Don’t Ask a Dinosaur by Matt Forrest Esenwine and Deborah Bruss. Illustrated by Louie Chin. Book Review.

This humorous picture book imagines what would happen if you asked for help with birthday party preparations and participation from dinosaurs. Although this scenario is obviously totally imaginary, the names and illustrations of the dinosaurs are up-to-date and informative. The children’s favorites, like tyrannosaurus rex, iguanadon, and stegosaurus are there, but some may be new to the reader such as deinocheirus, argentinosaurus, and aliopleurodon.

I like the fact that a brother and sister are having a birthday together. They look as though they could be twins. Hopefully this will entice boys to read the book as much as girls. When the children solicit the dinosaurs’ help, they discover that the rezinosaurus cannot blow up balloons without popping them with his long claws and a tanystropheus will become entangled in the decorations due to his long neck. Each page is filled with humorous situations featuring dinosaurs trying to do the impossible.

I was pleased to find a small glossary at the back with an interesting fact or two about each of the dinosaurs. For example, the argentinosaurus was probably the heaviest of all weighing as much as 1500 people.

What makes this a cut above similar books is the tight and inventive rhyming. The reader cannot help but be impressed at Esenwine’s mastery of rhyme and rhythm using long and complex dinosaur names. “Don’t ask an ankylosaurus to come in through the gate or a tanystropheus to help you decorate.”

The illustrations effectively portray the children’s frustration and  laughter at the unfolding disaster. The text is seamlessly superimposed over the full page spreads.

Kids who like Robert Munsch, dinosaurs, or books about party disasters will love Don’t Ask a Dinosaur.

The authors will be interviewed April 25, 2018.

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Recycled Sundays – Animal Karma

I am relieved to see that our Canadian animals are not following in the violent footsteps of their Old World Counterparts. I do hear stories of bear and cougar attacks every summer and nod. These animals know we are the enemy. They’ve seen us destroy their homes, clearcutting and pollution being the favored methods. They have watched us trap, poison, and shoot their kin. It’s open warfare.

What scares me is when the attacks come from an unexpected source — hoofed farm animals, for example.

I must admit, though, they were provoked. I had previously thought that inbreeding eliminated that wild eye for an eye, fang for a fang trait. Unfortunately, domestic animals have begun to show their true colors.

For example, in Manganeses de la Polvorosa, Spain, the villagers drop a goat from the church belfry to start a religious festival. My first reaction upon hearing this was, what religion thinks this is a good idea? Is this the Church of the Holy Splattered Ruminants? These people have bats in their belfry. Each year, (I’m not making this up), the townspeople toss a goat from the 14 meter high belfry, catch it in a tarp, and release it, suffering only from vertigo and a new mistrust of crowds. This feat begins the Festival of Saint Vincent, the town’s patron saint. He was famous for his works of charity, especially to the sick, old, and orphaned. He must have had a taste for kid pancakes.

Fortunately, local police force lept to the defense of the goat. Unfortunately, villagers refused to take this butting in. They attacked the police at the last festival, and the journalists for good measure. It seems the only one who walked away unharmed was the goat.

Another hoofed fellow didn’t fare as well. A Romanian farmer in December 1991 wanted to clean the skin from his slaughtered pig. He usually used a vacuum cleaner to inflate the pig and burn straw over the skin to remove the hair. Do you suppose that’s where they got the idea of the giant Miss Piggy as a parade balloon?

The farmer’s vacuum broke so he used bottled gas. The pig went whole hog on revenge, exploding and injuring the farmer who spent three days in the hospital. I wonder whether a man who ignites a gas-filled creature should be allowed to work with sharp garden tools.

This is the kind of behavior I might expect from animals who have been treated as nothing better than a vegetable for consumption. But I didn’t expect vengeance from man’s best friend.

Last winter in Moscow, Gennady Danilov, at the young age of 33, was shot by his dog. His dog got his hind legs caught in a trap while they were out hunting. When Danilov tried to free him, the animal struggled and made the rifle discharge.

So far, these acts of vengeance have not spread to North America. Perhaps they are still to come by the poor unfortunate animals we use and abuse. However, I live with three cats. I would never allow my children to toss them. I lock the felines in the basement whenever I am working with any flammable substances. No firearms are allowed on the premises. But deep down I know this is futile. When they study me with six gleaming yellow eyes, I try not to imagine what kind of revenge they are planning in return for the last trip to the vet.

Originally published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News

Sunday, June 14, 1992

Recycled Sundays – Defensive Ballroom Dancing

My husband and I are learning how to ballroom dance. I’ve always liked dancing but never learned the difference between a box step and an I-stepped-on-his-foot step.
Square dancing is experiencing a revival. It looks like fun too, although I am kept from participating by the music. Country and western gives me a nervous twitch. The lyrics make me want to slap the person next to me. The nasal twang makes me want to kick them while they’re down. But the intricate steps and choreography are impressive.
So, too, with ballroom dancing. It’ll be a long time before I can ever cha cha with Charro or Viennese Waltz without counting under my breath but I like a challenge.
The most reassuring thing about dance classes is that everyone struggles together. We all learn at our own rate and since I’m in the couples class, we bring our own encouragement. The confidence is most noticeable in men. Remember in school when we learned square and folk dances? The boys all turned into Jerry Lewis. As adults, they have weathered worse and survived. The travelling step isn’t as daunting when you have lived through parenting or job loss or divorce.
We practice our steps separately at first and the males are a joy to watch. Every man has his own style. One keeps his mouth tightly closed in determined concentration. A dust molecule couldn’t penetrate those compressed lips. One blushes brightly when he stumbles, seemingly unaware that four or five other guys have made exactly the same mistake. The older gentleman is as smooth and debonair as Fred Astaire while the younger fellow performs with the rigid precision of a military drill. One dances to the beat of a different drummer. Then there’s the totally in control gum chewer who not only remembers the steps and keeps the beat but doesn’t even seem to bite his tongue.
The women watch from the sidelines as their partners learn a new step. They parade past us like graceful peacocks each subtly flaring their invisible feathers. They boogie, rock, sizzle and strut. Of course, it’s easier for them to look good since they get to go forwards. They are most challenged practicing the spins. I imagine it’s because they didn’t have the opportunity to spin in a flared dress as a child like many of the women have.
When we women practice, we have to dance backwards without anyone to lead us away from each other. Since most of us are wearing heels, we move rather tentatively, not wanting to impale the woman behind us onto the gym floor.
Finally we get to dance together. The instructor calls out the men’s steps. The women must reverse the footing and do it while dancing backwards. So, we struggle with gender imposed restrictions, one step forward and two steps back, madly translating the dominant patterns until it makes sense from our point of view – just like real life, eh? Later on we get to change partners and try to accommodate a different man’s body shape and size with its unique rhythms.
At this point I am anything but graceful. I sweat like a high school gymnast without a bucket of chalk dust. I vary between counting the beat and reciting, “long, long, short, short” like a tribal chant. Not exactly the romantic exchange I had in mind when we started.
My husband has trouble leading. It’s the first time in eighteen years I’ve let himcontrol me without an argument. When my husband asks the female instructor for help, she offers to go through the steps with him. He hesitates, hands raise and asks, “Are you being a lady?” She laughs good naturedly and says, “That’s questionable.”
Our favorites are the polka and the tango. I give my husband a little extra room so he doesn’t bang my sore knees when we twist in the polka. He gives me a lot of extra room when we do the lunge in the tango. He’s learned that falling to the floor and clutching oneself is not an option in ballroom dancing. We’re getting pretty good since we learned to dance defensively.

 

 

 

Recycled Sundays – Brick by Freaking Brick

When my husband – Mr. not so handy – and I – Mrs. impossible ideas – bought a home needing “a bit of work“ we consulted an interior decorator. The only good advice she gave us was to move the bedroom dressers side-by-side. Another suggestion was to re-brick the fireplace.
The real bricks in the tiny corner fireplace had been painted white to match the plastic ones on the upper half. The decorator recommended a kit that included half inch clay bricks, a cutting instrument, and mortar. It should take a weekend to complete.
We purchased enough materials to cover both the real and plastic bricks. Whenever a clay brick needed to be cut, I was to repeatedly score the line with the cardboard cutter-like instrument until the brick could be snapped in two. Sounded easy.
I laid out old newspapers and began. By the third day, I had completed the bottom two rows of the fireplace. Each brick had to be held in place for 20 minutes for the mortar to partially set.
Slicing the bricks progressed at the pace of a legless turtle. I measured the size of the brick needed, drew a straight line on the surface and scored – a misleading term for scratching. The instrument had the sharpness of a tomato. My nostrils were plugged with clay dust and I tasted like the inside of a kiln. After 40 minutes, the brick was scored enough to risk snapping it in two. Then I started over since it only broke properly every fourth time.
When we were half finished the neighbour expressed doubts that our floor could hold the extra weight. We can kept going.
At the three-quarter‘s completed mark we encountered little indented and protruding shelves which required scoring of dozens of bricks. We kept going.
We ran out of mortar. We ordered more and kept going.
Four months later we were finished. I had blisters, lung damage, and a hunched back. All that was left was to clean the draperies, furniture, and rugs. When the mortar dried completely we realized the last part, done with the second shipment, was a different shade. I resisted the urge to sledgehammer the whole fireplace.
At a party, our host said he had done similar work in his basement. We went to see. Two entire walls, floor to ceiling, were covered with thin clay bricks. I fell to my knees in homage.
“How long did this take you?“ I gasped.
“The long weekend.“
I demanded to know his secret, rambling on about my frustrating scoring and the box of broken bricks.
“I rented a machine,“ he explained. “You just plug it in, set the size , and feed in the brick. Cuts it perfectly every time.“
Our new home has a fireplace too. It’s a black metal Franklin stove. There isn’t a brick in sight.
First published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News
Sunday, September 16, 1990

Pukey Poetry – Tale Ticklers by Mz Millipede by Dorianne Allister Winkler. Book review.

First, I have to say that the illustrations in this book are hilarious. The pages are jam-packed with wonky, colorful, and detailed pictures. As well, kids will love looking for the millipede in each double spread and examining the gross elements.
As you can tell from the title, the poems are a collection of silly topics, many disgusting, that children will love. Winkler writes about a giant lollipop, a man who never cuts his toenails, and eating bugs. Children will love the topics though you might want to skip the one about the monster under the bed for your littlest listener.
All the poems are written in some style of rhyme. They are all entertaining and enjoyable but some vary in technical achievement. While they rhyme well, the changingsyllabication sometimes breaks the beat. On the whole children probably won’t mind in the least.
The most impressive poems are Toe-Jam Sam, Wafflerus or Pandacake, (a very clever take on a zany breakfast), and Secret Feast.
The style of these poems reminds me of the Canadian treasure, Dennis Lee. Reluctant readers who love gross stuff will actually sit down with this book. Parents who can get right into the mood of being thrilled by disgusting things are sure to make their children laugh and enjoy reading time.

Recycled Sundays – Achoo!

I know I’m coming down with something when I become accident prone. The first viral assault tends to knock out my coordination, not that there’s much to begin with. But, when I try to lick a stamp and get a papercut, I know it’s a stuffy head is on the way.
I was getting cocky this year, not having missed a day of work even in the midst of cold and flu season. Then, Mr. Virus slapped me a good one. It wasn’t the kind of virus for the victim is knocked off her feet for three or four days and then recovers. It was the peekaboo kind.
There was a slight fever that came and went for no apparent reason. In midsentence my face would suddenly flush in the room would seem a little smaller. I would return to work after day in bed and then find my head drooping to my desktop, an overpriced paperweight. By the end of the day, lifting my briefcase seemed as impossible as restoring Michael Jackson’s reputation.
There were sinus headaches and fever headaches and “someone hit me in the temple with a hammer“ headaches. There were aches and pains, and pains and aches, as though I had run the Triathlon wearing barbed wire. I never knew armpits good hurt so much.
But most of all, there was exhaustion. I easily slept 10 hours a night but every afternoon I napped as well. “I can’t possibly need more sleep,“ I’d tell myself. Then, I would put the milk in the cupboard and the sugar in the fridge or I would change the empty toilet paper roll by throwing away the new role and trying to flush the empty cylinder.  When I wasn’t sleeping, I was resting. The couch is permanently form to my body shape, left side down, space for the remote by my elbow.
This might not have lasted for weeks if I had given in and gone to bed at the start but colds and flu never arrive at convenient times. There were pre-Christmas tasks to be done. There were jobs at work no ask no one else could do. They were commitments to be met. There were people who needed me. The virus and I were on alternate schedules.
To complicate matters, I never get sick alone. Leaving living with a family means someone else always catches it. To be fair, I think my son had it first. It just seem to hit him hardest after I spent my first day in bed. When a child is sick, the sick mother‘s recovery takes second place.
I didn’t read a large novel curled in bed but sat on the couch, a small corner of my son’s blanket on my feet, reading aloud the original saga of Batman with a cough drop in my mouth. Forget watching relaxing ballet or figure skating on television. By the end of the first week I memorize the songs and chants in Power Rangers, “Go! Go Power Rangers! (hopefully out of sight). There was Captain Planet and the Planeteers, “You can be one too! Saving the planet is the thing to do.“ As opposed to what? I’ll never forget Lamb Chop’s Play-Along, “This is the song that never ends. It just goes on and on my friend.“ It gave me a strong craving for not roast mutton.
I learned how to lock on my Camp Caribou baseball cap should I ever be forced to wear one. I learned that Samurai Pizza Cats are smart mouth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rip offs that deliver pizza by being shot from a revolver and fight an interior decorator in their spare time which seems a bit drastic now that chrome and black plastic is no longer popular. I learned that Dennis the Menace was really a sweet little boy.
Instead of cross stitching orwriting letters, I play played canasta, washed sheets, played canasta, washed pajamas, and played canasta. Thank goodness my son received an automatic card shuffler for Christmas. I was getting permanent heart and club works on my hands.
I also spent a great deal of time exclaiming over three dimensional or holographic or brilliantly coloured comic characters. They had names like Daredevil, Dead Pool, Ghostrider, Punisher, Spawn, X-Men, X-force and X-cutioner, some of which I think are actually the good guys. Everyone was armed to the teeth with super weapons and seem to have several problems with saliva control and mucus. This was an eye-opener and let you some rather intense discussions and weeding out of the comic collection. I miss the days of Archie and Garfield.
First published by the Chronicle-Journal?Times-News
Sunday, January 2, 1994

Recycled Sundays – Breastfeeding Pads are Tricky

When I was a child, my mother warned me never to go out with pins in my underwear.
“What if you were hit by a car? You don’t want the doctor to see your panties are held up by a safety pin.“
If I was in an accident, severe enough to be hospitalized, my underwear would be the least of my concerns. But I didn’t say that. That’s why I found breast-feeding a little disconcerting. Well, not the feeding, the accoutrements.
I was a devoted nursing mother and faced all the typical challenges with determination. But, I must confess, I hated the underwear. Nursing bras, even though composed of ribbons and strategically placed flaps, are not pretty. Add to this the alternating smells of vitamin A&E ointment and damp tea bags (for soreness) not to mention swelling and shrinking breast sizes (not the same) and you understand why I felt like a frump.
I was determined to find the perfect nursing pad – material placed inside the bra to absorb embarrassing leakage. I tried cheap circular ones which didn’t absorb. The outlines of expensive circular ones showed through my clothing like headlights. Folded cotton fabric gave me a square shape. None of these stayed in place unless they were pinned and, my mother‘s voice echoing in my head, I drew the line at pinning.
Finally, I found the perfect pads. Round, soft, absorbent, slightly cone shaped to stay in place, comfortable nursing pads. The crowning glory was a subtle nipple shape in the centre to avoid that padded appearance. I never left home without them.
I gave working as a part time teacher-librarian a shot for a while. I was still nursing and thought my schedule and my trusty new nursing pads would get me through a few hours.  One day, about an hour after I fed my baby her lunch, I felt a draft on my right breast. As I was engaged in conversation with three of my coworkers, I couldn’t openly check the source of this sensation. With subtlety befitting a secret agent, I located the cause. My perfect nursing pad was missing.
Trying not to panic, I quickly glanced around. Three steps behind, on the rust-coloured carpet, sat my white pad as bright as a full moon. The femininely-shaped tip left no doubt as to the purpose of this object.
Immediately, taking command, I delegated jobs to my coworkers, quickly stepped back and placed my foot over the pad. As soon as no one was looking in my direction, I scooped it up and threw it into the trash. No good. The can was completely empty. The pad shone brightly up at me. I grabbed the largest paper I could find, wrapped the pad and dropped it back into the can. I tried not to jump when a student walked up and asked me for help finding a particular book.
The next day, I used pins.
Originally published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News
Sunday, October 21, 1990
PLEASE NOTE: Both A and D ointment and the tea bag treatment are no longer recommended for a breast-feeding mother.

My Kingdom for a Burp – Recycled Sundays

By the time my colicky daughter was one week old, I cherished belches. Colic, for you sheltered souls, results in painful gas. Babies cry incessantly and periodically empty their stomachs.
I read books and articles, consulted medical personnel, and coffee klatched. I found there are 4,000,552 possible causes. I could avoid seven. No cure! Everyone, even experts, agreed that burps are gold nuggets for which parents pan.
After I had fed and burped my daughter, her daddy put her in the carriage. The jiggling motion, we hoped, would soothe her and release trapped gas. Our daughter was quiet until daddy reach the farthest point in his walk. Then she screamed, swallowing large quantities of air, until they reached home. As daddy lifted her from the carriage, she released both air and stomach contents.
We thought it must be the carriage. We bought a frontal baby carrier. She screamed like a tortured spider as we negotiated her arms and legs through the holes. On the walk, at the halfway point, she began to howl. Daddy lost 15% hearing in his left ear. When he arrived home and untangled her, she vomited on cue, but with a bonus. The new target was daddy‘s hair.
Strategy number two was improving our burping techniques. We tried a dozen variations over the shoulder. Our daughter refined her skill into projectile vomiting. That meant nothing was safe. With the deadly accuracy of a trident missile, she white washed the house.
I laid her across my knees, shortening the attack distance. I laid her on the carpet with triple blankets underneath. I rubbed her back as I cupped her fat cheeks. I bent her like a Gumby doll. We have a treasured photograph of daddy carrying her in the colic position. She is lying a straight on his arm, head in his hands, as he paces. Baby is asleep. Daddy’s hair is grubby, there are bags under his bloodshot eyes, and he has lost all feeling in his arm. Although we managed to get window shaking belches from her tiny tummy, the miserable colic remained.
Strategy three involved machinery. I laid my daughter in her bassinet on top of the dryer and stood close by. The gentle vibrations and monotonous sounds were soothing but woe to mothers who run out of laundry. I washed sheets twice a week.
Car drives were suggested. I avoid traffic lights and slowly rolled through stop signs, unable to halt until she been had been asleep for 20 minutes. Arriving home, I had a choice: unbuckle her and wake the sleeping dragon or catch some rest in the driver’s seat. Because the tank was continually drained, gas attendants knew me by name.
When I reached the post zombie state and put ice cream in the cupboard and shoes in the refrigerator, a friend rescued us with the Swing O-Matic. My daughter slept in a cloth seat suspended from rods while we cranked it up. For 15 minutes, the gears clicked. Baby dropped off to sleep. But when the rocking stopped, she jerked awake and howled. If we wound up the noisy gears as the mechanism slowed, she would screech for quiet. We took turns cranking during the night providing each other with 30 whole minutes of rest.
As with most stages, colic past. Four months felt like four years. By age six my daughter had mastered stomach gas. At will, she could lose a belch loud enough to startle birds in flight. Generally though, she saved the good ones for wedding receptions and attending the ballet.
Originally published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News
September 30, 1990

A Crowbar and a Cat – Recycled Sundays

I bought my daughter a new mattress not knowing this would lead to 12 garbage bags of rubble. I also owed her an apology for blaming the dankness in her room on leftover pizza, bugles, and chocolate chip cookie crumbs. When I pulled her bed away from the wall, I discovered the homeowner’s dreaded enemy – mold.
Why is it that repairs are usually thrust upon people at the most inconvenient times? Major emergency renovations were needed on our first house when I was staying at home, caring for a two-year-old, and expecting another child.
Our first year in our second home, the furnace needed to be replaced on Christmas Eve. So I was not completely surprised to discover our present house needed ripping up, painting, plastering, the removal of the window, and re-tiling all when the forecast read 32° below zero Celsius with a windchill of 48 below expected. When else?
Still two incidents reminded me that I should be grateful for solvable problems. I discovered our bathroom leaking water into the exterior wall, down into the flooring. I realized I had to attack the leak from the bathroom on the opposite side of the wall. What I thought was a little leak between ceramic tiles turned out to be a waterfall through the bathroom window. There I was, crowbar in hand, knee-deep in broken ceramic tiles and soggy wet sheet rock, when I realized I had left my daughter’s bedroom door open. Not only was the floor a mess of splinters, but I had removed the furnace intake vent cover. Where were the cats?
I ran to the bedroom. Patch, our timid cat was peering down the open vent. Luckily he raced out of the room without argument. I shut the bedroom door and went back to my crowbar. Thump, thump, rattle, echo. I realized it wasn’t me making that noise. It sounded like an aluminum shed door. But it seemed to be coming from the basement. I went to the basement.
Then it seemed to be coming from overhead. I quickly counted the cats. Two there, one missing. Virgil, our “try anything doesn’t know the meaning of fear” cat was gone.
I raced back to my daughter’s bedroom and crouched in front of the open vent. The sounds were coming from inside!
“Virgil,” I called.
A pitiful mew came in response. I continue to call and he continued to mew. Finally, his bewildered little face appeared at the opening. Unfortunately, getting in wasthe easy part. A large nail protruded into the vent. Climbing in wa sno threat but coming out, the nail would pierce his skull. It took every bit of sweet talk I had in me to keep him in place while I bent the nail with my bare hands. Since I usually get my kids to open screw cap bottles for me, I can only credit this power to a surge of adrenaline.
Although the nail now was safely bent, Virgil was too spooked to climb back out. I envisioned him racing off in another direction only to fall down the chute and plaster his chubby little body against the furnace filter, setting off the most impressive sparking since my sons sandbox days. How to get the curious cat out? He was as stubborn as a cat can be but I knew the way to his heart. I remembered there were some kitty treats in the kitchen cupboard my son uses to bribe the cats when he brushed them. Virgil would do the fire walk for tuna flavoured treats.
Willing Virgil to stay safely near the entrance of the vent, I waste into the kitchen, my heart pounding. I threw open the cupboard door, grabbed the container, and shook it to ensure there was enough inside to coax him out. I whirrled around, prepared to dash back to the bedroom, and tripped over Virgil. He recognize that sound.
After I shut the bedroom door, I fed Virgil, and the other two as well since it was somewhat of a celebration, I flopped down in front of the television. A bit of mindless morning TV should calm my nerves. The Los Angeles earthquake came into focus on my screen. As I rubbed Virgil’s chin, I watched entire streets burn. I realized having to knock a hole in the wall at 40 below wasn’t so bad after all. Besides, I had my favourite kitty to console me. I was actually pretty darn lucky.
Originally published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times News,
January 23, 1994

​ Duck, Duck, Moose by Joy Heyer. Book review.

This is a delightful picture book about missing a friend. Duck is lonely because goose has gone away for winter. The other animals try to cheer him up by engaging him in games such as duck, duck, pig. However duck does not find this enjoyable nor does he like playing with the fish, snakes, porcupine, or moose. After feeling dejected for a while, duck decides a different game might work and so all the animals engage in hide and seek. On the last page, goose returns.
The book is written in rhyme and it holds quite well throughout. I specially enjoyed the onomatopoeia pages where Jack played with each animal. For example, Ooey, Gooey, Icky, Sticky, Quack, Quack, Quack when he was playing with the pig and the fish sounds were Sploosh, Splash, Blub, Glub.
The pictures alternate between full page colour, double page spreads, and single characters on a page but all are sweet, charming watercolors.
My granddaughter found this book very engaging and loved the humorous bits as well as the emotional moments. Highly recommended.