Miss Honey Is Wonderful

We want to welcome you all to Matilda Week, and nobody is more welcoming than Miss Jennifer Honey. As children we adored this kind-hearted teacher who recognized each child as a full, complex and important person. As adults, we are even more touched by Miss Honey as a survivor of a traumatic childhood who keeps her soft heart after years of abuse. She is a lesson in tenacity, warmth and loveliness. Miss Honey is wonderful.

Miss Honey Is Kind And Soft
Miss Honey: so softspoken, she sits to speak to the class.

Miss Honey: so softspoken, she sits to speak to the class.

 

Fact: I adored my third grade teacher Ms. Cuthbert so much that when she invited her students to go to her wedding ceremony, I actually showed up. I sat near the back of the church with my parents and saw my teacher become Mrs. Hibbard. I watched in awe as one of my favorite teachers walked down the aisle in a gorgeous, puffy, 1993 gown, and wasn’t embarrassed at all to be there. Mrs. Hibbard was delightful, fun, and kind, but strict when she needed to be, and that’s exactly what you want in a teacher, and a teacher who will impact your life forever.

That’s what Miss Honey is. She truly cares about her kids as if they were her own, when she definitely doesn’t have to, especially given the environment of Crunchem Hall. She is so invested in her students and makes sure they are actually learning not only what was in their textbooks but about life itself. And she does it in a way that makes you feel like she’s more of an older sister, rather than an authoritative figure, making you more prone to listen and heed her instructions. She’s the kind of person that gave so much of herself to her class that she, too, would invite you to her wedding, and would give you a wink as she passed you while walking down the aisle.

Miss Honey Is Lovely

One day this summer I woke up from a dead sleep, thought “Miss Honey is my summer style inspiration,” wrote it down and went back to bed. I was right to think that. Miss Honey wears classic pastel dresses, understated makeup and has a non-dated hairstyle. Miss Honey is the teacher who keeps a tissue under her watch and that is so wonderfully specific. At one point in the movie she wears the best tortoiseshell glasses, although Book Miss Honey wears them all the time. Dahl never gets detailed about Miss Honey’s wardrobe, but I think the movie nailed it: she’s the kind of person who looks lovely first because it makes her happy to look nice, and second so that the children see that coming to school and teaching them matters to her.  Miss Honey has a “lovely pale oval madonna face with blue eyes and her hair was light brown.” It’s not so much important that she’s objectively pretty, but that the kids think she is — don’t you remember being 5 or 6 and thinking your favorite teacher was just the prettiest person in the world?

During the blog meeting where we discussed Matilda Week, we watched a clip of toddler Matilda making her own breakfast and pouring a glass of juice. Then they got to the moment when Matilda places a tiny flower in a vase and I think a scientist could have pinpointed the exact moment when both of our hearts broke (that’s what scientists do, right?). There was something so poignant about this little forgotten child not just surviving without help, but also making space for the little things that make life beautiful. I feel the same way when you learn about Miss Honey’s cottage: she has less than she deserves, but the lengths she goes to to make it neat and pleasant tell you a lot about her character.

Miss Honey’s house is “like an illustration in Grimm or Hans Anderson.” It is incredibly tiny and the water comes from a well outside. There are overturned boxes for chairs and a little camping stove to cook on. I used to imagine it would be like living in a child’s play fort. The cottage is less bleak in the movie, but both versions show that Miss Honey knows how important it is to find bits of loveliness in an ugly world. She also decorates her classroom with students’ artwork and bright colors, even though she has to hide it when the Trunchbull comes into the room – it’s that important for her class to be surrounded by loveliness.

More about Miss Honey's cottage here.

More about Miss Honey’s cottage here.

Miss Honey Treats People Like They’re Important

When I was 8 years old, I read Matilda and wanted to be the main character. Not so much levitating objects, I just felt positive that I was special and there was simply no Miss Honey to notice it. I devoured adult classics like Matilda did, but in hindsight I was, admittedly, ordinary. Except, of course, no child, no person, is ordinary. Miss Honey knew that intuitively and it influenced the way she treated every child in her classroom. If you look back and think of your very best teachers as a child (or your favorite babysitter or aunt or librarian), that is probably a quality they had: they looked you in the eye and saw a light that might not have been brighter or more beautiful than anybody else’s, but it was yours. Miss Honey notices that Matilda is unusually intelligent almost instantly. But she isn’t that teacher who only cares about the smartest or the most challenging pupils. Miss Honey writes easy words on the board for the more “average” kids and warns the whole class about the upcoming weekly test with Trunchbull. As they say in the movie, she “appreciates each child for who he or she is.” Miss Honey recognizes Matilda’s strengths not just as supernatural abilities, but as character traits that will help her throughout life: “It’s wonderful you feel so powerful. Many people don’t feel powerful at all.”

 

Miss Honey Is Stronger Than Her Past

Miss Honey is a survivor of trauma and lifelong abuse, and against the odds, she is much bigger than the worst things that have happened to her. After the deaths of her parents, Miss Honey lives under the control of her cruel aunt – the Trunchbull. It’s chilling how perfectly Dahl describes the invisible chains of an abusive relationship: “I became so scared of her I used to start shaking when she came into the room.” “Over the years I became so cowed and dominated by this monster of an aunt that when she gave an order, no matter what it was, I obeyed it instantly.” “I was by then so dominated by my aunt to such an extent that I wouldn’t have dared [leave.]. You can’t imagine what it’s like to be completely controlled like that by a very strong personality.”

Here’s where I get amazed. Miss Honey wanted to go to university and was only allowed to go on the condition that she come home early every day to work for her aunt. When she graduated, Trunchbill docked her pay because Miss Honey “owed” her for the expenses of her childhood. Miss Honey finds a house and rents it on 10p a week and leaves, while still working in her aunt’s school because she loves to teach. Her past makes Miss Honey’s smaller moments of bravery, like confronting Trunchbull about Matilda’s grade level or approaching Matilda’s parents, nothing less than astonishing. It frames all of her qualities – kindness, appreciation of beauty, empathy for her students – not as traits, but as CHOICES that she has made and worked for and cultivated. Most of us aren’t born with extraordinary gifts like Matilda, but the idea that anybody can live a life of kindness and beauty after surviving such darkness — that is the real magic in Matilda.

 

It’s the 90s: Let’s All Decorate For Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day season, I guess!  Valentine’s Day falls into one of my favorite holiday subcategories: a Snack Holiday. A Snack Holiday is almost a normal day, except there are themed snack foods. Snack Holidays don’t require gift exchanges or elaborate meals, which are entirely optional. Other Snack Holidays include Halloween, Fat Tuesday, St. Patrick’s Day, and maybe Lincoln’s Birthday if you swing it right. Snack Holidays are closely related to, and sometimes overlap with, drinking holidays: Mardis Gras (Fat Tuesday + booze), Independence Day, St. Patrick’s Day. I love them all!

You may be thinking that Valentine’s Day is NOT a Snack Holiday because presents and fancy meals are obligatory. However, except for a few couples I know, most people leave these big celebrations behind in their early twenties. You wouldn’t think so, but it’s actually pretty great being single on Valentine’s Day in your late 20s. Most of your friends who are dating, engaged, or married have been together so long that they aren’t into big, amateurish displays of affection. Most of them are spending the holiday ordering a pizza and seeing if there’s anything good on Netflix. Yes, except for a brief interlude from the ages of, say, 15 to 25, V-Day is a Snack Holiday we can all enjoy.

For those of us who grew up in the 90s, our concept of Valentine’s Day as a Snack Holiday was established in our classroom parties. So in this holiday edition of Let’s All Decorate, let’s take it back and decorate that classroom, why don’t we?

Beanie Babies

In the height of the Beanie Baby craze, there’s a good chance your teacher displayed seasonal Beanies on her crowded desk, probably next to the cold cup of teacher’s lounge coffee. It was one of the few attempts at teacher coolness that actually sort of worked, except that you gave her a bit of side-eye for displaying a “rare” holiday Beanie Baby on her desk without a tag protector or clear plastic coffin.

Shoebox Mailboxes

I’m going to go ahead and call this the most highly-anticipated busywork of the year. Sometime before your Valentine party, the teacher would bust out a stash of shoeboxes she had saved from every pair of sneakers, loafers and boots that she, her husband, and her children had bought for the past year. “Wasn’t it nice of her to save those JUST FOR YOU?”…  Is a thought that never occurred to me as a child because children are selfish little dirtbags. You would cover the shoebox in plain paper, then decorate with stickers, crayons, and if your teacher was exceptionally chill about classroom mess, some glitter.

The mailboxes served a triple purpose of keeping the Valentines neater than they’d have been in a pile on your desk, concealing who received which Valentine (although you had to give one to every kid, so whatever), and filling up a solid half hour of post-lunch time on a day when kids are bouncing off the walls.

Note: if your teacher’s children didn’t go through as many shoes that year, you may have decorated manila envelopes that you taped off the edge of your desk, instead.

A Bulletin Board Or Door Display Where Every Kid’s Name Appears On A Heart

Sounds really specific, right? But these were actually universal as chicken pox (Stuff 90s Kids Remember: Chicken Pox). Things have gone more high-tech now, but back in the day teachers used to spend a ton of time cutting out construction paper shapes and writing all of the kids’ names on them. How do I know? My mom was a teacher in my school… and she outsourced a lot of it to me. I stapled a whole lot of solid construction paper backgrounds and bulletin board borders in my youth.

For teachers’ sake, I shudder to think what the Pinterest Industrial Complex has done to V-Day bulletin boards.

For a true 90s experience, names should be: Justin, Ashley L., Ashley B., Matthew, Jessica, Sarah, Dave, Katie, Chris, Kristin, and Kevin.

An Art Project Where Things Are Made Out Of Hearts

A tree made out of hearts, a bee made out of hearts; a dog made out of hearts, a frog made out of hearts; a wiggly heart-shaped creature made out of hearts. The heart is a versatile shape, and nobody knew that quite like the elementary school teachers of the 90s. There was probably a wall somewhere during that party that was decorated with the childrens’ heart-shaped crafts. Gotta develop those fine motor skills!

Tissue Paper Suncatchers

Yet another example of letting the kids decorate for their own darn party, if it was Valentine’s Day, and it was 1993, and you were 7, there’s an excellent possibility that these were hanging in your window filtering those February afternoon sunbeams.

TREATS TREATS TREATS TREATS

The above “treats” should be read like the thumping bass of EDM music, because when we were children, Valentine’s Day treats were our molly (although I’ve always really been my own Molly). Favorite V-Day treats in the 90s included, but were not limited to:

  • Rice Krispy Treats with heart-shaped sprinkles in them – OR cut into the shape of hearts if the mom making them didn’t’ mind waste.
  • Jell-o Jigglers shaped like hearts, because Bill Cosby meant something different to us then.
  • Heart-shaped Little Debbie “snack cakes” which were the same as the Christmas-tree shaped ones you had two months before, except that I always suspected that the heart ones were a tad bigger.
  • Sticky, gummy heart-shaped brownies, also from your friends at Little Debbie, courtesy of a kid whose parents didn’t have time to make anything.
  • Punch made with fruit juice, Sprite, and sherbet, especially if the party was right at the end of the day and the teacher wouldn’t have to deal with you much longer.
  • Candy Hearts. Obviously.
Valentines!

 

 

This is where you let your interests fly – and Kid Code required that you act cool about what the other kids handed out, not making fun of the kid who picked a movie nobody had liked for two years. A few favorites:

Mama From ‘All-Of-A-Kind Family’ Was Some Kind Of Genius: C+S Book Club

Sweep out the sukkah and check the china shepherdess for buttons, because it’s time for another edition of C+S Book Club! Rather than lamenting that Amy March is a total bitch, or revealing that Marilla Cuthbert was, in fact, a creepy church hag, today we’re going to talk about someone who is better than you and I could ever dream of being: Mama from Sydney Taylor’s All-Of-A-Kind Family. Mama was so clever and calculating that I almost wanted to call her an evil genius, but she was also the kindest, most chill mother in RL-4 chapter book history.

Look. I don’t have children. But I did read that one book about how our children would be classier if we raised them like French children, and I’ve seen some episodes of SuperNanny, which is a show about how our children would be classier if we raised them like British children from 1905. Plus I’ve read those articles that Facebook friends post about why children shouldn’t have technology and fast food, as well as those other articles that Facebook friends post about why children should have technology and fast food. And let me tell you: not a ONE of those so-called experts had anything on Mama. Case in point: her dusting scheme.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then chances are you didn’t read All-Of-A-Kind Family. If you did read it, the dusting ploy is seared in your memory along with chocolate babies and that time Henny got lost in Coney Island. (FREAKING HENNY, am I right?) The chapter was titled Dusting Is Fun, because it was 1951 and Sydney Taylor didn’t really have to try (honestly, what was her competition in children’s entertainment? The show Lassie. That’s it.). By the end of that chapter you, a grubby-faced 90s kid wearing a t-shirt decorated with puff paint, wished you were an old-fashioned child in the Lower East Side dusting for free. And for fun. That is how powerful Mama’s dusting plot was.

Ready for the scheme IN ITS ENTIRITY? Hold on to your pinafore. Mama hid buttons around the front parlor. By the way, their house only had like 4 rooms and one of them was a parlor used strictly for fancy decorations and pianos, that’s how high-class Mama was. Okay, so then the dusting girl had to find all of the buttons while she was dusting. Also Mama got straight-up sneaky with it, like those buttons were under table legs and piano keys. You had to DUST. IT. UP. If you found all of the buttons, you had done a good job dusting.

All right, let’s talk about the genius parts of this plan:

  1. The girls never knew how many buttons there were. Say you’ve found 5 buttons. You couldn’t just call it quits at that point, because maybe there were 9 buttons that day. You had to dust every damn thing, and only then could you be sure you had all of the buttons.
  2. Mama kept it fresh. Sometimes she’d bring out the buttons a few times a week, and sometimes she’d wait two weeks because what did she care, she had those little dusting girls under her spell and they would WAIT FOR IT. They’d wait for those buttons.
  3. In case you missed it, the prize was that you had done a good job dusting. Mama raised her kids to want to do a very good job at something because it feels good to know that you’ve done a very good job. Mama quarantined four children with scarlet fever in a spotless 4-room apartment during Passover; she knew that you didn’t get a ticker tape parade every time you did a damn chore.
  4. But Mama was the best ever because one week she hid a penny every day. Judging by how much candy the girls could buy for a penny, it was basically a dollar. Do you know how great it is to find a dollar when you’re cleaning? Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte and Gertie sure do.

Mama wasn’t all dusting and parlors, though. She also was really good looking. The girls introduced her to the Library Lady and they were so proud because even though she had, at the time, 5 children, she didn’t look like the other women in the neighborhood: “like mattresses tied about the middle.” Which admittedly sounds harsh, but you know exactly what they mean. I’m sure they’d all love Mama just as much if she were a lumpy mattress-lady, but the point is Mama had a whole bunch of kids and her figure and outfits were still on point.

While Mama enforced rules, she was lenient when it mattered. When Sarah made that big fuss about not eating her rice soup that one day, Mama stuck to her guns, but once Sarah had a few bites of the gross congealed soup she let her move onto something more appetizing. (I loved re-reading that chapter, because it so reminded me of when you’d get stubborn about something or throw a fit as a kid, and you wouldn’t even know why you were doing it, but you couldn’t will yourself to stop.) And when Gertie and Charlotte used their pennies to buy candy and crackers and ate them in bed, Mama played it like she had no clue, just because it makes kids feel smart and important having a secret.

The All-Of-A-Kind Family was medium-poor. They were second generation-ish Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side in 1912 long before their neighborhood became some sort of real estate holding for foreign billionaires. However, Papa had a scrap shop and they lived on one floor of a house instead of in a crowded tenement, so they were doing pretty okay. Mama was really good at being medium-poor. She was frugal where it counted, but she still allowed for splurges like a trip to Coney Island, or a treat when they went to the market.

If I can have one quibble about Mama, it’s that she finally had a boy and she named it Charlie. Look. One of my favorite real-life little boys is named Charley. It’s a great name. PLUS Adult Charlie from the book is such a cool grownup. You spend the whole time hoping that he and the Library Lady will meet and hit it off and … well. You know the rest. (Also: another post about the Library Lady, maybe?). So it’s great that Mama names a kid after him. It’s just … Mama. Did you forget you already have a Charlotte? She’s going to have so much Middle Child Syndrome. On the whole Mama picked good names – Library Lady even said! – so I can’t be too annoyed. And at least she didn’t name him after Uncle Hyman.

Library Lady = the Miss Honey of this series.

If I have kids, I’m going to skip the parenting guide telling me to make my children be more French. I’ll bypass the naughty step. I’ll steer clear of the Facebook click-bait. As far as I’m concerned, the best parenting guide there is this one weird old chapter book with no real plot. If I am even 1/10th of the benevolent evil genius Mama is, I think my kids would turn out just fine.

 

When Heaven Was A Scholastic Book Order

“Take one and pass the rest back.” In elementary school in the 1990s, those seven words were the key to every bookworm’s dream world. It was a Friday afternoon, your teacher didn’t care anymore, and you had 15 minutes to leaf through four very filmy pages of the Scholastic Book Order — which was like the Sears Wish Book for a very specific type of kid.

When I think back on it, the whole thing was so 90s, and not in that cute fake way of tumblr fashion blogs.  We had to mark the books we wanted in pen, copy the order numbers onto the form on the back, and then ask for a check from our parents. An honest-to-goodness CHECK, like they probably have in history museums now.

In hindsight, the whole system seems fraught with error and it almost feels like a miracle that any of us got the books we asked for. But one day a few weeks later you’d spot those Scholastic boxes in the front of the classroom, and sure enough there was the 3-pack of Ella Enchanted, Catherine Called Birdy, and The Witch Of Blackbird Pond, just like you ordered. I imagine this trio was called The Future NPR Listeners Sampler, or the Someday You’ll Own Cats Club Pack.

The real Cadillac of the Scholastic order was the club subscription (usually located on the back page, lower right, if memory serves). You’d get a new book every month and a pointless academic accessory like a pencil topper. Pencil toppers were cool then, okay? They were like the iPhone covers of 1996. Plus there were special bonuses, like a cassette tape featuring an interview with Ann M. Martin if you joined the Baby-Sitters Club Club (I assume it had a better name, but honestly maybe not). Let that sink in for a while. Before internet,if you wanted to learn about an author who wasn’t in the encyclopedia, you had to fill out a paper order, send a check, and then listen to an audio cassette.

Ann M. Martin had cats too, by the way.

The Scholastic order was also the number-one source for hot celebrity gossip, full of Unauthorized Biographies With 8 Pages Of Full-Color Photos. Sure, children these days have celebs’ actual Twitter and Instagram accounts at their fingertips, but back then it was enough to read that JTT’s favorite dessert was apple pie a la mode, or that Tay, Zac and Ike share a bedroom.

Doesn’t it feel like just yesterday that you were reading those factoids? Well, Tay, Zac, and Ike now have a cumulative nine children. That’s 3 Hansons. Or an Mmm Mmm Mmm Bop.

You would think that now, when I could find any book on Amazon in seconds, the Scholastic orders wouldn’t seem like such a big deal. But I found a few Troll and Arrow Book Club catalogs online, and I can almost smell the new book smell … and feel the papercuts. That thin-ply book order paper was for some reason notorious for paper cuts.

This has everything I remember about 90s book orders. There are pencils that, even 20 years ago, you could have bought for far less at a grocery store. Athlete bios. An inside look at the cast of 90210 with a RAP ROUNDUP (not sure what that is). I especially like how they call it “book club news,” as though they aren’t trying to sell us stuff, just keeping us informed that Midnight In The Dollhouse is only $.95.

Friends, we truly lived in a magical time. On the same page, you have Hook and Addams Family novelizations, Laura Ingalls, American Girl, and Babysitters Club. This is calling up more childhood memories than looking at family photos (because when the photos were taken, I was probably somewhere reading a book).

Ah, yes. 1991. When all the kids were clamoring for a paperback about Nelson Mandela. The Room Upstairs, an Anne Frank-y tale of World War II peril, contains a surprising number of exclamation marks in the blurb. And that pig eraser… just me, or did those gummy jumbo erasers never actually erase anything?

Lincoln, MLK, Edgar Allan Poe, medical mysteries … just some chill light reading for 9-year-olds. Boomers can knock millennials all they want, but don’t they see that we spent our childhoods heavy-burdened by their hopes, dreams, and expectations? As well as by a complete set of Boxcar Children books? That series was dope. Henry, Jessie, Violet, and the other one, right?

It’s so weird to think that most of us got these orders regularly as kids, and then one day – and you didn’t even know it was the day – you read your last one. You started buying your books at stores, and eventually the internet. You recorded over the Ann M. Martin tape doing fake commercials in Austin Powers voices at a slumber party. I haven’t seen a pencil topper in decades. But the memories live on … as do the large stack of unauthorized biographies sitting somewhere in your parents’ attic.

Frizzle Fails: Majorly Unfun Magic School Bus Trips

Science is cool. When I was a kid my mom was a science teacher, and during the summer I’d serve as a child guinea pig for whatever courses she was taking. I dissected owl pellets, collected pond water, and learned firsthand that science is awesome. And gross. Did I mention gross?

If you weren’t lucky enough to have a scientifically inclined parent, you may have had the next best thing — the guiding, fictional hand of Miss Frizzle, the adventurous, well-dressed schoolmarm from The Magic School Bus. The Magic School Bus was a series of children’s books and cartoons about a group of kids diving head-first into the inner workings of scientific phenomena.

But let’s be real. Teachers are great, but they can’t hit the mark 100% of the time. Here are some Frizzle Fails: those Magic School Bus adventures that delved a little too far into the disgusting, confusing, or downright depressing side of science.

The Magic School Bus Gets Demented

The school bus takes a mystical journey along the neurons and synapses of Phoebe’s grandmother, who was recently diagnosed with advanced dementia. Can they make it through the hippocampus before activity is significantly impaired?

The Magic School Bus Heats Up

Riding on the back of a flea, the Magic School Bus travels with a roadkill racoon on its trip through the animal control center’s crematorium. The kids learn an important scientific axiom: energy cannot be created or destroyed… it can only change form (into a harrowing experience that will haunt you for all the rest of your days).

The Magic School Bus Is In The Money

…as a strain of bacteria being passed from person to person on a dollar bill. The whole gang follows Ralphie’s tooth fairy money as, in the course of a single day, it passes from a man’s unwashed bathroom hands, to the wallet of a lady who just sneezed into her bare palm, before making its final appearance tucked into a g-string at a gentleman’s club.

The Magic School Bus Yes We Can-Cer

When Tim Jamal is diagnosed with a rare invasive tumor, the Magic School Bus takes a fun ride along his fast-dividing cells, evading the surgeon’s knife before ultimately getting wiped out by a high dose of chemotherapy. Uncontrolled mitosis? More like uncontrolled fun!

The Magic School Bus And The Poison Ivy Mystery Tour

WHEEEE! The School Bus slip-slides along the oils excreted from a poison ivy plant, and everyone learns how urushiol can trigger an immune response before – whooosh! – getting knocked out by a hefty, immune-suppressing dose of oral steroids. Will prednisolone make the kids go HAM with mood changes and aggression? Will Frizzle escape the dreaded moon face?

[Guys this isn’t even a book pitch, really, I just have poison oak really bad and this is my life right now.]

The Magic School Bus Peanut Caper

What began as a wacky adventure into the growth cycle of legumes ended three minutes later. Because Keesha has a nut allergy. Read more in The Magic School Bus EpiPen Extravaganza!

Dammit, Friz.

The Magic School Bus In The Mouse House

Miss Frizzle takes the gang on a great trip along the gut flora in the digestive tract of a mouse (you would not BELIEVE how much food from your very own home they find in that stomach!). When the mouse is chased out by the family cat, he is snatched up by an owl. The mouse is swallowed whole, and the kids find themselves broken down into teenier and teenier bits inside the owl before being regurgitated in a sack of hair and bone that is harvested and dissected by a bunch of curious youngsters.

[Like… this is what I did for fun when I was eight. Thanks, mom.]

The Magic School Bus Joins A Gerbil Family

This trip begins in the vas deferens of a male gerbil. From there, they … learn some stuff… then grow into the rapidly dividing cells of a gerbil embryo. When the fetal gerbil is fully formed, they learn – oh no! – that a choromosomal abnormality prevented proper development. After a bumpy journey through the gerbil birth canal, they learn that the circle of life is short indeed, when the gerbil mother recognizes that the child will not thrive and eats it. From there, it’s an awesome lesson in gerbil digestion and egestion. YAY.

The Magic School Bus Is NOT The Father!

The kids learn about DNA analysis – AND the civil justice system – when they go for a quick trip on Dorothy Ann’s blood cells during a hotly contested child support inquiry. How much of her genome is identical to her putative father’s? A statistically insignificant amount, it turns out!

The Magic School Bus Comes To Your AIDs

In this Very Special Edition of the Magic School Bus, the kids learn about the proper handling of bodily fluids when Friz, who has several open paper cut wounds on her hands (so much grading!) comes to the assistance of the heavily bleeding victim of a freak drone accident. As they tag along with an HIV strain, the kids learn that communicable diseases can be passed in a number of ways and that they should always take precautions when interacting with bodily secretions. But it never hurts to hug!

Can You Use That In A Sentence? Wacky Words Of The 2015 Scripps Spelling Bee

It’s no secret: I love the Scripps National Spelling Bee. A few years ago I live blogged the event, and last year spellebrity Amber Born even stopped by to tell us what the bee is really like – if you are at all a bee enthusiast, it is a must-read! This year I couldn’t confer superlatives because – gasp! – I missed it. If you read the post a few days ago about cutting cable, that’s no surprise. But as we celebrate dual winners Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam, we can still look back on the 2015 words that were.

bouillabaisse

Meaning: a traditional Provençal fish stew originating from the port city of Marseille

Can you use it in a sentence? At the 4th of July picnic, Rhonda – and her entire extended family – learned that bouillabaisse is a dish best stored out of the hot sun.

cerastes

Meaning: a North African viper that has a spike over each eye.

Can you use it in a sentence? George’s cerastes costume did not strike fear on Halloween night, because everyone thought he was some sort of weird unicorn.

hacek

Meaning: a diacritic mark (ˇ) placed over a letter to indicate modification of the sound in Slavic and other languages.

Can you use it in a sentence? In a bid to distinguish baby Isabella from the other girls with the same name, her parents placed an unnecessary hacek over the a.

cytopoiesis

Meaning: production of cells

Can you use it in a sentence? Nina’s mother called the teen’s acne “excessive cytopoiesis of oil cells,” because Nina’s mother is the worst.

 crannog

Meaning: an artificial, fortified island

Can you use it in a sentence? I think the island on Lost was a crannog, but I’m not sure because I stopped watching after the third season.

 bacchius

Meaning: a foot of three syllables consisting of one short syllable followed by two long ones, or one unstressed syllable followed by two stressed ones.

Can you use it in a sentence? “Rumor has it that Drake’s next mixtape contains a rap in which every verse begins and ends with a bacchius.” — This is actually Jacques Bailly’s sentence.

cocozelle

Meaning: a dark green variety of zucchini

Can you use it in a sentence? The cocozelle is an especially bland food, considering it sounds like it is named after an especially sassy French lady.

samadhi

Meaning: meditative concentration

Can you use it in a sentence?: In math class, I would frequently feign a state of samadhi so that the teacher would think I was paying attention and wouldn’t call on me.

Albumblatt

meaning: a short composition for the piano

Can you use it in a sentence? Mozart hinted to his followers that a new albumblatt was dropping next summer.

billiken

Meaning: a squat smiling comic figure used as a mascot

Can you use it in a sentence? I avoid standing next to tall friends in photos, lest I look like a billiken.

Hippocrene

Meaning: poetic inspiration

Can you use it in a sentence? The hippocrene – ATTACKED – my braaaaain – and speech …… and now… I saaaay everything like a slam…. poem.[Raise arms above head dramatically]

backfisch

Meaning: immature adolescent girl

Can you use it in a sentence? Move, backfisch, get out the way – your Zayn memorial is blocking the entire hallway.

poikilitic

Meaning: relating to the texture of an igneous rock in which small crystals of one mineral occur within crystals of another.

Can you use it in a sentence? These Billy Crystal Russian nesting dolls are especially poikilitic.

gnathostome

Meaning: jawed vertibrates

Can you use it in a sentence: Marge, who has a very weak jawline, lamented that she “barely even looks like a gnasthostome.”

población

Meaning: the center of a municipality or city in the Philippines

Can you use it in a sentence? When you’re alone and life is making you lonely you can always go to the población.

commissurotomy

Meaning: an open-heart surgery that repairs a mitral valve that is narrowed from mitral valve stenosis.

Can you use it in a sentence: Broken-hearted Phil said that he felt like he had undergone a commissurotomy, but it was just a nasty breakup and he should probably deal with that.

réclame

Meaning: public attention or acclaim not necessarily based on or proportionate to real value or achievement

Can you use it in a sentence: Did you hear that they’re thinking of putting a portrait of the Kardashian family in the dictionary next to the word réclame?

Tartarean

Meaning: the regions below Hades where the Titans were confined; an infernal region; hell.

Can you use it in a sentence? After Whitney proclaimed that middle school was “positively tartarean,” she found that her classmates made it a lot more tartarean.

oflag

Meaning: a German prison camp for officers

Can you use it in a sentence? Fresh out of the oflag, Albert asked Whitney to remind him again what was so tartarean about middle school.

Bayadere

Meaning: a Hindu dancing girl, in particular one at a southern Indian temple.

Can you use it in a sentence: Bridget had dreams of becoming a bayadere, but her parents pushed her into Irish dance instead.

iridocyclitis

Meaning: inflamation of the iris and the ciliary body

Can you use it in a sentence? The pickup line “Do I have iridocyclitis? Because it almost hurts to look at you” was a big hit at the ophthalmologist convention.

Canossa

Meaning:  place or occasion of submission, humiliation or penance

Can you use it in a sentence? Brad told Whitney that public middle school might be tartarean, but Catholic middle school was a virtual canossa.

tortillon

Meaning: cylindrical drawing tool, tapered at the ends and usually made of rolled paper, used by artists to smudge or blend marks made with charcoal, Conté crayon, pencil or other drawing utensils.

Can you use it in a sentence? Angela felt that her kids’ classroom supply lists had grown too demanding when her kindergartner was instructed to bring a box of crayons, colored pencils, and a tortillon.

minhag

Meaning: a Jewish religious custom

Can you use it in a sentence? Rose claimed that her inability to use the stove on the Sabbath was a minhag, but her family suspected that she just hated to cook.

cibarial

Meaning: related to food

Can you use it in a sentence? Like 90% of Wanda’s instagram posts are cibarial and her food always looks gross; should we tell her?

zygoneure

Meaning: a connecting neuron

Can you use it in a sentence? “I’m drawn to you like a zygoneure between neurons” was a less-successful pickup line at the neurologist convention.

acritarch

Meaning: any of a group of fossil one-celled marine planktonic organisms of uncertain and possibly various taxonomic affinities held to represent the earliest known eukaryotes

Can you use it in a sentence? After learning that his friends did not share his enthusiasm for acritarch research, Ross was one sorry polontologist.

bouquetière

Meaning: garnished with vegetables

Can you use it in a sentence? If you eat pizza with bouquetiere presentation it’s totally healthy.

caudillismo

Meaning: the doctrine or practice of a caudillo

Can you use it in a sentence? Under Brittany’s iron fist, the sorority operated under a system of caudillismo and only pre-approved Vera Bradley designs were permitted.

thamakau

Meaning: a Fijian outrigger canoe

Can you use it in a sentence? In the Fijian version of Dawson’s Creek, Dawson drifted to Joey’s house on a thamakau to whine at her like a stupid baby.

scytale

Meaning: a method of cipher writing used especially by the Spartans in which a narrow strip of parchment was wound on a rod and the message written across the adjoining edges

Can you use it in a sentence: Diane spent English class perfecting her scytale and Ella was all  “damn, Diane, can’t you just pass notes like a normal person?”

tantième

Meaning: a percentage or proportional share especially of profits or earnings

Can you use it in a sentence? Fergie argued that she should receive a tantieme of the Scripps Bee profits because she “put spelling on the map” and it is “kind of her thing.”

cypseline

Meaning: of our relating to the swifts

Can you use it in a sentence: Some of the nerdier Taylor Swift fans wanted the group to be called “the cyspeslines” but honestly, that was ridiculous.

urgrund

Meaning: a primal cause or ultimate cosmic principle

Can you use it in a sentence: After much soul-searching, Earl said that he had discovered the controlling urgrund. Maxine replied “Gesundheit.”

filicite

Meaning: a fossil fern

Can you use it in a sentence: After complaining that she hated getting flowers because they always died, Becky received a filicite for her anniversary, but she hated that too because Becky sucks.

myrmotherine

Meaning: feeding on ants

Can you use it in a sentence? After the picnic was invaded by ants, Janet discovered that she had inadvertently become myrmotherine.

sprachgefühl

Meaning: the character of a language

Can you use it in a sentence? The existence of the word “sprachgefuhl” pretty much sums up the German sprachgefuhl.

zimocca

Meaning: a flat sponge from the Mediterranean sea.

Can you use it in a sentence? Norm only shops at Whole Foods now and I have to wash my dishes with this scuzzy zimocca.

nixtamal

Meaning: limed kernels of corn that is ready to be ground into masa.

Can you use it in a sentence: Doug is a few nixtamal short of a tortilla, if you know what I mean.

hippocrepiform

Meaning: shaped like a horseshoe

Can you use it in a sentence? Remember how we all bought hippocrepiform necklaces because Carrie Bradshaw wore them? Most of the spelling bee contestants weren’t even alive for that.

paroemiology

Meaning: the subject of proverbs

Can you use it in a sentence? If Claire reblogs one more hand-lettered inspirational quote I’ll think she’s working on a degree in paroemiology.

scacchite

Meaning: some kind of mineral?

Can you use it in a sentence? No.

pipsissewa

Meaning: a North American plant of the wintergreen family, with whorled evergreen leaves

Can you use it in a sentence? After giving their 11 daughters botanical names from Violet to Daisy to Ivy, the Jones family was thrilled to welcome baby Pipsissewa to the clan.

Bruxellois

Meaning: patois language of Brussels

Can you use it in a sentence? Brenda told her professor that she was speaking Bruxellois, when really, Brenda was just very bad at French.

pyrrhuloxia

Meaning:  songbird of Mexico and the southwestern US.

Can you use it in a sentence? Harper Lee’s editors informed her that her working title, “To Kill A Pyrrhuloxia,” required a little tweaking.

scherenschnitte

Meaning: the art of cutting paper into elaborate designs

Can you use it in a sentence? Do you ever see those DIY websites with all their scherenschnitte and just think “nobody’s got time for that?”

nunatak

Meaning: a hill or mountain surrounded by glacial eyes

Can you use it in a sentence? Climb every nunatak, ford every stream.