Groovin’ with Pete the Cat

Children’s books are notoriously hard to get published. Everyone has an idea for a children’s book, and almost all of them will never see a contract. More than 21,000 children’s titles are published every year in the US, by a number of publishers, which is only a dent in the number of actual submissions. Scholastic, the one who haunts school kids with that monthly flier, publishes just 600 books a year, from board books through High School. So when a children’s book is self-published, sells 7,000 copies in its first ten months and is then signed on by major publisher Harper Collins, you know there’s something really good there. And in this case, the really good is Pete the Cat .

If you haven’t read him, Pete the Cat is a groovy large-eyed, laid-back blue/black cat who lives with his mom and dad and his tuxedo-patterned brother Bob. He has a host of friends (Grumpy Toad, Gus the Platypus, Callie, Squirrel, etc) and he loves bananas and surfing. His stories are mostly easy-readers that play to the 2-7 year old crowd, but he is infinitely more interesting than that. Pete is the kind of story you want your child to like, because you want to read more of his stories.

Pete is the creation of James Dean, whose early illustrations wound up as musically or rhythmically-oriented stories by storyteller/musician Eric Litwin. Litwin wrote four of Pete’s adventures (Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons, Rockin in my School Shoes, I Love My White Shoes, and Pete the Cat Saves Christmas). I have to admit, these early volumes are my favorites, and I cannot help but read Pete stories as if he’s a surfer dude. Groovy, man. While Litwin and Dean split in 2011, Dean and his wife Kimberly have written more than 60 Pete adventures, with more on the way. Pete’s adventures range from curing hiccups (Mom knows best!) to sleepover friends who won’t sleep, to shopping in the grocery store and scuba diving.

The actual Pete the Cat

Being an artist was not Dean’s plan. His father was an artist, and he didn’t relish  reliving the struggle. While being an electrical engineer paid bills, art crept into his life more and more, until he began to pursue art full-time. When he adopted a tiny black kitten he named Pete, Pete’s antics crept into his artwork , and a legend was born.

Dean’s success is an author’s dream – self-published, picked up by a real publisher just two years later, a runaway success (more than 7 million copies sold), merchandise deals, and now a TV series on Amazon Prime, with voices by no one less than jazz singers Jason Mraz and Diana Krall (which totally fits, because Pete gives off that groovy chill of a cool jazz cat). They say self-publishing doesn’t pay, but Dean is one of those handful of lucky authors who won that lottery.

While I find some of the titles to be uneven and lacking the lyrical qualities of the bigger titles such as Groovy Buttons, Pete remains one of my current favorite preschool titles, stories you don’t mind reading over and over again, with subtle morals (family, keeping your cool, how to be a friend, sharing, learning, etc) that won’t make you roll your eyes with saccharine. Rock on, Pete!

Cheshire Library has more than thirty Pete titles!  Here are some of them:

Pete the Cat: Rockin in My School Shoes
Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes
Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons 
Pete at the Beach
Pete’s Big Lunch
Pete the Cat: Scuba Cat
Pete the Cat: Snow Daze
A Pet for Pete
Pete the Cat and his Magic Sunglasses
Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes
Pete the Cat and the Bedtime Blues
Pete the Cat Goes Camping
Pete the Cat and the Perfect Pizza Party
Pete the Cat and the New Guy

Photo Tutorial: Sewing a Simple Face Mask

Face Masks are about to be all the rage, and there are all kinds of patterns out there. I’m an experienced seamstress with multiple awards for costuming and quilting, and *I* was having trouble decoding some of those patterns, even the simple ones. They were NOT written by pattern makers, that’s certain.  So when a number of lesser-experienced people were struggling with them, I knew it was time to help out.

Remember the first rule of masks: They will not keep you from getting sick. You need an electron microscope to see a virus; it’s going to go through just about anything, the way a fruit fly goes right through a screen. The purpose of the mask is to keep anything you might leak or spray from getting onto a surface where someone else can touch it, whether it’s flu, sinus infection, or COVID. But the less things we come in contact with, the healthier we’ll all stay right now, especially since many people might have the virus and not know it.

So here’s my photo tutorial on how to make a simple mask, which will increase your chances of not spreading germs to others and possibly keep you from touching your face and bringing other people’s germs to yourself. This is the pattern from The New York Times.

1) You need some cloth – tightly woven COTTON cloth. Not stretch leggings, not Tshirts.  Think a good pillowcase with a 300-thread count (anything above 220 is great).  Batiks are recommended because they have that tight thread count, and are still breathable.

Cotton holds up to high dryer heat, and is bleachable if needed. Polyester won’t. Your fabric must be 9 1/2 by 6 1/2 inches. For a large man, you might need it a little bigger. I tried it an inch smaller in both directions, but it was still too big for my 3 year old.

2) You need a second piece of fabric for the inside. You can use a piece of the same fabric, but this side is going to be against your face, so you might want something soft. You can use flannel – another pillowcase, or an old shirt – or even a piece of kitchen towel.  Same size as the previous piece.

Now, some people are lining these with an extra piece of flannel, or even a piece of vacuum cleaner bag (they are made to filter dust and pollen). If you choose to use them (they come through the wash just fine, just stiffer), cut the piece to the same size.

3) You are going to need 4 ties made of cotton. Why not nylon? Because they shred and rip out. You can use shoelaces, or cotton twill tape, or I used bits of bias tape and seam binding I had lying around. If you don’t have those, you can cut an 18″ strip of fabric, 1″ wide, fold it in half, and sew it closed to make a strap. You will need 4 ties, 18″ long (but 16″ will work if you’re running short).

4) Put your inside/softer fabric on top of it. Put the side you want against your face toward the table, so it’s touching the first fabric. The ugly side should be looking at you. Get your edges even together.

5) Sew the pieces together on one long side, near the edge. If you don’t have a machine, it will take longer, but the steps are the same.

6) It should look like this. I call this seam the top for reference.

7) Open it up. This should be the front you want to see, and the side you want against your face. You shouldn’t see the seam stitching.

8) Take one of your ties and line it up ALMOST touching the top where the fabric is stitched. If you’re using seam binding, or care about it, you want the “nice” or “pretty” side to be face-up. Line it up with the edge of the fabric. I think it’s easier if it goes just a smidge over so you can see it when it’s closed again

9) At the bottom, leave a pinky’s width of space between the tie and the bottom edge of the fabric.

10)  Close the fabric, make a sandwich, smooth it even. If you like, you can pin the ends of the straps in place.

11)  Stitch that side closed, trapping the ends of the ties.

12)  Peel your fabric back on the unsewn side. Place the remaining straps the same way. Pile all the loose ends in a ball in the middle of the fabric so they don’t get in the way of stitching. You don’t want to have to rip it all out to free them, do you?

13)  Stitch side two closed.

14) You should have one open long end. Stitch it partway down.  Stop stitching about a hands-width from the end. You need this part open.

15) Turn your mask inside out now through the hole, so all the ties are free. Poke the corners into shape and flatten it out.

16) Your mask should look like a deflated turtle, flat, rectangular, and with long legs coming out of the corners.

17) But you still have this hole.

18) Fold the raw edges to the inside of the hole until the side is even. Flatten with your fingers, and pin it to hold it. Or just pull it tight and mash it with your fingers until it stays.

19)  Top stitch the hole closed, making sure the folded edges are even with the rest of the side.  Keep stitching  right around the entire thing about 1/8 of an inch from the edge – ie, very close to the edge. This holds the mask’s shape.

20) You should now have a mini-apron with four strings, sewn all around the outside so it stays flat.

21) Pinch the side of your apron, a little less than halfway down.

22) Fold this into a pleat. Squish it so it goes all the way across.

23) Pinch it again from the bottom, so you have two folds, and it makes about three equal rows. Squash it with your hands to make it stay that way, or pin it.

24) Stitch the pleats in place, about a pinky’s width from the edge.

25) Stitch it a second time between the first stitch and the edge.

26) Do the same for the other side.

27) Trim all the loose threads hanging off the corners.

28) Iron those pleats to really set them in and make them crisp.

29) Flap it open. You should have a nice little chin pocket now.

30) You can tie the straps individually or together. I find this one stays best if you hook at least one over your ears. It should fit snugly – if it’s gapping too much, it doesn’t fit well.

These masks are machine washable and dryable, even if you sew an extra liner in them.  Just remember – when you take them off, consider them contaminated. Place them in a plastic bag if you’re getting in your car, and put them straight into the wash when you get home, or leave them in the bag until you get to a laundromat.  You can always spray them with Lysol while they’re in the bag.
Stay Safe! Stay apart!

Spring Babies

Spring is here, and that means baby animals cavorting through backyards. Baby animals are about as heart-warming as mammals can get, and that’s a deliberate act on nature’s part. Round faces, big eyes, short noses, and large foreheads are the hallmark of babyness, and those features are deliberately meant to instill attraction and protection in adults so that we will attach and nurture those babies, ensuring survival of the species. We are genetically engineered to think babies are cute, whether they’re human or bunny. This is the entire rationale behind Persian cats and teacup dogs.

 Dogs and cats we know and love, but what do we do when we find a wild baby animal all alone? They’re no less adorable than that puppy or kitty, and no one on your street has a baby squirrel or fox or raccoon, so why not keep it and raise it as your own?

  1. It may not be abandoned
  2. It may be sick or carrying something harmful (squirrels and prairie dogs carry bubonic plague; groundhogs can carry hepatitis). 
  3. You have no idea how to feed it to keep it healthy.
  4. It’s a wild animal. No matter how much you love it and how tame it might get, the call of the wild is too strong. It will try to return to nature but won’t know how, because it hasn’t been raised with others of its kind. They will not respond to it. Your animal won’t know how to fend for itself, find food, hide from predators, and has a high chance of dying miserably. Or it may attack you, your pets, or your children.

So what should you do if you find a baby animal all alone?

Different animals require different approaches. The best thing to do is just wait, and watch. Some babies are left alone during the day, and mom comes back every few hours to check and feed. Baby bunnies nest in tall grass, so finding them alone in brush is normal. While you shouldn’t randomly handle wild babies, few mothers will abandon them just because you touched them. The mother may not like your smell, but their need to nurture is too strong. 

If you find a bird with no feathers, or the beginnings of them, put the bird gently back in the nest if possible. If it’s fluffy with feathers, leave it alone. Birds mature in 2-3 weeks, and it’s probably ready to leave.

Deer: If it is wandering around and crying, leave it alone. Mom will return. If it’s moving about and distressed, call rescue.

Squirrels: if it’s got a bushy tail and is playing and climbing, leave it alone. If it’s tiny, give mom a chance to find it. If mom hasn’t returned by nightfall, put it in a warm box and call for help.

Fox: If they’re happy and playing, they’re fine. Call for help if they look weak or sickly.

Raccoons and skunks: DO NOT handle raccoons or skunks, as they have a very high rate of rabies. If in doubt, place a laundry basket over the baby and place a weight on top. Mom will flip the basket to get her baby back.

Rabbits: Baby rabbits may be left alone for hours at a time. Mark the spot with an X of yarn. If mom comes back, she’ll disturb the string. 

Possums: if a possum is more than 7” long, it’s old enough to be on its own. If smaller, call for help. Possums are marsupials, not mammals. They need pouches and don’t feed like a “regular” baby. 

Do not attempt to rehabilitate wildlife by yourself. In many cases, it’s illegal to do so. Call the police department, or the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Dispatch  at 860-424-3333, and they’ll send someone out.

For a safer approach to wildlife and animal rescues, check out these books!

Dance Your Cares Away

Dance is one of man’s oldest forms of art and storytelling, with cave painting depictions going back 30,000 years. Dances occur around the world, in every culture. Some were used for storytelling. Others were used for religious purposes. Some cultures had dances for healing, for appeasing Gods, for weather control, for courting, for festivals and celebrations, and entertaining royalty. Dances were used to teach, as social commentary and rebellion, and sometimes as just plain exercise. Dances can be as low key as the Hokey Pokey, or as tightly regulated and choreographed as grand ballet, or worse, synchronized swimming dances. 

Physically, dancing is wonderful for the body. 

  • It burns calories
  • It improves coordination 
  • It promotes muscle strength and flexibility
  • It’s a weight-bearing exercise, so it’s good for improving joint function and staving off bone loss.
  • It’s fantastic as an aerobic exercise to improve cardiovascular function, circulation, and endurance.  Tap dance for just 10 minutes. Try it. 
  • As an exercise, it can help improve mood and increase endorphin levels in the body, making you happier.
  • There is no age limit on dancing – whether you’re one or one hundred, you can do it! 
  • Disability isn’t an deterrent – many forms of dance can be adapted for people who cannot walk.

And dancing isn’t just for women! Plenty of men have been famous dancers – Rudolf Nuryev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelley, Michael Jackson, Gregory Hines, Sammy Davis Jr., John Travolta, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Michael Flatley, and “Gangnam Style’s” Psy, to name just a few.  Dance takes tremendous strength and physical training. Football players take ballet to improve coordination and movement. HipHop is a male-dominated dance field. In ethnic dances around the world, men predominate, from Russian squat dancing to the New Zealand Haka and the Northern Plains Indian Grass Dance, to the Aduma dance of the Masai warriors in Kenya. Dancing, by far, is as much a man’s sport as a woman’s.

If you have to be stuck inside in the winter, why not dance! Throw some fast music on and shake out those winter blues! Throw in a ballet DVD and leap (move the furniture out of the way first!). Or join us for some New England Country Dancing at the library later this month! Don’t feel like moving? Grab a blanket and a cup of tea and check out some of these great books and movies filled with dance!

Saturday Night Fever              A Chorus Line              Dirty Dancing 

The Nutcracker                         All That Jazz                  Billy Elliot

Step Up                                      West Side Story            Oliver!

An American In Paris              La La Land                      Fiddler on the Roof

Swing Time                    Dancer                    A Time to Dance 

Russian Winter             Out Loud               Life in Motion 

The Girls at 17 Swann Street                 Dance in America: A Reader’s Anthology

 

Hope in the Hot Zone

No, I won’t bore you with flu information. Let’s talk about something more deadly.

There have been a LOT of deadly epidemics throughout history. AIDS/HIV has killed 36 million people since 1981, a virus with a 99.9% fatality rate, though after billions of dollars we’re down to “only” 1.6 million deaths per year, world-wide. The 1918 flu epidemic (the same flu you get a shot for, H1N1) killed 20-50 million people in less than two years. The Black Death, that 1346 wave of flea-borne bubonic plague, killed 200 million. Plague, carried in the US by squirrels and prairie dogs, still kills 100 people a year. Another mega-epidemic was the Plague of Justinian in 541, which coincided with a major volcanic eruption – some believe it was an earlier explosion of the famous Krakatoa – and a year with crazy weather and an abundance of misery, killed 50 million. It’s also believed to have been Bubonic Plague. The plague of Antonine in 165 AD, brought back by Roman soldiers, killed 25 million people and might have been either Measles or Smallpox. The entire population of New England plus New York State is 30 million.

In the case of viruses – HIV, Smallpox, Measles, Flu – those numbers were due to germs released on a population that had little to no immunity. Measles has been around for millennia, but viruses mutate. Mutations are accidents during reproduction – like the first case of left-handedness, or blue eyes. Viruses can reproduce rapidly inside a cell; if they multiply every 20 minutes, and if you expect one accident every 1,000 generations, that’s 1600 mutations every eight hours. Some mutations can render a virus or bacteria weaker. But sometimes, they become more dangerous.

Like Ebola.

I don’t know why, but I’ve read almost every book by anyone who’s worked on Ebola. The Hot Zone is one of my favorites. So of course, along comes Richard Preston and writes another book on the most recent outbreak of Ebola, a disease that, untreated, has a 90% fatality rate, and a 40% rate if treated with supportive care (let’s not forget, Smallpox had a 30% fatality rate. Yeah, maybe before your time, but that’s why there was such a forced vaccine campaign to eradicate it.) Ebola is extremely contagious – just one particle, out of the billions spewed by each victim, can be deadly.

In his new book, Crisis in the Red Zone, Preston begins with the 1976 outbreak,  then covers the 2014 outbreak, so you can see just how far medicine has come in those 40 years, from reusing the same needle without sterilizing it to PCR breakdown of the genetic code of Ebola. Six strains have been identified; the new one, Ebola Makona, is four times more deadly, the result of just one mutation swapping one single amino acid.

Why should Ebola bother you? As Preston reiterates time and time again, if the countries where Ebola is endemic cannot handle an outbreak, imagine Ebola getting loose on a subway in New York, by a person who gets off in Grand Central, and then walks to a play on Broadway, even though they’re feeling a bit feverish and coughing. They’ve now infected several thousand people, who will infect several thousand people, who will get on planes and fly around the world, spreading the virus very rapidly, to major cities with crowded airports. The risk is entirely too real, on medical systems not the least bit prepared to handle it – there are barely 400 Level-4 isolation beds in the ENTIRE US. (And yes, in the last epidemic, Ebola DID make it to the US, all the way to Texas, where it killed two people. )

However, there is now hope – ZMapp was the first antibody-driven treatment for Ebola, taking a victim literally in the process of their last breaths to walking around *in one hour*.  And yet, two new drugs with the unimaginative names of REGN-EB3 and mAB114 were found to be better – bringing a death rate of 90% to a survival rate of 90%. There has also been the creation of an Ebola vaccine, which is 97% effective. Preston chronicles the moral and ethical dilemma of these developments – you cannot have trials in people because of the fatality rate of the disease, and in giving an unknown treatment to people who already have a 50% chance of living, you may kill them with the “cure”. How do you give informed consent when no one knows what the drug will do? And who do you choose to give a possible cure to?

Read the book. It’s got all the angst of a good murder mystery, the joys of survival, and medical miracles on top. If you live on Earth or do business here, you really need to be aware of these things.

Wash your hands and check out some of these other awesome books on viruses!