16 November 2008

Petunia: A Cautionary Tale for the Modern Jackass

Author/Illustrator: Roger Duvoisin

Modern Jackass (n.): a person that talks expertly about something he/she actually knows very little or nothing about.

Modern Jackass is a term that was recently made popular by nasally heartthrob and king of geeks, Ira Glass. It gained traction with a This American Life episode dedicated to the modern condition of speaking at length and with confidence on topics that you are not qualified talk about, let alone pontificate on.

(Disclosure: I didn't listen to that particular show, so my talking about the show without actually listening to it is in itself an example of Modern Jackass-ism. Does that blow your mind?)

This phenomenon seems somewhat unavoidable in today's society due to two pervasive issues:

1) The overwhelming availability of information and the constant barrage of stimulus has rendered the modern mind virtually paralyzed by Attention Deficit Disorder. (Seriously, there are times when I can barely read a paragraph without a commercial break.) As a society populated by minds that flutter and flit about like hummingbirds on crack, it's a minor miracle that any of us know anything.

2) Information flows so quickly and the news cycle spins at such a furious pace that it takes an obsessive nature of almost maniacal proportions just to keep up with the ever shifting nuances of any issue. This was most obvious during the presidential campaign, when breaking news in the morning was already yesterday's news by lunchtime (which was bad for the real yesterday's news which had already become ancient history). Given the speed at which we operate nowadays, you get the feeling that just blinking means you've fallen behind... and possibly into jackass territory.

While these conditions make Modern Jackass-ism seem like a new phenomenon, we all know that talking out of line has been around since the beginning of time. It was captured perfectly by Roger Duvoisin in seminal work on the matter: Petunia.

First published in 1950 (well before Ira Glass was born and waaaay before he ever donned his first pair of hipster-intellectual glasses), Petunia is the story of a silly goose who gets her wings on a book and thinks that automatically makes her wise. The other barnyard animals, seeing her walk around with her proud head held high in the air and a book in her arms, also think that she must be wise... so they ask her for advice. Petunia gladly gives her ill-advice, and eventually Petunia's pride and false wisdom ends up blowing up in all their faces (quite literally).

As this classic children's book shows, speaking out when you don't know what you're talking about is nothing particularly new. Whether you call it Modern Jackass or the Petunia Syndrome, at the end of the day we're all just a bunch of old-fashioned dumbasses.

12 November 2008


A while back, children's book guru and readiologist extraordinaire Esme Raji Codell of Planet Esme was kind enough to tag my delinquent self with the I Heart Your Blog honor. Woohoo--thanks Esme!

(Note: Thanks to my much more observant wife, I just made the connection that Esme is the Esme from Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher's First Year... a great book about teaching which I read back in 2001. Holy crap! As someone who works in education, consider me doubly honored!)

Now the rules of the game say that the blogs I tap are supposed to:

1) Add the logo of the award to your blog
2) Add a link to the person who awarded it to you
3) Nominate at least 7 other blogs
4) Add links to those blogs on your blog
5) Leave a message for your nominees on their blogs!

HOWEVER, I realize this is late in the game and some of you may have already been tagged. So in case you've been previously hearted, I'm offering several alternative options. Here's the deal: do any of the following things and consider yourself exempt your from the rules above!

1) Draw a heart on your palm, go up to one person and say "Stop! In the Name of Love!"
2) Send me a definition of the made up word: Boomdalpiferous.
3) Next time you walk through a revolving door, go around twice.
4) Link to Bottom Shelf Books, but with the words "Tina Fey's Super Secret Crush".
5) Perform open heart surgery.

Deal? Now, without further ado and in no particular order, 7 children's lit blogs that I'm glad exist:

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Like the storm in the Wizard of Oz, the ladies at 7-Imp hit your dull world like a tornado and suddenly the whole world is more colorful... if also disturbingly surreal and with the occasional flying monkey attack.

Saints & Spinners: Kid's books, Photoshop chops & guitar tabs... what else could you want? Also, I've said it before and I'll say it again, her Children's Books That Never Were feature is pure genius and I still don't forgive her for thinking of it first.

Finding Wonderland: Because in addition to being generally awesome, the names AquaFortis & TadMack sounds like something that would be on Cartoon Network after dark. The most potent duo this side of Macaroni & Cheese.

MotherReader: Sprinkling her insightful posts with hilarious rants, the occasional naughty word, and adventures in politics, she is one bad ass mother. (p.s. hell yeah, VA!)

A Fuse #8 Production: There's a saying, "If someone says they love movies, but they haven't seen any Hitchcock... then they don't really love movies." By that same token, If someone says they love children's literature, but haven't read A Fuse #8 Production... then they don't like really love children's literature.

The Jarrett Krosoczka and Maxwell Eaton III blogs: Because they are both fun blogs that let us into the minds of some hip kickass authors... and also because when I was just getting started these author dudes were down for some goofy spoofy interviews. (Plus: Jarrett and I shared drinks once and Max and I share a birthday. So there.)

Of course there are many others, but the rules say seven, so I'm stopping at seven.

Oh, and one last thing: Tina Fey's Super Secret Crush.

20 October 2008

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.

09 October 2008

Live From the Bottom Shelf: Jeff Newman

The cool thing about writing random posts about children's books is that you sometimes you get responses from the author. That was the case with Jeff Newman, who emailed me after reading my post on Hippo! No, Rhino! Ever opportunistic, I took that opportunity to ask him for an interview. Over the next few months I fed him a steady dose of a question a month. (I was in the middle of getting ready for the wedding, so I was terrible on email. Luckily, Jeff was just coming off his own wedding, so he was understanding and accomodating. Phew! and Congrats!)

But enough from me. Without further ado, I give you:

Jeff Newman

Question 1: When did you decide to pursue a career as a children's book author?
Well, I'm still not sure, with the number of books that I've produced since I started working in the industry in 2000, I could call this a career:) But to answer your question, I decided to pursue a career in children's books when someone agreed to publish one of mine! During my sophomore year of college, I took a picture book illustration class and a children's literature class, concurrently (in the latter, I wrote the story for Reginald, my first published book, and in the former I created the dummy for the same story). But I wasn't entirely sure if that was the route I wanted to take. I had a hard time deciding what to do, because I wanted to try everything (editorial, comics, animation). Then, after college, my girlfriend at the time, also an aspiring illustrator, got a job as an assistant to the art director at Random House Children's Books, so we moved to New York in the summer of 2000. She came home from work one day and told me that she'd taken my dummy for Reginald into Random House, and had shown it to some of the editorial staff.

A week or two later, I met with an editor for Doubleday, and we were on our way to turning it into a real, live book. I've been making books (albeit slowly), ever since. So, I never really decided to pursue this as a career--it just kind of happened. And I'm incredibly lucky that it did. I've always been driven to create, but the business and promotion angle of the illustration continues to make me uncomfortable. Thankfully, I've got an agent, now, so I don't have to deal with the business aspect quite so much.
Question 2: Since Hippo! No Rhino! isn't exactly your conventional kid's book, did you have any trouble convincing the editors to go for it?
Not really; I mean, I did submit Hippo! to about three or four different publishers before it was accepted at Little, Brown. But that seems like a pretty low number, compared to other submissions stories that I've heard, especially since, as you point out, it's not a conventional kid's book. Those editors that showed some interest in the book, but ultimately turned it down, unanimously thought that the story needed to be "fleshed out". I felt strongly that it wasn't so much a story as an incident, and that it said everything I wanted it to say in that format. Luckily, the dummy made it into the hands of my editor, Alvina Ling, so I never had to discover what "fleshed out" meant. I'm pretty sure it would have involved adding more words, and maybe changing the title to Quiet, Little Rhino, or something like that.

After Hippo! arrived at Little, Brown, and all the way up through its publication, I never had any trouble convincing Alvina to go for it. I didn't have to, because we were on the same page from the get-go. If there was any doubt regarding the book's direction, I never heard about it. I just made the book I wanted to make, and I realize, especially now, how rare an opportunity that is. She protected it all the way.
Question 3: As a children's author, do you ever feel the need to self-censor yourself in your daily life? Or rather, do children's authors need to maintain a squeaky clean image in order to get published? (Note: I do not consider Madonna to be a children's book author.)
The funny thing about Madonna is, she's probably one of the few celebrities who (at least I get the sense) wrote her own stories because she actually believed she had good stories to tell. I'm probably being naive; she may have had a ton of help. But I read The English Roses, and I got the feeling that it was copied directly from Madonna's notepad, without any editor interference. That might explain why it's so damn long, and why it sounds better when you read it with a fake British accent. So what I'm saying is, you might actually enjoy it.

And since we're talking Madonna, the answer to your second question is no. Whether or not you consider Madonna an author on the grounds that what she makes is of dubious quality, technically, she is. That said, she's Madonna, and her reputation has (arguably) almost everything to do with her getting books published. But for the average author, I think that the books speak for themselves; whether you're "squeaky clean" or not only matters insomuch as you don't do a line of cocaine off of a publisher's desk when you first meet them, or get up in front of a group of kids and scream "f__k!"

Still, (and this is an answer to your first question) I do feel the pressure to self-censor from time to time, and it's almost always in the presence of other children's authors, editors, and various industry folk that I don't know especially well (especially librarians, for some reason). And part of it is just because I produce material for children, and providers of that material are under more scrutiny than those that make stuff for adults. Also, you never know who you're talking to. Is that author just a guy like yourself, writing (hopefully) funny stories for kids, or is it a behavioral psychologist that will make you feel ashamed for showing an older brother picking on a younger brother in one of your books, without showing some kind of terrible consequence for the older brother's actions, or someone that blushes when you say "oh my god" rather than "oh my gosh"? There are so many different levels of concern for the effects books (and by extension, their authors) are going to have on children (I'd be at a pretty low level, I guess), and I feel like they're all out there, personified. I'm probably just paranoid.

Thankfully, in my daily life, I don't interact with a lot of people that know I'm a children's author, besides close friends and family, and they definitely don't hold me to any moral standard (aside from expecting me not commiting a felony, maybe).
(Interviewers note: I apologize--I didn't mean to imply that Madonna was not a children's book author... I meant to imply that including her in the ranks of children's authors when considering moral behavior would be difficult because, I assume, she's an outlier. Though rumor is that Margaret Wise Brown was quite the wild child. But I digress.)

Question 4: So, assuming you can resist the temptation to commit a felony (and don't come down with a sudden case of Turret's Syndrome), do you have any other projects coming down the pipeline that we should be watching out for?
Yes, I do have a few books in the works. The first one, the one that I've been working on for just about two years (!) is called The Boys, and it was going to come out next summer, but now it's been pushed to summer '10. It's a book that has some association with baseball, so it was decided that it needs to be released during the baseball season. And I agree, it just bums me out that I have to wait that long to see it in print. The reason it got bumped from the '09 season is threefold: the first reason is because I suck at using a paintbrush, and all the "outlines" in The Boys are brushed rather than inked (maybe one of the best/worst ideas ever). The second reason is because the page count was upped to 40 pages from 32 (I still have a few pages left to do, in fact), and the reason for that is the third reason it was delayed: it was soooo hard to make this story work without words. But I have to say, all the effort was worth it. I think. I hope.

And then I'm illustrating Aaron Reynold's The Carnivore Club for Chronicle Books, followed by Joseph Bruchac's Rabbit's Snow Dance for Dial Books. And some point, I'll be making (i.e. both writing andillustrating) my fourth book for Simon & Schuster.
Grand (Random) Finale Questions:
1) If you could choose any person (living or dead) to narrate your life story, who would that be?
2) What song would you want playing at the end of your life story after the screen faded to black and the credits started to roll?
3) In the DVD version of your life, what would be one of the deleted scenes and/or special features?
Now...I could pick someone at random to narrate my life story, but I don't have anyone in particular in mind. Also, I'm not sure what kind of special features the DVD of my life would have besides a commentary track of me sighing at every stupid thing I've ever done and said. But I do know my "final" song, and it's Holy Grail by Badly Drawn Boy. And yes, I have put a lot of thought into it prior to being asked the question, which I guess is kind of sad, but being as it's one of the last choices I'll make, I figure I better make the right one.
Oooooo... good song choice. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a clip of that song on YouTube, so I'll end the interview with another Badly Drawn Boy song... Thanks for the great interview, Jeff!

Roll Credits!

30 September 2008

Joe Fenton's What's Under the Bed?

Author/Illustrator: Joe Fenton (obviously.)

This cinematically illustrated book plays on a familiar theme: the nighttime terrors that every child experiences. Shadows ooze with toe tickling fear and ominous bumps go bumpity bumpity in the night... the darkness is a fertile breeding ground for the underbelly of the imagination. The nervous boy lies awake conjuring up bizarre images of the elusive monster that is biding its time, waiting to devour him.

This book, while well illustrated, seems relatively unremarkable, until you read it with its timely companion piece: Paul Auster's Man in the Dark.

In Man in the Dark, a literary critic, bedridden and in the twilight of his years, lays awake at night in an insomniac's melancholy haze. In order to keep himself occupied and to prevent himself from wallowing in the painful memories of his past, he allows his imagination to spin fantastical tales of alternate universes that evolve into all kind of metafictional fun.

(I don't want to go into too much detail because I don't want to spoil the plot. I mean, have you seen a picture of Paul Auster? You don't want to get on his bad side or he might bump you off in the night with his evil eye (of which he has two).)

These two tragic figures represent the fears that bookend our lives. On the one hand, we have a young boy who is terrified of the unknown: his future lurking just beyond his grasp. On the other hand, we have an old man who is terrified of the known: his dark past that is filled with the montrosity of his own mistakes.

One is burdened by the nascent existential crisis that fills his youthful nights with trepidation, afraid that he has a lifetime of pain and suffering ahead of him (not to be melodramatic or anything). The other is and old man, afraid to look back on his past--desperately trying to avoid confrontation with the shameful past that haunts his guilt-riddled nights. But then, backing slowly away from ones past, he runs the risk of falling over the edge into the abyss of the ultimate unknown: death.

As a youth, the boy is afraid of the dark. As an old man, je is afraid because he realizes that he is the dark... that over the course of a lifetime, he has traded potential and innocence for the consuming darkness of failure and disappointment. The monster that teases you as a child is none other than your future, the dark fate that you know in the deepest darkest part of your soul that you cannot escape.

Together, these two works comprise the basis of what is becoming known as Post-Post-9-11 fiction. In the days immediately after those horrible terrorist attacks (Post-9-11), America's consciousness was filled with fear of the unknown, the illusion of safety was abruptly torn away from them and the world was once again a fearful place with shadowy caves filled with monsters waiting to attack.

Now we find ourselves in a place (Post-Post-9-11) where we have the ability to see beyond our fears and face ourselves in the mirror. As a nation, we are now marked by the stain of tortures at Guantanamo Bay, preemptive wars, Sarah Palin... our fears have led us down a twisted path and transformed us into that which we feared all along. We have awoken in the middle of the night to find ourselves lost... and in the dark.

Well, that ended up being much darker than I had meant it to be. Life is not that bleak, there is still hope! To prove it, let's end on a lighter note with that adorable laughing baby!

Poor kid... has no idea what's waiting for him...

12 September 2008

BSB Flashback: Ronald Reagan: Paper Dolls in Full Color

Yesterday, I reached a tipping point in my frustration with the rapid decay of our political discourse and by the fact that we appear to have wandered into a long-lost Joseph Heller or George Orwell novel. Seeing that things were turning ugly (and ridiculous) quickly, and that Obama seemed to be painted into a corner, I used my lunchbreak to take a stab at figuring out how Obama could possibly respond. This is what I came up with.

Though maybe I should have saved my lunchtime and read what Paul Krugman wrote which made the same points. But he makes those points with facial hair, which gives him a decided edge... that and the fact that he writes for the New York Times.

Okay then, now that my brief foray as imaginary speechwriter is over, it's back to picture books for me!

Flashback to: 24 February 2008

Author/Illustrator: Tom Tierney

Anyone following the election knows that every Republican nominee had been desperately trying stake claim as the heir apparent to Ronald Reagan. Mitt Romney had the looks, but not the soul. Fred Thompson had the acting chops, but not the stamina. Mike Huckabee had the charm, but not the stature. (I'm not even going to bother with Giuliani and Ron Paul... the rest of the country isn't, why should I?)

Now, for all intents and purposes, there is one GOP candidate left standing: John McCain. And now, thanks to Tierney's book, McCain can actually put on Reagan's clothes and try to convince America that he is Reagan's true successor.

Though I don't see it happening. Reagan's greatest asset was his gift as an orator--he was such a great speaker that he fooled the country into thinking that a silly idea like Trickle-down economics made sense. As for McCain, his speeches sound about as convincing as a 4th grader reading the book report that his mom wrote for him.

But still, let's take a look at how McCain might conjure the spirit of Reagan to convince America that he is as paper-thin as the Gipper himself.

Straight Shootin' John McCain

I am the candidate that is not afraid to tell it like it is. I shoot straight from the hip. I drive the Straight Talk Express. And the straight truth is that despite my better judgment, I have no choice but to pander to my party's base in order to secure the Republican nomination.

If that means supporting the Bush tax cuts, so be it. If it means fudging my stance on torture, why not? If it means denouncing evolution, bring it on! In fact, if I did see a dinosaur, I would shoot it dead and serve it at my next fundraiser to prove just how straight I can shoot... at whatever it is the base wants me to take aim at.

Damage Control McCain

What, this picture? I've told you already that Ms. Iseman and I are merely acquaintances. I am saddened and frustrated by the obvious liberal media bias being perpetuated by the New York Times.

I also find it comical--if a bit flattering--that anyone would believe that a man of my age would still have any sexual impulses left. Because my friends, let me assure you... when it comes to little John McCain, he's been little John McCan't for some time now.

Bedtime for Bonzo McCain

My friends, we live in dangerous times. We must take care not to let our guard down lest we allow the terrorists to win. Just like Ronald Reagan held firm when caring for an unruly chimpanzee named Bonzo, I, as your Commander In Chief vow to accept the challenge and stare the great ape of terrorism in the eye. And trust me my friends, I won't be the first to blink.

The Democrats don't have the backbone to put Bonzo to bed. But I assure you, the American people, that when I am President, I will not rest until we get the monkey of terror off our backs and we put the issue to bed once and for all.

When I consider the prospect of another neglectful Democratically-led country, I think back to something the great Ronald Reagan once told me. He told me, "Johnny, whether you're babysitting a chimp or battling terrorists, you can be sure of one thing: If you turn your back for even one second, you are going to get feces thrown at you." So America, the choice is yours: do you want to get feces thrown at you? I didn't think so.

27 August 2008

It's Official: Bottom Shelf Booked!

So yes, I have dropped off the face of the planet for a while. But now that our wedding is officially in the history books, I'm hoping to get back on the ball soon. (I'm hoping that marriage won't take the edge off of my juvenile sense of humor.)

For those of you who were wondering, everything went off even better than we could have imagined: perfect weather, beautiful ceremony, GREAT party... it reminded us that we are truly blessed with amazing friends and family. And in case you're curious as to what a Big Fat Jewish Buddhist Vietnamese American California Wedding looks like, you can get a taste of it with these preview pics at the AHS Photography site, courtesy of Amy and Aaron, the dynamic duo that helped document the day for us!

Now, time to head back to the bookstore/library to see what I've been missing out on this past month!

20 July 2008

BSB Flashback: Corduroy

10 October 2007

Author/Illustrator: Don Freeman

This is the classic tale of a department store bear who goes out in search of his missing button. In the process, he finds more than a button... he finds friendship and discovers the power of love.

Re-reading this heartwarming book tickles the little nostalgia bone in even the most hardened souls out there. Not only because of Corduroy's triumph, but because the story hearkens back to a simpler time, a Golden Age for Toys... long before things started to go horribly and profoundly wrong.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly when the downward spiral began, but there is no denying that the Age of Innocence is now no more than a distant memory.

Key Moments in the Descending Decency of Toys

Chucky: Not only did this bloodthirsty doll strike fear in children everywhere with its campy gore, but it somehow managed to spawn a lengthy Child's Play series, extending Chucky's reign of terror into the present day.

Seed of Chucky. The low point of pop culture? The low point of all culture? The low point, period?

Tickle Me Elmo: Tyco somehow convinces the world that toys possessed by the devil would be perfect for Christmas.

Left: Comes with free exorcism kit, complete with vial of (faux) holy water. The power of Big Bird compels you!

Toy-tal Recall: Mattel recalls millions of toys because a manufacturer in China used dangerous lead paint... proving that dolls don't have to come alive and wield sharp knives to be deadly.

Left: Barbie. Apparently, her looks can kill.

Threat Level Tonka: The Transportation Security Administration announces that they will start paying extra attention to all radio-controlled toys in airports because they can be used to detonate bombs.

Left: Weapons of Fast Destruction: Batteries Not Included

And then, just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, last week came this latest sordid bit of news:

MR. POTATO HEAD IN ECSTASY BUST: "Customs officers discovered nearly 10.5 ounces of ecstasy tablets hidden inside a Mr. Potato Head toy sent to Australia from Ireland, the agency said Thursday."

Oh dear.

Yes this is tragic... but deep down, didn't we all see this coming? After his surprising success in Toy Story and Toy Story 2, it was only a matter of time before Potato Head was swept up by the wave of his newfound celebrity.

First came the funky hipster glasses, then the pretentious moustache, and then smuggling a body cavity filled with MDMA across international borders. According to an unconfirmed source, police searched Potato Head's luggage and found a box of glowsticks, 5 cartons of lollipops, and 26 extra smile accessories. Though this is the first time he was caught by the police, Potato Head has been seen living it up with Hollywood's party elite for months now. Next month's US Weekly will have the exclusive exposé, Mr. Potato Head: Lovable Spud or "Raving" Lunatic?

Left: Paparazzi capture a shot of Mr. Potato Head at a rave in downtown L.A.

So as you can see, between the War on Terror and the Bowels of Hollywood, toys have long abandoned the idyllic shelves of the Rockwell-era department stores. Since then, they have traveled down a dark and twisted path to a point where they can no longer be trusted, let alone loved.

So what now? Is there any hope?

Well, let me tell you a story. Long ago, a brave little bear named Corduroy set off into the unknown in search of his lost button. Now it's our turn to follow in his footsteps. Are we brave enough to march into the void to search for our lost innocence, not knowing what we might find?

Heck NO! No, we are NOT brave enough for that! Retreat! RETREAT!!!

14 July 2008

Yes We Can (Read Harry Potter)!

From MotherReader, who heard this gem from Obama this past week:
There was one question in particular of interest to us book lovers, and that came from a woman who asked what Obama would say to young writers. He was surprised by the question, which he admitted was one he hadn’t heard before, but didn’t hesitate to answer. He referenced his two books, and specifically mentioned how he wrote them himself, along with many of his speeches. With a light inflection, he said, “In terms of getting a job, knowing how to write is a good thing.” He talked about how he kept a journal, and how it was important for teaching him not only how to write, but also how to think. But my favorite part was when he said, “Over the course of four years I made time to read all of the Harry Potter books out loud to my daughters. If I can do that and run for president, then you can find time to read to your kids. That’s some of the most special time you have with your children.”
Wow. As someone who works in the field of literacy, this is pure gold. Now if I could only find a way to get my hands on a taped recording of Obama reading Harry Potter, then I'd be rich! It would be almost as good as this politico-kid's lit classic:

(Note: this isn't meant to draw any subconscious association between Obama and Jackson other than the fact that they are politicians who happen to be featured reading kid's books.)

(Another Note: I'm a little behind and I just caught the clip of Jackson saying he wants to _____ Obama's ______ off. Yikes! Apparently there are some things he dislikes even more than green eggs and ham.)

Non Picture Book Related Note: Showing My Age

"These idiots should have their licenses immediately revoked and then be punched in the face."

-My immediate reaction to the popular Facebook group "I Text Message People While Driving and I Haven't Crashed Yet!".

Yes, I am slowly turning into a grumpy old man.

"Stupid kids! And turn that music down!"

26 June 2008

DVD Special Features: Interview with Director Joachim Trier

Don't ask us how we got our hands on this DVD Special Feature before the DVD even came out... just be glad for our ninja-like skills here at Bottom Shelf Books. So, without further ado, here is an excerpt from an interview with the director of the critically acclaimed Reprise with a surprising shout out to a beloved children's book classic.


Question: Where did you get your idea for this story?

Well, you see, the story is about two young boys who submit their novels for publication. We thought that this would speak to a lot of people because, pretty much everyone we know has a novel that they are working on. So it's not autobiographical in a literal sense, only in the sense that we all have that urge to reveal our creative side to the world, it is what I call a universal biography. As I tell my friends, it is The Unauthorized Biography of a Basic Human Condition.

That didn't sound too pretentious, did it?

And yes, the internet rumors are true.... the idea for this story did first come from the children's book The Monster at the End of this Book (starring lovable furry old Grover). I used to read this book all the time as a kid. I found it absolutely fascinating and it played a large role in shaping my artistic and narrative style.

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of reading Monster, the book is about Grover who is terrified about finishing the book because there is a terrible monster waiting at the end of it. Every page he tries to deter the reading, trying to convince him or her not to turn the page, anything to get them to not finish the book.

I reread this in college and it really struck me on a personal level. As someone with his own aspirations as a novelist, I saw Grover as the manifestation of all those internal roadblocks that were preventing completion. He was the sharp toothed monster of self doubt, the nebulous beast named procrastination, the debilitatingly strong giant's grip of writer's block... and any other of the millions of reasons why most of us never finish that book that we're working on.

However, at the end of Monster, we realize that the monster waiting for us was Grover himself. The real monster was the self-doubt and fear that was causing us not to push towards the finish line. Phewf!

I even wrote about this phenomenon for my final paper in English 420: Critical Thinking and the Author. The paper was called, Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself: How the Grover Complex Undermines the Creative Process Before Conception.

I won't tell you what I got on the paper, but let's just say that, pretentious titles aside, there's a reason I'm making movies instead of writing.

So at the time, Grover represented the internal stuggle to realize one's creative potential. But then, as some of my friends began to finish their novels, I realized that I was wrong. There is something to fear at the end of the book. That finishing one's torturous first novel is not the cathartic experience that everyone thinks it will be.

So many people fixate on the journey to completing their first novel that they don't realize that this is only the beginning. Writers don't realize that once they give birth to their first book, there is often something sinister waiting for them at the end... Reprise is a movie about this realization, about the journey after the journey. It is a movie about the real monsters waiting for you at the end of the book.

Because once you finally do finish, you come to the sobering realization that you are not completely self-actualized, that you have not reached the mountaintop, but are standing at the edge of a gaping canyon that will swallow you whole if you are not careful. Failure, Success, Fame, Obsolescence, the Publishing World... indeed, there are many monsters at the end of your first book. And unfortunately, these monsters are neither lovable nor furry.

Did I mention that this movie is a comedy?

22 June 2008

In the News: Pig in Boots

Talk about a kid's book that writes itself:

"An English piglet that was scared of mud has gotten over her fears, after being equipped with some miniature Wellington boots. Cinders, who lives on a farm in North Yorkshire, apparently suffers from mysophobia, a fear of dirt; she refused to join her siblings as they wallowed in the muck. Then owner Andrew Keeble's 12-year-old daughter, Ellie, suggested outfitting the pig with the tiny footwear, which had been adorning some key rings. 'Lo and behold, they fitted her like a glove,' said Ellie's father. Keeble, who runs a sausage company, said that Cinders would be spared the grinder. 'She's more of a pet really, now, and she's going to live a very long and happy life." (-from The Week)

04 June 2008

No! That's Wrong!

Authors/Illustrators: Zhaohua Ji and Cui Xu

No! That's Wrong! is a lot of silly fun with wonderful illustrations... and a brilliant underlying message about the steady democratization of information.

Plot summary: A passing wind lifts a pair of underwear off a clothesline and sends them flying onto the head of a rabbit. The rabbit immediately thinks that this is a hat and goes off to share the fancy new accessory with his friends. The rabbit's friends all agree that it is a fabulous hat, but an invisible chorus keeps calling in from the borders of each page to correct the wayward bunny. (No! That's Wrong!) A vagabond donkey even comes up to correct the rabbit by showing him a men's underwear catalogue. The rabbit tries to conform to conventional wisdom, but in the end decides to rebel against the chorus and wear it as a hat... if he says it's a hat, then by golly, it's a hat! And a fabulous one at that!

The passing wind that serendipitously lifted that pair of underpants? That wasn't just some randomly mischievous breeze... those were the winds of change.

It is clear that Rabbit represents the current information revolution that is drastically altering the way in which we view the world. We live in a world where we no longer need to be confined by the definitions that are handed down to us from on high.

Look around you and you'll see the signs all over the place. The mainstream news media is being undermined by bloggers. CNN runs regular segments about the latest video on YouTube. The encyclopedia is being supplanted by Wikipedia. We no longer collect information, we create it.

All of which are signs that we no longer need to rely on the establishment for our information and that we are looking at the eventual demise of the traditional concept of authority. Case in point: The character of the donkey is an especially targeted attack on the waning reputation and crumbling prestige of Academia.

The donkey (or jackass) appears in thrift store suit like so many disheveled college professors in their ratty corduroy jackets. The donkey attempts to assert his authority on the matter of the underpants, but ultimately it is in vain. Academia, which for so long had the power of authority and an almost monopolistic claim over knowledge is slowly losing it's edge. The ivory tower has lost some of its sheen.

(Question: Is the fact that the donkey pulls out a men's underwear catalogue meant to represent the conservative accusation of the uber-liberalization of the academic elite and its alleged disregard for "traditional" family values?)

By refusing to kowtow to the naysayers of the establishment and tearing down the borders of the page, Rabbit is releasing himself and his compatriots from the arbitrary confines placed upon them by the power elite. As noted linguist Noam Chomsky wrote:

"Unfortunately, the act of 'definition' is the most widely accepted form of oppression in the world today. By assigning arbitrary 'meaning' to arbitrary words, restrictions are being placed on the very way in which we are allowed to think. Limiting our ability to think limits the ability to communicate, which in turn limits the ability to act as a group, which ultimately limits our ability revolt. It is precisely these types of deviously subliminal mechanisms that undergird all modes of oppression. Now, this is not to say that Merriam and Webster are the worst tyrants of our time, but they may just be the most effective." (Language and Mind, p. 137)

However, this form of oppression has been slowly eroding over time. Jumpstarted by the advent of the printing press and continuing through with the rise of the internet, the spread of information has exponentially gained in speed and in breadth. Information is now so readily available that the classic vestiges of authority have lost their stranglehold on knowledge and meaning--the consolidation of information is a relic of the past. The world is no longer exclusively defined top down, now it is being defined bottom up as well. And when bottoms are up, the only sensible thing to do is to wear underpants on your head.

Viva La Revolución!

Surprising Underpants on the Head News Update: Just when you thought Washington couldn't get any more ridiculous... during a Congressional hearing on possible violations of the Geneva Conventions regarding torture, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) hones in on the phrase "panties on someone's head" in an attempt to undermine the Inspector General's argument. Unfortunately, by distorting and making light of the situation, he only succeeds in demeaning himself and his office.

Though he's certainly not the first and he certainly won't be the last.

03 June 2008

BSB Flashback: I.Q. Gets Fit

Note: They obviously got the idea for the Wii Fit from me, but I am still waiting for my royalty checks from Nintendo to arrive in the mail...

9 July 2007

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.

30 May 2008

Rate of Production... Slowing...

So, you may (or may not) have noticed that the posts on Bottom Shelf Books are trickling out at a less than steady rate. (You could also say that the quality of the posts have gone down... but that would just be mean.)

Part of the reason is that we are knee deep preparing for an upcoming wedding and trying to do as much of it ourselves as possible. Like Save the Dates! Look, we're famous-ish!

29 May 2008

28 May 2008

Everyone Poops

Everyone poops... apparently even former press secretary Scott McClellan. Here's an actual excerpt from his much-hyped tell-all book (this passage refers to questions about the Valerie Plame CIA leak case):

"I could feel something fall out of me into the abyss as each reporter took a turn whacking me," he writes of the withering criticism he received as the story played out.

Can it be? Is McClellan actually admitting to $h!tting his pants during a press conference? I smell a NY Times bestseller! (No pun intended.)

"Don't worry, I washed my hands. See?"

27 May 2008

Doctor De Soto

Author/Illustrator: William Steig

Few know this, but Doctor De Soto was inspired by a speech given by Doctor Franklin De Soto, considered to be one of the earliest pioneers in the field of Dental Medicine. (Interesting fact: D.D.S. = Dr. De Soto.)

In his commencement speech to the West Virginia School of Dentistry Class of 1927, Dr. De Soto described, in surprisingly candid detail, the pains of devoting one's life to dentistry. Here is an excerpt:

"All of you have given years of your lives studying the field of dentistry. What was it that drove you? It definitely wasn't the lifetime of halitosis and plaque-caked mouths that inspired you to complete this grueling degree. So why did you do it? For the same reason I entered the field: the simple desire to help your fellow man. You were born with the impulse to alleviate the sharp pains of daily life and to soothe the dull and persistent hurt that plagues your neighbor. But I'm here to warn you: your idealism will not be rewarded.

This is what you will receive for your trouble: You will be the nightmare of the young children who come screaming into your office as if you were the devil himself. You will be subjected to an endless parade of adults who brazenly lie to your face... yeah, you "try to floss everyday", my ass. You will devote years to straightening the teeth of spoiled adolescents who will use their flawless smile to convince some poor soul to marry them--and you won't even get an invitation to their wedding.

So I'm warning you now: Dentistry is a thankless profession. For those of you considering a career in dentistry, do not for one minute expect accolades or even simple gratitude for your efforts. No amount of free toothbrushes or sugarfree lollipops will sway the fickle souls of your patients. Your clientele is like an ungrateful and unholy wolf, just waiting to take a bite out of your youthful idealism. That being said, I encourage you to proceed because yours is still a noble profession. But if you do choose to travel down this thorny path, do so with eyes wide open, or else you will be consumed by the very people you are trying to help. If my years of dentistry have taught me one thing, it is this: An open mouth is just a bite waiting to happen. With that, I congratulate you, Class of 1927. Best of luck. You're going to need it."

Rumor has it that a young William Steig was an undergraduate student who took Dr. De Soto's words to heart and decided to change his course of study from dentistry and pursue a life as an artist. Yet, as his book shows, he never lost his respect for the dental profession or the mousy old curmudgeon who took the time to tell him the truth.

08 May 2008

On the Campaign Trail: Duck for President

Against all odds, Duck is continuing his historic bid for the presidency of the United States. Lately, in order to keep himself in the public eye, he has been making the talk show rounds. Here are some soundbites from his interview with Larry King:

On Senator Obama: "I agree with the Senator when he says that it's time to get beyond politics as usual. The difference is that I am willing to take it a step further. I think it's high time we entered into an era of politics as unusual. And what would be more unusual than having a humble barnyard duck your Commander in Chief?"

On His Temper: "I know that there is a video floating around on YouTube that has caused quite a stir. I admit that in my past I have had some anger management issues... but trust me, they are nothing compared to John McCain's legendary outbursts. Plus, that cougar had it coming."

On President Bush:
"He is the definition of a lame duck president--I think America is ready for a change. I think America is ready to have an awesome Duck in the White House."

For more information, visit www.duckforamerica.com.

01 May 2008

BSB Flashback: Do You Want To Be My Friend?

3 May 2007

Author/Illustrator: Eric Carle

Hmmm... Carle might want to take this one back. In this story, a little mouse goes around asking various animals "Do you want to be my friend?" To which all the animals answer: "No." The mouse suffers one rejection after another until he finally comes across a fellow mouse. This time, when he asks "Do you want to be my friend?", the mouse answers "Yes!" and the two little mice go running off to play.

You might just think its a cute little story at first, but think again. Imagine the same exact story, but this time instead of animals, the story features little kids. Not so cute anymore, is it? The story carries an underlying message of self-segregation that is a little unsettling. Hopefully, this politically-incorrect theme was unintentional. Given his stellar track record, I am willing to give Carle the benefit of the doubt--for now. But I'm keeping my eye on you, Eric.

Silver Lining Note: On the bright side, with a little controversy, comes... THE TEACHABLE MOMENT!!! This is the perfect opportunity to engage your child in a frank discussion about race relations in modern day America. You can start by asking, How come none of the other animals wanted to be the mouse's friend? or Why did the two mice end up being friends? or Why was the elephant such a big jerk?

Then, have your child read Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race, and write a 12 page paper analyzing playground dynamics to create a theoretical framework that outlines the challenges of identity formation in the multicultural climate of today's American society. 11 point font, single spaced, and with full citations (APA format). And make sure they take it seriously, because this assignment counts for 50% of their childhood.

25 April 2008

Can Leo the Late Bloomer Guide the Celtics to the Championship?

The Sports Guy compares the Celtics young point guard Rajon Rondo to Leo the Late Bloomer.

An excerpt:

"Not only has Rajon Rondo's belated emergence been the most fascinating subplot of a storybook Celtics season, but he's just like the character in that book. Like Leo, Rondo never spoke. Like Leo's father, Celts fans spent an inordinate amount of time wondering when Rondo would "draw" (in this case, play with consistency) or "write" (in this case, bang home open jumpers). Leo had patient parents who believed in him; Rondo had veterans such as Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, role models who provided the confidence and toughness he desperately needed, eventually springing him from his on-court shell and altering the course of his career."

Read the full article here. Next week he uses Kevin Sherry's I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean! to put the New England Patriot's failed bid for an undefeated season into perspective.

21 April 2008

New Reality TV Show

From the producers that brought you Iron Chef America and Ace of Cakes, the Food Network is proud to present its newest mouth-watering hit:

Tune in to watch as these five contestants go head-to-head in a series of bizarre and morally challenging competitions. Can the children navigate these sugary obstacles without giving into temptation? Who will be the last one standing and who will take a one way trip down the chocolate river?

There's only one way to find out! Coming this Fall! Thursday nights at 9pm! It's so sweet, you'll have to wash it down with a glass of milk!

At stake for the Sweet Life contestants is their own Chocolate Factory, a private army of Oompa Loompas*, and the chance to live every child's dream.

Do not miss this groundbreaking show! Hosted by the incomparable Willy Wonka and featuring celebrity guest judges like Anthony Bourdain, the Jelly Bean Craving Ghost of Ronald Reagan, and Macy Gray, this first season promises to be Scrumdidilyumptious!

The Sweet Life is brought to you by Hershey's USA and the American Dental Association.

(*Note: The Army of Oompa Loompas is contingent upon ongoing negotiations with the United Candy Factory Workers of America. The Oompa Loompas are currently on strike and demanding fair wages and new haircuts. If the negotiations reach a stalemate, in lieu of an Oompa Loompa Army, the Sweet Life winner will receive their choice of a glass elevator or a boat that goes through a creepy bug tunnel.)

07 April 2008

So You Want To Be President: YouTube Edition

Author: Judith St. George
Illustrator: David Small

So you want to be president? Well, be prepared to be sent through the ringer, my young friend.

All presidential candidates must endure an unbelievable amount of scrutiny, but this year the long arm of the internet has really taken it up a notch. This election will undoubtedly go down in the history books as the YouTube election. From Obama Girl to McCain's 10,000 years to Clinton's Bosnia travails, YouTube exposure is playing a huge role in selecting our next president.

So the burning question is: How would past presidents have been affected by the all seeing eye of YouTube?

William Howard Taft
About This Video

His 1909 election was nearly cut short when the embarassing footage of Taft winning the 1897 Cleveland Deviled Egg Eating Contest hits the internets.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
About This Video

FDR's presidency was severely challenged by this leaked footage of him playing Murderball. His poll numbers took a plunge, not because America realizes that their president is in a wheelchair, but because he only scored one point and fouled out midway through the second quarter.

Richard Nixon
About This Video

This clip of Nixon's star-making turn as Eliza Doolittle in the Whittier College Drama Club's production of My Fair Lady actually helped Nixon's popularity by revealing his seldom seen human side.

We'll keep searching the archives for more long lost YouTube gems, so stay tuned!