Kris Milstead

Author's posts

The Offbeat Almanac – March 2021

The month of March has some wonderful and not so wonderful holidays. As a month, March is host to National Frozen Food Month (frozen pizza anyone?), National Nutrition Month (one of these things is not like the other) and National Peanut Month (what, are they trying to kill me??)

It is also host to some fun and different daily holidays.

March 1 is another holiday of spreading good will and cheer to others with World Compliment Day. As you go about your day, tell someone how much you admire their style or talent. While we’re on the topic of compliments, might I say you look very nice today, Mrs. Cleaver?

March 2 is Old Stuff Day or as I like to call it “Be Nice to My Husband Day!” Celebrate by clearing out some old clutter. But don’t clear out your spouse, they fall under “vintage”. Besides, you’d just have to break in someone new.

March 3 is a scary one for the pet owners. Today is What If Cats and Dogs Had Opposable Thumbs Day! Can you imagine? Dogs might be acceptable, but if cats gained opposable thumbs, we’d all be toast!

March 4 is Grammar Day. On this day I’d like to advocate for the Oxford Comma. The following snippet from an actual news article shows why the Oxford Comma is important: “…highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800 year old demigod and a dildo collector.”

March 5 is World Book Day! Celebrate by heading over to my Literary Junkie column and picking up a copy of the book I reviewed!

March 6 is Dress in Blue Day. Fun fact: owls are the only bird that can see the color blue. Well, except for the Louisiana state bird, the mosquito, which is attracted to blue twice as much as any other color.

March 7 is cereal day! The first cold breakfast cereal was invented in the U.S. in 1863, which is about the expiration date on that carton of milk you forgot to empty.

March 8 is Unique Names Day. North West, Buzz Michelangelo Fletcher, and Moon Unit Zappa should all feel at home on this day!

March 9 may incite fear and mayhem with Panic Day. Fear not, however as it is also False Teeth Day. Just pop those pearly whites back in your mouth, and the fear and mayhem should subside.

March 10 happens to be one of my favorite holidays – Popcorn Lover’s Day. If you ask me, there’s not much better than a bucket full of movie popcorn with tons of fake buttery topping. Except when it falls on the floor, and you find yourself weighing the five second rule. That part sucks.

March 11 is National Eat Your Noodles Day. If you’re a poor college student, celebrating this day should be simple. Microwave some ramen and voila! If you’re a Canadian university student, the equivalent of this would be ketchup and Kraft dinner.

March 12 sounds like a fun day with Genealogy Day! Fun genealogy fact: nearly everyone with European or Asian ancestry carries between 1-4 percent Neanderthal DNA. Perhaps not surprising, Ozzy Osbourne is in the 4 percent category. Maybe that explains the bat biting?

March 13 could save your life. It’s Check Your Batteries Day. Today is a good day to make sure the batteries on your smoke or carbon monoxide detector are in working order. It’s also a good idea to make sure the batteries on things like your iPod are charged. Can you imagine the horror if you got out someplace and your iPod was dead?! The very thought gives me the chills!

March 14 as we all know is National Pi Day (3/14), but more importantly it is National Potato Chip Day! Legend has it that a finicky customer at Moon’s Lake House in Saratoga Springs kept complaining that the fries were too thick. George Crum, the head chef, kept slicing them thinner until finally they were little more than a thin crisp. Thus the Saratoga Chip was born. The famous finicky customer? None other than Cornelius Vanderbilt. It’s all folklore to be sure but still a fun tale to tell over say a basket of chips.

March 15 is True Confessions Day. In the spirit of the holiday, I present two truths and a lie: 1) I’ve visited 49 of the 50 states. 2) I’ve never seen The Wizard of Oz and 3) I love snakes!

March 16 is Everything You Do is Right Day! No matter what you do today, you can’t go wrong, because as the day says, everything you do is right. So get out there, be bold! Don’t be afraid of making a mistake because today, you can’t. Unless I’m wrong, in which case things suddenly got awkward.

March 17 is Submarine Day. My research wasn’t clear on whether today commemorates the hero sandwich or the boat. Just to cover my bases, I think I’ll sit inside a submarine, eating a hero sandwich while listening to “Yellow Submarine.”

March 18 gives you an excuse for those moments in which you say the wrong thing at just the wrong moment, or you pause too long after a question, or maybe you trip on your shoelaces and fall down the stairs. Tell everyone that you are celebrating Awkward Moments Day, and revel in the fact that now the moment is awkward for them!

March 19 is Poultry Day! Don’t chicken out on celebrating today, or you’ll end up with egg on your face!

March 20 is Extraterrestrial Abductions Day! Catch up on the return of the X-Files, binge watch Roswell, reminisce with 3rd Rock from the Sun! Oh, and watch out for grey men with probes.

March 21 is Credit Card Reduction Day. You can celebrate by reducing the debt on my credit card. Don’t worry, I won’t mind!

March 22 presents the perfect excuse to play hooky and go to the park to throw a frisbee with a dog. Or for sitting around doing nothing! It’s National Goof Off Day! When your boss questions why you didn’t come to work today, point them to this column. On second thought, leave me out of it. I don’t like your boss anyway.

March 23 is Near Miss Day! On this day in history in 1989, a large asteroid missed the Earth by a mere 500 thousand miles. In astronomical terms, that’s pretty darned close. Celebrate by checking out my review of The Last Policeman from August of 2014.

March 24 is Tuberculosis Day! Consumption be done about it? Of cough, of cough! But it’ll take a lung lung time!

March 25 is the perfect opportunity to pull out your Middle Earth Maps and your Rune to English Dictionary for Tolkien Reading Day! Check out the Orcs of New York Facebook page for some insight on what’s happening since Frodo and the gang tossed that pesky ring!

March 26 is Make Up Your Own Holiday Day, or as I like to call it “My Husband Brings Me Breakfast in Bed Day! See what I did there? Now it’s your turn.

March 27 is Quirky Country Music Song Titles Day! I’m not sure there’s actually a Spotify list for today’s celebrations, but I’m certain you can create one. Get started with “Drop Kick Me Jesus Through The Goalpost of Life” or “I Been Roped And Thrown By Jesus In The Holy Ghost Corral.” Oh and don’t forget “I’d Rather Have A Bottle In Front Of Me Than A Frontal Lobotomy!”

March 28 is Something on a Stick Day. I’m not entirely certain how to celebrate such a broad holiday. I think I’ll start with a corn dog, move on to a Fudgesicle for dessert, and then wash it all down with some Tums and a strong case of regret!

March 29 is a day for illusions with Smoke and Mirrors Day! Learn a magic trick or two (start small – save the sawing your sibling in half for the experts!) Or if you prefer a more literary approach in your celebrations, read Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors!

March 30 is Niagara Falls Runs Dry Day! On this day in 1848, ice blockages stopped the flow of water to the falls. Chaos and mayhem ensued with people repenting their sins as Judgement Day approached. I’m not sure why we celebrate this. Sounds like it’s about as much fun as going over – oh wait, nevermind.

March 31 is Bunsen Burner Day! Today celebrates the birth of Robert Wilhelm Eberhard von Bunsen who invented you guessed it, the Bunsen Burner. I’ll refrain from making any chemistry puns (as I do periodically) because I’m afraid they won’t get a good reaction.

Review: Across the Green Grass Fields

Once again, Seanan McGuire has knocked it out of the park.

Across the Green Grass Fields is a stand alone novella set within the universe of the Wayward Children series.

We are introduced to Regan at age 7, a young girl who instinctively realizes she doesn’t fit the mold of what it is to be a little girl in her world. Several years later she finally realizes exactly why she is different, and unfortunately, in the process, trusts the wrong person with this information.

This then sets the stage for her to stumble upon a world filled with unicorns and centaurs, and where she learns it’s OK to be different.

As with the previous novels in this series, McGuire paints a world so believable that the reader will find themselves hoping and praying for their own door to appear!

I felt the ultimate conflict was a bit too easily resolved in the end, and the ending was somewhat rushed. Beyond that, the characterizations were excellent, the dialogue flowed easily, and the descriptions were vividly detailed.

I highly recommend this series for anyone with even the slightest interest in fantasy. I just wish we didn’t all have to wait another year for the next one!!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Offbeat Almanac – February 2021

February 1 You remember that chocolate cake that you were supposed to make last week? Well today you can redeem yourself by celebrating Decorate With Candy Day! Hint: I like those red hot sugary candies the best!

February 2 Of course everyone knows that today is Groundhog Day, but did you know that it’s also Marmot Day? Admittedly groundhogs are actually in the Marmot genus, but you know how it is. Marmot always said there’d be days like this!

February 3 is known as The Day the Music Died. On this date in 1959, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper died in a plane crash. Commemorate by pulling out some old LP’s and listening to “Peggy Sue”. If your response to this is “What’s an LP”, then allow me to refer you back to Curmudgeon Day.

February 4 is Stuffed Mushroom Day! I don’t like mushrooms, but I do like jokes, so in honor of this day, I’ll tell you my best mushroom joke. “Why was the mushroom stuffed? I don’t know, maybe he ate too much at the party! After all, he’s quite a fungi!” Thank you, I’ll be here all month.

February 5 is Weatherman’s Day! In honor of this day, and continuing the theme of Stuffed Mushroom Day, I give you my best weatherman joke. “Why did the weatherman bring a bar of soap to work? He was predicting showers!”

February 6 is Ice Cream for Breakfast Day! Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Eating whatever you want whenever you want is the most important part of being an adult. Combine these two important elements, and celebrate by eating ice cream for breakfast!

February 7 is a great day to show someone you’re thinking of them with Send a Card to a Friend Day. They’ll really love you if you make it an empty black American Express card!

February 8 Go fly a kite! No, really, do it because today is Kite Flying Day! Just don’t tie a key to it and stand out in a rain storm. For one thing, it’s illegal. For another, Mythbusters tried it and demonstrated that it would kill you. You don’t want to be responsible for ruining a national holiday, do you?

February 9 is Extraterrestrial Culture Day. From Doctor Who and E.T. to Men in Black, celebrate by streaming some of your favorite extraterrestrial media. You never know, your neighbor could be an alien in hiding! Word on the street is several prominent politicians are lizard people. When you think about it, this would actually explain a lot!

February 10 is Plimsoll Day! What’s a plimsoll you ask? It’s basically a beach shoe made out of canvas with a rubber sole. A common example of a plimsoll is the famous Chuck Taylor All-Star Converse. Who knew something so cool had such a weird name? Fun fact: I’m wearing my Chucks as I write this column! Photographic proof available via Twitter.

February 11 We’ve all heard the expression “There’s no sense crying over spilled milk.” Today that expression comes to fruition with Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk Day! Honestly though, if I had a cookie and a heaping tall glass of chocolate milk, and the milk spilled, I think I would probably cry.

February 12 is Darwin Day which commemorates the birthday of Charles Darwin, author of On the Origin of Species. Celebrate this day, or I’ll be a monkey’s aunt. Hmm, that doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it?

February 13 Yes, of course today is Valentine’s Day Eve, but it’s also Get A Different Name Day. Perhaps you’ve just realized you forgot to make those dinner reservations for tomorrow. If so, today is an excellent opportunity to change your name! You can call me Stormageddon Dark Lord of All.

February 14 is a day for hearts, flowers, and sweethearts. It’s also a terrific opportunity to show you care in a different less conventional way. Today is Donor Day. Hospitals and blood banks are always in need of blood donors. Even if your blood type is negative, I’m positive your help is needed!

February 15 is Hippo Day! The Hippopotamus is an under appreciated animal. Hippos are the third largest land mammal, can run up to about 30 kilometers per hour, and are actually most closely related to whales and porpoises. You don’t want a hippopotamus for Christmas though – they take up way too much room. Besides, do you know how much a hippo eats? Actually not much – only about 11 kilograms a day.

February 16 is Innovation Day. Speaking of innovation, why don’t we have transporter beams yet? Celebrate Innovation Day by building a functional transporter beam. You’ll be filty rich and have my eternal gratitude!

February 17 reminds us all to be kind with Random Acts of Kindness Day. Shovel an elderly neighbor’s walk, pay someone a compliment, or even bake cookies for a friend or co-worker (or hard working columnist). In short, make the world a little better today by doing something kind.

February 18 is for all the wine lovers out there. Today is Drink Wine Day. Now most of us don’t need a special holiday to do this, but why not observe anyway? Invite friends over for supper and break out that more expensive bottle you’ve been saving for a special occasion. After all, it is the season.

February 19 is Chocolate Mint Day. For some reason the chocolate mint candies that restaurants often serve always seem fancy to me. Therefore, I think Chocolate Mint Day should be celebrated in style: wear a tuxedo while eating your favorite chocolate mint concoction. Trust me, it will be awesome!

February 20 Yes, Valentines Day is long over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep a little spice in your life. Today is Handcuff Day. On this day, I offer the following advice: fur lined is most comfortable, don’t close them too tight, and whatever you do, don’t lose the key. You don’t want to have to explain to your mother or best friend what happened, do you?

February 21 is Single Tasking Day. It’s a busy world out there, so take some time today to slow down and focus on only one thing at a time. Curl up on your couch with your favorite hot beverage, fire up Netflix and chill. Though I suppose technically that is sort of multi-tasking. Eh, I never was very good at this following instructions thing.

February 22 I don’t want to brag, but I think I might be the best at celebrating today’s holiday. It’s Be Humble Day! Observe this holiday by having a competition with your friends as to who can come up with the best way to celebrate. Or if you want to do something to benefit someone else, buy a Humble Bundle. All bundle proceeds go to charity.

February 23 is Curling is Cool Day. I know that most of you will think this is a big fat lie, and I admit on face value curling does look like a weird sport, but it actually has an interesting history. Curling can be traced back to the 1500’s in Scotland and in the mid 1800’s was demonstrated to Queen Victoria by the Earl of Mansfield. Curling is considered a sport of ettiquete. Opponents congratulate each other on good plays, and typically the winners by the losers a drink after.

February 24 is Inconvenience Yourself Day. I’m not entirely certain why you would go out of your way to celebrate today but, then again, doing so fulfills the obligation to observe. Take the slightly difficult road today. Hold a door open a little longer for the person who isn’t walking fast enough. Help a little old lady across the street. Get that item off the top shelf for a shorter spouse or roommate. Pretty soon it won’t seem so inconvenient after all.

February 25 encourages the young women in our lives with Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day. I am not the most mathematically inclined person (a slight understatement), but even I recognize how cool it is to be an engineer. If you know a young woman who has a scientific and curious mind, introduce them to engineering. She might become the next Stephanie Louise Kwolek who discovered liquid crystalline polymers which are used to make Kevlar.

February 26 is Tell A Fairy Tale Day. Fairy tales are the backbone of literature, and you’re never too old for a good fairy tale. Celebrate today by making up your own fairy tale. Pick up a copy of Politically Correct Fairy Tales for a good laugh. No matter how you celebrate, I guarantee today will end Happily Ever After.

February 27 is World Sword Swallower’s Day. Granted, this holiday is a little hard to, well, swallow, but I am confident you can still celebrate. Find a sword swallowing show near you, or stream some sword swallowing videos online. Personally, I’m not convinced sword swallowing is all it’s cut out to be, so I recommend you leave it to the professionals.

February 28 is Tooth Fairy Day! Today we pay homage to the generous sprite that is known for leaving coins or other treats under our pillow. Since I presume we have all long passed the age when our teeth are likely to fall out, I suggest celebrating today by setting your next dental appointment. Not as much fun as treats or money under your pillow, but I have it on good authority that the tooth fairy goes by chronological rather than behavioral age!

Offbeat Almanac – January 2021

January 01 is Public Domain Day! This means any copyrighted works from 1925 enter the public domain today! For some works this is welcome news (The Great Gatsby or Buster Keaton anyone?). Apparently though 1925 also produced some less timely gems such as Lovers in Quarantine. I think we could all do with skipping that one!

January 02 is Swiss Cheese Day! Yeah, I don’t know about that. I’m finding some holes in this story.

January 03 presents J.R.R. Tolkien Day! Celebrate by writing sentences that include overly detailed descriptions and use many unnecessary words!

January 04 celebrates World Hypnotism Day! You’re getting verrrry sleepy! You want to send me a million dollars!

January 05 is National Screenwriters Day!

FADE IN:

EXT: Townhouses. Evening.
In a Louisiana suburb, a collection of townhouses sit on a little known side street.INT. Townhouse – Home Office – Evening

A person sits at a desk. In front of them is a computer. They are typing casually. A cat saunters in.

Cat: Meow.
Person 1: You had treats already. You’re not getting more!

The cat exits forlornly.

FADE OUT.

January 06 is National Take Down the Christmas Tree Day! If you haven’t taken your tree down by now, today is the day! Don’t be like my parents and wait till Good Friday. If you do it will be National Haul You Off To The Loony Bin Day!

January 07 is Bobblehead Day! I guess this means you’re supposed to walk around bobbling your head all day. Or wait, they mean the toy don’t they? In which case, I think it’s time I expanded my collection!

January 08 It’s Show and Tell at Work Day! What a perfect year for this! Since nearly everyone is working from home these days and work meetings are all conducted via Zoom it is the perfect time to show off your dog or cat or even your bobblehead collection!

January 09 celebrates Balloon Ascension Day! What better way to practice social distancing than inside a hot air balloon? I challenge strangers to get within 6 feet when you’re 50 feet up in the air!

January 10 is Houseplant Appreciation Day! Your house plant isn’t just there to look pretty. It also helps produce oxygen – you know, the very air you breathe. So for today at least, tell your houseplant how much you appreciate everything it does to make your life better!

January 11 allows you an opportunity for a fresh start with National Clean off Your Desk Day. I just have to find it first….

January 12 is the perfect holiday for a cold winter day. It’s National Hot Tea Day! Whether you’re a fan of Earl Grey (hot), or something more exotic like Oolong, today is a great day to curl up with a cuppa and enjoy!

January 13 Today is National Rubber Ducky Day! Celebrate by watching some old Sesame Street clips and then taking a long hot bath with your yellow pal. He’s always been there for you.  Now you can be there for him!

January 14 livens things up with National Dress Up Your Pet Day! Dress your dog in a pirates costume, or put your cat in a fancy dress! No matter your pet, get creative! For some fun pet silliness, check out the Cat Named Carot!

January 15 is National Hat Day! Whether you’re a hat aficionado or just someone who likes to occasionally toss on a baseball cap, today is your day! I say spice it up a bit by donning a tricorn hat, sticking a feather in it, and calling it macaroni. Oh wait, I think that’s been done. Never mind.

January 16 Today is Fig Newton Day! It is a little known fact that fig newtons are named such because it was actually a fig tree that Isaac Newton sat under first. Figs aren’t very heavy though so it’s fortunate he chose an apple tree. It is perhaps a lesser known fact that I completely made that up! No matter, if fig newtons are your thing, then today is your day!

January 17 is Popeye Day! Open a can of spinach, flex your muscles, and buy your best friend a hamburger! Or you know, you could just go to Popeye’s chicken… your choice.

January 18 is Thesaurus Day! This is amazing, outstanding, incredible, sensational, and downright glorious!

January 19 celebrates World Quark Day! Apparently this day commemorates a weird European cheese alternative. I don’t know about you, but that does not sound very gouda to me!

January 20 observes Penguin Appreciation Day! Do you know penguins sometimes wear glasses? It helps their ice-sight! Penguins are notoriously difficult to get along with though because they’re always fishing for compliments! Thank you, I’ll be here all month. Try the er, fish.

January 21 is International Sweatpants Day! Or as it’s known in my household “Thursday”. No matter how you celebrate, do it in comfort. Just be sure to tie the draw string as it isn’t International Moon your Friends Day!

January 22 is Blonde Brownie Day! Honestly, this smells a bit like discrimination to me. What about brunette and red headed brownies? I’m going to look into this just as soon as the oven timer goes off….

January 23 steps into Measure Your Feet Day! I tried it, and they’re about a foot long! Oh come on, don’t step on my toes. That joke was funny!

January 24 celebrates National Compliment Day! My, aren’t you looking lovely today, Mrs. Cleaver?

January 25 is Opposite Day! Whatever you do, don’t celebrate this day!

January 26 is Toad Hollow Day of Encouragement! I’m not sure why toads need encouragement but hey, I’m not one to judge. If you’re reading this and you’re a toad, well, you’re ahead of the game already! Go on and be the best darn toad you can be!

January 27 is Chocolate Cake Day! The best way to celebrate this day is to bake your favorite columnist a lovely, rich, and fluffy chocolate cake. Trust me, I’ll – I mean they – will thank you for it later!

January 28 It’s National Kazoo Day! What do you say when a kazoo sneezes? Kazoontite! Yeah, I’ll show myself out…

January 29 is Curmudgeons Day! Be the most curmudgeonly curmudgeon you can be by beating people with your cane or tripping them with your walker. Now pull up your pants and get off my lawn, you damned kids!

January 30 is Fruitcake Toss Day! Honestly, anyone who still has a fruitcake in their house at this point desperately needs this holiday. What are you waiting for? Get rid of that thing! You can order a new doorstop online!

January 31 is Gorilla Suit Day! I dare you to celebrate by putting on your best gorilla suit and wearing it to your next Zoom call! Trust me, your boss will love it!

Review: The Clue in the Trees by Margi Preus

The Clue in the Trees by Margi Preus is the second in the Enchantment Lake series. Francie Frye from the first novel, Enchantment Lake, has decided to remain with her aunts in Minnesota for her senior year at the local high school.

On the night before her first day of school, France is awakened by the noise of her long-lost brother Theo sneaking into the house. While she is happy to see him, Francie can’t help but be suspicious of his sudden reappearance. First, he immediately involves her in a three-a.m. break-in during which they are chased by a mysterious figure in a trench coat. A few days later, he becomes a primary suspect in a murder. Desperate to protect her brother, Francie vows to stay away from the investigation, but decides she must solve the mystery once and for all when she herself becomes a suspect.

It is clear that The Clue in the Trees is very much a middle book. The plot advances just enough from the previous book to hold reader interest into the next book, but not enough so as to give too much of the next book away.

As with Enchantment Lake, Preus does an excellent job of setting the scene. The descriptions of places and characters will make the reader feel as if they know the setting and people. Dialogue is believable, and Preus’ characterization of Francie carries over well from the previous book. Even though she attempts every effort to avoid getting involved in the the latest murder mystery, she can’t help but be dragged along with the intrigue. Francie’s aunts, who provided a welcome whimsical factor in Enchantment Lake, appear again in The Clue in the Trees. Unfortunately, their role has been greatly reduced, and I found myself missing their presence.

Enchantment Lake and The Clue in the Trees bring up frequent comparisons to Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, and in fact, fans of those books will likely enjoy The Clue in the Trees.

Other books readers might want to explore after reading The Clue in the Trees include Bone Gap by Laura Ruby or Being Henry David by Cal Armistead. Both books contain quirky characters that are somewhat reminiscent of Francie’s aunts, and both involved mysteries that double as journeys of self discovery. Being Henry David is heavier in tone than either of the Enchantment Lake books but is still recommended for readers who enjoy the mystery genre.

The Clue in the Trees is an excellent book for middle-school aged readers looking for a bit of adventure and imagination. While readers may be tempted to give up due to the slower plot movement, I encourage them to remain. Unfortunately with any series, there is always that book which is used to advance the plot but also has to hold back in order to set up the next book. The Clue in the Trees is that book, and I anticipate that the next in the series will harken back to the same feeling of suspense and quick moving past that was found in Enchantment Lake.

Halloween Books for Beginning Readers

Love Monster and the Scary Something by Rachel Bright is the most recent in the well known Love Monster series. Love Monster is struggling with insomnia one evening. The harder he tries to sleep, the more awake he becomes. As the night goes on, his imagination begins to run wild, and Love Monster is convinced the noises he is hearing are something terrible!

Love Monster and the Scary Something is a terrific book for helping small children understand and overcome basic fears such as fear of the dark or anxiety about unfamiliar noises at night. It is a lighthearted and amusing addition to the Love Monster collection. Bright writes well at a level that is easy for young kids to understand but does not condescend to them. I did find however, that Bright’s invention of the word “awaker” detracted from my enjoyment of the storyline. While it is tempting to create unique word choices to make stories more accessible to children, it came across as awkward in this instance.

There’s a Monster in Your Book by Tom Fletcher follows a monster who is trapped inside the book. Young readers are encouraged to shake, turn, and blow on the book to prompt the little monster along. Fletcher
has created a cute romp that young readers will enjoy though it is reminiscent of (and not as enjoyable as) The Monster At The End of this Book.

How To Catch a Monster by Adam Wallace centers around a tiny Ninja who is determined to scare away the monster he has discovered living in his closet. The two go against each other as the ninja repeatedly traps the monster who repeatedly breaks out of the traps. Finally, the ninja realizes the monster simply wants to make friends.

How To Catch A Monster employs a rhyming sequence that is jarring in places. In addition, Wallace has simplified the language to make it easier for early readers to understand, but it reads as if it has been too simplified even for the 3-5 year old age group it is marketed toward. Finally, the entire book culminates in a fart joke, which may appeal to young children but will leave parents rolling their eyes.

Sam the Most Scaredy-Cat Kid in the World by Mo Willems continues the story of a Sam, a little boy previously introduced in Willems’ book Leonardo the Terrible Monster. Sam is afraid of everything and everyone except his monster friend Leonardo. One day, however, Sam meets Kerry, the second most scaredy-cat kid in the world! Seeing that the two children are terrified of each other, the monsters conspire to help them see what they have in common and to overcome their own fears.

Willems’ writing starts out strong and does an excellent job of meeting kids on their level, however the ending is quite abrupt and readers are left without any resolution. This leaves the door open for continuing the series but, still, children will likely be left wondering “are the kids still scared?”, “what do the monsters do?”.

Bonaparte Falls Apart written by Margery Cuyler and illustrated by Will Terry, centers around a young skeleton who is literally having a hard time keeping himself together. When Bonaparte tries to throw a ball, his arm goes with it. When he tries to eat lunch, it’s rather jaw-dropping. Bonaparte is, quite simply, falling apart in the worst sense. Fortunately, he has a supportive group of friends and a surprising new companion who help him cope with the travails of being a little different.

Cuyler and Terry as a team create an adorable and clever story about insecurities and being a little different. Cuyler does an excellent job of writing intelligently and, in fact, makes use of some rather groan-worthy puns. Boneaparte Falls Apart should become a frequent rotation in the bedtime reading routine and is a wonderful story that both kids and parents will enjoy.

The X-Files: Earth Children are Weird by Jason Rekulak portrays Mulder and Scully as young children. The two alien hunters have pitched a tent in the backyard for a sleepover but are quickly bombarded by strange sights and sounds. True to their characters, Mulder is convinced aliens are behind every shadow while Scully insists there must be a rational, more commonplace source. What follows is an enjoyable story that plays nicely into the X-Files franchise.

Earth Children are Weird provides a wonderful way for parents to introduce young children to one of the most popular sci-fi shows of all time. While the television show is too intense for early readers, the book creates an entertaining side universe that will amuse fans of the series. Rekulak does an excellent job of presenting Mulder and Scully as children while keeping previously established elements of their adult personalities. Those who loved the TV show may have to indulge in a little suspension of disbelief given that Earth Children Are Weird plays a little loose with established canon.

Kim Smith’s illustrations complement the text brilliantly and her depiction of the amusing surprise ending will make readers both younger and older laugh out loud.

Review: Superhero books for beginning readers.

The recent deluge of superhero movies has resulted in a marked increase in superhero books and comics.  Superman, The Justice League, Wonder Woman, and the Avengers are all slated to have new movies in the next couple of years.  In this vein, I decided to look at superhero books for young children.

  Good Morning, Superman, Be a Star, Wonder Woman, and Bedtime for Batman are a trilogy of books written by Michael Dahl designed to encourage kids in basic tasks such as brushing their teeth, bathing, and putting away their toys.

Good Morning, Superman starts the series by introducing the early morning routine.  A little boy leaps out of bed beginning his morning routine:  potty, getting dressed, breakfast, and finally, tooth brushing.  Presented alongside are depictions of Clark Kent/Superman going through his routine.  Beginning his day as Clark Kent, flying over the city as Superman, fighting bad guys, facing Lex Luthor armed with Kryptonite (a nice touch alongside the little boys kryptonite colored toothpaste) and finally, ending his day knowing he helped keep peace within the city.

Be a Star, Wonder Woman goes further into the school routine and tackles more complex behaviors such as conquering fears, sharing with others, and learning to write.  As with Good Morning, Superman, each of the child’s tasks is shown alongside Wonder Woman performing a similar superhero task.  Where Good Morning, Superman encourages young readers with everyday tasks, Be A Star Wonder Woman helps kids with more abstract concepts such as courage, treating others fairly, and working as a team.

 

Bedtime for Batman follows the same concept, juxtaposing the activities of the little boy getting ready for bed and Batman protecting Gotham.  As the little boy begins his nightly activities (wearing Batman pajamas of course), Batman is watching over the city by apprehending criminals such as Harley Quinn, Penguin, and the Joker.  The nightly bath is described as cleaning up the daily grime while toothbrushing is depicted as brushing aside his fears.  Even the topic of potty training is tackled in such a way that young children will relate.

Good Morning Superman, Be A Star, Wonder Woman, and Bedtime for Batman make a wonderful trilogy for toddlers and beginning readers.  The text is simple, with an easy to follow storyline, and illustrations that play off each other nicely.  Parents will likely find that any or all of these books become a nightly staple in their child’s bedtime routine but will also be granted the enjoyment of introducing a new generation to these superheroes.

Suggested companion books: Even Super Heroes Sleep, Super Heroes Have Friends Too!, Even Superheroes Have Bad Days

 

Offbeat Almanac – April 2017

April 1:  Of course we all know today as April Fools Day, but did you know it is also Edible Book Day?  No joke!  Personally, I prefer a more figurative approach to my book devouring but hey, if literal is your thing, then today is your day!  Though might I suggest you try a hearty bowl of alphabet soup instead?

April 2: It’s National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day!  Celebrate today by cracking open a fresh jar of your favorite peanut butter and making yourself a sandwich!  Think of all the childhood memories you’ll be reliving.  Or if you’re like me and can’t have peanuts, use your favorite peanut butter substitute.  Just make sure you cut off the crusts!

April 3: Today is Don’t Go To Work Unless It’s Fun Day!  I think the celebratory method is pretty self explanatory.  Your boss might try to argue with you, but you can simply show them this article and explain that it’s a recognized national holiday.  Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll find something else soon….

April 4: I’m not sure any of us are going to want to observe today as it is World Rat Day.  I know some folks thing rats are an under appreciated animal but I have to admit, I’m not really one of them.  Nevertheless, if you are a rat lover, then today is your day.  Just don’t be too cheesy about it!

April 5:  Today we observe one of my favorite holidays with Deep Dish Pizza Day!  Who can resist a thick, crunchy, and fluffy crust topped with gooey mozzarella and pepperoni?  Celebrate today by supporting your favorite pizza place!  Order a half a dozen larges – after all you don’t want to be caught unawares if there’s a sudden pizza shortage!

April 6: It’s Teflon Day!  Don’t worry, it’s only one day and I don’t believe this holiday will really stick.

April 7:  Laundry piling up?  Dishwasher not loaded? Living room still not vacuumed?  Don’t stress as today is National No Housework Day!  Put your feet up and relax a little.  All the chores will still be there tomorrow.  (at which point maybe you can get someone else to do it for you!)

April 8:  Let the little kid in you roam free as today is Take Your Parents to the Playground Day!  Admittedly, if you’re like me and you’re in your 40’s with parents in their 80’s, this might look a little odd but are you really going to let that stop you?  I hear that merry go round calling your name!  Hopefully you won’t barf this time….

April 9:  I don’t want to alarm you but, today is National Chicken Little Awareness Day!  Don’t worry, I checked, the sky is still there.

April 10:  Today is National Sibling Day!  (Is not!) (Is too!)  (Is not!)  (Is too!)  (Moooom!)

April 11:  It’s National Be Kind to Lawyers Day! No really, you have to be nice to them today or they’ll sue.

April 12:  Today is one of my favorite holidays with Drop Everything and Read Day!  When your boss or spouse or significant other starts hassling you about spending the entire day reading, send them here.  These holidays are important after all!

April 13: Today is Scrabble Day! Be zealous, exultant, and exuberant in your celebrations!

April 14:  It’s Dictionary Day!  Use the day to brush up on some of those words you didn’t think of during Scrabble Day yesterday.

April 15:  Bet you can’t figure out what holiday today is!  Circus Day?  (Well, OK, yeah) Alien Appreciation Day?  (Nope!) Give up?  It’s Take a Wild Guess Day!  (See what I did there?)

April 16:  Today is an eggselent holiday with Eggs Benedict Day!  Coincidentally (or perhaps not so) it is also Easter.  Why not put your leftover Easter eggs to good use and make some Eggs Benedict out of them?

April 17:  Today is Blah Blah Blah Day!  Which I suspect is the noise you hear in your head as you’re reading this column….

April 18:  It’s Velociraptor Awareness Day, today!  Trust me, if I were to ever encounter a velociraptor you can be assured that I would be VERY aware of it!

April 19: We’ve celebrated this one in the past but I feel it is worth commemorating again:  it’s National Wear Your Pajamas To Work Day!  Put on your favorite footies or your Wonder Woman sleeper and head to the office!  I’m sure your boss will understand.  After all, you and HR are old friends by now!

April 20: Today is Lima Bean Respect Day.  Let’s be honest, do any of us really think Lima beans deserve any respect?  Eat a green cupcake instead.  You’ll enjoy it more.

April 21: Is Tuna Rights Day!  Honestly, I think there’s something fishy about this holiday, but I cod be wrong.  I don’t wish tuna any eel will, however, so if it’s rights they want, it’s rights they shall have!

April 22: It’s National Day of Puppetry!  Even if you have to pull a few strings to do so, I’m certain you can find a way to celebrate today!  If not, I’m sure someone would be willing to lend you a hand!

April 23:  Today is English Language Day.  It also happens to to be Talk Like Shakespeare Day!  Celebrate by throwing out words like “forsooth” and “verfily” into your conversation.  Would the Bard steer you wrong?

April 24:  Get ready to ham it up as it’s National Pigs in a Blanket Day! First mentioned in 1957 in Betty Crocker’s Cooking for Kids, this fun little pastry is also known as devils on horseback.  Somehow that just doesn’t sound quite as appetizing!

April 25: It’s International Marconi Day!  Named after Guglielmo Marconi, the 1st Marquis of Marconi, who was the first person to send a wireless transmission across the Atlantic, International Marconi Day is a virtual gathering of radio aficionados who broadcast around the world using the same radio technology Marconi used.  Celebrate like it’s 1901 and join the festivities by tuning in!  Or you can just pretend you know what you’re talking about and wish everyone you see today Happy Marconi Day.  Your choice.

April 26:  Today is a sedimental holiday for some.  In fact, on a scale of 0 to 9.5 I’d say it’s a pretty solid 7 for most.  Celebrations may leave you quaking in your boots, but don’t be shaken, I know you’ll be back on solid footing soon.  It’s National Richter Scale Day!

April 27:  – — -.. .- -.– / .. … / — — .-. … . / -.-. — -.. . / -.. .- -.– # / -.. .- … …. / — ..-. ..-. / .- -. -.. / -.-. . .-.. . -… .-. .- – . / .- -.-. -.-. — .-. -.. .. -. –. .-.. -.– #

April 28:  Look!  It’s a bird!  It’s a plane!  No, it’s simply National Superhero Day.  Wear a cape and celebrate your favorite superhero today!  Unless your favorite is Wolverine in which case the whole Edward Scissorhands thing could get awkward when trying to greet your co-workers.  On second thought, celebrate on the down low today.  After all, you don’t want to give away your secret identity, do you?

April 29:  Today is Viral Video Day!  Whether you’re enthralled by the Ninja Cat or you’re angry at being Rick-Rolled, today is your day!  Sit back, relax, and YouTube all your favorite viral videos.  Just be careful and don’t let Charlie bite your finger ’cause ain’t nobody got time for that!

April 30:  Uh… What’s up, Doc?  It’s duck season!  No, it’s rabbit season!  Actually, it’s Bugs Bunny Day!  Queue up “What’s Opera, Doc?” or “The Rabbit of Seville” and relax!  Hopefully Elmer Fudd won’t find you, but if he does, just drop an ACME anvil on his head and continue your day.  Don’t worry, he’ll recover in time for his honeymoon with Bugs!

Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

With the recent resurgence of Marvel’s Thor movies, Norse mythology has become a renewed interest for many.

Neil Gaiman has held a fascination for Norse myths and legends for most of his life.  As a young boy he read a comic about the Norse god Thor.  Throughout his writing for most of his career, the theme of Norse mythology has been interwoven.  His comic Sandman uses Odin, Thor, and Loki in recurring roles and features several locations mentioned in Norse legend.  His novel American Gods also takes many elements of Norse mythology and places them in the present day.

In his latest book Norse Mythology, Gaiman goes to the core of the myths and tries to present them in an easily understandable, modernized manner.

Gaiman opens with the Nordic creation myth.  The myth states that before the beginning there were two worlds: the mist world and the fire world.  The mist world was called Niflheim and lay to the north.  The fire world lay to the south and was called Muspell.

The mist world was “colder than cold” while everything on the fire world glowed and burned.  “Muspell was light where Niflheim was gray,” Gaiman writes, and covered in “molten lava where the mist world was frozen.”

Between these two worlds was an empty and formless void called Gunnungagap.  Rivers from the mist world flowed into the void, eventually forming giant glaciers.  The glaciers in the north the glaciers were covered in fog and ice, but the embers and sparks from Muspell melted the ice in the south.  Eventually, life in the form of a person appeared in the waters and called itself Ymir who became the ancestor of all giants.  Out of the ice also came a cow named Audhumla who licked Buri, the ancestor of the gods, out of blocks of ice.

Ymir, who was neither male nor female, gave birth in it’s sleep to male and female giants one of whom married Buri.  Buri had a son called Bor who in turn had three sons:  Odin, Vili, and Ve.

The myth goes on to explain how Odin, Vili, and Ve grew into men, eventually creating other worlds and making people who Odin breathed life into – making him the all-father.

Further into Norse Mythology, Gaiman introduces the reader to other characters such us Sif (Thor’s wife) and Loki (Thor’s brother).  Many of the myths center around Loki causing trouble and Thor cleaning up his mess.  For instance, in The Treasures of the Gods, Sif wakes up with hair missing.  Thor immediately assumes that Loki is responsible because “…when something goes wrong, the first thing I was always think is it is Loki’s fault.  It saves a lot of time.”

When confronted, Loki admits to being responsible and says that he did it because he was drunk and it was funny.  What follows is a long and amusing tale of Loki nearly losing his head, accidentally getting Thor his hammer, and eventually, Sif regaining her hair.

Norse Mythology is like reading about your favorite dysfunctional family.  They are constantly at odds with each other but underneath is a tangible fondness.  Fans whose only previous exposure to Odin’s sons and the rest of the Norse gods is through the Marvel movies will find the same vexatious Loki and the same kind but slightly dense Thor.

Gaiman strips away overly complicated or flowery language and re-tells the myths in a straight forward easy to follow manner.  Well known for his characterization talents, Gaiman brings the ancient gods to life and allows the reader to believe, even if only for a moment, that the old myths are real.

Devoted fans of Gaiman will find familiar characters and themes in Norse MythologyAmerican Gods features both Odin and Loki disguised as Mr. Wednesday and Mr. World respectively.  Thor is mentioned in passing but does not feature in the main plot.

Odin, Thor, and Loki are also featured in Odd and the Frost Giants in which a young boy encounters an eagle, a bear, and a fox who turn out to be the ancient gods in disguise.

In addition, Gaiman’s comic Sandman: Seasons of Mists also features Thor, Odin, and Loki as well as a number of other characters drawn from different cultures including ancient Japanese and Egyptian mythology.

First time readers will likely enjoy Norse Mythology as it presents the stories with humor and makes them accessible to readers of different ages.  While there is some mention of sex, violence, and general mayhem, Norse Mythology is still appropriate for middle school age and older children.  Young children would likely find Odd and the Frost Giants a better introduction to Norse mythology, though both books are a good starting point for both adults and children.

Other works readers may want to investigate include Gaiman’s Trigger Warning, or D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths (previously titled Norse Gods and Giants).  While Trigger Warning does not center around any specific mythology or culture, it retains a fairy tale feel and many of the stories could easily be adaptations of cultural legends.  Trigger Warning and Norse Mythology also share the same conversational tone that is so quintessential to Gaiman’s work.

D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths is aimed at young children and will be a welcome addition to fans of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths.  Filled with full page color illustrations, D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths overlaps significantly with Gaiman’s Norse Mythology.  Both tell of the theft of Thor’s hammer, the story of Balder, and the Norse creation story.  Adults who grew up on D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths will find nostalgic pleasure in D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths and may enjoy sharing it with their own children.

Other books readers may enjoy include Rick Riordan’s new series Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard.  Though less faithful to the original mythology, Riordan manages to create a world of adventure and excitement that will intrigue readers of all ages.

At just over 300 pages Norse Mythology is an easy afternoon read that will leave readers eager to learn more of Nordic culture and myths.

Rating: 

 

 

Review: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher is best known for her role in the Star Wars franchise as the iconic Princess Leia.  Many of us who are now adults spent long hours of our childhood pretending to be characters in the Star Wars universe.  Whether we were the snarky Princess escaping the clutches of the evil Lord Vader, the equally snarky and jaded smuggler Han Solo, or even the wise and stoic Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars left an indelible mark on our formative years.  (Except for the prequels – those don’t actually exist)

What fewer people realize though is that in addition to being an accomplished actress, Fisher was also a prolific author.  Given the impact of Star Wars on my own childhood, and the recent revelation of Fisher’s affair with Harrison Ford during the filming of the original movie, I was excited to acquire a copy of Fisher’s The Princess Diarist.  Soon after came the news of Fisher’s sudden death, making her most recent book her final book.

Fisher opens her memoir with a recap of highlights from 1976, the year she began filming A New Hope.  A number of things happened in 1976, Fisher notes.  Apple was founded, Interview with a Vampire was first published, and U2 was formed.  It was also a year of significant world events including Jimmy Carter beating Gerald Ford in the Presidential election and Son of Sam killing his first victim.  Finally, it was the prelude to the year in which Fisher feels her life radically changed forever.

Before auditioning for Star Wars, Fisher played a minor role in Shampoo.  Having grown up in a Hollywood household as the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Carrie Fisher comments that at the time the last thing she thought she wanted to do was go into show business.  Nevertheless, she auditioned for Shampoo on a lark, thinking at 17, that it would be exciting to be wanted by Warren Beatty “in any capacity at all.”  She got the role and went back to living at home, hoping that perhaps she would be able to soon move out now that she was “hip”.

Two years later, having dropped out of high school and bored with college, Fisher auditioned for Star Wars while home on Christmas break.

George Lucas and Brian De Palma held joint auditions for Carrie and Star Wars. Fisher auditioned for both – originally hoping for Carrie over Star Wars because she thought “Carrie in Carrie would be a casting coup.”

DePalma primarily led the auditions as Lucas sat mostly mute, simply observing.  After stumbling through the seemingly inane questions of “I see you were in Shampoo, how was it working with Warren Beatty?” and revealing that she would drop out of college if given either role, Fisher was convinced she had bombed the audition.  Much to her amazement, however, her agent called her a couple of weeks later with the news that she had been cast.

At the start of filming, Fisher recalls trying to remain under the radar so that nobody would notice that she had not lost the 10 pounds that were part of her casting contract.  She muses that the now famous Princess Leia hairdo may have been used in part to keep her face from looking too big.

Fisher then dives into what she dubs “Carrison”:  i.e. her three month long affair with Harrison Ford.  Fisher starts by stating that she had spent so long not talking about the affair that it was hard to know where to begin talking about it now and in fact her thoughts on it are somewhat reticent and disjointed.

The affair began, she reveals, in the back of a taxi on the same night Ford rescued her from some crew members who had purposefully set about to get her drunk as a prank.  They had intense and frequent sex on the weekends while studiously ignoring each other during the week.

Although Fisher admits she entered into the movie with the idea of having an affair with a crew member or cast mate, she was surprised that it became Ford given that he was married at the time, and she had intense feelings of guilt over that issue.

Fisher writes with a style that is conversational but rambling.  She begins passages on one thought, finds another thought in the middle, and finally, ends on yet a third thought.  While her recollections are humorous, I found her style to be rather labyrinthine and as a result frequently re-read passages in an effort to keep track.

A vast portion of the middle of the book contains transcriptions of the diaries Fisher kept during her time filming the movie.  In these, she reveals a deeply insecure young woman who was extremely conflicted about her relationship with Ford.  In one entry, she laments her penchant for inaccessible men noting previous experimentation with gay men and then men whom she knew would treat her poorly.  In another, she notes that she thinks Ford is boring which he tries to make look deliberate as if he is “the strong silent type.”  Eventually, towards the end, she admits that she is falling for him hard and muses that things might have gone better for her if she had fallen for Mark Hamill instead.

At first reading, these entries seemed like the melodramatic over the top lamentations of a teenager.  Then, thinking about it, I realized that is exactly what they were as Fisher was not quite 20 during filming.  She may have been finally telling the story as a 60 year old, but the feelings and thoughts were still that of her 19 year old self.  Given that, it was easier to understand her perspective and even smile a little bit at the heightened drama.

While the book starts off slowly, it improves as Fisher eventually figures out what she wants to say and actually says it.

Fans of Fisher’s previous works such as Postcards from the Edge or Wishful Drinking will likely enjoy The Princess Diarist.  Fisher employs the same conversational tone in each and reveals much of her struggles with poor self-image and becoming permanently tied to the role of Princess Leia at such a young age.

Some readers may be put off by her snarky and sarcastic descriptions of fan interactions, while others may cringe good naturedly and recognize a bit of themselves at fan conventions or autograph signings.

Overall, The Princess Diarist is a quick and somewhat enjoyable read with several moments which will evoke feelings of poignancy in light of Fisher’s now posthumous telling.

 

Rating: 

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