30 July 2007

Fox Makes Friends

Author/Illustrator: Adam Relf

An adorable little fox wants a friend, so he decides to go out and catch one. His mother quickly corrects him and tells him that you don't catch friends, you make friends.

The fox takes this literally and goes out and builds a friend out of an apple and some sticks. Unfortunately, his apple-headed friend is incredibly boring and doesn't play well with others. Soon a few other animals from the forest show up and they all decide to help the fox make a friend. By the end, in the process of making friends, they have inadvertently become friends. Awww... In lesser hands, this could have been extremely cheezy, but Relf's illustrations are so soul squeezingly adorable, that it works really well.

Relf's book also works because it is a rather astute commentary on the difficulty of forging friendships. Indeed, it is rare for people to directly say "Hey, let's be friends." The more common method is to engage in an activity through which social relations and friendships are built... just as Fox and his buddies build a relationship while working on a project together, most people today make friends through activities such as happy hours, book clubs, or sports.

Sports are a great way to make friends (especially for guys who are typically less comfortable with their emotions) because it allows for the development of camraderie and emotionally significant relationships through a socially acceptable venue. Strong friendships are developed on the playing field and emotional barriers are slowly broken down. (Where else do guys pat eachother on the butt without a second thought?) The sports world creates a useful context upon which friendships can be cultivated and eventually thrive off the field as well.

Sports is such a powerful unifying force that it can extend well beyond the realm of individual friendships and into the global politics. The most startling example is the Iraqi national soccer team, who recently beat Saudi Arabia to win the Asia Cup. This victory prompted throngs of Iraqi citizens to take to the streets in celebration. Shiites and Sunnis rejoiced together, chanting "One Iraq!"

From Harper's: "Sport brings us together while the heads of everything in Baghdad can't bring us together for five years," said one reveler. "If the Iraqi football team ruled us, peace would spread in our home."

Indeed, it appears that where diplomacy and military occupation have failed, soccer has triumphed. Sport may prove to be the best hope yet for quelling the tragic sectarian violence that has been consuming Iraqi cities for years now.

Seizing this unprecented momentum, President Bush finally heeds the country's call for a change of strategy in Iraq and commissioned the conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation, to produce the following top secret policy initiative:

The report, called "A Kick in the Balls: Soccer as a Strategy For Ending the Conflict in Iraq" is an attempt to capitalize on the transcendent power of sport as a means of redeveloping a sense of national pride and peaceful coexistence between warring factions in Iraq. The report, which will be delivered to the President early next week includes the following recommendations:

1) Replace the Department of Defense with the Major League Soccer All-Star team.

2) Cut off all ties with new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and announce that all diplomatic relations with Great Britain will now go through David Beckham.

3) Preemptively commute the sentence of NBA official Tim Donaghy (who is under investigation for rigging games). Put him in charge of officiating for all future soccer matches to ensure that Iraq will always emerge victorious.

4) Pressure the international community to name Pele as the new Secretary General of the United Nations.

5) Appoint Brandi Chastain as the successor to Tony Snow for the position of White House Press Secretary. If anyone questions the president's latest strategy, she will be instructed to take off her top as a diversion. If that doesn't work, she will kick Helen Thomas in the face and shout, "Anybody else want some?!"

6) Request that French president Nicolas Sarkozy lend the services of soccer legend Zinedane Zidane to the Iraq War so that he can serve as a one man army to secure Anbar province.

Surprisingly, this drastic new strategy will garner support in both political parties. Democrats will support the initiative because shifting from a military based occupation to a soccer based occupation will allow them to bring our troops home sooner rather than later (and reverse their sinking standing in the public opinion polls).

Republicans and the White House will support the plan because no one in the United States really pays attention to soccer, so interest in Iraq will quickly evaporate. The less attention on the war, the better off the Republican Party. Soon (to the delight of the embattled Bush administration), CNN will stop covering it all together and the only place you will be able to get updates on the war will be ESPN Deportes.


Note: This strategy will not bring an immediate end to all violence. During this past week's celebration, 4 people were killed by celebratory gun fire (which tragically, is a low casualty rate in present-day Iraq). A key component to the success of this plan will be providing the Iraqi population with free bottles of celebratory champagne so that the worst injuries will be limited to the occasional cork to temple.

27 July 2007

Strega Nona

Author/Illustrator: Tomie dePaola

This is dePaola's classic story that revolves around an old woman and her wonderful pot. (No, it's not about Courtney Love). Strega Nona is the village medicine woman who has a magic pot that, when the right words are spoken, produces pasta. To stop the pot, she recites another spell... and blows three kisses.

Her goofball of an apprentice (Big Anthony) jealously watches Strega Nona casting her spell over the pot, but misses the 3 kisses part. This lack of attention to detail soon leads to some Sorcerer's Apprentice-like mayhem (Note: the Sorcerer's Apprentice was not originally written by Walt Disney).

One day, Strega Nona goes out of town and leaves Big Anthony in charge. Of course, he goes out and tells everyone about the magic pot and then casts the spell, unleashing the magical pasta producing power of the pot and curing everyone's case of the munchies. Big Anthony is the man of the hour!

Unfortunately, Big Anthony doesn't know how to properly shut down the pot and it begins to boil over. A dangerous wave of noodles threatens to bury the entire village. Now everyone hates Big Anthony. That's life in the public eye for you. One minute you're on top of the world, the next minute you're being chased by an angry mob and thrown into a jail cell with Lindsay Lohan.

In the mid 80's, a community theater in Woodstock, Vermont gained national attention for their politically charged interpretation of dePaola's story. Critics flocked to this tiny hippie hamlet to see the play, which had re-imagined the story as a parable about the prevalent economic policy of the times: Reaganomics. The play was called Streganomics.

Left: A scene from Streganomics with Scott Robinski (middle) playing the Reagan-inspired character of Big Anthony, a generically handsome but bumbling doofus.

In the play, the director compares Big Anthony's short-sighted attempt to wield the power of the magic pot to the conservative party's unwaverying belief in the power of the free market. (In a particularly brutal pun, the directors replaced trickle-down economics with boil-over kitchenomics. There's a reason you've never heard of this play.)

Just as the pasta pot dangerously boils over, the U.S. economy eventually spins out of control. The economy takes on a life of its own and ushers in an era of unparrelled economic stratification. People always seem to overlook the fact that the market does not have a moral compass built in. Therefore, it should not be relied upon to magically set our social guidelines. The market must be regulated to some extent in order for it to reflect the morals of our society. (In this case, the three kisses represents the compassionate restraint imposed by socially-conscious regulatory policies.)

Just like Magic, Capitalism isn't inherently evil (as some zealots will tell you), but it's not inherently good either, and therefore its power must be wielded with wisdom and restraint... two qualities of which many politicians (on both sides of the aisle) are notoriously lacking.

In the book, Strega Nona returns to find the city under seige by pasta. She utters the magic words and blows the three kisses to bring the starchy surge to a halt. In the play, however, all does not end so well... Strega Nona doesn't come back.

The play casts Strega Nona as an exalted FDR figure, and her magic of containment is meant to represent the wisdom of the New Deal. However, just as the egalitarian principles behind the New Deal seem like a distant memory, Strega Nona's unique ability to put a lid on the magic pot is lost forever and it appears that the rising tide of pasta is irreversible.

Several people take the helm from Big Anthony, but no one has the courage to utter the magic words that might stem the tide... words such as, "progressive tax code," or "increased corporate regulation." The curtain drops with the citizens of the town buried under a sea of pasta and Big Anthony being airlifted by a private jet and flown off into the sunset.

Note: In the widely overlooked sequel, Strega Nona Meets Her Match, a mysterious stranger appears with a magic fondue pot. Lightning strikes and the two instantly fall head over heels in love. They join forces and with their two magical pots create an unending supply of Macaroni and Cheese, transforming their village into heaven on earth. Now THAT is what I call a happy ending.

Have You Seen This Monkey?


Name: George
Height: 2'3''
Weight 11 lbs.
Eyes: Black and Tiny

Last seen talking to a man in a yellow hat.

If you have any information regarding the whereabouts of this missing monkey, please call
1 (800) BS-BOOKS or
email: bottomshelfbooks@gmail.com.

25 July 2007

BSB Flashback: Peter's Chair

4 April 2007

Author/Illustrator: Ezra Jack Keats

In this brutal offering from one of the giants of children's literature, our young protagonist Peter is appalled to find out that all his possessions are being painted pink to be given to his newborn sister. The nerve! Peter initially resists his parents' attempt to co-opt all his belongings, particularly his favorite chair. But eventually, like all doe-eyed optimists, Peter is forced to swallow the bitter pill of reality. He concedes defeat--our hero has fallen. Peter offers up his chair as a conciliatory symbol of his newfound understanding: It's her world now, I'm merely a bit player.

While these tough luck lessons are painfully necessary for children, they are perhaps even more valuable for adults. In Peter's case it was a new baby. In John Kerry's case, it was a new democratic nominee for president. Like Peter, Kerry came to his senses, realizing that his time had passed and (thankfully) decided not to make another run at the presidency. Now the only question is... who gets the democratic chair? Does Kerry follow Peter's example and paint the democratic nomination pink for the apparent front-runner Hillary? Does he paint it purple for bridge-building phenom Obama? Or maybe he fits his chair with a booster seat and some crayons for the adorable Dennis Kucinich?

Meanwhile, across the street, neighborhood outcast Ralphy Nader is busy building his own chair out of driftwood and moral fiber. It is not a sturdy chair, and it will give you splinters if you sit on it, but dagnabit, someone has to provide an alternative to the mass-production, cookie cutter furniture industry! It's not easy being green. Keep fighting the good fight, Ralphy... you crazy beautiful pirate, you.

23 July 2007


Author/Illustrator: Nick Bruel

A young kangaroo emerges from her mother's pouch to learn how to hop. She watches as her mother and friends demonstrate by bouncing all over the place, but every time she tries she ends up flat on her tail. Finally, someone tells her to empty her pouch. The little kangaroo proceeds to pull out a treasure trove of kid goodies. No wonder she couldn't get off the ground! Once she is free from the weight of her childhood toys, she gives it one more shot and... BOING!

This is a very cute book, but its message is a little outdated. Yes, it used to be true that you needed to shed your childhood baggage before you could make the leap into adulthood... but no more. In today's consumer driven society, there is an entire market dedicated to accomodating the wants and needs of kidtastic adults.

A few pieces of evidence:
-Age of the average video game player: mid 30s
-Last week's top grossing movies were: 1) Harry Potter, 2) Transformers, and 3) Ratatouille (a.k.a. Picture of the Year)
-The World Adult Kickball Association

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. So, as you can see, there is no longer any need to empty your pouch of the trappings of childhood. By all means, take it all with you!

From a sociological standpoint, this makes complete sense. We grew up as the first generation whose childhood was completely oversaturated by commercials. Previous generations were exposed to advertising, but nothing like the ruthless onslaught of brand name bullying that was Saturday Morning Cartoons.

Madison Avenue unleashed an unholy army led by the Trix Rabbit, Zack the Lego Maniac, and the Mario Brothers, cold-blooded mercenaries who easily conquered us and turned us into the most maleable and market-friendly generation of all time. The message that they left us with was an almost zen-like mantra of Gimme Gimme Gimme.

Apparently, the message was so powerful that, not only do we still want (need) to buy stuff, we still want to buy almost the exact same stuff that we did as when we were young. And true to their word, the market is providing us with tons of junk on which to spend our money. Hey, why should kids get to have all the fun?

This redefinition of adulthood is a phenomenon that is described in excruciatingly pithy detail by the controversial new book, Welcome to Neverland: How the Free Market Raised Us To Be a Generation of Peter Pansies.

Keep in mind, I am not disparaging anyone for "not growing up." As someone who spends his spare time writing about picture books, I'm the last one to pass judgement. As they say, people who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

...which I always thought was a pretty silly saying--I mean, who the heck lives in a glass house? Then I saw this picture of a celebrated "postmodern" house designed by the famous architect Philip Johnson in 1949:

Well I'll be damned. So yeah, I guess they're right. If you happen to be unlucky enough to live in this ridiculous glass house (in New Canaan, Connecticut of all places), it would not be a good idea to throw stones. Unless it's to throw them at the guy who had the brilliant idea to build your house with glass walls. In which case, throw away. I won't judge you.

20 July 2007

Piano Piano

Author: Davide Cali
Illustrator: Eric Heliot

Piano Piano is an energetic story about a young boy (with an unhealthy addiction to hair gel) who is forced by his mother to practice piano so that he can grow up to be a grand pianist. Cali displays a quirky sense of humor and truly captures the emotional distress of being made to practice an instrument against your will. (As someone who once cried rather than practice Pachelbel's Canon, I can speak from experience.) It soon becomes obvious that the boy's mother is attempting to atone for her own childhood disappointments by forcing her son to succeed where she failed. Tsk, tsk.

Boundaries regarding parental control over their child has always been a difficult issue. In fact, it is at the heart of the debate surrounding one of the United States' most ignominious distinctions--according to UNICEF, there are only 2 countries that have not signed onto the Convention on the Rights of the Child: the United States and Somalia.

Somalia has not signed on because it does not have a recognized government. That's a decent excuse. This is not the case in the United States. Here in the good ol' U.S. of A. we recognize our government. We recognize it as a conglomeration of talking heads backed by the deep pockets of corporate interest and led by a condescending idiot... but we do recognize it.

It came as a surprise to me that one of the forces preventing the U.S. from ratifying this convention is a powerful opposition lobby that is afraid that the Convention will undermine the rights of the parents in the parent-child relationship.

Now, I haven't read the Convention thoroughly, so this may be oversimplifying things... but this is bulldoodoo. How is it possible that we are the only country of note who refuses to sign this? And is there really an anti-child rights lobby?!

What we need is an outside voice of reason to straighten things out. In Piano Piano the wise grandfather steps in and acts as the calming force that leads the family towards a common sense resolution. Who can the United States turn to help it come to its senses?

Nelson Mandela and the Council of Elders, that's who!

I just read about this in the Washington Post the other day and have been giddy ever since. Nelson Mandela has been holding meetings on a remote, privately-owned island to form a group of retired global leaders who will be able to tackle world problems unfettered by the burden of national or international politics.

The international council will be chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and will include such stalwarts as former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, women's rights champion Ela Bhatt, longtime children's rights advocate (and Mandela's wife) Graca Machel; and Microcredit Superstar/Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, among others.

How freakin' cool is that? It sounds like something straight out of a comic book... like the Justice League on Metamucil. To make it even more like a comic book, the council is funded by an eccentric egomaniacal billionaire (Richard Branson). This leaves the door open for a plot twist where Branson turns out to be an evil genius who is using the Council of Elders as part of his twisted plan to take over the world.

"Can the Council of Elders foil Branson's evil plan before it's too late? Tune in next week when the Dalai Llama and the ghost of Mother Teresa attempt to rescue the Elders, who are being held hostage in Branson's secret island lair!"

Whatever happens, there is no denying that the world just seems cooler and more epic now that there is something called the Council of Elders in existence. Even if all they do is hang around playing shuffleboard and watching reruns of Matlock, it still sounds cool as hell.

Though, if they knew what was good for them, Matlock would already be on the Council... along with the Wonder Twins: Amma the Hugging Saint and the elder statesman of hip-hop, Chuck D.

Note from Mandela: If Flava Flav calls to ask about his seat on the council, tell him his invitation must have been, umm... lost in the mail. Sorry Foofy Foofy, there's just no room left... now go back to your love nest at Vh-1 headquarters, you silly silly peanut man.

19 July 2007

Someone Out There Is Listening...

Thanks to author/illustrator Barbara Johansen Newman for hitting me with a Thinking Blogger Award. It's an honor and the first award I've gotten since I won the dubious "Looks Surprisingly Hot in a Skirt" Award from my ultimate frisbee team (an award that I definitely deserved, but it was a dubious distinction nonetheless).

I'm not sure what to make of the logo, which looks like some kind of baby alien with a tattoo of the recycling symbol on its forehead. Which I guess is appropriate. It is very thoughtful of this alien life form from a distant galaxy to concern itself with our humble planet's environmental needs.

Thank you Barbara, and thank you tattooed alien baby!

18 July 2007

"I'm Not Cute!"

Author/Illustrator: Jonathan Allen

"I'm Not Cute" is a charmingly simple tale that also serves as a diagnosis of an unfortunate symptom of the life of a child television or movie star. As with many child stars, the baby owl struggles to convince the public that is not just a cute face. This is what is commonly known as the "I'm Note Cute!" Syndrome. There are several possible paths open to the baby owl. Below are the historically most likely scenarios.

Scenario 1: Never manage to break the suffocating mold of childhood fame and eventually disappear into the misty hills of obscurity.

Exhibit A: Jonathan Taylor Thomas

Sorry, Simba. The Circle of Life for a child star is painfully unforgiving.

Scenario 2: Burn out in a blaze of glory, never to fully recover.

Exhibit B: Corey Feldman

Last spotted on VH-1s The Surreal Life. It doesn't get any lower.

Scenario 3:
Temporarily fade from the limelight only to reemerge and go on to have a successful career as an adult.

Exhibit C: Alyssa Milano

a.k.a. The boyhood crush that keeps on giving.

Scenario 4: Manage to survive the spectacular flame-out, and then (after years of rehab) rise from the ashes to reclaim stardom with a vengeance.

Exhibit D:
Drew Barrymore
Went from snorting cocaine at 13 to Ambassador Against Hunger for the United Nations World Food Programme at 31. Not bad.

While Barrymore's recent nomination as U.N. Ambassador is impressive, she is not the first child star to succeed in the political realm. That distinction belongs to the mother of all child stars: Shirley Temple Black, who went from a life as an international childhood sensation to a distinguished career in international politics.

From the Good Ship Lollipop...

... to serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia during the Velvet Revolution (which, by the way, was hands down the coolest name for a revolution ever).

As these stars prove, the "I'm Not Cute" Syndrome is not fatal... but it is life-threatening and can have crippling long term side effects if you're not careful. So if you hear "cha-ching!" every time you look at your adorable offspring, just take a minute and consider the tragic fate of the kids from Different Strokes... that should at least slow down the money train long enough for you to jump off before it's too late.

What are we talkin' bout, Willis? We're talking about the exploitation of children leading to irreparable psychological damage with sometimes tragic consequences, that's what we're talkin' bout.

Tricky Dicks Note: (Warning--juvenile and crass pun ahead.)

Slate just featured an article about recently released Nixon documents. Within those documents, there was a memo revealing that our former president dealt with the opposite of the "I'm Not Cute" Syndrome. He struggled with what doctors refer to as the "I'm Not a Cold and Heartless Bastard" Syndrome. You can read the article and the original memo here, but here's a taste:

Nixon complained that "average voters" regarded RN as "an efficient, crafty, cold, machine." To help correct this common misconception, Nixon cited "warm items" (Page 3) such as "the calls that I make to people when they are sick, even though they no longer mean anything to anybody" (Page 4). "I called some mothers and wives of men that had been killed in Vietnam," he added, helpfully.

Because he was Nixon, he resented somewhat the social imperative that the president be courteous. "[W]e have gone far beyond any previous president … in breaking our backs to be nicey-nice to the
Cabinet, staff and the Congress … around Christmastime," Nixon groused (Page 3). "I have treated them like dignified human beings and not like dirt under my feet" (Page 4), he continued.

Ahh... there's nothing like an efficiently calculating memorandum to your staffers to help convince the American public that you aren't efficient or calculating. Now, I just can't wait until three decades down the road when we finally get to see some of Vice President Dick Cheney's secret files (if they still exist).

Just think, given all the ridiculousness that's been coming out about the ultra-secretive Vice President's office lately... if that's the stuff we do get to see, just imagine what bizarre and delicious treats he's hiding from us in those unmarked drawers and file cabinets!

Word is that Comedy Central is already planning to bring John Stewart and Stephen Colbert out of retirement for just that occasion. The special will be called:

The Daily Show Reunion Special 2037
Inside Cheney's Drawers: The Dick We Never Knew

If you have TiVo... set it now.

16 July 2007

13 July 2007

BSB Flashback: I Love You Like Crazy Cakes

29 March 2007

Author: Rose A. Lewis
Illustrator: Jane Dyer

This lovely story about international adoption (along with 50 Cent's immortal lyric, "I love you like a fat kid loves cake") made cake a universally accepted unit of measurement for love. (e.g. "With her latest adoption, Angelina Jolie has proven to have over a million crazy cakes worth of love to give." or "Madonna found herself in a crazy cake's worth of trouble with the international community when she circumvented the law in an attempt to adopt a baby from Malawi.")

However, like roses, different cakes signify different kinds of love... so interpretation can get tricky. According to Lewis's book, "crazy cakes" are used to measure the amount of love between a mother and her adopted baby--but what about other cakes? As a public service, I've included a rudimentary glossary below to help you decipher the messages hidden in those convoluted and calorie-laden love notes. Good luck!

Birthday Cake: Even though you're getting older, I'm still here. I guess that means I love you.

Birthday Cake (with a hidden file inside):
I love you, but not enough to wait for parole, so you can either escape from prison or begin cultivating that special friendship with your cellmate.

Birthday Cake (with a hidden stripper inside): Yes, there is a God.

Bundt Cake: I love you, but I feel like something is missing... for starters: a tolerable personality, a basic understanding of good hygiene, and any legitimate job prospects that don't involve some godawful incarnation of Dungeons and Dragons. Plus, you're just not attractive enough for me. So, I guess I was wrong... I don't love you. Give me back my cake.

Cupcake: I don't love you quite enough to bake you a full-sized cake.

Cupcake (with pink frosting and sprinkles): I luv u, and if u luv me back, tell Ryan at lunch so he can tell Jessica, who will tell me, and then I'll meet u by my locker after 5th period!!! TTYL!!!! ;)

Ice Cream Cake: I love you like a friend... kind of like how I love my DVD collection.

Rice Cake: My love may be bland and unsatisfying, but I guarantee that it will not harm you in any way, shape, or form.

Rice Cake (caramel flavored): I can change, I swear! I don't have to be boring! I can take salsa lessons! I'll start gelling my hair! I can--oh, who am I kidding? I give up. I'm going home to play x-box.

Vegan Sugarless Carrot Cake: I am morally opposed to enjoying life. Yes, that includes love. Don't touch me.

Wedding Cake: I love you with all of my heart. Let's spend the rest of our lives together and eventually stop having sex.

11 July 2007

The Flower

Author: John Light
Illustrator: Lisa Evans

If Aldous Huxley and Edgar Allen Poe teamed up to create a children's book, this would be it. The world of The Flower is a hauntingly dismal place where the city is all shades of grey and people live in tiny boxes. A world where the great vastness of human potential is confined by the cruel limitations of their post-industrial nightmare.

The human spirit was not meant to live in a colorless world, wading through smog, scurrying across concrete, afraid to make eye contact on the subway. In this book, city living is cold and soulless... like a cadaver--still vaguely human, but for the distinct smell of fromaldyhyde.

Not to be melodramatic or anything.

Anyways, the hero in the book works in a library (obviously, since the library is a breeding ground for heroism), and one day discovers a book with a beautiful picture of something he had never seen or heard of before... a flower. The color from the picture is mesmerizing and soon our hero finds himself following a trail that leads him towards a reconnection with nature and a rediscovery of the beauty within.

The book reminds us of the importance of retaining some connection with the natural world, even when confined to the concrete jungles of urban living. I never quite understood this, probably because I've managed to kill every plant I'd owned. (A cactus even died under my care and those are supposed to be indestructible!)

But my girlfriend agrees with Light and Evans, and always insisted that having plants around the apartment was key to maintaining our sanity. And right now, as I look around the room, and see the few small potted plants bravely adding life our box of an apartment, I have to admit they've got a point. (Obviously, I'm not the one responsible for watering them or they would be dried-out husks by now.)

Which is why it's a good thing IKEA sells cheap plants. Truly, all your home furnishing needs in one conveniently surreal place! Who needs Mother Nature when you have the welcoming bosom of Swedish mass-production to make you feel at home?

09 July 2007

I.Q. Gets Fit

Author/Illustrator: Mary Ann Fraser

I.Q., the class pet, decides to join in on the school's Health Month. Determined to show how fit he can be, I.Q. develops an awesome fitness plan that makes Richard Simmons look like a pudgy hobbit in short shorts. (Oh wait...)

I.Q. is a great spokesperson for fitness and does an admirable job trying to stem the rising tide of childhood obesity. Unfortunately, inspiring though he may be, it is going to take more than a doggedly determined mouse to get today's kids to change their poor nutritional habits and increasingly sedentary lifestyles.

If we are truly committed to getting kids in shape, we’re going to have to think outside the box and adjust to the times. In fact, our greatest hope in the battle against childhood obesity comes from the last place you would expect: video games.

Video games are often considered one of the culprits responsible for our decrease in physical activity and deteriorating health. And it’s true, sitting around twiddling your thumbs while staring at a television screen isn't going to do much for your cardiovascular system. However, it is much too late to cut video games out of the equation. So what can we do? Simple. Harness the powerful appeal of the Nintendo and trick kids into being more active. Enter the Nintendo Wii.

The Wii is an innovative new game system that incorporates actual movement into the control system--instead of just pushing buttons, the game actually requires that you get up and move. This interface gets us off the couch, engages more muscles, and gives our poor worn-out thumbs a much-needed rest.

This is not the video game industry’s first attempt to merge with the physical realm. In the mid 90s, Nintendo introduced the Powerpad, but unfortunately it never really caught on… probably because it was really just a poorly conceived rip-off of Twister (without the crossover appeal of being a drunken party game for grown-ups).

Physical video games didn't truly break into the mainstream until the success of Dance Dance Revolution, a maniacally paced game that allowed nerds to turn their video game obsession into crowd-pleasing and sometimes awe-inspiring displays of goofiness. It also took a lot of jumping around, which was great for the cardiovascular system and your quads.

With the recently released Wii being one of the most sought after items on the market, it is only a matter of time before the video game industry is in a full blown arms race for physically challenging game systems… producing video games that are a viable form of exercise. And just like that, the extra pounds will come flying off and obesity will be a thing of the past. Problem solved.

As the technology advances, the games will become more and more lifelike. At which point, thirsty for the most realistic experience possible (and addicted to the endorphin high that comes with actual physical activity), gamers will have no choice but to unplug and go outside in order to experience the ultimate in wireless entertainment.

...unfortunately, it had been much too long since we'd all left our living rooms. Having been neglected for so long, reality has been hijacked! An all-powerful monarch named King Bowser is now ruling the planet with his vast army of Goombas patrolling the land. But there is still hope. Luckily, you've been training for this your whole life... and finally, it is time to kick ass and take names.

05 July 2007

The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!

Author/Illustrator: Mo Willems

"Oooooh! A hot dog! Yummy! Yummy! Yummy!"

Uh oh. This is not good.

As Willems (the Hemingway of children's entertainment) showed us in Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, our loveable pigeon is famous for his lack of restraint. In order to keep the Pigeon's covetous ways under control, Willems famously broke down the 3rd wall to put YOU in charge of keeping the pigeon from getting behind the wheel. You proved to be more than up to the task... but your job is not done.

Now that the pigeon has gotten his first taste of a devilishly delectable hot dog, you are going to be called back into duty for Willem's next book: Don't Let the Pigeon Enter Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Competition!

Pigeon's lack of self restraint is most likely indicative of an addictive personality. This insatiable quality coupled with his quirky appetites would make Pigeon a formidable foe for defending champion Joey Chestnut and Japanese superstar Takeru Kobayashi.

Left: America Back On Top of the Food Chain
Joey Chestnut's recent victory over Kobayashi is simultaneously being hailed in the media as a sign of the preeminent gluttony of American culture and as our greatest international triumph since World War II. USA! USA! USA!

It is up to you to stop the Pigeon for his own good. Life on the competetive eating circuit is no picnic (Pun intended. I apologize.) Traveling from county to county, gorging yourself on hotdogs, boiled eggs, and sea urchin ice cream may sound like heaven on earth, but it quickly becomes a living nightmare. Ask any professional eating veteran and they will tell you that gastronomic glory is not worth the price of admission.

Plus, as a hot dog fan myself, the concept of a hot dog eating competition displays a disturbing lack of respect for food. The point of food is nourishment, the joy of a hot dog in savoring each bite... not scarfing down as many as possible to the point of vomitting or hospitalization. And who the heck dips their hot dog buns in water?! These people obviously do not love hot dogs, they love the fame and the glory. And it makes me sick.

Pigeon found a hot dog and it is the greatest thing in the world. Keeping him out of the hot dog eating competition may deprive him of the perverse fame of victory, but it will preserve his love of food and his innocence... if you are a real friend, you will stop him at all costs.

So if you see him about to eat another hot dog, do the right thing. Take it away from him and... give it to me! Me! Give It To ME!!!

It's the right thing to do.

I swear.

Yummy! Yummy! Yummy! Gimee! Gimee! Gimee!!!

02 July 2007

Uncle Andy's

Author/Illustrator: James Warhola

The story of Andy Warhol's down-to-earth country family is written by (and from the boyhood perspective of) Warhol's real-life nephew: James Warhola. (Andy dropped the "a" in his last name after graduating from college.) What at first appears to be a charming if somewhat pedestrian book becomes much more significant when considered in the broader context of modern art.

Part of Andy Warhol's genius lay in his ability to transform the mundane into an artistic statement. His most recognizable piece, the Campbell's Soup Can, took a common household item and elevated it to high art. Through Warhol's lens, the ordinary became extraordinary.

Left: Art or Lunch? Genius... or Delicious?

Ironically, in the process of revealing the artistry of daily humanity, Warhol dehumanizes himself. In the public sphere, Andy Warhol becomes an abstract concept, a wispy alien life form floating through the New York art scene, brilliant but not quite human.

With Uncle Andy's, James Warhola brings his uncle back to earth. His appealing book presents an Andy Warhol that we can relate to, which is an amazing achievement. Warhola manages to re-humanize his famous uncle, rescuing him from a bleak eternity of pop culture abstraction. In Uncle Andy's Warhol becomes what we never saw... a man with a family, a goofy uncle... a man who lived with his mother in a house full of cats.

It's questionable whether Andy Warhol would have appreciated his nephew's efforts to demystify his persona (the other-worldly public image may have been a carefully crafted artistic statement in itself). However, to some, the revelations in Uncle Andy's make Andy Warhol's work more significant--at the very least, it is an interesting chapter in pop culture history. While Andy Warhol brilliantly revealed the beauty inherent in the mundane, Warhola beautifully reveals the inherent humanity in the brilliant artist. Talk about avant garde!