Mac Barnett visited, and I’ve accepted the fact that I’m never going to find out what really happened at the end of Sam and Dave Dig a Hole.

We had an author visit last week. Mac Barnett, author of many books and illustrator of a few pages in Chloe and the Lion, flew in all the way from California to speak to my students. It was awesome and for the most part, a very successful author visit. (I’ll tell you about the unsuccessful part in a moment). Mac Loves kids. They love him. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told these past few days that if Mac ever quits writing books, he can just be a stand up comedian.



(Thanks to Nick Watson for that picture.)

Pretty much everything happened that you want to happen at an author visit. The kids were entertained, informed and inspired. I had one kid tell me Friday that he started writing stories earlier than Mac did, so he has a head start. And of course, it will be weeks before you’ll be able to find a Mac Barnett b0ok in my library.

The part of the visit that was NOT successful however, was the whole me extracting the secret of Sam and Dave Dig a Hole thing out of Mac. Before the visit, I wasn’t sure that there was a definite answer to the question. I knew that it was possible that Mac and Jon Klassen, the illustrator, intentionally left clues to try to confuse the reader, and that the answer was that there wasn’t an answer and that it was up to the reader. I didn’t really think that was the case, though. I felt like there was an answer, and I was certain I was going to get it out of Mac.

I’d like to think I waited a decent amount of time before attacking him with the question, but I’m pretty sure it happened within the first five minutes of my meeting him. He just laughed, and told me in the nicest possible way that he wasn’t going to tell me. The way he answered let me know, though, that it wasn’t just up to the reader. He knew the answer, and he was keeping it secret. That did nothing but motivate me further. I thought that maybe if a student asked him, a sweet, innocent little kid, then maybe he’d be more forthcoming, and I knew that my students would ask, because they’d been asking me all year. So, I sat back and waited for one of my students to pop the question.

The first presentation was k3 through first grade. I was disappointed that not ONE student asked him about Sam and Dave Dig a Hole. I think they were just star struck. They asked some good questions, but not the one I needed them to. It’s was ok, though. Either, one of them would ask him one on one as he was signing their books, or the older kids would ask in their presentations, later.

Well, the signing went by and none of the younger kids brought it up.


Finally, during the question and answer segment of the 2nd- 3rd grade presentation, a student asked about it. “What really happened at the end of Sam and Dave Dig a Hole?” I sat up to listen and was amazed at Mac’s ability to dodge a question. Let me tell you guys something. Mac Barnett is an escape artist. He’s one of those people who can not answer a question at all and still make you feel like you got a satisfactory answer. My students say he could have been a stand up comedian, I say he’s a born politician.

My favorite Mac quote of the day came from the non-answer to that question. (I could be paraphrasing here.) “Some books tell you everything you need to know about the story, but I like books that really make you think.” He also let a big bomb drop. He said that he and Jon definitely had an ending in mind that they were shooting for, and that they left clues throughout the book to help the reader figure it out. A kid asked if the ending was a dream, and to me at least, Mac refuted this. He said, “Look at the dog’s eyes. Always look at the eyes in Jon Klassen books. The dog never goes to sleep.” To me, while it may not completely refute the dream theory, it at least tells me that Mac doesn’t think they were dreaming.

Later over lunch, and even later at dinner, I hounded Mac some more about Sam and Dave. (Poor Mac. Can you imagine spending a while day answering the same question over and over again? Well, actually I have a four year old, so yeah. I can. But poor Mac!) We talked about other books too, but I didn’t give up. I knew that if Mac got back on that plane to California, and I didn’t have an answer, I probably never would have one.

Then, over dinner Mac casually mentioned that even his editor didn’t know. I pumped the brakes on the conversation.

Me: “Hold on… Even your editor doesn’t know?”

Mac (laughing): nope.

Me: So how many people actually do know?

Mac: Just two.

Me: You and Klassen?

Mac: Yep. Only me and Jon.

I was defeated. I knew at that point that I was never going to get an answer,and I allowed the conversation to drift to other topics. It wasn’t a total loss, though. At least I was able to find out that 1. There is a definite answer. 2. There are clues in the book that can lead us to that answer. (it will take a wiser mind and a closer observer than me to find it.) and 3. I think we can safely rule out the dream theory. Mac also said at one point during the day that they obviously weren’t falling through the middle of the earth since they ended up in the sky, so the Digging through the World theory is out the window too. I never really subscribed to that theory, but it’s good to cross it off the list.

Anyways, despite my personal failure to extract the secret from Mac, the visit was a resounding success. I’ll leave you with a few of the welcome posters the 4th and 5th graders made.

photo 2samanddavegraciephoto 1 (1)photo 3

Sticky Burp

I was out with a sick daughter yesterday, so I started my work week this morning with a mountain of books piled up on my desk to check in. I started working on these first thing. While I was scanning them all in, a large group of students rushed into the library to check some books out since they hadn’t been able to yesterday. I helped the ones who needed help, but most of them just wanted to browse, so I left them to it, and returned chipping away at my book-mountain.

One of the students started laughing loudly to himself, and brought his book up to my desk.

Me: Did you find a book to check out?

He leaned forward so that his face was really close to mine, and let out a big burp.

Me: Um..gross. What was that for?

Him (grinning): Read the title of the book.


Me: Ummm….I don’t think I get it.

Him (laughing again): It says Sticky Burp!

I checked the book out, and handed it back to him.

Me: I think you need to read that title again.

Him: Oh. Yeah. Sticky Burr. What’s a burr?

I tried to explain what a burr is. Before I was finished though, he told me that he didn’t want the book any more and he placed it, very carefully, on top of my giant pile of books to check back in.

Him: I have to go right now. Our class is going to PE. Can you see if you have any books about actual burps, and I’ll check it out later today when I come back?

Blue Whales in High Demand


This morning, I was reading Billy Twitters and his Blue Whale Problem to the first grade. It’s a pretty good book. In it a boy, Billy Twitters, is given a blue whale from his parents as a punishment for not cleaning his room. He has to keep it and take care of it and as you can imagine, this causes a lot of trouble. I finished off the story by mentioning nonchalantly (I thought) that if any of the students would like a blue whale of their own, they could get a free one by writing to an address on the back of the book, and that they could come see me after story time for the address.


The offer promises the child a whale of their own, if they will write to the address and send  a self-addressed stamped envelope. (for the instruction manual. Not for the whale. Duh. Whales can’t fit into envelopes.)

I watched a video of Mac Barnett’s TED talk last week and in in it, he tells us that if a child sends away for one of these whales, they get an official letter back explaining that their whale is off the coast of Scandinavia, ( or somewhere like that) and that it can’t be delivered at this time, but a phone number is provided where the child can reach the whale. When the child calls the whale, a recording is played of a whale making whale sounds followed by a beep, and the child can leave the whale a message.

I figured that it would be fun if one or two of my 1st graders sent away for a whale, so I casually mentioned it to them. I read them another story, after that and then let them get up to find their books to check out. Usually, it takes them a few minutes to find books, and then they line up at my desk to check out. When I got over to my desk, today I saw that I already had a long line, nearly everyone in the class, and that none of them had books in their hands ready to check out.

“Where are your books?” I asked the first boy in line.

“We aren’t checking out. We’re in line to get the address for the whale.”

I copied the address from the back of the book down onto a sticky note, and handed it to him, while I tried to explain what a self-addressed stamped envelope is. He jumped and waved the sticky note and shouted “Woo Hoo! It’s like I have my own blue whale right here in my hand!”

I copied the address down for the next few kids in line, and then I had an idea.

“You know what?” I addressed the rest of the students in line. “I’m just going to send this address to your teacher, and she can help you write your letters. It can be a class project.”

The line scattered then, and they all found their books to check out. Two students got books about blue whales.

Like we do everyday,we spent the last few minutes having quiet reading time. Several students came up to me to ask me questions. Usually a student will ask me to define a difficult word for them, or they will ask me to use the restroom or to get a drink of water. Today, all of the questions were about whales.

“Do you think the whale will be too big to fit in my house?”

“You don’t think the whale will eat my dog do you?” (I explained that whales don’t eat dogs. They eat plankton and shrimp-like creatures called krill)

“Do whales need water to live, or will they be ok since they’re mammals?”

Not one student asked me if it was true, if they would really be getting a whale. They wanted to believe it, and they did. It always amazes me what a kid will believe if they really want to. That’s one of the reasons it is so fun to read to them or to tell them stories, because for them, anything is possible, even sending away for a free blue whale.

No Time Like the Present

I had the following conversation with a fifth grade girl yesterday.

Her: Mr. Martin, I need a good book.

Me: Let’s find you a good book.

Her: Well, I was thinking of reading Charlotte’s Web. Last year, when I was in 4th grade you told me that was your favorite book when you were in 4th grade.

Me: It was. I loved that book. I didn’t want to give it back to the school library. Have you not read it yet?

Her: No. I never have. Do you think I would still like it even though I’m in 5th grade now?

Me: I do. I also think that if you don’t read it in the next few months, you might not ever.

Her: Why not?

Me: Well, you’ll be in middle school next year.

Her: Why does that matter?

Me: Well, once you start middle school, you’ll start thinking all teenagy. And you’ll probably see Charllotte’s Web as a book for little kids.

Her: I will not be all teenagy. I’m only 11.

Me: Just wait. You’ll see. I’m telling you. If you don’t read Charlotte’s Web soon, you might not ever.

Her: Okay. I’ll check it out.

Me: Sweet. Let’s go find it.

Her (while we’re walking towards the stacks): Is Charlotte’s Web still your favorite book?

Me: Well, it depends on when you ask me. I get excited about a lot of good books, so my favorite book can change several times a month. Right now, though, I’m really excited about you reading Charlotte’s Web. So yeah, right at this very moment, it’s my favorite book.

Her: Okay. Can we find another book just in case I start it and don’t like it?

Me: I guess.

Kid Lit References in How I Met Your Mother

My wife, Ashley, and I don’t branch out too much when it comes to our sitcom watching. We know what we like, and we stick to it. That mainly involves watching all of Everybody Loves Raymond, Scrubs, The Office, Friends and How I Met Your Mother over and over again. When we finish one show, we start another.

A few weeks ago, we finished the last episode of The Office, again. The next night, after we got the kids to bed, I looked at her, and said, “So, what’s next? How I Met Your Mother? We haven’t watched them all since it ended last year.” She shrugged and said, “Sure!” and we settled in for another 4 or 5 month venture.

1. Aggle Flabble Klabble

Last year, Ashley was watching an episode (“Unpause”) of the last season live, without me. I’m not sure what I was doing, but I wasn’t home to see it. When I did get home, Ashley told me, “You missed it! There was a Knuffle Bunny reference in How I met Your Mother!”

“Really?” I asked. There aren’t a whole lot of people out there, that I would call a “hero” but Mo Willems is one of them. I love everything Mo writes, and Knuffle Bunny has a special place in my heart. It was one of the first picture books we bought our son, and he has always loved it. Later, when watching the episode online, I saw that Ashley was right.  Barney gets really drunk and mutters “Aggle Flabble Klabble. Wumpy Flappy Snurp!” before passing out! All Mo Willems and Knuffle Bunny fans would have immediately recognized the exact words frustrated Trixie yells and whimpers at her dad when she’s trying to communicate that she left her bunny at the laundromat.

“Interesting,” I thought to myself. “The HIMYM writers know their kid’s lit. I wonder if there are other hidden kid lit references throughout the series?” That was the first time I thought about it, but it wouldn’t be the last. For the time being, I set the thought aside.

2. The Cockamouse

It came back again a few weeks ago, when Ashley and are were rewatching the “Matchmaker” episode. In the episode, Ted has hired a matchmaker company help find his perfect match with the help of a computer program. As a back story, Lily and Marshall, have a pest problem. Lily thinks it cockroach and Marshall is sure it is a mouse, but at first, they can never get a good view of it. Later they trap it, and discover that it’s some sort of cockroach/mouse mix that they refer to as a “cockamouse.” I’ve always loved the cockamouse idea. I thought it was hilarious, but I never thought much else about it. Near the end of the episode, Ted refuses to become discouraged when the matchmaking company cannot find him a suitable match. He tells them, “Hell, if a cockroach and a mouse can find love in this crazy city, then, damn it, so can I.” That’s when it hit me. A cockroach and a mouse.


In the picture book, Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, Martina is a young, beautiful cockroach searching for her perfect match (just like Ted). She goes through suitor after suitor, finding each of them unsuitable until she meets a mouse named Perez at the end of the story. A mouse and a roach find love in this story, just like Ted said. I turned to Ashley. “Martina the Beautiful Cockroach!” “Huh?” she asked. “The Cockamouse! It’s the child of Martina the Beautiful Cochroach and Perez!” She told me that I was crazy and that it was probably just a coincidence. She may be right, but after thinking longer on it, I’m convinced that I’m on to something. I mean what are the odds that a cockroach and a mouse who aren’t Martina  found each other, fell in love and had a hybrid baby. I mean, it couldn’t happen twice, right? Ted seemed to be making the point that it was so improbable that these two would find each other, and then they did and that meant there was hope for him. I also don’t think it’s coincidence that the cockamouse was introduced in the “Matchmaker” episode, both this episode and Martina are about finding improbable love. Really, the whole show is the plot of Martina. Ted dates girl after girl before finally finding the right one (or two if you count the very end of the show.)

I firmly believe that the cockamouse is not only a very well hidden kid lit reference, but also the direct offspring of two picture book characters worked into the show. Brilliant. That’s what it is.

Well, that discovery got me pumped up, and I went on a HIMYM kid lit finding frenzy. I’m sure there are more out there, that I haven’t discovered, but here’s what I’ve found so far. (remember there are some crass references and crude terms used. Sorry if it offends anyone)

3. Tin Man

In the episode “Okay Awesome” Ted calls Barney “Tin man” because of his silver shirt referencing Frank L. Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. The book is again referenced in “Not a Father’s Day” when Ted and Robin are discussing children and he tells her, “Maybe you could ask the wizard to give you a heart.”

4. Hansel and Gretel

In the episode “Slutty Pumpkin” Robin and her boyfriend dress up as Hansel and Gretel for Halloween.

5. Tortoise and the Hare

In “Best Prom Ever” Barney dresses up like a high school’s mascot, a turtle, to sneak into their prom. It takes him several attempts to get in, and Ted tells him, “Slow and steady won the race” referencing the fable, “the Tortoise and the Hare”.

6. “How Lily Stole Christmas”

This one is pretty obvious

7. The Giving Tree

In “Arrivederci, Fiero”, Marshall’s car bites the dust. He emotionally, refers to his car as “the Giving Tree of cars” referencing Silverstein’s classic picture book.

8. Where’s Waldo

In the same episode, they pick up a hitchhiker dressed exactly like Waldo from the Where’s Waldo books. There’s another Waldo reference much later in the series in “Last Time in New York” when Ted is wearing a red and white striped bathing suit.

9. Phineas Fogg

Is Around the World in Eighty Days a kids book? Well, I have it in my elementary library, and I read it as a kid, so I’ll count it. While Ted is shaving his “break-up beard” his friends call him Phineas Fogg because of his mutton chops. The book is again referenced in “Dopplegangers” when Barney announces his plan to seduce girls from around the world.He calls it “Around the world in 180 lays.”

10. Peter Pan

Barney wears a green suit for St. Patrick’s day in “No Tomorrow.” Somebody calls him Peter Pan. Later, in “The Broath,” we find out that Marshall played Peter Pan in a school play.

11. Pinocchio

There are two Pinocchio references, and both times are in reference to a character lying. Robin in “Woooo!” and  Lily in “The Mermaid Theory.”

12. Are You There God? It’s me Margaret.

“Are you there, Barney? It’s me, Horny.” Barney in “Big Days.”

13. Green Eggs and Ham.

When Marshall says he can beat “a bus or a cab or a train” in “Subway Wars” Robin mentions Green Eggs and Ham.

14. Cinderella

I’m really surprised there aren’t more Cinderella references. I’ve only found one. In “Blitzgiving” Ted compares Zoey to the evil stepmother.

15. Marry Poppins

In “Last Words,” Robin has “vice bag” and it is compared to the magical bag in Mary Poppins.

16. Harry Potter

When breaking up with a boyfriend,  in “Legendaddy”Robin sarcastically mentions leaving to become the next defense against the dark arts teacher at Hogwarts. Marshall also references Harry’s invisibility cloak in “Ring up!”

17. Thomas the Tank Engine

In “Drunk Train” Ted calls the train “Thomas the Spank Engine.”

18. Twilight

In “The Final Page,” Marshall says he’s on “Team Tedward” referencing Twilight.

19. The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings

In “Ring up!” Marshall likens Robin’s engagement ring to the ring of power.

20. Casey at Bat

In “Bedtime Stories,” Marshall is trying to get Marvin to sleep by telling him stories about his friends. The first is “Mosby at Bat” referencing the classic picture book, Casey at Bat.

21. Escape from Witch Mountain

This one may be reaching, but in “Slapsgiving 3″ Marshall asks “Which Mountain?” and Red Bird responds, “Not Witch Mountain.”

22. The Hardy Boys

When Ted was a boy, he had a detective agency, consisting of only himself and he called it the Mosby Boys, referencing the Hardy Boys. It’s mentioned inDowisetrepla” and “Daisy.”

That’s all that I’ve found so far. I’m sure there are more. If you find them, please share them with me, and I’ll add them.

All of those kid lit references might not prove that the cockamouse is really the offspring of Martina and Perez. I think that it is, but there really isn’t proof.

Why all the kid lit references in an adult sitcom, though? Well, there might be some kind of connection between one of the writers and the kid lit world, but I really just think that sitcoms are a reflection of culture, and most of them are full of cultural references of the time. These stories that we all read as children become such a big part of who we are, that there are naturally lots of kid lit references mixed in with all of the Lebron James, Lady Gaga and Mitt Romney references. The stories are such a big part of us, that for the most part, it’s really not that remarkable when it happens.

Worth a shot

Student: Mr. Martin, can you look on your computer and see if it can tell you where my book is?

Me: Sure. What book are you looking for?

Student: The Captain Underpants book. The one I have checked out.

Me: Are you looking for another copy of it?

Student: No.

Me: Well, you already have the one you checked out.

Student: No, I don’t. I lost it.

Me: And you want my computer to find it?

Student: Yeah.

Me: Sorry. It can’t do that.

Student: I figured. It was worth a shot.

Me: I guess.

When your words come back to bite you.

I always tell my students they aren’t allowed to say they don’t like a book if they haven’t tried it. They can say it doesn’t sound like a book they would usually like, but they aren’t allowed to say that they don’t like it. I also, tell that to my 4 year old son about vegetables.

Well, today during my last class of the week, (5th grade) a student approached my desk.

Her: Mr. Martin, I know what book you should read next!

Me: What book?

This particular girl usually has reading tastes very similar to mine and we’ve read several books together these last few years, so I was genuinely eager to see what book she was reading and recommending to me.

She held up the cover.

Me: No.

Her: Oh come on! I read everything you recommend.

Me: But I don’t like tha….

Her: MR. MARTIN, you say all the time that we can’t say we don’t like something if we haven’t tried it. You tell me to be brave and to try new things.

Me: But…

Her: Mr. Martin.

Me: But that guy isn’t an author. He’s a teenage actor.

Her: He is an incredibly talented person.

Me: No. Just no.

Her: Mr. Martin.

Me: Fine, I’ll read it next.

So that’s how it went down. The next book in my to read pile is….


The Land of Stories the Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer. Yeah. The Glee guy. Sigh.

The Top Ten Check Outs of the first semester

Here are the top ten books checked out from my library during the first semester.

10. The Gumazing Gum Girl  by Rhode Montijo



  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days by Jeff Kinney


8. Elephants Cannot Dance by Mo Willems


7. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney


6. Sideway Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar


5. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney


4. The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems


3. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney


2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck by Jeff Kinney


1. Minecraft: Essential Handbook by Stephanie Milton


Guardians or Warriors?

I was just having a conversation with a fifth grader about whether he thought the Guardians of Ga’Hoole or the Warriors series is better.

Him: Hmmm. I can’t decide. Tough question.

Me: Let’s put it this way. If you were going to be stranded on an island and could either take Warriors or the Guardians of Ga’Hoole with you, which one would you choose?

Him: Oh that’s easy. The Guardians. I’m pretty sure the Warrior cats would attack me.

Me:…….I meant which books would you take, not which characters.

Him: Oh..That’s a tough question. I can’t decide.