30 January 2008

Ed Emberley's Little Drawing Book of Weirdos

I found this interesting review on Amazon.com:

162 of 175 people found the following review helpful:
2.5 out of 5 stars I AM NOT A MONSTER!!! January 30, 2008
Gonzo the Great "Creative Consultant" (Reno, Nevada) See all my reviews

First let me say that I have great respect for Ed Emberley... but as a weirdo, I felt that it is my duty to say something. People have been making this mistake for far too long... so listen up: Weirdos are not Monsters!!!!

Just look at Emberley's list of so-called "weirdos": Vampire, Goblin, Cat, Monster, Witch, Devil, etc. As you can see, these are monsters, not weirdos. (Except for the cat... because cats are most definitely weird).

Now I'm not saying that weirdos can't be monstrous, because they can. And I'm definitely not saying monsters can't be weird cause there are some doozies out there (
take this guy for example).

When it comes down to it, I'm not even sure exactly what weirdos are... but that's beside the point! My point is that weirdos are not necessarily monsters! So, basically, if Emberley changed the name of his book to Ed Emberley's Little Drawing Book of Monsters (Who Also Happen to be Weirdos), then I'd have no problem with it. In fact, I'm tempted to buy it anyways because I can get a used one for only 99 cents... and offensive or not, that's a bargain!!!

25 January 2008

In the News: The Little Engine That Could... Be Controlled By A Boy Genius

A few weeks ago in Poland, a 14 year old boy reconfigures a remote control and used it to take over the local mass transit system. This has been covered in the media as an amusing case of precocious delinquency, but should be taken much more seriously. This is only the beginning.

We all knew this day was coming. We have passed the tipping point and kids are now WAY too smart. Or rather our society has reached a point where technological advancement is so fast and so furious that the only ones mentally flexible enough to keep up are children. Especially when you consider the speed at which government bureacracy travels, is it a surprise that a tech savvy kid could overtake the Department of Transportation which is probably still using computers from last century? And if one lone punk could take over a transit system, what will an army of these kids be capable of?

(Above: The scene of the crime. The young boy sits on the fence, taunting the helpless passengers by waving the remote that controls their fate. )

The unrelenting conveyor belt of progress ensures that one day we will all live in a world that is beyond our ability to understand... we are all just one Mac Convention away from being obsolete.

So, what will the revolution look like?

One thing is for sure: the revolution will not be televised. It won't even be Youtubed or live-blogged. The truth is we have no idea what form the revolution will come in, because it is beyond the ability of our feeble age-crippled minds to even imagine what tomorrow may bring.

But if I had to guess, the coming revolution will be defined by one phrase: Militant Anarchy. These prepubescent geniuses have been honing their skills with a heavy dose of video games, which serve as a comprehensive curriculum for social dispruption. Games such as Halo and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell (actually, anything with the name Tom Clancy in it) teach the virtues ruthless militarism. Hyperkenetic games such as Grand Theft Auto glorify the chaos that is social anarchy. And now the Wii is going to take these video game dorks and whip them into shape. It's like having a boot camp in your living room that trains the perfect soldiers for the perfect army of tomorrow.

Our only hope is to conscript these prepubescent geniuses into the service of our country by giving them full reign over the Department of Transportation or the Department of the Interior. Let them use their preternatural skills to repair our bridges and generally re-awesome-atize our nation's crumbling infrastructure. It's our only hope. We must harness their powers for good, otherwise we'll find that we are on a fast train to nowhere... and that train is being remote controlled by some punk kid with peach fuzz.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

24 January 2008

BSB Flashback: Mine! Mine! Mine!

10 March 2007

Author: Shelly Becker
Illustrator: Hideki Takahashi

Becker's latest biography focuses on the childhood of Ayn Rand, one of the 20th century's most influential (and controversial) thinkers. In this episode from her youth, Rand's mother forces her to share her toys with a cousin who is visiting from out of town. Though she is very young, we can already see evidence of the rational self-interest that would become a key component of her philosophical thought and the foundation for many of her most renowned works. The young Rand initially implements an ingeniously laissez-faire approach to sharing her toys, until the authoritarian mother figure demands a more equal distribution of goods. Will Ayn learn her lesson about sharing, or does this early experience in collectivist thought drive her towards her passionate development of Objectivism?

It is difficult to accurately trace the origins of Rand's intellectual development, but the following quote indicates that perhaps her early experiences did play a formative role in her thinking: "My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and possessing the freedom to play with the toys of his choice without fear of sanctions or judgment."

21 January 2008

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Author: Doreen Rappaport
Illustrator: Bryan Collier

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his big words, here is a powerful excerpt from his 1964 acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize.

"I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. "

16 January 2008

Children's Book That Never Was: Furious George

I'm guestblogging again over at Saints & Spinners... like I said before, her Children's Books That Never Were feature is just too good for me to resist! CLICK HERE to read more about Furious George: Father Knows Best.

BSB Flashback: The Three Questions

7 March 2007

Author/Illustrator: Jon J. Muth

An adaptation of a short story by Leo Tolstoy, this story follows Nikolai, a young boy trying to answer three of life's biggest questions: When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? Young Nikolai has to climb a mountain, chase a turtle, and rescue some pandas before finding the answers. Sound like too much work for enlightenment? I thought so. Luckily you don't have to go through all that, because the answers are actually quite simple:

When is the best time to do things? After eating a hot dog.

Who is the most important one? The one who has those incriminating pictures of you from that regrettable night in college.

What is the right thing to do? Admit to the waitress that you are actually 27 and not 12, so technically you shouldn't be able to order from the Kid's Menu even though it's so much cheaper and all you want is a grilled cheese sandwich that doesn't cost $7.50.

I understand if you read the book anyways because you want Tolstoy's take on it... but I guarantee you, I'm not that far off! Tolstoy loved hot dogs and he lived for grilled cheese sandwiches. This is obvious to anyone who has seen the original manuscript of War and Peace, 75 percent of which is translucent due to grease stains.

Sibling Suggestion: My sister had a good suggestion: Collect people's answers to the Big 3 Questions! So (all 5 of you that read this blog), if you've got the time (and I know you do, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this), go to the comments section below and fill us in on your particular take on the meaning of life.
  • When is the best time to do things?
  • Who is the most important one?
  • What is the right thing to do?
Whoever has the best answers gets free backstage passes to Nirvana!

(To see people's answers to these questions from the original post, click here.)

11 January 2008

Chicks and Salsa

Author: Neil Numberman
Illustrator: Paulette Bogan

This is a silly story about chickens who are bored of eating the normal barnyard fare and look to spice things up a little bit. Coincidentally, this is also the name of the survival manual for graduating fraternity brothers titled Chicks and Salsa: How to Score with the Ladies in the Big City.

As you'll see in the following excerpt, there are some surprising similarities between the two books.

(Disclaimer: the views expressed in the excerpt below do not necessarily reflect those of the Bottom Shelf.)


by Brother Shoehorn (Sigma Alpha Pi) and Brother Moosedroppings (Omega Delta Delta)

Trust us bro. We know you're gonna to feel silly swinging your hips around the dance floor. We know you'd rather be bangin' your backwards baseball cap to some Dave Matthews or the Beastie Boys (who f****in rule!). But trust us dude, it will be well worth your time.

Once you find yourself in the city and away from the comfort of your boys on frat row, you will inevitably find yourself in a club with latin music of some sort. There you will see all kind of bizarre things. You'll see the oldest man there dancing with the blazinest chick in the club. Or worse, some four-eyed doofus pulling a Kucinich* and sashaying across the floor with some hottie. You will ask yourself, "What the?! What is going on here? Have I entered some kind of twilight zone where generic good looks, trust funds, and chugging ability mean nothing anymore?!"

*Pulling a Kucinich: Being with someone who is obviously waaaaaaaaay out of your league.

Don't panic. No need to get your Dockers in a bunch. What's happening is what we like to call the Chicks and Salsa Phenomenon. (Inside Tip: Now that you're in the real world, don't call them chicks. You have to call them "ladies" if you want to get anywhere)... anyways, the problem is that these ladies are in the city and they want to spice up their lives a little bit. Which means that they'll dance with any goof who knows how to salsa. They're tired of the tried and true bars where we are most comfortable. Those home-away-from-homes where we can do boat races or clear off a table for an impromptu game of beer pong. Those bars where we can comfortably stand in one place rhythmically nodding our heads to some righteous tunes.

So, if you know what's good for you... wait, hold on a sec, what are you doing still reading? Reading is for losers! Take our word for it and go sign up for a salsa class now! It will make you a man amongst bros. You can be that dude that's dancing with a chick--i mean, lady--who is out of your league. And don't worry, the salsa only needs to be used for the first month of dating or so, then you can go back to being your awesome fratastic self. Now close this book and get back out there! With any luck, even you can pull a Kucinich of your own!

10 January 2008

In the News: I Am Not Going To Get Up Today!

Sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands. And by "matters", I mean "industrial strength glue".

By Lucy Cockcroft (Telegraph)

A 10-year-old boy who wanted to avoid going back to school after the holidays decided to take drastic action and glued his hand to his bed.

Diego Palacios had so much fun over Christmas that he didn't want the holidays to end, so he hatched the cunning plan to try and skip lessons. His horrified mother Sandra found him stuck fast to the metal headboard on the morning he was due to return to school in Monterrey, Mexico.

Speaking to newspapers in Mexico, Diego said: "I thought if I was glued to the bed, they couldn't make me go to school. I didn't want to go, the holidays were so much fun.

"I remembered my mom had bought a very strong glue."

He told how he sneaked into the kitchen in the early hours and then covered his hand with the industrial-strength adhesive, used to repair shoes, before attaching himself to the bed.

His mother woke up to find him watching cartoons on television with his hand firmly stuck down.

"I don't know why he did it," she said. "He's a good boy, but mischievous - like all kids."

After spending nearly two hours trying to free Diego's right hand with water, oil and nail polish remover Mrs Palacios called in paramedics and police.

Diego's plan was finally foiled when they used a spray to dissolve the chemical adhesive, and he was bundled off to school for the first day back, if a few hours late.

Note: I didn't make this up, the reporter's real last name is really Cockcroft. She was probably drawn to the story because she could empathize with young Diego... I mean, would you want to go to school if your last name was Cockcroft?

09 January 2008

BSB Flashback: "I'm Not Cute!"

8 July 2007

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.

07 January 2008

Hippo! No, Rhino!

The Construction of Meaning and the Self De(con)struction of Identity: A Hippo-Critical Analysis of Jeff Newman's Hippo! No, Rhino!
Rosco P. Hargrove (Class of 2010)
English 421: Re-Introduction to Literary Criticism
Professor F. R. Zismer
Final Paper
Submitted on: December 22, 2007

Plot Summary

A mischievous zookeeper decides to have some fun and puts a sign that reads "Hippo" in front of the Rhino pen. This seemingly harmless bit of mischief wreaks havoc on the rhino's psyche as passersby continually refer to the rhino as "hippo". The rhino desperately tries to correct them, but to no avail. It isn't until a little boy comes along that things change. The child sees what's going on and changes the sign back to rhino. The book ends with the zookeeper continuing his mischievous ways by putting up a new sign that reads, "Porcupin-o".

Part I: Hippo! No, Rhino! Structuralism! No, Poststructuralism!

Newman's sparse use of language is deceptive. While he uses few words in his narrative, he manages to reveal deeper linguistic issues by drawing together some of the fundamental issues and conflicts in literary criticism.

As a starting point, the basic conflict in Hippo! No, Rhino! is clearly a re-creation of the tension between the structuralist and post-structuralist schools of thought. Newman's Hippo! No, Rhino! situation is an intriguing thought exercise which forces us to reconsider a fundamental question: Where does meaning come from?

Is it from the zookeeper (filling the archetypal role of trickster-god) who creates meaning by labeling the rhino as "hippo"? Or is his semantic subversion just a silly prank?

Is it the people reading the sign who give birth to meaning by creating the link between the sign ("hippo") to the signified (the rhino)? Or are they merely dimwitted automatons who will believe anything they read?

Is there even any meaning to begin with? Who are we (or the rhino) to say that "rhino" is the correct label? Isn't the polyphonic spree of letters and sounds that make up r-h-i-n-o ultimately as arbitrary as h-i-p-p-o?

Part II: Pedagogy of the Zoopressed

If we continue to peel away layers of this onion, we eventually find ourselves alone with the tear-jerkingly tragic figure of the "rhino".

(Note: Though it is awkward, I will refer to the rhino using the pronoun "it" because Newman's text does not indicate whether the rhino is male or female.)

(Full disclosure: Upon first reading, I subconsciously assumed that the rhino was a male, which tipped my hand as an unwitting co-conspirator in the phallocentricity embedded in our male-dominated society. I would like to assure you, professor, that based on last semester's readings on feminist theory and gynocritic analysis, I am sufficiently ashamed.)

Why is the rhino a tragic figure? Not only because it is helplessly tormented by the powerful zookeeper... that is but a minor offense. The true tragedy reveals itself with further examination of the sociolinguistic context of the rhino's self-identification.

The word "rhino," being of English (Anglo-Saxon) origin is obviously not the rhino's native tongue. Yet the rhino has come to identify itself as a "rhino," as evidenced by the psychological distress caused by the hippo sign. This self-identification through the language of his oppressor (and yes, he is oppressed... he is, after all, held captive and put on display) is one of major symptoms of oppression that is revealed by postcolonial theory.

The fact that the rhino clings so passionately and desperately to the name bestowed upon him by his captors, demonstrates the powerful role that language plays in perpetuating the inequalities of established social hierarchy. Not only does he accept his given name, he challenges anyone who dare disrupt the sanctity of his moniker. How can the rhino truly free itself from oppression if it lives, breathes, and thinks in the language of its oppressor?

This also sheds new light on the character of the child. As I mentioned in the plot summary, toward the end of the book a young child comes to the rescue, changing the hippo sign back to rhino.

Upon first reading, the child appears as a saviour figure who sympathetically changes the sign to ease the "rhino's" mind. The child's innocence allows him to see beyond the ridiculous sign and recognize the psychological harm being done to the rhino. And yet...

...and yet, perhaps it is not that simple. By reverting the sign (the linguistic tool of oppression), isn't the child merely reinforcing the domination of the status quo and strengthening the establishment's vice-like grip on society? The child may have acted to ease the rhino's mind but (despite the child's benelovent intentions), in actuality he played an active role in relegating the beast to an eternity of tranquil captivity. He did not rescue the rhino, he merely made his cage stronger.

Part III: Freedom Isn't Free or All Signs Point to "No"

Newman's stimulating text leaves the reader (at least this reader) with a final burning question... Who holds the key to the rhino's freedom?

The optimist's answer would be that the key to freedom lies with the rhino itself. Unfortunately, to quote Karl Marx, "Religion is the opium of the masses and optimism is the ecstasy tablet of the self-delusional." So no, the rhino does not hold the key to his own freedom.

The real answer is much simpler and much more sobering. The key to freedom lies with: the zookeeper. (Seriously, it's on the big key ring that's clipped to his belt buckle.)

This does not bode well for the rhino. At the end of the book, the zookeeper puts up a new sign next to the rhino that reads, "Porcupin-o". In doing so, this sadistic trickster god is assuring us that the rhino's nightmare is not over... and that no amount of lit crit is going to save him from an eternity in this semiotic purgatory. The helpless rhino (like the rest of us) is forever caught in that desolate place between meaning and just plain mean.

02 January 2008

Breaking News: Ongoing Writers Strike

There is much buzz surrounding late night television because tonight, despite the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike, the talk show hosts are coming back on the air. The big deal is that they are going to improv the entire time... which means we'll get to see how naturally funny these guys are.

Note: Without any writers, I'm giving the early edge to Conan O'Brien because he has the funniest co-host: his hair.

Flying under the radar is the dramatic effect that the strike is having on picture books. With their writers out of commission, books all over the country are going back to work without any prepared text. They have also been forced to improvise... with predictably mixed results. Here are some of the more high profile books who are struggling without the writers.

Green Eggs and Ham

"I do not like Green Eggs and Ham! I would not eat them with, ummm, well, I probably wouldn't eat them with a goat... unless of course the goat was a good friend and really wanted me to try it, then maybe I'd eat it, but just that once. I would definitely not eat them on a boat because I tend to get seasick and, umm... where was I? Oh, forget it, just give me the blasted plate and I'll eat them! Are you happy now?"

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

"There was once a land called Chewandswallow where there was rain that rained but the rain wasn't normal rain, it was actually meatballs. The clouds were made out of meatballs too, as were the bushes and trees. The houses? They were made out of something else, not meatballs, but something different, like... meatloaf. Yeah, the houses were made of meatloaf. What a crazy town that was."

Make Way For Ducklings

"Mr. and Mrs. Mallard were looking for a place to live.
Boston seemed like a nice place, so that's where they lived.
Next to a Dunkin' Donuts."

Guess How Much I Love You

"Little Nutbrown Hare: Guess How Much I Love You.
Big Nutbrown Hare: How much?
L.N.H.: A lot!
B.N.H.: Hey, I love you a lot too!
L.N.H.: That's cool.
B.N.H.: Yeah.
[awkward silence.]
L.N.H.: Can I go to bed now?"

Harold and the Purple Crayon

"As an act of solidarity with all of the writers, I am putting down my crayon until the writers' demands are met. Power to the people."

Goodnight Moon

"Goodnight room
Goodnight moon
Goodnight cow jumping over the moon
Goodnight light
And the red balloon"

...I guess there was actually no difference on that one. Goodnight Moon is actually one of the few books that has actually benefited from the writers strike. But for the most part, the results haven't been pretty. Here's hoping that the writers and the industry bigwigs will come to some kind of reasonable settlement. We'll keep you posted.