June 24, 2016

Behold the glory...of the Imaginary Obstacle Course!

Mike Hutchinson is a middle school teacher in Massachusetts. He saw an activity called "Imaginary Obstacle Course" in Bart's King-Sized Book of Fun, and encouraged the kids in his book club to try it.

And they did!

In this video, a contestant periodically stops and gets instructions for the next leg of the course. Ah, and here's the passage from the book itself:


Man, there are so many good obstacle course ideas my
head is spinning. But the one thing ALL courses have in common is that contestants are timed to see who gets through fastest, right?
In an Imaginary Obstacle Course, competitors probably won’t make it through at all. That’s because they will have to overcome obstacles like the Whirling Ninja, the Kiddie Pool of Death, and the Bottomless Pit, which are all pretty dangerous. 
But luckily, they’re also imaginary. 
First, decide what imaginary obstacles you want your course to have. You may want to use a rock or branch or some other marker to show where you imagine an obstacle to be. As you walk through the course, draw a basic map showing where and what each obstacle is. (Example: “Here’s where you have to walk a tightrope over burning coals. Then you have to crawl like a soldier, etc.”) 
The key to running an Imaginary Obstacle Course is to do it where other people can see you. This could be in a park on a sunny day or near a field where a soccer game is underway. 
As your contestants go through your course, they may look a little eccentric to any onlookers. This is good! Half the fun of this obstacle course is how kooky it looks to outsiders:
Onlooker: “Why is that boy yelling and acting like he’s being hacked by swords?”
You: “He tried to crawl between the legs of the Whirling Ninja ... and failed.”
Onlooker (confused): “Oh.”
If you run into imaginary trouble doing this obstacle course (and you will!), don’t worry. You don’t have to finish! Plus, it might give you a chance to use lines like this:
Go ahead . . . keep going . . . without me. I tried my best *cough weakly* but now I feel death's breath upon my brow. Tell Mom I love her. But don’t tell my brother anything, because I can see him over there sticking his tongue out at me.” 
Choosing a winner isn’t necessary, but if you insist, it could be whoever does the most incredible acting job or whoever attracts the most onlookers. 
(Or you could just say EVERYONE’S a winner, except anyone who actually finishes the course!)

June 17, 2016

Hold the hometown presses! (Okay, you can let them go.)

I grew up in a small, Northern California town called Sebastopol. My childhood there was basically pretty fantastic, though I maybe didn't appreciate that fully at the time.

Anyway, as I wrote The Drake Equation, I drew upon my experiences there. And now that the book's out, I'm glad to see that my hometown newspaper, The Sonoma West Times & News, has run a story about it! The rest of the article is after this screen grab:

 While King has already written several funny nonfiction books for younger readers, The Drake Equation (grades 3-8, May 10th) is his fiction debut. The story is a humorous adventure about a young birdwatcher named Noah Grow. It is set in a fictionalized version of Santa Rosa intended to resemble the Sebastopol of King’s childhood.

Noah’s search for a wood duck leads to a string of outrageous events, and the boy is swept up in a storm of middle-school mayhem and intergalactic intrigue. Aliens and peanut butter are key plot elements. Yet for King, the story isn’t a complete flight of fancy.

“As a 4-H member in the 1970s, I built nesting boxes for wood ducks in the Laguna Wetlands Preserve. Admittedly, I didn’t see any extraterrestrials back then, so perhaps a return trip is in order.”

Working for Disney was a new experience, though. “People understandably ask if the story will be turned into a film,” said King. “And while it’s extremely unlikely, my editor at Disney had worked with Rick Riordan (of ‘Percy Jackson’ fame). So I have that going for me.”

After attending Twin Hills School and Analy High School (class of 1980), King earned a teaching credential from Sonoma State University. During his first year teaching in Petaluma, he met his wife, El Molino High School graduate, Lynn Wassink.

“Due to irreconcilable similarities, it seemed inevitable that we’d get married,” King said. “So we did.” King was teaching at Brook Haven School when Dark Horse Comics in Portland offered Lynn an editing job, so the couple moved to Oregon.

It was while King was teaching that he began his first serious attempts at writing. “As a teacher, I was always distressed by reluctant readers,” the author said. “I was convinced that it was just a matter of getting the right books in their hands.”

King’s attempts to find a book irresistible to even the most jaded student led to his writing The Big Book of Boy Stuff (2004). The book combined the sensibility of MAD magazine with the contents of an activity book, and it became a hit with young readers. “I knew we were onto something when the book reached #5 on Amazon’s overall bestseller list,” King said.

King continued writing funny nonfiction books for young readers and “immature adults,” the most recent title being The Big Book of Superheroes (2014). But for the moment, fiction—and Sebastopol—are at the forefront of his mind. “I’m grateful I got to grow up in a community as charming as Sebastopol,” he said. “My hope is that The Drake Equation both entertains the reader and serves as an homage to my hometown.”

June 13, 2016

Want to read some puns? OF COURSE YOU DON'T

After the surgeon removed the faulty heart valve, the med students gave her a standing ablation.
"Why's the foreign ambassador meeting our highway commission?"
“He's trying to negotiate a turn.”
When I hear thunder, grape vines always reassure me. (There’s nothing like a safe arbor in a storm.)
Is there a store that specializes in prosthetic limbs for the extremely elderly? If so, I hope it's called “Your Last Leg.”
If you want to stay on Little Miss Muffet’s good side, you'd better stay out of her whey.
“Aren’t you worried woodpeckers will damage your new wood sign?”

“Not really — my spelling has always been impeckable.”

June 9, 2016

Setting: A distant solar system.

“We’ve just received a transmission from Earth — and holy mother of Shizno, what IS that?”

“It appears to be an ad for something called ‘pizza’.”

“The horror! Shall I mute further transmissions from this planet?”

“No, this requires a stronger response. Prepare the attack fleet!”

June 6, 2016

True Story!

I recently got this email:

“Sadly, the Drake Equation was stolen from me. It was in my car when it was stolen. [The car was subsequently found, but the book was gone.] I hope the perps enjoy it! They also took a stuffed mountain goat.”
(I mailed her a new copy.)