101 Hilarious Pranks and Practical Jokes! New Middle Grade Book by Theresa Julian

Theresa Julian, critique partner, writer-friend, published author, and fellow triplets mom, can be called a humor expert. Her first book, The Joke Machine, teaches kids how they can increase their own funny factor. Her second book, 101 HILARIOUS PRANKS AND PRACTICAL JOKES, illustrated by Pat Lewis, is now out in the world! Woohoo! Darlene Beck-Jacobson added an excellent post to her blog “Gold From The Dust: Bringing Stories to Life,” in which Theresa gives potential pranksters a leg up by sharing tips from her book. Darlene’s post is re-blogged below.

Theresa says:

Did you know:

  • Cows moo with different accents – depending on where they live?
  • The bones in the human body are held together by marshmallow taffy?
  • Snakes don’t live in swamps, they live in potato chips cans, like this:

If you didn’t know these facts, it’s okay because – none of them are true. I’m pulling your leg. Kidding. Pranking you.

If there’s a little jokester in your life who wants to learn about pranking, check out 101 Hilarious Pranks & Practical Jokesa middle grade book written by me and illustrated by Pat Lewis. This super silly book includes – you guessed it – 101 pranks, AND explains how to pull the perfect trick.

The book teaches kids how to pace their prank, find the right attitude, and create a story around it. It explains how kids can kick their pranks up a notch through physical humor, which is using their body to make someone laugh. It’s using goofy faces, funny voices, slipping, tripping, and weird smells and sounds to make their pranks extra awesome.

Here are some tips from the book:

Attitude

Start a prank with the right attitude. How would you feel if you were really in the prank situation? If you’re pretending you’ve just won a million dollars, act thrilled. If you’re pretending you broke a window, act shocked. If you’ve filled the cabinet with ping-pong balls, act casual and wait for someone to open the door. Pick an attitude, commit to it, and sell it.

Story

Create an interesting story around your prank. Let’s say you want to convince your friend that your family has a “dead finger” collection and you’ve brought in your favorite one to show her. But, of course, it’s really just your finger in a box, covered in ketchup and avocado mush.

If you walk up to your friend and show her the box, it may not be very effective. But if you build it up with a story that draws her in, and then show the box, you’ll get a bigger reaction. 

Try creating a story like this: You crept down your creaky basement stairs; opened the rusty door to the back room; and gagged at the stench of rotting skin. When you turned on the light, you found that there, in your very own basement, was a dead-finger collection – probably great-grandpa’s from the war. Now, when you show the box, you’ll probably get the reaction you were looking for.

Pacing

A good prank is carefully paced, not blurted out or rushed.

Picture this: Your brother walks into the kitchen and hasn’t yet seen the fake tarantula on the cheese casserole. Do you jump up and yell, “Look at the cheese casserole, ha ha!”? No, of course not. You sit and wait, distract him with comments about how good you’ve been (which, is always true, right?), and wait for the time to be ripe. It’s sooo much better if he finds the hairy spider himself!

Funny Faces

Let’s face it, facial expressions are key to a good prank because they help sell your story. Picture a face that’s afraid, amazed, annoyed, or bored, like the ones below.

The right face can say a lot more than words. So when you’re pranking, let your face do the talking!

Kooky Arms & Legs

Get your whole body into the prank. If you tell your friend the rat in the garage is THIS BIG, fling out your arms and show just how big. If you’re pretending you’re about to vomit, clutch your stomach, moan and double over in pain. In the prankiverse, body language reinforces your story and paints a picture, and is often funnier than words.

Silly Voices and Sounds

Silly voices and sounds make pranks more believable and fun. If you’re pretending you’ve broken a window, download a crashing glass sound and play it on your phone or computer. If you’ll make a prank call, you’ll need to disguise your voice with an accent or different tone. Funny voices are fun to create and once you’ve nailed a few, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them!

Slipping, Tripping and Prat-falling

101 Hilarious Pranks & Practical Jokes teaches you how to pretend you’re slipping, tripping and falling, so you get the reaction you want. For example, here’s how to pretend you’re hitting your head on a door:

The book also explains how to crack your nose, bite off your finger, detach your head, spit out your teeth, push a pencil through your head, rip your eyeball out, slip in poop, and control gravity. You’re welcome.

So, if there’s a little prankster in your life who’s looking to learn completely ridiculous skills, such as how to use goofy faces, funny voices, bad smells, weird sounds, and smooth body moves to trick their friends, check out 101 HILARIOUS PRANKS AND PRACTICAL JOKES which goes on sale Sept. 28, 2021. Then — watch your back

Theresa Julian loves chocolate, changing her ringtones, and writing humorous books for middle graders. Her books have been featured in TIME for Kids magazine, the Barnes & Noble Kid’s Blog, and Today.com. Theresa is a graduate of Boston College and has a Master’s in Corporate Communications. After many years of writing business documents for large corporations, she’s now happily living on the beach, writing funny books for kids. Her mother claims Theresa spent most of first grade sleeping on her desk, but don’t worry, she’s awake now, dreaming up new ways to keep kids reading and laughing.

Connect with Theresa on http://www.TheresaJulian.com
Twitter: @Theresa_Julian
Instagram: @tm_julian

Poem “For Our World”

I wanted to post a poem on 9/11 and found “For Our World” by teen poet Mattie Stepanek. Though my memories flooded back and I wrote “Who Can Forget?”, Stepanek’s poem is as relevant now as the day it was written. The poem addresses strife in our world while, also, speaking to anguish on a personal level. On Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish year, we ask G-d and our loved ones to forgive us for our sins as we contemplate our mortality.

And. And, this year is the 5th anniversary of my mom’s and, three weeks later, sister-in-law’s passings. My mom would have been 80 and Sharon would have been 60. When my mom thought, for a brief moment, that she might live, she talked about what she wanted to do with her future. Up until her diagnosis of lung cancer, she’d spent most of her time working, with some time for reading and gardening. Granted, she had an amazing career as an award-winning investigative journalist and editor, but she lamented not finding something else besides occasionally spending time with friends and grandchildren that brought her joy. My mom said she wanted to volunteer at Stella Maris, a long-term care facility where she’d interviewed the nuns.

My mother-in-law, an 86 year old Holocaust survivor, whose health has recently declined, has also been talking about what she’d like to do in her future. When is the right time to add into our lives “the blessing of songs that grow in our hearts?”

The culmination of the Days of Awe is the fast day of Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement). This is the day…according to tradition, God seals the Books of Life and Death for the coming year. The day is devoted to communal repentance for sins committed over the course of the previous year. Because of the nature of Yom Kippur and its associated rituals, it is the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar.

My Jewish Learning

For Our World

We need to stop.
Just stop.
Stop for a moment.
Before anybody
Says or does anything
That may hurt anyone else.


We need to be silent.
Just silent.
Silent for a moment.
Before we forever lose
The blessing of songs
That grow in our hearts.


We need to notice.
Just notice.
Notice for a moment.
Before the future slips away
Into ashes and dust of humility.


Stop, be silent, and notice.


In so many ways, we are the same.
Our differences are unique treasures.
We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts
To nurture, to offer, to accept.


We need to be.
Just be.
Be for a moment.


Kind and gentle, innocent and trusting,
Like children and lambs,
Never judging or vengeful
Like the judging and vengeful.


And now, let us pray,
Differently, yet together,
Before there is no earth, no life,
No chance for peace.

September 11, 2001

© Matthew Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek 1990 -2004
from Hope Through Heartsongs, Hyperion, 2002

Mattie Stepanek was 11 years old when he wrote this poem on the day of 9-11.
Sadly he passed away in 2004 after a long battle with Dysautonomic Mitochondrial Myopathy.
You can learn more about his brief, amazing, inspiring life at his website: http://www.mattieonline.com/

9/11 Who Can Forget?

Image source, Louie Lighting

On the 20th anniversary of 9/11,

Who Can Forget?

Our nation’s loss of innocence,

a class parents’ meeting at elementary school,

the nurse whispering in the principal’s ear,

one mom fleeing upon hearing the news

implementing the emergency call system,

watching annihilation in real time,

screaming and crying at the t.v.,

clinging to my three-month old baby,

rushing my triplet seven year olds home,

my son vowing to become a soldier,

praying for my husband who worked in Manhattan,

fielding concerned calls from across the country,

learning that a friend ran to the city to canvas hospitals

while her children stayed at a neighbor’s

for days,

hugging my husband when he walked in the door,

witnessing smoke curling into the heavens

from an altered skyline,

passing empty cars in parking lots,

working at a childrens boutique,

crying with customers who were dressing their children

for parents’ funerals,

learning whose spouses came home

and whose didn’t,

attending the funeral for my friend’s husband,

and recognizing how unspeakable horror

wreaks everlasting destruction

on hearts, minds and lives.

Poetry & Blooms–Balms for a Reflective Time

L’Shana Tovah! Happy New Year!

It may be 2021 in the secular world, but according to the Jewish calendar it’s 5782. Every year, as the High Holidays approach and summer comes to an end, I look inward, assessing the previous year’s relationships, family, health and work.

Rosh Hashanah (literally “head of the year” or New Year) is the Jewish New Year. Yom Kippur, which comes ten days after Rosh Hashanah, is the Day of Atonement. Together, they are sometimes referred to as the Jewish High Holidays. They mark a period known both as the “Days of Awe” and the “Ten Days of Repentance,” during which Jewish people are supposed to reflect on the sins they have committed during the past year. Rosh Hashanah combines the joy of a New Year celebration and its theme of renewal with the seriousness associated with confronting one’s failings and seeking forgiveness both from God and from those one has wronged. Yom Kippur is considered the holiest day of the Jewish sacred calendar.

adl.org

This year there’s much to be grateful for and look forward to and also so many things to worry about. My husband’s mom’s health is the biggest worry for our family. And days before the holidays started, Hurricane Ida devastated many of my town’s businesses and homes. Sometimes, hon, I can barely take a deep breath.

But vivid colors call to me and I contemplate how a blue sky and white clouds frame bright yellow petals, and I search for words to write and read.

Breathe.

A Boat, Beneath a Sunny Sky

Lewis Carroll – 1832-1898

A boat, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July—

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear—

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream—
Lingering in the golden gleam—
Life, what is it but a dream?

Mental Health Highlighted, Thank You Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka, photo source cnn.com

I recently told a relative that after my mom died, I sought the help of a therapist to work through the grief. I’m not ashamed to say that as a young newlywed and mom of triplets and a younger daughter, I’ve worked on my mental health, gaining tools, techniques, and strategies to recognize my hot buttons and ways in which I can improve parenting, marriage, and relationships.

Goals? To a) better understand myself, b) live a purposeful life, c) direct my energy towards personal and professional pursuits that bring me joy, and d) find inner peace in our short time on Earth. Working through issues isn’t for everyone, but it has helped me tremendously.

So I was taken aback when that same relative threw the conversation back in my face…twice! “Did you say you saw a—-pause for effect—-PSYCHIATRIST?”

The first time, I calmly responded that, no, she’s a social worker and reminded her that, by the way, so are my sister, niece, and several friends. The second time, I was not calm. I jumped down her throat and said, “We’ve already discussed this and we live in the 21st century!” BUTTON PUSHED!

Why? Why was I so upset that the only takeaway from a prior heartfelt conversation were questions that felt like she had asked, “Did you say you’ve decided to become a real-life mermaid by undergoing surgery to remove your legs and attach a tail?!”

Hon, seriously! That’s about the only news that would warrant her titter-worthy tone!

A few reasons I was annoyed:

  • If someone has a medical problem, is it noteworthy if he/she seeks medical help? Of course not! So, why the stigma about treating our emotional selves?
  • Are there aisles of Self Help books and a podcast industry born out of the desire to improve our emotional lives? Yes!
  • Are we neanderthals who existed as hunters and gatherers? No, we’ve evolved into hunters, gatherers and listeners.

Upon further research, I discovered that counseling goes back to ancient Egypt:

Even before the written language, people told stories and parables. It’s an ancient tradition that often served as a kind of therapy, helping others heal while passing on indelible wisdom to support others. More than 3,500 years ago, references to “healing through words” appeared in ancient Egyptian and Greek writings. The word “counseling” found its way into Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Tale in 1386.

The more formal term “psychotherapy” was coined in the late 1800s, which the Mayo Clinic defines as a “general term for treating mental health problems by talking with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health provider.” It’s during psychotherapy where participants examine their moods, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, while learning how to take control and respond to challenging situations in a healthy way.

Talkspace.com

And. And for someone who watched the 2021 Olympics and as much as I did, knowledge of Olympic gymnast Simone Biles’ need to take a step back, which called to mind professional tennis player Naomi Osaka’s own mental health journey, the questions were anachronistic and insulting.

The day after Simone decided not to compete in the individual all-around competition after withdrawing from the team finals, Better Up, a coaching resource [“helps your people identify their strengths, achieve their goals, and reach their full potential. The results? A high-performing workforce ready to tackle whatever comes their way] ran a full page ad in The New York Times.

I love it for its clever wording and for its message.


Thank you Simone.

Thank you for raising the bar without touching one.

For showing your strength without moving a muscle.

And for showing the world that taking care of yourself is never selfish.

It’s human.

Thank you for trusting your instincts as much as you trust your teammates.

Thank you for using your voice to give others one.

And for teaching us all that leaving a legacy isn’t always about sticking the landing.

Sometimes it’s about helping others just get off the ground.

You’ve shown us once again

That mental health and physical health are one and the same.

And that your courage is one of a kind.

Thank you, Simone.

Thank you, Naomi.

And all who have helped us see that everyone is going through something.

But no one has to do it alone.

As a small gesture to show our tremendous gratitude, we’re gifting athletes, coaches, and anyone else inspired to start their mental fitness journey, free BetterUp coaching. We hope that this moment turns into momentum, and we can continue to empower the next generation of GOATs.

Sayings at Meow Wolf, Santa Fe

Sayings and stories abound at Meow Wolf!

Some of the written-word art at Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf, “The House of Eternal Return,” makes you laugh, some makes you think, and all of it enhances the interactive, exploratory art exhibit that allows your imagination to think of time and space as non-linear. So fun!

Las Vegas hosts a second permanent Meow Wolf installation, “Mega Mart.” [“Participants explore an extraordinary supermarket that bursts into surreal worlds and unexpected landscapes.”]

The third Meow Wolf installation opens in Denver this September and is called “Convergence Station.” [“Discover immersive psychedelic, mind-bending art and an underlying rich narrative as you take a journey of discovery into a surreal, science-fictional epic.”]

Hon, have you been to Meow Wolf? What did you think?

Girls weekend with Laura and Cindy.

Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit, Part 2

At the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit New York on Pier 36, when you exit the rooms with videos, you come across the quote, “What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?” This quote, and the fact that Van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime, spoke to me and my writing journey. Thank you, Vincent, I am brave!

I recently Tweeted a comment from a friend. Upon hearing how hard it is to break into Kidlit, she said, “A lot of people get famous after they die.” Ummm…WHAT?! First of all, I don’t write Kidlit to become famous and, secondly, WHAT?! Was that meant as encouragement? Was she volunteering to be my “manuscript historian” and, once I depart this Earth, make sure my stories and characters see the light of day and laps of children?

Back to Vincent. Turn the corner from his quote and you see mannequins adorned in interpretive fashion. I disagree with Jason Farago, whose review “Submerged in van Gogh: Would Absinthe Make the Art Grow Fonder? in The New York Times said that the mannequins were wearing “shockingly tacky van Gogh-inspired clothing. (Where might these dresses festooned with wheat and sunflowers be appropriate? The Miss Provence pageant? Is there a Saint-Rémy drag night I don’t know about?)” Funny, but as a former student of fashion history, I enjoy seeing how designers create clothes, even if they’re made from unwearable material. A fashion exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art comes to mind; dresses made of blue and white Chinoiserie were extraordinary.

One more thing to try before you leave the exhibit is a booth where you can “hear” color. I didn’t know Van Gogh experienced chromesthesia, a condition where sound evokes different colors.

Hon, still thinking about the “better off dead” comment? Me, too. And still shaking my head.

A Trapezoid is NOT a Dinosaur! by Suzanne Morris

Happy Book Birthday to a bunch of NJ SCBWI writer-friends!

Hon, you know how much I love Kidlit, especially picture books, so congrats to authors whose picture books have just debuted!

Suzanne Morris’ picture book, A Trapezoid is NOT a Dinosaur, which she wrote and illustrated, debuted November 5, 2019. Though plans to promote her book were delayed by the pandemic, she has new dates on the calendar.

July 15, 2021 

Author Chat with Janette

10:30am Wayne Public Library, Wayne, NJ

https://www.tapinto.net/towns/wayne/events/virtual-author-chat-with-suzanne-morris

July 17, 2021

10:30am Ringwood Public Library, Ringwood, NJ

In this wildly amusing, unconventional shape concept book, Trapezoid is here to declare that he’s a shape, too. He’s NOT a type of dinosaur!

Shape up, shapes! Triangle is hosting auditions for all the best shapes to be in his play. Circle, Square, and Star each get a part. But Trapezoid just doesn’t “fit in.” Is he even a shape? The others think he sounds like a type of dinosaur. Determined to show off his usefulness, Trapezoid tries to act like the other shapes, to no avail. Eventually, though, Trapezoid celebrates his own distinct shape properties in order to become part of the performance. 

Goodreads

Click here to check out the free guides and activity sheets Suzanne pairs with her book. https://www.facebook.com/suzanne.morris.33/, @smorrisart

Take Me Home, Country Roads

IMG_5775
Maryland flag.

IMG_4501
Flower Box Flag, Hudson River Park

Happy 4th of July, America.

I wish you good health, happiness, and a way to mend deep divisions. 

Growing up in Baltimore, a day cheering at an Orioles’ baseball game was always a blast. We ate popcorn, peanuts and Cracker Jacks, rooted for our home team, and always belted John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” during the seventh inning stretch. I found out something interesting about Denver’s patriotic song “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” 

Chris Kaltenbach, writing for The Baltimore Sun, wrote “Mountain mama! John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ was inspired by Maryland, not West Virginia. Hon, did you know that? Me either!

His article, published 4/17/19 is excerpted below.

Next time you hear John Denver warbling “Take Me Home, Country Roads”…keep in mind that it wasn’t anywhere in West Virginia that inspired the massive hit, but rather a road in Montgomery County.

Songwriter Bill Danoff, in a 1997 article he wrote for The Washington Post (in tribute to Denver, who’d just died), said he had begun writing the song while driving to a family reunion along Clopper Road, near Gaithersburg. He and his future wife, Taffy Nivert, completed the song in December 1970 with Denver’s help. “Back then,” Danoff wrote, Clopper Road “was still a country road.” (It isn’t anymore, apparently, thanks to development over the past 49 years.)

The three premiered the song the following night at Washington, D.C.’s The Cellar Door, where Denver was headlining (Danoff and Nivert, performing under the name Fat City, were his opening act). “When we first sang the song together,” Danoff wrote, “it seemed as though the audience would never stop applauding. Next show, same thing. We knew we had a hit.”

Wrote Denver, in “Take Me Home,” his 1994 autobiography, “In the wee hours of the morning, sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, in their basement apartment in Washington, D.C., we wrote ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads.’ It became my first Number One record.”

No word on why Maryland lost out to West Virginia in the lyrics. Perhaps “Maryland” just doesn’t sound as pastoral as its western neighbor. More likely, the three syllables that combine for our state’s name just don’t fit the meter the songwriters had worked out.

“Take Me Home, Country Roads”

Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River
Life is old there, older than the trees, younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Country roads, take me home to the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain mamma, take me home, country roads

All my memories gather round her, miner’s lady, stranger to blue water
Dark and dusty, painted on the sky, misty taste of moonshine, teardrop in my eye

Country roads, take me home to the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain mamma, take me home, country roads

I hear her voice in the morning hour, she calls me, the radio reminds me of my home far away
And driving down the road I get a feeling that I should have been home yesterday, yesterday

Country roads, take me home to the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain mamma, take me home, country roads

Country roads, take me home to the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain mamma, take me home, country roads

Take me home, down country roads
Take me home, down country roads

 

Double Digit Doggie!

Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds aka Lulu aka Loose aka Loopy Lou aka Muppy.

Happy 10th birthday to the sweetest, softest, fluffiest, barkiest, fastest dog, Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds.

Aside from her usual walks, treats and people-food-added-to-her-dinner, Lucy didn’t have specific plans to celebrate her birthday. Then, a surprise package addressed to Lucy arrived in the mail! In it were an adorable, sparkly birthday hat and pink, unicorn kerchief. Our family had no idea who’d ordered the “doggie decorations” until Morgan’s bf Adam, fessed up. Shout out to another dog lover!

In honor of the best “person” in our family, I’m re-posting the humorous New York Times article Things People Say to Their Dogs, in which Alexandra Horowitz explores this topic with much humor.  a cognitive scientist who studies dogs–doesn’t that sound fantastic?!

Horowitz’s article, lightly edited, is below.

We talk to dogs. Happily so, for there is little bleaker than seeing a person texting while dragging a dog by her leash. It’s so natural to talk to dogs that for a long time I wasn’t even aware when I did it. But now I have evidence that I — that we all — talk to our dogs. For now, I’m listening.

Everywhere I go I encounter dogs: on the sidewalk, in the parks, in stores and airports, at readings, at my dog cognition lab. Most of the dogs are with people. Consequently, it is not long before I hear people talking to their dogs. Sure, much of what we say to dogs is request or command, exclamation points implied: Sit; Come; Go Get Your Ball. Once I began really listening, though, what surprised me was how much is not mere directive.

Heading down a city sidewalk one morning, when sleepy dogs and people stumble out for the dog’s morning micturition, I saw a woman with two small dogs, both in sweaters, one of whom had lifted a rear leg to aim directly onto a scaffolding pole. “You’re going first: excellente! Awesome job!” The dog’s owner crooned. I pulled an envelope out of my bag and scribbled down her words. Thus began my long foray into public eavesdropping on the dog-human dyad.

Once I began listening for other owners’ dog-directed soliloquies, I found that they were ubiquitous. I might catch two or three conversational snippets on a long block. It began to seem as though the act of a person walking by sometimes prompted an owner’s conversational opening to her dog — as though to emphasize how not-walking-slowly-down-the-sidewalk-alone she is. Not at all alone: She is with someone.

As every “Hi, puppy!” directed dogward demonstrates, the way we talk to dogs overlaps with the way we talk to babies. A Harris poll found that 95 percent of us consider dogs our family — so are we simply talking to them as if they were our children? “Pet-directed speech” certainly shares many features with baby talk: We raise the pitch of our voice and make it singsongy. We use a fairly limited vocabulary with infants, and with dogs too: more “You’ve been bad” than “What you did was morally indefensible.” Language is telegraphed: We tend to repeat words, slow our speech, shorten phrases and drop some categories of words, like articles.

On the other hand, when speaking to infants, we hyperarticulate our vowels: exaggeratedly saying Look at the doggeeeeee! to babies — but not nearly as much to dogs. It’s a subtle but key difference that marks a rift in our ways of thinking about kids and pups. Hyperarticulation is didactic, a way of teaching a growing human our language. When we are talking to dogs, we are under no illusion that they will grow up to use the language themselves.

Still, we do talk to dogs as though we are in a running conversation. After several hundred scribbled overhears, I began to notice some patterns in the dog-speech. One category of utterances is pure enthusiasm, the Cheering Squad:

“Good stop! I really liked that halt, guys.”

There’s the Mom Commentary on behavior. Eyes on the dog, she sees everything. And she’s gotta talk about it.

Appropriately (for the category), most of these speakers are women. In fact, among my notebook scribblings, the speakers were women about six times as often as they were men. Women speak more often, more quickly and speak longer than men — on the sidewalk and in scientific studies of dog talkers. They repeat words more and are not shy about dropping in a term of endearment. This is not to say that men are immune from the Mom Commentary:

In addition to the quotidian “Sit” and “Stay,” there are also the Perfectly Implausible Instructions:

In the spirit of conversation that doesn’t need an answer, we turn question marks toward our pups, engaging them as if they might respond — and then waiting a beat to give them due time to so reply. This is the Rhetorical Realm:

Behind every unanswered question is the feeling that we might know the answer, given that we and our dogs live together, see each other naked, and obviously know everything about each other. Hence the reliable appearance of the We’ve Discussed This utterances (dog’s full family name implied):

Most talk I hear is overheard, seemingly not intended for my ears. But when we talk to dogs around others, it serves as a social lubricant, a way to open up the possibility of talking to each other. “What’s your name?” said dog-ward is never answered — except, obligingly, by a dog’s owner. Dogs are not only reflections of us, they are social intermediaries for us. Any hesitation I may have about a person approaching me on the street is deflected by my dog Finnegan’s smiling, wag-filled greeting of them; in response, they talk not to me, but to the dog.

It’s not only strangers who can be looped in by dog-talk. We talk to our relatives — our human relatives — via our dogs as well. The linguist Deborah Tannen writes of a couple mid-argument: “The man suddenly turns to their pet dog and says in a high-pitched baby-talk register, ‘Mommy’s so mean tonight. You better sit over here and protect me.’” The dogs enable the speaking; they are not really the spoken-to.

Of course, through all our talking, dogs are more or less silent. Researchers keep looking for the language-using dog, though. Some dogs — like the Border collies Rico and Chaser, who died last week — have learned hundreds upon hundreds of words. Dogs in fMRI studies both distinguish familiar from nonsense words and process the emotional content of words. Nonetheless, dogs are not talking back. Some scholars think dog-human communication represents a “human fantasy” of how communication might go: all listening, no responding. “We like our pets’ silence,” the animal studies researcher Erica Fudge suggests, “because it allows us to write their words for them.” I do think this begins to explain our nonstop chatter with dogs. When we talk to dogs, it’s as if our private speech, the conversation we’re having in our heads, has slipped out.

The Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, formulating his theories of child development, described a stage of children internalizing conversations with those around them — social speech — into a conversation in their own heads. He called it “inner speech” and thought it enabled children to use language to reflect on and consider their own behavior. We continue that monologue with ourselves as we age into adults. It’s not quite the way we’d talk to those around us, though, with its cropped syntax and a “note-form” shorthand that represents your familiarity with your own thoughts. But it’s just like what we’re saying to our dogs — as if they were in our heads.

Dogs are, of course, the preoccupation of our minds: we hope for them, care for them, love them. We narrate our thoughts while we watch them, and their thoughts while they accompany us.

One of the things we say to our dogs daily — two-thirds of us, according to one survey of North American pet owners — is I love you. Even the simple sound of our voice is an expression of that love, regardless of the content of the words we say. Through talking to them, we let them into an intimacy with us. They hear our secrets, our private thoughts.

So now you know: Pass me on the sidewalk, and I may be listening. Please don’t let it stop you from talking. It makes me feel optimistic about humans to hear us talk to other animals. We are at our best in those moments when we extend the circle we’ve drawn around ourselves to include them.

 
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