cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Debatables: ‘Tis the Season


Yes, ’tis the season. It used to come right after Thanksgiving, as in the Friday after, but now XMas Retail–totally different than Christmas (a post for maybe Mitch Teemley to muse upon?) is upon us. And with it comes all the holiday hoopla: decorations, music, food, commercials, events, and specials.

Mike Allegra and I are taking on Christmas specials based on children’s books in this month’s issue of Debatables. Last month we discussed which children’s lit character deserves to be a Macy’s Day Parade balloon. Mike won that round. See all the glorious discussion and scrabbling here.

If you are not familiar with Debatables–Welcome!
If you are–Welcome back!

Each month, Mike Allegra and I take on debating mostly meritable topics concerning children’s literature. We each state our initial argument in about 250 words and then add on a 150ish counter argument. You then, dear readers, vote accordingly and add in commentary. Mike and I look forward to the votes, and truly relish your comments. Mike says the score is now 3-2. I lead. This could be an important session.

I am offering the perennial classic: Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, based on the song, which is based on the Montgomery Ward coloring book. You probably didn’t know that, did you?

Image result for rudolph the red nosed reindeer

Mike, that gregarious children’s author who is rocking the publishing world with ninja cows and princes of regard, is suggesting a relative newcomer to the seasonal menu: A Wish for Wings That Work based on the title by adult/children’s writer Berkeley Breathed, known for his Bloom County comics.

Image result for a wish for wings that work

Mike’s Opening Argument:

Few creatures, (even in Christmas specials) match the inimitable, innocent, guileless sweetness of Opus the Penguin. His personality stands in stark contrast to his id-inclined Bloom County comic strip cohorts. This big-shnozzled little fella always puts others’ needs before his own. 
So it seems only fair that as Christmas approaches Opus should take a little time to consider his own wants. And Opus wants to fly. He needs to fly. 
A Wish for Wings That Work was published after Berkeley Breathed suddenly (and heartbreakingly) discontinued the Bloom County comic strip. It’s arrival was like a breath of fresh air. Opus was back! And he was in a wonderful story, pursuing a passionate goal—a goal he achieves just by being his old penguin-y self.  
The cartoon (presented here in full) remains true to the book while expanding upon it, drawing in old favorite Bill the Cat as well as introducing new characters from Breathed’s then-recently christened Sunday-only strip, Outland. It’s a cartoon that works on just about every level, even if you aren’t familiar with Bloom County (but especially if you are). Much like Bloom County, the special mixes the sweet and the salty, kid humor with adult humor. And it rewards people who pay attention; some of the best jokes linger unobtrusively in the background. 
And, best of all, there’s that ending! It gives me happy chills every time I see it. Do yourself a favor. Watch the cartoon; you’ll see what I mean.  Click on the link below for Opus in action:
Cricket’s Argument:

We might think of it just being the ubiquitous song that everyone at every age knows, but Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer is pretty special, as in seasonal special. This song came out in 1949 based on the coloring book story created for Montgomery Wards. Although the Rankin special deviated tremendously from the original story it’s become a classic in it’s own right:

  • Burl Ives sings some snappy tunes
  • Memorable characters like Hermey the wannabe dentist
  • The Island of Misfit Toys
  • How about the Abominable Snow Monster?
  • And of course the famous Rankin/Bass stop motion animation
It’s a crowd pleaser about how non-conformists are contributors to society, and are, in fact, heroes in their own right. Click on the link below for cute clip:

From a kid’s coloring book to a traditional song to a classic cartoon—Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer is the one special that is so special it’s the special of all specials. All the others are simply paying tribute to an original. It’s been part of tradition since 1964, and keeps on ticking despite current fine-tooth scrutiny for issues. Rudolph and his friends provide a generational bonding, and the bonus is everyone can sing along.

Mike’s Rebuttal:
As a child, I watched Rudolph every year and enjoyed it. As an adult, however, the Rudolph story bothers me. Poor Rudolph is cruelly shunned by his peers—and is only accepted back into the fray once his glowing nose proves useful. 
That’s a Christmas story that could’ve been written by Ayn Rand.
A Wish For Wings That Work, on the other hand, is a story driven by a strong-willed (and strongly motivated!) character who lives in Bloom County, a wonderful Land of Misfit Everything—including tater tot-brained cats, rhino-pigs, cross-dressing cockroaches, and a toy store owned by General Norman Schwarzkopf. Opus may be teased, but he’s never shunned. After all, Opus and all of his eccentricities are a great fit for this unapologetically odd and accepting place. Rudolph may take place in Santa’s backyard, but Bloom County better exemplifies the generous, supportive spirit of the
season.
Cricket’s Final Say:
Rudolph overcomes adversity with the bonus of acceptance, providing a story arc of beginning, middle, and a rousing resolution. Opus? He is harshly teased by some really odd ducks, who eventually come around to helping him out with his flight fantasy. Yet, there is no real resolution. The last we see of Opus he’s enjoying mock-flying. How long is that going to last? And Bill—Mike, did you forget how cruelly Opus treated the cat he rescued? He never even apologized for his scathing remarks. Rudolph is upbeat while Bloom County is quirky.
 
Rudolph or Opus? Which special is special to you? Cast your vote, and add your comments. Thanks for stopping by and watch out for fruitcake. That’s one tradition we could do without.
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Author Spotlight: Ezra Jack Keats


Back when I began college, I enrolled in the Early Childhood Education program because I could earn an AA after studying little kids for two years. One of my better education decisions.

One of the highlights of the program was Children’s Literature. No kidding. The class was all about reading books for children. Every children’s writer should take such a class. We learned all about what makes for a successful children’s book, read all kinds of books, even learned how to run a proper story time. There is an art to reading a book out loud. I am so ready for the day when my book gets published and the local librarian invites me in to read it to wiggling masses of kiddos. That day isn’t quite here, but my AA in ECE has me primed and ready.

One author I briefly remember studying was Ezra Jack Keats. Mike Allegra’s recent Debatable (and *sigh* win) about Peter in The Snowy Day got me reminiscing about my Keats encounters. He wrote several books about Peter, and I remember we studied what a trailblazer he was for his colorful collage style combined with simple, yet meaningful text. There was also the fact that back when Peter first appeared he was among the first picture book characters of cultural diversity. We noted it, but I don’t remember dwelling on it. We instead focused on the appeal of Peter as enjoyed a snowy day, discovering how to whistle, finding goggles–just enjoying being a nice kid growing up with friends and family in the city.

One thing we didn’t touch on was Ezra Jack Keats. Looking him up, yah, Mike got me curious. I was surprised. I had made assumptions, and Chef Boyardee did I learn a lot. This article presents Keats so much better than I can. He is definitely an author deserving a spotlight.

So–go enjoy your inner child and read all about Peter. He is Macy’s Parade balloon worthy–almost as much as Tigger.

Debatable Recap: Defeat


Macy’s Parade has come and gone along with the November issue of Debatable. This month’s topic was filled with more than the usual amount of hot air as Mike Allegra, that rascally writer fellow who is loved and adored by his thousands of followers, won the round with his pitch of nominating Peter of the Snowy Day as a future Macy Day Parade balloon.

Admittedly, it is s good choice, yet I still contend the parade is all about the lightness of being and Tigger certainly fits that description.

Personally, I think Tigger and Peter would enjoy a snowy day together. Who knows? Maybe they’ll both be balloons one day.

So, congratulations, Mike. For once all your glorious and uplifting promotional ballyhooing rose up to to even greater heights.

Stay tuned for December’s Debatable edition in which Mike and I contest our choices for seasonal specials.

Word Nerd Confessions: November


Fall has officially set up its presence. The aspen, birch, and maple trees disrobed within a week’s span with the help of couple of brisk windstorms. Temperatures hover around freezing, and the sun offers minimal light with little warmth and disappears shortly around 4 pm. The preparation for winter is underway. The Hubs threatens to put on the snow tires since black ice is fact of life not to be ignored. I understand his concern, but snow tires seems to invite or acknowledge snow. We already had a flurry of snow that had the grace to be embarrassed enough by its early arrival and leave by the next afternoon.

This month’s words reflect my ambivalence towards fall: do I mourn the passing of summer or prepare for winter with my usual reluctance? Or do I just accept it knowing spring is not that far away?

So–how do you feel about fall?

DOWO: The “C” List


Onward we travel into the Dictionary of Word Origins, adventuring in the land of “C.”

What is the phrase “carte blanche” all about?

It once was the custom for officials, or personage of importance, to provide a trusted subordinate with blank paper with their signature. These signed documents could then be used as necessary. “White paper” doesn’t quite sound as impressive as the French translation carte blanche. “Just sign here,” takes on another meaning.


Why is the feline in Alice in Wonderland known as a Cheshire cat?

Alice probably didn’t realize that the cat she came to know in her dreamy adventure was sporting a grin that emulated the cheeses sold in the Irish Cheshire Country. These cheeses were molded to look like cats with very wide grins. Hmm, think there is a connection between Cheshire cats and why we say “cheese” tight before our picture is taken?

Image: pngmart.com

Why is something that is a hint called a “clue?”

In middle English a ball of thread was known as a “clew” or “clue” and when applied to the story of Theseus, the way out of the maze was how he followed an unrolled ball of thread. Hint, hint the thread of logic is quite clear here in this story of how he unraveled his escape plan. Then again, what if the Minotaur was smarter?

babblecomics.blogspot.com

How is a disappointed person “crestfallen?”

Roosters carry into a fight their bright red coxcomb or crests upright, signaling their readiness and awareness The losing rooster runs from the fight with a drooping crest. Not having seen a rooster fight (or having a desire to do so) I remain a wee bit skeptical on this one.

wordsdontfailme.tumblr.com

What is meant to “curry favor?”

In Middle English “horse ” is  favel, and to “curry” a horse is to groom it with a special comb. The results are usually a sleek looking horse. The idea here is for someone who hopes to makes a impression will do something noticeable like a groom hoping to catch his master’s attention might curry the favel. Sometimes the attempt is quite obvious.

johnhartstudio.com

The Challenge: Can you create a sentence with the above sayings? Give it a try…Or at least one saying:

November Debatable: Hot Air Argument


With Thanksgiving ads beckoning us to ready for the annual rite of feasting with friends and family, it seemed appropriate to center our monthly debate on another annual tradition, Macy’s Parade.

More specifically, we take on which kid lit character should become the next parade balloon.

I’m going for Tigger.

It’s a natural choice–right?

Mike is going for Peter from The Snowy Day. Cute, but not as uplifting as Tigger.

So–make your way over to Mike Allegra’s site and weigh in your thoughts and send up your vote.

Reading Round Up: October


There is an unmitigated pleasure about fall sneak reading whilst propped in a backyard hammock. Bundling up against the wisp of autumnal breeze as it tries to nip at exposed flanks, the remaining warmth of the retiring sun definitely adds to the pleasure of a good read.

October marks the acknowledgment that summer reading as ended. By the time I get home from work the backyard is surrendering to shadows and I drag my hammock around on its reluctant stand trying to find patches of sun, reminiscent of a desperate sunflower. The lure of reading outdoors is different to suppress.

Here are October’s picks:

The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

It comes as a surprise I had not heard of Wallace Stegner until recently. I’m a bit embarrassed by that actually, especially when he is both a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner.

So glad I made the effort. But my first book encounter ended up with three pages in and a return to the book bag.

Spectator Bird remained on my list and while waiting for it to arrive I read All the Live Little Things, the companion novel, which turned well since it helped to understand the back story referenced. Quite the drama, and The Spectator Bird makes all the more sense having read about Joe’s dilemmas with becoming older and living with regrets he can’t or won’t bury.

A definitive story on living the present based on the past.

Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Wonderful. Delightful. A novel that I found myself sneaking moments to read while trying to work. Dear Mrs. Bird is wartime drama that has provides lighter moments, providing a terrific balance of humor and stunning realism. WWII novels are thick upon the shelves, yet this debut novel is a stunner in how the details create a sense of being in the moment. Emmy and Bunty need a series, and it’s hoped this is a start.

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Recommendations from librarians rarely fail. Knowing I appreciated dystopian genres one of local librarians suggested I find Earth Abides. No easy task. Even with its solid reviews and reputation, I could not land an ILL and ended up reading a free e-book that sorely tried my appreciation of Stewart’s novel due to the numerous transference typos.

Similar to the Omega Man, a pandemic dramatically eradicates the world’s population and one man emerges who will make a difference. This man is Ish. He becomes what he refers to as the last American.

An excellent story, made all the more interesting since the technology is centered on what is available in 1949, the publish date.

All the Live Little Things by Wallace Stegner

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Written during the pulsing sixties, Stegner writes of the various ideals that existed together with deft, insightful prose: older establishment meets with hippie youth who mingles with alternative, creative lifestyle who befriends optimistic outlook. It all makes for a memorable, even compelling dramatic story. Joe, a gruff, outspoken literary agent and his forebearing wife, Ruth, escape the hectic city and retire in the placid hills of California. Their peace is shattered by a interloper Peck who becomes the serpent in their garden, as he interacts with each of Joe’s neighbors and touches each of their lives in irrevocable ways.

Stegner’s prose is impressive. Not only does he relate a complicated story, he evokes such smooth passages of imagery that one cannot rush through the story without pausing to savor his craft.

“For a long time that evening we sat on the terrace, while the swallows and later the bats sewed the darkening air together over the oaks…” p. 226

Lovely.

The story tended to switch forward and back in time sequence as Joe related events, which created a somewhat uneven flow of continuity, yet it might have emulated how Joe’s mind switched from present to past as he attempted to reconcile events.

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Stewart

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This prequel to the Mysterious Benedict Society answers much about the mysterious Mr. Benedict met in the first book of the popular series. While less engaging than the first book, due to a rather boggy middle, the ending once again shows the cleverness of Trenton Lee Stewart.

The Rule of Three by Eric Walters

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The world ends with a whimper, isn’t that what T. S. Eliot suggested? In Eric Walters novel, the first of a series, he explores how this present world might end once computers and other technology shuts off. Adam and his family, along with his neighborhood cope with the aftermath of what appears to be a global EMP strike. A bit bogged down in details, yet this supposition of how people would reaction in such a crisis situation creates an engaging read.

Smile by Raina Telegemeier

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This book was recommended to me by a young patron while I was shelving books at the local library. His enthusiasm and assurance that it was a “very good book” intrigued me enough to check it out.

A memoir of the author who suffered a traumatic ordeal with her teeth as a teen, in the format of a graphic novel, turned out surprisingly better that I anticipated.

My short tour with braces was nothing compared with her procedure! I think tweens going through all the drama of middle school will appreciate Smile as it explores so many other issues besides getting braces.

Mark of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

“To much is given, much is required” is aptly applied to this fantasy story where the gifts bestowed upon individuals can provide both life and death to others. Two recipients of these gifts, Selene, who can enter people’s dreams, and Damien, who is able to manipulate water, must determine how their gifts will best benefit the people of their land while they struggle to combat the threat of dark alliances that threaten the overall peace.

Engaging and fast-paced, with an intriguing allegorical theme of choosing darkness or the light, Morgan Busse’s The Ravenwood Saga promises readers a series to anticipate following.

This book was provided by the publisher, and all commentary is mine.

October Debatable Recap


It’s time to wrap up another round of Debatables. This month my partner in kibitzing in kid lit, the illustrious Mike Allegra, chose to back The Cat of Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat as his choice for the top villain found in children’s literature. Umm, I didn’t win with The Cat when I nominated him for the worst picture book category.

I went with Cruella de Vil of 101Dalmatian fame.

You read our arguments and made your decision. And it’s decided:

https://youtu.be/DbOAa7Tbil0

Yes, that fiendish puppy stealing devil, Cruella is pretty much a hands down decision.

There was some talk of Flying Monkeys and the Wicked Witch *shudder* no contest. She and her winged henchmen are way scary–they are in their own class of villains.

https://youtu.be/SESI19h4wDo

See you next month when we take on quite a buoyant topic of debate.

Word Nerd Confessions: October


No sooner than I share out some of my treasured lexicon than they multiple whilst my back is turned. Scamperous little verbiage. Well, let’s shake out their nest and see what we can find:

bravura

When we jump out and wildly applaud the artist shouldn’t we be shouting “bravura” instead of “bravo”? Hmm, needs investigating…

plantigrade

I didn’t realize we had this in common with bears.

pellucid

Okay, next excellent essay I grade shall have the distinction of “pellucid”–that should rock the writer…

turophile

Cheese, Grommit.

stanchless

Oh, yes. This perfectly describes the high school hallway conversations between classes.

scrutator

I can see why this one is not in popular use.

sennight

Nope. Never heard of this one. Fortnight, yes. Sennight nope. Does the senate meet in a sennight?

 

Debatables: Scariest Villain


Hi all, and welcome to Debatables, a new semi-regular column where literary questions of sometimes deep,

and often frivolous nature, are mulled over, pursued with flair, and debated in a spirited manner with commentary from readers.

My cohost and regular debate opponent is the personable Mike Allegra. Well-known for regaling humorous

tales of family, as well as encounters with home repair, his other talents include editor, doodler, and writer.

His newest chapter book series is under the pseudonym of Roy L. Hinuss, aka Prince Not-So Charming.

Mike is really, really funny. Check out his blog and you’ll see why.


On to Debatables:

Here are the ground rules: Each Debater is allowed one brief argument (fewer than 300 words) on a
previously agreed-upon topic. These brief arguments will then be followed by a briefer rebuttal (fewer than

150 words).

Today’s Topic: Who is the scariest villain found in juvenile literature?

Cricket is nominating Cruella de Vil from Dodie Smith’s classic 101 Dalmatians.

Mike is suggesting: The cat from Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat (haven’t we been here before?)

Mike’s Argument

Many of the most evil villains in history have one trait in common: they pretend to serve the best interests
of others. Hitler was elected on a promise to lift Germany out of its economic crisis. Lenin and Stalin
promised to give more power to the Working Man. And The Cat in the Hat promised an innocent boy and
girl a little fun on a rainy day.


What the Germans, Russians, and Seuss Kids ended up with, however, was far different than what they
were promised.


Yet The Cat in the Hat is sneakier than the other villains mentioned above, for he has a talent for charm and
charisma—personality traits he uses to mask his villainy. The Cat is so skilled in this regard that many
readers fail to notice (or are happy to overlook) this felonious feline’s evil acts!

(Mike says Sally is being clotheslined–not exactly pictured)

“Oh, The Cat isn’t that bad,” some might say. “After all, he did clean up the house at the end of the book.
Shouldn’t that count for something?”


No, it shouldn’t. And here’s why.

In only 64 pages, that cat racks up a long list of terrible deeds. He breaks into a home, destroys property,
abuses an animal, abets assault and battery (via The Things), and endangers the welfare of two children.


He does it all with a smile on his face.

And he gets off scott free!

The Cat’s cleaning machine might erase the physical damage he created—but consider the psychological
damage. The Cat’s amoral actions would terrorize any child—and would almost certainly result in lasting—
perhaps lifelong—repercussions. His victims could end up suffering from recurring nightmares, anxiety,
trust issues, and clinical depression. That’s a lot of damage, and The Cat doesn’t have a machine to clean
that mess up, does he?

Cricket’s Argument

While I am amewsed Mike chose the Cat from Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat,villains are a serious business
and dog gone it, selecting the scariest villain in juvenile literature leads to the one and only Cruella de Vil.

Before Disney catapulted her to fame as the diabolical dalmatian-kidnapper, Cruella de Vil held her own
in Dodie Smith’s 1956 story of Pongo and his attempts to save his fifteen puppies from becoming Cruella’s
newest fur coat. Right there, the fact that this woman wants to slaughter puppies to wear as a fashion
statement should make you twitter up a rage post.

Villains are aptly named. Dodie gave her readers a big hint: Cruella de Vil? A spin off of “cruel devil.”
Although Disney’s portrayal of Cruella is transfixing, Dodie defined her pretty well in the novel. Here are
the facts:

  • eats everything with pepper and tastes like pepper (found out when nipped by a puppy)

  • drowned dozens of her Persian’s kittens

  • her family home is called Hell Hall

  • her fireplace fires are as hot as (see above)

  • her house interior is prone towards red

  • she drives a zebra-striped car with the loudest horn in England

  • expelled from school for drinking ink

  • her London flat was originally purchased by Count De Ville, an alias for Dracula

Here is an extra tidbit: ranked 39th on the AFI list of villains

A megalomaniacal tyrant with a streak of narcissism, she is a cruel devil of a woman who even
contemplated skinning the kidnapped puppies alive. Double yikes! This scary villain has found her way
into all sorts of popular culture, from song lyrics to movie lines to Lady Gaga’s choice costume. Puppy
stealer, kitten drowner, pepper eater, and related to Dracula–this is a way scary villain. Plus she is a terrible
driver. Lock up your puppies and stay off the roads if she is about.

Look at this illustration from the novel. Yikes!  

Check out this song:

https://youtu.be/R-YkJdYQzis

Mike’s Rebuttal

Cruella is evil. Very much so. But she wears her evil like a badge of honor, advertising it to everyone. Her
very existence is a harsh warning to stay away.


Now, if I may quote Kaiser Sose, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he
didn’t exist.”


The Cat is the devil we didn’t know existed. He can hide his evil behind false innocence and a perceived
eagerness to please. This is the M.O. of the most effective predators: the fellow in the park “looking for his
lost dog,” or the friendly stranger who kindly offers “to give you a lift home.”  


The Cat is cut from a similar cloth. Once he wins over his audience with a smile and a tip of his hat, he
becomes an agent of chaos. And, like The Joker from The Dark Knight, The Cat delights in the horror he
creates.

Cricket’s Rebuttal

Mike implies Cruella wants people to stay away from her and that she advertises her evil like a
well-deserved medal. This assumption would mean she cares about what people think of her. Truthfully?
She could care l
ess what people think of her. Her actions indicate she doesn’t care about anybody except
herself. All the havoc she creates from personal insults to animal abuse is because she is self-centered with
a hateful regard towards others. Her devilish behavior doesn’t require an audience like Seuss’s Cat.
Cruella’s evil deeds are not beguiling antics that are mischievous or even ambiguous in their intent.
Cruella is all about villainous, malodorous mayhem. She doesn’t care who she hurts and doesn’t try to be
charming—she is and will always be Cruella, Cruella de Vil.
If she doesn’t scare you then no evil thing will.

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