Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader

By the BRI (Bathroom Readers’ Institute)

If I know anything for sure, it’s that the above title post caused one of two reactions in you:

  1. If you know about the Bathroom Reader Series: “Awesome!”
  2. If you’ve never heard and/or read the Bathroom Reader Series: “Uncle… John’s… Bathroom… No! Just no.”

But hear me out! (If you’ve never tried these books before). They are awesome. Even better, they’re accessible for all ages, and have offerings for all ages.

The general format of any Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader is an assortment of facts, arranged in 1-5 page lengths. I tend to prefer the general books, but there are other UJBRs that specialize on topics such as music, American history, Canada, and so on. There are collections of quotes, wordplay, riddles, stories about Ancient Rome, mythconceptions… the list goes on.

For the people still looking at me really oddly, each book is quite heavily vetted before it goes to print. That doesn’t mean everything is 100% accurate, but no reference book ever is. And yes, this is a reference book, though I don’t recommend ever trying to add it to your bibliography. If you ever wanted to be the King/Queen of trivia, you need to start investing in these books, because there’s no easier way to read then when it’s interesting.

Which brings me back to kids. I first picked one of these up when I was around the age of 11. I don’t remember why, but I’m glad I did. I am now Trivia Queen of Nova Scotia [no citation available], as well as a proud UNBR addict. These books are a great reading tool, especially if your child loves random facts, or you want to encourage them. They’re great to pick up, read for five minutes, put down, come back. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to read them, because there’s no story, no chapters – nothing to follow plot-wise.

UJBRs have been getting longer and longer over the years. My first one topped out around 300pgs, but now they can be closer to 500 or above. Which is great for me, but terrifying if all you/your kid can see is length. Luckily for us, Uncle John has addressed this problem by producing Uncle John’s Did You Know? Bathroom Reader For Kids Only. I think this was the book I recommended the most at Christmas, because it has something for everyone.

This does not, of course, mean that everyone will like it. Facts just bore some people. But if you give it a chance, I think you’ll find it really enjoyable. Don’t be put off by the name – the name is most of the fun! There isn’t even a lot of toilet humour left – they ran out of those jokes about 10 years in.

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The Secret World of Arrietty

I am a huge Hayao Miyazaki fan. I watched his older movies (Kiki’s Delivery Service, Totoro, Castle in the Sky) long before the explosion of awesomeness that was Spirited Away ever hit North American shores. And while I love the newer movies, I admit they don’t hold the same magic touch that they used to. Howl’s Moving Castle is fun, but Ponyo just confused me. His latest offering, a remake of The Borrowers by Mary Norton, had me very excited. I loved the 1997 movie, so add that with my favorite movie maker, and I was right there in line!

I’ll admit up front: I was disappointed again. Not because it was a bad movie; it just confused me.

Having only read synopsis’s of The Borrowers online, The Secret World of Arrietty seems to follow the pattern pretty well. A young boy, Sean, is sent to his Aunt Jessica’s house to rest before a critical heart operation. Meanwhile, small Arrietty is preparing for her first borrowing. You can probably see where this is going, and Ariretty ends up being seen silouetted through a tissue. Having seen a little person, Sean is now intent on finding her and making friends.

Another person bent on finding the little people is Aunt Jessica’s housekeeper Hara. Hara is, to be kind, a few slippers short of a shoe closet. She is insane. Without much/any proof that Sean has seen a little person, she starts to follow and spy on him, trying to catch him talking to a little person. When she discovers a hole in the floor that leads to the Borrower’s house, she traps Homily (the mother) to prove to everyone she’s not crazy. But magically, all the proof she’s collected disappears and she’s left looking certifiable to the pest control operatives and Aunt Jessica.

I have two big criticisms about this movie: one is the relationships the characters have; the second is the pacing.

The character interactions sometimes border on the cartoonishly weird, only they’re not funny (sometimes). Sean is a very deliberate, slow-moving, calm sort of person, but it comes off creepishly stalker-esque when he meets Arrietty for the first time. Pod is strong and stoic and communicates primarily through grunts. Homily is a basket-case of worry, but that seems true to the book, and she’s actually my favorite character. Hara deserves her own special post, I can’t even describe how little sense she makes. And Spiller, who makes two appearances in the movie, is reduced to a caveman, albeit, a caveman who can fly with his magic flying-squirrel cape or…something.

I saw the movie when it was populated primarily with small children. I will give them credit, for a bunch of 6-year-olds and under, they were quiet and engrossed in the movie (except for one little boy in my row who decided that beating up the chair in front of him was more important, but hey! he never talked). This astounded me, because the movie takes a lot of time to show us the boring, mundane tasks of the two houses. That’s not a bad thing, and the movie is set up well. The problem comes when you realize they’ve spent an hour and a half to set up the movie before trying to cram action and resolution into 30 minutes. Homily’s capture and rescue by Sean and Arrietty is really the only tension in the movie, and daddy Pod is missing from the entire act! Deciding the home isn’t safe anymore, the Borrower’s move out, and into another house. This, after the movie spends a good deal of time talking about how there’s a dollhouse built specifically for the borrowers. They never use it. Why?!

Despite how much vitriol I’m spouting, I did not dislike this movie. It has the traditional Miyazaki touch, with beautiful artwork and animation. There’s nothing scary about it (unless you count Hara’s over-the-top villain antics) which makes it good for the kids. They might get bored, though, especially on repeat showings when they realize nothing’s happening.

Go check out this movie. Or even any of the other Miyazaki movies from the beginning if you’ve never seen one before. There’s something in them for everyone, old and young.

Harry and the Terrible Whatzit

By Dick Gackenbach

Who’s never been afraid of anything? If you just raised your hand, I declare you a liar. Or the bravest person on Earth.

Because everyone (yes, everyone) is afraid of something, there are a lot of books out there dealing with children’s fears. Because little minds are so active, they can find terror in everything. That’s not a bad thing, but it can make the basement pretty frightening.

Enter Harry and the Terrible Whatzit. Pair this with Monsters, Inc. and your little one will never be afraid again! Or they’ll shift their fear onto something else – but they won’t be afraid of monsters under the bed!

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