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7 Children's Books Written in Response to Other Books

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Some authors write books because they have a way with words. Other people write books because they have a story they want to share with the world. And a select group of individuals write books mostly to spite the author of another book. These books were written in response to another book, some angrily and some lovingly (mostly).

1. Truax

In case you’re not familiar with The Lorax (1971), it’s widely recognized as Dr. Seuss’ take on environmentalism. The Lorax “speaks for the trees,” and let’s just say that the trees aren’t exactly thrilled with the way things have been going. Many of them have been chopped down to make Thneeds, strange little garments that everyone needs. Though many people lauded Seuss and his Lorax for being outspoken about the wanton destruction of natural resources, at least one group of people didn’t appreciate the sentiment: the logging industry.

To defend themselves against the unjust Lorax, the timber industry provided funding to Terri Birkett, a member of the National Wood Flooring Association, to write a rebuttal book. In it, an irrational, irate “protector of trees” named Guardbark berates a lumberjack who patiently explains that he replaces the trees he cuts down, that they’ve set land aside to serve as Nature Preserves, and that no one really cares about some of the species that go extinct because of logging anyway. “How far will we go? How much will we pay? To keep a few minnows from dying away?” the lumberjack asks. If you want to know more about the logging industry’s point of view, you can read Truax in its entirety here.

2. The Cat in the Hat

Speaking of Dr. Seuss, one of the reasons he wrote was in response to the mind-numbing dullness of Dick and Jane and their mundane lives that consisted mostly of watching Spot run. The director of the education division at Houghton Mifflin challenged Seuss to come up with a story children would actually want to read using some of the same basic words used in Dick and Jane. “At first I thought it was impossible and ridiculous,” Seuss later said. “I was about to get out of the whole thing; then decided to look at the list one more time and to use the first two words that rhymed as the title of the book - cat and hat were the ones my eyes lighted on.”

Years later, Dr. Seuss said, “I have great pride in taking Dick and Jane out of most school libraries. That is my greatest satisfaction.”

3. Little Eva: the Flower of the South

After Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, outraged slave owners produced a number of works called “Anti-Tom literature.” Very few of them were targeted at kids, though, which is where Little Eva stands out from the pack. In Philip J. Cozan’s Little Eva, a young girl teaches the child slaves on her father’s plantation how to read and write. When the slaves are set free, they opt to stay on the plantation with Little Eva because she was so kind and good to them.

4. Goodnight iPad

An anonymous author going by the name Ann Droyd wrote this updated version of Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon, perhaps as commentary about how plugged in we are. Speaking of which, you can watch Goodnight, iPad on YouTube:

5. Pat the Husband

We’ve probably all read the original Pat the Bunny at some point in our lives. Let me jog your memory: “Judy can pat the bunny. Now YOU pat the bunny. Judy can play peek-a-boo with Paul. Now YOU play peek-a-boo with Paul.” In this parody by Kate Merrow Nelligan, Paul and Judy are married, and maybe not 100% happily. “Paul is a confident man. No one needs to tell Paul who he is, or where he is going. Except when he is lost. Can you help Paul ask for directions?”

6. The His Dark Materials trilogy

Though Pullman has never directly come out and said so, many critics and scholars think that his young adult books (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass) were written in response to the Christian themes in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.

“I hate the Narnia books, and I hate them with a deep and bitter passion, with their view of childhood as a golden age from which sexuality and adulthood are a falling-away,” Pullman once said. “I realized that what [Lewis] was up to was propaganda in the cause of the religion he believed in.”

7. Go the F*** to Sleep

The short children’s book, which is really not a children’s book at all, spoofs the saccharine bedtime stories a lot of us heard as youngsters (and/or read to our kids now). The ebook was funny all on its own, but when Samuel L. Jackson was tapped to read the audio version, Go the F*** to Sleep reached a whole new level of fame. What you may not know is that the wickedly funny book is a spoof of a very specific bedtime read, not just the overall genre. The inspiration, It’s Time to Sleep, My Love, by Eric Metaxas, includes lines like, “The songbirds sing in trees above, ‘It’s time to sleep, my love, my love.’”

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]