Saturday, February 21, 2015

If You Give a Kid a Computer

"If you give a student a pancake . . . " is a front-page headline in yesterday's edition of my small hometown newspaper. It marks a photo feature in which a local kindergarten teacher serves her students pancakes following a reading activity featuring several well-loved children's stories written by Laura Numeroff.

Numeroff is the author of If You Give a Pig a Pancake and several other popular "circular" tales involving various animals, sweet things, and, usually, an alliterative title. These stories follow the "If . . . then" format throughout until they reach a conclusion that ends just as the story began, in this case with a pig and a pancake.

Besides the one about the pig published in 1998, Numeroff's successful series, which began in 1985 with If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, includes If You Give a Moose a Muffin (1991), If You Give a Cat a Cupcake (2008), If You Give a Dog a Donut (2011), and, most recently, If You Give a Bear a Brownie (2014).

Yesterday's headline caught my attention partly because I am always interested in activities that promote children's literacy but mostly because it sounded familiar. Granddaughter Sooby, a second-grader, is obviously familiar with these stories, as she composed her own variation last time she came to Googie's. During that visit, she sat at my computer and composed her own mixed-and-matched spin-off of Numeroff's idea, titled If You Give a Cow a Cupcake. She worked on it off and on for several hours.

Sooby's story follows. I have corrected only spacing. All the spelling and punctuation are as she originally typed the piece, something I think is pretty remarkable for a seven-year-old--but I am prejudiced, of course. Here is Sooby's story:

If You Give a Cow a Cupcake

If you give a cow a cupcake, she'll want some icing. When you give her the icing, she'll turn a very, very, dark pink. That will remind her of the time that her cousin kissed her, [and after that, she blushed.] so she'll want a kiss from you. Aaaaaaahhhhhhhh! She'll chase you all over the house! When she reaches your bedroom, she'll sneak under the bed.

When you [try to] lie down and take a rest, she'll jump out at you and get her target. Then you'll blush. You'll get out your sewing kit to calm yourself down. You've been sewing a fancy shirt for your older brother who is getting married next week. The shirt will have buttons, a lace collar, a pocket on the upper left, and glass buttons on the edge of each sleeve.

She'll see your needle running in and out, and that will remind her of her other jumping cousin, who she loved to copy. She'll copy your needle by bouncing up and down. You'll see her doing it and get bored, and finally you'll get so bored that you'll have to put your sewing kit away. When she sees that you've put it away, she'll stop in mid-air, and land in your ash basket.

Of course, she'll be all covered in soot, so she'll want to take a bath. When you turn on the hot water, she'll turn a very, very dark pink. Turning pink will remind her of your icing. And chances are, if she asks you for icing, she's going to want a cupcake to go with it. 

The End

We won't pause here to ponder the elaborate design of my brother's wedding shirt (love that lace collar) or my tendency to get out my sewing kit when both overly excited and bored. We won't discuss the logistics of having a pink cow in my bathtub, or, even worse, one chasing after me for a kiss or lying in wait for me under my bed.

Instead, we'll just commend Laura Numeroff for her ability to spark imagination and the love for reading in generations of children and the kindergarten teacher in my hometown for using Numeroff's stories as a springboard for her own creative literacy project. Ladies, we simply cannot have enough people like you around to make sure our kids grow to respect and love the written word.

And, of course, I'll offer a few special kudos to Sooby for this writing--which I plan to share with her boyfriend when she's in college--and for once again showing her Googie the miracles that can happen--if you give a kid a computer.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Mouse Cake

You've had it happen, I'm sure, You are standing there at the greeting card rack, and it jumps out at you--that perfect card that seems tailor-made for someone you know.

It happened to me while I was nonchalantly perusing Valentine cards. I hadn't even planned on getting one for my daughter Cookie when something screamed, "GOOGIE--HERE I AM! YOU KNOW YOU HAVE TO BUY ME!"

And indeed I did. It didn't matter what was written on the inside; this time I felt entirely comfortable judging the card by its cover. No card in the world could have been more perfect for Cookie, a young mother of four children ranging from two to seven years old, than this one:

Looking at the kittens clamoring around this table, I don't need to try very hard to imagine the uproar that has just preceded Mama Cat's wise, calm advice to her litter to "calm down." With four children all in the egocentric stage of development (what Piaget calls "pre-operational), Cookie, I'm sure, didn't need to either.

With three older siblings, little Zoomie, the two-year-old, learned very early how to compete and make his voice heard. If "ME!" wasn't the first word he learned, it was darn close.

I will never forget the time, before Zoomie was talking much at all, when all the kids were having a snack at my kitchen counter with Zoomie close behind in his high chair. We were speculating about what it might be like if all the kids had their own cell phones and could play, to their hearts' content, the various games they have learned to love on mine.

"I'd  play 'Flow' on mine," said Bootsie.

"I'd play 'Guy.'" Pooh said, referring to the game "Temple Run" (in which a "guy" runs from wild winged monkeys).

"I'd text my aunt," said Sooby.

Then all of a sudden, our collective attention was called to the source of these emphatic words issuing forth from the high chair: "MEEEE  PHOOOONE!"

Not even two yet, Zoomie was making it clear to all of us that he, too, would be sharing in our technological dream scenario. Even today, when I ask the kids a question that begins "Who wants--," I can expect four little voices to simultaneously chorus "ME!"

Who wants to go outside?  Who wants peaches? Who wants to watch a movie? ME! ME! ME! ME! So you can see why Cookie's Valentine, as soon as it came off the press, was fated for this certain person in this particular place and time.

Mama Cat appears to have eight mice on her cake. Assuming the little Zoomie kitten is too short to be seen in the picture, that shakes out to two mice apiece. Good thing. Every little kitten should be happy with that.


Monday, February 9, 2015

The Mona Bootsie

You have probably seen, in print or online, those pictures that can be interpreted two ways depending on how you look at them. Particularly well known is the one that asks whether you see a duck or a rabbit. Look at it one way and you see the profile of a rabbit looking to the right with his long ears trailing behind his head on the left. Blink your eyes hard, and those ears become the bill of a duck looking the other way.

Another of these drawings, often identified as "ambiguous pictures" or "optical illusions," is usually referred to as Rubin's Vase. In that one, you will first see either a centered urn or the profiles of two people, one on each side, looking in toward the middle. Google it if you want to see it and other examples of these artistic phenomena.

I have always been rather fascinated by things like this, as well as by explanations that use terms like "bi-stable" and "field" to try to explain how our perceptions work. So you can imagine my surprise and delight yesterday when Bootsie, who is all of four years old, took crayons in hand and produced one of these herself. Call me prejudiced, but it is as good as any ambiguous duck-bunny or any vase-people you could ever find:

Correct me if I'm wrong, but in your initial glance at this picture, you saw either a little girl with blue eyes and a huge smile--or what is perhaps an older person with no mouth and a very large nose. Seriously--try it. You can make a good case for both, can you not?

Is it not clear that Bootsie is a talented artist? Some day, when you see this hanging in a museum somewhere, you can tell the docent that you saw it online many years ago as a blog post written by an amazingly perceptive, forward-thinking Googie.

With this, I leave you to your musings. Perhaps you will want to stand up, walk across the room from your computer, and study the subtle changes in light that fall across this enigmatic face. Perhaps you are even now drawing comparisons to the Mona Lisa, and who could blame you?

With that in mind, I will dub this piece of artwork The Mona Bootsie. Watch the Arts and Entertainment sections of your local newspapers for its appearance in a museum near you.

About the Artist

Bootsie is a talented four-year-old who is growing up way too fast. Her tools of choice are crayons and stickers, and she probably could have invented the term "mixed media." The third of Googie's six kids, she graces any family gathering with sparkle and pizzazz, and often asserts her nonconformity by wearing her shoes on what everybody else thinks are the wrong feet. 


Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Talk with the Groundhog

Here, just a couple days late, is a groundhog poem you can read to your kiddos while we all wait for winter to move along. I will lovingly dedicate it to Pooh, who turned 6 on Groundhog Day. Thanks to Google Images for the artwork.

I’m going to see the groundhog
who lives out in our field,
and ask him why predicting spring
is such a great big deal.
He sleeps all through the winter.
He misses all the joys
of Santa and his reindeer
and his sleigh with all those toys.

He misses building snowmen
and rolling snowballs ‘round.
He misses seeing angels carved
in snow atop the ground.
He waits till February
to do his groundhog thing,
then opens up his sleepy eyes
to scout for signs of spring.

He sniffs the air for signals
that spring might soon be here.
He listens for the melodies
of robins flying near.
He seems to have a problem;
he’s such a chicken-heart:
‘cause if he sees his shadow,
it will give him quite a start.

I’m going to tell that groundhog
he shouldn’t worry so--
Old winter has a calendar
that tells when it should go.
Old winter can get tired, too,
and feel the need to rest,
and gladly shake the hand of spring
when they both think it best.

So, groundhog, just enjoy your nap.
Don’t bother coming out,
and we’ll keep playing in the snow
‘til springtime comes about.
And, though you might not know it,
from all the hype you hear,
spring always comes along about
the same time every year.