...wanna dance?”

“No, I don’t want to dance. But I trust this isn’t what it looks like,” Officer Dreamboat said in such a totally dreamy way.

“Wow,” I said to my son as I watched Officer Dreamboat walk away and out of my life. “What a wonderful police man. Do you want to be a wonderful police man like him when you grow up?”

“No!” he said as he pulled my tampon out of my purse and wagged it in my face. “I want to be a dinosaur!”

So what does all this have to do with children’s writing? Well, not much. But there’s never a wrong time to share a HOT police officer story! I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way...

- Robin

CLUE: a clown, the Son of God...and citrus fruit!!!

Friday, May 19, 2006

The dePaola Code: Nana

We matched the release of our first dePaola Code to the theatrical release of The DaVinci Code. But instead of starting with Leo's Mona, we start with Tomie's Nana. Both of them!

Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs.

Tomie points us toward this particular code through his website, Tomie.com. Of all his books, Mr. dePaola says that this is his favorite. So we can assume it also offers the most important code.

Ask yourself, Who is missing amid Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs? Answer: Nana in the Middle, of course. Rearrange those letters to reveal our first clue. Amend Ninth Ideal. And what is the ninth commandment we should ideally follow? Thou shalt not lie. But what if we can't stop lying? Good question! Read on...

Delete all the repeated words in Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs, thereby tightening the sentence...a key rule in writing for children (one Tomie would not break unless it was intentional!). We are left with Nana Upstairs and Down. Rearrange those letters for our second clue. Satan Unwinds Pandora. Spooky? We know. But what happens when Pandora is fully unwound? Good question! Read on...

Look closer at the only other words on the book's cover: the author/illustrator's name. By long-ago altering the spelling of his name, Mr. deP. thrusts attention upon it (and Tomie is a master wordsmith!). If we spell Tomie the traditional way--Tommy--and rearrange the letters in Tommy dePaola, we learn our third clue...and our destiny...which is best understood in light of all we have learned so far.

1. Amend Ninth Ideal (play loose with the truth)

2. Satan Unwinds Pandora (and all Hell breaks loose)

3. Playmate: Doom (so stop lying!!!)

Did we learn a simple truth today? Yes. But who holds the key to our future? Who holds the hope for our world? The children, of course. And there is no better way to teach children the importance of telling the truth than with a good story...told by a great storyteller.

Thank you, Tomie.

The world thanks you!

Stay tuned for our next installment of...The dePaola Code!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Warning: Political Ranting in My Children's Books -- Eve

NOTE: at the bottom of this post is a clue to our first dePaola Code...to be deciphered very soon!

I’ve been obsessed with the plight of the illegal Mexican immigrant ever since the 8th grade when my friend Jim Simon’s homecoming dance date got deported back to Mexico two days before the big event. The sweet quiet girl from my Spanish class who helped me with my homework disappeared without a trace. Then, more kids started disappearing daily...plucked from their homes and schools and tossed back onto the other side of the fence to face a lack of jobs and extreme poverty.

I’m baffled when people get angry aboutMexicans crossing the border into the states to make better lives for themselves. These, of course, are usually the same people who hire these illegal Mexican immigrants to cut their lawns, clean their houses, and pour the concrete for their swimming pools. “They’re taking all our jobs,” they say. To which I reply, “Oh really? I didn’t know you had applied to pick strawberries and got rejected.”

Fact is, Mexicans come here to work hard, make a little money, and send it home to loved ones. At least this is the case with every single one I’ve ever met. But politics aside...and I will tie this into children’s writing, I promise...only a soulless person would turn a blind eye to the thousands of children crossing the border ALONE each year to find their families.

I recently had the rare opportunity to work with children who had endured crazy and harrowing journeys crossing the border into California. Wide-eyed and open mouthed, I’d sit and listen for hours to their unbelievable stories. They’d usually respond to my gasps with something like, “What’sthe big deal? It’s just life.”

Well, the big deal is it’s not life...for most of us privileged enough to have grown up with the luxuries of running water, electricity and free education. So, I wrote. I’m compiling their stories into a YA nonfiction anthology. When starting out, an author oncetold me, “Write the stories you must tell...the ones you can’t imagine NOT telling.” Well, these are those stories.

I don’t intend to write this book as a preachy social message. In fact, no matter which side of the immigration debate you’re on, you gotta find this stuff riveting. If just one young adult is entertained by these adventurous, survival-against-all-odds stories...great! But if another is moved to promote social change and tolerance...I’ll be thrilled beyond belief.

- Eve

CLUE: Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs, Satan, Pandora...and you!!!

Monday, May 15, 2006

The dePaola Code

Unlike The DaVinci Code, we will not spill the secrets of the Priory of Sion. We will not expose the influence of Opus Dei. We will deal with a much more restrained group...the Benedictine monks. Popular belief portrays these men as the silent type (though they have been known to break into some rockin' chants from time to time). But these monks have a secret. A secret cloaked beneath a veil of…well…a veil of itchy brown fabric. And one man holds the key to unlocking that truth for the rest of us.

Tomie dePaola.

The DaVinci Code says that Leonardo had the inside scoop on a religious secret, and that he encoded his paintings in the hopes that future minds will discover that secret. But does an artist’s paintings need to hang in the Louvre to be studied for hidden meaning? No. Illustrations encoded with holy secrets might be found in the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art…or even at your local public library.

We, The Disco Mermaids, are in the process of discovering a new religious secret. And we refer to it as: The dePaola Code. Tomie is one of the foremost illustrators of children’s book art...and Tomie has a secret. A secret, we believe, he wants to tell. It is known that Tomie once explored becoming a Benedictine monk at the Weston Priory in Vermont…but walked away. Why? What did he discover within those monastery walls? Well, we're not entirely sure, but it must have been huge!

Based on clues we will present in the coming weeks, we believe that you, too, will become a believer.

Together…we shall discover.

The dePaola Code.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The First Critique -- Jay

First off, an apology. Awhile back I told you I’d finished the YA manuscript I’d been working on for three years and was handing it over to Robin and Eve for a critique in a few days. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was way too freaked out that they wouldn’t like it, that they’d say, “You spent three years on this?”

So I decided to self-edit one more time and I printed out all 246 pages and attacked it with a red pen. Why? Pure fear. So many people will be disappointed if this book sucks. First, I would disappoint the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (and who wants to disappoint an entire society?). BAKER’S DOZEN was awarded one of their Work-In-Progress grants. Second, I would disappoint SmartWriters.com. They awarded this manuscript the Grand Prize in their Write-It-Now competition. The judge for their YA category was Chris Crutcher…the first YA author I’d ever read! Was I willing to disappoint the author who turned me on to this genre in the first place? Third, I would disappoint my wife. Do you realize how many times I got out of laundry duty, or watering the plants, because I pretended to be in the middle of a plot-breakthrough?

So after that last edit, did I hand it over to Robin and Eve then? Absolutely not. I went through the entire manuscript once again. And then? Well, Eve was on the other side of the country, so last Sunday night I finally gave the manuscript to Robin. She read it in two-and-a-half days, which I took as a good sign, and I went over to her house to find out what she thought (I even brought Papa Murphy’s Pizza to butter her up). Immediately, I knew something was wrong. She kept delaying the critique. “Oh, my three-year-old needs a bath.” “Oh, the pizza’s ready.” “Oh, wanna see how we’re converting vegetable oil into fuel for the car?”

But she loved it! She even cried! I made Robin cry and I am so flippin’ happy! Why was she so afraid to tell me what she thought? Because six of the pages didn’t work for her. Six pages! “So what?!?!” I said. “97.56% of it did work for you.” So we brainstormed and figured out how to fix it and I’m just about done working through the changes. I should have the new and improved manuscript ready for Eve sometime this weekend.

Seriously. No, seriously, I promise. I will!

- Jay

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Countdown Continues

Only a few more days till we begin cracking the codes buried within some of the most beloved books for children.

The daVinci Code? What’s that?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I Have Foot-In-Mouth Disease -- Robin

In order to support my addictive writing habit, I am applying for a new job. Hopefully with lots of money and a boss who doesn’t notice that I take little breaks and write little stories.

Yesterday, I had an interview. It was a brutal hour and a half. That might explain why my brain fell out at the end. I could sense it coming to a conclusion. She spoke of contacting me next week and checking my references. My body started to relax, which is exactly the moment my foot inserted itself into my mouth. (Ouch! I’m a size 9)

He said, “Let me ask you one more question, Robin. Who is your hero? What person do you admire the most and why?”

First of all, it’s a stupid question. And second of all, some people don’t like Oprah. Which would have been a better answer than what I said.

“Bob Marley,” I said. I had just finished listening to his Confrontation album (which is my fave). I rambled on about how he made such positive social change and spread a spiritual message throughout the world. Not bad.

Now for the foot.

“But it’s not like I’m promoting the smoking of ganja, or anything.” That got a chuckle from the dude across from me in a Hawaiian shirt.

Later, I emailed my supportive friends, Eve and Jay, to tell them of my interesting choice of words. My phone rang, and when I said “Hello,” I heard Jay say, “You said ganja...in an interview!”

Thanks, my friend. I knew you’d understand.

Since I’m sure I didn’t get the job, I’ll be busy plucking my foot from my mouth so I can get back to the business of writing. As of today, my main character loves Bob Marley too.

- Robin

The Countdown Has Begun

Next week, we'll crack the code on the most baffling mystery in the history of children’s literature.

It’ll make the entire publishing world say, “Dan Brown? Who’s that?”

Friday, May 05, 2006

Makes Me Wanna Drink -- Jay

It happened again. I ran into someone I haven’t seen in years and one of the first questions he asked was, “So, where ya working now?” And I forgot my line.

I’m supposed to say, “I work at the public library.” Instead, I left out the key word...public. In most towns, that’s not a problem. But in my town, the follow up statement goes something like, “Oh. I didn’t know you were a bartender.”

You see, there’s a bar here called The Library. And what should be a source of pride—I work at the library!—is always followed by a shot of reality. “No, I work at the public library,” I say. To which they respond, “They still have those?”

I guess the owners of the 21-and-over Library wanted to give their patrons an honest excuse when their parents (those paying the college tuition) ask why they couldn’t reach their sons or daughters the night before. “I’m sorry, I was at The Library all night. Could you please talk a little softer?”

I just want to be able to say, “I work at the library,” and hear someone respond, “Wow! I’ve wanted to work there since I was a kid. You are so lucky!”

Maybe I’m wrong—I don’t know the names of the bars where you’re from—but I don’t think it’s like this for other public employees.

“Oh. I didn’t know you were a bartender.”

— “No, I work at the public defenders office.”

— “No, I work at the public health department.”

— “No, I work at the public utilities commission.”

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Time For My Annual Review -- Robin

I get an annual review at work every year, but after recently sitting down behind the glass (as we worker bees like to refer the only non-cubicle areas of the office) I realized...as a writer I don’t ever get an annual review from a boss telling me how I’ve done.

So, here it is. I’m giving myself a review. Just so you know, the role of “me” and “the boss of me” is played by...me.

Boss of Me: Come, sit down, Robin. Let’s talk about your year of writing. No...don’t sit there. I need to see the clock. And shut the door, would ya?

Me: Sure. So, how’s my review? Is it bad?

Boss of Me: Bad!? Bad!? We don’t use that term around here. We like to use “needs improvement and bound for the slushpile.” But let’s get right to it. I’ve written it all out on this paper, but I’m going to read it to you anyway as if you are a monkey. M’kay?

Me: (Sitting silently, picking at my hair with my feet.)

Boss of Me: Let’s see. You’ve met our expectation of coming up with story ideas and submitting them to contests and editors. But you seem to have fallen behind on requirement #3: Finishing a story. Do you have any suggestions on how you can meet that goal?

Me: Well, maybe if I didn’t have so much paperwork and bureaucratic mumbo jumbo I had to wade through...

Boss of Me: There is no paperwork or mumbo jumbo in this job.

Me: Maybe if I didn’t have to answer the phones so much and put my laundry in the dryer and eat all that chocolate and supervise the programming on the Home and Garden channel...I could get my work done.

Boss of Me: Look, you finish a book and I’ll personally see to it that I supervise the programming on the Playboy channel for you.

Me: Home and Garden channel.

Boss of Me: Right, that’s what I said.

Me: So do I get a raise?

Boss of Me: Here, have a piece of chocolate.

Me: (Smiling, picking at my hair with my feet.)

Boss of Me: And pay a little more attention to the dress code. No more sweats and bunny slippers. This is a respectable trash heap in the corner of your second bedroom.

Me: M’kay.