Friday, September 10, 2010

The First Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series

I hope you enjoyed Wonderful Weirdos Day yesterday. If you missed it, I don't think anyone would mind if you celebrated today. In fact, I think you could probably celebrate it anytime you wanted, Official Day or not. A true Weirdo doesn't give a fig for official-ness, or expected-ness, or usual-ness. A true Weirdo laughs in the face of Convention, thumbs her (or his) nose at Normal, and dares to be Different.

Two of my favorite Weirdos. They're different. And they're proud of it.

But, it is a process. Weirdos don't attain the joy and freedom of self-acceptance without trials, tribulations, spiritual journeys...and finally, laughter. Lots and lots of laughter - the happy kind, the silly kind, the oh-I'm-so-relieved-you-get-me kind. It feels good to find yourself; to realize that all those things about you that you thought were odd, or stupid, or dumb, or weird? Aren't. They may be different, those things. They may be a little out there. But they're You. And you have friends and family who love you because of your quirks - not in spite of them.

Remember Merriam-Webster's definition of weirdo? "A person who is extraordinarily strange or eccentric." There is a wide range of Weird in this world. Some of us are more so than others. We Weirdos may be different, but always remember: we are extraordinarily so.

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And now, in honor of all the Wonderful Weirdos among us, I am pleased to announce the First Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series.

Every Friday in September, I'll be posting a round-up of kids' books that I just love, with characters who are, well, characters. You know: the misunderstood, the eccentric, the quirky, the unique, the weird, the wacky.

Today's books are all ones which I've reviewed before here at Bugs and Bunnies (listed in no particular order). Clicking on the book title takes you to the full review, and clicking on the author's name takes you to to a brief bio of that author:

The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart
Reading Level: Ages 8-12

Reynie's life was about to change, all because of these nine words: "ARE YOU A GIFTED CHILD LOOKING FOR SPECIAL OPPORTUNITES?" Before he knew it, Reynie was standing in a very long line of children all waiting to take that test, which led to another test, and then another, each more mysterious and puzzling than the last. But only four very special children succeed: Reynie, Sticky Washington, Kate Wetherall, and Constance Contraire. They soon discover they've been selected to complete a secret mission that requires the intelligence and resourcefulness that they alone possess. It's a mission filled with mystery, excitement...and danger. Will they accept it? And more importantly, can they succeed if they do?

A Whole Nother Story, as told by (The One and Only) Dr. Cuthbert Soup
Reading Level: Ages 8-12

This is the story of Dr. Ethan Cheeseman, his three "smart, polite, and relatively odor-free children," a snarky sock puppet named Steve, and a psychic, hairless dog named Pinky, as told by Dr. Cuthbert Soup, president of the National Center for Unsolicited Advice. The Cheesemans are on the run from no less than three villainous groups, all bent on swiping Dr. Cheeseman's newest invention: the Luminal Velocity Regulator. But the device is still unfinished. And the person who holds the final key to its operation is co-inventor Olivia, Dr. Cheeseman's lovely wife, and mother to their three children, who met an untimely (and suspicious) end.

For the past two years, the Cheeseman family has kept one step ahead of the bad guys, hastily packing up the family station wagon and moving on whenever said villains get too close: changing towns, changing their names, and meeting a host of interesting, helpful people (some of whom are rather unusual), all while struggling to find the missing piece for the LVR's completion. With its ability to control the speed of light, the LVR has the potential for time travel, which could at last bring back Mrs. Cheeseman. If only they could get it working.

Reading Level: Ages 10 and up

Roy Eberhardt is used to being the new kid, due to his dad's frequent transfers for work. He is also used to facing bullies, and so he has learned to deal. But being the new kid at Trace Middle School has him dealing with more than just Dana Matherson, school bully. He's also tangled up with a host of other odd characters: Beatrice the Bear - a fierce girl who plays on the girls' soccer team, Garrett - the king of fake farts, a bald foreman named Curly, a runaway boy who sometimes goes by the name Mullet Fingers, a corporate big-wig named Chuck Muckle, and a pretty young starlet with a startling voice. And all of them are tangled up with endangered owls, a vacant lot, Mother Paula's All-American Pancake House, the police, politicians, and parents with questionable behavior.

Reading Level: Ages 9-12

"Author" Geronimo Stilton, a newspaper-running, book-writing, self-proclaimed 'fraidy-mouse, talks directly to the reader, chronicling his adventures in each book, as well as being sure to point out that adventure is precisely not his cup of tea. Still, he gets dragged into one fantastic romp after another. Usually, these (in his view) disastrous encounters involve his sister Thea, cousin Trapp, and nephew Benjamin, but other family members and friends and enemies also make appearances from time to time.

Reading Level: Ages 8-12

Hiccup is the son of the Hairy Hooligans' Viking chief, and destined to take over that leadership from his father. But first, he - along with all the other boys his age in the tribe - must successfully complete an important rite of initiation: climb up into the dragon cave, locate the dragon nursery, bag a sleeping juvenile dragon for his lifelong companion, and get out. All without waking up the rest of the hundreds of dragons slumbering there, who will surely pursue the boys and ensure a rather grisly end to their quest. And then, he has to prove his mastery over this dangerous creature by training it. The problem is that Hiccup is not very much like his mighty Viking father, and not very much like a typical Viking, for that matter. In fact, the other boys have dubbed him Hiccup the Useless - all except his loyal friend Fishlegs. Can he complete this quest, fulfill his destiny, and earn the respect of the tribe? Or will he end up a charbroiled dragon snack?

Reading Level: Ages 8-12

Joey Dowdel and his sister Mary Alice are first shipped off to visit their Grandma Dowdel in the summer of 1929. Being city kids from Chicago, they are none too pleased to be packed off to the boonies for a visit with a grandmother they hadn't seen since they were "tykes."

But Grandma Dowdel is no ordinary Grandma, and these two kids learn to always expect the unexpected. This town they first saw as sleepy and dull transformed in their eyes all through helping Grandma carry out her plans. She squeezes off a couple of rounds from her shotgun - right in her own living room. She teaches a family of bullies a lesson they won't soon forget. She strong-arms a banker into returning something rightfully belonging to someone else - and demands a few bucks for the grandkids for good measure.

Over the years, and beneath that steely exterior, Joey and Mary Alice start to see a whole new and surprising side to Grandma Dowdel. And they begin to look forward to each summer adventure, always wondering: what will she be up to next?

Reading Level: Ages 9 and up

Jake Semple curses, smokes, and has various piercings, with hair dyed scarlet red and styled into points all over his head. He also has quite a rep for a thirteen-year-old: he's been kicked out of every public school in Rhode Island, and only lasted three weeks before Traybridge Middle School - in North Carolina - kicked him out, too. Which is how he ends up slouching on the front porch of almost-thirteen-year-old order-and-structure-loving E.D Applewhite, in the middle of September, blowing smoke in her face.

Jake is about to join Creative Academy - the Applewhite's homeschool, which is the only place left that will take him. E.D. and Jake soon find themselves "cooperatively grouped," an experimental first for the family's independent-learning-focused beliefs, and a situation that neither is pleased with. As they each try in their own way to navigate through the creative chaos that is the Applewhite family, not one person's life is left untouched...or unchanged.

Reading Level: Ages 4-8

This book is a collection of poems that are, by turns: funny, poignant, irreverent, imaginative, naughty, silly, sad, enchanting, quirky, witty, giddy, and zany. Nearly every one is accompanied by a drawing that sometimes gives the reader a bit more clarification, and sometimes simply illustrates what's already there in the printed words.

It has something for everyone, from the littlest of kids to the oldest of adults. There are poems that bring back memories, poke fun at life, and give advice - admittedly somewhat twisted advice, like why you should not pick your nose, or whether or not to believe that the world is indeed round - but the message is there... subtle, but there.

Some of the poems tell tales, revel in silliness, make light of small anxieties, and give voice to outrageous things a kid would never, ever do - like bathe an armadillo, for instance, or make a hippopotamus sandwich, or spit from the twenty-sixth floor - but always wondered what would happen if they did.

Still other rhymes play with words, or make you think: Are we really all so different? Do I really want to grow up so fast? Maybe some risks are good to take.

There are poems that describe quintessential childhood pranks (see "Hat" on page 74), and reassure kids that they're not the only ones to go through something - like bad days, thumb-sucking, older siblings picking on them, younger siblings bugging them, or learning how hard it is to try and be good.

Of course, no Shel Silverstein poetry collection would be complete without the uproariously funny poems that make you laugh out loud as you read about things like pants that dance, double-tailed dogs, eating with your toes, and the infamous Dirty Dan.

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Thank you for joining me on this inaugural journey through Literary Weirdness. Please come back next Friday, so you can peruse the the second installment of books for the Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series.

I leave you now with a Word to the Weird from a most beloved author who shared all manner of weirdness in his books, and made us believe that every bit of it was the most normal thing in the world:

"We are all a little weird and life's a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love."

— Dr. Seuss

*Note: Calvin and Hobbes picture via This Too Will Pass

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