Monday, May 24, 2010

New Column: It's Music To My Ears

So I like music. That's been true forever, and it's no secret to those who know me. Recently some friends and I made an agreement. Now that we are grownups (technically) and full-fledged members of the parenting fraternity (actually), the time has come to share the great music of our youth with our children.

Considering our youth spanned the mid 1980s to the early 1990s, it turned out to be more of a challenge than anticipated.

As a side note, and for the record, I could have eliminated the challenge and simply chosen a couple Toad the Wet Sprocket albums and called it good. Great band, Toad. But that was against the rules to which we'd all agreed.

Anyways, read more at Creating playlist a trip through time or here's the printable version.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Spaceheadz Book One by Jon Scieszka

When you’re the new kid in fifth grade, the last thing you want is to draw any negative sort of attention on the first day of school. So when new kid Michael K. is befriended by Spaceheadz from another planet masquerading as fifth graders on day one, his prospects ain’t good. Now consider that Bob and Jennifer, two of the disguised Spaceheadz, have learned everything they know about Earth from monitoring our TV and radio waves – and behave accordingly – and you start to recognize the direness of Michael K.’s situation.

And one more thing: The third Spaceheadz is the class hamster, Major Fluffy.

Yeah, Micheal K.’s fifth grade year is off to a memorable (forgettable?) start.

Eventually Michael K. learns that SPHDZ, despite their odd appearance and propensity to quote American TV commercials, are actually on a mission to save Earth. They may be somewhat misguided, but they are well intentioned. Part of their plan is to give Charmin to Earth persons to make them happy and want to be SPHDZ. After all, “It is ultrastrong. And it also makes bears very happy.” It’s the sort of logic you’d expect from beings who’ve learned all they know about Earth from our TV and advertisements.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with bears,” explains Michael K. “It’s toilet paper, you know?”

Ultimately, their plan involves recruiting 3.14 million and one Earth persons to create one gigantic SPHDZ Brain Wave or Earth gets turned off. Click.

Working against SPHDZ, and all alien activity, is Agent Umber and the Anti-Alien Agency. Constantly on the lookout for aliens, Agent Umber is alerted to a possible AEW (Alien Energy Wave) in his sector at coordinates D-7, which just happens to be room 501B, Brooklyn P.S. 858. Mrs. Halley’s fifth grade. Agent Umber sees his opportunity to catch a real alien, earn a promotion, and save the Earth.

I tell you about this book not because I recommend it, although I do. I do so because it is my pledged duty to BE A SPHDZ, and odd things happen when you are SPHDZ. I have promised to grow the SPHDZ network and to add my brainwaves to the 3.14 million SPHDZ G Group Brainwave needed to save the planet Earth.  I share this book with you because:

I am Automatic Shampoo-SPHDZ.BW.

Do the same. Read Jon Scieszka's Spaceheadz Book One. BE SPHDZ.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Calvin Coconut: Dog Heaven by Graham Salisbury

Calvin Coconut used to have a dog, a beagle named Chewy. That was before his dad, Little Johnny Coconut, left Hawaii and moved to Las Vegas to become the famous Little Johnny Coconut and took Chewy with him. Now Calvin is stuck with Manly Stanley, a giant centipede who actually lives at school, and Stella, who does live at Calvin’s house, but she’s a sixteen-year-old Texan allergic to cats and possibly anything else with fur.

But maybe Mr. Purdy’s lessons on persuasive writing will do the trick. The topic? What I Want So Badly I Can Taste It. Calvin’s subject? A dog. He knows he’ll never get one due to Stella’s allergies, but Ledward, Mom’s boyfriend, lends some assistance. He takes Calvin and his sister, Darci, to his place to show him his pet. Blackie. A pig.

And just how does a pig help? Well, not too much, actually, but Ledward grew up having dogs and knows a thing or two about boys and dogs. Ledward plans a secret trip for Calvin to Dog Heaven. “What’s dog heaven?” asks Darci.

“I show you. Go tell the girl you and Calvin going someplace with me,” replies Ledward.

When they arrive at the Humane Society, Calvin meets Streak. Only Streak is actually Ruby, a year-old female Border collie mix. And mom still doesn’t know anything about it, nor has she given even the slightest hint that that she might allow a dog.

Calvin explains, “I started my essay. Mr. Purdy’s one-page assignment had somehow grown four legs and a beating heart. My imaginary dog had become real. Her name was Streak, and I wanted to rescue her.

“So much I could taste it.”

Mr. Purdy’s persuasive writing lessons make an impact on Calvin, and Calvin’s writing will have an impact on readers. Calvin Coconut: Dog Heaven, in a teacher’s hands, may even have an effect on young writers. Calvin has more working for him than his writing – Ledward, mostly – but he’ll take any help he can get to prove that he should get to keep Streak.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

I’ll be right up front: I thoroughly enjoyed Smile by Raina Telgemeier. It’s an extremely welcome addition to my ever growing collection of graphic novels. That needed to be said up front because of what comes next.

Ready? Here it comes.

Smile reminded me of wearing braces for – no lie – six years. Third grade to ninth grade, not counting the cemented retainer that lasted long after I could vote and enjoy certain frosty beverages. Smile reminded me of getting teeth pulled, wearing orthodontic headgear, shots of Novocain, “this won’t hurt a bit,” and dental surgery. Ms. Telgemeier and I share some common history.

It most certainly did NOT remind me of my days in girl scouts nor of the New Kids on the Block image on my retainer. Did. Not. Just saying.

You can see why that opening paragraph was needed now, right? Had I just started with braces and headgear and NKOTB, you’d have thought there was no way I was recommending this book. But I am. Just not necessarily for those reasons.

Smile, an autobiographical graphic novel, starts when Raina is in sixth grade. Raina is already set to get braces, but one accidental fall and subsequent face-plant later, she finds herself missing her two front teeth. What was once routine orthodontia now becomes much more serious. But while the story centers on her dental adventures, much more is going on, and I’m almost ashamed to admit that I nearly missed it.

Smile explores relationships between friends during the junior high years. What I thought was normal teasing, mostly anyway, was actually having a stronger effect on Raina than I noticed. The book is quick read, but the story goes from sixth grade into high school. I think the passage of time escaped me, and I missed Raina’s mounting frustration from years of comments.

After a final humiliating experience, one last time being the butt her friends’ jokes, Raina realizes the people she’s surrounded herself with are friends in name only. And she makes it perfectly clear to all involved. Raina’s decision is one I wish all kids had the strength to make – sooner than later.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Benny and Penny in the Toy Breaker by Geoffrey Hayes

Another seemingly perfect day for Benny and Penny is underway. They have a treasure map that leads to loot, spoons and pails for digging, and a spyglass. The day quickly takes a turn for the worse, however, with an announcement:

“Benny…Penny! Cousin Bo is here.”

Cousin Bo! Oh no! All the toys must be hidden, and fast, because Cousin Bo always breaks them. Sure enough, even though Cousin Bo’s asks, “Where are all your toys?” he finds one almost immediately. The paddleball smacks Benny in the eye, Bo gives Benny a RAZZ!, and he refuses to give the toy back. Bo only lets go when he notices the treasure map. And of course, the paddleball breaks.

Geoffrey Hayes and Toon-Books continue to create and publish excellent graphic novels for younger readers. Not only to readers read the speech bubbles, but Bo steals the map with a SNATCH!, runs through the kiddie-pool with a SPLASH!, and collides with Benny with a POOM!. Sound effects and strong expressions – Penny’s NO! and GAAAAA!! for example – enhance readers’ experience on nearly every page.

Benny and Penny’s attempts to continue their treasure hunt without Bo are unsuccessful as Bo taunts, tricks, and teases them continuously. When his antics break Penny’s beloved monkey, Benny’s reaction drives Bo away. He says he’ll find a new friend.

Instead, he finds himself stuck under the fence. Crying.

Geoffrey Hayes gets his young characters exactly right. Benny and Penny are frustrated with how Bo treats their toys. Bo just wants to play but doesn’t express his desire well. All of them are quick to jump to conclusions and tears make more than one appearance, but in the end they discover – together – that toys and maps aren’t always needed.

Sometimes you can just play, and that way nothing gets broken.