Monday, November 1, 2010

It Shall Be Held on the First Blue Moon After the 42nd Shooting Star, But No Earlier Than Right After Ethel Gets Her Yearly Haircut...

Election Day is almost upon us here in the United States. This year, it's to be held tomorrow, Tuesday, November 2, 2010.

How do I know when Election Day is? Well, you would think I know this because of the four-hundred-thirty-two-thousand-three-hundred-seventeen (mostly negative) pieces of campaign ads that jam my mailbox.

Or the four-hundred-thirty-two-thousand-three-hundred-seventeen TV ads (mostly negative) that bombard me from my TV screen.

Or even the four-hundred-thirty-two-thousand-three-hundred-seventeen robo calls that hog my phone line. (Full Disclosure: I can't say the phone calls are negative, because I hang up as soon as I know it's a robo call.)

But, none of those things are why I know tomorrow is Election Day.

I know tomorrow is Election Day because it is so noted in our country's laws: 1st Tuesday after the 1st Monday in November.

One may wonder (and legitimately so) why on Earth the crafters of the Constitution and its many additions/amendments/laws/etc came up with such a convoluted way of assigning the date for holding national elections. Wouldn't a simple, static month/date designation suffice? Well, yes, if this weren't Government. But it is. So it won't.

Despite the notion that "It's the Government, Stupid," I needed a better explanation, so I went digging (as you regular readers knew I would), and here's what I found:

Why November?
National elections are widely believed to be held in November because back when the United States was a mainly agrarian society, this was the month when harvest was over, and so more folks would be free to get out and vote. Another reason was that holding elections in November, rather than later in winter, meant better weather for travel.

While these things probably had a lot to do with it, there is a more legislative reason. The United States Constitution stipulates only that the Electoral College (electors of the US President and Vice President in their respective states) should be chosen on the same day nationwide. It does not say that this has to be a particular date. So, in 1792, a law was passed mandating that presidential elections be held anytime in the 34 day period before the 1st Wednesday in December, which is the designated day for the Electoral College to meet and cast their votes. And that 34 day period, of course, places Election Day roughly in November.

Why 34 days before? So there was enough time to count the votes before a new congressional session began. Why the 1st Wednesday in December? No idea. That's another post for another time.

Does your head hurt yet? Keep reading. And have your headache med of choice handy.

Now, this 34 Days Before thing seemed fine and dandy, except that people began to realize that states which voted later in that 34 day period could be influenced by the candidates who won and lost in states which voted earlier. And this problem continued to grow as communication methods improved. Which brings us to:

Why Tuesday?
This one has a practical explanation, and a convoluted one. Of course.

The practical explanation is: people used to have to travel quite far in order to vote. Traveling by horse was the conveyance of choice (and necessity) in the mid-1800's. So, people needed time to travel. Then there were those who did not want to travel on religious rest days such as Sunday. So having an election on a Tuesday meant travel days of Monday and Wednesday, with a day in between to rest your horses, and no religious rest days involved.

The convoluted explanation is: to eliminate the influence problem of the 34 day window, Congress came up with a bill in 1844 to designate one single Election Day for all states, on the 1st Tuesday in November, in years divisible by 4.

Why divisible by four? Again, no idea. (Although personally, I think it's all a super-secret plot cooked up by headache medicine makers in order to send us running for the pharmacy shelves, thereby shooting their profits through the roof. Maybe.) Anyway, keep reading, 'cause we're not done yet. I haven't gotten to the part where the bill became a law. But not before it was tweaked.

Did you remember a glass of water to wash down that headache medicine?

OK. So Why the 1st Tuesday after the 1st Monday?
This one is also a two-parter.

Firstly, it's part of that whole reluctance-to-travel explanation: November 1st was and is a Catholic holy day (All Saints Day). Also, shopkeepers did their books for the preceding month on the first of the month, and would be reluctant to disrupt business to go vote. So if the 1st Tuesday fell on November 1st, or on the 1st business day of November, a significant number of citizens would opt not to vote.

Secondly, it's part of that whole "It's the Government, Stupid" thing. See, some smart soul (or someone with entirely too much time on his hands) discovered that the bill as it stood would render some years as having more than the prescribed 34 days from the 1st Tuesday in November through the 1st Wednesday in December, as set out in the 1792 law. And so, between the traveling issues and the business issues and the previous law, the obvious solution was to amend the bill to "1st Tuesday after the 1st Monday in November," which was voted into law in 1845.

But, wait. This isn't a presidential election.
No, it's not. But it is a National Election Day. It's just that, this time, we're electing congressmen and such. See, there is later legislation about the election of members of the House of Representatives (1872)*, and then after that about the election of Senators (1914). And somewhere in all of this legislation, it was noted that these elections would be held every two years, in even-numbered years. But further than that (for instance, why we're voting for governors tomorrow, along with the congressmen) I cannot say. Yet.

Besides, I'm all out of ibuprofin.

- - -

*One source told me 1872, and one told me 1875. I haven't been able to find which is correct through my online research, but if you can point me in the right direction, please let me know via email or comments. All sources I used are below.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Innocence Lost?

October 31st is...Carve a Pumpkin Day. (What? You thought I'd say "Halloween?" Well, yeah, but that goes without saying, doesn't it?)

So, October 31st is Carve a Pumpkin Day. Here at Chez Wheedleton, we usually carve our pumpkins a week or so before. This is not a usual year, however, because we have yet to carve our pumpkins for 2010. And today, as I perused a giant cardboard bin full of large, bright orange pumpkins just screaming to be carved, I thought back to Wheedleton Pumpkins Past.

Pre-children, my husband C and I carved pumpkins every year for Halloween: silly faces, mostly. (OK, I carved. He watched and lamented his lack of pumpkin-carving prowess. But he did at least pull out the guts.) Post-children, we still did silly-faced Jack-o-Lanterns, but per the kiddos' requests, came to add a slew of Disney character carvings to our artistic repertoire.

When they were old enough to wield a pencil with some authority, our Small Offspring would enthusiastically wave their masterpiece drawings inches from my face, then scrutinize my work very closely to be sure their design's integrity remained intact: black cats with arched backs, happy ghosties, Halloween-y words and phrases, and whatever else caught their fancies.

As those Small Offspring grew, the design requests got more intricate - like the kind where you carve both the front and the back, so that when you put the candle or light inside the pumpkin, the light shines out through the front picture, plus a design is illuminated on the wall behind the pumpkin through the back carving. Very cool. But even with an increased Coolness Factor, they were still the silly, friendly Jack-o-Lanterns of yore.

And then came last year. When pumpkin carving night came, Handsome Boy pulled out his paper with his design ideas, which were more-or-less friendly-Halloween themed. Lovely Girl had other ideas. She had jabbered on about them for weeks, and furthermore insisted that 2009 was the year she would carve solo. But when Handsome Boy saw her design, and saw that I was allowing it, he was beyond thrilled, and asked if she would share.

She said yes.

So 2009 found Chez Wheedleton with just one pumpkin on display. But what a display:

Barfolamew (the Barfkin) was awesome: a total hit with Trick-or-Treaters from tiny to tall.

But oh, I miss those little, smudgy drawings, clenched in tiny, hopeful fists...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Those Wily Librarians

Lovely Girl came racing up the sidewalk after school the other day, just bursting to tell me about...her library book. (Yep. Her library book. We here at Chez Wheedleton are Unapologetic Book Fiends.)

Specifically, she was bursting to tell me about choosing her library book: See, she was perusing the shelves, just meandering, until a book, any book at all, caught her eye.

And then, she saw it.

Was it a title she'd been eagerly looking for?
Not this time.

Was it the fantastic illustration on the cover?

Was it the shiny gold lettering on the spine?
Sort of.

This is the title as she saw it that day, sitting innocently on her school library bookshelf:

Lovely Girl snatched that book up without even cracking it open. She couldn't get to the check out desk fast enough. In fact, she didn't even notice that the book is by an author she loves until she got home and pulled it out of her backpack to show it to me.

Sticker placement coincidence?

Fellow potty humor enthusiast?

Or a very clever librarian?

We may never know.

- - -

The full title of the book pictured above is The Telling Pool, by David Clement-Davies. The Third Crusade? Arthurian legend? Ancient magical pool? Enchantment? A boy who must defeat an evil sorceress and save his father? Awesome!

I called dibs after she's done reading it.

(Oh, who am I kidding? I see a bookstore visit in my very near future...)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Book Review: Here Be Monsters! The Ratbridge Chronicles, Volume 1, by Alan Snow

"I saw these men hunting cheese and I went to have a look, but my wings broke and the hunters took them, and then I escaped and was trying to get back down underground when they blocked up my hole."

"But what were you doing aboveground? And what wings? I don't understand," said Willbury.

Arthur decided to tell Willbury all. "I was gathering food." His face grew red, but he continued. "It's the only way we can survive. My grandfather is so frail now that I have to do it. And he made me some wings so I could get about the town easily."

"Your grandfather gave you wings?"

Summary: 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?

For Teachers and Librarians:
Here Be Monsters! fits into many literary niches: fantasy, adventure, a bit of steampunk, mystery, and humor. Use it in conjunction with social studies and history, as it touches on industry, factories, invention, law and order, family groups, a fictional town based loosely in 1800's England, and the big one: pirates! Use it in art classes to study pen and ink drawings, as the book is crammed with over 500 of them. Science classes will find discussions of electromagnetics, mechanical and steam-powered machines, and environmental concerns tied to depletion of natural resources and its resultant aftermath. But most of all, it is a book that will have your students laughing at the antics of the characters, commiserating with their setbacks, and cheering with their successes.

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Here Be Monsters! is a book both you and your kiddos will enjoy. It is full of humor, fantasy, mystery, and adventure. It's a great introduction into the steampunk genre, if you've been wondering what that is. And it's a really fun book, with odd characters like wild English cheeses, boxtrolls, cabbageheads, and seacows (interpreted quite literally, and bearing only a passing resemblance to the manatees you might be thinking of).

Arthur is a sweet kid who loves his adoptive grandfather, and wants to do what's right, and is able to find friends to trust when he ends up in a rather tight spot. You'll find themes of family, loyalty, friendship, trust, mystery, adventure, and much more. It's very different, and yet not, and it will give you and the kiddos plenty to talk about. But most of all, it's fun!

For the Kids:
Here Be Monsters! has some very odd creatures: boxtrolls, and cabbageheads, and wild English cheeses, and vicious trotting badgers, and even pirates-turned-laundry-business-owners. It has a boy who can fly, and talking rats and crows, and dastardly villians with names like Archibald Snatcher, and stinky cheese. Lots of stinky cheese. Now, I ask you: who doesn't love a story with stinky cheese and flying boys and laundry-washing pirates? If you like fun, and adventure, and mystery, and inventions, then this is the book for you. Oh, and did I mention the pictures? It's full of over 500 drawings to go with the story. What are you waiting for? Go find it, and read it.

For Everyone Else:
Here Be Monsters! is definitely a book for the young-at-heart. Besides the funny stuff, it also has little bit of steampunk, a big dose of fantasy, plenty of adventure, some classic mystery, a decidedly English flavor, and a variety of things to make you think. Maybe you'll even learn a little bit of something new by the time you're done. Give it a try.

Wrapping Up:
Here Be Monsters! Find it. Read it. Have fun with it.

Title: Here Be Monsters! The Ratbridge Chronicles, Volume 1
Author and Illustrator: Alan Snow
Pages: 544
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher and Date: Atheneum, 2006
Edition: 1st United States edition
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $17.95
ISBN-10: 0-689-87047-7
ISBN-13: 978-0-689-87047-7

Author Spotlight: Alan Snow

Alan Snow has worked in a wide variety of situations: design of a children's museum in Japan; design of a project robot; mixing flavors into yogurt; forestry and tree surgery; box-maker in a factory; car design on a Third World jeep project; laborer in a bed factory; sound engineer for Reggae and Indie bands; and work in animation, film, and computers. He has even had a hand in the creation of wedding dresses...and inflatable ball gowns.

Mr. Snow attended art college between 1975 and 1979, where he studied fashion design and illustration. This schooling proved helpful not only for creating those inflatable ball gowns, but also for his more bookish pursuits: he has been illustrating since 1983, and has both written and illustrated over 160 books for children.

Of all of those books, Here Be Monsters! (2006, Atheneum) is Alan Snow's first novel. But this book has its own story: it was first published in 2005, in England, by Oxford University Press, in three parts: Pants Ahoy!, The Man in the Iron Socks, and Cheese Galore. When Snow's novels made it across the pond to the United States, they were merged into one big, 544 page, 500+ illustration-filled book: Here Be Monsters! The Ratbridge Chronicles, Volume 1.

Alan Snow was born in Bexley Heath, London, England, in 1959. He currently lives in Bath, England, and has one daughter and one son.

Backflap of Here Be Monsters!

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.

- - -

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.

- - -

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