Friday, August 29, 2008

Book Review: Kenny & the Dragon, by Tony DiTerlizzi

     Kenny made it to the grassy top by sunset... ...Directly below, curled up and sleeping on the far side of the hill, was the dragon.
     He gulped. This animal was bigger than the illustrations in his book. 
     Much bigger.

Kenny is a book-loving rabbit who lives with his farming mother and father. One day, his father bursts in from the sheep field in a panic, announcing that they must pack their things ASAP and light out of there, because he just saw a real, live, dragon! At the top of their very hill! After consulting his borrowed copy of a bestiary, Kenny persuades his parents to let him go check it out. Once he finally meets the dragon, he realizes the bestiary isn't entirely accurate concerning his new friend. But then the townspeople get wind of the dragon, and are so frightened that they prepare to rid themselves of it. Can Kenny show the townspeople that the dragon is not what they think? Or, will he have to make the impossible choice of saving a new friend, or saving an old one?

For Teachers and Librarians:
Fairly short and sweet as chapter books go, Kenny & the Dragon is a great read-aloud or independent read that will capture and hold your students' attention through several sessions and all the way to the very end. The old adage of "you can't judge a book by its cover" is presented in a fresh, new way, and was inspired by that beloved classic The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame. It's a perfect set-up for both a unit on the above-mentioned adage, and also a literature comparison between the two books - written so many years apart, yet still relevant in today's society. Author Tony DiTerlizzi notes on his website (which is very cool, and totally kid-friendly, by the way):

"I think a story like this still has significance today as it did when Kenneth Grahame first told it over a century ago. As a society we still judge and act first, then think about the consequences afterwards."

How's that for inspiration for some fantastic lessons? Even if all you have time for is a bit of discussion, your students will surely be able to enjoy the story, identify with Kenny's predicament, and get to the root of the idea of not prejudging someone - and what could happen if you do. Sometimes the most impromptu discussions lead to the most profound learning for your charges...

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Sometimes kids find themselves up against some pretty tough odds, just like Kenny. And just like Kenny, sometimes kids find that they know something new that others haven't found out yet. And just like Kenny, sometimes it fees like they're all alone as they struggle with what to do with that knowledge. Kenny & the Dragon is a great book for your kiddos to identify with, and enjoy, and feel good about. They'll see that a problem is easier to solve when they have people who care about them to help them figure it out. They'll see the value of being a good friend. They'll see the great things that come of doing what's right. And they'll see that this is just a fantastic book, and will ask to read it or have it read to them over and over and over. 

For the Kids:
Wouldn't you just love to find a dragon, and have it become your best friend? Someone to talk to, and read with, and play with, and learn from? In Kenny & the Dragon, that's just what happens to a little rabbit named, of course, Kenny. At first, his parents are afraid of Kenny's new friend, but then they get to know the dragon, and to like him, too. But, the townspeople are not so keen on having a dragon around. They're sure he's about to eat their sheep and destroy their crops, and maybe even (gasp!) eat them! How will Kenny ever get them to see his new dragon friend for who he really is? If you really wanna know, (and I know you do), then get your parents to help you find this brand new book. That's right! It just came out! And it is totally cool!

For Everyone Else:
Kenny & the Dragon is a quick read for adults. If you're looking for a sweet story to remind you that there is still justice and goodness in this crazy world, this one is just what you need. And it's brand new! Come on - you can't resist that brand-new-book smell, and a feel-good premise, to boot. Go ahead - indulge your inner child a while...

Wrapping Up:
Kenny & the Dragon is a story to remind us all that people are not what they look like on the surface. It reminds us to take the time to get to know people, to support those who we know to be good, and to find a way to get those who have judged wrongly to take another look. Let's face it: we all need a little reminder, now and then, don't we?

Title: Kenny & the Dragon
Author and Illustrator: Tony DiTerlizzi
Pages: 160
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher and Date: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, August 5, 2008
Edition: 1st
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $15.99
ISBN-10: 1416939776
ISBN-13: 978-1416939771

Author Spotlight: Tony DiTerlizzi

Tony DiTerlizzi was born September 6, 1969 in south Florida, into an artistic household. He started drawing at a very early age, "including a crayon mural of Winnie-the-Pooh on his freshly painted bedroom walls." At the age of 12, inspired by Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal and by playing Dungeons and Dragons, he directed his energies into writing and illustrating a field guide on fantastical creatures. By high school graduation, he knew he wanted to be a children's book creator.

Mr. DiTerlizzi attended Florida School of the Arts, and received a degree in graphic design from the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale in 1992. At the age of 23, he found himself doing freelance work for TSR, the publisher of Dungeons and Dragons. He continued to illustrate in the gaming industry for most of the 1990's. 

After moving to New York City in 1996, he began illustrating children's books. In 2000, his first picture book as both writer and illustrator came out: Jimmy Zangwow's Out-of-This-World Moon Pie Adventure. He followed that with the award-winning Ted in 2001, and then came The Spider and the Fly - a New York Times best seller which won a Caldecott Honor Medal in 2003. He collaborated with Holly Black to create The Spiderwick Chronicles, a popular series which spanned from 2003-2007 and included publication of The Notebook for Fantastical Observations as well as Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You. In 2006 came an alphabet book, G is for One Gzonk! Beginning in 2007, he again teamed up with Holly Black for the currently ongoing series Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles. His latest title is 2008's Kenny & the Dragon, which marks his first work as both author and illustrator of a chapter book.

Having met with much success, DiTerlizzi stays connected and open to his fans, noting:

"If it were not for their appreciation, I do not think I would be where I am today. It really is a big energy circle - you only receive what you have given."

Tony DiTerlizzi currently lives with his wife and daughter in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Jobs, Freedom, and Civil Rights - One Man's Dream

August 28, 2008 marks the 45th anniversary of what has come to be known as the "I Have a Dream Speech." Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famed oratory was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, as part of the historic March on Washington. The march was an event organized in support of jobs, freedom, and the advancement of the Kennedy administration's civil rights legislation. Though several individuals spoke that day, Dr. King's speech is considered "one of the greatest and most notable speeches in history." (


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Signs of Life

A Sign That Just Makes You Giggle When You Read It Out Loud at 2 AM:

A Sign That You Probably Shouldn't Have Balked When Your Sign Painter Asked for an Extra Four Bucks to Finish the Job:

A Sign (Or Four) That You Might Wanna Rethink That Road Trip Potty Break:

A Sign Your Package Designer Got a Bit Punchy While Working on the Cotton Ball Account:

A Sign That Explains the State of My Lovely (if Cluttered) Domicile:

A Sign of Things to Come:

When my small son says to me, he says, "Mommy? When I'm 10? Can I color my hair green?"

And he's totally serious.

No photo for this one yet.

But I'll keep ya posted...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Hooray! It's Toilet Paper Day!

Toilet Paper Day is celebrated every year on August 26 - I have no idea why, but really: why not? Grab a seat - maybe even in the "reading room" for some appropriate ambiance - and let's whoop it up!

I'll start with a stat. Back during my husband C's work in consumer products, he came across market research that said that there was a 98% Household Penetration Rate for toilet paper in the United States. Translated from the business-ese, that means that 98% of US households buy toilet paper. I'll give that a moment to sink in...ninety-eight percent of US households buy toilet paper... So, what on earth are the other 2% using?? Ewww...

But let's not jump to conclusions just yet. Perhaps that rebel 2% are instead using all those catalogs that clog the mailbox with irritating regularity, taking Reduce/Reuse/Recyle to a whole 'nother level - old school. You may recall (or if you're not old enough, you may recall reading about) the, ahem, alternate use put to the old Sears & Roebuck catalogs? Or maybe you're more familiar with one of the spinoff catalogs that made the rounds: Rears & Sorebutt...

Yes, the use of toilet paper is important (being kinder to one's behind, and all), but so is how it's used. Or, more specifically, how it comes off the roll. That's right: the dreaded Roll Dispenser Controversy. When one installs a roll of t.p. on the dispenser, should the paper dispense from over the roll, or from under it? I'm an over-the-roll proponent myself. And as per usual in Chez Wheedleton, C holds the opposing view, insisting - not through word, but through dispenser-filling deed - that the correct installation is under-the-roll. 

And now, our little celebration must come to an end, so I'll leave you with a t.p. claim to fame for Philly. In 1867, brothers Edward, Clarence, and Thomas Scott began selling a type of toilet paper from a pushcart in Philadelphia, PA. The end result all these years later? A thriving paper product business, with grateful (and clean) behinds everywhere. (Well, at least 98% of them...)


Sunday, August 24, 2008

An Unexpected Education

You never know when - or where - you're going to learn something new. 

Case in point: I learned something new while on vacation this summer, thanks to our gracious hosts. After showing us around their oh-so-comfy home, they took us on an aquatic tour of their lovely neighborhood. It was during this most relaxing journey that they mentioned the neighborhood's claim to fame: a residence of the family of the man who invented...

...kitty litter. That's right. There is an actual person responsible for the ingenious waste disposal material used by hundreds, thousands, and probably even millions of house cats everywhere. That person's name is Edward Lowe.

It all started back in 1947, when he worked for his father's industrial absorbents company. Lowe's neighbor, Kaye Draper, came by and asked to buy some sand. She wanted to use it in her cat's box, instead of the soot which she had been using, but which her cat tracked all through her house. He offered her granulated clay, instead. She tried it, and it worked so well, she never used anything else after that.

Figuring he was onto something, Ed Lowe filled ten brown bags with clay, wrote "Kitty Litter" on each of the five-pound bags, and approached a local pet store owner. When the store owner doubted his customers would pay 65 cents a bag for clay when sand was so much cheaper, Lowe said, "So give it away."

The gamble paid off, as cat owners not only asked for more, but were totally willing to pay for it, thrilled with its odor control and absorbency. And so, the Kitty Litter business was born. Lowe started visiting cat shows and pet stores across the country, selling Kitty Litter from the back of his car. He also continued to experiment with additives to improve Kitty Litter. Soon, he created Edward Lowe Industries, Inc. to mass manufacture and distribute his popular invention.

In 1964, Edward Lowe created the Tidy Cat brand of kitty litter, or "cat box filler," to use the correct generic term. (Kitty Litter vs cat box filler is a Band-Aid vs adhesive bandage or Kleenex vs tissue kind of thing. See? Bet you didn't know that.)

Edward Lowe became a multi-millionaire. 

And he owed it all to a soot-tracking cat.

You never know when - or where - you're going to learn something new. What did you learn today?


Friday, August 22, 2008

Book Review: The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner

I didn't know how long I had been in the king's prison. The days were all the same, except that as each one passed, I was dirtier than before... ...I reviewed over and over the plans that had seemed so straightforward before I arrived in jail, and I swore to myself and every god I knew that if I got out alive, I would never never never take any risks that were so abysmally stupid again.

Gen is a thief who delights in bragging to any who will hear that, "I can steal anything." The prison guards delight in reminding him of that boast each time they pass his cell, taunting him with questions about why he hadn't escaped yet. But one day, the king's magus, a scholar, summons Gen from his cell. "There's something I want you to steal. Do this for me, and I'll see that you don't go back to prison. Fail to do this for me, and I will still make sure that you don't go back to prison." And so begins the long and dangerous journey...

For Teachers and Librarians: 
The Thief is a young adult novel that will grab teens' attention and never let it go. It will appeal to both guys and gals, having the perfect mixture of action, mystery, and emotion. Megan Whalen Turner is a master storyteller, giving the reader just enough clues to keep it interesting, but not enough to give anything away before she's ready to have it known. Set in a place that resembles both ancient and modern Greece, the author notes that "Nothing in this book is historically accurate." However, your students will come across references to the bubonic plague, weaponry, printed and bound books, the landscape, monarchy, and even watches. These make for the perfect comparison and contrast to what ancient and modern Greece are really like, as well as research opportunities into when in history these things actually appeared and how they worked. The book is a good springboard into Greek mythology, as well, since Greek-like gods are intertwined in the plot. But most of all, your students will be hooked from the very first sentence. A definite page-turner.

For Parents:
If you struggle with how to get books in the hands of your teens, you are not alone. There is steep competition out there: ipods, internet, gaming, texting, videos, TV. It seems as if there's no room to wedge even the slimmest of volumes in between, but take heart. The Thief may be just what you need. It is a timeless story, with action, drama and suspense. It has the feel of an adult book, but it's still a book for teens, so you can feel good about what they're reading. It is a story that will pull them in right away, and they won't want to put it down. And best of all, it has two sequels, with another in the works, so once they devour this story, you have two more options to keep their noses in a good book - at least for a little while...

For Teens:
This is so not a kiddie book. And it's not a crud-my-English-teacher-is-making-me-read-a-total-yawner book. Gen is a thief who brags that he can steal anything. When he steals something way valuable that everyone thought couldn't be done, he shows it off - and is arrested. But while he's in the king's prison, chained and dirty, the king's magus summons him and gives him an offer he can't refuse: to steal something that has not been stolen or even found for hundreds of years. If he succeeds, he earns his freedom. If he fails, he won't go back to prison either, but... well, you get what I mean. Gen accepts, but not for the reason the magus thinks he does. You have to go find The Thief and read it. You will be so glad you did, and bonus! There are two more sequels, and author Megan Whalen Turner is working on a fourth.

For Everyone Else:
Though this is a young adult novel, it will appeal to adults as well. Set in what feels like Greece, though it isn't Greece, it feels timeless, and is riddled with mystery and sprinkled with clues set up to keep you always searching for more. In fact, there are so many twists and turns that you'll want to read The Thief again. And maybe even again.

Wrapping Up:
The Thief is the perfect marriage of suspense, intrigue, mystery and emotion. Find your copy today. 

Title: The Thief
Author: Megan Whalen Turner
Pages: 219
Reading Level: Teen/Young Adult
Publisher and Date: Penguin Group, 1998
Edition: Paperback
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $5.99
ISBN-10: 0140388346
ISBN-13: 978-0140388343

Author Spotlight: Megan Whalen Turner

Megan Whalen Turner writes fantasy fiction for young adults. Her titles include a collection of short stories, as well as The Thief trilogy - the first of which (The Thief) won a Newbery Honor in 1997. However, her journey through the world of children's writing has not been a straight path.

At ten years old, Mrs. Turner says she read many wonderful books, until she "couldn't easily find more." So, she decided to be a writer herself, despite the fact that reading seemed far more interesting to her than writing. Story ideas never materialized, though, and she dropped the idea.

She hadn't given writing another thought until her third year of college, when it came time to choose a field and begin a senior project. She chose to study children's literature, and wrote some of her own, but it didn't go well, in her opinion. Upon receiving a BA with honors in English language and literature from the University of Chicago in 1987, she again abandoned writing, choosing instead to become a children's book buyer - a job she kept for seven years.

When her husband's research grant necessitated a move to California, Mrs. Turner left children's book buying behind and went back to writing. This time she met with success. She wrote several short stories, which she submitted to Susan Hirschman at Greenwillow. Turner saw them as writing samples, "hoping to interest Greenwillow in a novel if I ever wrote one." Hirschman saw them differently, and the result was the 1995 publication of Instead of Three Wishes, a collection of seven short stories. 

Thereafter came the trilogy: The Thief (1996), The Queen of Attolia (2000), and The King of Attolia (2006). A fourth Thief book is presently in the works.

Megan Whalen Turner and her English professor husband have three children. They often relocate when her husband needs to do research.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I am Humbled... receive my first ever blog award, courtesy of  ZeBee/Joy over at Zooprize Party/Fiesta Zoorpresa. Thank you, my friend.

And now, I am in turn tasked to nominate blogs I feel are award-worthy. It is not an easy decision, as I thoroughly enjoy each blog over there in my blog roll. However, I narrowed it down to these two:

My first nomination is Ava at Tales From the Funny Farm. Here is a lady who is by turns funny, outrageous, touching, and poignant. She writes fantastic prose, and even her poetry is, well, poetic. She can paint you a portrait with her words, no matter what she writes, and visiting her blog is most definitely time well spent. (And fair warning - most of the time, she'll have you doubled over with laughter).

My second nomination goes to a scathingly funny blogger who I already know will not accept the award, because she doesn't "do" awards. And I'm cool with that. But, I'm gonna give her some props anyway: Kathi D at I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus. Most of the time, she is irreverently funny - and completely unapologetic about it! She writes about her past, and her present, her chickens (yes, chickens), current events, celebrities, Wii Fit... You name it - no one and nothing is spared her acerbic wit. Even her commenters will have you in stitches. But, check her archives for this post (among several others) about her mom, and you'll find there's a bit of a softie in there too...but don't tell her I told you so...

Thank you Joy, for the nomination! And to you who are reading this post - don't just take my word for it. Check out my nominees, and see if you don't add them to your own blog rolls.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Superhero Material?

I've been thinking about superheroes lately. Some of my favorites are Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and the X-Men. Then there's the Bionic Woman (old school - not the new show from last season) and Wonder Woman. I loved Wonder Woman! I always wished I had those deflective arm bands, and that lasso of truth was just the coolest. Oh, and Greatest American Hero was...well, OK, that guy maybe wasn't so impressive, superheroically speaking, but he was a favorite of mine, too.

Anyway, that got me to thinking about all the odd but interesting things the human body can do. And that got me to thinking that maybe all these super dudes and dudettes may have superpowers based in a teensy bit of fact. So, I did a little digging, and I have for you a list of:

Six Superhero-Like Things You May Not Know About the Human Body

Your body has enough iron in it to make a nail 3 inches long. (Ouch! I wonder if that's where they got the idea for Wolverine?)

Your body gives off enough heat in 30 minutes to bring half a gallon of water to a boil. (Hmmm... LavaGirl comes to mind...)

It takes about 20 seconds for a red blood cell to circle the whole body. (Flash Gordon inspiration, perhaps?)

In one hour, your heart works hard enough to produce the equivalent energy to raise almost one ton of weight one yard off the ground. (Superman, anyone? Or the Incredible Hulk, maybe?)

The tooth is the only part of the human body that can't repair itself. (Ahhh, so an Achilles' Heel of sorts - or the whole Superman/Kryptonite deal.)

The human nose can remember 50,000 different smells. (If there isn't a superhero with a super smeller, there should be!)

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

Got any more superhero-esque human body facts? Drop me a comment and let me know!


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Book Review: the Geronimo Stilton chapter book series, by Geronimo Stilton

Pictured here is Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye, Book #1 of the Geronimo Stilton chapter books - the international best-selling children's book series published by Edizioni Piemme of Milan, Italy, since 2000. Scholastic has published the English version of this series since February 2004. So far, readers have been delighted by 35 titles, with the latest scheduled for release in 2009. The series is aimed at the 9-12 year-old set, and has been translated into 35 languages.

"Author" Geronimo Stilton 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.

One can expect several constants in each book, despite the variety of predicaments Geronimo finds himself in. The text is sprinkled with words of varying fonts, sizes and colors. Funny puns, similes and metaphors abound. Sentences are short and to the point, yet full of action and description that move the story along at a rapid pace. Each book includes fun informative articles here and there - written by Geronimo, of course, and illustrated, to boot - that provide the reader with relevant background on the places he goes and the things he writes about. The cartoon illustrations are bright, colorful, funny, and complement the text perfectly. 

To help in sorting out all the characters and places Geronimo writes about, readers will find, right at the beginning of each book, a labeled drawing of each mouse at The Rodent's Gazette. At the end of each book, Geronimo includes an author biography, as well as labeled maps of The Rodent's Gazette Building, New Mouse City, and Mouse Island.

For Teachers and Librarians: Though the Geronimo Stilton series is aimed at ages 9-12, your smaller guys and gals will delight at hearing Geronimo's antics read aloud, and will enjoy looking at the pictures, reading the maps, and even following along with the text to discover the fancy fonts. You can do so much with this series for those younger readers, and the target ages, and even kids who are a little bit older, and there are 35 different adventures to choose from. Map reading skills come into play, research skills, geography, history, sports, manufacturing, story elements, food, wild west towns, islands, travel, paleontology...even stolen identities! You really can't go wrong. Grab a Geronimo Stilton book (or two, or thirty-five) and get it into your classroom. Your students will thank you, and you will have a wealth of material to choose from. And besides all the educational possibilites, these books are a riot for the kids!

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
If your little guys (and even your bigger guys) have a funny bone, this is a series you have to get into your home. Geronimo Stilton is a mouse, and he writes all about his adventures, making sure his reader knows he would much rather have a quiet cup of tea in his comfy chair at home. Your kids will laugh out loud at the antics of Geronimo and his family as they wrangle their way out of countless impossible and action-packed predicaments. Great to read aloud, and fun to read on their own, this series of books is one the kiddos will not want to stop reading.

For the Kids:
Did you know there's a mouse out there that runs a newspaper, and writes books? Well, there is, and his name is Geronimo Stilton: a 'fraidy mouse who somehow ends up in all kinds of wild places and funny spots, all thanks to his loud but loving family. There are 35 books, and each one has a different adventure to read about, like the one where Geronimo gets stuck fighting a bull in the wild, wild west. Then there's book where he ends up shipwrecked on pirate islands. Oh, and of course there's the one where he ends up in the middle of the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, and they discover dinosaur bones. But don't take my word for it - ask your parents to take you to the library or your bookstore, get one (or two, or more) Geronimo Stilton books, and get reading (or ask someone to read it to you). You'll be so glad you did!

Fun, fast, and packed with adventure, the Geronimo Stilton books are a must read, sure to become children's classics someday.

Title of Book One: Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye
Author: Geronimo Stilton
Illustrators: Matt Wolf, Mark Nithael, and Kat Stevens
Pages: 128
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher and Date: Scholastic, Inc., February 2004
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $6.99
ISBN-10: 0439559634
ISBN-13: 978-0439559638

"Author" Spotlight: Geronimo Stilton

Geronimo Stilton - a spectacle-wearing, mild-mannered mouse - is a best-selling author and publisher of The Rodent's Gazette newspaper. Online issues of The Rodent's Gazette can be found on the Scholastic website

Mr. Stilton is a self-described "fraidy-mouse" who prefers a calm, quiet, comfortable life to one filled with adventure. He hates to travel, as he gets airsick, carsick, and seasick. 

And yet, he is constantly finding himself in the midst of one heart-pounding adventure after another, along with his sister Thea Stilton (an adventure-loving photographer), his annoying jokester cousin Trapp Stilton (owner of the marketplace Cheap Junk for Less), and his favorite nephew Benjamin Stilton (a nine year old mouse hoping to work with his favorite Uncle Stilton someday). He chronicles these adventures in the popular Geronimo Stilton chapter book series.

According to the bio page included in each book in the series, Geronimo Stilton was born in New Mouse City, on Mouse Island, and lives there still. He is Rattus Emeritus of Mousomorphic Literature and of Neo-Ratonic Comparative Philosophy. He has run The Rodent's Gazette - New Mouse City's most widely read daily - for the past 20 years. In his spare time, Mr. Stilton collects antique cheese rinds, plays golf, and tells stories to his favorite nephew Benjamin.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Operation Find the Filth

I was about to embark on a stealth mission. It would be bold. It would be risky. It would most likely fail, but I just had to try. So, I loaded up two kiddos, three suitcases, and one bewildered pet grow-a-frog, then made the hours-long trip to Grandma and Grandpa's house for a week of swimming, playing...and snooping. 

What? Snooping? In my own parents' home? 


And what, you may ask, was I planning to snoop for?


Yeah. But it's not what you think. (What kind of person do you think I am?) I'm not digging for the latest family gossip. It's the actual, germy, need-to-vacuum-it-up kind of dirt that I'm after.

See, I have never found dirt in my mother's house. Never. N-e-v-e-r. Not even when three teenagers lived there - all at the same time. But this trip, I was determined to find some. (Dirt, of course. Not teenagers.) I mean really! No mere mortal can possibly continue to maintain the impossible Cleanliness Utopia that is my parents' home: where dirt never settles, dust never flies, and crumbs never find the table, let alone the floor.

So, one day, after my dad left for work and Mom took the kids out to Walmart (it doesn't take much to please my little darlings), I began my search.

I figured it was best to start at the top, so I went upstairs to the bedrooms. I checked the tops of door jambs and the corners behind doors. Nothing. Not even an hint of dust on the top ledge of the baseboards. 

Same deal in the family room and sitting room. No stray dust bunnies glaring out from beneath the couch. No fuzzy coatings on the photo frame glass. No defiant bits of fluff skating across the wood floor.

Next stop: the bathrooms. No ring in the bathtub - not even a hint of grit as I ran an accusatory finger around the edge. Not even some token soap scum clinging forgotten in a corner of the shower doors. The toilets - the toilets I tell you - gleamed with so much cleanliness, you could eat off of them. (Not that you'd want to, but still, I'm just saying...)

That led me to the kitchen. No little bits of grime in that no-man's-land in that teeny crack where cabinet meets floor. No crumbs and crusts and who-knows-what-else under the stove. Not even the remnants of an old spill or splatter in the fridge.


Even growing up, the most I saw was the occasional clump of dog hair - and that was quickly snatched up - after it left the dog but before it even had a chance to hit the floor. So, I know this failure to find filth of any kind is not the result of a frenzied cleaning spree before The Company comes. (What? No, I don't know anyone who regularly cleans in that manner...) 

And now, here I am again, in this impossibly clean house, wondering why. Why, why, why did I not inherit this cleanliness gene?

But... Wait a minute... What if... OK, stay with me now: I rarely see her actually scrub. I do see her run the vacuum sometimes, but only if I'm quick enough to come running when I hear it turn on. And yet, it's always squeaky clean here... Soooooo...

That's it! Of course! I can't believe I didn't figure it out before! It's gotta be elves. Or sprites. Fairies. Maybe even Brownies - and I mean the little fairie-type creatures you can read about in The Spiderwick Chronicles, NOT the little girls in the brown outfits that dream of being Girl Scouts one day. Don't you see? That has to be it! She has some wee little creatures that-

What? You don't think it's... 

Oh. Really?

I guess mere mortals really can maintain a Cleanliness Utopia. And in my mom's case, it's not virtual. It's real.

And unfortunately, it's not hereditary.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Natural Lullabye

It's late. 

The rest of the house has long since retired. 

I'm writing, thinking, listening.

A gentle rain tap, tap, taps on the roof above me. The water trickles down the sloped roof, carried along the gutters until it cascades down, down through the rainspouts. The lumbering thunder rolls in the distance. The occasional flashes of lightning disappear as quickly as they arrive, a sharp contrast to the comforting blanket of darkness. 

The stage is wonderfully set for a blissful night's sleep.

With that, faithful readers (and new readers, and accidental-but-I-hope-you-stick-around readers) I bid you goodnight. I just can't resist taking advantage of this most fortunate set of circumstances...



Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Calling All Lefties! August 13 is Your Day!

All these years, I thought August 13 was special because it's my Aunt N's birthday AND it is my friend and one-time fellow Beastie Girl's birthday. (Yeah, I used to love the Beastie Boys. I make no apologies.)

Anyway, I have come to find out August 13 is also special because it's Left Handers' Day. Yes, there's a day to celebrate left-handedness. Who knew? And, not only is there a whole day dedicated to all things lefty, there's a website, too: Left-Handers' Day 2008. I kid you not. Whether you are a lefty or a righty or an ambidextry, you have got to check it out. It is a veritable cornucopia of fascinating information and fun stuff and quizzes and surveys, and help for left-handers. 

But wait, there's more. On that website is a page all about the Left-Handers Club, formed in 1990. Their goal?

"The Left-Handers Club was formed in 1990 aiming to keep members in touch with developments, make their views known to manufacturers and others, provide a help & advice line, to promote research into left-handedness and development of new left-handed items."

If you ever wanted to know what it's like to be a lefty living in a righty world, you will find a wealth of information and fun on Left-Handers' Day 2008

Now, in honor of all you southpaws out there, I dedicate this post to all things lefty:

Origin of the nickname "southpaw"
It came about in the late 1890's, when most baseball fields were laid out so that the pitcher faced west and the batter faced east. Well, when a left-handed pitcher threw a pitch, it was with his arm that was toward the south - hence left-handed folks came to be referred to as "southpaws."

Lefty Facts
  • Most left-handed people draw figures facing to the right.
  • Left-handers adjust more readily to seeing underwater.
  • Four of the five original designers of the Macintosh computer were left-handed. (Hey! So that's why the little red x's to close a window are on the left on Macs...)
  • Four of the last six presidents have been left-handed.
  • In the 1992 US Presidential election, all three major candidates were left handed.

A Few Famous Lefties
  • Alexander the Great 
  • Julius Caesar 
  • Henry Ford - auto manufacturer
  • Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin - astronaut 
  • Helen Keller
  • David Letterman
  • Robert Plant
  • Michelangelo
  • Sid Caesar - comedian
  • Kermit the Frog

Folklore and Superstitions
  • Throwing salt over one's left shoulder wards off evil spirits.
  • An itchy right palm means money is on it's way to you, but if your left hand itches it means you'll be giving your money away.
  • When dressmaking, it is believed to be bad luck to sew the left sleeve on to a garment before the right sleeve is sewn on.
  • The ancient Zuni considered left-handedness to be a sign of good luck.
  • Anyone who digs coal out of the ground from under his/her left foot in the spring will have very good luck.

Did You Know?
  • Officials in MENSA (a high IQ society) believe as many as 20% of their members are lefties.
  • The first recorded Siamese twins, born in 1811 and joined at the waist, were named Chang and Eng - which meant "Left" and "Right."
  • Studies show that left-handers are more likely to have allergies than their right-handed counterparts.
  • Using a standard "qwerty" keyboard and typing with both hands as is traditionally done, about 3400 English words are typed with only the left hand, while only about 450 are typed only with the right. Go ahead - try these out: watercress, aftereffects, reverberated...

A Righty-Biased World?
  • The intended meaning of "ambidexterity" is "skillful on both sides." But, since it contains the Latin root "dexter," which means "right," it ends up technically meaning "right-handed at both sides."
  • "Cultural pressures" for using the right hand were prevalent in industrial societies in the 18th and 19th centuries and even well into the 20th century. 
  • Scissors. 'Nuff said.

Left-Handers, Rejoice!
Left-handers have right brain dominance. Soooo:
  • They're more likely than righties to be creative and visual thinkers.
  • They're generally better at three-dimensional perception and thinking.
  • They're usually pretty good at most ball sports and things involving hand-eye coordination.

Happy Left-Handers' Day to all the left-handers out there! May your scissors always cut crisply, may your right hand always itch, and may you never be blinded by flying salt.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

My Door-to-Door Don'ts

Do you remember when you were a kid, and your school/girl scout troop/baseball team/insert-your-group-here sent you home with those fundraising plastic cups, or hoagie order forms, or boxes of candy bars? You went door-to-door to sell them, didn't you? (Unless you were one of those lucky few whose parents worked somewhere with a bazillion co-workers, so they sold, like, thousands of candy bars for you, and you won all the selling prizes, while kids - like me - whose parents said, "It's your school. You sell them yourself" scrabbled together orders for, oh, 32. Maybe. Yeah, I've got a wee little chip there.) 

Thank goodness nobody thinks that's safe for kids anymore. (Can you tell I hate-hate-hated selling stuff as a kid?) Well, now that kids don't sell door-to-door anymore, the field is wide open to everyone else. But, I never buy stuff from people I don't know who show up at my door, for three reasons. One is larcenous, one is villainous, and one is just plain icky-ous: 

The Larcenous Reason:
I don't buy from people who show up on my doorstep asking me to buy magazines, because I'm still waiting for the ones I ordered from those girls who said they were paying their way through college by selling magazines. Oh, that, and they were competing with other college kids to try and win a Spring Break trip if they sold the most magazines. That was 1992. I wonder if they've graduated yet...

The Villainous Reason:
I don't buy from people who show up on my doorstep asking me to buy something big, because of the vacuum salesman that I politely turned down (and did not allow in the house) back in 1998. Turns out, my neighbor across the street called the cops and had him arrested. Why? Well, after I shut my door, said vacuum salesman decided to case my house and try to find a different - and unannounced - way in. 

The Icky-Ous Reason:
I don't give contributions to people who show up on my doorstep asking for charitable donations because of this one year, when a local charitable group (NOT where I live now) knocked on my door well after dark, with flashlights, looking for contributions. Legit or not, that's just creepy.

So, I'm not a big fan of buying from the door-to-door peeps. Buying from brick-and-mortars aren't really my cup of tea, either.

But, that's another post for another time...

Friday, August 8, 2008

Book Review: The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart

In a city called Stonetown, near a port called Stonetown Harbor, a boy named Reynie Muldoon was preparing to take an important test.

Summary: 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?

For Teachers and Librarians: Where to begin? First and foremost, The Mysterious Benedict Society is an excellent story - one that will grab and keep the attention of each of your students. There's something for everyone here: mystery, danger, action, good vs. evil, puzzles, problem-solving, humor...even poetry! Weaved throughout are larger issues about society, power and control, as well as more personal journeys related to self-confidence, self-doubt, inner strength, leadership, trust and friendship. You could branch out into so many different directions, it's mind-boggling. Pick up a copy for yourself and read it. And keep a notebook and pencil right beside you as you read - with the watershed of lesson ideas that will no doubt pour from your mind as you read, you'll be glad you did!

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers: Author Trenton Lee Stewart said in an interview with that the idea for The Mysterious Benedict Society came from his belief that "children are often seen, rarely heard, and always underestimated!" This is definitely a kid-power book. It will show your kids that they are important, and that they have great ideas that are worth listening to and acting upon. They will see that that with hard work and the help of friends and others who care about them, they can do almost anything. The story is action-packed, funny, serious, puzzling, mysterious, sometimes sad, and always surprising. The kids in this story learn a lot about themselves, the world they live in, and the adults who support them. What will your kids get from this story? The possibilities boggle the mind - so make sure to get a copy into their hands as soon as possible.

For the Kids: The world needs saving, but almost nobody knows it. Nobody, that is, except for four kids and the adults who brought them together. And get this: the only ones who can fix what's going wrong is the kids! There is so much in this book to like: a secret mission, snooping around for clues, solving riddles, even figuring out Morse Code. There is danger around every corner, but there's also help around every corner, too - if they can just solve the riddles to figure out what the help is. These are four kids who have the same feelings lots of kids have - they worry about their families, they worry about their friends, they get afraid, they wonder if they're good people and if they're strong enough or smart enough to do what has to be done. They laugh with each other, sometimes they get mad at each other, but they're always there for each other. So, can their friendship survive this most dangerous mission?

For Everyone Else: The Mysterious Benedict Society has a little bit of everything: mystery, action, poetry, humor, adventure, and an epic battle of good vs evil. There's so much to like here, and so many ways for you to identify with so many characters, you'll find it hard to put down...

Wrapping Up:

Title: The Mysterious Benedict Society
Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
Illustrator: Carson Ellis
Pages: 512 pages
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher and Date: Little, Brown Young Readers, April 1, 2008
Edition: Paperback
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $6.99
ISBN-10: 0316003956
ISBN-13: 978-0316003957