Friday, September 24, 2010

Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series - Installment #3

Welcome to the third and final installment of the first annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series.

Wondering what this is? Click on the link back at the beginning, and all will be revealed. Then come on back to this post, and we'll continue.

* * *
Back, then? Alrighty. So, in this inaugural year of the BnBWWoLS, Installment #1 contained books I've reviewed in full, with brief summaries and links to the full reviews. Installment #2 consisted of books I've read, but have not yet reviewed (though I hope to get that remedied in the future).

Which brings us up to date for today, and Installment #3 - more books I've read but not (yet) reviewed. However, there is one bonus: there are links to two authors below, which will take you not only to their author spotlights, but also to reviews I've written of other books of theirs.

Right, then. Off we go:

Chester's Way, by Kevin Henkes
Ages 4 and up

Chester is a child of habit. He always cuts his sandwiches just so, always gets out of bed on the same side, and is a stickler for double-knotting his shoes. Wilson is practically a carbon copy of Chester, making their best-friendship a no-brainer. The days go along perfectly predictably for Chester and Wilson, which is just the way they like it.

And then, Lily moves into the neighborhood. Lily, who talks backwards to herself (out loud), never leaves the house without donning a disguise, and always arms herself with a loaded squirt gun. Lily wants to be friends with Chester and Wilson, and sets upon a very determined friend-making campaign - in her own way, naturally. Can these two order-and-structure loving friends survive the free-wheeling unpredictability that is Lily?

King Bidgood's in the Bathtub, by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood
Ages 4 and up

King Bidgood has his own ideas about how to rule his kingdom, and much to his faithful Page's chagrin, he has gleefully decided to do it all from his tub. The members of his court, at the Page's frantic requests, try all manner of strategies to lure the king out of the bath. He cheerfully obliges each suggestion, with one caveat: they must join him - fully clothed, in all their courtly finery - in the tub. They battle in the tub. They lunch in the tub. They fish in the tub. They even dance in the tub. But the only ones to leave that tub are some very soggy, frustrated courtiers. Is there anyone who can convince the king to leave his bath?

As you're reading this very fun tale, take the time to linger over the pictures, which add even more to the story.

Weird Parents, by Audrey Wood
Ages 5 and up

This is the story of a boy who has weird parents, and they cause him no end of embarrassment. They call him "Honeycakes" at the bus stop. They pack weird things in his lunch box. They dress weird. And that's just the shortlist.

The boy wishes his parents weren't so weird. Sure, they have some redeeming qualities, his parents: like tucking him into bed, and getting him treats to eat, and playing games with him, and reading spooky stories with him, and...hmmm. Maybe his parents aren't so bad, after all. Even if they are weird.

Weirdos From Another Planet, by Bill Watterson

Precocious six-year-old Calvin and his stuffed-tiger-best-friend Hobbes are at it again in this compilation of comics, frazzling Calvin's parents, incurring the wrath of his babysitter, Rosalyn, frustrating Calvin's teacher Miss Wormwood, and infuriating Calvin's classmate Susie with just about every adventure they embark upon.

From Calvin's crafting of ghoulish snowman scenes, to Calvin and Hobbes' harrowing downhill wagon rides, to Hobbes' subtle pokes at Calvin's somewhat gullible nature, to the many zany schemes Calvin and Hobbes cook up together - which never seem to turn out like Calvin thought they would, Bill Watterson guides you through the world as Calvin sees it. You will be laughing, and crying, and thinking long after you've finished reading these comics.

Young Arthur is a resident of Ratbridge. Or, rather, a resident under Ratbridge. He's not sure why he lives below ground, except that his inventor grandfather says that they must. They share this underground world with curious creatures: boxtrolls, cabbageheads, rabbit women, and the rather fearsome trotting badgers.

One day, Arthur gets caught above-ground on one of his
nightly forays to the surface world to gather food. The rather nasty Snatcher, his grandfather's old nemesis, has stolen the machine Arthur's grandfather built for him to be able to fly about, and he doesn't know how to get back home.

But Arthur is not without friends. He is helped by the kindly retired lawyer Willbury Nibble, and the underlings who live with him: the boxtrolls Fish, Egg, and Shoe, and the shy cabbagehead Titus. Then there's the pirates-turned-laundry-workers, talking rats and crows, and oh! we can't forget The Man in the Iron Socks. They are all determined to get Arthur back home safely.

Arthur and his friends soon discover that something stinks in Ratbridge, and it isn't just the cheese: Someone has begun hunting Wild English Cheeses again - an outlawed sport. And mysterious goings-on are afoot at the old Cheese Hall. And all the entrances to the underground world have been sealed up. And the boxtrolls and cabbageheads are all disappearing. And the underlings' tunnels are starting to flood. Grandfather is worried, and they all know Snatcher is the root of this mystery. Somehow. Whatever will they do?

* * *

And that, my friends, is that. If this is your first time at the Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series, I hope you'll click the link in this sentence, which will take you to the main page, where you can catch up on all the fun you haven't seen yet. If you've been here all along, thanks so much for taking this trip with me, and I hope you had as much fun as I did. But whether you've just found the series, or whether you're quite familiar with it, I hope you're looking forward to next year's BnBWWoL already.

I know I am.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series - Installment #2

What's all this? you may ask. Good question! The brief answer is:
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.

Alrighty. I get it. But why's all this? you may ask. Another good question! The not-so-brief answer is:
For one thing, Wonderful Weirdos Day is celebrated this month. For another thing, September is Roald Dahl Month (most likely because his birthday is in September). And for yet another thing, September finds kids back in school, perhaps searching for some fun books to choose for their book reports or projects or what-have-you. And plus? I just wanted to.

To see the first installment of the BnBWWoLS, click the link all the way back in the first sentence of this post. Then, come right back here so you can check out what I've dug up for installment #2. These are books I've read, but not yet reviewed here on Bugs and Bunnies. If I do post a review, I'll come back here and add the link. So for now, read the summaries, and go find the books for yourself, because, trust me - they're fun to read:

Holes, by Louis Sachar
Reading Level: Ages 9-12

Stanley Yelnats finds himself at Camp Green Lake, because a judge sentenced him to go there, because Stanley was accused of stealing some sneaks that basketball star Clyde "Sweetfeet" Livingston donated to a celebrity auction, even though Stanley said he never stole them. Nope. Those kicks fell on his head out of nowhere. For real. And Stanley blames the whole mess on his "no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather" - AKA the dude responsible for the curse that's been on the Yelnats family for generations.

But things get even weirder at Camp Green Lake, which: A. is lacking a lake, B. is not green, and C. is full of holes - hundreds of holes - that the warden has Stanley and the other boys digging day after day. What is the warden searching for? Who really stole those sneaks, and how did they fall out of nowhere onto his head? What's with this family curse thing? And what does any of this have to do with the legend of Wild West outlaw Kissing Kate Barlow? Only one way to find out...

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, by Josh Berk
Reading Level: Young Adult

Will Halpin is deaf. And, by his own definition, "hefty." He likes acronyms, and giving people nicknames. And he's the new kid at Carbon High - his first foray into a non-deaf school. His lip reading comes in handy as he navigates first the bus, and then his classes. He keeps a notebook, which quickly becomes filled with observations about some very odd folks, like: JIMMY PORKRINDS - the bus driver who mutters things like "Dig, dig, dig the hole, hidey-hidey hole," and SCUZZY GUY - a kid from the bus who spends class staring at his fingers. He also meets a girl with the very real first name of Purple, finds a friend in Devon Smiley, and crushes on Leigha - "MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL IN THE WORLD."

But things get weird fast. First, he finds out he shares his name with the famous ghost of a deaf coal miner. Then, at a class field trip to the abandoned Happy Memory Coal Mine, the star quarterback ends up at the bottom of a mine shaft. Who is this other Will Halpin? Did the quarterback fall...or was he pushed? Why is beautiful Leigha always so sad? And who on earth names their kid Purple?

A word to the wise: read this book where you are free to laugh so hard you cry. Often. Possibly with snorts. You have been warned.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney
Reading Level: Ages 9-12

Greg Heffley wants you to know, right off the bat, that this is a JOURNAL. Not a diary. No matter what it says on the front cover. And that his mom gave it to him, and that he's only writing in this JOURNAL because she's making him.

For a reluctant diarist, Greg has a lot to say - and draw - about life at the bottom of the middle school food chain, otherwise known as sixth grade. He explains all about the dreaded Cheese Touch, and bullies, and the intricacies of Phys. Ed. wrestling. He also lets us in on stuff he does with his best friend Rowley, and the indignities he suffers at the hands of Mom, Dad, big brother Roderick, and little brother Manny.

Go on. Take a peek in Greg Heffley's diary. I mean JOURNAL. It's not like it's snooping. He published it, didn't he?

The Adventures of Captain Underpants, by Dav Pilkey
Reading Level: Ages 4-8

George Beard and Harold Hutchins are just two normal fourth grade boys who like to have fun, play pranks, and draw comics of their very own made-up superhero, Captain Underpants. Which frequently lands them in the office of their principal, Mr. Krupp: a mean man who consistently fails to catch them in their pranks. But when George and Harold prank the football squad, Mr. Krupp finally captures the deed on video, threatening to expose them to the wrath of the team unless they do everything he says.

One day, the boys concoct a scheme to retrieve that video and rid themselves of this blackmail. They try out their mail-order 3-D Hypno-Ring on an unsuspecting Mr. Krupp, convincing him that he is their bald, underpants-and-cape-wearing superhero Captain Underpants. But when they try to snap him out of it, things go terribly wrong. Is Mr. Krupp doomed to be Captain Underpants forever? Can the boys save themselves from the wrath of the football team? Luckily, all your questions will be answered, in words and in pictures. All you have to do is read this book.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
Reading Level: Ages 9-12

"Honest and kind, brave and true" Charlie Bucket lives in a ramshackle house, crammed with his mom and dad, and both sets of grandparents who all lie in one big bed all day and never get out. When Charlie finds the fifth and final of the five golden tickets that Mr. Willy Wonka has hidden in his delicious chocolate bars - granting him access to Mr. Wonka's secretive chocolate factory - the excitement is enough to finally oust his Grandpa Joe out of bed to accompany him.

They are joined for the tour by quite an eccentric group: food-loving Augustus Gloop, spoiled-rotten Veruca Salt, gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde, tv-obsessed Mike Teavee, and their families. No one has been inside the factory for years, and the little group is treated to fantastic sights, heavenly confections, curious creatures, and the very odd Mr. Wonka himself. But, there are very strict rules to be followed on the tour, and the penalty for breaking them is as mysterious as the factory itself. If they can just follow the rules, the experience promises to be the time of their lives. If only they can resist the temptations.

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I hope you had fun today, and that at least one of these books has you running to the library or the book store to find it and read it. Please come back next Friday, so you can read all about the books in the third and final installment of this year's Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Throne Room?

I think not. Here at Chez Wheedleton, we refer to it as...

Crown optional.

(What? We do preserve some semblance of royal decorum.)

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

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Day to Celebrate with My (Weirdo) Peeps

Today is Wonderful Weirdos Day, which does two things:

1. It gives me an excuse to celebrate being, well, me.

2. It gives my kids yet another opportunity to tell stories about me to their friends: stories which inevitably begin or end with, "She's not like other moms." Depending on the story, they say this while laughing, or cringing, or both. (And I'm perfectly happy with that.)

But enough about me. I'm sure you've got some questions about today, whether you already know you're a weirdo, or whether you're still in denial. And I've found you some answers. (You're welcome.)

Question the First: What's a weirdo?

According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, a weirdo is:

A person who is extraordinarily strange or eccentric
There are other definitions, too, which are none too kind, so let's stick to the fun one, shall we? This source, and others, lists the first known use of the term weirdo as being in 1955, but nothing more specific than that. If weirdo doesn't work for you, there are plenty of synonyms to choose from: crackpot, flake, fruitcake, kook, nut, or oddball. Or, you can go with one of the more kindly monikers: character, eccentric, unique, or quirky.

Question the Second: What kind of person would come up with a holiday to celebrate the weirdos among us?

Why, a self-proclaimed "weirdo," of course. September 9th became Wonderful Weirdos Day thanks to Tom Roy, who, together with his wife Ruth and son Michael, runs - a repository of more than 80 off-the-wall holidays and celebrations which they've created.

Question the Third: What exactly is Wonderful Weirdos Day?

According to the Roys, it is explained thusly:

All of us are blessed with one or two wonderful weirdos in our lives. These are the folks who remind us to think outside the box, to be a little more true to ourselves. Today's the day to thank them. So give them a hug, and say "I love you, you weirdo!"

Question the Fourth: How should I celebrate?

Here are some interesting ideas from John Fuller's article at TLC Family (How Stuff Works):
  • You can become a member of the Ministry of Silly Walks for the day. (If you're a fan of Monty Python, you know exactly what to do. If you're not, this YouTube clip - which is kid-friendly - can get you caught up.) Copy the walks in the skit, or make up something all on your own. Then off you go, and be sure to take your walk down a fairly busy street, or at the mall. Because part of the fun of being a weirdo is being seen while being a weirdo.
  • You can create a fake language with your friends, then ride public transportation and speak it to each other. Loudly. If you can keep a straight face while doing so, all the better.
  • You can wear a silly costume. Or, if you can't wear a full-out, weirdo-worthy get-up, try something smaller scale: some obnoxious sunglasses, perhaps. Or a goofy hat.

Question the Fifth (and Final): How will Bugs and Bunnies be celebrating Wonderful Weirdos Day?

You mean besides being myself? Well, I've already started by sharing this fabulous holiday with all of you. Next, I'll be writing a Wonderful Weirdos Kids' Book Round-Up*, crammed with books that have weird and funny yet beloved characters, to be posted tomorrow - which is my book review day. (Be sure to come back tomorrow so you can read all about them!) After that, I'm going to perfect my own Silly Walk as I vacuum the house, then teach it to the kiddos on our way back from their bus stop this afternoon.

And now, I'm off to continue my celebration, and I'll leave you to embark upon yours. However you choose to observe it, have a fantastically eccentric Wonderful Weirdos Day.

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*UPDATE: The Kids' Book Round-Up idea got a bit bigger by the time I was done with it. Twenty-six books bigger, at last count. So, it has now officially become the First Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series. Click on the link to see what it's all about.