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.