Monday, June 30, 2008

Stop! In the Name of the Law...

It is good to live in the USA...but you just gotta wonder at some of the laws we're required to live by:

In San Francisco, California, it is illegal to wipe your car with dirty underwear. (Whooo, I'd be SO arrested if I lived there...)

In Kansas, it is illegal to practice knife-throwing at any man wearing a striped shirt. (Soooo, are polka-dots OK? What if the striped-shirt-wearer is a woman?)

Canton, Mississippi has a law that says you can't kill a squirrel with a gun in a courtroom. (I just don't even know what to say for this one.)

North Carolinians may not use elephants to plow cotton fields. (What about corn fields?)

In Atlanta, Georgia, it is against the law to tie a giraffe to a telephone pole or street lamp. (I guess tying it to a fence is alright, though...)

In Idaho, it is illegal for a man to give his sweetheart a box of chocolates weighing less than 50 pounds. (Drat! This one was repealed. Guess I better go unpack...)

It is illegal to flick boogers out of a window in Alabama. (Oh, I can barely type for the huge giggle fit now in progress!)

A law in Alaska says one may not push a moose from a moving airplane. And, one may shoot a sleeping bear, but may not wake the bear to take it's picture.

In California, you cannot move more than two thousand sheep down Hollywood Boulevard at one time. (Crap! Now how will I move the dang things?)

Also in sunny California, a vehicle without a driver may not exceed 60 miles per hour. (Let's ponder that one a moment...)

Connecticut law says a pickle is not a pickle unless it bounces.

In Maryland, it is illegal to take a lion to the movies.

Florida law says one is prohibited from farting after 6 PM on Thursdays. (But once Friday comes, well, let 'er rip!)

One may not catch a fish with one's bare hands in Indiana. Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, the only body part that may be used to catch one's mouth.

Kansans may not use mules to hunt ducks.

If you live in Maine, it is illegal to step out of a plane while it is in mid-flight. (Alrighty.)

In Montana, a sheep may not be in the cab of a truck without a chaperone. (Baaaaaaad sheep!)

Nebraska has a law on the books that says a parent may be arrested for their child burping in church. (So, what happens if it's the parent that burps?)

It is illegal in New York to throw a ball at someone's head for fun. (It must be OK as long as you're serious about it.)

Ohioans who own tigers must notify authorities within one hour if the tiger escapes. (Edna: Hey, Earl! The dang tiger's out again! You better call the authorities. Earl: Alright, alright! Just lemme finish my sandwich first.)

In Wilbur, Washington, it is illegal to ride an ugly horse.

Pennsylvanians are prohibited from singing in the bathtub. (Uh oh! Handsome Boy better watch out...)

In South Dakota, no horses are permitted into Fountain Inn unless they are wearing pants.

Wyoming has a law that says one may not take a picture of a rabbit from January to April without an official permit. (Geez. The Easter Bunny is getting really strict on the paparazzi thing...)

Yep, there's a ton of silly laws out there, and not just here in the States. Drop me a comment with some of your faves not listed here (and remember, keep them kid-friendly, please)...


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Book Review: The Willoughbys, by Lois Lowry

Once upon a time there was a family named Willoughby: an old-fashioned type of family, with four children.

The Willoughbys begins with this innocent and fairly benign sentence. The rest of the book, however, is anything but. A baby mysteriously appears on the Willoughbys' doorstep. Since no one wants this "beastly baby," the Willoughby children - Tim, the twins Barnaby and Barnaby (called simply A and B), and Jane - are dispatched by their mother to "Dispose of it. I'm making meatloaf." The baby is taken to another doorstep. Soon after, the Willoughby children hatch a plan to orchestrate the demise of their parents. Meanwhile, the Willougby parents hatch a plan to sell the house and disperse the children. Do the parents perish? Are the children scattered? And what happens to the poor "beastly" baby?

Not too thick, and not too thin, The Willoughbys is the perfect book to read on lazy summer afternoons. The bright red door peeking through the black and white drawings on the book cover draw the reader to come closer and take a peek. The book feels once-upon-a-time-ish with its simple drawings, ragged-edged pages, and of course the characters' own assertion that they are an old-fashioned family. 

Interspersed throughout this nefarious tale are snippets from and references to many classic stories, from Hansel and Gretel to James and the Giant Peach, and everything in between. But, the story doesn't take itself too seriously. It is, in fact, a tongue-in-cheek, playful parody on the classic old-fashioned stories: long-lost relatives, orphaned children, ill-tempered parents, abandoned babies, and strict nannies.

For even more fun, the author has included two extras at the end. First is a glossary, with definitions given for many of the words used in the book, along with some humorous commentary for each one, written as if she were just sitting and chatting with the reader. Second is a bibliography of all the stories and books mentioned in The Willoughbys, listing title, author, and a brief summary for each one.

For Teachers and Librarians:
This book make a great ending to a classic literature unit. Your students will enjoy reading/hearing about the dastardly plots of the parents and children, and laugh at how it all turns out. You can easily use it as a review, asking the children to identify and discuss the plot points of traditional stories that this book subtly makes fun of: the abandoned baby, the uncaring parents, the long-lost relative, the strict nanny, etc. The glossary and bibliography at the end are also great tools - for comic relief as well as education, and may make your young scholars seek out the titles listed, to see just what the Willoughbys were referring to throughout this book.

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
What a fun book to read together, or to give to your special kiddos to read on their own! It's a great summer read, as it's a book that doesn't take itself too seriously, but has such an interesting plot with so many surprising turns of events and ridiculous situations (which the characters pass off as nothing more than normal) that kids can't help but enjoy going along for the ride. Since the author sprinkles in titles and happenings from other classic literature throughout, it may cause your young readers to ask to visit the library or bookstore to pick up those titles as well.

For the Kids:
You will love, love, love The Willoughbys. It is a lot of fun! The Willoughby family is old-fashioned, but they have some interesting adventures. When the children find a baby girl on the doorstep, the oldest boy, Tim, names her Ruth, for a reason. What is it? The Willoughby twins both have the name Barnaby - and even the parents shorten it to call them "A" and "B." (But they're not the only Barnabys in this book. Hmm...) When the kids realize they don't like their parents very much, they decide to get rid of them. When the parents realize they don't like their kids very much, they decide to get rid of them. And none of them knows what the other is doing. How does it all turn out? Then there's the nanny the parents hired - how does she fit into all this? And can you believe it - that tiny baby turns out to be very important for everyone, without even knowing it. How could that be? Read it and find out...

For Everyone Else:
The Willoughbys is a fun, slightly twisted variation of the old stories you remember from childhood. In this parody, the children want to become winsome orphans, the parents are ridiculously uncaring, and misfortune is exaggerated to humorous proportions. You might especially enjoy the glossary at the end - the definitions are correct, but it's the extra little tidbits the author adds on to each one that will have you giggling out loud.

Wrapping Up:
The Willoughbys is a delightful departure from the usual old-fashioned tale. Find a comfy chair, curl up, and get reading. You won't be sorry!

Title: The Willoughbys
Author and Illustrator: Lois Lowry
Pages: 176
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher and Date: Houghton Mifflin/Walter Lorraine Books, March 2008
Edition: 1st
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $16.00
ISBN-10: 0618979743
ISBN-13: 978-0618979745

Author Spotlight: Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry dreamed of being a professional writer since childhood. One marriage, two college degrees, and four kids later, she achieved that dream. Since then, she has written everything from fun and quirky to somber and serious.

On her website, Ms Lowry says that her works, while different one from another in style and content, have essentially the same theme - the importance of human connections:
"the vital need of people to be aware of their interdependence, not only with each other, but with the world and its environment."

Born on March 20, 1937, Lois Lowry was the middle child of three. She first lived in Honolulu, Hawaii. Because her father was a career military dentist, the family moved to many other places: Hawaii, New York, Pennsylvania, Tokyo, and Washington, D.C. Throughout her childhood, writing was her best subject in school, and she would fill notebooks with her own stories and poems. 

In 1956, at nineteen, she left Brown University and married a Naval officer, which meant more moves and more additions to the list of places she has called home: California, Connecticut, Florida, South Carolina and Massachusetts.

She went back to school to earn her BA in English Literature from the University of Southern Maine in 1972, then went on to pursue graduate studies. It was during grad school that she discovered photography, using her photos to accompany the freelance writing she began after graduation. One article in Redbook magazine - written for adults, from the point of view of a child - caught the attention of a Houghton Mifflin editor, who encouraged her to write a children's book. 

The result was her first children's book: A Summer to Die, published in 1977, and winner of the International Reading Association's Children's Book Award. Since then, she has continued writing for children, with over 30 books published to date. Her work has received many awards, including Newbery Medals for both Number the Stars (1990) and The Giver (1994).

Divorced since 1977, Lois Lowry and now divides her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and an 1870's farmhouse in Maine.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Educational Junk Mail

So, I'm perusing my email, and I click on the Junk Mail folder. It's always interesting to see what pops up in the subject line. Sometimes, those lines are downright icky, and I can't hit delete fast enough. Other times, I see a message I'm expecting in my Inbox, and mutter to myself as I transfer it, "No! No! No! I want that one!" (But it's never one of those icky ones.) And then there are the run of the mill ads that I yawn and delete at a more leisurely pace.

But today, I have added a fourth category to my Junk Mail sort: Educational. That's right - I said educational. I learned a new word today, and it's all because of the subject line of one of my junk mails. It contained the word...

I have never before seen or heard this word, yet there it was, big as you please in the subject line of a junk mail. Curious, I did a web search for it. Point-one-one seconds later, I'm staring at "Results 1-10 of about 148,000 for awesomesauce." One hundred forty-eight thousand results! Who knew? (Obviously not me...)

Anyway, here - courtesy of - are the definitions:

awesomesauce - 
     1. Something that is more awesome than awesome. It is
         a modifier of your basic awesome into a more 
         awesome version.

     2. It is the power within. It lets you feel great about 
       something and accomplish your goals.

    3. A more exaggerated word for awesome.

    4. Something or someone truly amazing. Usually: more 
        awesome than the word "awesome" can describe.

     5. noun, liquid cool; the opposite of weaksauce

Even better, on the page where "awesomesauce" is listed, they also have a ton of variations on the theme, including, but not limited to:awesomenizzleness, awesomesaucical, awesometacular, awesometown, and (my personal favorite) awesomepantyloonies.

Blogger's spell check is going totally bonkers with this post...but I don't care. I am reveling in my impromptu education. 

I hope the rest of your day is totally awesomesauce!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

Note: If you decide to check out the site, please be aware: though all the definitions I've listed here are kid-friendly, Urban Dictionary (in general) is not not not a site for the little guys... definitely oriented toward the college+ crowd. I didn't enable any links there 'cause I know at least one semi-small fry who likes to read this blog...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Excuses, Excuses

I am a writer.

There. I said it. It has taken me most of the past year to be comfortable uttering that sentence out loud when someone asks me what I do. Of course, right after that comes the inevitable, "Really! What have you published?" To which I must sheepishly reply, "Oh, I'm not published, unless you count my blog. Nor am I paid to write. Yet. But the process of getting there is fun."

Sort of.

See, my creative juices, if you will, come in fits and bursts, which is downright annoying. Like, last summer: I sat in my driveway, keeping an eye on the kiddos as they played outside, while hunched over my then ancient laptop, furiously typing away on this totally awesome novel for the 8-12 year old set. Seriously, the ideas came faster than I could type them, so I ended up ditching the computer entirely and scribbling just as furiously in a notebook. Later on, I would type it all in and do edits, then keep repeating the process the next day, and the next day, and the next. I had a good three to four weeks of that kind of energy. Then, WHAM! Hit with a great big wall of nuthin'. I was barely into the story - maybe six chapters or so, and then could not for the life of me coax the rest of the story out. I knew what I wanted to say (still do) but the words were holding out on me.

So, that story lurks in my subconscious, churning around while I work on manuscript number 2. This one also seems to have the right stuff, and my critique group has had great things to say so far. While I've had a better time of it this go 'round, it's still not the steady stream of creativity I keep hoping for. It's more like three or four days of furious scribbling and typing, then a week (or two) of nuthin'. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

However, the blogging is coming along fairly regularly, and I haven't yet run out of ideas, so perhaps my steady stream of creativity in the novel department is just a bit of a late bloomer. We shall see.

In the meantime, I have compiled a list for those like me who are riding the (hopefully) temporary Creative Roller Coaster. So, here ya go - a big 'ol list for you to pick and choose from, so you can finally have a name (or names) for what literarily ails ye:

Writer's Fears Excuse List: 
Plausible Explanations for One's (Temporary) Creative Deficits

Papyrophobia - fear of paper (Ahh - the ominous blank page...)

Bibliophobia - fear of books (Whoa! This may be quite a roadblock in your path to novel-dom.)

Ideophobia - fear of ideas ('nuff said...)

Phronemophobia - fear of thinking (I think a lot of us could use this one!)

Verbophobia - fear of words (Quite a hindrance for a writer.)

Graphophobia - fear of writing (The BIG one!)

Catagelophobia - fear of being ridiculed (Hey! It's like that time I dreamed I showed up at school in my undies, and then everybody laughed at me, and then - oh... nevermind...that was no dream...)

Neophobia - fear of anything new (Yeah...)

Atychiphobia - fear of failure (Oh, yeah...)

Prosophobia - fear of progress (Hmmmm)

Euphobia - fear of hearing good news (What? They like my story? Eeeeeek!)

Leukophobia - fear of the color white (Perhaps buying pink paper, instead? Oooh! Or how about baby blue? That's a nice, non-threatening color...)

Melanophobia - fear of the color black (Try the magenta font color, instead. Pretty, no?)

Mythophobia - fear of making false statements (The most unfortunate James Frey hullabaloo comes to mind...)

Rhabdophobia - fear of being severely criticized ( Oprah. On LIVE TV...)

Catagelophobia - fear of being ridiculed ( Oprah. On LIVE TV...)

Liticaphobia - fear of lawsuits (...and of watching your memoir author creds break up into A Million Little Pieces...)
Metrophobia - fear of poetry (Solution: switch to prose. Hey, it worked for Megan McDonald ...Well, she didn't have a fear of poetry - but her college prof did tell her to go home and rip up all her poetry, 'cause she was a prose writer... How's that for brutal honesty?)

Monday, June 23, 2008

I Wonder...

Some of you out there like to take a gander at the Wacky Holidays list in my sidebar. You just gotta wonder - since these are genuine, honest-to-goodness, on-the-books holidays - who makes these things up, and how on earth did they get to be official?

I mean, take a look at June 22, which was (among other things) Stupid Guy Thing Day. Now, before any of you guys get all bent out of shape, I don't make these holidays...I just list 'em as I find 'em. But back to my thought...

So, June 22 was Stupid Guy Thing Day

And what is today, June 23? Yes, yes, it's National Pink Day, but stay with me here. Focus! What really makes you go "Hmmmm..." is that it's also...

...Let It Go Day.

OK, OK, everybody say it with me: Hmmmmm... (Yeah, you've got that song in your head now, don't you? Things That Make You Go Hmmm... c'mon, I know there are some other C+C Music Factory fans lurking out there!)

And, then! Get this - tomorrow, June 24, is...

...drum roll please...

                ...National Forgiveness Day.



I wonder... 

Friday, June 20, 2008

Book Review: Stink and the Great Guinea Pig Express, by Megan McDonald

     When they finally got unstuck, Stink looked at the Great Wall. He could not believe his eyes. The Great Wall was moving. The Great Wall was quaking. "Look!" he said, pointing.
     "Why is it moving?" asked Webster.
     "Maybe it's the wind," said Sophie.
     "Does the wind go wee, wee, wee, wee, wee?" asked Stink.

What do you get when you mix together one determined seven-year-old boy, his two best friends, a kind-hearted pet shop owner, and 101 rescued guinea pigs? A recipe for fun, that's what! Stink and the Great Guinea Pig Express stars Stink Moody and his friends Sophie and Webster. Together with Mrs. Birdwistle, they embark on a fun-filled journey to Virginia Beach and back in "a rattle trap camper full of one hundred and one guinea pigs" which they dub Squeals on Wheels. Their mission: to find good homes for every one of those wiggly piggies.

Just the right size to tuck in a backpack or take along for a car ride, this book's bright orange cover and colorful book jacket showing a camper full of guinea pigs will draw young readers to pull it off the shelf. Megan McDonald's imaginative prose, sprinkled here and there with trivia-like factoids that go along with the story, is perfectly complemented by Peter Reynolds' endearing black and white illustrations. As per usual in the Stink series, each chapter is punctuated by a graphic-novel-style comic at the end, giving the reader interesting, little known facts - this time, all about guinea pigs. 

The author also includes something of a public service announcement at the end of the book, directed right to the reader, explaining that pet adoption is a big responsibility. She directs them to the library to learn more about guinea pig care, and even includes a website to check out for those interested in learning more about guinea pig rescue. Kids will not only be entertained by the antics of the guinea pigs, they'll also be learning about them. But shhhhh! Don't tell them, and they'll never even realize they're having fun that's also educational...

For Teachers and Librarians:
This book lends itself well to several subjects: pet ownership and it's ensuing responsibilities; geography, history and interesting sights in Virginia; animal welfare; activism on a kid-sized scale. Have the kids mark a Virginia map at each place the gang visits. Let them research those places. Maybe they could create a care and feeding chart for guinea pigs, or a "How to Take Good Care of a Pet" booklet. How about discussing treatment of animals in general? Create "Save the Guinea Pigs" posters. There are so many ways to go with this. And of course, there's always reading for fun - and it is a fun book! Which one will you choose?

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Considering getting a pet? This is a fun springboard to introduce the guinea pig option, and some of their behaviors, and a little about the time it takes to care for them. If you happen to be traveling to Virginia Beach this summer, you could map out the gang's route there, and stop at each place they stopped. If not, map out a route to wherever you may vacation or take a trip. Pick some spots to stop and explore. Have your own Stink-like adventure! Not traveling or getting a pet? Then lucky you, because the book is still fun to read just for the heck of it - and your little charges will learn a thing or two without even trying...

For the Kids:
Stink is a fun kid. He has crazy ideas that somehow manage to work out, and not always the way he thought they would. He has great friends. He has a sister who likes to tease him, but likes to hear his ideas, too. And somehow, Stink always manages to have these great adventures that are so fun to read about. This time, he travels in a guinea-pig-packed camper all the way to Virginia Beach in search of good homes for each one of those piggies. Will they be able to find homes for all those guinea pigs? Where will they go? What will they see? And, will there be any guinea pigs left over for Stink to adopt? Better go find the book, so you can find out, huh?

Wrapping Up:
Stink and the Great Guinea Pig Express is a charming tale about the big things little kids can do with great ideas, a little elbow grease, and a some help from supportive adults. And, there's guinea pigs. What's not to like?

Title: Stink and the Great Guinea Pig Express
Author: Megan McDonald
Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds
Pages: 128
Reading Level: Ages 4-8
Publisher and Date: Candlewick, 2008
Edition: 1st
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $12.99
ISBN-10: 0763628352
ISBN-13: 978-0763628352

Author Spotlight: Megan McDonald

As the youngest of five sisters growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Megan McDonald often had trouble wedging in her own two cents' worth at the dinner table each evening. So, her mother gave her a notebook where she could write out everything she wanted to say, but couldn't get out. This notebook, plus a vivid imagination and great love of books, became the foundation of her writing career. It made her realize the importance of having her own voice in her writing. To date, she has churned out over 25 books for children and young adults which have won numerous awards.

Mrs. McDonald's first published work ran in a local newspaper when she was just ten years old. She wrote a story about the life of a pencil sharpener - from the sharpener's point of view, telling the reader all about "a life of eating pencil shavings all day."

When she began studies at Oberlin College, in Ohio, she intended to major in Creative Writing. However, the professor in her first writing class told her to go home and tear up all her poetry, because she was a prose writer. She didn't even know what that was, and went home to look it up. She ended up earning a BA in English, with a focus on Children's Literature, in 1981. She did her graduate work at the University of Pittsburgh, earning a Master of Library Science in 1986. It was also here where she met her future husband, Richard, whom she married in 1994.

Mrs. McDonald has held jobs as a park ranger, bookseller, museum guide, librarian and storyteller. But it wasn't until 1990 that her first book was published. Is This a House for Hermit Crab? received the Teacher's Choice Book Award from the International Reading Association, and was featured in an episode of Reading Rainbow. Since then, she has gone on to write many other books for both children and young adults, including the critically acclaimed Judy Moody series. In fact, it was due to request by fans of Judy Moody that she branched out with another series starring Judy's younger brother, Stink.

Megan McDonald believes any idea can be turned into a story:

"Story can come from memory or experience. It seems to come from everywhere, and out of nowhere. In everything there is as story - a leaf falling, the smell of cinnamon, a dog that looks both ways before crossing the street. The idea, the seed of a story, is implicit - but requires paying attention, watching, seeing, listening, smelling, eavesdropping...To be a writer for children, I continue to believe in the transformative power of story that connects children with books."


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Nessie - Fact or Fiction?

Fact! At least, according to my English 12 high school term paper, it is...

The Loch Ness Monster first came to my attention when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. It kept my attention until I was much, much taller than that blasted grasshopper. In fact, it hung out in my consciousness so much, I centered my senior year term paper on the Nessie controversy. My thesis? 

The Loch Ness Monster...Exists!

Oh, yes! I said he was R-E-A-L real! I took pages and pages of notes. I filled out hundreds of index cards. I read teeny-tiny print in scientific-type tomes until my eyes crossed. That's right: notes on paper, index cards, and books. When I was in school, computers were still big boxes with black screens and green text with a blinking green block for a cursor. "Internet" was not in our vocabulary, nor was it invented yet. (Al Gore did that, remember??)

Anyway, I was absolutely convinced that Loch Ness in Scotland had a very big, very elusive creature in residence. No doubt. Then, in 1994, my hopes were dashed - only momentarily, but dashed just the same. 

It all had to do with the famous "Surgeon's Photograph:"

Supposedly taken in 1934 by Dr. Robert Wilson (a surgeon - hence the name "Surgeon's Photograph..."), it was the only photograph of Nessie bearing evidence of a head and neck - all others showed only humps or disturbances - and it sparked further interest in the creature.

But then, in 1994, enter the shocking deathbed confession of 90-year-old Christian Spurling. According to Spurling, this famous photo shows nothing more than a toy submarine, with a serpentine neck and head fashioned from wood clay. He claimed he made the contraption at the behest of his father-in-law, Marmaduke Wetherell, as part of a revenge-driven hoax. (You can read more about it here.)

What? The photo was faked? My long-held belief that Nessie lives was squashed by some clown who took a picture of a toy submarine with some clay stuck on it?? The fun was over? 

Luckily, I got hold of myself before panic set in too deeply. Since, by then, Al Gore's invention had taken hold, I raced to my computer and searched the internet for evidence to the contrary. Nessie had to be real. He just had to...

Well, I am relieved to say that this (and admittedly many other) hoaxes have not deterred the true believers. For every Nessie Naysayer site saying the Loch Ness Monster is all a buncha hooey, there are plenty of other sites listing all kinds of evidence that he (or she) is alive and well... if more than a teensy bit reclusive.

And so, the debate rages on. With luck, though, we'll never find the Loch Ness Monster... 

           ...'cause the search is the fun part, after all!

                                          - - -

I used these sources for my post, but if you do a Google search, you will be overwhelmed with tons of info both for and against the idea of the Loch Ness Monster's existence. Which side are you on?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

My Fudge-y Dilemma

June 16 is National Fudge Day, and I really, really, really want to celebrate it. 

I do. 

But I can't. 

Because I can't for the life of me make fudge. I have tried many many times, burning more pans than I care to discuss and filling my house with the stench of burnt chocolate so many times that I finally just gave up. My only recourse when I have a fudge craving is to: A. Buy some at the store, or B. Put in a call to Mom. 

I have to be honest - I never choose Option A. But this time I don't have the luxury of Option B. See, I forgot to call and ask her and now it's too late because she lives four hours away from me and National Fudge Day is tomorrow and it would never get here in time and besides all that she's out of town and I really prefer homemade... so I guess I'm stuck.  And I- What? Did you say fudge snob? Hmmm.... Yes. Well. Probably so. 

Aaaanyhoo, is there an Option C? Let's look... Why, yes, there is! Tomorrow is also... oh. Fresh Veggies Day. Yeeeeeah... I, uh, well... Here's the thing: I like vegetables and all, but they just don't stack up to fudge in the "Gee, I Really Want to Celebrate This" category.

Alrighty then. I'd better look for an Option D. Aaaahhh. There it is. Last on the list for tomorrow: No Orange Clothes Day. Well, it's not tasty, but it'll have to do. Option D it is, then.

(But man, I really did want that fudge! Oh, well... there's always next year...)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Book Review: The Tickle-Octopus, by Audrey Wood

One morning, about a million years ago, Ughmaw awakened with a bone in her nose and a frown on her grumpy face.

The Tickle-Octopus is a prehistoric romp through one cave family's hilarious journey of reconnection. Through the actions and courage of the parents' sole remaining offspring and his wiggly, pink discovery, this particularly grumpy cave family learns the cathartic and unexpected effects of participating in the lighter side of life. 

Slightly larger that a standard sheet of paper, with an interesting peek-hole in the cover, The Tickle-Octopus is the perfect antidote for a case of the blah's.  A reader can't help but pick up this book. Everything from the thick, sturdy cover with way unusual edges, to the curiosity-inspiring title, to the delightfully primitive yet expressive illustrations just screams, "Read me!" And that's only the outside...

The team of Wood and Wood have created yet another book with all the stuff a kid loves: funny pictures full of wild-haired cave people, silly nonsense language (with translation), and a kid who teaches the grown-ups a thing or two. To extend the fun, they've even included some fold-put pages with great cut-out edging that follows the illustrations, giving the reader some extra, larger-than-life, three-panel views into Bup the Caveboy's world.

For Teachers and Librarians:
If your school year isn't over yet, The Tickle-Octopus is just the thing for a fun read-aloud/art project. Be sure to really ham up the cave-speak. Your little charges will just love it! After you read it, have your students create their own version of a tickle-octopus, and tell the class about it. What is it? What does it do? What does it look like? How does it help people? If you're lucky enough to be done for the summer, keep it in mind for next year. It's a great springboard for a discussion on feelings, family, and doing things together (instead of starting at the tube). And, you can still do the art project, too. I've done this one in my own classrooms, and it's always been a hit!

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Are the kiddos squabbling a lot? Slumping around complaining there's nothing to do? Then this book is just what you need! Read it aloud to them, or hand it to them and let them go on their own. Either way, they will not be able to hold off the giggles! It's funny to read out loud, and it's funny to listen to, and best of all, by the time the book is over, they'll be in a much better mood...

For the Kids:
Don't you just love it when a book shows a kid being the smart one in the family? Bup the Caveboy is his grumpy parents' only child that's left, so they block the cave with a rock before they go out hunting, to make sure he doesn't disappear, too. While they're gone, he finds this pink, wiggly thing. When he finds out what it does, he knows exactly what he has to do. What does he find? What does the thing do? And will his parents ever not be grumpy? Hmmm. Guess you better go find the book so you can figure it all out...

For Everyone Else:
Silly is as silly does. This may be a kid's book, but I'll tell you, it is a hoot. And, it certainly makes you re-examine your priorities. 

Wrapping Up:
The Tickle-Octopus is one of those books everyone should have on their shelf at home. It's funny, it's cute, it's silly, it's family friendly, and it shows the power a determined kid can have in this sometimes gloomy world of ours.

Title: The Tickle-Octopus
Author: Audrey Wood
Illustrator: Don Wood
Pages: 48
Reading Level: Ages 4-8
Publisher and Date: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1994
Edition: 1st
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $14.95*
ISBN-10: 0152870008
ISBN-13: 978-0152870003

*Note: This is the price listed on my personal copy. I have yet to find a new copy for sale online, and suspect it may be out of print. I did find used versions on places like Amazon and Abebooks, but they ranged anywhere from $20 to $50 per copy, depending on condition.

Author Spotlight: Audrey Wood

Audrey Wood's love of storytelling has been a vital part of her life since childhood. Her art student father earned extra money at the winter headquarters of the Ringling Brothers Circus by re-painting the big top and side show art work. She remembers when she was very small: her mother took her there to watch her father work, and regaled her with stories about the people in the colorful circus murals her father painted.

Ms Wood, in turn, became storyteller to her two younger sisters, making up stories about the paintings in her parents' art books. By fourth grade, she says, "I had two burning ambitions: I wanted to live in Dr. Doolittle's house, and I wanted to write and illustrate children's books." In fact, Audrey Wood comes from a long line of artists dating back to the 15th century, and she has the distinction of being the only female artist in the family.

In the late 1960's, she moved to Berkeley, California, to pursue art on her own. By 1969, she was experimenting with art, teaching children's art, and writing stories. It was then that she met Don Wood, who became not only her husband, but also her collaborator. Both Woods believe a book should have a rhythm, and that children's books should be enjoyed by kids and adults alike.

Audrey Wood has written 46 books for children, many of which have won numerous awards, including: the ALA Notable Children's Book distinction for The Napping House (1984) and Piggies (1992), and a Caldecott Honor Medal for King Bidgood's in the Bathtub (1986).

Audrey Wood: About the Author* Link no longer valid as of April 2013
Author Study: Audrey Wood* Link no longer valid as of April 2013

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Most Unfortunate Day

Tomorrow, an estimated 20 to 67 million people will experience a fear so paralyzing, it may keep them from getting out of bed in the morning. They may refuse to travel, call in sick, or not complete business. They may experience anything from nervousness to panic attacks to even heart attacks. What is it that will cause such a large group of people to have such incapacitating experiences tomorrow? And what's so special about tomorrow, anyway?

Those tens of millions of people are suffering from paraskavedekatriaphobia: a morbid, irrational fear of Friday the 13th. 

Any month that begins on a Sunday will contain a Friday the 13th. This day/date combo can happen anywhere from 1-3 times per year. But take heart, paraskavedekatriaphobes, as you'll have somewhat of a reprieve this year. 2008 has only one Friday the 13th, and tomorrow is it. 

Friday the 13th is considered a day of bad luck in much of Western Europe, North America, and Australia. It is a superstition born of two separate fears: fear of the number 13 (covered yesterday), and fear of Friday. In the British tradition, Friday was the usual day for public hangings. Christians believe Jesus was crucified on a Friday. Adam and Eve supposedly ate the forbidden fruit on a Friday. Some theologians hold that the Great Flood and the confusion of the Tower of Babel both fell on Fridays.

So, to have the 13th day of the month fall on a Friday is some bad juju, indeed. The spectre of Friday the 13th is enough to cause otherwise rational people and even organizations to do seemingly irrational things to avoid it. The US Navy will not launch a ship on any Friday the 13th. Lloyd's of London, in the 1800's, refused to insure any ship sailing on a Friday the 13th. Some ocean liner captains will go to great lengths to delay a planned Friday the 13th launch until just after midnight, when it is technically Saturday the 14th.

People point to past disasters to support their fear/superstition: During the 18th century, the HMS Friday was launched on a Friday the 13th - and was never heard from again. The Black Friday bushfires in Victoria, Australia happened on Friday, January 13, 1939. Hurricane Charley hit near Port Charlotte, Florida on Friday, August 13, 2004. The plane carrying the Uruguayan Rugby team crashed in the Andes mountains on Friday, October 13, 1972.

And yet, there are still those who defy convention: Black Sabbath's debut album (you know, those big, round discs that came before cd's, that came before MP3 files) was released in the UK on Friday, February 13th, 1970. The thirteenth installment in A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket, was released on Friday, October 13, 2006. The Happening, M. Night Shyamalan's latest flick, is set to release tomorrow, Friday, June 13, 2008. And, a remake of the original Friday the 13th movie is planned for release on Friday, February 13, 2009.

Some believe whole-heartedly that tomorrow is a bad, bad day. Others believe it's all a buncha hooey. I fit somewhere in the middle, I think. So, for all my fellow fence-sitters, and for all those who plan to pull the covers over their heads and not come out 'til the 14th, I found some interesting things that may help you get through the day tomorrow, courtesy of
  • Walk around your house 13 times on Friday the 13th.
  • Hang your shoes out the window. (Really. That's what it said. No explanation. Just "Hang your shoes out the window." Perhaps it gasses out the bad juju?)
  • Sleep with a mirror under your pillow for the first 3 Fridays before Friday the 13th. Then, on Friday the 13th, you have to dream of your true love. (Well, it's a little late now for this one. Just file it away for the next one coming up in February 2009. You could still try the dreaming part tomorrow, though. It could work...)
  • Walk around the block with your mouth full of water. If you don't swallow it, you'll be 100% safe on Friday the 13th.
  • Wear and/or eat garlic.
At best, these rituals will save you from bad luck. At worst, it will give your neighbors one more reason to talk about you. 

Good luck!

My sources: