A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Sunsweet Marches On!

(Left to right: Cecil, Stan, and Dishonest John)

What do Albert Einstein and I have in common?
Answer: We were both huge fans of a children's puppet show called "Time For Beany," which ran on TV in Los Angeles from 1949 to 1955.
And the comic genius who made "Time For Beany" so funny was Stan Freberg - the voice of both Beany's sidekick, Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent, and the villain, Dishonest John - who died on April 7 at the age of 88. 
The early 1950s were a Golden Age for comedy. The old-timers like Bob Hope, Fred Allen and the funniest of them all, Jack Benny, were still going strong; and coming up fast was a generation of brilliant newcomers including Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Ernie Kovacs, Jonathan Winters, Tom Lehrer and Bob Newhart.
But Freberg was special, even among that august company. After Beany he went on to make satirical records like "Green Chri$tma$," starring an adman named Scrooge who wants to make as much money off Christmas as possible; "St. George and the Dragonet," a takeoff on "Dragnet" set in the Middle Ages, with Joe Friday (voiced by Freberg in a perfect imitation of Jack Webb's clipped monotone) rescuing a maiden from a dragon; and "Sh-Boom," a parody of rock'n'roll, with the singer frantically stuffing rags into his mouth while the producer keeps complaining that he can still understand some of the lyrics.
But his fans – including Paul McCartney, Steven Spielberg, George Carlin, Penn Jillette (the talking half of Penn & Teller) and Weird Al Yancovic, all of whom cited Freberg as a major influence - considered his 1961 album, "Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America," to be his masterpiece.
It tackled every hot-button issue of the day, from the McCarthy Red Scare, with Ben Franklin worrying about being hauled up before the Un-British Activities Committee if he signs the Declaration of Independence, to liberal hypocrisy, with the Pilgrims singing "Take An Indian To Lunch Today" ("Let's give in and all do the brotherhood bit/Just make sure we don't make a habit of it.")
The Los Angeles Times called it "the 'Sergeant Pepper' of comedy albums," and every listener poll conducted by Doctor Demento has named it the greatest comedy album of all time.
But I think he reached even greater heights when he went over to the Dark Side and started making commercials for the same corporations he used to make fun of.
Guided by the motto Ars Gratia Pecuniae - Latin for "Art For Money's Sake" - his production company, Freberg Ltd. (But Not Very), turned out adsß for everyone from General Motors to the U.S. Army, including:
Chun King Chow Mein: An unseen announcer intones, "Nine out of ten doctors prefer Chun King Chow Mein" as the camera slowly pans to show ten guys in lab coats and stethoscopes – nine Asian and one Caucasian.
Cantadina Tomato Paste: "Who puts eight great tomatoes in that little bitty can?"
And my favorite, Sunsweet Pitted Prunes: "Today, the pits! Tomorrow, the wrinkles! Sunsweet marches on!"
He used to say, "Hey, folks. This is pizza rolls we're selling, not the Holy Grail." But that wasn't quite true. He once composed a jingle for the United Presbyterian Church that asked, "Doesn't it get a little lonely, out on that limb/Without Him?"

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Ms. Patel's Summer Reading List For Kids

(Above: Ms. Patel reading to students at Redwood Day School)

Once again, by popular request, here's Ms. Patel's Summer Reading List For Kids, courtesy of Liz Price Patel, Head Librarian at Redwood Day School in Oakland:

Grades K-1
The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak
Early elementary kids will roll on the floor laughing when you read this book aloud with them for the first time. As they develop their own reading skills, they will delight in following along.

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin
Fun for dragon experts and novices alike, Dragons Love Tacos is a whimsically and beautifully illustrated picture book about the dangers of feeding dragons spicy salsa.

Grades 1-3
The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock
Opening this picture book biography opens a dialogue with your child about the wonders of abstract art and the day Vasily Kandinsky “invited the world to see the paintings roaring from his noisy paint box.”

The Chicken Squad: The First Misadventure by Doreen Cronin
If you have enjoyed Cronin’s picture books (like Click Clack Moo: Cows that Type), you’ll love this next step in reading. In their first early chapter book misadventure, Dirt, Sugar, Sweetie, and Poppy are on the case to solve the mystery of what landed in the backyard.

Grades 3-5
Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands by Katherine Roy
This nonfiction work is a beautiful combination of science and art. Roy captures the strength and beauty of Great Whites in her illustrations and details shark facts in her clear and poetic text.

5,000 Awesome Facts about Everything by National Geographic Kids
Pages full of fascinating snippets will keep trivia lovers busy for hours.

Timmy Failure series by Stephan Pastis
Kid detective Timmy Failure is the founder of Total Failure, Inc., (Total being Timmy’s polar bear sidekick, of course). Even the most reluctant readers can’t help but laugh out loud while solving these cases.

Grades 4-6
El Deafo by Cece Bell
This autobiographical graphic novel captures universal childhood truths through the eyes of Cece, a girl who loses her hearing just before entering kindergarten.. In her daydreams, Cece’s superhero name is El Deafo; and in real life, the power of her device allows her to hear her teacher anywhere in school. This can come in handy for a girl who really wants to fit in and make new friends.

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm
The Key West backdrop makes this a sweet summer read. Eleven-year-old Turtle finds herself transported from New Jersey to Key West to live with relatives. Set in the midst of the Great Depression, this book brings together the intricacies of family, making new friends, and buried treasure.

Grades 5-8
Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Follow the story of a fairytale harmonica that brings courage and hope to its musicians: Friedrich in Nazi-era Germany, Mike in Great Depression-era New York state, and Ivy in a California Central Valley farming community during WWII. The stories of each child leave off at a cliff-hanger and come together in the end to form a masterful novel.

CHERUB series by Robert Muchamore
It has been hard to keep the CHERUB spy novels on our library shelves. Summer reading should be riveting and fun, and for the action-adventure lovers out there, Muchamore’s teen intelligence agents will do the job.