Do Gorillas Use the Underground Railroad? Children Making Meaning from Adult Puzzles


This weekend, NPR’s This American Life featured stories on “Kid Logic.” Over the course of the hour, Ira Glass introduced stories of children who tried to make sense of the many puzzles of the adult world. In one story, a little girl’s best friend discovers that her father “is the Easter Bunny.” Rather than putting two-and-two together, both little girls decide that the dad IS actually the Easter Bunny. Their parents go along with the ruse.

But how would a child know? Do you assume that your parents are playing an elaborate prank on you? Especially when your whole culture is in on the joke?

The story made me think of my own leaps of logic. As you might have guessed from the picture above, every time I heard “guerrilla warfare” on  the news, I thought Planet of the Apes was at hand.

While I have many of my own embarrassing stories,  I also asked my friends to contribute their own “kid logic confessions.” Here are some of my favorite. Please let us hear your stories as well!


“Ms.  Tubman to Platform 9 3/4s!”

A friend tells me that she thought the slaves used an actual, literal, “underground railroad” to make their escapes. How they constructed something so elaborate without being detected remains a mystery…


What’s all the fuss about Watergate?

“I thought Watergate referred to a dam of some sort. I can still see the same image in my mind.”


“Who wants a nightcap?”

“All those 70s shows when they would invite someone to “stay for a nightcap.”  I thought they were giving them an actual hat. In my head it looked like a Scrooge-style long “nightcap.”


On “Parting Gifts” at the end of game shows:

“I thought they ALL got turtle wax. I wanted some of that! Only, I didn’t have a turtle.”


Kennedy’s Crisis

Bay of Pigs? How many pigs fit in the Bay of Pigs? If the pigs could swim, the water must be really dirty.”


I wonder if Haverty’s has a showroom…

 “I struggled with the term deathbed…and considered that the bed was specifically bought for a person to lay down and die on. That creeped me out, and still does..such that I never bought a used bed.”


Who’s That Girl?

“My mom loves to tell the story of me, around 7 or 8 years old, asking her, “Who is this Polly Esther person, and why are you talking about her?”


I Still Wish I Was Right About This…

 “I was told by a friends older sister that there would be a “Cake Walk” at my first-ever school carnival. I thought it would be a GIANT FOAM CAKE with a line across the middle. The game was to walk the line. If you diverged, you’d fall into a pile of foam (like egg-crate foam) in the middle. If you made it all the way across, you won a real cake. 

I was SO disappointed to discover what it really was.”


Finder’s Keepers

“I thought when a business was founded…. that they had found it somewhere.”

Don’t forget! We would love to hear your own tales of kid logic!

Louise Erdrich Wins 2012 National Book Award

It was a good morning for author Louise Erdrich, as she was announced the recipient of 2012’s National Book Award for her novel The Round House.  Like much of Erdrich’s other work (Love Medicine, The Red Convertible)The Round House concerns the life of a Native American family in crisis and a culture in jeopardy.

The Round House is the story of a crime. Geraldine Coutts, an Ojibwe woman living on a reservation, is attacked. Neither her husband, Bazil, nor her thirteen-year-old son, Joe, were present when she was assaulted. Geraldine will not tell them who did it or or why; nor will she tell the police. Although Joe desperately tries to get her to tell him, or anyone, what happened, Geraldine refuses. She will not even leave her bed. Essentially motherless, Joe is left to fend for himself, although he is far from ready for the weight of adult responsibilities.

Joe’s father, Bazil, is a tribal judge but justice moves too slowly for the teenager. He begins his own investigation which ultimately leads him to the “Round House,” a sacred place of worship where, eventually, secrets are revealed.

Runners Up:

Speculation about who would win this year was a bit more contentious than in years past, as there were many strong contenders, both critically and popularly. One of those considered a good bet was Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her.   Nine stories intertwine, but at the center is Yunior,

a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness–and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses: artistic Alma; the aging Miss Lora; Magdalena, who thinks all Dominican men are cheaters; and the love of his life, whose heartbreak ultimately becomes his own.

While Diaz is undoubtedly disappointed by his loss, he certainly has a lot to console him, as this year, the 44-year-old writer was given a MacArthur Fellowship. You can listen to an interview with Diaz about that prestigious appointment here.

A long shot, but a strong critical and popular favorite was not a novel but a memoir. The Boy Kings of Texas is about the experiences of Domingo Martinez as he grew up in the border town of Brownsville, Texas. The book is

Partly a reflection on the culture of machismo and partly an exploration of the author’s boyhood spent in his sister’s hand-me-down clothes, The Boy Kings of Texas delves into the enduring and complex bond between Martinez and his deeply flawed but fiercely protective older brother, Daniel, and features a cast of memorable characters. Charming, painful and enlightening, this book examines the traumas and pleasures of growing up in South Texas and the often terrible consequences when two very different cultures collide on the banks of a dying river.

One of the stories from the work was featured in a must-listen segment of last week’s episode of This American Life. You can listen to the full episode here, or queue it up to Act III to hear Martinez read “Mimis in the Middle.” In another episode of the autobiography, the 13-year-old Domingo is a helpless passenger in his mother’s car as she and Domingo follow his father, who is driving a truck full of marijuana, all of them hoping they do not get caught.

Christmas is coming up, you know. How about adding one of these, or all three, to your wish list?

Through the Ira Glass: Advice on Storytelling From the Host of This American Life

Ira Glass shares advice on how to tell your story across any medium.

Ira Glass of NPR’s This American Life recorded a session about storytelling with Current TV back in 2009. The videos just popped up on my radar again recently, courtesy of the wonderfully animated version of one portion below, which inspired me to share.

I think it’s important to note that Ira’s advice isn’t on writing, but on storytelling, which applies to every creative endeavor imaginable. Whether you’re making music, crafting a radio program, taking a photograph, or engaging in any other artistic medium, you’re essentially telling your audience a story. And anyone who’s ever tried to do that will probably be familiar with the frustration Ira articulates below.

The thing I would just like to say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. It didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have. And the thing I would say to you is

everybody goes through that.

So you see, you’re not alone storytellers. The only remedy is to plow through and get your story out there. Your taste will tell you when you’ve got it right.

But don’t take it from me. Take it from the melodic, dulcet, if slightly nasal tones of radio’s favorite curator, Ira Glass.