Friday, May 07, 2010

Children's Picture Books That I Like

KUOW’s morning show "Weekday" had Nancy Pearl talking about children’s books and picture books ( yesterday (5/6/2010). I didn’t start listening in time to call in and talk about my favorite children’s books so I will share them here. I’ve read a lot of books to both Duncan and Calvin and some of them I’ve read so many times I almost have them memorized. Some of these books are out of print but if you want a real treat, find and buy them anyway.

I’d like to focus on the stories that are a little off the beaten path but I can’t write about great children’s books without commenting on Seuss and Sendak. Dr. Seuss is the titan of children’s literature and no library is complete without as much as possible of this work. We liked the cat books and Green Eggs and Ham and several others; they’re great, he’s great, buy them all. And who doesn’t like “Where the Wild Things Are?” I’ve read that book so many times I almost have it memorized. Let’s face it; you liked it, I liked it, Spoke Jonze liked it and every kid I’ve ever talked to liked it.

Art Spiegelman, who won a Pulitzer prize for "Maus" wrote a children's book that is one of the best I've ever come across. "Open Me, I’m a Dog" ( ) tells the story of a dog that goes through a lot before being turned into this book. The book even comes with a leash so you can take it for a walk. The unwritten story of the book is that its target audience is children who can't (for whatever reason) have a dog. We didn't care. We have a dog and still love the book.

A friend gave us "Slombo the Gross" by Rodney Alan Greenblat ( ) when Duncan was little and we've read the book almost to destruction. Slombo is an often misunderstood nice guy who happens to likes being gross and dirty (a big hit with most kids). When a skunk invasion and a swamp beast threaten the town he lives in, Slombo jumps into action.

Alice and Greta by Steven J Simmons and Cyd Moore ( ) has one of the most subtle stories with the best lesson of any book I've read - "Whatever you chant, whatever you brew, sooner or later comes back to you." The moral is illustrated by the story of two young witches; Alice who is nice and always helpful, and Greta her stinker of a classmate who has to learn the hard way about these life lessons. And with a story that involves a million marshmallows, how can they go wrong.

Edward Fudwupper Fibbed Big by Berkeley Breathed ( ) . To people of my generation Mr. Breathed is best known for the comic strip Bloom County and the neurotic penguin named Opus. Breathed brings his special brand of humor to the story of Edward and his sister Fannie and the fib that gets way out of control (and we're not talking about convincing Mabel Dill that she's been elected Queen of Brazil - but he did that too).

There's a guy named John Scieszka (don't ask me how to say his last name) who worked with an artist named Daniel Adel on the first book and Lane Smith on the next two picture books I'm going to talk about. Both Duncan and Calvin "forced" me to read his books to them over and over and over. I know for a fact I can recite the entire text of "The Book That Jack Wrote" ( ) from memory. It gives a sideways take on the "House that Jack Built" story in fusion with just about every Mother Goose rhyme. In "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs" ( ) John and Lane tell this story from the wolf's point of view. With lines like, "If cheeseburgers were cute, folks would probably think you were Big and Bad, too." this book is subversive in all the best ways. And finally, the book "The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales" ( ) ends up being an interactive reading experience more than a straightforward book. Jack is trying to put together a collection of stories and the stories just won't cooperate. Everything is going wrong for him; the stories, the book, the giant that's trying to eat him. Even the little red hen complains, "How do they expect me to tell the whole story by myself? Where is that lazy narrator? Where is that lazy illustrator? Where is that lazy author."

The last book I'm going to mention is one I don't own but really liked when we had it from the library for about two weeks; ten years ago. It's "The Beast with a Thousand Teeth" by Monty Python's Terry Jones. I don't know if you can buy the book but you can have it read to you by Helen Mirren on YouTube ( ). How cool is that?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Webby Awards and Web Sites I Actually Use

The Webby awards ( came out yesterday and after wading through the 70+ categories I thought I would list the places I actually spend my time on the Internet. In 1999 or 2000 I put up a list of my bookmarks from the version of Netscape I was using at the time. ( It’s kind of interesting looking at the list and seeing both what I had bookmarked and how many of the sites are even around.

Let’s see… The first thing I do when I get online is to check my e-mail. I’m using hotmail but with the URL so I go to to get my mail. I also have an account at Yahoo that I use for some online stuff. I set up the My Yahoo page ( and it’s where I get most of my TV listings. There’s also mail, news, weather and comics but it’s the TV listings that keep me coming back to this page.

My girl friend Kim uses AOL Instant Messenger (so I do too) and the AOL news round-up ( auto-loads every time AIM is started. They seem to do a good job of hitting many headlines I’m interested in. But that’s not the only source for news I go to. I like CNN (, MSNBC (, NPR ( – which won a webby this year, and Huffington Post ( I also like sites like Media Matters for America ( and Fact Check ( but don’t really hang out there. I usually watch Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC but only seem to catch Jon Stewart on-line (

I spend way too much time on Facebook ( but since I’m taking a break from all of the games, that time has gone down considerably.

When I need to look something up I almost always hit Wikipedia ( and there’s nothing like Snopes ( the ol’ BS detector goes off about something.

I like YouTube ( in fact I’m listening to a playlist of Orbital songs right now. I like that it has a wide variety of content. I’ve listened to (usually minimized at work) everything from Avenue Q, Jesus Christ Superstar, Old Punk and even old Hoho the clown clips.

I’m going to see if I can’t wrap this up and list in no particular order:
  • (the first place I look for movie times)
  • (I’m addicted to this radio show and even went to a TAL live event)
  • (Seattle’s public radio station I listen to all of the time)
  • (Seattle’s best alternative station. I’m not listening to KUOW then its probably KEXP)
  • (I always miss the broadcast versions of Caprica, and Modern Family so I catch them here)
  • (This is where I watch Survivor)
  • (This is where I watch Heroes)
  • (I’ve had a blog since 2000 – the one you’re reading now, go check out the archives.)
  • (Duncan started playing this MMORPG years ago and I started playing to monitor his activity and do something with him. Now he’s moved on and Calvin plays. He’s not as devoted to the game as Duncan was but the sweet spot for the game seems to be 4th to 6th grade)
  • -- Great Snarky Liberal web comic.
  • – Too Much Coffee Man (I have a tattoo of this character on my left arm. This is a sarcastic comic that has gone through many changes. The full archives are on the web site so you can waste hours catching up.)
That’s me on the web. There are other sites I go to for work but most of those involve systems, networks, SANs, XenServer, Citrix and other IT geeky subjects. I won’t list them here.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Calvin at the Skatepark

I wrote this the other day when I took Calvin to a park near the house that has a skateboarding area.

Calvin has his blue bike helmet strapped on over his purple Washington Huskies hoodie. There are less than half a dozen other youth with scooters and about a dozen older youth with skate boards. Jeans and hoodies are the uniform most wear here. Younger kids will have color; older are all black or dark blue. Younger kids have helmets; older have abandoned them.

The smack of wheels and decks hitting the ground is a counterpoint to the drone of the wheels rolling up and down the slopes. Somehow they manage to stay out of each other’s way and most all of the accidents are single person wrecks – usually a skate boarder flubbing an ollie, grind or jump. Click, clack, slap and the occasional groan from the crowd as someone lands wrong on the concrete; almost always they pop right back up oblivious to the facts or pain of the situation. The younger kids are not so stoic and the wail of the more adventurous can be heard as they try and fail to get to the top of the half-pipe; successfully navigated by older skateboarders.

Calvin will sometimes buddy-up with other scooter riders; making a circuit around the skateboarding area or racing around the trail at the edge of the park for walkers and bike riders. Sometimes they are school friends but that’s not a requirement. After a few laps they’ll stop and practice hanging out. There are several low walls around the edge of the skate park that can be used for grinding but more often server as a bench for a shifting cast catching their breaths and kibitzing about the performances of others.

If there are no accidents, Calvin can do this dance of wheels and flesh nearly indefinitely. He’s still young enough to want to go on the merry-go-round before leaving. I’ll often be drafted to “push harder” or “go faster” to make his enjoyment and my exhaustion continue. His other favorite activity is to climb a tall tree that is near the skate park. Today he’s made friends with two brothers; he’s never seen them before. After scootering around for a while and climbing the tree, they pull a couple of Nerf swords out of their car and they trade off swashbuckling until it is time to go. Even after all of this he still asks to go on the merry-go-round but isn’t disappointed when I tell him we need to leave and he spent his merry-go-round time playing swords with his new friends.