It may be Back-to-School season, but kids store buyers are shopping for Holiday and Spring. I spent the last three days at the Manhattan trade show, Playtime New York, combining my love of picture books with my experience selling kids clothes. (Shout out to Linda, prior owner of The Red Balloon, for connecting me to Louise of The Showroom!)
I got to talk picture books while selling the now-Hatley-owned Books to Bed, a line of pj’s printed to match picture books. Not only did boutique owners stop by the booth, but Chris, one of Hatley’s owners, along with reps Adam and Daisy flew in from Canada. I met Random House licensers and Carol, the woman who thought up and started Books to Bed.
Repping the line was a chance to do three things: hear what store owners and their customers are looking for; think about kids businesses; and read books I hadn’t read before. Oh, and I sent tweets out to Kidlit peeps saying, “Hey, check this out!” How much would I love to have one of my books available with matching pajamas?!
Hon, I have so much to report from the rocket launch but, in the meantime, I wanted to share news that made me laugh. First up: squirrels.
In an article in The New York Times, “Counting Squirrels Was Just the Start,” Vivian Ewing reported on the Central Park Squirrel Census, a tally of how many Eastern Gray squirrels live in New York City’s Central Park. The answer: 2,373. Who knew?
The Census includes a Squirrel Supplemental, “a 37-page booklet of squirrel insights–their behavior in the morning and evening, the number of teeth in their mouth (22) and more.” Says Jamie Allen head of the squirrel team, “We’ve brought attention to perhaps the most overlooked creature in the United States…I’ve discovered the Eastern Gray Squirrel to be one of the coolest, most intelligent animals with a sweet sense of humor. It’s a sentient being. And it’s there, right in front of us.”
More squirrel fun:
Excerpts from a June 24 article by Linda Poon published on City Lab,
“The Squirrel Census Answers a Question You Weren’t Asking:”
If you ask Allen why he did this, he’ll say, why not. A humorist and writer, Allen started wondering why no one kept count of squirrels while he was working on a short story eight years ago about his dog’s friendship with neighborhood squirrels in Atlanta.“We kind of know other animal populations, like rats, in cities,” he says. (The conservative estimate is one for every New Yorker.) “It immediately became comical to me. Squirrels are an animal that we interact with on a daily basis, they’re disease-carrying, and they’re so common that we don’t even pay attention to them.” (It’s worth noting that most of the diseases squirrels carry don’t transmit to humans. Still, don’t go petting them.)
With that, Allen assembled a team of scientists, wildlife experts, and graphic designers and began counting the squirrels in Inman Park in Atlanta. After two counts, the team set their eyes on a more ambitious location: Central Park, which measures more than five times the size of his neighborhood park.
“It was the ultimate challenge,” he says. “And it’s the most famous park in the world.”
His team didn’t just count the squirrels. Just as the U.S. Census records demographics, housing data, and more, the Squirrel Census is filled with details about where each squirrel was spotted, what color its fur was, and whether there were clusters of them throughout the park.
Volunteers also recorded the squirrels’ behaviors—whether they were running, climbing, eating, or foraging, for example. Some descriptions were colorful, others were clearly just for giggles.
One record logs a squirrel hanging in a tree “like an acrobat, hanging onto branch by its legs upside down.” Another “got bored.”
The project started out as something humorous, but there’s some real science involved. Early in the process, Allen enlisted the help of Donal Bisanzio…who helped him figure out how to tally squirrels—a crucial but complicated task for conducting a census. Squirrels are, well, squirrelly, meaning there’s a good chance that some would be counted more than once, and others might not be counted at all.
The Squirrel Sighters, as they were called, spent 20 minutes per count searching for furry subjects, looking up in the trees and down in the bushes, and listening to the clawing and clucking sounds they make.
Allen says being part of the project is about more than counting squirrels. In a way, he says, it allows you to experience the park differently than, say, if you were jogging through…Listen closely enough, and you can hear them rustling in the bushes, making the “kukking” noise, or crunching on a nut.“Squirrels give themselves away by eating,”Allen says. “They’ll just be crunching on a nut and you’re like, ‘What in the world is that?’ And then you look up and there’s a squirrel.”Asked how the census will further the academic literature on squirrels, Allen makes a clear distinction: This is not a study, and he’s not looking to prove or disprove any hypothesis. What researchers do with the observations is up to them. He says they will eventually release all the data into New York City’s open data portal.For him, though, the census is simply his way of telling a story—about Central Park and its beady-eyed “citizens.”
It was an unusually warm day when I took my daughter and two friends to Greenwich Village to visit the Museum of Illusions. I passed the museum on a Saturday and, hon, there was a line down the block to get in! So glad we went on a weekday.
We also stopped by a decorative rubber stamp and paper arts shop, The Ink Pad, where we gawked at walls of stamps and stencils, rows of ink, and counters topped with cool, crafty things. (I bought a textured foam pad to try with my Ceramics.)
We had a yummy lunch at Tavern on Jane. As we discussed appetizers, a man in the restaurant proclaimed that the Tavern was known for its wings. I asked if he was the owner, (he was) so we ordered them.
When we passed a shabby chic shop (say that three times fast!) called Soapology, we had to go in. We didn’t have time to formulate custom scents, but we all walked out with lovely, naturally scented soaps.
How could we resist dessert at Aux Merveilleux, a beautiful French bakery, or pâtisserie, specializing in Frédéric Vaucamps’ meringues and brioche? Magnifique!
A day off in the middle of a week is a gift. What to do? Where to go? My daughter and I looked up museum exhibits and found the Museum of Illusions located in lower Manhattan, a small but cool collection of interactive, optical illusions. Fun!
Sometimes, we need a good news story. Truthfully, we could always use a good news story. The sighting of a rare Mandarin Duck in Central Park is one of those pick-me-up’s that filled with mystery (just where did that duck come from?), intrigue (can the duck be coaxed from one side of the pond to the other?), a gorgeous duck (aren’t the photos from Sarah Samaroo awesome?) and silliness…as in QUACK!
On the crescent-shaped pond in the southeast corner of Central Park, a spectacularly colorful duck floats on the surface with an air of majesty.
His head looks like a punk rocker’s multicolored mohawk. Beneath his beady black eyes, fringed orange feathers splay across his dark purple chest. His bill is colored a striking hot pink and sits under an emerald green forehead.
The male Mandarin duck, native to East Asia, should not be in the middle of Manhattan. And yet, against all odds, he is here. And he is dazzling.
On Oct. 10, the duck was first spotted near the Pond in Central Park and a video was shared on social media. The city’s avid birders were amazed: These ducks are commonly found in China and Japan — not the United States. Plus, ducks aren’t allowed to be kept as pets in the city.
David Barrett, the creator and manager of Manhattan Bird Alert, a Twitter account used to document bird sightings across the borough, originally believed there were three ways the duck may have reached Central Park.
First, he could have escaped from a local zoo. Second, he could have fled captivity somewhere nearby, such as New Jersey. Or third, a duck owner could have tired of having a feathered friend and dumped him in the park.
Shortly after he was spotted, the duck disappeared. “For almost two weeks we didn’t know what happened to it,” Mr. Barrett said. “We assumed it got eaten by a raptor.”
But on Thursday, the duck was spotted by the boat basin at West 79th Street, Mr. Barrett said. And on Sunday, he reappeared in the Pond, floating not too far away from the concrete jungle at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue. He had the same band on his right leg as the duck that was seen earlier.
One possible origin story was ruled out. The duck did not come from any of New York’s four major zoos run by the Wildlife Conservation Society, said Craig Piper, the director of city zoos for the organization.
On Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Barrett, 54, returned to the Pond to check on the Mandarin duck. Carrying binoculars, Mr. Barrett, who works as an investor and computer scientist when he’s not birding, circled the shore trying to spot the glamorous creature.
After many minutes of fruitless searching, he spotted the duck nestled near a rock across the Pond, on the eastern shore of the Hallett Nature Sanctuary.
Joined by a fellow birder on a lunch break from her day job, Mr. Barrett began to strategize how he’d coax the duck from the other side, which was thick with trees and shadows in the late afternoon. “We need to be enterprising,” he said.
First, the pair of birders tried to entice him. Mr. Barrett purchased a salted soft pretzel from a cart in the park, ripping off tiny pieces and tossing them off the shore. No luck.
The second birder, Sandra Critelli, muttered that she needed to get back to the office soon. “But that damn duck!” she said.
As his next option, Mr. Barrett tried to chase the duck away from its nook on the distant side of the Pond. After walking around the Pond to the forested nature sanctuary, Mr. Barrett climbed around trees and over branches to reach the shore. Then, he began to quack.
Yes, quack. And soon, a small group of ducks began to swim out of the shadows.
Mr. Barrett sprinted over the bridge and back to the other side of the Pond. By the time he got there, the Mandarin duck was already basking in the sun with his mallard friends, posing for awe-struck onlookers with cameras.
Swimming near the shore of the Pond, New York’s Mandarin duck, with his orange upturned wings and black-white rump, was the center of attention.
“He’s the star of the show,” said Juan Jimenez, a 74-year-old photographer who has been taking pictures in Central Park for decades.
“As far as the colors are concerned, only nature can provide that,” Mr. Jimenez said. “We could try to paint it, but you won’t be able to.”
As of Tuesday, park officials had no intention of capturing the duck, said John McCoy, the deputy director of the Urban Park Rangers, which is part of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation. He added that they still do not know for certain whether the duck arrived on his own or was left there by a fed-up duck owner.
Park officials will take action only if the duck gets injured and needs medical care, Mr. McCoy said. But the duck, which has no known name, appears to be quite healthy, paddling across the sprawling Pond and even integrating with the native mallards.
Mr. Barrett has faith that the Mandarin duck can survive in his current habitat. Because this type of duck is a “dabbler,” which means it often feeds by moving its bill across the water to find insects and vegetation, it could last in Central Park for a while, he said.
“As long as it has open water, it will do just fine,” Mr. Barrett said. “He might live very happily on the Central Park Pond.”
Looking for a show to see? Are you a Roald Dahl fan? Both?
“Unwrap a world of pure imagination.”
My youngest daughter loves Broadway shows, so what better way to celebrate her birthday than to surprise her with tickets to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The New Musical in Manhattan? We appreciate Roald Dahl’s dark humor and twisted characters (We loved “Matilda the Musical.”), not to mention that Willy Wonka is played by Christian Borle who was excellent as Shakespeare in “Something Rotten.”
One of my favorite childhood movies was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I saw the newer version, and didn’t mind Johnny Depp playing a deeply disturbed Willy Wonka, but Gene Wilder’s Wonka stuck in my psyche.
The musical is wonderful! The set design is clever, interesting, colorful and illusional. The larger than life characters are modern, and each has his/her own “voice.” The humor is both timeless and relevant to the times, and, of course, of course, the story is evergreen. The messages that imagination is valuable, dream big, and work for your passion makes me–sniff-a little weepy.
Oh and, hon, the Oompa Loompas are hysterical!
I thought most people knew the story, but at the Broadway show the woman sitting behind us seemed genuinely surprised when Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregard, Mike Teavee, and Augustus Gloop met their sweet rewards, and when Charlie Bucket was the last child standing. The show’s website describes the story like this:
Willy Wonka, world famous inventor of the Everlasting Gobstopper, has just made an astonishing announcement. His marvelous—and mysterious—factory is opening its gates…to a lucky few. That includes young Charlie Bucket, whose life definitely needs sweetening. He and four other golden ticket winners will embark on a mesmerizing, life-changing journey through Wonka’s wondrous world. Get ready for chocolate waterfalls, exquisitely nutty squirrels and the great glass elevator, all to be revealed by Wonka’s army of curious Oompa-Loompas.
Have you seen a good show lately? I’m always interested in what else is on stage.
My youngest daughter (aka Plus One) takes ballet, jazz and modern. Combine a show by her dance company Dance Innovations, the Martha Graham studio in Manhattan, and a Digital Video Production class project, and you get a short video showing the girls’ trip into New York, warm-ups, parts of the show, and my daughter and friends relaxing afterward.
Click here to watch the 2-minute video titled “Live Event: Martha Graham.”
Hedge Two-Way Mirror Walkabout, exhibited in 2014, was created by American artist Dan Graham and Swiss landscape architect Günther Vogt. “Comprising curves of steel and two-way mirrored glass between ivy hedgerows, Graham’s structure is part garden maze and part modernist skyscraper façade, set within a specially engineered terrain.” The glass was “both transparent and reflective, creating a changing and visually complex environment for visitors.”
“For decades, Dan Graham has created work that challenges viewers to think in new and thought-provoking ways about the streets and cities they traverse every day,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum.
For the artist, the mirrored cladding of a corporate headquarters symbolizes economic power and sleek efficiency; it also provides a certain camouflage, reflecting the world around it as it shields what happens inside from prying eyes.
With this signature material, Graham’s pavilions also transform observers of the work into performers within it, and, through the sight of their own reflections, make them acutely aware of their own viewership.
The evergreen plantings that edge the parapets also reminded Graham of the shrubbery that often demarcates private property lines in the New Jersey suburbs of his youth. Graham’s collaboration with Günther Vogt further illuminates the site’s multilayered references—historic gardens, public parks, contemporary corporate architecture, and the suburban lawn—as its pavilion engages the viewer in a historic and complex mirror-play.
“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.” Emile Zola
Click hereto link to The Met’s page with a cool video on how the art was installed.