Thursday, March 30, 2006

It's a big post! Very big post!

As I take a break from my work, work, work today (hey! stop snickering!), I thought it was a good time to blog about one of my favorite net links:

Big Ad

(Those of you on Macs using Firefox... you may have issues. Go via Safari instead. And yes, it's worth it. And no, it's not a time suck.)

I don't just post this link cuz I find it the funniest/coolest beer commercial I've ever seen, but also because it leads me once again to muse about "humor." See, a few people I've shown that link to haven't thought it was at all amusing. Stunning, that. But I'm used to those diffences of opinion, as quite often my manuscripts and poems are viewed as age-innappropriate due to my style of humor. I happen to think kids get irony earlier than published reports. I think kids make connections and get references from an early age. I think kids will trust an author and rise up to their level, and anyone who's read William Steig much would have to say he'd agree with me. Is this true about every child? Nah. Then again, not every child likes Barney, either.

I fully grant that sometimes my humor's not gonna catch on, but based on my own experiences with humor and my older son, not to mention the reaction I've gotten while reading The Secret Knowledge of Grown-ups to 6-8 year-olds, I tend to think that kids will enjoy much more than they are usually given credit for. And that and $3.20 will get me a latte at Starbucks....

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

An...tici...

My preparations for the third Carnival of Children's Literature, have found me productive and focused. "How can that be?" you ask. "Isn't the blogosphere supposed to suck time away from everything else?" Don't be silly. That's what YESTERDAY's post was about.

While Susan suggested my post from Sunday would be good in the Carnival (and it would), I have other ideas. Since I started this blog, I've known that I was gonna spend some time on a particular topic that excites me, and the fact that there's a poetry-themed Carnival coming up has made me get my thoughts in order (ooooh, that's a tiny hint!). And since this a topic that I quite like, that's made me productive. Lather, rinse, repeat.

But what IS it, you ask?

Hey, you gotta wait. Readers of the blog will be a couple days ahead of everyone else, of course. And heck, that's reason enough to stick around.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Now you can hate me, too.

Sigh. It's not like I look for ways to spend time on the net, but sometimes I run into something and, well, I'm hooked. The addiction this time? I've found Babble.

The great thing about Babble from a writer's perspective, of course, is that it's all about words. OK, sure... if you delve into it, there's some words in each puzzle that you and I will never use. But that's not the point. You don't have to try and solve the grid. The fun is in the fact that you have 24 hours to try... and a few short visits each day satisfy me tremendously. Plus there's a fine community of fellow addi... players who will chat with you.

Anyway, if you like Boggle or Scrabble then you'll probably like Babble.

And really, I apologize for mentioning it, but I know I'll feel less guilty if you're all over there with me. And hey, this is my blog, so it's all about me!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Briefly...

Just a couple odds and ends (mostly odds since it's moi)....

Library read-alouds:

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type -- Doreen Cronin (illus. by Betsy Lewin)
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble -- William Steig
Agent A to Agent Z -- Andy Rash
Koala Lou -- Mem Fox (illustrated by Pamela Lofts)

I also must note that on the back of Sylvester it says that it was named one of the 100 Best Books of the Century by the NEA. Who, exactly, decided that was a list worth coming up with? Yikes. As if awards and lists in general aren't fraught with issues. One book a year, on average? Puh-lease. Still, at least Mr. Steig was alive to see it. That's gotta be quite a feeling....

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Poetry: it's not just for April anymore...

Ah, yes, April is almost here, and with it come not only those vaunted showers but also National Poetry Month. That’s such a funny concept, as it leads me to believe that the rest of the year is made up of 10 National Prose Months plus one National “Stuff that Speechwriters Write” Month every November. Personally, what I do is take the 720 hours that make up the month of April and spread them around so that I have 2 hours a day every day of the year (with five days vacation, of course, as I’m a good boss). Now THAT is a good way to have a poetry month.

This isn't a slam against the Month or the awkwardly named National Young People's Poetry Week (during which my son's school and thousands of others will be on vacation this year). If those two celebrations work, great. But if you haven’t gathered from my blog, I really like “kid’s” poetry, and it's not just a sometime thang. As a writer, I’d say writing poetry is my biggest passion. But both at home and at my volunteer librarian gig, I read a ton of poetry aloud to kids, parents, teachers, and anyone else who falls into earshot. It turns out that I follow Lee Bennett Hopkins’ basic premise: read a poem and get out of the way. I don’t sit around parsing meaning or delving into meter or rhythm. I just read and let the poem BE.

It’s a blast seeing kids react… often long after the poem has passed. While I read a lot of funny/quirky stuff, the best poems of, say Shel Silverstein or Douglas Florian or Nikki Grimes, often take time to “get” for the younger set. That’s okay. They don’t need it explained. They come around to it if they want to (or in some cases when they’re able), and if not… well, they’ve heard a cool rhythm or a great rhyme or a wonderfully unique image. And that's good all 12 months of the year.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Oddaptation: The Polar Express

This is a "you pick 'em" event! I did two very different Oddaptations here as I continue to hone what I think an ideal Oddaptation should be. The question this time around is whether some plot summary is desirable or whether it's "better" to simply go straight with point of view (and in this case, a Poe reference). Please weigh in on the debate or just pick your favorite of the two (or if they're blah, say that, too). It's your chance to help define the genre....


THE POLAR EXPRESS
by Chris Van Allsburg
Oddaptation by Gregory K.

If you can hear the ringing of my bell bell bell bell,
Then you believe in Santa and that's swell swell swell swell
Cuz I've some land in Florida to sell sell sell sell
And you can buy my Brooklyn Bridge as well well well well.
So do you hear the ringing of my bell bell bell bell?

OR

Train ride, fright'ning!
Fast as lightning!
Way up to the Pole.
I'm selected,
Then dejected…
Pocket had a hole.
Christmas Day now.
Whoa! No way now:
Sleigh bell makes it here.
Gorgeous ringing -
Ding-a-linging -
Echoes in my ear.
Christmas spirit?
Yes, I hear it.
All believers do.
Lose that magic?
'twould be tragic…
Then I'd be like you.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Branding?

Now, I'm a HUGE believer in branding, and even from my brief forays out in the publishing world, I can see the importance of authors branding themselves. I'm sure I'll blab about that a lot in the future, but I was thinking today about how much TV includes brand name merchandise featured in it as part of the entertainment. You know, cars featured in TV series and the camera lovingly holds on the car's logo. And from that, I started thinking... what if that gets into mainstream children's literature in the same way? You know, something like...

"Where's papa going with that Craftsman Ever-Sharp Ax?"

Or...

"Would you, could you in a new Nissan Maxima?"

The mind reels. Though I admit if I could get a picture book sponsored....

Hey, what rhymes with Starbucks?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A month...

Well, whatta ya know... I've been blogging a month.

What have I learned? Gee, thanks for asking!

Not much, really. I've learned that I like the community of bloggers. I like having some place to write each day, but... well... duh. I've learned that people actually do click "read next blog" and "check most recently updated blog" -- two things that I have never done. I've reminded myself that some days I really don't have much to say, but that's certainly not new knowledge. I've proven that I have no fear of posting poetry, but again, nothing new. I've learned some HTML. And I've learned that right now, my traffic isn't gonna change drastically if I post something brilliant or simply okay. In time, I suspect that will change, but for now... no. And I've proven (and learned) that I can do this without making it a time-suck.

So a lot of affirmations but little key knowledge. That's okay, though. I wasn't blogging to learn. I was blogging to... well... honestly? To blog.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Book by book

Early on in my Nutty Library Adventure (NLA as I like to call it), I realized that all those online articles I'd read about "collection building" and clever library stuff like that were totally moot. We had no money, so building meant getting as much stuff as possible and scooping out the good stuff. (As an aside, we did ultimately get one remarkable gift that enabled us to buy a lot of "levelled readers" (a totally new term for me) the teachers wanted, the creme de la creme of the picture book world,as well as dictionaries, thesauri, and atlases for the classrooms.) And when I look at what we've got and what we need... well, if I had it to do over again, I'd do it the same way.

In fact, just this week I met with someone who's agreed to help build another new Charter school's library, and I realized once again what odds we faced to accomplish what we've accomplished. I'm a big fan of the Charter movement, but that a school could be approved to open without a basic library either required or provided... well, heck, that tells ya a lot about the state of the educational system today. This quirk really does stem from $$$$, I'm sure, but if a few of us could gather 9,000 books in 6 months, imagine what the LAUSD could do?

The proof is on the shelves, so to speak, and it's pretty hard to find giant gaping holes in our collection based on what our teachers and kids want. Now, as we grow into higher numbered grades, our non-fiction section is gonna be lacking, but we'll have money in time, and it can fill in holes there. But chapter books? Classic and new MG/YA fiction? Picture books from the sublime to the ridiculous? Oh, yeah. We got those. And again, we have the books our kids want to read... which'll likely lead to an upcoming post: Barbie and SpongeBob books (and the like), deep six 'em or keep 'em gladly? Any early opinions most welcome....

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Doctor's Visit -- a doctor poem/a checkup poem/a getting shots poem

DOCTOR’S VISIT
by
Gregory K.

Do not! Do not! Do not! Do not!
I’m down on my knees, and I’m begging you please
Do not give me a shot!

I’ll run! I’ll run! I’ll run! I’ll run!
I’ll beg, and I’ll plead. I’ll scream “don’t use that needle!”
I’ll run ‘cause this just isn’t fun.

I’ll shout! I’ll shout! I’ll shout! I’ll shout!
I hate to complain, but I can’t stand the pain.
I’ll shout, and I’ll try to run out.

You lie! You lie! You lie! You lie!
Shots are not like a pinch. No, you must be a Grinch.
You lie, and I’m ready to cry.

I fear! I fear! I fear! I fear!
I... what’s that you say? I’m all done for the day?
Well... I fear that I’ll be back next year.


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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Land of linkin'

Thought I'd try my hand at a link-fest for those in search of some more interesting reading (thus cleverly implying that this blog is interesting!).

Agent Nadia Cornier has a fascinating thread on queries and the like. Scroll down to the entry on March 13 to start, then read upwards… and check the comments, too.

Farmschool at Home has a good list of St. Patty’s reading.

Two takes on writing/productivity, one from Chris Barton at the Bartography and the other from Eve at The Disco Mermaids.

Wonderfully snarky agent Miss Snark on blog commenting fears .

As If on bad goings on in Oklahoma.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Whatever happened to Fridaying so slow?

Zoom. Maybe it was only that today was St. Patrick's Day, and I started drinkin' at seven a.m. (okay, I was drinkin' coffee), but I now look at the clock and it's almost Saturday.

Seems like today's an appropriate day to huzzah out some praise for Roddy Doyle's fantastic The Giggler Treatment. Sure, you can say it's about dog poop, but you can also say all the Winnie the Pooh stories are about honey. Giggler is flat out funny and clever and intelligent, and I seriously love recommending it to kids and their parents. Mind you, because of the poop quotient (PQ, as I call it), it's not a book for everyone... though heck, I would recommend it to my mom in a heartbeat. Perhaps that says more about me than about the book? Hmmm, I'll think about that, but the day is done so I gotta book.

In the spirit of the day, I sign this Gregory O'K.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Hey! That was MY idea!

I realized that I've been in a wee bit of a funk since an idea reallllly similar to something I was working on was announced as a big project in Variety one day two weeks ago. Quelle bummer! (And no, there's no chance it was stolen from me.) This isn't the first time something like this has happened, and it probably won't be the last, but it truly is a drag and does make you think someone's "listening in" to ya. I suppose I could wrap my head in aluminum foil to prevent idea leakage. But since I'm always looking for an angle, I'm thinking I should market some kind of toupee with a foil liner. Or better yet, if there's some way to tie it in with the iPod....

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Miss me?

I didn't post yesterday, and I'm sure my legions of fans were outraged. Again, the blog lawyer can be consulted if you have an issue....

I've largely taken the last five weeks off from my usual library shifts (which is why I'm only covering two classes now) as we've had some wonderful AmeriCorps*NCCC team members covering shifts. Oh, and SPINE LABELING the library so we're no longer operating on the Huey, Louie, and Dewey Decimal system! Hooray! Now, I certainly needed the time off, but I've also realized how much of a part of the kid's school lives I've become (not to mention their effect on me). It's great, really -- they view me as part of the school, but I never have to discipline or give 'em homework or anything. I just read cool stories, find 'em great books, and try and make it as fun as possible to be in a library. It astounds me how kids run up and tell me about a book they read since I've been gone... or ask me to read with them in the three minutes they have... or how they just want to say hello. As one who prides himself on rarely leaving his desk chair, let alone his home, it's quite eye-opening. You should all adopt a class or two somewhere so you can see what I mean.

I bring this up in part cuz I think the "tone" in the library is great and has been from the start, but I still seem to be blogging with an earnestness/seriousness not befitting my position as a wanna-be clown. I hope to find my tone here, too, but even as I work on that, I must say I'm enjoying the blogosphere.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Rhyme's no crhyme

Editors are often heard to say, “Don’t write like Seuss,” a comment that’s so broad that at first blush it’s not much use. Still, if I can parse it, I don’t think they’re slamming rhyme, as every house will publish books in verse from time to time. It doesn’t speak to story as no matter how one’s told -- in prose or verse -- the story must be polished up like gold. Instead, I think the meaning of the quote is nothing new: don’t channel other writers if it kills your point of view. Put a slightly different way: to rhyme’s a valid choice… but you just can’t tell YOUR story using Dr. Seuss’s voice.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Transportation.

One of the great things about Los Angeles is that you can drive an hour and experience a complete change of pace (assuming you don’t experience an hour of traffic). Today’s change was a trip to the snow. Okay, it took 70 minutes. Speak to the blog’s lawyers if you’ve got a problem with my “hour” turn of phrase. Anyway, we ended up in a small yard covered with enough snow that we could make an eight inch tall snowman, and we had a snowball fight as gorgeous new snow fell all over us.

I don’t share this story to make my readers from the Northeast laugh at us pathetic Angelenos, but rather to refresh that feeling of being totally transported out of the norm. That’s what I have to remind myself to aim for in my writing – creating that feeling of wonder you get from experiencing something that’s out of your normal experience, or in the case of one of us today… something that you’ve never experienced before.

For me tonight, "out of the normal" is gonna be defined as getting out of my desk chair and getting a good night's sleep. So with that, I gotta book.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Useful time wasting...

Over the past few days, I've been reading picture books from all around the world, thanks to the rather remarkable International Children's Digital Library. I found this link while wearing my librarian hat, but I read the contents much more as a writer. I highly recommend a trip.


This week's library read-alouds:*

I Can't Said the Ant - Polly Cameron
Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain - Verna Aardema. Illustrated by Beatriz Vidal
The Secret Knowledge of Grownups: The Second File - David Wiesniewski**

*for those who care, most of the time this will be a partial list.

** I will continue to read this over the course of the next 7-8 weeks, as well, as I think it works better in short bursts rather than all at once. I won't list it each week, though.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Poem: Uncle Goose -- a nursery rhyme poem/a Mother Goose poem

I toyed with doing a blog in the persona of Uncle Goose, but I decided to be me instead. Still, y'all get to meet him....

UNCLE GOOSE
by
Gregory K.

Humpty Dumpty’s all cracked up,
And I’m the one who broke him.
Brother John is not asleep,
And I’m the one who woke him.

Georgie Porgie kissed the girls,
But I’m the one who dared him.
Jack and Jill both tumbled down
‘Cause I’m the one who scared ‘em.

The baby in the tree-top stayed
‘Til I came by and shook him.
Those kittens’ mittens sure weren’t lost
Since I’m the one who took ‘em.

Little Bo once lost her sheep,
And I’m the one who hid ‘em.
Yes, lots of bad, bad things were done...
And I’m the one who did ‘em.




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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Gratitude.

After library days, I'm often struck by the number of generous people who enabled us to have a great, stocked, working library when we opened our doors. It's too long a list to detail (though some links are off on the side of the blog), but what has become clear to me is that the desire to help kids learn/continue reading crosses all political party lines, all races, and all ecomonic classes. That's a good thing. Anyway, thanks in this sorta public place to all who helped.

Along those lines, for any of my LA readers, I urge you to check out the Wonder of Reading's fundraiser on March 12th. Lots of great authors appearing, and a totally, utterly worthy cause (though, I'd add, not one who has been able to work with us yet!).

Oh, and I was right: I heard cheers today. That's gotta be good -- kids cheering for a BOOK.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Cut off at the knees!

For those who know me, you’d know that if that title concept happened to me, the impact on my height would be, well, not pretty. For those who don’t know me, I’m 6’2” but all legs, so being cut off at the knees would knock me well under 5' in my stocking leg stubs. Anyway, I woke up this morning to find my beloved Mac not sleeping as I’d left it, but standing limply on my desk without vital signs, without the soothing, whirring breathing I’ve grown to love, without the occasional burst of an iTune… simply without life. The HORROR. No e-mail. No Google. No nothing.

But then I thought… AHA! I know I was more efficient in the old days. It’s time to pull out all the manuscripts that I’ve left in disrepair and focus on them without distraction. The HORROR! No hardcopies.

Yellow pads! I have ‘em, and I’m not afraid to use them. Yes… today was going to be a day of sheer unadulterated creativity the likes of which hasn’t been seen around these parts since Young Mother Hubbard got her first puppy. I gathered up the needed supplies with great energy. I was READY and I did NOT need my computer!

For the record, it took 90 minutes at the Apple Store from drop off ‘til total repair of my Mac. Free due to my apple care, no less. OK, fine... I didn’t pick it up immediately cuz I snuck out to grab some lunch at a great N’awlins style place, but… well…

That productive day will be tomorrow now that I have my lower legs back. I promise.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Librarian rock star!

Do you notice a little spring in my font today? A package of books just arrived at home, including David Wiesniewski’s Secret Knowledge of Grown-ups: The Second File. In a quick scan, I can say I don’t think it’s quite as strong as the first one (probably cuz we're in on the joke), but I laughed out loud quite a few times anyway. Regardless, when I reveal this book at the library on Wednesday, I’m telling ya, there’ll be cheers. It's as close to a rock star as I'll ever be. I must go plan my wardrobe....

Someone emailed asking me how often I do the read-alouds at the library. I’m currently only doing one day a week, two classes. I had many weeks where I did seven classes... and even more when I did four or five. I hope those days are behind me, as the time commitment was tough. Although, in truth… every now and then guest parents come in and read during library time. This is WONDERFUL for the kids to see, of course, and the parents often share books I otherwise might not know. But the secret knowledge of this grown-up is that I’m jealous when others are reading and I’m not! Maybe I was the right guy for this gig after all (note: that doesn't mean we don't need a trained librarian. Any of you interested in donating the money to pay for one, please get in touch!).

Monday, March 06, 2006

Everybody loves a Carnival...

I'm pleased today to be part of the Carnival of Children's Literature, No. 2: A Coney Island Adventure! hosted at Chicken Spaghetti.

There's plenty of great stuff to read as you link from there, so with today's post I'll try and practice "the soul of wit".

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Oddaptations

One night, for no reason I can recall, I started writing “condensed” versions of picture book classics, often with, shall we say, a bit of attitude thrown in. At first I started calling these little ditties “Cliff’s Notes for Busy Parents.” Later I called them kidlits in honor of Maurice Sagoff’s great Shrinklits (the opening couplet of his condensed Beowulf is ever-etched in my mind: Monster Grendel’s tastes are plainish. Breakfast? Just a couple Danish.). Finally, I settled on Oddaptations, a name I think fits nicely.

My goal was usually to be as brief as possible – I sum up all Curious George books in four lines, for example -- though occasionally a longer form was called for (my take on Are You My Mother is written as an epic). Most are in rhyme, though like with picture books in general, some simply don’t want to be rhymin’. I have no idea what to do with them, so I figured here was a good place to start sharing. I’d love to hear feedback, btw, but am happy just to let them see the light of day....


GOODNIGHT MOON -- Margaret Wise Brown
Oddaptation by Gregory K.

That great room is green.
That old lady’s spooky.
That half eaten bowlful of mush is quite ooky.
That Cow on the wall has leapt off of the ground,
And someone named Nobody’s walking around.
All over the room runs a squeaky, small mouse…
So I hope you sleep well in this creepy, weird house.


THE GIVING TREE -- Shel Silverstein
Oddaptation by Gregory K.

As a young boy, he was sweet and not needy,
But as he grew up, he became super greedy.
The tree shoulda told him to shut his big yap.
But no... that poor tree gave new meaning to “sap.”


(links to all my posted Oddaptations are collected on the right hand side of the blog under the headline "The Oddaptations")


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Saturday, March 04, 2006

library stuff

In thinking about book banning/removal, I’m sadly aware that if push ever came to shove at “my” library, I’d have no say beyond being a concerned parent. Despite the hours I put in, I’m not an employee… just a dad. Now, I don’t sense our current community would get irrationally up in arms about a book, but I’m sure over time the issue will arise. I’ll hope that our board and families will do the right thing. But I'm sure I'd be mighty vocal even if I no longer had a child at the school.

I do have to add, however, that I have personally removed books from our library using my executive privilege (which exists largely cuz I know the software really well, and I know the collection). In our rush to get books on the shelves right before we opened, there were a few boxes of donations that I didn’t get a total chance to go through, and which were scanned and shelved speedily. So, I have pulled Steven King, Tom Clancy, and the best find of all: a book of menopause humor! Every elementary school library should have one, don’t you think?

And since I'm on the subject of the library, here were this week’s read-alouds…

The Greentail Mouse and Inch by Inch, both by Leo Lionni
Julio’s Magic – Arthur Dorros. Illustrations by Ann Grifalconi
Rainbabies – Laura Krauss Melmed. Illustrations by Jim LaMarche

Friday, March 03, 2006

You can't make this stuff up....

It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry when you read something like this article about 23 books being removed from an Antelope Valley elementary school.

Removing Harry Potter with a comment such as “We want books to be things that children would be able to relate to in real life," or anyone uttering the remarkable statement "Kids identify with a personality in a book, and I think characters do not need to be negative characters,” both strike me as stuff The Onion would make up. I also cannot fathom how Clifford got to be on the removal list, particularly when the school board folk are so focused on “character” and Emily Elizabeth is always learning great lessons from that big red dog.

Still, besides urging everyone in the Antelope Valley to join the fight against this silliness, I thought I’d also show how this process of banning based on reader reports could be subverted to, perhaps, point out the absurdity of it. I suspect the following three books, with which I am "familiar with the content," would be pulled in a heartbeat based on my descriptions:

1) A mother leaves her children home alone while she runs errands. The kids allow a total stranger into the house and stand by passively as he destroys their household.

2) A young boy nearly drowns when he flees from a ferocious dragon only later to fall off a mountain. Wandering a giant city late at night, he’s unable to find his parents or his home.

3) A young girl, who repeatedly humiliates a neighborhood boy when he tries to play sports, charges her peers money to dispense psychological advice, even though she has no formal training.

Yup. Not reality! Bad messages! Negative characters! So let's pull the Cat in the Hat, remove Harold and the Purple Crayon from the shelves, and for goodness sakes, don’t let anyone read Peanuts.

OK, it probably wouldn't be effective, but I like it anyway. Got other great examples of what I now call the “banning game”? I’d love to see ‘em, though now it’s late so I gotta book.

(See other opinions on the book removal at Read Roger and As If!)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

"Why is that one funny?"

My older son was an early and voracious reader. Around the age of four, he discovered Gary Larson’s Far Side books. Endless hours were spent with us flipping through them and him asking “why is that one funny?” Soon, he was asking that about everything we read that could possibly be construed as funny (or trying to be).

So jokes got explained, puns were broken down, visual counterpoints noted, word play discussed, comic pauses honored, and even knock-knock techniques debated and explored.

While it’s true, I suspect, that you “can’t teach funny,” it’s definitely true that technique can be honed. So I say, if you want to learn about comedy you have to analyze it. You have to break it down and study it.

And then you have to explain it to a four year-old.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The wrong denominator...

We live in a world today, seems to me, that aims almost everything for the lowest common denominator. Political discourse no longer really exists, instead replaced by a battle of sound bites. Extra profanity and even extra volume are often used as if they alone will guarantee extra laughter. School testing forces teachers to teach so everyone can pass the test, quite often in prescribed ways that forces teaching to the lowest achievers’ level.

Luckily, we’ve got children’s literature.

I am constantly amazed in my library read-alouds just what kids absorb… what they see… what they accept… and how quickly they know when something is false. They see emotions, relationships, and humor at a level far above where they’re usually given credit for. I’m not saying all books need “messages” or any such like that. Not at all. In fact, I think the most popular read-aloud I’ve done has been David Wiesnieski’s The Secret Knowledge of Grown-Ups. It is arch, silly, satirical, over the top, and almost appears to be written more for adults than kids. But the kids eat it up (many trying to trick me into giving up the book so they could read ahead), even if they don’t understand every obscure historical reference in it. They get the essence.

As a a writer, that’s a valuable thing to understand. (Whereas for a politician, it’s merely got to be a relief that they’re speaking to adults and not attempting to explain policies to kids who cannot be easily blinded.) As usual in matters like these, someone has already said a variation of what I’m driving at, and said it better. This time it’s Maurice Sendak, in the preface that he wrote for I Dream of Peace: Images of War by Children of Former Yugoslavia.

“The children know. They have always known. But we choose to think otherwise: It hurts to know the children know.…Thus we conspire to keep them from knowing and seeing. And if we insist, then the children, to please us, will make believe they do not know, they do not see.… It is a sad comedy: the children knowing and pretending they don’t know to protect us from knowing they know.”

In short: aim for the highest common denominator, and kids will rise up to meet you. It’s innate in them, and our job as writers, parents, and librarians is to make sure that we show them the respect they deserve.

Hmmm… I blog far more seriously than I expect. Honest… my writing specialty is comedy. Perhaps it’s the late hour. Regardless, I gotta book.