Munchkin Tuesday: Beverly Cleary

I completely identified with Beezus as a kid. Especially that chapter where she cops to being totally freaked out by the basement.

Speaking as an English major who spent a lot of time reading a lot of great literature, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that Beverly Cleary is the greatest author in all of American lit.

I love the Beats, I adore Faulkner, and I admire the Algonquin Round Table‘s caustic humor, but in the end, nobody can hold a candle to Beverly Cleary, the children’s librarian who in 1950 set out to write the kinds of books she wanted to read as a child. The result of that first effort was a brilliant little novel called Henry Huggins that more or less encapsulated, in 155 pages, exactly what it is to be a kid.

The world has changed since 1950, but somehow Henry and his friends remain timely, perhaps because the overall experience of being a kid really hasn’t changed. I’m reminded of this every year when I require my sophomores to write a narrative essay about their funniest childhood memory, and three-fourths of the kids’ essays recount the sorts of adventures (and misadventures) that Henry and the rest of the kids on Klickitat Street would be proud to share.

Louis Darling is one of my all-time favorite illustrators.

The perils and delights of childhood — embarrassing moments, lost pets, playground bullies, prolific guppies, creative entrepreneurial efforts, annoying classmates, bratty younger siblings, silly fears, etc., etc., etc. — are universal, and Cleary captures them in magnificent detail.

The earliest editions of her books are my favorites, as they were illustrated by the great Louis Darling, who captures the essence of each character in a few simple strokes. Some very cool person called AnnainCA has posted some of Darling’s illustrations on Flickr. Go take a look. If you grew up reading Cleary, you’ll almost certainly love them as much as I do.

Portland, Ore., put in a Cleary-themed splash pad/sculpture garden in 1995. I want to go play in it. Route 66 will always be my favorite road, but the Klickitat Street of Cleary’s imagining is most definitely first runner-up.

If you’ve never read her work, get yourself to the library. Now. You can thank me later.


Sunday lit meme

OK, so I just remembered I had this great Sunday-night-lit-meme idea a couple of years ago, posted two of ’em, and then proceeded to forget all about it.

As I can’t think of anything better to write about at the conclusion of a busy weekend that involved a lot of volunteering for stuff I’ve got no business doing (e.g., putting together a newsletter, ostensibly on a one-shot basis, although I think we all know how that’s going to turn out), I’ll just see how long it takes me to lose track of a meme this time around.

Here’s your question for the week:

Who are your five favorite children’s authors, and why?

Here are mine:

1. Beverly Cleary. Nobody has ever understood what it is to be a kid quite as thoroughly or expressed it quite as vividly as Beverly Cleary. She gets it. Beezus and Ramona is pretty much the story of my life when I was a kid. (In case you are wondering, I was Beezus in that equation.)

2.  Shel Silverstein. Absolutely hilarious, totally irreverent, and squarely on his young readers’ side. I have a deep and abiding distrust of people who don’t like Shel Silverstein’s work. There’s something wrong with them.

3. Maurice Sendak. Greatest illustrator ever, and he doesn’t patronize kids. There’s an honesty in his work that commands respect.

4. Dr. Seuss. I owe a lot of my social conscience to Seuss. The Lorax is maybe the greatest thing ever.

5. Madeleine L’Engle. Compelling, intelligent books filled with compelling, intelligent characters, and the metaphysical concepts in her novels keep my thought busy and have a way of emerging from dark pools of memory at moments when I need them most. A few months ago, a close friend and I had an eerie moment in which we discovered we’d both been thinking of L’Engle’s Echthroi from A Wind in the Door in reference to a perceived enemy. (Perhaps not surprisingly, I managed to Name this individual a short time later, which obviously made life easier for everyone concerned.)

Who are the authors you loved most as a child — or appreciate the most as an adult?


Odds and ends

Plans for this weekend:

1. Have breakfast at the Blue Dome Diner.
2. Go geocaching.
3. Grade papers.
4. Plan lessons.
5. Have good coffee somewhere.
6. Do something extremely creative involving watercolors, T-shirts, recycled materials, or some combination of the above.
7. Hunt down appropriate-size mirror for Brews and Bytes bathroom.
8. Attend Oklahoma Route 66 Association meeting in Chandler.
9. Do preliminary work on Tulsa Route 66 geocaching project.
10. Stock up on cache-creation materials.

Brief movie review: We saw The Artist tonight. Strange but charming. It’s basically what you’d get if Wishbone channeled Lassie and helped Batman’s butler do an intervention on a male Norma Desmond. Particularly heartbreaking for an old print journalist who didn’t have the will to survive the transition to digital.

It is now 22 days until Cubs pitchers and catchers report to Mesa, 36 days until I report to the bleachers at Reed Park, 76 days until Noise Nation reports to Coca-Cola Park, and 81 days until I report to the berm at OneOK Field.


Folk Thursday: Melanie


Oh. Em. GEE!

MELANIE FRICKIN’ SAFKA is going to play at Woodyfest this year.

If you don’t know who Melanie is, please turn in your hippie card. Kthx.


P.S.: Arlo Guthrie and Trout Fishing in America will also be present. The only way this could get any cooler would be for Joan Baez to show up. In the TARDIS. And give me a lift back to 1969.

How to have a good day

Here is how to have a good day:

1. Download a bunch of songs from Sesame Street.
2. Program your iPad to wake you up with the Pinball Number Song by the Pointer Sisters.
3. Play your Sesame Street songs while you’re in the shower.
4. Wear a nerdy math-joke T-shirt and a long, multi-layered skirt that swishes around every time you take a step. (Skirts that move when you walk are fun.)
5. Start your morning by finishing up a time-consuming project you’ve been dreading for weeks.
6. Watch your student teacher transform an entire lesson with one minor, proactive adjustment made on the fly to get the kids back on-task when they start to drift. Bask in the knowledge that everybody is having a lot of fun learning.
7. Listen to some of your students engage in a spirited but good-natured argument as they work together to write a detailed, accurate explanation of a difficult concept.
8. Quickly analyze the source of the flames and respond calmly and appropriately to prevent the kitchen from burning down when dinner spontaneously combusts for no apparent reason.
9. Salvage dinner.
10. End your day at a coffeehouse you haven’t visited in ages, discussing Route 66 with well-connected people who are organizing a grassroots community development project in your neighborhood.

I’m pretty sure that Pinball Number Song thing was the key. Well, that and the fact that the weather continues to be awesome. There were irises coming up in the flowerbeds around the coffeehouse, and my neighbor has daffodils coming up.

Oh, and for the record: It is 24 days until Cubs pitchers and catchers report to Mesa, 38 days until I report to the bleachers at Reed Park, 78 days until Noise Nation reports to Coca-Cola Park, and 83 days until I report to the berm at OneOK Field.

Hope your day was good, too.


New feature: Munchkin Tuesday

Christmas 1977. Daddy made that kitchen set in the background. My niece and nephews are probably playing with it at this very moment. (Photo by one of my doting parents.)

Raise your hand if you secretly wish you could cut out of work early every afternoon and get home in time to watch Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood while your mom fixes dinner.

Me, too — which probably explains why my sophomores found themselves playing with Play-Doh today in class and clapping the rhythm of Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss poems last week. Sometimes that gray streak in my hair and all those laugh lines around my eyes just aren’t enough to override the fact that I am basically an overgrown 5-year-old.

With that in mind, I am indulging my inner child with a new weekly blog feature: Every Tuesday, I will post something that reminds me of my childhood. Could be a classic PBS video, a funny poem, a favorite toy, a silly song, or a glorious illustration by Eric Carle, Maurice Sendak, Mercer Mayer, Richard Scarry, or any of a thousand other old friends.

For our first Munchkin Tuesday, let’s reach back to a pleasant afternoon sometime in late 1977 or early 1978:

Have the creators of Sesame Street won a Nobel Peace Prize yet? ‘Cos if they haven’t, they really should. That show has been teaching little kids how to get along with other people for 43 years.

I don’t trust people who don’t like Sesame Street. There’s something pathologically wrong with them.


Sunday in the park with dogs

We have a weekly routine at our house: Every Sunday afternoon, weather permitting, we load Song and Riggy into the Dreamcar and take them over to Joe Station Bark Park for a good run, then drive through McDonald’s and get them each a double cheeseburger off the dollar menu on the way home.

Joe Station is one of my favorite places in Tulsa, partly because our dogs enjoy it so much, and partly because it’s a terrific example of what can happen when dedicated volunteers decide to do something positive for their community. The city provided the land — an old baseball diamond about a mile west of downtown on Charles Page Boulevard — in 2008, and volunteers took care of the rest. It’s a great success story for anybody interested in grassroots community development.

The only time I’ve been out there when it wasn’t busy was during a Bedlam football game, and people are generally really good about keeping an eye on their dogs and following the park rules to keep everybody safe. It’s also a good educational resource, as you can observe all sorts of dogs (we’ve encountered everything from salukis to shiba inus romping with the more common Labs and pit bulls) and ask their owners questions about temperament, grooming, exercise, etc. Our trips to Joe Station will almost certainly influence our decision next time we adopt a dog.

Great, great resource, and just another reason Tulsa rocks.


Awesome Saturday

I stayed up until 4:30 a.m. working on a project for school, then woke up at 8 o’clock this morning and spent all day geocaching on Route 66. Found 11 caches, placed one (officially my first, and I couldn’t be happier about the location), had breakfast at Clanton’s Cafe in Vinita, traipsed all over Picher, added another state to my souvenir list (I have now found caches in six of the eight Route 66 states), found my first cache with a five-star difficulty rating, ate lunch at Eisler Bros., and still had energy left to get groceries, mix up a batch of veggie dip, cook tomorrow’s lunch, start marinating the steak for the carne asada tacos I’m making for dinner Monday, and write an Indie Tulsa entry.

Hope your day was as fun and productive as mine.


Friday night snack

My little sister put me onto this recipe a few months ago, but I didn’t get around to trying it right away ‘cos I was out of chocolate chips. I picked up a bag this evening on my way home from a lesson-planning marathon with my student teacher and fixed a vaguely nutritious snack: chocolate chip cookie dough hummus.

I know what you’re thinking, but please keep in mind that garbanzo beans have absolutely no flavor of their own, which is why regular hummus isn’t any good unless you put a LOT of tahini and lemon juice in it.

Because I’m a beekeeper, my version had honey in it, of course. It went vaguely like this:

Put a can of garbanzo beans (a.k.a. chickpeas), 1/4 tsp. salt, a pinch of baking soda, a healthy splash of vanilla extract, 1/3 c. peanut butter, 1 tbsp. milk, 1/4 c. honey, 1 tbsp. molasses, 1/2 c. brown sugar, 1/4 c. oats, and 2 tbsp. butter in your food processor and process until smooth. Stir in a handful of chocolate chips and serve with graham crackers.

All the amounts are approximate, so feel free to riff on the recipe to suit your tastes. It doesn’t taste exactly like chocolate chip cookie dough, but it’s close enough, and it contains a lot of protein, which means it’s probably better for you than porking down half a tube of prefabbed cookie dough for lunch. (Not that I know anybody who’s ever done anything like that, of course.)

That’s about all I have to report this evening. Well, that and the fact that I’m way amped about the lesson we’re doing with the kids in English on Monday. All I’m going to say is that Jamie and Hazel and Ollie would probably approve of it. Photos and/or video forthcoming.

Hope your week was good.