Guest Author: Michael J. Rosen
I’m a homebody. I’ve spent all my life, save a few years during post-graduate educations, in Central Ohio. I’m not much of a risk-taker, adrenaline junkie, frequent traveler, or lover of extreme…anything, really. So how it is that I am fascinated by others who are? How it is I’ve written a series of books on the most exotic, peculiar, and eccentric “creations” that might be found on earth?
Indeed, No Way! is a series for young readers that pretty much includes subjects I wouldn’t consider doing or tasting or enduring. For examples: Weird Jobs: Me? An expert at blowing up skyscrapers? Odd Medical Cures: Like I’m going to lie on a train track to see if some electroconvulsive therapy might cure what ails me? Wacky Sports: You’ll find me pumping my legs on a 25- or even a 10-foot-high swing, in an effort to sail 360 degrees up and over the bar? Crazy Buildings: You’ll join me in my 13-story tree fort rising 144 feet into the Russian sky? Strange Foods: Sure, I’m enjoying the Sicilian delicacy, Casu Marzu—a gluey, ammoniated sheep’s milk cheese with live maggots pinging from the surface. And Bizarre Vehicles: No way I’m skysurfing—jumping from a plane with a snowboard in order to twirl, twist, barrel roll, and puke.
But my armchair curiosity is insatiable. Two things that I devoured as a young reader clearly feed this.
The first was a book club: The National Audubon Society Nature Program. Each month, our mailbox brought a book featuring one environment (the tundra, the rainforest), or one sort creature (big cats, desert creatures). Most pages featured empty boxes— no, the highlighted animal hadn’t left its cage for a little fresh air. Each volume came with a fold-out sheet of the missing species as stamps: gummed, perforated, and full-color. It was my responsibility as a subscriber and a one-day-I-might-be-a-naturalist, to join in the creation of that book. I had to locate each elusive animal and place it on its rightful page—its niche! (Of course, it never occurred to me that printing full-color stickers separately allowed the book to be printed less expensively in just black ink.)
Life in the Everglades, Wildlife of Australia, Birds of Prey—I acquired one set after another as if I were traveling the world. I wasn’t just pasting stamps. Slip-cased in a box, these books showcased all the species I’d encountered on my safaris and expeditions and dives…by the age of eight.
The second: National Geographic maps. This was in the early 1960s. It’s hard to imagine this now, but for a child then, those maps—one in each month’s magazine—possessed the same WOW factor of a witnessing a next-generation videogame or a new 3D movie at the cinema. Each map was overwhelming: vivid, super-shiny colors; chock-a-block with boxes and captions and words with letter combination I’d never seen in English; and even larger than the road maps folded into impossible horizontals in the glove compartment.
So each month, I’d gently remove the map, unfold it carefully on the floor (the creases were so crisp on that coated paper that they were precariously easy to tear), and then, on all fours, set off on my journey around the border of the map. The map was a hole in the floor through which I could tunnel across the planet.
Then I’d tape it to my bedroom wall stand before it, my nose touching whatever appeared in that center point where the folds’ creases crossed. I was so close up my eyes had nothing but darkness on which to focus. But then I’d slowly lean backwards telling my eyes not to move, just to see what came into view. And so I’d see just a blur of green, then the outline of a mountain range or a state with border lines. Then I’d take a baby step backwards, and a cluster of countries, a continent, or the edge of an ocean would appear. It was like changing lenses on my microscope! Going from 10x to 100x to 1000x. And a few seconds and steps later, the rest of the map’s universe would gather around from all sides, and I’d find myself in the air above Central America or the Arctic Circle.
From over 30 years of working with children in hundreds of elementary schools, I know that third and forth and fifth graders, by nature, love armchair “participation” often more than actually trying something new. They share my curiosity about a world that’s still foreign to them in most every realm. My hope is that No Way! can be a way, a real way for young readers to recognize the vast differences that lie just outside their school or city. To respect other cultures and pursuits. I hope they’ll be humbled, as I am, by an appreciation of what others have enjoyed and accomplished—however strange, odd, wacky, bizarre, crazy, or weird—and inspired by that as they make their own way in the world.
Michael J. Rosen is the creator of a wide variety of more than 100 books for both adults and children including the recently published NO WAY! series, and a picture book, THE FOREVER FLOWERS. A poet, fiction- and non-fiction writer, humorist, illustrator, and editor, he lives on a 50-acre farm in the foothills of Appalachia, east of Columbus, Ohio. Michael’s Website is www.fidosopher.com.