Monday, March 30, 2009

In the Coop with Kenn Nesbitt

Poetry Month is almost here, and to kick it off we thought we'd feature a...journalist! No, no, no. Not a journalist. Don't be silly. We're featuring a poet, of course. And not just any poet--a fabulously funny poet, our favorite kind! When he's not penning poems, Kenn is probably talking to kids about poetry. He does over 60 school visits a year, a truly impressive feat. Please welcome Kenn into the coop!

Tell us about your hilarious new book, My Hippo Has The Hiccups.

Oh my gosh... I'm so excited I can barely stand it, for so many different reasons. Ethan Long's illustrations are just wonderfully whimsical, and I'm so lucky he was able to work on it. This is also the first book where I've gotten to include an audio CD in the book. I had a blast recording and producing it. Oh, and it's my biggest collection of poems to date; over 100 poems about every silly thing under the sun. I'm tickled that it's finally out.

How do you know when what you write is funny?

If it's really funny, I crack myself up. It's fun, if a little bit strange, to make yourself laugh. But, even then, it's not always as funny to other poeple as I think it ought to be. Sometimes I miss the mark. So, after I finish writing something, the first thing I do is run it by my kids, Madison and Max. They're 9 and 11 now, and they are the toughest critics. If I can make them snicker, I know I'm on to something. Then I put it on my website and let my readers grade it. If a poem doesn't get top marks, it's not going to get published.

Do you have any tips for writing funny books?


Has being funny ever gotten you into or out of trouble?
Perhaps just now, when I answered that last question. Aside from that, being funny has gotten me into trouble on at least one occasion that I can recall, but I'd rather not go into it. I mean, why bore your readers with an embarassing story of me cracking a joke at a completely inappropriate time only to have everyone glower at me as if I'd just tooted in church? As for getting OUT of trouble, I rely on "puppy dog eyes."

What are some of your favorite funny books?

Oh, that's an easy one. The funniest books I've read in the last couple of years are M.T. Anderson's Whales on Stilts, and Mary Amato's Snarf Attack, Underfoodle, and the Secret of Life: The Riot Brothers Tell All. The Riot Brothers series, by the way, was illustrated by Ethan Long, who also did the drawings in My Hippo.

Who do you like more, the Marx Brothers or Three Stooges?
Marx Brothers, hands down. Don't get me wrong, Larry, Curly, Moe, and Shemp -- wait... isn't that four stooges? -- were geniuses of physical comedy. (And "Shemp" is such a brilliantly funny name. Is it too late to change my name to Shemp?) But Groucho, Harpo, Zeppo, and Gummo were masters of both physical and intellectual comedy. I don't think anyone ever accused the Stooges of being witty. So, yeah I prefer comedy that gets you in both the belly and the brain.

Clown Vs. Mime Deathmatch. Pick your winner.
Thanks for all the slow-pitch softball questions. I love the easy ones. I mean, mimes are annoying, but clowns can be downright evil. The last time I went to the circus, I saw clowns that I would NOT want to tangle with. Besides, clowns run, jump, and do cartwheels, while mimes move in slo-mo. My money is on the clown.

Funniest dead person you'd ever like to meet?

Do they have to still be dead when I meet them? Could we bring them back to life and dust them off a bit first? If so, I would love to exhume, er..., spend an afternoon with a humorous Victorian poet such as Edward Lear, Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll), or W.S. Gilbert (of Gilbert & Sullivan) to see what makes them tick. Sure, maybe they're not as funny as Charlie Chaplin or John Belushi, but I expect they'd be more fun to have lunch with.

What is your Dream Job for a Day?
I know I'm supposed to say something like President or Rock Star or International Spy -- and that last one does sound pretty tempting -- but those jobs seem like they might be too much work (or too dangerous)! In truth, I'd think I'd really like to be the guy that brings you the drinks with the little umbrellas on some white, sandy beach in the South Pacific. I like working with happy people, and I'm pretty sure that everyone is happy while lying on a white, sandy beach in the South Pacific, having drinks with little umbrellas brought to them. In fact, could we make that my Dream Job for a Week or Two?

You do a lot of school visits! Can you tell us a little something about your program?
Well, let's see... I run around like a maniac and show kids how to write ridiculously funny poetry about sports, pets, food, space llamas, or anything else they want to write about. I yell a bunch of poems, crack jokes, and show them how much fun they can have with a book. I love my job! It is insanely fun to perform for hundreds of kids and have them laughing themselves completely silly. They seem to like it too.

National Poetry Month is almost here! Do you have a favorite poem you'd like to share in honor of it?

I have lots of favorite poems, so I'll just share this one, from My Hippo Has the Hiccups. It's not one of my funnier poems, but it just seems so apropos for National Poetry Month.

Today I Wrote This Poem

Today I wrote this poem,
but I wonder if it's good.
It doesn't have the things
my teacher says a poem should.

It doesn't share the feelings
I have deep inside of me.
It hasn't any metaphors
and not one simile.

It's missing any narrative.
Alliteration too.
It isn't an acrostic,
diamante, or haiku.

There's nothing that's personified.
It doesn't have a plot.
I'm pretty sure that rhyming
is the only thing it's got.

It sure was fun to write it,
and I think it's long enough.
It's just too bad it's missing
all that great poetic stuff.

I put it on my teacher's desk
and, wow, she made a fuss.
She handed back my poem
with an A++++!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Cow that was the Best Moo-ther

The Cow that was the Best Moo-ther
by Andy Cutbill
illustrated by Russel Ayto
Random House

ISBN-13: 978-0061664724
Daisy is a special cow. A VERY special cow. At least to her mother, Marjorie. Since the day Daisy hatched from an egg, she has been the apple of her mother's eye. And what's not to love? She's feathery, funky and fun-loving. The perfect bovine!

Of course the other cows are quick to point out that Daisy hasn't even started chewing her cud and she is suspiciously small for a cow. None of that matters to Marjorie. She loves Daisy with all her heart and is determined that Daisy win the Beautiful Baby contest in the barnyard. Daisy, however, is far too busy bouncing around with the chickens to care about the contest. Luckily, Daisy's true talents shine through when she spies a worm on the judge's hat and saves the contest from calamaty.

Of course, Marjorie isn't the only one to love Daisy. We know Three Silly Chicks who fell in love with the crazy little cow from the start. We said it then and we'll say it again: Silly, Sweet and Succinct. What more could we want in a picture book?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Patricia von Peasantsquirrel

Patricia von Pleasantsquirrel
by James Proimos
ISBN: 978-0803730663

Can we let you in on a little secret? We are worried about the mailman. We wonder if his memory is slipping. You see, we've been waiting for a long time now for a very special delivery--our crowns and invitations to be princesses in a distant land. We eagerly check the mail each day and bupkiss. So we were delighted to read about another Princess-in-Waiting (and waiting and waiting . . . ) named Patrica von Pleasantsquirrel.

Patricia is definitely a princess, but nobody seems to realize it. Her mother won't let her stay up late or have cake before dinner. Her brother is fussy and even her dog disappoints by not being a great white stallion. Really. It's simply too much for the royally-inclined to endure. So, Patricia flies off in her airplane to the land where the hippos are, because as she says, "If a silly boy with no social graces would be king with no effort at all, then imagine how easy it would be for me to find my princessdom!" Exactly!

Patricia finds her princessdom and loves it! Until she finds out about her 230 princessly duties. Who knew it could be such hard work being a princess! This sassy, fun book will be a hit with kids (and parents) who enjoy a bit of Sendak before bed and a bit of cake before dinner.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy Birthday Julia!

We Silly Chicks pride ourselves on being refined and literary poultry. But when one of us has a birthday, we throw out the Thoreau, ditch the Dostoyevsky, and say "What the Dickens, Let's party!" This week is Julia Durango's birthday and she has been working very hard. So, join us in wishing our dear chickie a very Happy Birthday!

Here's a little birthday song for you, Miss Julia! And because the only thing funnier than singing chickens is singing monkeys, here's another and yet another! And because we have no idea what this thing is, here's one more!
Wishing you a very Happy Birthday and many, many more!!!!!!! Love ya!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Illinois ASCD Statewide Conference


We want to give a great big shout out to all the friends we made today at the 28th Annual Illinois ASCD Statewide Conference for Pre-Kindergarten & Kindergarten Educators!

We had a blast presenting a collection of our favorite funny books to share with preschoolers and kinders. Special thanks to the fabulous volunteers who helped our sessions run so smoothly and to Donald Kachur, Bev Taylor and all the wonderful folks at Illinois ASCD for having us!

As promised, here's a list of the titles we presented:

365 Penguins
by Jean-Luc Fromental
Illustrated by Joƫlle Jolivet

ISBN-13: 978-0810944602

Cha-Cha Chimps
by Julia Durango
Illustrated by Eleanor Taylor
Simon & Schuster
ISBN-13: 978-0689864568
Teacher's Guide

Doctor Ted
by Andrea Beaty
Illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre
Margaret K. McElderry
ISBN-10: 1416928200
Teacher's Guide

The Doghouse
by Jan Thomas
ISBN-13: 978-0152065331

Ducks Don't Wear Socks
by John Nedwidek
ISBN-10: 0670061360

I Love My New Toy!
by Mo Willems
ISBN-13: 978-1423109617

My Dog is as Smelly as Dirty Socks
by Hanoch Piven
Scwartz & Wade
ISBN-13: 978-0375840524

New Socks
by Bob Shea
Little Brown
ISBN-13: 978-0316013574

Not a Box
by Antoinette Portis
ISBN-13: 978-0061123221

Where's My Mummy?
by Carolyn Crimi
Illustrated by John Manders
ISBN-13: 978-0763631963
Teacher's Guide

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Duck! Rabbit!

Duck! Rabbit!
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Chronical Books
ISBN: 978-0-8118-6865-5
Has this ever happened to you? You're walking down the street and you think you see an eskimo but you're wrong. If so, you've experienced an optical aleutian. Optical aleutions are funny. Optical illusions are also funny. And so is Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld.

Is this is a simple tale of ears or a beak? Is this a duck eating bread or a rabbit nibbling a carrot? Each double page spread shows essentially the same image of the creature with objects added to change the perspective. Kids will have great fun debating whether it's a duck or a rabbit. This book is a topsy-turvy delight.

(Personally, we think it's an altogether new beast probably related to the jackalope or turducken. But no matter if you call it a duck, a rabbit, a duckit or a rabbuck, you'll call this book fun!)