Mar 15, 2017

Fiction, Fact, and the Funny Side of POOP!

I'll begin here on a personal note. 
The first days of February found me biting back expletives much more harsh than "OH, POOP". I'm ashamed to admit that it was not just the pain and frustration of breaking my leg that had me sounding like a comic strip: 
I was utterly embarrassed by the foolish way it happened- putting on my shoes. And I broke my right leg, which made driving off-limits for 6-8 weeks.

Just as I was adjusting to the consequences of my klutziness, I tumbled back into potty-mouth territory when the orthopedist viewed my x-rays a few weeks later. His verdict... the eight week prognosis instead of six. I indulged in several hours of grumbling and self-pity, before deciding that wasn't helping, even a tiny bit. A late winter snowstorm, cancelled appearances, etc. prompted even more muttering of "OH, POOP!" 
I channeled my frustration into even more reading and writing and decided to share the upside of those downsides, developing a more constructive take on that word "POOP".
Originally 1993, republished by Abrams, 2007

THE STORY OF THE LITTLE MOLE WHO WENT IN SEARCH OF WHODUNIT is written by Werner Holzwarth and illustrated by Wolf Erlbruch. The cover and title launch the plot, or plop, if you prefer. Shortsighted mole is determined to find the source of that sausage-like emoji-ish deposit that greeted him one fine warm day as he lifted his head from his tunnel. 
In a finely paced and humor-laced series of encounters, mole narrows the list of suspects, dodges disastrous demonstrations, and eventually exacts his revenge. 
An animated version of this book can be viewed on YouTube, here, but the physical book allows for even better appreciation of page turns, expressions, and rising tensions. This is a seriously funny book that defies bad moods. It is also a slick and sophisticated example of everything wonderful about picture books. First and foremost, kids and adults alike will return to it again and again. In the process, they'll find effective repetition, clever language, plot twists, and plenty to talk about.

Puffin Books, 2014
Compare this simply brilliant story with the equally inspired nonfiction book, THE TRUTH ABOUT POOP AND PEE:All the Facts about the Ins and Outs of Bodily Functions., written by Susan E. Goodman and illustrated by slightly-wacky Elwood H. Smith. 
(This title is a fairly recent consolidation of Goodman's earlier two volumes, THE TRUTH ABOUT POOP and GEE, WHIZ! IT'S ALL ABOUT PEE.) The titles alone are indicators of the clever wit, wisdom, and wonder explored within the covers of this kid-magnet. 
What's more, author Goodman never let's go of a topic, even after her books have been published or reissued. In this case, her website offers a plethora of additional factoids that reached her after the book went to print. 

I look back on my childhood firmly convinced that I was born knowing how to read. In part, that's because we had few books. From early on I was able to pick up a book and "read" it, knowing all about front-to-back, up-vs-down, page turns, visual stories, and even inserting long strings of words I recalled from frequent bedtime reading. As an early reader I owe even more to having a newspaper plunked onto our doorstep seven days a week. I "read" the funnies every day of my life. Elwood Smith's cartoonish images and speech bubbles offer a huge appeal with their speech bubbles and comic details, offering big ideas even when the text is challenging. 
Here's a sidestep to other frustrating "Oh, Poop" moments-- the proliferation of outrageous statements presented as truths. As incredible as they may seem, Goodman's facts are indisputable. I can say that with confidence for several reasons: the author's reputation for in-depth research and objectivity is undisputed; she cites extensive and reliable resources in the back matter; each and every claim can be reverse-engineered to obtain third party confirmation, should a reader  choose to do so. In other words, even though the content itself and the comical illustrations provide laughable, quotable quips that sound like jokes, they are, in fact, facts. Not half-truths, distortions, or lies, or alternative facts. Readers of any age can and should be reading such surprising content with a skeptical eye and with tools to verify. Recognizing the ability to sort, save, and discard based on reality provides a powerful jolt of self-confidence.

Among those funnies from my earliest readings, I always included a daily dose of RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOTlike this one. You can subscribe on social media for a daily post from their website. I recommend an exercise in  reading with a duality of amazement and skepticism, of challenging extraordinary statements with quick searches for sources and the validity of those sources. This should become as mundane as brushing our teeth, applying a studied eye (or ear) to everything we read (or hear). 
Perhaps even a book like The Story of the Mole...
offers an object lesson in seeking out primary sources to answer our questions. When those searches are unproductive, frustrating, or even too messy, we can seek out authentic experts to resolve our confusions. (What better experts to consult about the origins of poop than flies?)
So, take these three recommendations and run with them, following their leads to seek out truth and facts from among the #$*!% filling our media these days. I challenge anyone who says, "I don't like to read" to try these and find yourself hooked.

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