Chester’s Way

by Kevin Henkes, c1988.

WHY

There are two reasons why I pulled this book off the shelf.

First, Kevin Henkes is great and I had never seen this title before.

Second, “Chester’s Way” sounds like the name of a cul-de-sac and that amused me.

I had names on my mind today because at work we have a Guess the Royal Baby’s name thing going on the whiteboard.  At the top it says “Prince or Princess ______________ of Cambridge” and below is a list of names.

I wrote up “South East” to mock Kim Kardashian and Yeezus naming their baby North West.  Also “Princess South West of Cambridge” sounds like how you would differentiate two towns named Princess in the English countryside.

I also added “Charles Augustus Lindbergh III” to the list because apparently I am obsessed with Lindbergh baby references as you can tell by my mentioning him in two consecutive posts.  I blame Philip Roth.

Other guesses included:

Leia

Honey Boo Boo

and a Doctor Who reference I didn’t get because I never get Doctor Who references.

Apparently the baby will actually be named Elizabeth or John.

Probably.

Maybe.

WHAT

Henkes introduces us to Chester a type A mouse like no other.  Actually scratch that, unlike most of Henkes other very unique characters Chester is in fact just like another.  Chester and his bestie Wilson are practically clones.  They have all the same preferences, habits and idiosyncrasies. They are two peas in a pod.  This really went against my expectations.

Usually I don’t go for this type of set-in-his-ways character but right off the bat, on page two, I found out that Chester cuts his sandwiches on the diagonal.  After that Chester could do no wrong in my eyes.

Even when I found out that Chester and Wilson never swing at the first pitch (which is a ridiculous philosophy I have spent hours of my life arguing against, often to the point of raised voices, with both my father and grandfather) I was still decidedly on their side.  Diagonal sandwich cuts trump first pitch nonsense anyday.

But then I got to roughly the middle of the book and found a montage of different couples Halloween costumes that Chester and Wilson had gone out in over the years.  Salt and pepper shakers, etc.  One year they even went literally as two peas in a pod.

Now Chester and Wilson were just starting to make me jealous.  Couples Halloween costumes!  Somehow this book had veered off course and started to just make me feel extra super duper single.  I hurriedly turned the page.

Right then Lilly moved into the neighborhood!  Finally some new blood to shake up this type A bromance!  I know Lilly from other Henkes books but Chester and Wilson get to meet her for the first time here.  I’m not going to ruin the ending but suffice it to say I was back on board with all Chester and Wilson ( and Lilly’s) life decisions by the time I shut the book.

Diagonal sandwiches for life.

WHO

The writers for that show Two Guys a Girl and a Pizza Place should read this book.  This is how you write a tripod friendship.

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Chester’s Way by Kevin Henkes

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Chang and the Bamboo Flute

by Elizabeth Starr Hill, pictures by Lesley Liu, c2002.

WHY

I am notoriously bad at birthdays.  Not all birthdays.  Just my own.

Other people’s birthdays? Love ’em!

My own?  You probably want to avoid me.

This year one of my favorite co-workers gave me a small square pot of “Lucky Bamboo” shooting up through a bunch of rocks.  No  birthday card or anything to denote that I am older than I was a day ago (even though this is ALWAYS true every single day) just a bright green burst of bamboo.

The bamboo is beautiful in a surprising way.

Each morning for the past week or so since it arrived the bamboo has taken me by surprise.  I’m not sure why.  I just forget it’s there and when I see those lush green chutes and waxy leaves reaching up toward the sky (er industrial drop ceiling) it makes me feel like the first time I saw the trees lining Westminster Abbey’s aisle for Will and Kate’s wedding.

I never would have bought bamboo to place on my desk.  But now it looks not only like it belongs there, but that it has always been there and should always be there.

Anyway, all of this to say I chose today’s book by typing “bamboo” into the catalog.

WHAT

This book has almost nothing to do with bamboo. There are no birthdays in it either.

The story is about a mute boy named Chang who finds a way to help his family after a devastating flood.

As a child I struggled with selective mutism.  Elizabeth Starr Hill’s representation of a mute child as a smart and empathetic character not just a target for the reader’s sympathy made the little silent girl inside me so happy!

WHO

Arthur “Boo” Radley would like this book.

Boo probably reads a lot.

(I have always imagined that Boo Radley is an avid painter.  I think of him behind those curtains painting idyllic scenes of Maycomb County with strange additions.  Like Godzilla climbing the court house or the Lindburgh baby hanging from a cradle below Jem’s treehouse.  One of my favorites is his portrayal of Napoleon doing a double take  as he strolls past Miss Maudie in her garden, you know Napoleon would notice a fine woman like Miss Maudie.  But it’s probably more likely that Boo just reads a ton.)

Chang’s heroism would be appreciated by a fellow social outcast like Boo.  They both are under-appreciated and down right misunderstood by members of their community, but that doesn’t stop Chang or Boo from caring about those around them.

Let’s hear it for silent heroes!

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Chang and the Bamboo Flute
by Elizabeth Starr Hill
pictures by Lesley Liu.

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Tuesday

David Weisner, c1991.

WHY

Because it’s Tuesday.

WHAT

Six words and three time stamps. A story told in images.

WHO

Writer’s block?

Open this book and write the text for each page. You’ll never write the same story twice and I guarantee you’ll come away inspired.

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Tuesday by David Wiesner

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What Do People Do All Day?


Richard Scarry, c1968.

WHY

Pete Holmes said “I don’t understand any occupation that can’t be described in [that] Richard Scarry book” and I immediately became nervous that my occupation was not mentioned in said book and that I had somehow failed at something.

Although familiar with Richard Scarry’s work through his confidently named Best Story Book Ever and of course The Busy World of Richard Scarry, I had never encountered this particular book. And based on my recollections of Huckle’s obsession with fire fighters and Lowly Worm’s aviation hobby I became increasingly worried that my career choices would not be up to snuff according to their preferred level of excitement.
Also adding to my dread was the fact I couldn’t even remember that girl cat’s name, or any girl character’s name for that matter except “Mama”.
I sped the last quarter mile to work hoping a copy was checked in.

WHAT

The first time I paged through this book I did not find a librarian anywhere.

Fail.

The second time I scanned through the book more carefully I became indignant.  How could there not be a library in this incredibly detailed description of Busytown?  The first page included a poet, a story writer and a book printer!  So where do all the books GO Mr. Scarry?

I read about the traumatic experience that lead to Huckle’s obsession with fires as he was trapped and subsequently saved from the upstairs playroom by a brave firefighter who tossed him out the window onto a net.  I learned about how Jason, the mason and Sawdust, the carpenter built Stitches, the tailor’s house. I felt betrayed by my favorite character, Lowly Worm, who after being absent for the entire book finally appeared frolicking in the flour mill under the heading “Where Bread Comes From”.  I am (recently and reluctantly) Gluten Free.  Yet still no sign of a librarian.

In disgust I slammed the back cover closing the book on the masses of giant fluffy baguettes, dinner rolls and loaves of white bread being devoured by Lowly and Able Baker Charlie and what did I find?

Finally!
Success!
Validation!

In the middle of the back cover a sign that read PUBLIC LIBRARY!
And sitting in the window as a patron fox leaves with an armful of books was a little grey cat in a blue dress and white collar with a serene look of confident wisdom on her face.  She doesn’t have a caption that says “a librarian” under her like the “ditch digger” does on page 2 but atop the library it says “Veritas” and she’s looking directly at the reader.

We all know who she is.

WHO

Don Draper needs to read this book.  It was published in 1968 so Gene Draper probably has it on a shelf somewhere in the Francis mausoleum.  Don is at a crossroads and needs to find a new direction.

“Creative Director” and “Advertising” are not mentioned anywhere in What People Do All Day but that’s okay because neither is “Whorehouse”.  He might want to skip over the “Where corn comes from” section lest he be reminded of his miserable father and that horse kick that changed everything.  But otherwise I think this book could be just what Don needs to spark his second career.

As an added bonus if Don sits down and reads the book to Gene then perhaps Draper child number three won’t be as screwed up as those lost causes Sally and Bobby!

Chalk it up as a win.

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