Saturday, April 22, 2006

Urf Day

We chose Earth Day as the theme for last week's story hour, since Earth Day was Saturday, and all. So we read ecology-related stories to the kids, did crafts that were all environmentally friendly, served them a snack of twigs and berries on free range paper plates (okay, it was actually Doritos and Teddy Grahams and just normal paper plates) and gave `em juice boxes to drink from which we’ll recycle this week into a new craft. We then took `em outside and let them watch a city employee plant a dogwood tree in our side yard, which we’ll dig up in a year or so and transport to our new building. I was going to make all the kids give it a big ol’ hug too, but we were pressed for time.

As you may be able to tell from the above paragraph, I have mixed feelings about Earth Day. It's not really the day itself or the celebration thereof. I believe wholeheartedly protecting the environment, not polluting the hell out of it either by fume or refuse, recycling our crap as much as humanly possible, utilizing as much alternative energy sources as are feasible, being responsible, not clear cutting the shit out of everything and, Oh, I don’t know, maybe getting some damn fuel-cell vehicles on the market. What I have more of a problem with is a certain flavor of hippy tree hugger that gravitates to the environment’s cause and the enormous non-biodegradable plastic drums of naiveté they often haul in with them.

Case in point, one of the books Mrs. C chose for me to read to the kiddies this week: For the Love of Our Earth by P.K. Hallinan. I don’t think I would have read them this book at all, had I had the good sense to preview it in advance of actually reading it to the kids. The book was harmless enough, I suppose, and most of its message went over their heads anyway. However, as I was reading it aloud I was angered by the overwhelming sense that this pie-eyed, 45 degrees from reality book’s major thesis statement was that if kids are merely friendly to the environment, suddenly there will no longer be any war, all races, creeds, religions and the handicapped will all suddenly start getting along and we'll all have cake and pie and everything! I'm paraphrasing, sure, and I was exaggerating about the cake and pie, but the bit about picking up litter ending war pretty much sums the message of this book. It's an enormous pen and ink hippy-pot-dream conjured by someone who'd been listening to too much Yoko Ono music. I really expected some kind of pro-hemp message before the end of it, but I think Hallinan ran out of pages, or smoked those or something. The final pages of the book depict those previously described ethnically diverse and handicapable children all holding hands and saving the earth and peace reigns forever more, with cake and pie.
Why is it that this book makes me so angry? Am I just that jaded and cynical that a sweet little book about people somehow learning to get along and take responsibility for cleaning up the planet can infuriate me so? I mean, isn't this one the basic tennants of my own religion of Christianity—to love one another and stop being an asshole? By all rights, I should embrace this book. Perhaps I should even give it a big old hug and a slice of pie, since it too is a tree product. But I can't because the message of this book was not only naive but irresponsible to boot. Stupid hippies!
After we planted our tree, we came back in and read one more ecologically sound book, but this time it was one I'd previewed in advance and approved of, called Be a Friend to Trees, by Patricia Lauber and Holly Keller. Despite the fact that this book does depict two kids HUGGING A TREE on the cover, it's a far more realistic and sound way of looking at the issue. The book explains that trees are very important, not only to the environment to but to our day to day lives since we use quite a bit of tree-byproducts. The book also spends a good deal of time going over how trees work, why they are important to our oxygen supply and to the animals that live in them, how recycling things helps, how kids can help by not wastefully using so many tree-byproducts and that planting new trees is a good idea. I was really enjoying this book as I read it, but it caused the kids' eyes to glaze over and two of them eventually began doing gymnastics as a form of protest against the boredom. So I skipped to the end, told em to plant more trees and reuse grocery sacks, then switched to a large picture book about a lady with a big colorful hat.
That held their attention pretty good.

Monday, April 03, 2006

First words

While reading Tedd Arnold's children's book Parts for last week's OUAW session, I came to the page where the main character complains that something wet and gray fell out of his nose, a substance he comes to believe is part of his brain.

"I don't think it's part of his brain," I said, turning to my audience of one five-year old boy. "I think it's a booger." Now I said that because, while the book never actually spells out what the gray substance is, I'm not the kind of guy who passes up the chance to say "booger" to a five-year old. It's a guaranteed laugh line, or so I thought.

"A what?" the five-year-old asked.

"A booger," I said, grinning. Realization did not dawn on this kid's face, though.

"What's that?" he said.

Aw hell, I thought. This kid doesn't know what a booger is! And if he doesn't know what a booger is at age five, this can only mean that his mom, who was sitting right there beside him, has kept him sheltered from the knowledge or has taught him some euphamism for boogers that she finds preferable. Now I'd just gone and warped his fragile little mind with secret knowledge—ironically, the very kind of parentally hidden secret knowledge that the main character of Parts is railing against in the first place!

"Uhh," I said, afraid of what words to choose next. While I don't think booger is the sort of word that should be kept from children, (nor from the airwaves; thank you, Dr. Johnny Fever), I didn't want to crap all over this mom's choice to do so. I felt like I'd just accidentally ruined the ending of The Sixth Sense or the Usual Suspects. The kid sensed my trepidation and glanced up at his mom for help.

"You know," she said, "like when you blow your nose?"

"Oh!" he said with a smile and a laugh. Well, at least he found the concept of boogers funny.

So I proceeded with the story until the page where the main character finds a loose tooth.

"Have you had any loose teeth, yet?" I asked the kid.


"Well, that's on the way for you soon," I said. Then, I thought of an illustrative example from my own childhood that would make for a fun mid-story aside. "Just be sure not to trust your teachers," I began. "Cause when I was in the first grade I had a loose tooth and my teacher told me to come up so she could feel how loose it was. She told me she wasn't going to pull it, she just wanted to feel it. But then she pulled it anyway." Only then did the meaning behind my words start to sink into my skull. Oh, hell! I had just told this kid not to trust his teachers, implying heavily that they were out to get him! In front of his booger-paranoid mom, no less!

"Um... It didn't hurt, though," I lamely tried as a save. I didn't make eye contact with his mom for a while after that, for fear of a dirty look. She didn't yell at me and haul her child away, either, and eventually I was able to reign in my subversive mouth and just read the stories with no added commentary.

I'd been planning on breaking out >Walter the Farting Dog in OUAW, but now I'm pretty sure it would result in some kind of mental distress for that family.

An employee of a small town "liberry" chronicles his quest to remain sane while dealing with patrons who could star in a short-lived David Lynch television series.