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The Quick 10: Drop Everything and Read (AKA: Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!)

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Happy D.E.A.R. Day! That's Drop Everything and Read, in case you don't have fond memories of D.E.A.R. from Beverly Cleary's Ramona Quimby books. Yes, it's a real educational holiday and the date was chosen to honor Beverly Cleary's birthday "“ she's 94 today. In honor of Ms. Cleary's birthday and D.E.A.R., here are a few facts about Ramona, Henry and the lady who brought them both to life.

1. Ramona readers no doubt remember the Quimby family lived on Klickitat Street, as did Henry Huggins. This might sound pretty familiar to residents of Portland, Oregon "“ it's a real street, and it was just a few blocks from the place young Beverly Bunn called home. The Klickitat are actually a Native American tribe that counts Klickitat County, Klickitat River and Klickitat, Washington, among their namesakes.
2. You may have noticed that even though times have changed since Henry Huggins was first published in 1950, Cleary's writing has not. Even when books are reprinted, older references such as long woolen underwear, soda fountains and ink pots are left in. Cleary herself is the same way "“ although she could be doing her writing on a Mac or a P.C., she prefers to write her tales on yellow legal pads. "Some pages I revise once or twice and some I revise half-a-dozen times. I then attack my enemy the typewriter and produce a badly typed manuscript which I take to a typist whose fingers somehow hit the right keys. No, I do not use a computer. Everybody asks."

3. If you ever thought the wholesome episodes of Leave it to Beaver felt like they could have come right off of Klickitat Street, well, so did the Leave it to Beaver people. They had Cleary write a series of tie-in books in the early 1960s.
4. Cleary likes to start her new books on January 2, but don't be looking for a new one anytime soon. Her last effort, Ramona's World, was published in 1999. Although she says she has jotted down a few thoughts about a new book, she has no plans to write it as of now.
5. According to Beverly, Henry Huggins was inspired by a specific friend of hers, and all of his friends were representations of kids she grew up with and attended library story hour with. "My best friend appears in assorted books in various disguises," she said. "She was Austine in Ellen Tebbits. And in Ramona's World, she appears as the woman who is concerned about children waiting for the school bus in front of her house. She lives in Portland and we talk about once a week."

6. Cleary had to elope with her husband because her parents disapproved of their marriage. The reason? Cleary's parents were Presbyterian and Clarence Cleary was Roman Catholic. The pair married in 1940 and celebrated 64 blissful years until his death in 2004. They had a set of twins named Marianne and Malcolm, the latter of whom served as inspiration for Keith in Cleary's The Mouse and the Motorcycle.

7. If you're looking for morals in Ramona stories, well, you're going to be looking for a while. "As a child, I disliked books in which children learned to be 'better' children," she once said. In fact, she started writing because she didn't believe any of the books in her library (she was a librarian before she was a writer) properly represented the way kids really acted. Her beliefs were affirmed when a little boy approached her desk and wondered where all of the books about "kids like us" were hidden. She decided to write one, although that didn't happen for another 10 years.

8. She's a bit reclusive. Cleary doesn't grant many interviews, carefully selects her public appearances and lives in the country in California out of public view.

9. Ramona was never meant to be a main character. As Cleary was writing Henry Huggins, she noticed she had unwittingly made all of her characters only children. So she tossed in a little sister for a character named Beezus and named her after a neighbor girl. Ramona quickly became the star of the show.
10. Beverly wasn't always a great student. Moving from rural Yamhill, Oregon, to the big city of Portland, really didn't agree with the first-grader. She was in poor health and missed school a lot; she wasn't crazy about her first-grade teacher and really didn't take to reading. That all changed when she moved on to second grade and was assigned to a teacher she adored. With help from her teacher and encouragement from the school librarian, Beverly had mastered reading by third grade and was devouring every book she could get her hands on. To this day, she says, her bad first grade experience makes her sympathetic to kids who struggle with reading.

I know we must have some Cleary fans reading. Which of her books was your favorite? Mine was Ramona Quimby, Age 8, but I also have fond memories of the Christmas pageant in Ramona and her Father when Ramona's mom makes her sheep costume out of old pajamas.

And if you want to participate in D.E.A.R today, it's easy: drop everything and pick up a book for 30 minutes! I think I might actually dig up one of my old Ramonas and wallow in a little nostalgia for half an hour.




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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
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Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


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