Review: The Classroom

Finding a date. Oh how I remember the horror of it, the sheer terror that haunted every thought I cover - 'The Classroom' by Robin Mellomstruggled with, every breath I took to the point where – usually to my relief – I did not find a date. In fact, I usually had not even raised the courage to ask.

That’s what Trevor Jones; a good kid faces on his very first day of middle school in Robin Mellom’s “The Classroom.” Not only does Trevor have to find a date, he carries an additional burden, a deadline. By the end of the day, the first day of school he must have a date to the first school dance of the year. It is surprising that Trevor doesn’t go home sick. I know I would have. I wouldn’t even have made it to lunch. I would have been in the nurse’s office before first period ended. Trevor is a seventh grader. In addition to finding a date he must learn the ins and outs, the tricks and treats, the path through the maze that weaves its way through the rules both written and unwritten of middle school life, both academic and social.

Trevor managed to survive elementary school thanks to the help of Libby, his neighbor and best friend, but Libby has announced that she will no longer be there for him, at least not to the extent that she was during middle school when she rescued him from a number of social faux pas.

A popular technique used in many contemporary TV shows is used to tell this story. A film documentary is being made and the various characters step outside the story to tell their side of whatever happens to be going on at the time. Also like a TV sitcom, the book includes a good-sized cast of well-rounded characters such as a gossipy girl and a smart aleck bully.

I loved the story. It was both funny and heartwarming. The only fault I found was that it seemed unrealistic that a school dance would be the focus of the first day of school. I’d rather the story had begun during the second or third week with Trevor still struggling to find his place in middle school society, rather than have a couple week’s worth of activity heaped upon him on his very first day. Still the story is fun and entertaining. I imagine most middle school kids as they read this will be saying things like, “That happened to me.”

I believe there’s a sequel. I’m looking forward to it.


The War Parts

All this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true.*cover -'Slaughterhouse-Five' by Kurt Vonnegut

The question is, which were the war parts and which were not. Now, you could take a perfectly peaceful morning or afternoon, for that matter, sun shining, one or two – you count them – clouds in the sky, flies throwing themselves randomly at the screens, butterflies preparing to tickle the darkest thoughts of wandering three-year olds, birds singing songs of love and joy and Mel Torme or Rod Stewart or Nora Jones. You take a deep breath and get ready for it.

This is one of those war parts and you know it.

The enemy is spying on your entrenched defenses. The enemy is moving into place. The enemy is loading its arsenal with the latest weaponry. You, meanwhile, are hoping everything has blown over. You are hoping it has been sent down a path into the land of the forgotten and lost. You are hoping your coffee or tea or orange juice or chocolate milk or glass of light, white wine will be sipped, savored, enjoyed rather than gulped down rather than be tossed in disgust or left forlornly on a table when the attack begins and yesterdays stalemate is brought into stark detail so that you are left with either a demand to confess or retreat or simply flee because resistance would be merely feeding the power that turns this moment into a war part.

First line of ‘Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut

A Baby Boomer Quiz

I was looking through some of my old files (things I saved before 2000) and found this Baby Boomer


Beatles (Photo credit: Ricard Lopez 1)

Quiz. I have no idea where it came from but the original author attributes some of it to WSDM 98 Oldies Radio in Terre Haute, Indiana, a station that changed its name and its format a few years ago to 92. 7 Bob FM.  Here are the answers.

Who/what was?

1.    World leader that pounded his shoe on the table at the United Nations
2.    First name of the Beaver’s best friend
3.    First and last name of Wally Cleaver‘s best friend
4.    Running Bear‘s Indian maiden
5.    First U. S. astronaut to orbit the earth
6.    Played Peter Pan before all those imitators
7.    1963 song recorded by the Kingsmen that no adult would let us sing. (Hint: the first word is “Louie.”)
8.    Kept breaking windows around Mayberry
9.    Stage name for character who replaced Gomer Pyle
10.    First and last names of all the Beatles (If you can’t answer this one, you’d better give up now.)
11.    Variety show host who brought the Beatles to American TV
12.    Stage name for Perry Mason’s opponent who NEVER won a case
13.    Who were Hoss’s brothers?
14.    Who knew best?
15.    Real name of actor who played the Rifleman
16.    Miner who stood “six-foot six and weighed 245″
17.    Claimed to build strong bodies 12 ways
18.    Graduated 6th grade so he could cipher figures for his uncle
19.    Said “I have a dream.”
20.    Said “I can’t get no satisfaction.”
21.    Said “I will not seek nor will I accept my party’s nomination for . . .”
22.    Said “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”

Fill in the blanks

23.    Raised in the woods so he knew every tree / Kilt him ((7 words)
24.    She wore an itsy bitsy teenie weenie ((3 words)
25.    Hey kids. What time is it? (4 words)
26.    M-I-C . . . See you real soon. K-E-Y . . . (5 words)
27.    I’ve got smog in my noggin, ever since (4 words)
28.    Reason the Purple People Eater wouldn’t harm the songwriter: “I wouldn’t eat you cause (3 words)
29.    Before he was Skipper’s little buddy, Bob Denver was Dobie’s best friend (3 words)
30.    Superman, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice and (3 words)
31.    Where have all the flowers gone? (5 words)
32.    You’ll wonder where the yellow went (7 words)
33.    I’m Popeye the sailor man! I’m Popeye the sailor man! I’m strong to the finish (5 words)
34.    You’re all invited back next week to this locality / to get a (5 words)
35.    Good night, Chet (3 words)

Bonus points
Where were you on November 22, 1963 when you first heard that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas?
Whistle the theme to “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Writing a Picture Book

Mem Fox QuoteHere are just a couple picture book rules:

It should not be much more than 500 words long. Theodor S. Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) wrote “Green Eggs and Ham” after his publisher, Bennett Cerf bet him $50 that he couldn’t write a book using only 50 words. The Cat in the Hat is only 225 words long. Go take a look at either book. You probably thought there were a lot more words.

A picture book must include pictures. Since most picture books are 32 pages long that means there must be at least 14 pictures. That’s not rule #2 though. The second rule is that the story should not describe the pictures and better yet, should not even mention them.

Those are just a couple reasons why “Writing a picture book is like writing ‘War and Peace’ in Haiku.”

Prompt: Aliens and Other Planets

Here’s another prompt that might help kickstart your writing, might even lead to a story for you.Earth and Debris

You have been fascinated by aliens all your life. You’ve seen every movie and every TV show about aliens. You have dreams about living on a planet that is not earth. They seem so real. You think you can feel the ground beneath your feet and smell the things around you. One day in one of your dreams everything starts looking familiar or maybe it looks like a person or maybe you  around and wonder where are you?

Books with Silly Titles

Every year Bookseller Magazine awards it’s Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year. The cover - People Who Don't Know They're Deadprize has been awarded every year since 1978 when the winner was: Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice. I’m sure that was a real page turner.

Included in the most recent contest were: How to Sharpen Pencils by David Rees, How Tea Cosies Changed the World by Loani Prior, and Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop by Reginald Bakeley (the most recent winner in 2012).

Philip Stone, the Diagram Prize’s co-ordinator, said: “People might think this prize is just a bit of fun, but I think it draws welcome attention to an undervalued art. Publishers and booksellers know only too well that a title can make all the difference to the sales of a book. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian has sold almost a million copies to date, while books such as Salmon Fishing in the

Cover of "The Guernsey Literary and Potat...

Yemen, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared perhaps all owe some of their success to their unusual monikers.”

Although I don’t have a chicken coop, Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop still looks fascinating. Apparently it offers a bevy of tips to help you protect your home from a potential infestation of fairies.

As soon as I finish writing this I’ll be checking my library to see if they have copies of The Book of Marmalade: Its Antecedents, Its History, and Its Role in the World Today (the 1984 winner),  How to Avoid Huge Ships (1992), Highlights in the History of Concrete (1994), and People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It (2005)

Of course if I still lived in New York or Maryland I’m sure I couldn’t wait to get a copy of The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification. I sure hope the author is working on a follow-up edition for the west coast.

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