What We’re Reading

Dear Kristen,

Procrastination looks good on Little Mister!  I loved his costume! Simple. Clever. And unique!

We weren’t so clever or unique – but simple was the name of the game.  Batman and Tweak.

Costume Recipes:

Batman: pajamas with a homemade cape attached with safety pins to the shirt. Perfect for Little Man.

Tweak: Found it on the internet, bought it, and it arrived at our doorstep.  It doesn’t get much easier than that!  What do you do when your daughter insists she wants to be a green bunny engineer from her favorite TV show (Octonauts)?  Well, you don’t try to make a light green sweatsuit with bunny ears, that’s for sure!

So people thought she was the Easter Bunny or weren’t sure what to think.  But she was happy.

And reading is making her happy, too, so I thought I’d share what we’ve been reading of recent.  Munchkin is entering the world of reading all on her own (little squeal of delight!) and so we’ve been working to have fresh, exciting library books available and fun things to explore!

Munckin’s Recent Reads

  1. Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems.  51olbjkb2bel-_sx363_bo1204203200_I think I’ve mentioned these before – but there are a variety of them and she can make out many of the words all on her own.  She also has a quick memory, so she can usually recite it after the second reading…so then I’m not positive how much reading is being done….
  2. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.  51o8luyt2il-_sx378_bo1204203200_Silliness and rhyming out the wazoo – all good things!
  3. Hop on Pop by Dr. Suess.  51clhaltlfl-_sx355_bo1204203200_We got this as a listening book at the library.  God bless audio books!  But seriously, if I had to read Hop on Pop as often as she listened to it, I might go slightly nuts.
  4. The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit by Emma Thompson.  51gthz-af4l-_sx385_bo1204203200_Another audio book, but since Halloween is over, Christmas books can come out!  And her brother likes this, too.

Little Man’s Recent Reads

  1. Little Blue Truck (any of them) by Schertle and McElmurry. 51m07baimtl-_sy448_bo1204203200_“Boo Truck!” is how he asks and its adorable.
  2. Frankenstein by Adams and Oliver. 519fcmyv-ll-_sy498_bo1204203200_“Monster!”
  3. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Martin and Archambault. 51hsu2qlyhl-_sx378_bo1204203200_“Boom! Booooommmm!”  He likes singing the alphabet song at the end, which is awesome with his gibberish.
  4. Anything his sister is reading……which makes for epic fallouts….. Is it better that they are fighting over books?

So there you have it!  Reading with the 5 and 2 year olds is bringing delight and smiles.  Today, I’m giving thanks for those moments of joy. (And for coffee.  I’m giving thanks for that, too.)

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Geeking Out – Community

Dear Erin,

Okay, by “next week” I obviously meant “two weeks from now,” but that’s only because more important things intervened in both of our lives between then and now. (Note to readers: Not our story to share, so I’ll leave it there, vague as it is.)

This is the second-to-last week of the Summer Series for me, and the last entry on what might in any way be called a “cult classic.” Next week will be about as mainstream as you can go. (Think about that for a week, and see if you can guess what I’ll be writing on!) But this week, I share my love for something so niche (apparently) that it got cancelled several times, and a considerable piece of its legacy is the constant labeling of the audience as both “devoted” and “small.”

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An NBC sitcom – sort of – about a diverse group of people becoming friends and finding second chances in a community college. But of course as we now know, it was really about paintball, pop culture references, and behind-the-scenes drama. At least those are what it will be remembered for.

Community premiered in the fall of the year I started teaching at a community college, and I started watching only in order to snark at how wrong this silly network sitcom was going to get the college realities. As I remembered it, the pilot was a little too neat, the first episodes generic, and then it got good around Halloween. I have no idea why I thought I had kept watching that long if it wasn’t all that great.

I just rewatched the pilot again, and now I know why I kept watching: it’s because most of the elements of what Community would become were there from the beginning. The eventual weirdness was certainly toned down, but it had the arch, clever dialogue; certain ridiculous elements (like agreeing to trade a Lexus for a semester’s worth of test answers); and the good-heartedness that provided a foundation for the group of main characters.

The show’s presence on Facebook recently did a Top 5 episode countdown, which saves me some trouble (all of these are good; maybe not my top 5, but good):

  1. Remedial Chaos Theory – the group is at a party and rolls a die to see who has to go get a pizza from the delivery person at the front door; depending on which number comes up, reality changes. Incredibly inventive and clever in a Groundhog Day kind of way.
  2. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons – the group plays d&d with a suicidal student to make him feel appreciated. They take it way too seriously but accomplish their mission. Impressive for how complex a fantasy world is created in the mind of the viewer just through dialogue.
  3. Modern Warfare – “the paintball episode” where reality was thrown out the window and all the stops pulled out. Epic fun considering it’s taking place on a community college campus.
  4. Pillows and Blankets- this one features the world’s biggest pillow and blanket forts, and their associated communities (North and South), which are at war with one another. Think Ken Burns’s The Civil War. Don’t really remember this one well, to be honest, but I do remember it being ridiculous.
  5. A Fistful of Paintballs – another paintball episode that was Western themed and just as clever as the first, although it didn’t seem quite so funny since it was no longer unexpected.

I’d also add the epidodes “Epidemiology” (a Halloween party turns into a real-life zombie scenario) and “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” (the whole episode is done in stop-motion animation).

All good – if you like that kind of thing. If you’ve been following this series, you might have a good idea of what I like, and it’s usually cute, clever, and/or weird. Often all three. Community is just the same, and it really doubles down on the clever and weird fronts, so be warned. You might not want to be a part of that “small but devoted” fan base the show was known for.

Next time, we go mainstream.

Geeking Out – Anime (Well, really Miyazaki movies)

Dear Erin,

Thanks for the last post. I know what you mean about reading what your students are reading – that’s how I came to read Twilight. I don’t know if it made me relate to them more; it certainly made me worry about them more, and it made me very aware of my book snobbery. I could see why it was popular, but I could also see why it was dismissed by so many people as well. (And I didn’t think those people were wrong.)

Let me tell you a little story about my Tuesday. A good friend came over to give me a break from the boys, and I decided to go to the library. I had just finished this book:

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and it felt so good to be reading I wanted to keep that feeling going. (By the way, have you read this one? It’s probably for an audience of about 9 or 10. Fun, though.) But I wasn’t sure what to do with my time at the library. I wandered here and there, tried to remember authors I had been thinking of reading (couldn’t); checked the lists I’ve been keeping on my phone for just this time (nothing looked good). And finally, I said to myself, “What were the YA books I know Erin’s read and enjoyed? Because I don’t want anything much more complicated than that, and I trust her judgment.” And after a little googling and a little wracking my brain, I remembered a couple of series.

But the library didn’t have either of them, so I ended up getting kind of a random assortment and left. Went to get lunch, sat down and read the first chapter of Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana. And then I read your post.

Talk about timing. But at least I now have the list for the next time I get to the library!

Anyway, you mentioned on Tuesday that a lot of the books on that list have “strong female leads.” Did you know that that’s one of the identifiers Netflix has assigned to our taste in movies? And the suggestions they gave to build on that identifier used to include the movies of Hayao Miyazaki.

Ok, so I know I’ve written about my love for Miyazaki on this blog before here and here*, and more broadly about similar anime here, but it’s been awhile, and there’s no denying that this is something I really do geek out about. Not all anime, of course: As I experience it, it’s really more of a stylistic choice than a genre, and plenty of stories are included under this umbrella that have no relevance to my interests. But for those that do, the style often adds a layer I enjoy – usually a layer of the fantastical or whimsical.

Looking back over this series, it seems I’m a fan of the non-naturalistic. I like a train driving through an ocean (Spirited Away)

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and little forest spirits whose heads click around like clocks (Princess Mononoke)

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and gangly steampunk gardening robots (Castle in the Sky).

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You know, things that would be difficult to do well in a live action movie but that fit right in to an animated movie and have personality in spades because they’ve been created and hand drawn.

I suspect next week’s entry won’t disprove this trend.

*Those posts go into significantly more detail about this topic.

Geeking Out – Pushing Daisies

Dear Erin,

I’m thinking going to Disney World so often when we were young is what gave you a messed up idea about pirates. After all, Peter Pan’s flight (in a pirate ship) and Pirates of the Caribbean are two of the best rides at the Magic Kingdom. My favorite, though, is the Haunted Mansion – talk about morbid; you certainly don’t have a monopoly on that in the family.

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I like pirates, too! That’s why this one is Cap’n Wiggles. Aarrgh!

To prove this point, let me introduce my next geekdom: Pushing Daisies

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I mean, this one is straight up about death.

Well, it’s also about mystery and magic and true love and synchronized swimming and dogs and candy colors and lots and lots of pie. It’s even a little bit about knitting.

Do you remember this show? It came on ABC in 2007, and the next year the writer’s strike hit, which killed it. It did get two seasons, which were enough to make a stained-glass-window jewel box of near-perfection. What I’m saying is, I still think it was something special.

The premise: Ned bakes pies and wakes the dead. He’s a bit of a loner. Emerson Cod (private investigator and closet knitter) teams up with Ned to solve murders (by “waking up” the victims and asking who killed them) and collect rewards. One of the murdered is Charlotte Charles (“Chuck”), Ned’s childhood sweetheart and true love. In the background, pining for Ned, is his pie shop’s only waitress, Olive.

The conflict: If Ned touches a previously dead person again, he or she goes back to being dead permanently. Therefore, Ned and Chuck can never touch. Also, no one can know that she was once dead.

Pros?

  • Seriously, the color and style in this show will make your whole day better. It’s like they filmed inside Van Gogh’s paint box, and the costumes and sets are ridiculous and amazing and gorgeous.
  • Jim Dale narrates the first few episodes. It gets a little old after those few, which is probably why they stopped, but Jim Dale! Narrator of the Harry Potter audiobooks!
  • Pie!! Ned is a professional pie baker and owns his own pie shop (which has a roof that looks like a pie crust). I don’t even much like pie, and it looks amazing. Dutch apple, three plum, rhubarb, banana cream. Other ongoing food themes include cheese and honey. You can gain weight just watching this show.
  • Lines like: “I’d kiss you if it wouldn’t kill me.” -Chuck.  Or, Chuck: “You can’t just touch somebody back to life and be done with it.” Ned: “Yes, I can. That’s how I roll.”
  • The supporting cast includes Ellen Greene and Kristin Chenowyth, and both get to do musical numbers!!!
  • And it all takes place in a very weird world, with the mysteries reflecting that: For example, in the second episode, the victim works for an automobile company that is developing cars that run on dandelions and is killed by someone dressed as a crash test dummy. The cars are sold by young women dressed as dandelions. In others, dim sum doubles as an illegal poker game; Ned and Olive have a deadly feud with a candy company that opens across the street from the Pie Hole; the owner of a honey-based cosmetic company is killed by someone wearing a bee beard.

Cons?

  • If you have a low tolerance for cuteness (puns, goofy lines, people breaking into song), you should probably avoid this show. Really, the title sums it all up: Pushing Daisies, and they don’t skimp on the daisies.

But my threshold for that – especially with plenty of sweetness, cleverness, and morbidity thrown in – is quite high, so every time I watch this, I end up grinning through the whole thing.

Have a great weekend! Can’t wait to see what your next geekdom is! In the meantime, I’m off to watch more alive-again (zombie and undead are apparently offensive terms) shenanigans.

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Little Mister scoping out the California coast for the Cap’n

Geeking Out – Powerpuff Girls

Dear Erin,

My boys have no awareness of the Doctor as of yet, but that’s on my list of things I’m looking forward to introducing them to – although they may have to start with the ones from the 60’s, depending on how sensitive they are to realism in their monsters. Monsters that are clearly people in rubber masks should be less nightmare-inducing than fanged angels that move when you’re not looking.

Speaking of my boys, meet Captain Wiggles:

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He’s deceptively still here, the sneaky kid.

While this one sleeps in wool (the hat and the jacket should look familiar), Little Mister cools his feet in the local pool.

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I hope my boys take to Doctor Who someday, sure, but I also hope they get into this next geekdom – The Powerpuff Girls, and that may come sooner.

As I recall, Charles found Dexter’s Laboratory first, back in college. It struck a chord with my Computer Science major husband and went into regular rotation. And when PPG came out, on its heels and with the same quirky, clever DNA but the concept of little girl superheroes, I got hooked.

During the first few years of our marriage, this was my main geekdom. Almost every episode seemed to resonate for me (clever writing, slightly weird aesthetic, and a good heart), as did most of the main characters. My favorite, by far, was Bubbles (she claimed that she was the “favorite,” in one episode, so I suspect I wasn’t alone in this preference) who was excessively cute but also “hard core” and could speak squirrel.

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It was on Cartoon Network for a few seasons before reaching the end of its run. There was a mediocre movie, and I moved on to other geekdoms. Just in the last few months, however, the show has been revived. I probably would have avoided it (you know reboots are never as good as the originals), but Charles put it on one night, and you know what? It’s pretty good. Some of the characters and themes have been updated – Bubbles is now an amazing game developer, who sends her sisters into a Tron-like universe to fight a terrible computer virus – and it still has the right sensibility.

So I’m looking forward to spending some more time in this universe, an unexpected treat. And in about 4 or 5 years, I’ll have even more to share with Little Mister and the Captain.

Can’t wait.