B J Brilliant

Someone once said “A picture book without pictures is like the Pips without Gladys Knight.”

BJ Novak proved this wrong.


BUSYTOWNIIAny children’s book writer or illustrator would think they’d gone to Heaven if their work was brought to life in a musical. That’s why Richard Scarry is probably smiling right now. His awesome picture books have  achieved that prestigious honor with Busytown The Musicaladapted by playwright Kevin Kling and composer Michael Koerner.

Yesterday, my daughter, three granddaughters, and I attended this lively, pickle-car, chug-a-wug-a-choo-choo show at the Children’s Theater in Minneapolis.  I’ll be honest. I enjoyed it as much as anyone. My cheeks still hurt from ginning.
The caliber of acting, singing, and performing far exceeded my expectations. The show was almost over before I realized only six actors played the bazillion busy parts. The most phenomenal multitasker, however, was the one-woman organist/flutist/kazooist/percussionist/every-instrumentalist who played the musical accompaniment. (Sorry, I don’t know her name.)

Reed Sigmund, the  actor who played Huckle the Cat (and a back-up singing nurse and various other characters) had the  voice and endearing presence of Chris Farley. I kept hoping he would break into lame ninja moves or warn the kids about living in a van down by the river.

Meghan Kreidler played a brassy mail carrier so well, she reminded me of Rosie O’Donnell in A League of Her Own. And she had no problem seamlessly transitioning into a lovesick nurse, Grocer Cat, a train car, or a busy commuter.

Dean Holt had the perfect voice and feathered hat-wearing head for heart-throb Lowly Worm.

I’d mention all the cast members and behind-the-scenes stars, but you need to  experience the colorful set, funny costumes, energetic choreography and happy audience yourself. Busytown the Musical is playing until October 26, so get your tickets now.

CHILDRENSTHEATERCheck out other Children’s Theater Company productions. We’re bringing in the holiday spirit with The Grinch Stole Christmas. (I can’t wait to meet Cindy Lou Who. Can you?)

And, remember, there’s no better way to get your children’s book creations in shape for future musicals than the 2014 MN Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Annual Conference. It’s not too late to register!



Fleetwood Mac – John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, and Lindsey Buckingham

Fleetwood Mac, thanks for last night’s extraordinary concert. I can’t get anything done for the reminiscing. During my clinging-to-the-experience Internet surfing, I stumbled upon a couple of mean-old-nasty reviews from our two metropolitan newspapers. I’m embarrassed and sorry. I don’t know what concert those grouchy reporters attended. They don’t speak for the gushing Twin Cities fans who left the Xcel Center  All my husband and I can say is “WOW! WE LOVE YOU!”

You still have “it” — and more.

Mick Fleetwood: How do you maintain your energy and stamina? You’re the only tall, gray-haired, bearded man who can pull off the knickers/red shoes combo. Your drumming evokes a collective awe that synchronizes with the thumping of our hearts.  You lift the emotions of your audience like the wind blowing a leaf through a quiet forest into a roaring stampede, then under a soothing waterfall through a tunnel of silence into a raging thunder-storm–even non-menopausal people. Only a master percussionist can do that. I’d bet against any 20-year-old who dares to arm wrestle you.

John McVie: I want to eat what you eat for breakfast. I envy your humility and soothing persona. You’re the wind beneath your band’s wings; hidden, yet so powerful — the Big Mac in Fleetwood Mac.  You command no limelight, but steer the group with your vision and your brilliant bass.  Thanks for just being you.

Lindsey Buckingham:  Holy cow!  You blew us away.  Who plays guitar like you — using fingernail tops with Tasmanian Devil drive?  With so much passion firing out of you, it’s no wonder you’re still so fit. We felt exhausted, but inspired, just watching you.

Stevie Nicks:  You’re the secret ingredient to Fleetwood Mac’s there’s-no-other-band-like-this-in-the-world sound. Lucky for Fleetwood Mac, and the world, Lindsey Buckingham showed up at his guitarist audition with a vocally gifted girlfriend and a both-or-none stipulation.  At last night’s concert, a male groupie yelled, “You’re still hot!”  So sweet — and so true.

Christine McVie: We missed you, but we thank you for the many years of joy you’ve given.

My husband and I reminisced about dancing to “Dreams” and “Landslide“.  Thirty-seven years ago, a lighted floor illuminated colorful designs under our feet and a mirrored disco ball glistened overhead–but we barely noticed.  If the nightclub was still there, we’d go give it another spin.

This year I’ll be eligible for the senior citizen discount at certain eating establishments.  My husband, eligible for a year now, refuses to ask for this perk, but on my birthday I’m driving to a drive-thru window with “Tusk” cranked on my woofers and tweeters (if I have those).  I plan to take the discount and relish the moment.

Flashback Video: Fleetwood Mac "Tusk" original footage with the USC marching band.

Click the photo for a Flashback Video that works on all devices: Fleetwood Mac “Tusk” original footage with the USC marching band. 

John, Mick, Stevie, and Lindsey, thanks for giving such hope to us aged.  We can’t wait to attend your concert in 2023!

Gangstas In the Hood

Click to play Mippey 5, livin’ on the edge with “Temporary Tattoos” parody of “Snapbacks & Tattoos” (by Driicky Graham).

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I’m a Mippey 5 fan.  Luke Thompson, the gangly Minnesota YouTube sensation, makes beverages come out of my nose kind of like “Weird Al” Yankovic did when I was — um — two.

“Weird Al” Yankovic with a “White & Nerdy” cameo by Donny Osmond. Click on this parody of “Ridin’ Dirty” (by Chamillionaire featuring Krayzie Bone).

Thompson’s probably never even heard of Yankovic, but they are like-minded, creative masters of self and pop culture-deprecation with lots of time on their hands. Yet, Mippey 5 can crank out a music video in the time it takes me to make a blog entry.  Impressive.

Recently the Mippey 5 gangstahs caused quite a scandal in the hood while taping the Harlem Shake.

Those Fridley kids are so wild.

“Welcome to My Hood” DJ Khaled parody of 2011. Okay, so why does this suburban humor strike me so funny?

Anyway, I have a request concerning Adele’s “Rumour Has It”.  I know — it’s an overplayed tune and there’s no rapping.  But envision a parody called “Lederhosen“.  You could start a new trend, Luke.  And, seems to me “lederhosen” offers just the right amount of syllables, some great video possibilities, and plenty of room for Minnesota cheese.


Now is the season to change our Shoulda-Coulda-Woulda blues to Do-I-Did-I-Did-I’ve-Done-‘N-Did-That-Too (sung to the tune of Doo-Wah-Diddy by Manfred Man, of course).

For instance, I wanted to listen more and talk less in 2012. (Part of the whole “love better” goal.)

  • I shoulda. Listening isn’t rocket science.
  • I coulda, if I’d have just shut my pie hole.
  • I woulda, with a little discipline.

I just could not shut up for the life of me.  Obviously, I need to go to Wal-Mart for the Ears of Steel DVD.

A friend told me a story that offers the motivation to remedy my verbal diarrhea problem, but I hadn’t listened well, she doesn’t answer my calls (since I never let her talk), and I can’t find the story on the Internet.  Nonetheless, I’m going to share my flawed, paraphrased  understanding of her story, because it inspires me and I hope it will inspire you.

Once upon a time a female reporter enjoyed the prestigious honor of sitting between two extraordinary men at a banquet.  On her left was the most interesting man she had ever met.  He fascinated her with colorful stories of African safaris, world leaders he had influenced, and global events he had affected. Despite this man’s astounding accomplishments, her favorite dinner companion was on her right — for he was most interested — in her.

The man on her left:                                              The man on her right:

On a similar note, years ago I asked an author friend, “How can I become a better writer?”

Her answer? “Write.”

I expected something more philosophical and complex, like: “Climb a mountain, jump out of an airplane, walk in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway, contemplate the pyramids, then pat your head while making circles on your belly.”

“Write” is so simple, yet so hard.  I just cannot shut off my distracted mind for the life of me.  A typical morning at my desk:  “Did I forget to shave one leg?  Oh look, the neighbor’s on our front yard, bringing his adorable dog to leave a present. I’ll have to bring our adorable grandson and his potty chair (without the ‘catch receptacle’) to the neighbor’s yard to return the favor. Ouch! What’s that on my chin — a cactus sticker?…”

Sigh. It’d be easy to become discouraged.  But, my wise, successful friends stand as beacons of light. My Shoulda-Coulda-Woulda defeats of 2012 can be changed to Do-I-Did-I-Did-I’ve-Done-‘N-Did-That-Too victories in 2013 via profoundly simple solutions.  Hence, my annual to-do list looks just like a best-selling book cover/Julia Roberts movie title — only the list has different words — in different order — and there’s no one around here who looks like Julia Roberts.  Here it is: Drumroll please.


See. What’d I say?

In my hopeful zeal, I’ve even added a sublist — items that should improve my prospects of accomplishing the first list.  This list looks more like orders from Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) in Karate Kid:

Shut Up

G-bye 2012

My idea of a New Year’s Eve party.

It’s New Year’s Eve and like Alicia Keys, this girl is on fi-ya.  Luckily the hot flashes don’t last long.  I know — you were hoping for something more glamorous, but I’m lame at New Year’s Eve celebrations.  Since mid-life, fuzzy footies, a warm blanket and the television remote have replaced high heels, dancing, and sparkling beverages in my New Year’s tradition.  My idea of partying looks more like “Fat Tuesday”. I snarf up prime rib or lobster or steak and as much of the leftover Christmas cookie and candy stash as I can.

My motivation?  Umm — to lessen the caloric temptations for the world in the following year. It’s a sacrifice, but someone’s gotta do it. Also, by making my January 1st weigh-in high, the weigh scale numbers have nowhere to go but down. This raises the bar for weight loss potential.  It’s a win-win!

And, we go to bed early, so sugar plums can dance in our heads one last time before the stuffy New Year’s resolutions kick them out.

Fan your “on fi-ya” self and have a cookie or three this New Year’s Eve!  Consider it your end-of-the-year moral obligation.

Twisted Paparazzi Christmas

Don’t trust a spouse with an iPhone camera.  If he/she suddenly takes an interest in snapping pictures of you, don’t be flattered too quickly. If he/she then snickers while running away — you might consider confiscating his/her electronic weapon.  Or, you, too, could soon be wearing candy cane tights and green, pointy shoes.

Anyway, Merry Christmas — sigh — from my twisted husband.

Click here to get elf to dance. Wait a few seconds for the video to download.

On a good note: I do look slimmer in horizontal stripes.

Aye Aye, Captain

I’m practicing my salute in anticipation of our son’s return to the States next year.  He was recently promoted to Captain, but we didn’t get to witness his commissioning.  He serves our country with other brave men and women in a scary, far-off land that doesn’t specialize in tourism.  Yet, this is his second tour there — to try to make a difference.

To me, he’s still our little boy. I know he hates that, and could crush a coconut in the crook of his arm, but he’ll always be that to me — especially now.

I phoned our other son, Captain’s little 6’4-contractor-family-man brother, and asked “What should I send your brother?  What gift can possibly express, ‘Congratulations on becoming a Captain!'”

“Send him a box of Cap’n Crunch.”

Brothers are so sappy, aren’t they?  And, ingenious.

This inspired me to brainstorm for other resourceful items to commemorate the auspicious occasion.  After all, the Captain had sent me this Mother’s Day sentiment :

Caution! This video will lodge in your head and cause bad-hair dreams.
Also, an ad pops up.  Sorry.   I couldn’t find the original.

 So, here’s my list of TOP TEN THINGS TO SEND A NEW CAPTAIN.  You might want to use it — unless you have more cash (and class) than us.  And, I know, some of these items will only make him scratch his stubbly head:

10.  Captain America Blu Ray (So he gets one gift he can share with his men.)

9. Captain America T-shirt (So everyone will know he’s a Captain, even when he’s wearing civilian clothes.)


8. Captain Kangaroo’s Surprise Party Golden Book (Duh! Because it’s time to party!)

7. Captain America bobble head — Just because…


6. A Captain Jack Sparrow Tribute to the tune of “I Am Your Captain” by Grand Funk Railroad (Two Captains for the price of one.)

5. A YouTube of Captain Kangaroo with Mr. Moose. (Snappy dressers should stick together.)


4. Captain & Tennille YouTube – “Muskrat Love” (In case he starts to hate his job, he can consider what it’d be like to be  this captain.)


3. A box of Cap’n Crunch Cereal (Straight. No berries or peanut butter for a real Captain.)


2. A boxed set of Captain Underpants paperbacks.             (No explanation required.)



1. Nostalgic pictures of our Captain Underpants (packaged discreetly, so they don’t end up in enemy hands).


A Picture Book Without Pictures

A picture book without pictures is like the Pips without Gladys Knight:

Click the image to see the YouTube video

For the life of me, I can’t remember whose writer/illustrator blog featured this clever insight — but I concur.  I’m so thankful to have Elise Hylden, writer and illustrator, in our writers’ group.  She continually challenges me to say more with less.  At the 2011 MN SCBWI Conference, Illustrator Dan Santat noted the brilliance of children’s book author, Mac Barnett.

During a break, to uncover the secret of brilliant writing, I purchased Barnett and Santat’s collaboration, Oh No!  Was I surprised to find that the number of words in
Oh No! equals the number of times I use the bathroom in a day.  Yet the book was, as Santat promised, brilliant.

The illustrations that poured out of Barnett’s initial idea make the book.  Obviously, Dan Santat is one of the most brilliant illustrators Mac Barnett has ever met. The book is what it is because Barnett trusted.  He had faith in his illustrator to transform his thoughts into an out-of-this-world adventure.

I don’t have his trust — yet.  Sometimes I leave words, intending that they can be cut later, clutching to them as if to a life vest that holds my vision.  Barnett is more secure.

Barnett doesn’t need a critique group, but I wonder how Oh No! would fare under the scrutiny of the status quo.  I can see the margin scribbles on his manuscript:

       This makes absolutely no sense.

       You might need to explain this for blind kids.

       A giant frog seems a highly illogical choice to solve your protagonist’s dilemma.

       You don’t even tell your protagonist’s name for — wait!  You don’t ever tell your
protagonist’s name! Where is your character development?  Will she capture an audience if we don’t even know her name?

(My daydream has more words than the book.)

Just when I’m wrapping my head around Oh No!, Brian Snelznick comes out with
The Invention of Hugo Cabrat and Wonderstruck — thick, honkin’ books of silence.

Interestingly, these books that speak softly and carry big sticks are by men. My husband would be thrilled by this audibly “quiet”, visually “loud” trend — if he knew about it. Are these works possible for us word-abundant females?

Maybe I need more silence to see and hear clearly.