November 20 – National Absurdity Day

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About the Holiday

Absurdity is all around us. It can make us laugh, make us mad, and make us see people and events with a new perspective. Today’s holiday gives us the opportunity to embrace absurdity in all its forms. You can spend the day doing something ridiculous, reading absurdist literature, or maybe listening to the music composed by the subject of today’s book!

Strange Mr. Satie: Composer of the Absurd

Written by M. T. Anderson | Illustrated by Petra Mathers

 

Born in 1866 in France, Erik Satie was a man of contradictions. “‘I was born very young in a very old world,’” he once remarked, and some thought that he never really grew up but always remained “a child with an old man’s smile.” This dichotomy even influenced the kind of music he liked to compose. Even as a child Satie loved music, and as he grew older he wanted to create music that was “both very young and very old, very bold and very shy, that followed no rules but its own.”

Satie liked to combine dissonant styles, such as chants and chorus line tunes. His listeners, with their fancy clothes, impeccable manners, and preconceived notions didn’t understand or like Satie’s “strange” music. On his part Satie found most people frightening and confusing. As a young man he moved to Paris where he made friends. One of his friends took him to a café called Le Chat Noir or The Black Cat. The café, with its resident cat, upstairs theater, and hidden poet’s skeleton attracted poets, artists, dancers, “wizards, and wisecrackers,” who would gather to share their work. Some had invented “luminous hats” while others had “schemes to cover the oceans with cork so they could travel from New York to France.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-strange-mr-satie-listeners

Image copyright Petra Mathers, text copyright M. T. Anderson. Courtesy of Candlewick Press

Satie liked Le Chat Noir. He played the piano and people listened—without laughing, without even moving, just allowing themselves to feel happy or sad or as if they were in a dream. Feeling accepted in this atmosphere, Satie wrote his most famous pieces for the piano—the Gymnopédies. His unusual songs for parties, puppet shows, and other occasions had equally unusual titles: one was called “The Dreamy Fish,” another “In a Horse Costume,” and still another “Real Flabby Preludes (for a Dog).” Instead of the usual instructions composers wrote for musicians, Satie included instructions like “‘On yellowing velvet’ and ‘I want a hat of solid mahogany.’”

One day at Le Chat Noir, Erik Satie “met an artist and model Suzanne Valadon and fell in love with her.” The only problem was that she already had a boyfriend—a wealthy lawyer. Satie simply invited himself along on their dates. Satie made friends, but he also lost them easily due to his terrible temper. He yelled at his friends when they didn’t like his music, when they did like his music, and for many small perceived grievances in between. He and Suzanne fought frequently until she left him forever.

Erik Satie seemed more “like a visitor” on Earth than one of its citizens. His wardrobe consisted of “seven identical grey velvet suits and that was all.” Instead of washing with soap, he used a stone, and his room was so small he had to climb on the bed just to get in the door. By this time Satie was in his late 30s and had never learned the rules of music. He realized that he needed to go back to school. After graduating he took to wearing suits and carrying an umbrella. He looked “normal” on the outside, but his eyes still gleamed with the unique creativity inside him.

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Image copyright Petra Mathers, text copyright M. T. Anderson. Courtesy of Candlewick Press

In 1917 Satie and his friends wrote and performed a ballet called Parade with sets designed by Pablo Picasso. The story of the ballet was dramatic and the music was peculiar—played on xylophones, typewriters, and sirens. The audiences and critics disliked it intensely; it caused fights and insults. Satie even came close to going to jail over his rude response to a critic.

In 1924 Satie wrote another ballet called Cancelled, which featured a movie and a real camel, and became a self-fulfilling prophesy when on opening night the lead dancer actually worried himself sick and the ballet was cancelled. When the ballet opened a few nights later, however, the audience loved it and, finally, Satie heard long-sought applause. Soon afterward Satie became sick and was taken to the hospital. He died on July 1.

Poets, artists, and musicians came from all over to attend Erik Satie’s funeral. They wanted to honor this most unique man who lived life on his own terms and whose music influenced famous composers in the future.

T. Anderson’s honest and entertaining biography of Erik Satie depicts the quirkiness of the composer’s life through well-chosen anecdotes that will have readers laughing, shaking their heads, and empathizing with this man of extraordinary brilliance. While Satie’s personality and creativity made for a topsy-turvy existence, Anderson combines lyrical passages with those of straight narration sprinkled with expressive adjectives and verbs to clearly paint a portrait of this most unusual and influential composer.

Petra Mathers brings to life late 1800s and early 1900s France as well as the unusual music Erik Satie composes. In vivid illustrations Satie is seen mingling with the patrons of Le Chat Noir, joining Suzanne Valadon on her dates, sitting in his small room and classroom, and giving vent to his argumentative nature. As Satie cannot be separated from his music, his pieces are depicted here. Disparate objects—candles, balls, bells, dice, question marks, dominoes, and more—burst out of a piano and into and out of listeners’ ears; a performer in the ballet Parade cross the stage wearing a costume of skyscrapers; and the ballet Cancelled with its smoking canon and live camel results in flower-strewn acclaim.

Ages 6 – 10

Candlewick Press, 2016 (reprint edition) | ISNB 978-0763687755

Visit M. T. Anderson‘s website to learn more about his books for children, teens, and adults. Plus you’ll find videos, interviews, wallpapers, and more gimmicks!

National Absurdity Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dancing-alligator-coloring-page

Really Ridiculous Coloring Pages

 

Have you every seen a frog in a suit or a dancing alligator? Absurd, right? Have fun with these printable Really Ridiculous Coloring Pages!

Frog Coloring Page | Alligator Coloring Page

October 21 – Count Your Buttons Day

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About the Holiday

First designed in Germany in the 13th century, buttonholes revolutionized clothing, bags, and other objects that required closing and inspired a new art form. Designers and manufacturers took buttons to heart, making them not only functional but beautiful. Created from iridescent shells, sparkling glass, bone, and other materials, these little canvases were infused with paintings, intricate carvings, astonishing color, and more eye-catching features. Today, buttons still lend distinction and personality to outfits for all ages.

Button Up! Wrinkled Rhymes

Written by Alice Schertle | Illustrated by Petra Mathers

 

There may be no more outward demonstration of someone’s personality than the clothes they wear. In Button Up! Wrinkled Rhymes kids’ closets become the muse for Alice Schertle’s perky and humorous poems told from the unique perspective of shoelaces, t-shirts, pajamas, hats, and more garrulous garments.

In Bob’s Bicycle Helmet, this protective piece of equipment introduces itself: “Bob’s on his bike / and I’m on Bob. / I’m Bob’s helmet. / I’m on the job.” And even though “Bob skins his elbow. / Bob scrapes his knee. / Bob doesn’t hurt his head— / Bob’s got me.”

In Jennifer’s Shoes her new blue pair “…are learning the ways / of Jennifer’s world: / the way that Jennifer’s toes are curled, / the softness of carpet, / the steepness of stair, / the curve of the rung /  under Jennifer’s chair, / the hole in the heel / of Jennifer’s socks… / We are Jennifer’s shoes, we came home in a box.”

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Image copyright Petra Mathers, courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Before bedtime Joshua’s Jammies are quite adamant about who they belong to: “We are the jammies that Joshua wears, / not jammies for penguins, / not jammies for bears, / not jammies for tigers with knots in their tails, / not jammies for whales…. / We don’t fit iguanas, / we’re not for the gnu, / we won’t suit the llamas / (they never wear blue)….”

Poor Tanya’s Old T-Shirt just doesn’t understand: “I live in a bucket shoved under the stair. / They call me a dust rag! / I don’t think it’s fair. / I’m still the same size as when I was new. / “I didn’t shrink— / it was Tanya who GREW…. / You’ll never, not ever / hear anyone say, / ‘She’s gotten too big, she’s just in the way, / let’s dust the piano with Tanya today.’”

While Rick’s Wool Sweater reveals that Rick wears a t-shirt underneath to be “warm on the OUTside / soft on the IN,”  it also takes a bit of pride in its particular talent: “To tell the truth it tickles me / to be a little prickly, / especially around his neck / and under his chin.”

Other poems reveal the inner thoughts of Bertie’s Shoelaces, Violet’s Hiking Hat, Harvey’s Golashes, Emily’s Undies, Wanda’s Swimsuit, Jack’s Soccer Jersey, Jamelia’s Dress-up Clothes, and a Hand-me-down Sweatshirt.

Just in time for Halloween Clyde’s Costume a gingham sheet is pleased to see that it makes a most distinguished ghost after being taken from the guest room bed and given eyes: “Now I’m ghastly and ghoulish and ghostly, / a will-o’-the-wispy fright. / Pardon my pride, but with Clyde inside, I’m the hit of Halloween night.”

Of course, we can’t forget that today is dedicated to buttons and to celebrate, Bill’s Blue Jacket is thrilled to be lifted off the hook: “Arm in the left sleeve, / arm in the right. / Button up! Button up! Button up / TIGHT! / Snap! Goes the collar / under Bill’s chin. / Everybody holler, / BILL’S ALL IN! / Everybody clap your hands, / everybody shout, / Bill’s got his jacket on, / LET’S GO OUT!

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Image copyright Petra Mathers, courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Alice Schertle brings a joyful buoyancy to the rhythms of her innovative poems, making each as distinctive as the article of clothing and the person who wears it. Her insights are surprising and will give kids a new perspective on their world and the secret life of the clothes they present to it.

Petra Mathers’ exuberant and adorable pigs, moles, alligators, mice, dogs, one cool-dude otter, and one fuzzy-headed ostrich lend the perfect touch of humor and setting to depict the stars of Schertle’s poems. Harvey the pig exuberantly kicks up mud, Emily happily watches her vibrant and fancy undies flap on the breezy clothesline, a drowsy Joshua in his blue jammies says goodnight to his toys, and Tanya’s old pink t-shirt remembers better days while hanging on the edge of her green bucket. Mathers’ beautiful watercolors also portray a cloudy-day ocean, trick-or-treaters heading out at dusk, a refreshingly cold pool, and other landscapes.

Button Up! Wrinkled Rhymes makes a fun story-time read, a great companion at the laundromat, or an entertaining pre- or post-clothes-shopping pick-me-up.

Ages 4 – 7

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015 | ISBN 978-0544022690

Count Your Buttons Day Activity

CPB - Button Coat

Pin the Button on the Coat Game

 

Pin the Button on the Coat is a fun game you can make yourself and play anytime! It’s great for a button-themed party or on any day that you’re holed up and wanting something to do! The game is played like “Pin the Tail on the Donkey,” and the object is to get the buttons lined up as close to the center of the coat as possible. Have fun!

Supplies

  • Fleece or felt of your choice of several favorite colors, 2 pieces of 8 ½” x 11” to make the coat and smaller pieces or scraps to make buttons
  • Fabric glue
  • Scissors
  • Black marker
  • Clothes hanger
  • Clothes pins

CPB - Button Coat II

Directions

  1. Cut out a coat shape from the fleece
  2. Cut out a collar from a different color fleece (optional)
  3. With the fabric glue, attach the sleeves to the edge of the coat, and the collar to the top of the coat.
  4. Let dry
  5. Cut circles to represent buttons from the other colors of fleece or felt, as many as you need
  6. With the marker make dots to represent holes in the “buttons”
  7. When the glue on the coat is dry, attach it to the clothes hanger with the clothespins
  8. Have fun playing!

Picture Book Review