Category Archives: Munchkin Tuesday

Munchkin Tuesday: Speak & Spell

If I’d been paid minimum wage for the hours I spent playing with my Speak & Spell as a kid, I could probably retire now. Seriously: This toy kept me busy and out of trouble for a large chunk of my childhood.

Because God loves the children of the ’80s, someone has created an online Speak & Spell simulator. You can play with it here.

There’s an even better version here. The word list is lower-level, and the typeface isn’t authentic, but there are more features, and it plays more like the original.

You’re welcome.


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.


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.