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Dan Coleman

Reading Across the Galaxy with Adam Rex

Road trips don’t get much stranger than the one 11-year old Gratuity Tucci must make, accompanied by a soap-eating alien named J-Lo, in this year’s Read Across Lawrence for Kids title, The True Meaning of Smekday.  But author and illustrator Adam Rex, whose “divinely demented” sensibility has entertained children and adults alike for over a decade, rarely stays on the map.

Rex, who will join us via Skype on February 27th to crown a month of events we’ve put together with the help of KU Libraries and the Friends of the Library, recently answered a few questions about his book, free copies of which will be distributed (along with pizza, but not soap) to kids at the kickoff party on January 30th.  Read More..

Interview with Stephen T. Johnson

A working wrench, screwdriver, and pencil are not commonly found in children’s books, but the versatility of artist and Lawrence resident Stephen T. Johnson is reflected in his classic My Little Red Toolbox, an object which bridges the gap between book and toy.  Each day, thousands view his sculpture “Freeform,” located on the southwest corner of 6th and Massachusetts, and in places like the DeKalb Avenue subway station in Brooklyn, or Love Field Airport in Dallas, his work offers color and energy to thousands more.  But he may be best known as an illustrator of children’s books, from the dynamic realism of the basketball players in Hoops, to the intriguing found images of Alphabet City, which received a Caldecott Honor, and its companion, City by Numbers.  Johnson blends beauty and text in a title published this year, Alphabet School, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about his life and work when he stopped by the library recently.       Read More..

Face the Nation

“What about this: a tribe of asparagus children, but they’re self-conscious about the way their pee smells.”  Whenever I happen to catch the movie Elf around Christmastime, I relish this line from a scene depicting a roomful of publishing wonks desperate to get to the top of the children’s bestseller list.  Read More..

Read Them All, You Must

Inevitably, I hear the same four words when I talk to parents of grown children: “It goes so fast.” Parents with kids just a few years older than my own, when asked for tips on common problems, rarely muster more than “I can’t remember.” I draw a blank myself when I think back on how my wife and I handled stuff that happened just last year. “It’s a blur,” say newbie and veteran parents alike, and there’s no better word I can think of to describe this mysterious sensation of amnesia and accelerated time.

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The Tao of Another Now

This fall Amazon will release an original series adaptation of The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick’s classic depiction of a postwar world ruled by the Nazis and Japanese. Hearing this, I headed for the basement to track down my old copy, a paperback on the inside cover of which I had scrawled my name and “1995,” the year I read it. Read More..

Walking with a Pilgrim

Several weeks ago when I took my two young kids to Clinton Lake to hit one of their favorite playgrounds, we inadvertently stumbled onto a riotous scene.  Read More..

About a Boy

 On the tail end of a warm, windy afternoon last month at Lyons Park, my 4-year old son, who had been running the bases on the ball fields there for 45 minutes, reached a familiar point of no return, triggered by his frustration that I was unable, at the moment, to continue trying to tag him out with an invisible baseball.  Reason being, my 2-year old daughter, whose idea of fun doesn’t have much to do with imaginary plays at the plate and “real baseball dirt” swirling into her eyes, had reached her own point of no return just moments earlier.  I was close to a meltdown myself as I shuffled over the mound through the screams, trying to conjure a little inspiration from a vision of big league pitchers struggling on up here without their best stuff.

Usually at times like this I look for humor in the situation, but that wasn’t working today, even though at the same time my son was pretending to be Eric Hosmer, he was also wearing his little sister’s Minnie Mouse sweatpants—pink with white polka dots and a long black mouse tail attached in back—quite tight in the seat and three inches too short for him at the ankles.  It would be a few more hours until I could cure myself of the weariness and frustration of the afternoon.  Kids put to bed, my wife and I watched a DVD from the library that shifted my perspective and transformed my dusty funk into a sense of wonder, as if I had been able to zoom out and glimpse a big picture view of family life akin to one of those images of Earth from space.   Read More..

Fail Better

Curious George and I got off on the wrong foot.  One of my earliest memories is an epic tantrum I threw at age four when my parents returned home from a trip bearing the gift of a stuffed monkey, when what I really wanted was a G.I. Joe (and yes, I’m so old I mean the kind that was a foot tall).  These days, Curious is curious as ever, in large part due to 2008’s Will Ferrell-voiced feature film, and the PBS television reboot, which airs every morning in these parts around the time my own 2- and 4-year olds are doing their utmost not to get dressed, brush their teeth, eat breakfast, or any other of the morning requirements that distinguish humans from the lesser primates.

Like Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony, Transformers, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Curious George is riding a wave of resurgent popularity, as Gen X and Y parents introduce old favorites to their own kids.  But I suspect I’m not alone in my frequent disappointment with new versions of old shows, and in sometimes finding even the originals not quite as cool as they were when I was five. Read More..

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10 Things You Never Knew about Sesame Street

Long-lost but familiar books, games, and toys can be a revelation when re-experienced through the eyes of children, and one of the most amusing reunions I’ve had in recent years is with the people and puppets of Sesame Street.  The library is a great place to find anything Sesame Street, from classic picture books like The Monster at the End of This Book, to songs like “C is For Cookie” and “I Love Trash”.  Among my favorites are DVD compilations of the animated shorts dedicated to specific letters and numbers my sister and I always used to call “commercials.”  They hold kids as spellbound today as they did when first broadcast, and it turns out my sister and I weren’t far off the mark, since Sesame Street’s creators, who hoped for the first time to harness the educational potential of catchy 1950’s and ‘60’s advertising jingles, called them commercials, too.  Read More..

Dictating History

The stereotypical 20th century office secretary—taker of dictation, orderer of flowers for the boss’s wife, getter of coffee—was a silent participant in whatever glory or tragedy befell her employers.  Such secretaries rarely found themselves subjects of historical interest, except perhaps in studies of the marginalization of women in the workplace, and characters like Mad Men’s Peggy Olson have portrayed the heartbreaking limitations of the job with an empowered twist hopefully more reflective of today’s female labor force.  But in two of the best movies I’ve seen recently, real life secretaries quietly performing their duties became involved in the most momentous historic events of the last century. Read More..

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