Friday, May 15, 2015

Fun with Dave Barry

As a children's librarian at a public library, there are some questions I get asked quite frequently. These are questions like "Do you have any dinosaur books?'" or "Where are your graphic novels?" or the ever-practical, "Do I need a key for the restroom?"

Those are questions I can answer pretty easily. But there's one often-asked question that's much harder to answer and that is, "Where are your 'funny' books?" Kids ask me that all the time! We do have some funny books, of course, and there are more funny children's books being published than ever before. Yet there still aren't nearly as many as I -- or our young patrons -- would like.

So, when the good folks at Politics & Prose, our wonderful independent bookstore, asked if our library would like to host Dave Barry as he presented his new book for kids, I immediately and emphatically said "Yes!" For I had read an advanced review copy of the book, The Worst Class Trip Ever (Disney-Hyperion, $13.99, ages 8-12), and knew that it would be a great addition to our "funny books" collection. And I knew that Dave himself would make a hilarious presentation. It was a win-win situation for us.

In The Worst Class Trip Ever,  Dave tells the story of several eighth graders who travel from Florida to Washington, D.C. on a school trip and find themselves both in trouble with their teachers and in danger from some mysterious men who just may be targeting the President of the United States. Dave is a facile writer with a master touch when it comes to pacing, which makes The Worst Class Trip Ever a real page-turner.

And, of course, Dave knows how to make people laugh. For example, in the opening chapter, which Dave read at our program, the first-person narrator, eighth grader Wyatt Palmer, tells what happens when his dad encounters an alligator when going out to get the newspaper early one morning. Disregarding his wife's warning to first put on some clothes, Wyatt's dad is wearing only his threadbare boxers, which have very little elasticity left and are "held up by stains." Naturally, the alligator incident attracts the attention of passers-by as well as the local police, and Wyatt's dad -- holding up his boxers so they don't fall off -- ends up on the local evening news. The capper? After seeing the newscast, Wyatt's mother silently takes the boxers and burns them by the side of the family pool.

The audience loved hearing Dave read that section of his new book. The audience also loved hearing other parts of Dave's presentation, including his comments on the "hard-listening music" he plays with a band in his spare time, and how he managed to stay calm when a bookstore owner placed a huge snake over his shoulders during a book reading with fellow Peter & the Starcatchers author Ridley Pearson.

Although Dave came to talk mainly about The Worst Class Trip Ever, it wasn't an event just for kids. In fact, many Dave's adult fans were there, including a couple from Pittsburgh who drove down specifically for the presentation and then were driving the four-plus hours back home after it was over. Many of the adult fans had been regular readers of Dave's Pulitzer Prize-winning humor column, and still enjoy his annual Year in Review articles.

Dave and me (Credit: Bruce Guthrie)

As I noted in my introduction of Dave, his comedic powers were clear from an early age. At his Pleasantville, N.Y. high school, for example, Dave was elected "class clown." After he graduated from Haverford College, Dave got a job as a reporter at a newspaper in West Chester, Pa. In two years, he was promoted to city editor and -- much more importantly -- began writing a humor column for the newspaper. Another funny writer named Gene Weingarten discovered Dave's humor column and hired him to write for The Miami Herald. Dave's Herald column was so popular that it was syndicated nationally in hundreds of newspapers and, in 1988, he won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. One interesting side note: a column that Dave wrote in 2002 is credited with bringing international attention to a very important annual celebration -- Talk Like a Pirate day -- which will take place this year on Saturday, Sept. 19.

Dave ended his weekly column in 2004 but he has continued writing in other forms. He has published more than two dozen books; among his adult books are Dave Barry's Book of Bad SongsI'll Mature When I'm Dead, and the just-published Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer Is Much Faster). One of Dave's books, Big Trouble, was turned into a movie, and two of his books were the basis for the TV show, Dave's World. Dave also has found fame with a stunt he once pulled on national TV -- setting fire to a pair of men's underpants with a Barbie doll. Yes, he actually did that.

At our program, however, Dave also noted how much he enjoys writing for kids, adding that he's currently working on another book for young readers. In talking about writing for kids, Dave said he was particularly delighted when astronaut Catherine Coleman read Science Fair -- written by Dave and Ridley -- during her time on the International Space Station. As Dave put it: "I just started out writing for my little high school paper and I've ended up having a book read in the International Space Station!"

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