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Posts Tagged ‘children’

Civilization Was a Crust

June 22, 2015 | by

Konigsburg Book Cover

From the cover of Frankweiler.

Long before museums were pandering to callow visitors bearing selfie sticks, they were trying to attract young people the old-fashioned way. Any big collection worth its salt has had some sort of children’s guide for decades now: museums encourage kids to look for dogs and cats in Dutch tavern scenes, giving them Bingo-style checklists, colorful maps, and bits of trivia. (Fact: pointillist paintings are made up of lots of little dots.)

The Met has always had an especially good kids’ program, and one indication of this is how enthusiastically—and diplomatically—they embrace the classic E. L. Konigsburg novel From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. For the uninitiated, though I suspect there are few of you: this book chronicles the exploits of the Kincaid siblings, who run away and hide out in the Metropolitan Museum. There, they sleep in a sixteenth-century bed, bathe (and fish for coins) in a fountain, and, into the bargain, solve an art-world mystery. Read More »

Losing Count

April 16, 2015 | by

“Eeny, meeny, miny, mo” and the ambiguous history of counting-out rhymes.

Cedar-Central

A Works Progress Administration poster for the Cedar Central Apartments in Cleveland, Ohio, ca. 1936.

Eeny, meeny, miny, mo
Catch a tiger by the toe
If he hollers, let him go
Eeny meeny miny mo

“Eeny meeny miny mo” is one of those rhymes that’s ingrained in our cultural limbic system—once we hear the first two syllables, the rest unspools whether we want it to or not. No one knows what eeny or meeny might mean; everybody knows what “eeny meeny” means. It turns up in strange places: in Pulp Fiction, in the Great Vermont Corn Maze, in Justin Bieber songs. But where did eeny meeny come from? Kipling tells us that “Eenee, Meenee, Mainee, and Mo / Were the First Big Four of the Long Ago,” but that’s not such a good lead.

What we do know is that once Eeny Meeny appeared on the scene, it was everywhere. In the fifties and sixties, the formidable husband-and-wife folklorists Iona and Peter Opie recorded hundreds of varieties in England and America, including, to name just a few: Read More »

New Words

April 8, 2015 | by

1000px-Ambidextrie.svg

Sometime in the third grade, a girl in my class began to claim she was ambidextrous. Previously, this girl had said she wanted to be a marine biologist. She also claimed to have athlete’s foot. This girl was a pretentious liar.

In fairness, marine-biology ambitions were all the rage that year. We were just moving beyond the easy descriptor stage; it was no longer enough to want an occupation you could identify from a Richard Scarry book, such as baker, doctor, or fireman. Now people wanted to be not just teachers but middle-school teachers, not just football stars but running backs—ideally, our choices conveyed an element of mystery and worldliness to the other kids. Still, generally speaking, our ideas for future careers were about as complicated as those you see in contemporary romance novels, where the heroines have easily explained jobs that seldom seem to interfere with the business of being a glamorous grown-up. Marine biology, with its vague hints of tropical waters and dolphins, seemed like a perfect career path for both the frivolous animal-lover and the committed scientist. None of us was sure what it entailed. Read More »

Wittgenstein, Schoolteacher

March 5, 2015 | by

What the philosopher learned from his time in elementary-school classrooms.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, who knew how to sully a chalkboard with the best of them.

Every philosophy major has at some point had to answer the standard challenge: “What are you going to do, teach?” It’s especially frustrating after you realize that, for someone with a humanist bent and a disinterest in worldlier things, teaching is a pretty good career choice. Unemployables in the humanities might take comfort from the fact that one of the twentieth century’s greatest philosophers, Ludwig Wittgenstein, made the same choice. He revolutionized philosophy twice, fought with shocking bravery in World War I, inspired a host of memoirs by people who knew him only glancingly—and for six years taught elementary school in the mountains of rural Austria. Biographers have tended to find this bizarre. Chapters covering the period after his teaching years, when Wittgenstein returned to philosophy, are usually called something like “Out of the Wilderness.” (That one’s from Ray Monk’s excellent Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius. The next chapter is called “The Second Coming.”)

By the time he decided to teach, Wittgenstein was well on his way to being considered the greatest philosopher alive. First at Cambridge, then as an engineer and soldier, Wittgenstein had finished his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, at once an austere work of analytic philosophy and—for some readers, Wittgenstein apparently included—an almost mystical experience. In it, he claimed charmingly and not without reason to have solved all the problems of philosophy. This was because of the book’s famous “picture theory of meaning,” which held that language is meaningful because, and only because, of its ability to depict possible arrangements of objects in the world. Any meaningful statement can be analyzed as such a depiction. This leads to the book’s most famous conclusion: that if a statement does not depict a possible arrangement of objects, it doesn’t mean anything at all. Ethics, religion, the nature of the world beyond objects … most statements of traditional philosophy, Wittgenstein contended, are therefore nonsense. And so, having destroyed a thousand-year tradition, Wittgenstein did the reasonable thing—he dropped the mic and found a real job teaching kids to spell. Read More »

The Junket-Eater

February 26, 2015 | by

junket

An illustration from Junket Is Nice.

New York Review Children’s Classics has reissued so many wonderful forgotten texts: novels and picture books and nursery rhymes and even the occasional cookbook. But for my money, none is weirder than Dorothy Kunhardt’s 1933 Junket Is Nice.

The prolific Kunhardt is best known for Pat the Bunny, but long before Daddy’s scratchy face was even a twinkle in her eye, the author was animating a far more sinister beard: that of the mysterious Junket-Eater. The plot of Junket Is Nice is as follows: a fat man with a Rasputin-like red beard sits at a table consuming a massive bowl of junket (“a delicious custard and a lovely dessert”). This intrigues everyone; the people come running to view the spectacle. Between gulps, the Junket-Eater challenges the populace to guess why, precisely, he is eating this enormous bowl of junket. They put forth ever-sillier hypotheses, to which the Junket-Eater screams, “WRONG!” for all the world like a red-bearded John McLaughlin. And then a little boy stands up and tells truth to power: “JUNKET IS NICE.” For which effort he receives SOMETHING NICERead More »

Hard and Fast

December 1, 2014 | by

Don’t ask. (From the V Squared ad.)

If, by any chance, you read the print edition of the Sunday New York Times, as I did around two in the morning, perhaps you, too, were arrested by the full-page advertisement on A23. 11-YEAR-OLD, TWIN ROCKERS, VITTORIO AND VINCENZO OF V² SWEEP LOS ANGELES MUSIC AWARDS! blares the headline. There are seven accompanying photographs. “V² rocked the Avalon Theater, leaving no doubt that they owned the night and their 7 nomination categories,” reads one caption. “Standing ‘O’ for Vittorio and Vincenzo, 11-year-old superstars!” says another. The picture is of a bunch of grown-ups; one of them is sort of standing up. 

The text is laid out like a news story:

Rock N Roll history was made by Santa Rosa, CA home grown rock sensations, Vittorio and Vincenzo of V² (pronounced V Squared). The boys, who only started playing music a few years ago at Rock Star University, Santa Rosa, became the youngest artists to ever perform at the Los Angeles Music Awards, thrilling the sold out crowd of Hollywood celebrities, music industry executives, and music fans lucky enough to secure a ticket to see these future Rock N Roll Hall of Famers perform. Vittorio and Vincenzo did not disappoint.

Who are these future rock-and-roll hall of famers? Who are their parents? What’s Rock Star University—and who had they beaten out for LA Music Award domination? Naturally, I switched on my phone to find out. After all, by this hour, I assumed, this weird vanity project would have at least put a dent in the Internet. Read More »

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