Bad Words I’ve Learned from Kids

When a first grader says, “Johnny called me the F-word!” I now know through careful interrogation it means ‘Fart’. I’ve  learned the same way that the S-word for the playground set is ‘Stupid’. A word so bad that they don’t even want to give it an alternate is what I’ll call the K-word: ‘Kiss’.

At this point, I don’t hear much that surprises me. That said, as the fourth graders were entering their classrooms this morning, I overheard one boy say to another, in a loud and annoyed way:

“It was a metaphor!”

They disappeared before I could learn more. I’ll go to my grave wondering what they were talking about. But it sounds like we now have a new additon to the lexicon: the dreaded M-word.

Hair #2

“Mr. Roth,” a fourth grader said to me today, “What’s it like to be bald?”

“Uh, well…”

“It must be cool,” he said.

I stroked my stylish stubble. “Yes, you think?”

“Yeah. You don’t get any lice or bugs.”

I wish I was making this stuff up.

Invasion of the Micro Aliens

Vampires, zombies, dystopian societies, and now…tiny aliens? Let’s hope so. My latest work is about a ship of micro-travelers that crash into a boy’s thumb. Not exactly the stuff of popular trends, I know – except that David Wiesner’s newly released picture book, Mr. Wuffles, is also about a stranded ship of small aliens! (plus a cat, probably for marketing purposes).

David Wiesner’s books are amazing. I use a number of them – Flotsam, Sector 7, Tuesday – to tie into art projects with my students. Wiesner has also won the Caldecott Medal three times (a record, I believe), so he’s obviously no slacker. I’ve – ahem – actually taken a workshop with him – traded tips, shot the breeze. You know.

Anyway, If Mr. Wuffles is any indication, then maybe I’m on to something. The next big thing! Or maybe I’m just chasing a trend. Or maybe (panic growing)  the trend is nearly over!

In any case, check out his awesome new book. And try not to come up with any conspiracy theories about how Mr. Wuffles (modeled on his own cat) looks almost exactly like my own cat, Moon. There’s not a chance he’s spying on me for ideas.

Or is there…?

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Mr. Wuffles                                                   Mr. Moon

Hair Today…

I have a poster by my classroom door that pictures a bunch of famous artists. The other day a third grader in line turned to me and said, “Mr. Roth, you’re like Picasso.”

I stroked my chin. “Yes? How so?”

“He doesn’t have any hair.”

Before I could speak, another student stepped forward to defend me. “No, look, you’re wrong,” he said to the other student. “Picasso has hair on the sides.”

They studied the picture again. “Oh, yeah.”

They’re lucky I just handed in grades.

Funniest Line Ever

I like to write funny kids’ books. I’d even like to publish one someday. But no matter how funny I am, it’s humbling to know that nothing can ever top the humor of this simple line: “Wooshee gaga.”

“Wooshee gaga” comes on page 20, paragraph two of Ian Falconer’s brilliant picture book, Olivia and the Missing Toy. It is Olivia’s baby brother William’s reply to her query, “WHAT DID YOU DO WITH MY TOY?” He earnestly delivers it with a wide smile.

If you’d like to test just how funny this is, read it to a class of kindergarteners. No matter how much classic literature I introduce to these discerning young scholars – Scieszka, Pilkey, Shannon – “Wooshee gaga” remains the one line that sends them rolling on the floor. Class after class. Year after year. They ask me to repeat it, and I do. And again. And again. Until I’m Wooshee Gaga blue in the face.

Oh, that it would end there. But then, for weeks, months and even years later, I see these same students in the hall or at the bus circle, and a select few always call out to me, “Wooshee gaga! Wooshee gaga!”

I turn and force a smile. “Wooshee gaga,” I’ve learned, is the proper response. They nod and walk on, secure in some secret knowledge.

It really does crack them up like nothing else. I just pray I haven’t started a cult.