Saturday, December 31, 2011

Why I'm Saying No to Movies in 2012

I'm making a New Year's Resolution to stay out of the movie theatres in 2012. At least the major ones like Cineplex/Silver City. Here's my shortlist why:

1. I'm not your $$%%^&^ 'guest.'

As we approached the ticket booth, both my husband and I recoiled visibly (yes, there was even some twitching) when we heard, "Can we help the next guest in line?"

It's true, I'm a word nerd, but really. Guest???? In my understanding of the word, when you are someone's guest, they treat you. They do not stick their hand in all your pockets and shake you down for every last cent.

At my friend's party, I am a guest. At the theatre, I am a customer. Have the civility to not insult me by trying to construe our relationship as something it is not.

2. 3D.

At it's best, 3D only thrills for the first 30 seconds. Then you stop noticing the effect at all, except for that queasy feeling in your gut and the headache that forms between your eyebrows. I don't like it and don't want it, and definitely resent having to pay more for it. But guess what? I'm gonna get it. Even though we "guests"  have clearly communicated our lack of enthusiasm for 3D to the film industry. But so what? they can charge us more for it!

So don't expect 3D to go away anytime soon.

The only option I'm left with, then, is for me to go away. So I will.

3. Ads

This item is actually about 150 items. Because that is at least how many advertisements we were bombarded with at the theatre. Ads for movies are ok with me - promotional POS displays in the lobby, trailers for coming attractions - these belong in a theatre. Every other kind of ad - and let's not mince words here - sucks.

When theatres first started showing paid advertising way back when, I was one of those folks who booed and hissed. Here in polite Canada, I was pretty much alone in voicing my disapproval. As a result, the ads, which are universally despised, not only stayed, but multiplied exponentially. 

We now get ads on the screen before the curtain goes up and the lights dim. We get more ads for 15-20 minutes after the lights dim and before the movie trailer. We also get ads during the movie, in terms of product placement and video game plugs (more on this below).

The other night, we were treated to 45 freaking minutes of ads. Yes,we kept track.

This is a misuse of the cinema/customer relationship. I am paying the theatre to be entertained. Instead, they treat me like a captive pair of eyeballs that can be sold to third parties. I am no longer the customer, I am the product.

If my eyeballs are being sold to a 'real'  customer, (oh, right, I'm a 'guest!') then don't charge me for this privilege. Pay me, goddammit.

154. Interactive 'games.'

Gosh, you really think the audience is stupid, don't you, Cineplex? You tell us you are unrolling a new and exciting 'game' for us to play on our cell phones. Then you show us a tricked out 'interactive' car ad.

Sure, some of the audience is stupid, but not all of us. How long do you think it took the audience to realize you have sold our eyeballs, our cell phone IDs, and your own souls, yet again, for ad sales (at a premium)?

It took this eyeball-holder less than a nanosecond, and during that nanosecond I decided that I was not having fun anymore. In fact, I was thoroughly disgusted by your cynicism and naked opportunism. I could practically smell the greed rolling off the screen. It smelled like...sniff sniff....a bag of vomited-up popcorn.

In fact the experience sickened me so much, I decided there and then I might never repeat it. And I'd certainly never buy that tacky lo-rent red car you were flogging.

Go sell that interactive customer feedback (at a premium) to Ford.

155. Product placement.

We saw the movie Tin Tin. It  would have been a pleasant enough pastime if it hadn't cost us $36; The cost/benefit ratio was not there vis a vis the quality of the film.

But what really tanked the whole thing was that the film wasn't really a movie at all, but rather a vehicle for more product sales. Gee, how lovely those chase and action scenes will look when translated into the video game, which was of course advertised before the movie started, sandwiched between all those car and phone ads. Platforming game, perhaps? Chase game, perhaps? Crane battle game perhaps? Gross, obvious and lame, lame lame.

And how about all those damn Snowy toys we'll be seeing in mass market merchandisers? A Captain Haddock ringtone (Blistering Barnacles!) perhaps? Take-apart Unicorn Lego (complete with secret scroll!)? The movie doesn't even pretend  that this isn't its primary goal: to sell more shit.

And it is shit. You know it, we know it, they know it.

So I'm saying no to shit.

I'll only go to independently run theatres and small chains that treat me like a paying customer, not a pair of pockets to be turned inside out.

I'll only go to films at festivals, in which Toronto is blessed - the TIFF, The Jewish Film Festival, Hot Docs, etc. And I'll go to the Lightbox, which screens great movies and treats its patrons like intelligent beings.

In every relationship, both parties need to benefit. Sure, movie theatres have to make a buck - I don't begrudge them that. But there's a quid pro quo that is supposed to operate: you make a buck, and I get entertained.

But that's not how it works any more. My demands and desires are treated with disdain, and the theatre's naked self-interest is predominant and dominant. Our relationship is broken when the benefit all goes one way.

I know I don't represent the mass market. But I'm hoping this time I represent the front edge of the wedge, and the rest of y'all will also say no and stop paying for naked opportunism and corporate disdain.

I've got teenagers, so I can get my disrespect at home, for free. So my 2012 New Year's Resolution is to avoid cinemas that treat their 'guests' like pockets with legs.

Friday, December 23, 2011


Yes, the holiday is more about giving than receiving. But when I got these three pieces of news, I was pretty happy about being on the receiving end.

First, Porcupine in a Pine Tree hit #1 for children's bestsellers overall on Canadian Bookseller's List.

Second, Magic Up Your Sleeve has been shortlisted for the Rocky Mountain Book Award.

And third, I found out that the TV show I've been working on, Planet Echo, has been renewed for the third year.

So it's seems true that good news comes in threes.

Wishing you and yours a happy holiday season and all good things for 2012!

Monday, December 19, 2011

School Library Journal Reviews Juba This Juba That

What a lovely holiday present - a nice review from SLJ! Here's what it says:

"This modern-day version of a traditional African chant imagines an adventure that happens one evening when a dark-skinned boy follows a yellow cat to the fair. They laugh at their reflections in the House of Mirrors, take a spooky fun-house ride, and generally have a wonderful time before returning home to bed. Becker’s simple rhyme plays with opposites and is just right for clapping and bouncing along. Lightburn’s lively illustrations perfectly capture the joy of the nighttime escapade and extend the story. The boy and cat are set against backgrounds of diagonal streaks of cool colors that aptly convey movement and a sense of fantasy. This is a good choice for reading aloud to an active group of youngsters."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How to Get Kids to Read -It's Easy!

As a follow up to yesterday's post, I thought I'd present the single best way to get kids to read. It's so easy it's mindboggling.

Let them pick their own books.

I know it's hard for control-freaky parents to let go of the reins, even a little. And reading-level controlled teachers with nervous administrators and mandatory borrow-a-book programs might even break into a cold sweat at the thought. But when kids pick their own books, voila! They find stuff they like. And then, double voila! They want to keep reading.

It's shocking, I know but true, the books you loved when you were a kid might just not thrill your progeny. My kids can't stand any of the carefully curated collection I built for them from my own childhood faves.

And books that they should read, because they are worthy? Can you say 'kiss o' death?' No devoted reader was ever birthed from a forced encounter with The Stone Angel.

What if they choose books that are above their reading level? Won't that hurt their confidence? Perhaps, but that's just as it should be. Junior may learn that he doesn't exactly know everything yet, and the world doesn't shine out of his ass. The world will thank you for this. Besides, if the book is really interesting (and maybe even has dirty pictures), well, the motivation to improve one's reading skills is right there, and the means to develop them right at hand. Literacy 101 and Citizenship 101 at one easy go.

If you must must must feel compelled to choose books for your kids, at least pick books that kids are known to like. The good folks over at Sympatico have put together a short list of their top ten kid-tested and kid-worthy reads. I'm pleased to see my own Hilarious History of Hockey made this list (but of course it would- it has pucks made out of frozen cow poo in it, and you can't get more kid-friendly than that).

So buy em all, and leave all ten top titles scattered around for your kids to find. They'll be reading like fiends before you know it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Is Reading Fun?

Is reading fun? As a confirmed bookworm, I can reply with only one answer - of course it is. But that's not true for everyone - especially today's kids.  Even while literacy scores have been improving, we've managed to create a new generation of non-readers. According to an article in this week's National Post, fewer kids today report that they enjoy reading than they did a decade ago, despite an overall increase in literacy. 

My ultra-articulate response to this story is, "No duh." For at least the last decade, it's been obvious to those of us who care about literacy and reading that literacy education has been hijacked by the bureaucrats - functionaries who see the ability to read strictly as a job skill useful for future worker bees. Their view is that kids need to be taught to read - to decode written symbols - in order to produce valuable output - data entry, form-filling, ticking off of boxes on a customer satisfaction survey. The practical skill called literacy is completely divorced from what I would call true literacy - the ability to gather information from written sources of all kinds as a way to independently satisfy any curiosity.

In the reading-as-job-skill world view, reading for pleasure is beside the point, a distraction that interferes with measurable outcomes. So teacher-librarians, who spend their day encouraging kids to waste their time  - and tax payers' dollars  - giggling over books instead of building those black and white test scores, become redundant. And those expensive obsolete print collections called school libraries?  Frills. Let's put in a computer lab instead and call our job done. 

That has to be the thinking. Otherwise, how could politicians and educators spout the importance of literacy ad nauseum  while simultaneously gutting school libraries and eliminating school librarians?

With this week's news story, at last, the other shoe drops. Because of course you can't separate the love of reading from true literacy, any more than you can separate melody from music appreciation. There needs to be a reason to read, one that is meaningful to the reader, and not the bureaucrat, to drive true literacy. That reason comes when one discovers for one's self how books - and comics and magazines and DVDs -  open the world in unexpected ways, and how they can take you on a unique and highly personal journey.

Let's hope this new study gets the pendulum swinging back in the right direction. Let's put literacy education back into the hands of book lovers, people who revere the written world and respect children enough to let them come to the love of reading the only way possible - through old-fashioned discovery. And let's support - by funding AND through an appreciation of the critical role they play - the teacher-librarians in our schools.

They are the beating heart at the centre of any truly literate school community.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Storywalk for Juba? #fb #kidlit

Portland, Maine, is the home of a wonderful project called Storywalk. Text from a picture book is spread out on several signposts along a park's path. Families walk the path, read the story, and do accompanying actions tied to the book and to the location. The idea is to get kids reading and exercising, all at once!

Here's a photo of the Portland Storywalk, featuring the book, "And Here's to You!" by David Elliott (Candlewick Press) (photo courtesy Bangor Daily News)

When I returned from holiday, I got the good news that Bridgetown, Nova Scotia's public library is considering installing a similar storywalk in that town - featuring Juba This, Juba That! It does seem to be a perfect match up, both because the book reflects the historic roots of the city, and the because of the active nature of the story itself, which would be an ideal read-and-do adventure.

So thrilling to think about!!!

It's not a done deal yet, so keep your fingers crossed!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Porcupine Hits #1!!

How pretty it looks - Porcupine at the tippy top of the Christmas books bestsellers list for 2011.

Porcupines Don't Like To Share

And can you blame them, when they have nice sweet juicy corn on the cob?

Now you know what to buy dear Quilliam, the porcupine in the pine tree, for his Xmas gift.

Because: Science!